Monday, December 08, 2008

Addiction, Danger and Flaws, Oh My!

Continuing Rowena’s theme from yesterday, I’m going to yammer on today about the flaws in characters in SFR, not just because I think it’s a worthy subject, but because I think it’s a fun one.

Rowena’s right: we do tend to load our alpha (and other) characters with problems. There are a couple of reasons for that (and many of you probably already know them if you study the craft of writing fiction).

One has to do with the Mary Sue Complex (or Marty Sam, if you will). The Mary Sue/Marty Sam is the character that is too perfect—not only to be believable—but to be likeable. Remember the girl in high school who was not only the best cheerleader but she was the prom queen and class president? Her clothes never wrinkled, her hair never frizzed and she never once had a zit. Remember how much you hated her?

That’s why we don’t write Mary Sues/Marty Sams. Readers can’t identify with them (neither can authors—my hair frizzes and my clothes and my skin both wrinkle). Instead we create characters with flaws, quirks, foibles, follies, addictions and annoying habits.

You know. Like us.

The second reason we love flawed characters is that we want to see a character succeed and grow. If the character is already perfect, there’s no growth. It was either Jack Bickham or Dwight Swain (both are writing gurus and I’m not going to drag out their tomes to figure out who said it) who said that readers have a need to pass judgment on someone (ie: character). Part of that “passing judgment” means judging whether the character DESERVES to win the book’s stated goal. If that character already has everything, is perfect, then it’s likely the reader will find some other character in some other book more deserving.

The third reason is that—according to Dwight Swain—a character “must start a fire he can’t put out” in the opening part of the book. Perfect characters don’t start fires and if they do, they can put them out, perfectly. So the “can’t put out” is lost with a perfect character.

We want the warts and all with our characters.

Only one of my characters to date had a stated addiction to a physical substance—and that’s Sully (Gabriel Ross Sullivan) in Gabriel’s Ghost and Shades of Dark. His addiction was to a substance known as honeylace—a drug of sorts, illegal except when used in religious ceremonies. Sully’s addiction to honeylace was his means of coping with the pain of what he was: a mutant human-Ragkiril, a telepathic shape shifter whose powers were feared and hated by everyone around him. Including himself. It was a combination of self-loathing and self-preservation that made him indulge in honeylace. Honeylace kept his talents muted. He needed that to survive in a world that would otherwise deem him the lowest of outcasts.

But addictions aren’t only to substances. Rhis in Finders Keepers was, quite honestly, a power addict. He was the one no one dared say “no” to. Except, of course, Trilby. She became the fire he couldn’t put out.

Branden Kel-Paten had a number of addictions, not the least of which was his obsession with Tasha Sebastian. I mean, he had her followed—for years. He hacked into her transmits. He dictated long missives to her (that he never sent). He had a secret stash of photos and holos of her. We’re talking serious addiction. (And it has been rightly pointed out that many characters in present day novels would, if real people, likely be arrested and/or committed to psych wards. But that’s because fiction is larger than real life. And—as Jacqueline Lichtenberg has wisely noted, fiction is drama.)

Kel-Paten was also obsessive with his privacy, his ship and his fleet. He was a rigid individual in many ways (his cybernetics notwithstanding) because he found solace and protection in that rigidity.

Both Admiral Mack (An Accidental Goddess) and Detective Theo Petrakos (The Down Home Zombie Blues) were work-a-holics. A benign flaw in some ways and also in some ways an addiction. Both defined themselves by their jobs. And interestingly, in Zombie Blues, so did my female protagonist, Commander Jorie Mikkalah, zombie-hunter extraordinaire. Conversely in Goddess, the last thing Gillie wanted was to be defined by her job. She didn’t want her job at all (and she clearly stated that several times in the book. She wanted to be “just Gillie.” Not a goddess. Not a sorceress. Not someone to be worshipped.) So while I paired Gillie and Mack as opposites, I paired Theo and Jorie as two sides of the same coin.

Did I do this deliberately? Yes. Why? Because of something on conflict I read on Jacqueline’s site:

"What is keeping them apart" is the CONFLICT. Misunderstanding and distrust are minor and trivial complications. The CONFLICT has to be real, about something substantive. And it has to be both INTERNAL and EXTERNAL at the same time - reflected one in the other. And each of them has to have the OBVERSE of the other's conflict if you're going to do dual-pov. Take her internal conflict,
twist it 180 degrees, and that's HIS internal conflict. (You can get a more complex novel by twisting her inner conflict into his external conflict).

I had to read that over about a dozen times before I “got it” and I’m still not sure I totally have it. But it’s something I use to work flaws and addictions and obsessions and danger into my characters and my stories.

In Hope’s Folly, one of Rya Bennton’s inner conflicts is her overwhelming sense of being unworthy. Of not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, experienced enough. So I took that and slapped it onto Philip Guthrie’s external issues. I put him in a situation where his previously acknowledged (and in some cases, lauded) experience, expertise and reputation were shattered. His external authority was challenged while her internal self-authority caused her pain.

Rya saw herself as flawed. Philip was born with the proverbial and clich├ęd silver spoon in his mouth. But because of that, his personal expectations were also very high. And the higher you are, the more painful the landing when you fall.

They both fell…and fell in love.

Flaws and all.

~Linnea

www.linneasinclair.com

Sunday, December 07, 2008

High Romance: Addiction in speculative romance

How many Romantic heroes can you think of who are addicts of one sort or another?

Add up all the alcoholics, the sex addicts, the gamblers and risk takers in your favorite novels. You might be surprised. I was... although I've certainly done it myself in the case of Djetth (aka Prince Djetthro-Jason, aka Commander Jason) in Forced Mate, and in Insufficient Mating Material.


Why is that? And, is it irresponsible of us (authors of alien romance) to portray dangerous and potentially antisocial behavior as heroic?


I submit that it is partly a function of characterization. The hero has to have a flaw when "his journey" begins, but it has to be one that the reader can forgive. Therefore, a treatable addiction works very well.

The flaw in his character has to get him into trouble. He has to have an excuse for the sort of behavior that lands him in an unprotected and compromising situation with a bed partner he would --when in his right mind-- go out of his way to avoid.


It is plausible. The alpha male personality calls for some degree of obsession, compulsive behavior, and savage competitiveness. Very often, our heroes are warriors, and may have turned to alcohol or other substances to dull their harrowing memories, or their unhappiness with what their duty and rank requires them to do.

The alpha female personality ought to call for competitiveness, and a certain reckless determination to get her man (or grasp the glittering prize) too! However, we don't see as many heroines who are drunkards, who hazard their own or other people's family fortune and dependent family members at the intergalactic gambling hell.

I'm using Regency Romance terminology. In my opinion, a lot of futuristic and speculative romance is a "Regency", or a "frontier Western", or whatever beloved genre is currently not so much in fashion in an outer space setting. The historian in me approves. So does my lawyer!

Last Tuesday, I did my monthly "Crazy Tuesday" internet radio show. In theory, we were talking about the heroes of short stories, but also heroes who wear short garments such as shorts, loin cloths, breech cloths, kilts.

Diane Davis White, author of Moon of the Falling Leaves, discussed a vision quest, where a shaman would starve himself until he hallucinated. She also described a breech cloth as worn by the Lakota. I never realized that a breech cloth is a tiny, independently hung curtain at the front and a second one at the back.

I'd assumed that TV Tarzans wore authentic garments!

Jacquie Rogers, who is an expert on rodeos, contrasted the breech cloth wearer's lack of sensible protection between the legs to the kevlar underwear sported by rodeo clowns to protect them from the blast, because apparently rodeo clowns have their trousers blown off them (with explosives) on a regular basis.

Risky behavior indeed!

Bottom line. (Hah! Pun!!!)

We already have legal disclaimers claiming that our characters are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons living or deceased is pure coincidence. I wonder if it would be a very good thing if we added a "Do not try this yourself" warning rather like that used by the Mythbusters on TV.

What wording might we use?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Darkover Con

Over Thanksgiving weekend we attended Darkover Grand Council, just north of Baltimore, as we always do. Despite the name, the con no longer has an exclusive focus on Marion Zimmer Bradley's work; it's a general SF and fantasy con of cozy size featuring lots of sessions that address issues of writing craft and world-building. This year's special guest was Patricia Briggs, author of the Mercy Thompson urban fantasies. She's an interesting speaker. One of my favorite panels she participated in was the one about wolves. In most memorable session of the weekend, however, she and her husband described the process of casting silver bullets (with props). It's a lot harder than horror novels make it sound; a main problem is that silver has a much higher melting point than lead. I was surprised to learn silver is also harder. I'd thought it was softer, like gold. A very educational hour! On her website, www.patriciabriggs.com, you can go to the "News Archive" page and click on the "silver bullet" link to read her husband's detailed account of the quest for usable silver bullets. Another celebrity who attended and appeared on several panels was Esther Friesner. As you would expect, she's very entertaining. Among many other authors who've become regulars, Katherine Kurtz, Tamora Pierce, Diana Paxson, and C. S. Friedman were also present.

Sadly, the costume competition has been steadily dwindling in number of entries over the years. This year's contest had only four. A strong hint was dropped that the masquerade will be discontinued. I'll miss it. Our Sime-Gen Faith Day gathering has also decreased since Jacqueline had to stop attending, with only two people in the room this time. (We hope you'll be able to rejoin us eventually, Jacqueline!) We read aloud a portion of one of Jacqueline's Sime-Gen works in progress, an exciting drama set earlier in the history of the universe than we’ve ever seen before.

As always, the eclectic folk group Clam Chowder performed Saturday night. Their songs, both traditional and original, range from melancholy to rousing to humorous. They finished with "Zombie Jamboree," accompanied by a large portion of the audience lurching gleefully up and down the aisles. Darkover has a custom of collecting donations for Children's Hospital during the Clam Chowder intermission, to the tune of four figures each year. Some funds come from auctioning off "comfy chairs" at the front of the room and two opportunities to sing karaoke with the group. The rest of the money, which comes straight from the audience, ostensibly bribes the Clams to sing "Bend Over, Greek Sailor." I won't quote the chorus here, but you can probably guess what kind of song that is. This year, they included a few new verses written especially for the occasion.

To read about the history behind the "Bend Over, Greek Sailor" tradition, go to www.darkovercon.org and scroll down to the link under "Clam Chowder" labeled "fund raiser for Children's Hospital."

At midnight Clam Chowder launches the holiday season by leading anyone who wants to join them in the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the hotel atrium, followed by a Christmas carol sing-along. Alas, I don’t have the stamina to stay up for those events, not with the prospect of waking up Sunday morning for breakfast and 10 a.m. panels. Maybe some year in the future.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mumbai, Chabad, Terrorism, Love

The Essence of High Drama Is Life

This is a blog about "Romance" -- Romance in faraway places with strange sounding names.

But today I bring you a dose of sobering reality.

It is from that reality in which we are embedded that we draw our fuel for our Art. Outrage, anger, fear, determination, shock, remorse, grief, and conquering all of these LOVE.

Love is the petrol -- the fossil fuel from long dead ages -- our heritage that powers our Artform, our Real Lives, and ultimately our souls.

And so, I have to tell you a real life story.

When I first heard of the coordinated attacks in Mumbai, I was surprised CNN was carrying it full time live. Then I remembered Mumbai is very much like New York, a nation's financial capital, surrounded by water, an easy target, and that a lot of people from India live in the USA -- a lot of Americans live or travel India -- business has burgeoned.

Mumbai is now on the border with Phoenix, Arizona. The world shrank. Bloggers in India were reporting on events in Mumbai as the events unfolded.

So gradually I learned what was going on. Then I heard via personal friends and contacts that one of the restaurant attacks was the restaurant next door to the Chabad Center in Mumbai.

The Rabbi there was on the phone with someone in my network, and I heard that the Rabbi had said that bullets were flying through the Chabad Center. He hung up. They called back. No answer. No further contact with that Rabbi or his wife again.

Chabad (a Jewish organization, but not at all like the ones usually termed "Ultra Orthodox"-- I mean not at ALL like them) had a place in Mumbai?!!!

That hadn't occurred to me. I don't know why I was shocked -- Chabad is everywhere. And it makes sense they'd locate next to a tourist restaurant because they serve the needs of travelers.

So suddenly, I am clinging to the TV screen and rifling through the news reports. What happened to the acquaintance of my friends? Oh, I hope they're OK.

Next morning, I learned 5 were dead in the Chabad House, and 2 terrorists were dead in the Chabad Center. (Later it was 6 dead). Finally, they reported the Rabbi and his wife had been killed. I was stunned senseless but I didn't cry.

There was no word on WHO else was dead. So I dug up a story on Yahoo and in the middle a tiny paragraph said the 2 year old baby had been rescued by "an employee" of the Center. No word on who else died or who the employee was.

I sat there and cried harder than I've ever cried in my whole life. THE BABY SURVIVED!!!

It was his nanny who saved him -- and he came out of there covered in blood. 2 is old enough to be terribly traumatized by whatever he must have seen, heard and experienced. (days later, I learned he made it to Israel and the family had managed to bring the Nanny too so the baby would have a familiar face during the "terrible 2's.")

As I learned the story of this Rabbi and his family, learned how hard their lives had been from those who knew them personally, I figured out why I cried so hard at survival while I was just numb over the deaths. Among all the pain and suffering in this world, there is GOOD.

That baby is important. Survival is important. Life and love are important. Death stalks us all. Love transcends. That baby is loved. That baby is love in our real world.

I learned that the baby's 2nd birthday was Friday, the First of Kislev, the New Moon before Hanukkah. The Biblical portion read on the day the parents died had been sited twenty years ago or so by the Rebbe, on the occasion of another attack on a Chabad Center.

The Rebbe was the Rabbi who headed up the Lubavitch group that sponsors Chabad and sends Rabbis to the ends of the Earth to find people to help.

That Biblical portion that the Rebbe quoted will therefore be this boy's Bar Mitzvah portion -- a portion he will memorize.

What other coincidences surround this child, I don't know. Maybe he, himself, will never appear in the news (once on CNN is enough for a lifetime). He may never do anything much, but that he exists means love exists. Love prevails. Joy lights the world. A tiny candle dispels the darkness. Never doubt love conquers all.

For the official Chabad obituary see
http://www.chabadcenter.com/news/article_cdo/aid/773691/jewish/Mumbai-Jewish-Family-Killed.htm

http://www.chabadcenter.com/news/article_cdo/aid/772546/jewish/Jewish-Child-Safe-in-Hostage-Crisis.htm

All of this became seriously personal to me when I got the following email from a friend of mine, a Rabbi at my local Chabad, who is the same age as the Rabbi who was murdered, who sat in the same classrooms, and knew this Rabbi as he grew up.

My friend talked about this man's personality, his constant optimistic outlook, his capacity for joy, his zest for life, his brilliant mind. I asked then if I could quote this email text that was sent out on Friday.

--------------------------

Dear Friend,

My heart is bursting and eyes brimming with tears and we join the more then 3000 Chabad Centers & World Jewry as the news of the fate of my colleague and close friend Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg rolls in and at least three of their guests Who are still unnamed, have been murdered. A vibrant young Rabbi and his wife dedicated their lives to spreading messages of Torah and Mitzvahs in the far out community in Mumbai, alas, now they're dead!

What were they doing there? What possessed a couple who had a multitude of opportunities in life to move to Mumbai to open a Chabad Center / Lubavitch Center?

Allow me to explain.

Rabbi Gabi and Rivka Hotlzberg moved to Mumbai not as you may yourself understand, to further a career or because the pay was good rather because he was inspired by the vision and quest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A vision that was to incorporate every single Jew in the world. Every Jew, no matter where he may find himself physically or spiritually was to have a way to connect to their precious heritage. So persistent and dedicated was the Rebbe to this ideal that he created a global network of his own personal Shluchim (emissaries) to ensure that this happen. Instructions were clear; upon arriving at your assigned community do everything in your power to provide for the material and spiritual benefit of every Jew. Even those Jews who have little obvious interest, were to be sought out and inspired to give them a way back in. The Holtzbergs were in Mumbai as emissaries of this tremendous ideal. Their dedication was a selfless one and a holy one. Their success wasn't one that could merely be quantified in physical terms rather their success was one of spiritual giants! Their success was one that we could only aspire to.

The outpouring of love and dedication from all corners of the community has been inspiring. Like one large family, everyone feeling the pain of the other reaching out to find out what can and needs to be done at a time like this?

The answer is quite clear. The ideals and actions of Gavriel and Rivkah (obm) need to be intensified and strengthened. If they stood for vibrant Jewish life then it is up to each and everyone of us to intensify in our own personal Judaism. To ensure the immortality of the Holtzbergs and the ultimate failure of the terrorists we all need to take a step forward in ensuring that the truth of Torah Judaism not only survive but flourish.

---------------------

I think this Chabad Rabbi has explained what Linnea Sinclair was talking about in her blog entry THE ASSUMPTION OF EVER AFTER (Sunday Nov 30, 2008) and in the comments to that blog entry about "trying" being the entry point into a Romance that results in "ever after." I answered Linnea's comment on her own post that her "try" was all about "risk." And that's what these Chabad Rabbis do: Risk, but knowing that risk is worth the objective, which is love.

My husband later dug out of the international online news that though at first it was thought the Terrorists targeted Americans, British -- any international travelers -- it now appears they were specifically after Jewish Americans, Jewish Brits, etc. I haven't seen that confirmed yet, but now we are hearing warnings that this style of attack may target New York.

Whatever Pakistan/India politics and war history may have been involved, this terrorist act was not strategic (with a bit more planning and warriors, they could have literally taken over Mumbai for a few weeks). It was not just to establish the name of a new terrorist organization in a competition among terrorist organizations.

This attack was hate inspired. A group of 20-something old men raised for 20 years on a mental diet of pure hatred, trained for a year or two in warfare, struck out in hatred. The philosophy: You can kill what you hate by hitting it and that will solve your teen-angst because all your problems are caused by something external to you.

Chabad's response to being hit is to ignite love in the world. And that is absolutely typical of Chabad. I've seen it over and over, from the absolutely most trivial matters of congregation politics to the most vivid matters of global hatred. That's what Chabad does. They love.

Here are two more references for the general response to the massacre in Mumbai.

From Rabbi Zvi Freeman:

R. Freeman writes some nifty articles online. I truly appreciate his wild imagination! Only this essay is cold sober. A question came in asking the classic, how is it that such a horrible thing happened to such a great Rabbi and his family. "This is their reward? This is the protection G-d gives them?"

It is an agonizing classic that has no answer. Rabbi Freeman answered very fully at this URL

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/774032/jewish/What-is-our-response-to-the-massacre.htm

And he said in small part:
-----------------
We will revenge the work of violence by doubling and quadrupling our works of peace and love. We will fill the world with light and wisdom and the spirit of darkness in men's hearts shall forever perish. They come with their guns and their might, with a god of destruction and terror, but we come in the name of the Eternal, the source of all life and healing.
------------------

Here's a page from the central Chabad organization:

Their web page "What Can I Do?"

http://www.chabad.org/special/campaigns/chabadindia/mitzvot_cdo/aid/773655/jewish/What-Can-I-Do.htm
And a quote from them:
-----------------
There are tears, pain, mourning and loss. There is hope, commitment and faith.

But there are no words.

Instead our actions must speak for each of us. The people that we help, the differences that we make, will testify to what we cannot verbalize. The goal of terror is to paralyze, to make us feel there is nothing we can change. We will now work all that more passionately to ensure that nothing will stop us from growing, from developing and creating.

We owe it to the victims—the more than 190 innocent victims, including six of our Jewish brothers and sisters: Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg, directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai; Rabbis Bentzion Chroman and Leibish Teitelbaum; Norma Schwartzblatt-Rabinowitz; and Yocheved Orpaz. May their righteous memory be for blessing.
------------------

In the name of all the 190 victims, we fuel our deeds with love.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Assumption of Ever After

What differentiates a romance-genre book from, say, a woman’s fiction novel or a mystery novel is—according to industry pundits—the requirement in a romance-genre novel of the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This, like a lot of terms in publishing, is shorthand for a style and a series of events that will leave the reader with a positive feeling a book’s end, rather than puzzlement, depression, horror or whatever you’d like to tack on.

That’s why strictly speaking neither Gone With The Wind nor Romeo and Juliet qualify as romance-genre fiction. They don’t end with a positive (happy) commitment between the two lead characters.

Interestingly, what seems to twist the anti-grav panties of the SF set is this very same thing: the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This seems to be a kicking-point when speculative fiction is combined with romance.

What I’ve found interesting, though, is that the non-romance reading set in SF seems to layer a deeper assumption of EVER AFTER on to that HAPPILY than many of the authors—myself included—intend.

A month or so back, in a shameless and blatant effort to get a buzz going for my February 24, 2009 release, Hope’s Folly, I offered electronic ARCS (Advance Reader Copies) to a handful of book bloggers. Most had read me before. Most were chosen because they’d read me before. Stacking the deck, Linnea? Sure. But Folly is book three in the Gabriel’s Ghost/Dock Five universe (both monikers are floating around out there.) I’m not out there to get bloggers to go WTF? as they try to catch up with the storyline.

But as happens with electronic copies, they get passed around to other bloggers (and I’m fine with that). So I was interested to find a blog comment on Hope’s Folly on a blog (Oct. 16, 2008) I’d not specifically sent the ARC to. The comment was decently positive except it raised the issue I’ve started to raise above. The assumption of EVER AFTER.

To wit: “I'm not a romance reader; I'm very much a sf/f reader. Perhaps it's not so surprising, then, that I really enjoyed the sf parts and was mildly appalled at the romance parts. I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship. *sigh*”

Things like this make me want to pound my head on my desk, more than I usually do.

**SPOILER**

Here’s a direct quote from the Folly manuscript where the main character is giving some very realistic appraisal to his impromptu and admittedly foolish marriage to the other main character:

“So, how’s our second week of dating going so far?” he asked. Most people dated first, then got married, but that wasn’t how their life had worked out. Marrying her had been an impulsive move. But it was a move he wanted to be permanent.

So did Rya. The fact that she now had her M-R-S degree, as she called it, was no guarantee of permanency. A real marriage took work. Commitment. Patience and respect.

And that took time.

So now they were dating. Married but dating. Philip rather liked the idea.

Am I—via the character—not saying exactly that? People in real life and in books get married for all sorts of reasons, many of them not the wisest or best. They either make it or they don’t but they do—in fiction and in real life—have the option of trying.

At book’s end—and this is really the last two pages—that’s all my characters are doing: realizing the situation they’re in is not the easiest and asserting that they’re willing to at least try.

Since when does TRY equate LASTING?

In the minds of SF readers who read romance, that’s when. I’ve seen this corollary far too often in blogs and reviews from SF-ers dabbling into SFR.

They assume—ASSUME—that because the two main characters are in a compatible situation on the last page that it’s white picket fence and roses forever.

None of my books promise that. None.

It’s an OPTION. It’s never a GIVEN.

My books end—as most of my readers know—at a point where the two main characters in the romantic relationship have either overcome or ignored whatever major conflicts separated them and are willing now to give their relationship the biggest, bestest try they can. That’s all. It’s a potential of a future together but it is not a guarantee of a future together.

Now, for romance readers who want to envision a FOREVER for my characters, that’s fine. Again, it’s an option. Not a given. But at least the romance readers aren’t damning me for it. Or—to take what I would see to be the opposite side of the coin—they don’t write in blogs that I haven’t shown the two main characters breathing their lasts breaths together at age ninety-nine and then going on to be buried side-by-side in graveyard plots marked Mr. and Mrs.. That, to me, is as much of an off-base interpretation of a science fiction romance novel as it is to assume that the characters have, at book’s end, a perfect and forever after relationship simply because they’ve decided to HAVE a relationship.

Let’s parse that blogger’s comment:

“I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. “

Of course it’s infatuation. Every relationship one week in is highly based on infatuation. Physical (and other) attraction. But without infatuation, without physical (and other) attraction, the relationship would never start. That is where relationships start and from there the infatuation matures and the physical attraction matures and the relationship matures.

Moreover, in Folly, both character are very aware this attraction is nuts, too soon and at the wrong time. And they spend a lot of book-time realizing that:


Rya stayed by the ladderway, alternately damning herself and calling herself an idiot. She now had a ridiculous, full-blown crush going on Admiral Philip Guthrie, and every time she thought she’d managed to get hold of her emotions and shake some sense into her head, he’d lean against her or look at her with those damned magnificent eyes, and her toes would curl and she was lost.

Again.

This was just so very much not like Rya Taylor Bennton. She did not get crushes on guys—not since she was ten years old, anyway. Rya Taylor Bennton found hard-bodies who amused her and bedded them. Sex was fun, great exercise, super stress relief. Nothing more.

Then Philip had walked—well, limped—back into her life, amid guns blazing and punches flying. And in two, three short hours her life changed.

Further, I never said it was True Love. The characters never say it’s True Love. Rya sees it as a ridiculous crush.

As for Philip:


He was certifiably insane. He was sure of it. These past few months, the physical damage his body had taken, the stresses of losing one command and gaining another, the deaths of friends and crew—it had all taken a toll. That was the only explanation he could come up with as to why he was so emotionally vulnerable to—and fixated on—Cory Bennton’s twenty-nine year old daughter.

This had to stop. But when the lights had failed again and he’d almost found her in his lap, and then when all means to escape the ready room were exhausted and she was again those few tantalizing inches away from him, and he had the damned stupidity to make the flippant comment that if he’d been ten years younger...

Hell’s fat ass. He was certifiably insane.

She was twenty-nine. She was Cory’s daughter. She had some young buck named Matt hot for her back on Calth 9. She was not for Philip Guthrie, divorced, jaded, and limping around like some ancient—yeah, Welford had deemed him so—relic.

Plus, he had a ship to refit and a war to get under way.

But when he was around Rya... he just wanted to keep being around Rya.

This was not good.


Both realize AND TELL THE READER they’re not at the point to experience True Love. They can, however, experience the beginnings of an attraction that can lead to love and can, legitimately, share that they feel that way. Just like in real life.

What I feel I’m seeing here and in other blog comments like this is an unwitting-or-otherwise filling in of the blanks: This is a romance so this must be about True Love. (Side Note: I don’t think one can define True Love and I wouldn’t attempt to.) There is an assumption that an HEA ending also means Perfection. No more problems, ever. (Tell that to Dallas and Roarke in JD Robb’s IN DEATH series.)

Maybe at one time in romance novels, the Ever After in the HEA acronym did mean an unequivocal forever. But looking at romance fiction today, I don’t think that’s true anymore. I don’t think romance readers buy into “Perfect.” I think romance readers do relate to and respect characters who TRY. Who care enough to TRY.

Moreso in SFR, where there are so many other variables, I think a white-lace-and-roses perfect romance ending would be unrealistic. I don’t write them. That’s why I’m so surprised when some readers take it upon themselves to insert them—and then damn me for it.

I don’t see the same SF readers assuming every one of the antagonists or every one of the political problems is completely vanquished at the end of an Honor Harrington book or the end of a Cherryh book. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series is, what, eight, ten+ books in? And Bren Cameron still has a lot of work to do. I can’t think of one SF or Fantasy novel I’ve ever read where I felt that Life Was Perfect from thereon in for the characters. Even if the bad guy was shredded, the princess rescued the prince, and the evil empire was in disarray.

I don’t know why some readers cement the assumption of an unequivocal Ever After onto many romance novel endings when they clearly don’t depict that. They DO detail it is possible. They do NOT detail it is absolute.

One more note on the “one week” comment and “That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship.”

I know this gal who picked up this guy in a bar in New Jersey back in February of 1979. End of February, to be exact. It was strictly on physical attraction: he was a 6’4”, green-eyed, blonde-haired hunk. They didn’t see each other nearly as much as Rya and Philip do. There was no daily basis thing. There also wasn’t the chance to see each other under fire, working, striving and surviving, which I think adds a different dimension to how and when a relationship progresses. But even given the normal weekend dating kind of thing, and the nightly telephone calls, this guy moved in with this gal after three weeks. He gave her an engagement ring shortly thereafter.

This guy and this gal will hit their 29th wedding anniversary in October of 2009.

Okay, this guy and this gal didn’t know True Love in one week. It took three weeks. And almost thirty years later, it’s still there.

I love you, Robert.

~Linnea




HOPE’S FOLLY, Book 3 in the Gabriel’s Ghost universe, coming Feb. 2009 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books: http://www.linneasinclair.com/

It's an impossible mission on a derelict ship called HOPE'S FOLLY. A man who feels he can't love. A woman who believes she's unlovable. And an enemy who will stop at nothing to crush them both.

The Cost Of Magic



Magic costs the user. Every writer of speculative fiction or fantasy knows that.

Don't they?

Industrial Light and Magic (TM) has its cost. So does technology. I wonder what the long term cost of being "beamed up" was? I know that NASA astronauts suffer for their science. They may not be beamed up, but weightlessness causes their bones to lose calcium, and guess where the calcium goes?

Kidney stones! There are some doozies of kidney stones on display at the Johnson Space Center.

Which brings me to another cost of modern magical conveniences. Privacy.

George Orwell was right about Big Brother!

You can hardly make a Medicare election, reserve a plane ticket, collect your Office Max reward for recycling HP toner cartridges without having to supply your phone number, complete home address, name, date of birth and so much more! Moreover, banks, utilities, my child's school, and everyone else attempts to force me to use the internet for all my business and pleasure. I've even received reproachful letters informing me that (Fidelity "Private" Group) unsuccessfully tried to email (whatever private info I didn't want emailed to me). Instead of wasting valuable ink on the info they weren't able to email me, they direct me to go on the internet to find it and print it myself!

Yes, I may save a copse of trees, and I want to do that. But I know that spammers and hackers are reading my email and tracking my treks around the internet. I can tell (not always) by the sudden deluge of emails from names very similar to those of my friends, offering me cleverly disguised products to enlarge private parts I do not possess.

A few years ago, we were all outraged by Zabasearch, and wanted our names removed from their system. Now, dozens of pop up Big Brothers make names, addresses, phone numbers, maps to guide perverts to your basement window, and even credit reports available to every potential terrorist who wants to know.

Personally, I don't think the credit reports are accurate. I've been getting a lot of threatening telephone calls from the implausibly named "Credit Services" telling me that this is positively my final notice that I may borrow money from them. I've started to press button One, because pressing button Two to be removed from their calling list (I thought it was my final notice???) only encourages them. So, I am very nice to the telemarkers, until I get their names, phone numbers and so forth.

Then I go to the National Do Not Call Registry (now bookmarked on my toolbar) and report them.

I wonder whether the National Do Not Call Registry is as much of a misnomer and George Orwell's Ministry of Truth!

How do I relate all the above (kidney stones, telephone directory searches, phone spam etc) to futuristic, alien romance fiction?

Well, almost anyone can be virtually omniscient these days, if they know where to look. A self-styled "god" could be a high level hacker and an eavesdropper. The difficulty and the challenge (and therefore the fun) would be making him romantic and heroic, wouldn't it?

That's what I'm working on with the god-Emperor Djohn-Kronos.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it! While this holiday has one drawback, the crushing amount of clean-up duty afterward, in general I think its unifying character raises it to a high level among celebrations. It's a cultural (not strictly religious) holiday in which all can participate. Almost everyone can enjoy a feast, and anyone can be thankful. Even atheists have things to be grateful for and people to be grateful to.

This year we don't have to face the clean-up; we're visiting one of our sons for the feast. Perfectly fine weather for the one-hour drive, so it should be an altogether great day. Best wishes to all!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Linguistics For Writers

Those who haven't read past posts on this blog should take a look at the post and comments by Rowena Cherry
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/11/problem-solving-sundays-future-of-chain.html

And the other post she put up on Sunday Nov 23rd and its comments.

All this is about the publishing industry's disarray, especially in Oct. 2008, due to the economy -- and as I noted, the even more destructive wave of events yet to happen to publishing due to the freezing in the credit markets.

Worldbuilders note: there is a vast distinction between "the economy" and "the financial system" -- a distinction many people don't make because they are linked. Our economy is still in fine shape (healthy economies hold recessions periodically) but it is vulnerable to the heart-attack stoppage in the financial system which is in horrid shape. No industry, not even autos, is as vulnerable as publishing to an interruption in financial flows.

Publishing (on paper) is undergoing a crisis at least as great as that of the US auto industry, maybe more jarring than that of the credit markets, at a moment of fragility perhaps more critical than ever for the storytellers of the world.

The Fiction Delivery System and the Fact-Delivery-System are in melt-down and re-organization. There is still a market for fiction and fact -- some opportunistic businessman will see a way to serve that market at a profit. Meanwhile, grocery clerking is probably better paying than writing.

As I noted in my comments, this is the greatest opportunity for new writers, and seasoned professionals, to swarm forward with solutions that will elevate the prestige level of genre fiction in general, but most especially of the multi-faceted Romance genre.

So now is the time to aggressively train to write fast, to write with precision, to create worlds in profusion but with verisimilitude that will shock every reader into memorizing your byline. Now is the time to learn and to do.

So my post this week is reaching far out into the very foundations of story idea generation, into the very source of ideas -- worldbuilding. "What if...? If Only ...? If This Goes On ...?" At what level would a change in our real world produce a world so different, it would be incomprehensible and thus interesting to readers living in an incomprehensible world?

Comprehension is facilitated by language, and language forms the foundation of our own subjective world, and thus of all our fictional worlds.

Slip into the skin of your alien character who lives with magical perceptions of reality, or to whom the plasma surface of a sun is a pleasant atmosphere. Now feel what it's like for him or her to converse with others of their kind in front of a mundane human of Earth. The language your character needs to use is rooted in his/her perceptual reality -- and that language would have words for things no Earth language has words for. A teleport would have syntax no Earth language would have for position.

You wouldn't think that the dry, objective, confusing field of Linguistics would be a prime source of unique, new ideas for Romance novels - or would you?

It is definitely the primary field to study if you want to write about an Alien From Outer Space -- or an Elf From Cross-Space.

I want to toss you an idea that came to me as I was trying to figure out how to explain another idea that follows from my post of Tuesday November 18 on GIFT: GIVER: RECIPIENT

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/11/gift-giver-recipient.html

I was going to use the analogy of phoneme, which I assume everyone reading this blog understands. I have long been familiar with the way the human brain, ear, and tongue combine to narrow the possibilities of all the sounds a human can make into those that have "meaning" in the linguistic sense not the animal sense, and those that don't carry meaning.

As a result, if you learn a language or dialect at an age above 3 years -- or 7 years in some cases -- you will always have an accent that is detectable if not by native speakers then by machine reading the speech sounds you make.

EXAMPLE: some oriental languages don't have the r sound, so learners of English substitute the l sound and can't hear the difference.

EXAMPLE: Mary, Marry, Merry sound the same in some English dialects. Likewise Pen and Pan and Pin sound the same in some English dialects.

Unless you are strongly talented in languages - or have learned many languages "natively" at age 2-4 so you have the whole phoneme set that humans can make, you can never learn to hear and produce those kinds of differences reliably. Think about the clicks used by various African languages. Think about the difference between Aleph and Ayin in Hebrew (two glottal stops, one higher in the throat than the other) -- it was preserved in the Sephardic phonemes but not the Ashkenazic. Americans never learn it right.

In my Nov 18, 2008 post,
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/11/gift-giver-recipient.html

I talked about the blank spot in our culture's way of looking at life, the spot which should be filled with the mystique, mechanism, proprieties, privileges, taboos, and magical power of RECEIVING.

We think we know what it means, but for most people it's just a word. That blankness in perceptual space regarding RECEIVING produces a blank spot in the perceptual space occupied by GIVING.

So this morning I was trying to figure out how to explain that. Yes, I know, most readers of this blog don't understand at all what I'm going on about or why -- or what it all has to do with Romance, nevermind Love. Trust me, it's all connected, mystically and practically.

So I'm washing dishes (where a lot of my best ideas occur) and suddenly I know how to convey the concept I have in my mind that has no words for it.

Being an SF writer, I boldly go where no one has gone before -- I invent language.

So I invented a word that would explain everything I have to say in one simple word, and then we can get on with the discussion of what the blank part of our Giving/Receiving paradigm has has to do with writing SF/F Romance.

My word?

Epistememe.

OK, now on with the important part of the discussion.

WAIT!

What if someone else has used this word to mean something different from what I mean by it? Uh-oh. Google quick!

AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGES?????!!!!! (sorry Linnea)

Google-google-google. Aha! Some people called "Language Typologists" have coined this word before me -- in the 1980's it seems, so it is possible I've run across it before and it soaked into my subconscious. But their definition is not the one I need to explain my point about what writers who invent Elves, talking Unicorns, and Vulcans (nevermind Simes) need to understand before the Elf falls in love with the Vulcan.

Here's a pdf file I found on the web and a quote from one of its 58 panels -- I think it's a slide presentation that goes with a lecture.

http://www.fl.ut.ee/orb.aw/class=file/action=preview/id=401744/Tartu08Plenary_Haspelmath.pdf

Here's the quote from slide 41:
-------------------------------------

More comparative concepts (3):
wh-movement
41
• generalization: Wh-movement is always to the left.
• definition: Wh-movement is a syntactic construction in which a
wh-word occurs in a special position in which its non-whcounterpart
would not normally occur.
• definition 2: A wh-word is a word that can be used as a
question pronoun, i.e. to represent the questioned content in a
content question.
• comparative concept vs. descriptive category: In many
languages, wh-words are also used as indefinite pronouns and/or
as relative pronouns. Alternative terms such as epistememe
(Durie 1985) and ignorative (Wierzbicka 1980) have therefore
been proposed. Still, these fall under the above definition.

---------------

Now I didn't go look up Durie's 1985 work -- likely it's not on the web. Someone with a university library access might locate it, but it's probably the same approach as used by Martin Haspelmath in this lecture.

Haspelmath demonstrates the purely linguistic approach -- which is very limiting from the point of view of a writer trying to people a world he/she has built.

Linguists take the whole bunch of languages humans use (or have used if they can crack them) and analyze the bits and pieces of speech. Linguists study language, not communication (though most of them would argue that point vociferously since they talk a lot about sememes in semantics.)

Writers of fiction are wholly focused on COMMUNICATION among our characters. Or we resort to the Universal Translator and forget all the problems.

Haspelmath's academic slide presentation demonstrates one of the reasons that it is impossible to TRANSLATE anything accurately. It gives some examples of the use of prepositions and pronouns across language families and within a language family.

It does not discuss WHY the typology doesn't correspond exactly from one language to another, but the "why" is the interesting thing to a writer building a world.

Psychology, brain development studies, magic or maybe even genes might figure in, though I doubt genes have anything to do with it. I think the diversity among our languages is a reflection of the origin of human COMMUNICATION.

When inventing aliens that human readers will accept, you need to know how the aliens came to be able to communicate with one another, the stepwise origin for them, and what drove that necessity, but you don't necessarily have to know this consciously.

Thus understanding the root origin of language at the philosophical level can allow your subconscious to create in an instant what your conscious mind could never achieve - an alien language with dramatic potential.

We've learned recently that the human brain, even in older folks, can rewire itself, recircuit around stroke damage, restructure the neurons. People who use computers a lot, even if they start when older, show distinctive brain structure changes. (I read that in an article on the web and don't have the reference handy.) If you dig up any of these references, please post them to the comments.

But our Language Centers don't change so easily in adulthood.

Song birds (mocking birds and I think Canaries?) have a few weeks in infancy where they learn their SONG(s), and then they sing that song the rest of their lives. Humans too, have a "song" (i.e. languages) that a part of our brain circuits itself to handle, and then that's IT for life. When you learn languages later in life, the brain handles the knowledge differently.

Teens learn the cant -- or SONG or TUNE or ACCENT -- (the Valley Girl) -- they absorb from those they associate with. There is such a thing as a Harvard Accent, and you can tell those who learned it from their parents from those who just learned it when they arrived on campus.

Human language is BIRD SONG.

Bird song is used much for MATING.

Isn't that interesting?

But humans don't just repeat mating song. We communicate abstract ideas and describe concrete things and events.

What is it that binds a bunch of individuals into a community?

I saw an interesting National Geographic TV feature on Monkeys the other day -- chimps -- social structure. I've seen lots of those over the years -- but I watched a good 15 minutes of this one, enraptured.

The origin of communication among primates. Food, reproduction, survival. Primal basics which Blake Snyder recommends as the driving force behind a plot. He says make it so simple a cave man could understand it.

So I had this idea. What binds a group of individuals is an AGREEMENT on the nature of reality. An epistemology, or a paradigm that explains existence and how to keep on existing.

The important element is the agreement part - social sanction - that which is unquestioned.

Individuals all live in their own subjective realities, bubbles of assumptions. In an unbound group, just about every "epistememe" (my definition) would exist, just as an infant babbles every phoneme the human can make.

In order to bind into a tribe, a co-bonded survival structure, SOME assumptions have to be thrown out, excised, declared not to exist, ignored to death. Membership in the group, and thus survival itself, is rooted in one's absolute rejection of the forbidden, taboo assumptions about reality.

Groups don't bind on what they have in common.

They bind on what they have commonly rejected.

I don't think I've ever seen that idea examined academically, but I think it doesn't have to be true to be useful in building a fictional world.

Though I can't COIN the term "epistememe," I can add a definition, make it a technical term, jargon just for writers whose job under World Building and Plot-Conflict Integration is to imagine the languages of non-humans.

EPISTEMEME IS DEFINED BY JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG AS THE SMALLEST INDIVISIBLE UNIT OF ALL POSSIBLE COMPONENTS OF ALL POSTULATES ABOUT THE ORIGIN, NATURE, AND FUNCTION OF REALITY. The smallest indivisible unit of an epistemology.

The definition of epistememe for writers then is the smallest indivisible segment of a philosophical idea, of an epistemology.

Phoneme is defined as the smallest indivisible unit of sound in a language.

Atom is defined (but in reality isn't) the smallest indivisible unit of matter.

Defining and studying the smallest indivisible units is one of the most powerful tools of science, and we are writing Science Fiction (even Fantasy writers are -- but their science is philosophy.)

So I think we need this concept of Epistememe to discuss the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy writing.

The origin of "language" is the need to survive and reproduce, which for us weaklings means forming groups that can cooperate in food gathering and defense. "No Man Is An Island."

Group formation depends on excluding certain ideas, focusing on the ones which carry meaning that cause the group to survive.

Audible Language depends on excluding certain sounds to lend meaning to other sounds (phonemes) -- to sort the sound-spectrum and assign meaning which can be transmitted. This is a group-agreement necessary for survival. When you cry HELP, someone has to be able to know what you mean.

Groups that have the "word" DUCK! survive better than those whose only Song is 'EEEKKKK!'

But that verbal sorting of our Song probably has to happen AFTER a general agreement on the structure of reality (an epistemology) is reached. (Linguists don't think so.)

But from a writer's perspective, I see the "unthinkable" embedded so deep in language that it is an unexamined premise behind what vocabulary and syntax exists.

For an interesting example and discussion see my series of posts on this blog http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/ on the Swords and Pentacles of the Tarot -- discussing the philosophy that describes the shape of existence which lies outside existence. That magical view of the universe is an example of those unconscious "agreements" that bind a community. The content of the agreement doesn't matter nearly as much as that it is agreed, that it is a Pact.

The Pact Agreement on the concept "is" disallows conceptualizing non-existence as existing. We are trapped by our language in a reality that lacks a structure and function for non-existence. Look at how dependent English syntax is on the verb "to be" in all its conjugations. Not all languages are that dependent.

Language puts epistemological blinders on us. Or (as I suspect) it's the other way around -- first come the blinders, then comes the language that functions in the space defined by the blinders.

EXAMPLE: biggest, meanest male is BOSS. His females get fed first. He can take any female he wants.

This paradigm excludes romance, chivalry etc. Such ideas are literally unthinkable because they have no thinkable epistememe behind them. Like "r" is unpronounceable and un-hearable, chivalry is unthinkable. It's in a blank spot. Chivalry is not an epistememe of this Pact.

If you can see the structural concept I'm playing with here, you can then see how to construct an alien who would have a bunch of trouble communicating with a human in any matter (Honor, Peace Treaty, Defense Alliance, Trade Agreement, Friendship, Love).

Poul Anderson did this repeatedly in developing his aliens. C. J. Cherryh's FOREIGNER series has it nailed.

20th Century American Culture seems to lack a major portion of the "epistememe" RECEIVING.

What trouble would an American Woman have with an Elf (or other magical being; or Bug Eyed Monster) whose cultural Pact originated in RECEIVING, and all of whose cultures and languages lacked some portion of the epistememe for GIVING?

And yes, I said "epistememe" means smallest indivisible unit, but so does Atom. We have to look within the indivisible to discern the structure and to see what happens when the epistememe or the atom is split.

If you've been following what I'm developing here, you should be skipping ahead to think of the whole GOOD Vs. EVIL paradigm blithely assumed as common by Fantasy writers today.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

http://www.slantedconcept.com

http://twitter.com/JLichtenberg

Monday, November 24, 2008

Writing Tip #2: Smiling, We Wrote This…

Like Tip #1 last week, this bit of writing craft experience comes from teaching two back-to-back weekends of writing workshops. And in between all that, reading three ARCs (Advanced Review Copies or Advance Reader Copies, whichever floats your boat) for quotes. ARCs are often only slightly tidier than first draft manuscripts. So at times it’s heartening to see that other authors do the same stupid mistakes I do in their first drafts, and have the same brain farts.

That’s what crit partners (fresh eyes) and copy editors are eventually for.

But if you’re not yet published or if you’d like to earn the gratitude of your copy editor, you can use these tips to ferret out some of the clunkier parts of your prose.

My smiling blog deals with the (over)use of the gerund. The “ing” form of the verb. Smiling. Thinking. Reaching. Turning. Rising. Sitting…

Browne and King, in their excellent Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (yep, I’m mentioning the book again—I must think it’s good) files the overuse of the gerund under their chapter entitled “Sophistication.” As in—NOT. That is, overuse of the gerund form in commercial genre fiction (well, it would annoy the hell out of me in news copy too but you don’t usually see it there) is an alarm that the writer still suffers from amateurish constructs. So Browne and King say. I tend to agree because when I come across this particular problem, it grates on my ear like the ubiquitous fingernail and blackboard.

Noted SF author CJ Cherryh files the overuse of “ing” words into a different category: simultaneity errors.

We’ll tackle both here.

Good prose, like good music, has a tune, a cadence—a definite rise and fall, push and pull, lull and surge. Sentence length should vary. All long sentences in a piece are a boring as all short. Sentence beginnings should vary.

She walked into the room. She picked up a book. She opened the book. She read the page. She, she, she, she.

Not.

How beginning writers (and some published pros!) attempt to avoid this is through use of the gerund. Unfortunately, they simply end up committing a different error:

She walked into the room. Reaching, she picked up the book. Turning the page, she read it. Glancing over her shoulder, she looked back to the hallway. Sighing, the looked back at the book.

Okay, not that bad but close. I’ve seen pages where every paragraph on the page starting with the “ing” version of the verb…plus some additional gerund thrown in mid-paragraph.

Browne and King note: “[The] ing construction…[is] grammatically correct and express[es] the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that [this] construction takes a bit of action and tucks it away into a dependent clause. This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Plain fact: it’s weak writing.

“The participle construction has a particularly amateurish flavor when placed at the beginning of the sentence.” (Browne and King, pg 157).

I couldn’t have said it better. (As an aside, yes, Renni Browne and Dave King do have the street creds as former senior editors for major NY publishing houses to make such statements with authority.)

Oh, they also point out rewriting the gerund participle phrase to us “as” is equally as problematic:

She walked into the room. As she reached for the book, she picked it up. As she turned the page, she read the words…

I just seem to see a lot less “as” phrases than I do “ing” phrases.

The other problem with the participle phrase is simultaneity.

From Cherryh’s Writerisms:

-ing. 'Shouldering his pack and setting forth, he crossed the river...' No, he didn't. Not unless his pack was in the river. Implies simultaneity. The participles are just like any other verbal form. They aren't a substitute legal everywhere, or a quick fix for a complex sequence of motions. Write them on the fly if you like, but once imbedded in text they're hard to search out when you want to get rid of their repetitive cadence, because -ing is part of so many fully constructed verbs {am going, etc.}

Logic errors like this are so easy to create and so easy to overlook. Your mind (at least, my mind) knows what it wrote. It knows what it wants to say. So when it reads the page, it often fills in logic that’s not there.

Trust me. I’ve done it.

Setting the cup on the table, she ran for the door.

Unless she had a really really long arm, no, she didn’t. She did not set and run at the same time.

Rubbing her nose, she turned toward the window.

Yes, she did. Those are legit simultaneous actions. Placing and running aren’t.

A quick check I use—if I’m not sure I’ve created a logic error—is to turn the two verbs around:

Running for the door, she set the cup on the table. Threw the cup, maybe, but not set.

Turning toward the window, she rubbed her nose.

Perfectly fine.

Take Cherryh’s example above and turn it around:

Crossing the river, he shouldered his pack…


Okay, sensible but that’s not likely what the writer meant to say. The writer wanted to show two actions. First, he put his pack over his shoulder. Second, he crossed the river. Crossing the river, he shouldered his pack…doesn’t say that.

But it’s just a minor difference in meaning, you wail!

Yes, it is. And that’s what being an author of a story is all about. The usage and meanings of words that clearly and definitively create the experience known as the story. The novel. If “good enough” is good enough for you, keep writing. But don’t set your sights at being a published author. Words as are much an author’s tools as spices are a chef’s. The wrong spice, too much of a spice, and the dish is unpalatable.

The same is true for writing.


Mark Twain said "The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between the lightning and the lightning bug."


Smiling happily, she ended the blog.


~Linnea

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Editorial Ass: C[r]ash Flow (Or What Went Wrong in October in Book Publishing)

Editorial Ass: C[r]ash Flow (Or What Went Wrong in October in Book Publishing)

Problem-Solving Sundays .... the future of Chain Bookstores

Who better than speculative fiction authors and a few romantics with their heads in the stars (and the warp drive) to set the world to rights?

So, I thought I'd float a trial balloon here.

Have you ever seen a problem, and had an idea for a fix, but no one to tell? Moreover, your idea wouldn't fit into any science fiction or fantasy work you have in progress? If so, please comment. I'm looking for some guest blogs to put up over December/January.


Bricks and Mortar Chain Bookstores

I'd like to sort out the bricks and mortar book chain stores, such as Barnes and Noble, Borders. They've become glorified warehouses with a few comfy chairs, a coffeeshop, and soft toys and confectionery. While it isn't impossible to find any book that ought to be in stock, many books might as well not be there. They're at ankle level, or you get a crick in your neck looking up; they're spine out and jammed together. If they're autographed, no one can tell.

Honestly, my local Borders Books is like a really bad website. A booklover has to know what he or she wants before he or she goes there, and the chances of being distracted or frustrated and leaving without buying are quite high.

My local library is much more welcoming. At least, I'm allowed to use the computers to help me find what I'm looking for.

Computers!

Barnes and Noble, Chapters.Indigo.ca, Amazon (not that Amazon counts), Borders. Books-A-Million all have websites and online stores. Some offer book clubs. Some offer discussions and forums and book-related social networking. Some are well done, and some are not very easy to navigate.

The only problem with buying a book on the internet is that you have to wait until and while it ships, and you may have to pay postage (and even tax). The advantage of your local chain bookstore is that you don't pay postage, you get your book immediately as long as it is in stock, and you can read as much of it as you wish to make sure you've a good chance of enjoying it.

So here is what I envisage as the future of chain bookstores:

Barnes and Noble (et alia) as a book-related internet cafe! (Warehouse attached).

I foresee lots of chained-down, but free-to-use computers all around the perimeter, and in a central reservation, too. I mean LOTS!

Booklovers would go to a comfy captain's chair, log in with their Barnes and Noble card number (or not), check their own emails (because we all do, don't we?), then migrate to the B&N bookclub and bookstore online...

Or, they'd simply type in the name of their favorite author, or the title of the book they want, and call up covers, back cover blurb, first chapter, last page, author's blog, author's website, author's booklist, book-trailers, reviews... all that useful stuff.

Of course, this could be done from home, too, in the same way that we can buy a flash drive at a compelling price online from Circuit City, then drive fifteen miles to the nearest participating store to pick it up.

Books could be sorted by subgenre. Award-winning, humorous futuristic Romances with plus-size psychic heroines (such as Insufficient Mating Material) could be virtually "shelved" in all six categories.

Book store patrons would choose, click, discover where the book was shelved (or else, they'd order it from the comfort of where they were sitting and a bookseller would fetch it from the stacks and have it waiting at checkout), pay online, then maybe finish their beverage, check their email again; pick up their purchase, and leave.

Local authors might take advantage of the facilities and actually write in the bookstores. (And be available to autograph books on site). Virtual signings could be a snap.

Anyone with a power outage or ISP downtime (or unpaid cable bill) could use the bookstore computers. What a service!

It could take book related social networking to a new level. Hey, the bookstore might replace the bar, though nothing could ever replace Linnea Sinclair's Intergalactic Bar and Grille.


What do you think?
What's your beef? And what's your solution?

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Work with Boundaries

I thought about Linnea's remark on the neat-o, peachy things about writing after raking three bags' worth of leaves Monday. I don't normally rake the yard or hire somebody to do so, although I'll accept the work if anyone wants to volunteer. (Our oldest son sometimes does when he drops by, oddly; maybe he thinks his aging parents are decrepit and need the help.) Raking seems to me a waste of time and energy. Leaves biodegrade and fertilize the lawn, and while they're on the ground, I think they look prettier than dried-up fall and winter grass. Also, raking is one of those jobs that have no limits. There are always more leaves. So I imposed an arbitrary limit of three bags, mainly to remove the leaves from the driveway, because they get slippery after rain.

I was reminded of a housecleaning advice book I had years ago, called NOBODY SAID YOU HAD TO EAT OFF THE FLOOR, blurbed as the psychiatrist's wife's guide to housekeeping. I used to read lots of guidebooks about housekeeping in search of the magic formula that would enable me to keep the place clean with no work. Likewise, I find it hard to resist buying yet another instruction manual for writers, in hope that one of them will contain the secret of writing a bestseller with minimal effort. Anyway, one of the first principles this author propounded about cleaning the house was, "You will never get it all done, because it is infinite." After 42 years of marriage, I've learned to put that principle into practice along the same lines as my approach to raking the leaves. I've decided which elements of housecleaning are really important to me and how many hours a week I'm willing to spend on those activities. (Not many.)

One thing I like about my day job as a legislative editor is that the work is not infinite (although sometimes it looks that way during the January crunch of the General Assembly session). Eventually a bill gets printed and either advances to the next stage in its life cycle or gets killed. The work has a limit. Similarly, that's one of the things I like most about the craft of writing. The work has boundaries. It is not infinite. More leaves will fall. The dog tracks up the kitchen floor several times a day. The bathroom gets dirty every week. A book, though, reaches a point where I can declare it finished. It gets printed (or formatted into an e-book) and offered to readers. To show for my effort, I have a concrete object I have created. While the creation of order, even on a domestic scale, is a wonderful thing, the product is inevitably ephemeral. The order produced by means of the words in a book lasts somewhat longer. In my case, it may not be the Great American Novel (which my father once asked me when I was going to write), but it's a visible and tangible accomplishment. Within the past week I finished—for the present—two short pieces of fiction and submitted them to editors, one of whom has already sent an encouragingly worded revision request. Now, that's a welcome ray of warmth in a cold season!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gift: Giver: Recipient

There has been a fascinating discussion in the comments on Linnea Sinclair's post:

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=26974492&postID=9182509849010315555

That's the link to the comments page. If it doesn't work, try this:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/11/buddy-system.html

There are 12 astute comments, so far, on Linnea Sinclair's THE BUDDY SYSTEM.

The basic subject of Linnea's post is how does an unknown, beginning fiction writer "break in" or make the contacts, get the advice, find the KEY to getting into the fiction publishing market. She gives very practical advice, all of which I heartily endorse - but being of the "brief is better" school of writing, she only tickles the surface of the real subject and never actually names that subject.

That tiptoe around the core of the matter has left some readers feeling bewildered about how to apply her advice. Of course, now I'm going to make everyone even more bewildered.

The philosophical or magical or even maybe religious category that The Buddy System discussion belongs to is all about the epistemological place of Giving and Receiving in your own life, and what that "place" has to do with your Art and how you "See" the Universe. All this philosophical fol-der-ol is just way too abstract to discuss.

Let's try Linnea Sinclair's advice in her post WE WAS HAPPY!
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/11/we-was-happy-writing-tip-1.html

SHOW DON'T TELL THE INTANGIBLES OF EMOTION. (right, yeah, sooo easy)

So OK, let's get concrete instead of philosophical and abstract about "how to break in" to whatever field of Artistic Endeavor you aspire to.

My life has indeed been surpassing strange in this regard, which set my analytical mind off on an endless trek through Tarot and Astrology and Ancient Wisdom from a dozen or more cultures (a lot of which I've used as worldbuilding fodder for my novels).

Nobody could do it the way I did it. You can not follow in my footsteps. You can NOT do the actions I did and have your action produce the same result my action produced.

To readers of my series of posts on Tarot on this blog, that statement should immediately explain the point I'm trying to make with this post. If you "get it" you need not read any further.

This is the story of "how I did it" -- or no! It is the story of HOW IT HAPPENED TO ME.

And that's a key point I need to get across to any reader of this column trying to "break in" to any profession, but especially those involving The Arts.

Our scientific, Aristotelian Logic based, Hellenistically influenced, culture puts blinders on children early in life, to parse the universe ONLY in terms of cause and effect.

The ARTIST must throw off those blinders to understand the world via a different paradigm and explain that paradigm in their Art.

For my entire rant on Hellenistic traces in modern American culture, see my non-fiction book NEVER CROSS A PALM WITH SILVER, #1 in the NOT SO MINOR ARCANA series -- or subscribe to the rss feed for this blog for notification of when it will become newly available. (I hope.)

This rant is about a principle underlying the process of breaking into a commercial art field -- it applies to all the Arts, but it also applies to many other kinds of fields of endeavor because Art subsumes all human life. (because Art is the language of Magic).

I could start the story of HOW I MET MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY AND SHE BECAME MY CRITIQUE PARTNER AND MENTOR -- of how I attracted the attention of that Great Writer -- with the point at which I graduated from the University of California at Berkley in the middle of a recession that hit my prospective profession harder than this recession is hitting the financial sector.

The class before mine was snapped up by industry at top salaries. Mine - nada. And I was a mis-fit, just about the only woman in my graduating class in my major because it was a man's field - no women allowed.

There's karma in the timing of my graduation. Because a professor got sick and couldn't give a particular class during a particular semester, my graduation was delayed an entire semester.

After nine months and well over 120 resumes, dozens of interviews, I got a phone call from a person (male) whose company I had not applied to and was offered the job on the phone -- landed it at the first interview. (FIRST!!! (yes, Linnea I read your post about multiple punctuation marks)) It was a job rated BELOW my degree level. I pondered. I took it.

That job gave me the contact that saved my life and put me in the job where I met my husband (the same one I'm still married to). He had just returned to his job after a year away -- my delay of a year put me right where I had to be.

Because I had that husband, I ended up living in the only place where I could make direct contact with an active fan who knew Marion Zimmer Bradley's address. (sans Relationship, I was headed for a TA job in Iowa, but HE changed the destination to New York.)

I had been an MZB fan since SWORD OF ALDONES was first published. WORLD WRECKERS had now just come out a year or so before.

I used the address (on Staten Island) and the intro of the fan-friend's name to write MZB a 12 page, typed, single space, letter detailing everything that was "right" and "wrong" with WORLD WRECKERS and how it should have been written.

She wrote back detailing how all that happened. I wrote back and apologized for excoriating her work and explaining that it's because I love it and read every book until I've about memorized every comma because I'm trying to replicate the effect she creates on me. I told her about HOUSE OF ZEOR in MS being my first attempt to generate the MZB EFFECT.

She wrote back and said to send her the MS and she'd see if she could suggest anything. I did. She said it needed a tweak here and there (details), and if I did that she'd show it to her editor. I did. She did. It was turned down (after a year or so), but the editor told me which editor in Manhattan was in the market for that kind of book. I subsequently submitted it everywhere else but there. Finally, I tried his suggestion and a year later, HOUSE OF ZEOR was bought by Doubleday for library distribution. I started writing that book in, I think 1969 and it made it into print in 1974.

WRITING the book is something I DID. Had I not done it, nothing would have "happened." But every direct, pro-active, planned, sensible, logical thing I did to market the book failed.

Because I graduated during a recession and couldn't get a job in 1965, I sold my first novel in 1973 -- and the events that "caused" that to happen were not LUCK and had nothing to do with my goal. They were not the result of what I did or intended. They were things that "happened to me" which at the time I considered real BAD. (not getting a job meant having to live in my parents' house - rrrealll bad.)

THUS I can "see" in my epistemology how it is that LOVE CONQUERS ALL. Because I fell in love, I sold my first novel. And nobody but me can see the because-line behind that. Nobody can do the deeds I did and get that same result. (no, you can't have my husband. He's MINE!)

Now let's really get mystical. (you can stop reading now - this is the boring part, but it's a secret)

In our culture, a marriage is symbolized by the giving of something of intrinsic value - a diamond ring, gold, platinum. Today, people exchange rings, though it used to be just the woman who would be given the token.

Giving and Receiving -- the pair making a concrete transaction on the material plane which is mirrored Above on the non-material planes -- has a mystical significance. That completed transaction actually changes the Universe, leaves an indelible scratch in the Akashic Record.

Among the varieties of human cultures, there have arisen a number of diverse customs, and many SF novels have been built around Alien cultures that impute odd significances to the exchange of gifts.

A case in point is how in some cultures, if you save someone's life, you are thereafter responsible for them -- hence it isn't a good idea to pull someone out of a flooding river.

The transmission of ownership is felt by all human cultures to require ceremony and to have lasting significance.

BUYING (giving something of value in exchange for something of value) is not at all the same thing as GIFTING.

But note that in our society, the distinction has become blurred. Man and Wife exchange rings, instead of the Gifting going only one way to make the magical connection valid. We have a "List" to buy holiday gifts for -- and Heaven Forfend that you GET a gift from someone you didn't GIVE one to -- and what a gaffe if the values don't match!

In some cultures. brides were owned. Or grooms. There was a Bride Price. Men would buy a bride, and hence own their wives and her children. We want to destroy that symbolism, and so reciprocate items of value so ownership is mutual.

Thus the marriage transaction becomes a purchase, not a gifting. There's a big difference magically speaking.

Giving means nothing without Receiving. The transaction is not complete without both actions.

In order for a Gift to be Received, there must be no reciprocation. Nothing GOES DIRECTLY BACK to the giver. Otherwise, magical receiving hasn't happened. After receiving happens, yes, the receiver can (and should) GIVE something, but not BACK. It has to go ON and around the Circle of Life -- then it comes back three-fold as the saying goes.

Yet we say it is more blessed to give than to receive.

How can that be?

Giving is enabled (in the co-dependent sense of the word) by receiving.

When the transaction is complete, the world has changed significantly. Ownership has been transferred. A connection of some sort, sometimes only mystical, has been established between the two parties.

Marion Zimmer Bradley "gave" me all those books she had written and I had read-to-death before I connected with her on the material plane.

But I had not "received" them until I connected and wrote back to her explaining (by praise and criticism) exactly what had come to me via her writing.

That fan letter (not mentioning House of Zeor or my aspirations, but just explaining what I see in her writing) completed the giving transaction. I did not give a gift back. I did not give her something NEW (i.e. my own writing). I ACCEPTED HER GIFT, which I PASS ON with everything I write. Not "back" but "on."

My acceptance made a VESSEL that was finally able to hold the Blessing I was asking for - selling the Sime~Gen Universe novels.

A GIFT that is not being ACCEPTED (i.e. RECEIVED) is not a GIFT.

Charity is a form of gift-giving - though not all gifts are charity.

But there is a magical principle behind all this - writers of fantasy universes where magic is real need to understand this principle to replicate it in a made-up universe. When properly replicated, this single principle behind giving and receiving can make any crazy nonsense seem real enough for a reader to "get into" the story.

We are Commanded (a Mitzvah) to GIVE CHARITY.

That means that those who RECEIVE CHARITY are doing a Commandment, a Mitzvah.

You can give forever and not achieve the mitzvah of giving. Someone, somehow, has to RECEIVE to complete the transaction.

The mystical concept is that Blessings are raining down on us all the time, omnidirectionally, like a monsoon deluge. The Creator of the Universe is Giving - always, constantly, incessantly, and asks of us only that we Receive.

But the monsoon hits and runs off and disappears into material reality without a visible trace unless we MAKE A VESSEL to catch it -- do something concrete in the material world that can "hold" that blessing. Nothing happens until we, ourselves RECEIVE but to do that we must make a Vessel.

And Receiving is much, much harder than Giving.

Just think of a panel discussion at a convention, or a town Council meeting, or any committee meeting you've been at. Everyone wants to GIVE their opinion, point of view, or ideas. The Chair asks for questions and gets polemics instead. There is a feverish desperation in the American population to express their opinions. It's EASY to grab the floor and regale the captive audience with your opinions. How many of them fall asleep? How many can follow your arguments? How many of those who started to read this blog entry are still reading?

LISTENING and HEARING are way harder than yammering out your own opinion. Giving is so much easier than receiving.

When was the last time you made the effort to Receive?

Writing the actual manuscript comes from the place inside you that needs to GIVE. You have something to say, and you pour it out. But then you prepare the manuscript for market by rewriting and crafting it to market specs, and that's another process that is hard work. Do re-read all my Tarot posts to this blog because I explain this principle as best I can in those posts.

The entire process of crafting an object you can offer for sale (well, the rights to which you offer to license) is creating a Vessel. The actions of marketing it also "create a vessel" -- but so does everything else you do in life.

Creating Vessels requires Action in the real, material world.

Now at the time I graduated and sold my first story and then my first novel, I had no idea about any of this mystical stuff. It was MZB and another Star Trek friend of mine who introduced me to Astrology and Tarot and that led to other things. (I had already been into Kabbalah since college, but didn't understand it.)

You don't need to know what you're doing to do it. In fact, it probably helps to be ignorant, unlike in the scientific view of the universe where the more you know the more likely you are to succeed.

But look closely at the outline of my story above. I DO one thing -- over here -- and something I want comes to me -- not back along my line of action, but from OVER THERE -- from another direction.

The cause-effect scientific model of the universe simply can't handle that, can't parse it. And in fact, readers reading novels can't parse it either because of the way our schools teach about the universe. Readers need to have it explained up to the point where they can see the "poetic justice" but not beyond that point (not to belabor it).

In the magical view of the universe, the universe responds to WHO YOU ARE, not to WHAT YOU DO.

Or, put into the model of Giving and Receiving -- when what you Give over here is Received over here -- you have made a Vessel that can hold what is pouring onto you from over there. Your challenge is to be ready with a Vessel strong enough to hold that blessing raining down on you.

When the Give/Receive paradigm is completed, the completion creates a Vessel which can then fill up with the largess raining down upon you. Truly, your cup runneth over, always. Just sometimes your cup has a hole in it or just isn't big enough to hold what you want.

Your "cup" is the Deeds you have done, especially the Commandments. If almost all your Deeds are Gifts, or giving, then try Receiving half the time. Listen inside yourself for the anxious little voice that gets antsy when you Receive and impels you to try to get even by Giving something.

For example, we're all taught to say "Thank You" when we receive a compliment. But if, inside you feel you don't deserve it (or deserve even more) then you didn't Receive.

EXERCISE: Read Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel of the Circus during World War II, CATCH TRAP. Understand the Flying Santellis and what makes their act so special.

If someone comes along and tells you what's wrong with you, your inner impulse is to defend yourself -- it's not so, or there's a mitigating circumstance - etc. You squirm.

When you've practiced the easy stuff, try practising Receiving ill-meant criticism.

Receiving is really, really hard! I can't say that often enough. I been there. Done that. Have the T-shirt. It is really REALLY hard.

But practice and you may find you suddenly have something you really wanted.

Now what about the "giving" of Love? It's not a material object, yet it is a component of our Identity, a component which can be given.

"Unrequited Love" is defined as love that isn't "returned" -- that is, the loved person doesn't also love the lover.

But is that actually the source of pain in unrequited love?

Perhaps the real anguish in unrequited love is that the LOVE that is given is not received?

A person who has received Love is forever changed by the event.

This is clear from examining all the psychological documentation on those who have never received Love. Even if they were in fact loved, they didn't manage to Receive it.

And then there are those humans who are being offered Love and who reflexively refuse it, fend it off, duck, run, laugh it off.

For a really deep examination of this personality trait and its possible resolution in RECEIVING, see the incredibly complex fantasy universe background by Jessica Andersen, showcased in her FINAL PROPHECY series, NIGHTKEEPERS and soon forthcoming DAWNKEEPERS.

I just finished reading and reviewing DAWNKEEPERS (for my June 2009 column) and have not read NIGHTKEEPERS, so I can say you can easily read the second book without the first.

REVIEW to be posted at: http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/2009/

DAWNKEEPERS on Amazon at:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0451225759?tag=rereadablebooksr&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0451225759&adid=1C2VKGVB3GT42XVRKZ5X&

In DAWNKEEPERS we get deep into the mind of a man who is refusing the knowledge of his magical powers, and with that also refusing true Love. Jessica Andersen takes us through the harrowing lessons that teach him what he's doing wrong.

Yes, it's fiction -- and really wild, far-out urban fantasy-Romance -- but there's a life-lesson in it. The harder you fend it off, the bigger the hammer that hits you until you learn to Receive. Why not skip the bludgeoning (we're talking Pluto Transit here) and just learn the lesson?

This is prime fodder for the conflict line of Romance Novels of all sub-genres, not just urban fantasy-Romance.

A giver must pair up with a recipient or the gift can't be transferred and so it isn't yet a gift.

It sounds obvious, but it's a principle like the Laws of Thermodynamics, which can be applied to the mystical world as well as the physical.

Now consider a human woman (who lives in a reality where givers need recipients) and an alien (non-human) male who does not live in such a mystically based universe.

How could a human woman explain the "blessing" -- the mystical dimension -- of giving or receiving to such a male?

If, for him, there existed no mystical dimension, how would he view her antics? How could he learn what a gift meant? How would he learn that she was validating him by receiving him?

Suppose the fate of two planets depended on it. How could she open him to this mystical dimension? And if she found a way to do that -- should she? What "unforeseen consequences" might be generated by forcibly changing the way he sees the world?

The curious should also see my March 2009 Review Column when it's posted in March where I discuss the Karma of World Prominence via Noel Tyl's astrological discovery of the signature of prominence in a natal chart.

Study the natal chart of George Lucas, (see his biography published years ago). Notice how the plot of Star Wars is mirrored in his Natal Chart but not his Life? Note Noel Tyl's comments on World Prominence coming with the "fulfillment" of the promise in the Natal Chart. Look at your Natal Chart and find what promise you have fulfilled and what you are really "about."

And remember, in the scientific view of the universe, if you do "the right thing" you will succeed. But in the magical view of the universe, if you "are who you really are" you will be fulfilled. Which is the "right" view? Which is your view? How do you apply that philosophy to the practical necessity of life?

Now, I bet nobody read this far. This post is just way too long and too abstract for a blog. And it's barely a tenth of what I have to say on Giving and Receiving!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

http://www.simegen.com/jl/

Monday, November 17, 2008

We was happy!!!!! (writing tip #1)

I’ve spent the past two weekends, back-to-back, teaching writing workshops out of town for two different writer groups. (Yes, that is me on the bridge of my starship--the only way to travel these days. And Daq cat agrees.) One Saturday I was in Tampa with the local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter. This past weekend I was in Ft Myers with the Gulf Coast Writers Association. One of the neat-o peachy keen things about teaching writing is that it forces me to again study the craft of writing.

Not that that’s something I don’t do a lot. I’m an admitted research junkie (I’m also a word slut but we’ll get to that at another time). I have an unending curiosity of why things work (or don’t). So I have an entire bookshelf devoted to craft of writing tomes.

I used just about every one of them for my last Saturday’s three-hour workshop. (I also quoted a lot of Jacqueline Lichtenberg but then you all know I worship at the Great JL’s feet.)

One of the easiest and yet often overlooked tips I shared was one I found in Browne & King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (a totally excellent book). It’s so simple yet it addresses one of the problems I frequently see in unpublished stories. That problem is an emotion is NAMED rather than SHOWN.

Let me give you an example:
Lois was happy to see Clark at her front door.

WAS HAPPY is not only use of the passive (was) but it’s naming the emotion (ie: telling the reader) rather than showing the emotion in action. And good fiction writing is all about showing (in action) rather than telling (in narrative and in passive voice).

Why is that not good writing? Well, honestly, it’s not bad writing. It’s grammatically correct. It gets the point across. But it’s not engaging writing and it’s not effective writing, and to compete in today’s commercial genre fiction market, you need to be engaging and effective. Writing guru Dwight Swain penned years ago that “it’s the author’s job to manipulate the emotions of the reader.” The lovely Jacqueline Lichtenberg reminds us on her Worldcrafter’s site that “fiction is drama.” Well, it’s rather hard to manipulate emotions and create drama in the passive voice, and without action.

So while Lois was happy to see Clark at her front door, the editor, agent or reader will not be happy reading that sentence. They won’t be feeling Lois’ happiness as much as they could because that kind of sentence doesn’t manipulate reader emotions.

What does? Showing. Action.

So we take “Lois was happy” and we give the reader (and agent and editor who are going to read those lines long before any reader does) the visual. “Vividness outranks brevity,” Swain says.

Lois peeked through the small heart-shaped beveled-glass window set in her front door and her breath caught in delight. Could it be…? Could that actually be…? Yes, it was, it was Clark. She let out a little squeal, a girlish and joyful sound…

Okay, supremely overwritten but I hope you get the idea. Instead of naming the emotion for the reader (happiness), the writer describes the sensations and thoughts and actions that most humans (since we assume humans are your readers) recognize as indications of happiness.

I know. You’re saying, yeah, that’s obvious. But you know what? I bet you dollars to doughnuts that if you go through your current work-in-progress, you’ll find at least three instances where you cheap-out and name an emotion instead of showing it, instead of letting the reader experience it.

I did. And I’m supposed to know what I’m doing.

Obviously, you can overdo this. You don’t detail every emotion every character feels in a story. The story would feel cartoonish. But you should at least be aware of whether or not you’re doing as much as you should in key scenes that have (or should have) a strong emotional element.

By the way, I did a handout (actually, I did about ten handouts) in that class with a SHOW THE EMOTION exercise. And it was interesting (and fun) to see the variations people created from:

Janet was unhappy that Roger walked by her desk without mentioning her birthday.

From sobs to slumping shoulders, from narrow-eyed glares to hurling of iPods, Janet showed her unhappiness (SHOWED) with Roger in an interesting variety of ways. Without ever TELLING the reader that she was unhappy.

One more writing tip—do not use multiple punctuation marks. Ever!!!! Do you hear me?!?!?!? Ever. Multiple punctuation marks make editors and agents very unhappy.

~Linnea