Thursday, March 21, 2019

Taking Fiction Seriously

I asked my husband, a retired English teacher, for a subject for today's post, and he complained that people today, generally, read a lot of non-fiction, but don't take fiction seriously.

Fiction, he said, can offer a distilled truth that non-fiction can't.

I find that insightful and possibly the highest strength of good fiction.

He mentioned, in particular, Dickens writing about the plight of the poor in Victorian England. The facts were available, but Dickens took his readers into the lives of the poor. When we read about Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, or even Fagin, we experience their suffering; we see the prejudices and systemic abuses from their sides.

We can read histories of times and places and know the facts, but a rich fiction can put us there inside a participant.

As he also pointed out, fiction can also harden stereotypes and perpetuate mythologies, but I maintain that only poor fiction does that. Good fiction doesn't deal in stereotypes, but in individuals, who do things that may look stereotypical for true, personal reasons; if they don't, it isn't good fiction.

What do you think?

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Reading Your Work Aloud #amediting

The company I'm third-part owner of, Per Bastet Publications, received a submission we were eager to see. When I looked it over, I sent it back. We're still eager for it, and the author is willing to do what I asked before we accept the submission for realz, but the contract would already be signed if the excellent author had done one thing before submitting the manuscript.

Peeps, read your work aloud.

If you don't have a critique group or a critique buddy, read to the dog or the cat or to yourself, but read it aloud.

Buy my book.
Dialog should sound like people talking. Ideally, dialog should sound like different people talking. It's all too easy to write formally instead of conversationally. Hearing it aloud will make you go, "Whoa, I never actually heard anybody talk like that." And, yes, some people do or could speak formally, using no contractions, but not everybody all the time.

As I say, it's easy--so, so easy--to perfect-English your dialog to death. Reading aloud will go a long way toward teaching yourself to avoid that, if you read what you've written and not what you think you've written.

To my mind, the best way to edit a story is to have at least one run-through where you read aloud and somebody else reads along silently from a copy of the manuscript. If you left a word out of the manuscript but say it when you read aloud because your brain fills it in, your co-reader will catch that. If you meant "read" but typed "red", spell-checker won't catch that, but your co-reader probably will. If you say and meant "less" but you typed "more", your co-reader will fix that for you.

That's my two-cents'-worth on the subject. What do you think?

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, January 21, 2019

On Birthdays #amwriting #characterization

Pretty much every character was born. I leave a little wiggle room in deference to spec fic; you know how that goes.

ANYWAY, if a character was born, there are anniversaries of that event. And celebrations of events--of lack of celebrations of that event--contribute to your character's background and personality. Does your character's culture even mark birthdates? Does the culture use birthdates to group people or measure advancements through the culture?

Does your character's particular family celebrate birthdays? If so, how? Special foods or activities?

As an adult, how (if at all) does your character mark the birth anniversaries of family and friends? How (if at all) does your character mark their own birthday?

Are there special stories, gifts, or events associated with birthdays in general or a specific birthday?

If you're writing a book or story and get stuck, sometimes exploring a side/background issue like this can unstick you, whether you use the exploration in the story or book or not.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Beauty of Talking Story

Talking story is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world. In case you don't know what it means in the context of writing, it means talking about stories you're writing or thinking of writing, especially if you're stuck.

You usually talk story with other writers, but it can help to talk story to people who aren't writers, but are familiar with something in the story.

For example: Suppose your main character is a waitress, but you've never been a waitress. You need her to be able to share some personal information with a co-worker, but they're both waiting tables. When could they chat?

A waitress could tell you that the boss would frown on their standing around chatting, even if the restaurant isn't busy. BUT, if the restaurant isn't busy, they would be doing side-work, like filling the salt and pepper shakers OR rolling silverware up in napkins. If they're both doing the silverware, they could talk. Or if they bring the low shakers to one location to fill them, they could talk.

If you use that, you not only achieve your requirement, you add some detail to your workplace setting and increase your authenticity.

