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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“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.

reduce

Though I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, I’ve arbitrarily chosen this month to reduce my caffeine intake. And for no good reason; I was, after all, restricting myself to a sub-lethal dose.

For about a week now, I’ve been having one enormous homemade cappuccino in the morning, not one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In real-world terms, this means I’ve gone from six-to-eight shots of espresso a day to about four shots. That’s a big change, and explains my recent silence here; without the nervous pounding energy of a near-toxic caffeine load, I don’t feel the urge to typetypetypeohmygodtype.

I’m sure it will return. I think.

I do

I’ve been studying the giant listing of vows at [wedding forum redacted], and as I do, I’m struck by how many people’s vows make untenable promises about “always”: I will always keep this passion alive, I will always adore you, you’ll always be my beloved and most awesomest best friend.

And I’m thinking, “…really? So, you can consciously control your impulses, turning on and off your flow of oxytocin and serotonin like a tap? Coooooool*. But most people don’t work like that.”

The realist** in me suddenly sees why marriage services are so often three-pronged: a celebration of the present with its smoochy-faced love; a reminder that marriage is Serious Business; a sobering pledge of fortitude in the face of challenges. The couple vows to behave a certain way, because, duh, you can’t control your passions, but you can control your behavior.

Because emotions are slippery, fickle things, I can’t sensibly promise how I will feel in the future. The Fella is my bestest beloved most awesomest best friend, and I’m entering this marriage believing that will always be so. I will nurture and bolster my passion, my fondness, my adoration of him, and do my best to give him reason to do the same. I enter this marriage believing that our love, sympathy, and hard work will keep these feelings vital and growing, always shifting and changing with us.

I can hope and believe and, most importantly, I can strive to make it so; I can’t promise that my crazy hindbrain will follow in step every day.

But I can pledge to treat him as someone I love and adore, as someone for whom I am passionate, as my bestest beloved most awesomest best friend. What, then, does that mean? For me, it means a promise of respect, trust, honesty, kindness, sympathy, and a mutual assumption of good intent now and in the future — even if I’m hurt, even in anger, even if my lizard-brain hisses at me.

Surely this is the crucial part of the vows, in any case. Ardent love and bountiful affection don’t test our vows of commitment. Marriage (or any bond of love or friendship) is predicated not on the continuance of fleeting passions, but on the determination to honor our promises, even (especially) when loving kindness flags or falters.

*I would like to cut you up and study you. Please?

**Yes, The Fella is aware that he’s marrying an affectless robot.