what you know

Just a few notes, discouraging and otherwise, on writing fiction:

Neil Gaiman discusses the difference (if any) between fantasy and fiction. Does your instructor look down on genre stories? “Best bet is to set your fantasies in the here and now and then, if challenged, claim to be writing Magical Realism.”

Jane Espenson eavesdrops and provides us with a quick, vivid example of how simple dialogue establishes characters and dynamics.

Strange Horizons, the fantasy fiction web magazine, details some stories they’ve seen too often, and follows up with some horror stories they’ve seen too often.

Joëlle Anthony lists 25 repetitive elements in young adult fiction.

Why are you writing, anyway? I bet you don’t have 101 reasons to keep writing. Here’s 101 reasons to stop writing.

Is your protagonist a Mary Sue? Here’s a handy test.

Do all of your stories end with Roy Orbison wrapped in cling film? You’re stealing this guy’s bit.

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by its cover

The A.V. Club’s recent column on contributors’ pop-culture rules has sparked similar discussions among my friends and acquaintances and fellow online forum users internerds. I quickly realized that though I have no firm rules, I do have a great many rough guidelines. Whew, a great many!

– I almost never see films in a first-run theater, where the fools in charge let other people in, too, with their cell phones and their chatter and their candy wrappers. That’s not a pop-culture rule but an avoid-temptation-to-criminal-assault rule. Crowds, cost, and the threat of poor storytelling all diminish my patience with other people and/or nonsense, so clearly a blockbuster in a first-run theater is a perfect-storm situation for me.

– Because I like to be surprised by entertainment, I rarely research enough to apply the Bechdel test before the fact, but I do notice and appreciate when a filmmaker or author:
1. has two or more named female characters
2. talk to each other
3. about something other than a man
just as if they were real people or something.

– I will watch any movie directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg, or the Coen Brothers, and probably more than once, even if I wasn’t crazy about it the first time. These directors more than any others have earned my trust and gratitude, despite a few misses and a very few absolute stinkers. Oh, Terry Gilliam, I can’t say no to you, either, you hapless bastard.

– I will watch almost any Shakespeare adaptation, with or without the text intact. Yes, the one set in a greasy spoon. Yes, the one in post-war Japan. Yes, the kids’ movie rip-off.

– I don’t mind if a sensible adult thinks my choice of entertainment is silly or juvenile or embarrassing. Maybe I see some deeper value there; maybe I just like the silly thing. I’m not easily embarrassed. Or, uh, I am, but I’m also used to it.

– I am unlikely to sit still for a straight-up romantic comedy. Ditto a straight-up war movie. Indeed, anything that looks like a formula Hollywood picture, with characters slotted into a template, is of no interest.* I am especially not interested in the whitewashed Hollywood bio (see A Beautiful Mind) or other Oscar bait. I skip a lot of blockbuster movies and feel no pain over it.

*Unless is is a horror movie, in which case I miiiiiiiight tolerate the formula. I don’t know why I might, but I might. Additionally, with a horror movie, the low-budget/no-budget risktaker entices me far more than the splashy, shiny big-money movie. The no-money filmmakers have to push their creativity and plan their storytelling instead of relying on special effects and retakes.

– While we’re on the subject of formulas and failure: no Michael Bay. NO. NO. No, Michael Bay, No! I thoroughly respect the appeal of stuff blowin’ up real good. I don’t want to see stuff blowin’ up all sloppy.

– I shy away from remakes, especially English-language remakes of contemporary foreign-language films. However, a few marvelous remakes have made this more of an inclination and less of a rule. Criminal comes to mind: the original is fantastic, the remake is different but fantastic — I loved both. And I am the rare J-horror fan who actually preferred The Ring to Ringu.

– I do not like to see brief short stories transformed to full-length features. Padding rarely improves a story, but if it’s a favorite story, I almost always give in and watch it. For this reason, I am dreading The Yellow Wallpaper, but happily for me, it’s evidently stuck in some post-release limbo.

– I will [never/almost never] choose to watch a Jim Carrey or Robin Williams slapstick comedy. I will often watch Jim Carrey in a dramatic role. (Yes, this means I watched the hilariously, gut-splittingly awful The Number 23. Youch.)

– I will try reading almost any author or story once, in any genre or type: literary fiction, popular fiction, pulp fiction, academic no-fiction, popular non-fiction, graphic novel, whatever. Sometimes, I can’t make it more than a 20 pages before giving up in disgust, but I do try it in earnest. (I even tried to read The DaVinci Code out of curiosity, but its prose made me very cross indeed.)

– I believe that sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover.

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” — Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye

Updated to add the obligatory Onion link: Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger. Pullquote:

“He had a real impact on the literary world and on millions of readers,” said hot-shot English professor David Clarke, who is just like the rest of them, and even works at one of those crumby schools that rich people send their kids to so they don’t have to look at them for four years.

sticky Valentines

I recently spent an afternoon flipping through CDs and websites looking for a first dance song that would suit both our tastes. It’s turning out to be tricky, especially since most of our favorite music is better suited to a divorce proceeding than to a wedding.

After a few hours, I has a “well, duh!” moment and turned to Google. Ach, my eyes! Ze google does nuzzing! Well, nuzzing except remind me why I have assiduously avoided The Knot: The Knot’s first pick for hip first dance songs is Elvis Costello’s “Alison.”

“Alison.”

Now, I was eight when “Elvis Costello released My Aim is True. “Alison” is probably the first Elvis Costello song I knew word-for-word all the way through, probably the first Elvis Costello song I sang in the shower, probably the first Elvis Costello song that spurred me to buy an Elvis Costello album as I crept toward my teens. This is a song I loved long before I could really get it. This song twangs a string deep inside my chest.

And even as a kid, I understood that “Alison” is not a song about finding your true love and life companion.

No, really. The lyrics to “Alison,” listed by the official Elvis Costello website and fan club, emphasis mine:

Oh it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl.
And with the way you look I understand
that you were not impressed
.
But I heard you let that little friend of mine
take off your party dress
.
I’m not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
’cause I don’t know if you’ve been loving some body.
I only know it isn’t mine
.
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
Well I see you’ve got a husband now.
Did he leave your pretty fingers lying
in the wedding cake?
You used to hold him right in your hand.
I’ll bet he took all he could take.
Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
when I hear the silly things that you say.
I think somebody better put out the big light,
cause I can’t stand to see you this way.
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
My aim is true.

Nanowrimo update

The writing, she is not going well. Even though there is plenty left to tell, the will to share it has petered out. Blar blar blar. Okay I’ll keep going one more day, but at this point, at a little over 8,000 words, I am not so hopeful to make up the deficit over the course of this week, especially if I have to begin cleaning for the move. However, I am house-bound tomorrow due to the 24-hour urine test (joy!) which has required me to forego tomatoes, nuts, chocolate and various fruits. (Do you know how hard it is for me not to eat tomatoes? It’s almost like telling me not to eat broccoli.) So I may give it one more full day before officially throwing in the towel. Wednesday I will celebrate with salsa.

Bring it on

NaBloPoMo Elli: 1/30
NaNoWriMo: 2,630 words and counting
Going for the glory this year, the first year I will finish writing a 50,000-word novel at NaNoWriMo. (Click the link and if you’re writing too, make me a buddy.) As usual I’m being thrown for a loop. The past two years I was travelling around Oz without daily internet opportunities so I couldn’t post at all, but congratulations to Elsa who, I think, made it through NaBloPoMo. I didn’t count, but let’s say she did. Woot! Now I finally get the chance, except we’re moving over the course of the next few weeks. Fortunately I have a handy little wireless device so at least I’ll have dial-up wherever I may go. Take that, November. I’m also 2,630 words into my novel and still writing. Yes, day one is promising. I’ll be at it all weekend, because I’m pretty sure that come Wednesday morning here in Australia, which is Tuesday evening in the States, I’ll be watching election coverage non-stop and unable to tear myself away to write anything other than a excited tweet.
Sentence of the day:
“She quivered at the thought of going anywhere near the place, not because of the snow covered roads, but because of the people who lived there–the ‘happy people’ she called them.”