Or you need a character to do something but don't have a motive. Chew that character over with somebody else, writer or non-writer. describe the character, time, setting, interpersonal relationships. Chances are, the other person or people will see the scene as you've created it, as a place as real as a place in the actual world you've visited. They'll understand the characters as deeply as they would an actual person they don't know but you've met and described. From that construct of reality, they may be able to tell you things you couldn't see past the blinders of Being Able To Make It So.

On this turning of the season, I wish you the ability and opportunity to talk story with other writers and/or other people.

I also recommend the Speculative Fiction Guild's GIFTS OF THE MAGI anthology, a collection of speculative fiction stories set at the turning of the year, with a wide-ranging selection of celebrations. I have a story in it, but none of us get royalties: All profits go to "Indy Reads, a not-for-profit organization that provides tutoring to illiterate and semi-literate adults."

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Leaving Stuff Out

I went on a week-long writing retreat to rough draft a short story. The absolute upper limit of the submission word count is 9000 words, and my draft finished at nearly 11,000. A weeeeeee tad bit too long, eh?

So now I'm going back through and polishing and cutting.

The point of pounding out a draft during National Novel Writing Month is to just pound the thing out, to just get the story down, to get to the end. It's okay if there are repetitions; later, you decide what the best place for that information is.

So my first pass through the draft has been to trip repetitions and streamline awkward sentences. I've cut a bunch, added some, and I'm still above 9000 words.

Now comes the hard part: Now comes the part where I have to cut stuff that isn't awkward and isn't repetitious.

Luckily for me, I know where to go first.

I'm almost finished with Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem Trilogy. It's insanely satisfying: Hard science fiction plus strong, rich characters. But, although the author realizes any number of worlds and societies, the books contain no animals. No, I tell a lie, there are a couple of ants, some passing birds, and mention of a pet cat. Otherwise, humans are the only animals on earth or in space.

So I put some animals into my story.

And now I'm going to take them out.

If cutting those bits give me enough wiggle room, I might be able to stick a reference in here and there, just a tiny brushstroke suggesting much more.

Wish me luck!

And read that trilogy!

Marian Allen, Author Lady

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Short Tale of a Long Tail: Are Events Worth It?

People who don't go to events (conventions, conferences, festivals, craft shows) often ask if going to these events is worth it. The answer is a bit complicated.

Naturally, if you don't have the money, it doesn't matter if it's worth it, or in what sense it's worth it. As I often tell salesfolk, you may be offering me a good price for the product, but $400 would be a great price for a flawless diamond--but that doesn't matter, if I don't have $400.

But let's assume you do have the money to pay your entrance fee and/or table fee (if you're selling books) and to get a hotel room and to pay for gas and food.

Now the question, "Is it worth it?" involves defining what you mean by "worth it."

I'm a member of the Southern Indiana Writers Group. We publish a themed anthology of members' stories every year. Fellow member T. Lee Harris and I (and often other members, as well) went to science fiction and other writing-oriented conventions and offered the books for sale.

We sold some, but never enough to cover expenses.

After a couple of years, we were approached by an independent bookstore owner in our own state, who said he had been observing us at events and wanted to invite us to do a group signing/sale at his bookstore.

That led to a great relationship with him, his wife, her mother, other writers, and readers. When he began an Authors Fair, we were always welcome there. We always sold books, met people, and had fun.

When he started an indie press, any member of the SIW who had a book was invited to publish with him, the first novel publication for some of us.

When he decided to get out of the publication business (which, I would venture to say, most indie presses do), T. Lee and I joined another "orphaned" author to form our own indie press. This happened and that happened, but Per Bastet Publications, LLC is going strong, four years later and counting.

Whether we've made money or broken even or panned out monetarily shy at events, we've never attended one without coming away with something valuable: a contact or two, good will, recommendations for other outlets, marketing ideas, and fire for writing.

Your mileage may vary, but my answer to the question is an unequivocal YES. Assuming, of course, I have what T. Lee calls "the readies" to pay my way.

Do you attend writing/sales events? Do you consider they've been worth it?

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes