Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing Output and Dumb Aliens

Here’s a very useful article on planning and productivity in the writing life, by Karen Wiesner:

Writing Productivity

My main reaction is awe at her output. She breaks down her annual schedule week by week and makes it sound so easy. Of course, she writes full time with no “day job,” but still. . . .

Since I’m a much slower writer than I’d like to be, I’m always searching for new techniques and tricks to overcome my inertia. Sort of like the way I used to accumulate books on housekeeping in hopes of finding the secret to getting the house clean with no effort. As a dedicated outliner, I’ve found Karen’s FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS and FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FINISHED NOVEL to be phenomenally helpful and an excellent fit for my natural way of working.

But what I still want, ideally, is a magic word processor that would take my detailed outline and transform it into a first draft in my own style. I enjoy outlining and don’t mind polishing; unlike lucky authors such as Isaac Asimov, I don’t get much pleasure out of the actual, well, WRITING.

On an unrelated topic, I saw the alien abduction faux documentary THE FOURTH KIND last weekend. It impresses me as a good illustration of Jacqueline’s contrast between SF and horror. Despite the SF trope of extraterrestrial visitors, the movie’s mood is horror. The human characters remain helpless to do anything except investigate their terrible experiences, and even then gaps in their knowledge remain. They can’t learn much more than the aliens want them to know. The film has some scary moments, but aside from the exasperating lack of realism in the sheriff’s behavior (it’s supposed to take place in Nome, Alaska, which I’m sure operates like a real city, not a frontier outpost in the wilderness where police can do anything that strikes their whim) the aliens don’t make much sense when you think about them carefully, either. If they’ve been hanging around for thousands of years, as suggested by the dragging in of that tired “prehistoric alien visitors” notion with bas-reliefs from the ancient Middle East as evidence, shouldn’t they have learned more than enough about our species by now—too much to require the random snatching and vivisecting of ordinary human beings? More glaring, if they’re advanced enough to remove a child through a solid ceiling on a beam of light, why aren’t they smart enough to destroy the psychologist’s tape of her encounter with them? And surely cosmic beings of superhuman intelligence could figure out that if they don’t want humanity to learn about their existence, they should stay far away from the psychologist and her family, ensuring that nothing abnormal ever happens to them again—instead of kidnapping her daughter in a dazzling light show.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. Heh. Nice deconstruction of The Fourth Kind. I won't be seeing this because I don't like horror, but those are good points about the tropes of alien abduction stories in general.

  2. Joe:

    Oh, yeah, I know what you mean by "don't like horror."

    But you know what? Any genre that gets popular becomes the vehicle for carrying the unpopular stuff to the audience that prefers that.

    You just have to ignore the main genre and watch for the stuff you want. I learned to do that with Vampire novels that were published with the Horror label, but were actually not horror, when all the editors thought any Vampire in a story made it horror.

    Minority tastes have to endure what the majority wants in order to get what the minority wants.

    Then times change and the minority becomes the majority. We're in a shift right now, which I discussed a little in my post of Nov 17 here on this blog.

    I'm in two forum discussions, one on Amazon in the Romance community and one on LinkedIn in the Group called BOOK PUBLISHING PROFESSIONALS.

    Both are discussing the drastic shifts in publishing due to the advent of ebooks and the possibility of self-publishing. And the explosion of pirating. And how innocent people treating ebooks as if they were hardcopy that they owned (trading, selling, giving away copies) are challenging the copyright laws.

    It's Art and Artists vs. Business Model.

    And that's what causes the non-horror payload to be wrapped in a horror-genre plot to make it to market.

    People think of the entertainment industry as a non-essential luxury, but the furor and acrimony triggered by these forum discussions seem to have the flavor of people defending their right to food-clothing-shelter and real necessities like air and water.

    So look for the entire genre-label meaningfulness to take a drastic shift in the next few years.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg