My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Facebook Alpha/Beta Reader Introductions Guideline Post

The Rules Guidelines to Participating

  1. I'm going to put up a post inviting everyone to pair up or group up with each other. That's my only part in this process. I'll post it every few weeks or month depending on how popular it is, but it's up to all of you to decide how to group up, transfer files, convey feedback, when feedback is due, what to do if someone's not carrying their own weight, and such. Exchange feedback on each other's work once a week, once a month, once a year–it's all up to you. I'm putting the post here so the interested have a "meeting place."
  2. Please understand that there are websites that specialize in this service. One of my patrons is a big fan of Scribophile. (Good for alpha reading.) They will have systems where you have to give feedback, which means once you do you will GET feedback. There are lots of structured feedback systems. Betabooks.co is a good place if you're done and need complete beta reading. If you're doing this here, it's because you want to do it with the people here. 
  3. Matching up by prefered genre is a really good idea. At least enjoy each other's prefered genre. So if you reach out to exchange work with someone, you both should tell each other what kind of writers you are. Though some of your best feedback may come from someone you don't expect, so don't be afraid to mix it up with someone who is willing. 
  4. You're really going to want to find someone (or multiple someones) who is (are) writing at your level. One of the tricks of peer review is that it won't be as useful to either of you if you're not reviewing your peers. A situation where one of you is writing at a higher level will be more of a mentorship for one, unrewarding for the other, and likely frustrating for both. I know some people will immediately discount the quality of their prose and others will think they are way too good for everyone, but it's important to try to write with a partner or group that can keep up with your feedback and will give you useful feedback.  
  5. This might be news to those of you new to the feedback game, but it is actually GIVING feedback that will help develop your writing the most. We absorb the more holistic lessons we teach much more organically and tend to be thinking about how to fix that_one_thing when we are getting feedback. Over time, good writers learn that a peer asking them for a beta read is an extraordinary opportunity. But, if that doesn't sell you on giving feedback, it's a real first rate asshole move to take feedback and not give it. So don't do that.
  6. Getting feedback is a humbling process. Learning to pour our soul into work and then, when it's time, completely extricate our ego from the process of being told something we loved didn't work at all and there are major things to be worked on. We all want to be geniuses. And we all want our artistic vision to be executed flawlessly. And the first few times you hear that didn't happen it is devastating. But it gets easier. And the whole process is very important. Certainly no critic or reviewer will be any less pointed once you're published so it's time to forage your criticism armor.
  7. In the near future, I'm going to start work on a series of articles about feedback (and this will turn into a link at that time) but for now just remember that all feedback comes through the filter of who is giving it, and it can be just as important to your writing to learn how to ignore certain feedback as it absolutely is to learn to take some. By the time I left my writing program, I knew six or seven people I would have appreciated if they burned my manuscript and peed on it to put out the flames, and a couple dozen that I knew to smile and nod...if they had done the reading at all. Of course, this discretion absolutely canNOT be based on who praises you. Chances are the feedback that stings the most is the stuff you sort of knew needed work already and your brain is finally hearing it. Those who don't seem to have engaged or understood the intention of your work may have valuable insight (especially all their input as an aggregate) but it isn't likely to cut you quite so deeply.
  8. You're really not going to be able to give full bodied feedback if you don't know the basic elements of craft. So learn what is meant by character, setting, theme, tone, plot, structure, and point of view, and it will be invaluable to learn devices like imagery, foreshadowing, metaphor, personification and such. I am trickling in articles about these things (as is Arielle K Harris, except she's doing it much faster) but they will be a while before they're up and ready to read.
  9. You can, in addition to everything else that is totally up to you, use any method or style of feedback you wish, but I have some suggestions below.

Suggestions for Feedback Template

  1. Write a paragraph about what happens. No value judgements. No interpretation. No filter or lens. Just WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS in a brief synopsis. Writers will be shocked how often your readers aren't following something that they think is clear. When everyone thinks they haven't left the bar yet, you know you have to make it more clear that they're upstairs in the hotel room. And this simple trick helps immeasurably with giving good feedback and reading as a writer.
  2. Eliminate "like" from your vocabulary until the end of your review. Whether you liked it or didn't like it should be immaterial. You want to focus on what you think the author was trying to accomplish, and how well you think it worked. Not everyone wants to be easily read. Not everyone wants to be literary. Not everyone wants to have their setting act as a kinesthetic landscape for their themes. So try to figure out what they were going for and if it was the literary equivalent of a car chase with lots of explosions, tell them how well they pulled that off.
  3. Write some* things you think worked.  Be as specific as you possibly can, maybe even getting into the choice of words. Finding what DOES work is as important for you as a reader and your future as a writer as it is 
  4. Write some* things you think didn't work. DO NOT OFFER A FIX.  Be as specific as you possibly can, maybe even getting into their choice of words. Limit your valuation and interpretation language. Just focus on how and why it didn't work.
  5. Having identified what you think the author's intention is, offer them ONE suggestion for how they might better achieve it. Not only will keeping your "helpful suggestions" to one keep them from feeling like it's a laundry list of how much they suck, but it forces you to triage what you think the most important problem to fix is, and that is a very good skill to have. (This can, but doesn't have to be, the same as #4.)
  6. End your feedback with praise. One thing you liked. One thing they nailed. Something awesome. (You may now use the word "liked.") Feedback is critical to writers, but praise is so wonderful and important too. 
  7. At no time is feedback ever to display how cleverly you can trash someone or their work. It was really en-vogue for a while there in the early eighties for workshops to just involve savaging each other in displays of how witty one could be. But they found out it was really quite terrible for the writers and the work and that dashing people's pretentiousness is better done as a slow burn.
  8. You'll notice that spelling, punctuation, and grammar aren't even on this feedback template. That is because active reading and valuable feedback is so much more than copy editing, and your work is likely to change (possibly completely) before its final form. Please let your beta readers know if you are interested in Spelling Punctuation or Grammar (SpAG) corrections.

    *The number of things will depend on the length you're critiquing for each other. I recommend no more than 10 page (double spaced) to start and you can go up from there if you want. If you're reviewing that much material, a good number is three.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Facebook Page Work Sharing Guidelines

Image description: woman pointing two thumbs at herself and looking
very self confident.

The rules They're more what you might call "guidelines"

The golden....uh.....rule here is to remember that lots of people are going to be posting and that this is for all of you. I may add to or amend this list as we iron out what works and what is sub-optimal.

  1. Limit yourself to sharing one piece. I'll do this "event" every other week or so if it stays popular. You'll have other chances to promote other stuff. I'm not going to dig through dozens or hundreds of comments to check that everyone only posted once, but if I notice, I'll remove all of them.
  2. I will remove links that go to crap. (Consequently, PM me if you find one because I won't have time to check them all.) I don't mean a blog you wrote where a pop up asks you to be a subscriber–though that is annoying on the very first visit, justsoyaknow. But anything that goes to a subscription site, a pop-up fest, an obvious marketing scheme of some kind, a completely non-writing site, or any kind of bad-faith crap will be removed. If it really looks like someone decided to just be Spammy McSpamkins, I'll ban them as well. 
  3. This is a post to share writing. I love other art forms, and if there is demand, perhaps I'll start a "Share your non-writing art" thread along the same vein. But let's keep it to writing for now. Mixed media is okay if there's writing involved. 
  4. You can post any writing you want to share--even a link to a an Amazon page selling your book or your own Facebook page. But this post will likely get dozens, maybe hundreds of replies. People are far far far less likely to just drop money if they don't know you and your writing first. It might be better to link to something you've written WHERE you mention your book.
  5. Please don't put the text directly into the comment. No matter how short your poem or microfiction is, that will make the comments very hard to navigate. If you absolutely can't link your work for some reason, describe it in the first comment you make, and then reply to yourself with the text of your work (so that the reply "threads"). But best just to link something.
  6. Tell people what your writing is about! There will be a lot of folks posting, and unless they recognize your name, a mere title (or worse, just a URL) will not grab their attention long enough to even give a click. However...a description might entice them: ("The first three chapters of my science fiction novel about how dragons are actually a race from space and humans and dragons used to live together on Earth, but then dragons left because humans became too brutal. Now they're back. If you like the three chapters, you can buy the book on Kindle for 99 cents.") 
  7. There will be another post for you all to peer review each other's work (should you want to). If you give feedback, remember that the person is a human being with feelings who has put themselves "out there," and that is a hard thing to do. These are completed works. The author may not necessarily be asking for feedback–certainly not of the "here's what I would change" or "this is why it sucks" variety. It might be nice to ask if they want criticism before giving it unsolicited. You don't have to limit yourself to only praise, but for fuck's sake play nice. Other writers, of all people, should know how hard this can be.
  8. Though I can't enforce this in any way, and no one will even know, it is considered rude in any writing environment to take without giving back. You won't get invited back if you read at literary events but leave without listening to others (or if you only come on nights when you're reading). You won't be given good feedback in review groups if you take feedback and give none (or don't give as good as you get). And so if you post a link, for the sake of your writer's celestial balance in the universe, please try to find something you might be interested in reading as well. 
  9. Since this is happening on Facebook, if you read something (and like it) consider giving it a like. I may feature post the ones that do the best if they're appropriate for the page.
  10. Be excellent to each other.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Best Y.A. for Young Women (First Quarterfinal)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?  

Often our society holds the interests of young women (music, film, literature) in particular contempt. Even the criticism that is often leveled against "bad writing" or "clich√® tropes" is disproportionately brought down on media young women more typically like. Take the heroine with the choice of two hot guys–how often does a dude with two hot love interests go unremarked upon? Or heroines with some kind of "chosen one" power? Because that never happens to men in fiction.

Our latest poll, assembled from your nominations, has thirty-two entries marketed to young women, so we'll be breaking it it down all the way to quarterfinals.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. The top five titles will go on to the semifinals.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author." 

These quarterfinals will only be up for few days each (less than a week) so vote quickly that we can move on without losing momentum.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Story Fundamentals, Part the Third: Characters by Arielle K Harris

Story Fundamentals, Part the Third: Characters
Arielle K Harris  

In my previous articles I’ve discussed the Style and Setting aspects of storytelling, two essential aspects of the writing craft.  However, I believe there’s an argument to be made that modern readers care more about characters than previous audiences through the history of literature and are generally more willing to forgive a lack in other areas of a story if the characters are compelling enough.  So this stuff is important.

Like in world-building, building a character is an exercise in details.  It’s as easy and as hard as making up a person, a human being complete with flaws, motives, secrets, quirks, aspirations, doubts, love, hate, and all the rest.  (Unless you’re not writing about human beings, but even then most of those things likely still apply.)  Every character has a story, even the most minor character, and it’s your job as their writer, their creator, to know what that story is even if it’s never fully told.  You never know when a minor character might suddenly become a main player.  Your earlier casually-dropped details about that minor character are now effortless foreshadowing for what’s to come.

A lot of writers talk about this element of unexpectedness when dealing with characters, having a protagonist go off-outline whether the writer likes it or not, or self-determining sudden actions previously unaccounted for.  Inexperienced writers, or those disturbingly normal folk who aren’t writers at all, might be like, “Eh??  But they’re your characters, you made them up so you can have them do whatever you want to, right??”

Sort of.  Yes, you’ve made a character up, it exists only inside your brain and on paper, and you can control what it does.  To a point.  There comes a time, however, when you find that you’ve given your character too much autonomy, like a rogue AI program that suddenly becomes self-aware.  The part of your brain that houses that character is now an autonomous part of your consciousness with its own motives and self-interests which sometimes gives you sass and argues back when you try to impose your original plans upon it.

And this slightly disturbing development is precisely what you’re aiming for as a writer.

You want a character that’s been so well created that it becomes its own voice inside your mind, because if you haven’t reached that point then you’re not chronicling the story of unique and compelling beings.  Instead you’re moving puppets around a backdrop, and the voice that comes out of their mouths is your voice, not theirs.

What’s the key difference between your voice and your character’s voice?  Well, in some writing there is no difference.  There are some stories which, whether deliberately or not, transpose the author into the main character, for better or for worse.  I would like to make the argument, however, that this is not ideal.  In order to write effective fiction with compelling characters I honestly believe those characters need to gain autonomy from their authors.  This is part of the craft of fiction writing.

Given their own flaws, motives, secrets, quirks, aspirations, doubts, love, hate, etc., etc., as previously mentioned should be enough to help you find a character’s unique voice, or better still, to let that character find their own voice.  By all means use your own experiences to “write what you know” and give authenticity to their journey through the story, but your character may respond to events differently than you.  Give them the freedom to do so.

In speculative fiction when you’re worldbuilding don’t forget how that world affects your characters.  They have their own language, though you’re helpfully translating into one your readers can understand.  And for the love of all things literary please don’t just call it the Common Tongue.  Language is so rich and interesting, don’t let your created language down.  Obviously there are very few of us capable of creating actual languages themselves to the high standards of the likes of Tolkien but even if you don’t actually create the language you should know what it is, what it’s called, and what other languages exist on your world.  To be a realistic world there should be other languages, unless your world is very small indeed, or recently colonized.

Let me get linguistic on you for a minute.  There’s are lot of links between worldbuilding and language and character, as geography affects both the physical interactions of societies and their language development.  Languages lend each other words when they interact regularly, so physically distant groups of people who don’t interact develop languages which are more obviously distinct from each other.  Consider this phenomena fully.  How do your world’s languages interact?  Who can understand who, and how do they reach that level of understanding?  Generally only the wealthy, who have free time and funds to spend on learning, will know more than one language unless necessity or constant multilingual interaction of the lower classes results in otherwise.  However, misunderstandings are a great way to further plot and create tension, so you don’t necessarily want to gloss over the difficulties of language interaction.

Religion is another important world-building facet which links to character development, and just like language this can provide another conflict between either groups or individual characters.  This affects how characters speak to other characters who are within their religious group or outside it, how they utter obscenities, and how they make promises to each other or swear fealties.  This may affect what foods they eat, and when, what holy days they observe, or deliberately don’t observe.  This may affect a character’s relationships with other characters, determine expected gender roles, or have serious repercussions if they defy those precepts.

I think it’s important for a writer of speculative fiction to answer all the important questions of language and religion, philosophy and society, and every other facet of worldbuilding before deciding even the most basic of details about a character.  Even something as simple as a name is firmly rooted in language and/or religion and has societal implications and significance.  Names have so much potential to impart subtle messages to the reader, and sometimes messages that are… not so subtle, e.g.: Cruella de Vil, Voldemort, Hannibal Lecter, and Kilgrave (Jessica Jones said it herself, “Kilgrave?  Talk about obvious.  Was ‘Murdercorpse’ already taken?”) so don’t throw away the opportunity to underscore something of importance to your readers.

Above all, avoid writing character stereotypes.  The farm boy who would be king.  The questing hero with his band of followers, never forgetting to include the one feisty female included to add sexual tension and to prove that the (inevitably white cis-male) author is giving a nod to feminism.  (He’s not.)  The plain little Mary Jane who has one endearing character flaw like being unable to cross a parking lot without getting nearly killed, who is oh so very unattractive, which she bemoans at length, but somehow is caught in a love triangle with two hot guys with rock-hard abs and optional sparkles.  Yeah, just stop that.

Given enough thoughtful detail a writer should be able to avoid all the pitfalls in character creation, and then be blessed with several argumentative new brain-friends.  After that, all you need to do is tell the story.  I say that like it’s easy, but of course it’s not and my next article will focus on this next vital and devastating step in the process of storytelling – telling the damned story.

Arielle K Harris is the author of the novel Bestial as well as the ridiculous steampunk time travel drama short story The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When. She is responsible for one very opinionated toddler as well as a writer, poet, falconer, knitter of many half-finished scarves, drinker of tea, enthusiast for wine and sometimes has been known to have wild birds in her spare room.

She can be found online at her own website: www.ariellekharris.com as well as on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ariellekharris/ and her published work can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/author/ariellekharris

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Monday, April 24, 2017

WAW's Facebook Page FAQ

FAQ for Writing About Writing's Facebook Page

"I'd like to give you a donation? How can I do that?"


If you want to be a monthly contributor and get in on a number of reward tiers, please consider becoming a patron of Writing About Writing. Even a dollar a month is enormously helpful and will get you in on the "backchannels" of questions about my work, polls only patrons can respond to about upcoming projects, and solicitations for feedback.

One time donations are of course welcome as well. The conspicuously placed tip jar is over to the top left, or you can use Venmo. My e-mail is chris.brecheen@gmail.com

And honestly, thank you. I've got rent to pay just like anyone. Financial support helps me keep writing (and running this page) instead of patchworking together pet sitting side gigs to keep the lights on.

"Wait, you want money just for running a Facebook page?"

Nope, that's not all I do by a long shot. The memes and the puns are just the tip of the iceberg. This blog (the one you're on right now) takes me about thirty to forty hours a week to maintain. I also write fiction–both short and long term projects–and it all goes here for free. Just because you never click on the blog links doesn't mean FB is the only thing I'm doing.

And just so you know, I spend about six or seven hours a week most weeks running this page, so it's kind of a dillhole move to deliberately take time out of your busy schedule to sneer at the idea of someone who is entertaining you asking for maybe a dollar a month from a few generous folks.

Please don't post about politics./Why are you posting about politics?

Writing About Writing has never been apolitical. It never will be apolitical. If you can't cope with that, you might want to find another page to service your "You should be writing" meme and terribad pun needs.

For starters, let's make sure we understand that what you're calling "politics" might split down left and right, but it is really about social issues. I'm not plugging a tax plan or endorsing a candidate or even a party. (I do that on my own FB wall [see below] a BIT more, but I usually still consider that sort of binary thinking a rabbit hole.) But even when I get my polemics on, I'm usually pointing out that a writer has the power to tell stories, that narrative works to create villains out of nuance and desensitize entire cultures to genocide, that media affects culture, that representation matters, that language is used to obfuscate bigotry and oppression, that people get to tell their own stories, and that leaving out whole parts of the story is a pretty good way to control who is seen as angels and who is seen as demons without ever misstating a "fact." I find telling my own story more meaningful than making explicitly didactic demands.

Writing About Writing
 has always considered the link between social issues, narrative, and language to be valuable to explore for writers and storytellers alike, and won't be stopping this intellectual rigor any time soon–certainly not because some people want their stream of quotes and inspiration porn to never be tainted by an uncomfortable thought of the social consequence that comes with literally aspiring to master both narratives and language.

Further, it isn't really possible for a writer to be completely apolitical. The personal is political and those who find politics sequestered from anything that affects them personally usually have a lot of social advantages. Aggressively avoiding social issues in one's writing belies a strong endorsement of the status quo. There are many writing pages that will stick to making fun of people's grammar in racist and classist ways and post the same hundred quotes over and over. I'm more interested in considering how we can all be vicegerents of the awesome power that comes with being a writer.

And also if you demand that I stop posting about politics obnoxiously enough, I may show you the door. (Since clearly you don't want what I'm cooking.)

Why didn't you respond to my comment?

I am only able to read a fraction (a small fraction) of the comments from a page with over half a million followers. Chances are that I didn't even see it. I occasionally look at the top replies or make sure people are playing nice on a post I know is going to be a tire fire.

I can respond to even fewer. If I tried to stay active in the comments of such a large page, I would quickly find my writing time completely gone.

PM me if it's important or if something is happening for which I may need to wield the banhammer. A good question or thoughtful comment may even go into the blog.

"Will you promote [my thing]?"

If your "thing" is exactly (and I mean EXACTLY) the sort of content I'm usually posting (memes, macros, "you should be writing," quotes, and the occasional really good article about writing, maybe some book love, or a really funny miswritten sign), I might post it if–big if–I like it. I tend to avoid the posts some typical writing pages share a lot of, like ableist inspiration porn or classist (and often racist) prescriptivism. I'm all for giggling about a misplaced comma, but only so long as we're giggling about what the sign says instead of AT the person who did it. But if you send me something you made that is our usual fare, especially if it's "doin' me a laff (and not a concern),"  I'll consider putting it up along with a link to a page if you want.

If it's not the normal stuff, but is at least tangentially related to writing, and if you send me a PM asking nicely first I will let you post on our "Guest Posts."  (For the record, Dave M, the following is not acceptable: "Hey bro, you're not going to get your panties in a twist that I posted this on your wall, are ya?") If you are about fifteen teirs less misogynist and more polite than Dave M, I'll probably say yes. Be advised: web content filler slapped up there usually gets about the three or four clicks it deserves, but I've noticed that the response to quality posts is decent.

If it is wildly not about writing or it is your own creative writing, or (AND LISTEN CLOSE TO THIS ONE) if it is a publication opportunity that requires payment [whether in the form of a "contest" that requires an entry fee or whatever], the answer will be no.

I have a regular post where you can share your own writing. And if you think a page called Writing About Writing is a good spot for your car detailing business commercial, I don't know what to say.

BTW: If you don't ask and just slap up your self-promotional link into the guest posts, I just remove it, even if it's totally about writing. And if I recognize your name from having pulled the same thing before, I'll ban you.

I'll be really honest with you about my one of my many failings as a flawed human being. I've spent years now building this page up. Don't even get me started on the first year when I was posting to 95% my own friends and like four other people. Or the June in the middle of year two when I whooped inside a Kinkos because I'd passed 1000 followers. This page takes a lot of effort, and even though it's led a few more people to my blog and maybe been responsible for a few donations, it's mostly thankless, unpaid labor where most folks only ever chime in to complain.

I have birthed a tiny little petty in these last few years. I've fed it cottage cheese and bile, taught it the dark side of The Force, and watched it grow up big and strong. I cheered it when it force choked the better angels of my nature. I kind of hate how people are crawling out of the woodwork–NOW–and trying to ride my coattails without a thought about reciprocity or so much as a peep asking if it's okay. I really quite enjoy being able to point at something one of my friends did (or someone whose work I've been following with interest) and send lots of eyeballs their way. But I feel really used when people act entitled to it.

If your stuff is self-promotional, I'm going to be harder on it–especially if you don't ask. Darth Petty demands no less.

"Will you read my creative writing?"

I can't. I'm sorry.

There are nearly half a million of you, and this page grows by a thousand followers on a slow day. I'm getting a couple of requests a day to read things--everything from a ten line poem to a short story to a full novel manuscript for content editing. I know you've poured your soul into it and it's dear to your heart. I also know that because you've poured your soul into it and it's dear to your heart, that even for that ten line poem which I could read in a few seconds, you probably want more feedback than just "Nice poem" or something. I know how serious that request is for you and how important it is to you and even how much you may have psyched yourself up before sending it to me.


But still...as much as I admire your moxie, there's only one of me. A good week for me clocks in around 70 hours between all my jobs. I barely even have time to read and give feedback to my good friends and the folks with whom I have a relationship and rapport.

Of course, if you want to hire me, that's another story (see below).

And then of course you could also do the long con where you get to know me, we develop a relationship. Maybe go out a few times. Have a deep and meaningful relationship. Move in. Experiment with all manner of wildly fulfilling group sex. Get married. Have kids. Join the Columbia Record Club. Start planning for our multi-continent retirement. Then you look at me and say.... "Chris, actually, I really just wanted you to read my stuff."

Will I tutor/edit/do some writing for you?

Sure. My freelance rate is $50 USD/hour. ($75 if you want me to drop everything I'm doing and give you all my writing time right this second). I will need you to pay for your first hour up front, and we'll figure out over e-mail or chat what you need. I can give you a billable hours estimate and a rough timeline for completion, and then I will work whatever is left of our hour, and you can see if my time is worth your money. After that, I'll ask you to pay me for every couple of hours for the first 10 hours or so. As we work longer and longer and build up professional trust, I can give you bigger chunks of time between payments. I'm much better at developmental editing than copy editing

Oh...did you mean for free?

I am interested in buying your page/running ads on your page? Will you sell it/give me admin controls?

Sure! Deposit $50,000 into an account I designate (that's a little less than ten cents per follower--the price may go up if the page grows) and after the money has been verified I will relinquish admin controls. (That's after I walk into my bank, asked for a manager, and made sure that there is no possible way that I'm being scammed and the funds will not disappear.) That's about what it would be worth to me to go build an audience from scratch on another page and might just cover the costs for the time it takes to do so.

I know the bitter, cruel irony here is that no one who sends me these fucking messages will ever read this FAQ. But at least that felt good to write.

Will you sit my pet?

If you're in the SF/Bay Area feel free to check out my pricing structure and send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) to inquire about a date.

If you want me to come to some remote location in the woods to a cabin where you use axes in all of your decorating, I'm sorry. I'm busy that week. Theoretically, I am willing to travel if all of my travel expenses are paid for (including lost income from the other job), but only for people I know. And why anyone would pay so much to have their pets watched is beyond me.

Where can I get some advice about writing.

I need to be on The Office so I can look at the camera.

Here. Here would be a great place to start for advice about writing. Try here. This blog. The whole thing. HERE.


Yes, this is actually the "question" I get sent.
Very, very frequently.

I'm not sure how people could send a page admin a thumb up accidentally so I suspect what is going on here is people messing with the fact that if I don't reply to every message, FB takes away my "responds frequently" (or whatever the fuck) badge and I have to wander through the wasteland of my own social media feces screaming to the heavens "Why have you forsaken me?" because what even is the world coming to without page admins struggling to be judged by Facebook as "very responsive."

So people send me a thumb up (or "Hi" or "Hey" or "Sup") just because they think I'll reply instantly to keep my "responsive" cred. When FB sends me a $500 check each month that I earn "very responsive," I'll start replying to a message that is just a thumb. Until then, I'll just ignore them.

Hello./Hey there./Hi there./Ho there./What's up?/Can I ask you a question?

I appreciate your decorum if that's what you were going for, but whatever it is get to it in your opening message rather than waiting for a reply. There are way too many many of these interactions, and about 99% of them go sideways in some way or another if I reply. (Everything from scams to ubervitrolic haterade.)

Just say whatever it is you want to say (hopefully after having read this FAQ), and I will respond appropriately.

Sending a question to my personal FB mailbox instead of the page's FB mailbox.

It's all just me. You're not going to get your answer any faster or get any better of a response by doing that. Your message will end up in "Filtered Message Requests" which means I won't see it right away. And using that route to be combative sort of feels like showing up to a coworker's house to have an argument about last Tuesday. So maybe keep that in mind if you were hoping to get an answer.


I know we're all writers, but I'm I typically describe my free time in terms of negative numbers. I get 50+ messages a day and unless I want my job to be Message Responder, I am not able to sit and read the ones that demand 5-10 minutes of my time just to read. Please get to the point and/or open with one GREAT FUCKING hook because trust that when I see unfathomable huge blocks of mammothian paragraphs, I just assume that it's self important bloviation and delete it unread.

Where can I get that t-shirt/mug/thing I really liked?

Whenever I find something still attached to its original commercial source, I will put it in the OP. If someone knows the source and puts that in the comments, I will edit the OP. But if I don't know and no one out there knows, the only thing I would do is try a reverse image search on Google and start digging through the results, same as anyone else. I'd suggest giving that a try.

Oh great. I see that you've seen my message but you won't reply. Thanks a whole lot you jerkwad. What is wrong with you?

I hate that people can tell when I've "seen" their chats. I hate it with the white hot fury of a billion supernovas. Because not everything is urgent. And sometimes I triage that shit. And sometimes I triage it right into the ignore pile. And it is a universal constant that the people who send the most ignorable messages are also the ones who think they are absolutely the most important people in the universe and get bent out of shape if I don't reply.

Sorry random person. There was a time when I could give thoughtful responses to everybody who sent me a private message. That time was about 400,000 followers ago. Now I'm writing an FAQ instead of a regular post so that I can reply with this to generic questions I get a zillion of.

But go ahead and ask again. I can cut and paste the URL of this snazzy new FAQ to you.

Hey you posted my thing/my friend's thing/a thing I know the source of/a webcomic I want to see succeed. Can you make an attribution/repost with credit/give me a shout out?

Yes. Thank you. Crediting artists is important to me since I am one. There are half a million of you and one of me and the internet is a big place where reverse image searches don't always work (or are directly deceived), people steal images and add their own watermark, and where it's impossible to know who is happy to go viral with mere watermark credit, who wants a shout out, who wants a URL link, and who will be upset if their page isn't shared from directly.

I appreciate the help.

I will add one caveat to this. The world is full of people who are so desperate to promote themselves that they might try to take credit for something they didn't actually create. Or more likely they will post something (gotten from elsenet) and then assume that I (having also got it from elsenet) MUST have gotten it from their site. If you are the original creator of something, I absolutely want you to have credit, but send me a link to the original image. I tend to err on the side of trust, but if you send me a link to your tumblr (or whatever) and it's full of thousands of memes you've just reposted over the years, I'm probably going to be skeptical.

You should just make sure you know where something is from!

Like all the other pages and Tumblrs and Pinterests, right?

Look, I do my best. I always hit "share" if the source page matches the author. However, some of the stuff I'm posting has been image grabbed and reposted thousands of times. Doing more would change the time I take to find an image from a minute or two to as many as 15-20. And that's PER post.  That would add hours a day to my schedule, and that would add a level of difficulty I'm just not able to do. I would abandon the effort altogether.

Since there's one of me and 2/3 of a million of you, maybe if you see something you want credited, you could just let me know where it's from.

I answered your question/told you where something was from/mentioned a problem in one of your posts, but you didn't react.

Did you do that in the comments. Because like I said up above, I can't really read the comments. If it's important, send me a PM.

Can I get an autograph?


This is all very new to me and weird and I've got huge imposter syndrome and I still think people who want my autograph are trying to trick me somehow, but this question keeps coming up, so I better answer it.

If you let me know you'd like to send me physical correspondence, I will give you a P.O. Box address that I check regularly.

Send me something I can sign (I don't have a book I've authored or anything yet) with a self addressed stamped envelope, and I will sign it and send it back. Please cover all the postage both ways.

Or just give me your address and I'll send you a postcard.

I won't turn down a donation, but there is no "charge."

I can't believe you're okay with what's going on in the comments on that one post.


Writing About Writing gets maxes out its 100 notifications badge in less that four or five minutes. I don't know how many comments I get every day, but it's way too many for me to have read them. Some posts get threads that are thousands long. I've seen posts that are six months old still having people basically chatting in the comments on them. It's not that I didn't care. It's most likely that I didn't even know.

If something has gone past your ability to handle, and you need me to step in as an admin, link me to the post and tell me what the problem is.

Here's a poem I wrote, and have sent you, unsolicited.

Deleted unread.

If you're so overwhelmed, why don't you get admins?

Well, aside from the occasional Social Justice Bard post or maybe a macro that suggests that bigotry isn't awesome just because people who don't suffer systematic forms of it have decided that a particular expression is no big deal or something horrifying to Status Quo Defenders like the idea that representation matters, I don't really get the kind of comments off of grammar jokes and "You should be writing" memes that require roving bands of admins. I can swing through posts like the ones above, clean up the worst offenders, and trust that most of my followers are adults who will message me if they need me to step in. [Please include the link as well as telling me what's going on. Sometimes the comments rage for DAYS and I won't be able to just figure out which post you're talking about.]

And even though admins can reply to messages, having them handle "Can you post my thing?" or "Will you read my story?" isn't really what I think anyone would want to do. The last one whose job it was to answer my inbox left me for a beluga whale named Percival.

Basically, it's the wrong kind of "overwhelmed" for farming out the work. Hopefully this FAQ helps–or at least helps me to feel better about ignoring some of the questions that are answered here.

Hello from my sock puppet account that I made specifically to message you. We meet again, Mr Brecheen! Why did you ban my main account? Is it because you hate the founding principles of democracy like free speech? And can I get reinstated because I've suddenly realized that shitting on that post means now I don't get all the rest of your awesome content?

(Okay, maybe this exact phrasing isn't, strictly speaking, FREQUENT)

Why did this happen? Probably because you violated the commenting policy. I didn't write that just to hear myself speak. Or um...read myself write. (That does not work nearly as well.) I don't have time for warnings and explanations and the inevitable back and forth arguments that come from them. Pretty much every place you ever go has rules and a code of conduct whether it's to keep your shoes and shirt on or to keep your voice down if you don't want the librarian to shush and glare. And if you blithely ignore them, they show you the door. It has nothing to do with fucking democracy.

I might be willing to unban someone if they apologize, but I'm not going to do so on a timetable that would allow them to jump right back into whatever argument got them banned in the first place. So you will have to hang in the penalty box for a while either way.

Did you delete my comment?

Maybe. More likely just set it so that only you and your friends could see it. There are reasons I do that ranging from it being just a little too acerbic to my personal pet peeve of people who answer mailbox questions without reading the article. Same reason as above. Comments are moderated on this page and you should read the commenting policy if you don't know exactly how and why.

I don't erase comments that disagree with me. You can see that easily from a casual glance at any post that is even moderately controversial. I erase comments that are buckets of anal sphincters.

But that means you're biased in favor of liberals and progressive values! You let liberals get away with more. What about conservatives? What about libertarians?

What about them? I'm not running the goddamned debate club here, and no one is entitled to feed my posts through their ideological filters and then comment without consequence. If you want to take umbrage or a shot, fucking play nice. I'm not going to excuse bigotry because some people believe it exists on a political spectrum and that white nationalists and nazis and racists and misogynists deserve to be able to drop whatever dehumanizing festering shit turd of a comment they can pinch out in the name of free speech. Or that reacting to oppression with angry internet words is "just as bad" as the oppression itself.

If you can't just keep that scroll wheel turning and you simply HAVE to disagree with my politics, there are a million ways to do so that won't get you banned. (I've got that artists' weakness for nuance and humanization, so seriously all you have to actually do is not be a jerkwad.) And while there is a complicated point to be made about power differentials and privilege, if it helps you feel better to just imagine that I am unfairly meaner to anyone who isn't a liberal, knock yourself out.

Can we be Facebook friends?

[Okay, people don't really ask me this, per se; they just send me friends requests.]

Yes, you may, but let me make a few disclaimers:
  • This is my public account: Chris Brecheen (Public) If you've stumbled upon my private account, the answer will be no. That account is for friends, family, and people I've known online for a very long time or have developed a rapport with. It's not the VIP room or anything, but it's an essential aspect of a private life as my online persona becomes very public. 
  • You might want to follow for a while and decide IF you want to send me a friend request. I'm definitely not everyone's cup of tea with the geekery and the social justice stuff. 99.9% of my posts are public, so you really wouldn't be missing anything except the ability to comment.
  • If you don't care for my (very) occasional social issues post on the Writing About Writing Facebook Page, you will like my profile even less. I write about that stuff almost daily.
  • I can be a bit much for people. I post a lot. 
  • I have 1 "Note" that is a Commenting Policy for this profile. You should read it before charging in. ESPECIALLY before charging into a contentious post.
  • Send me a PM with your request. (Don't worry, I check my "Message Requests" at least once a day.) That account gets around 200-500 friend requests a week. I reject most of them because I don't know if they're there to sell me sunglasses, phish my info from a pr0n site, or just pick a fight in the comments. So send me a message along with the request.
More to come....

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Vlog returns

[I gave up with a flawed take after...I dunno twelve tries?]

Hi everyone,

Today seems as good a time as any to reintroduce Vlogs here at Writing About Writing. We got a little side tracked there for a while because of the move and stuff, but life is getting back to normal and some of our old regular bits here are returning.

Now this one here is just a filler vlog, to kind of remind folks that this is something I will be doing, and that I always intended to get back to it as my life came back together and stopped looking so much like a post apocalypse movie.

We’ll probably only do about one a month.

I know some of you don’t like vlogs, preferring to just read. I’m the same way, so I’m going to put my write up in text at the bottom. It may not have every tangent I go on, every change I make extemporaneously, and my speaking rhythm is much different than my writing one, but for those of you who hate vlogs, it will at least have the basic information.

I also have a video editing program that came with my MacBook, so over the next few months, depending on the learning curve for that, I may be able to make videos that I don’t have to do all in one take.

The reason I’m posting this TODAY is because of Writing About Writing’s meta mission to bring you the “behind the scenes” of writing–to demystify the impression some people have that writers do very little work they don’t like, simply get hit by inspiration, and then birth a work of genius.

So let me tell you about yesterday….

Yesterday I sat down to work, because that’s what working writers do, and I stared at the same paragraph for 14 hours. The words just did not come. And I sat there and sat there, and I pecked at that paragraph and I finally got it done. But it took all day.

And some days are like that. You just have to sit down and have shitty productivity because that discipline and habit is the price you pay for the twelve and sixteen hour productivity days the next day or the next week.  Now today, I’ve managed to do a couple of hours of solid writing already but if I’d just given up yesterday, it would be that much harder today.

So I just want people to know… if you think that just because I have an audience and make money writing doesn’t mean I don’t have shitty days…it doesn’t.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Best Book Marketed to Young Women (Last call for nominations/seconds)

What is the best book marketed to young women?  

I've got a dozen things to do today that aren't blogging, so I'm going to just remind everyone that I'm going to start semifinals (quarterfinals?) for this poll THIS weekend. So get in your nominations in and second the titles you want to see on the poll. But do so on the ORIGINAL POST! I can't guarantee any nominations on this post will make it onto the poll.

Also the rules are there; probably worth a glance.

If I fall into the free time that is theoretically out there after all this basic crap is in the "Done" pile, I'll keep going on the Tab Cleanup Project™ which is about to enter the Facebook Page Stage–a handful of posts for the now half a million people following Writing about Writing on Facebook. You might see something going up later on today if that goes well.

Note: I've noticed that a few of the nominated titles are definitely NOT Y.A. (remember it's not when a bunch of bibliophiles reading way above their level got into it that defines what that means). I don't really have a way to enforce what gets nominated or even a good definition for where the line is, but I'm going to veto some of the clearly adult titles.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Five Steps to Motivational Rejuvenation (Mailbox)

How do you get back lost motivation for a project that's been on hiatus? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week (after this week). I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Thursday might look suspiciously like Wednesday when I am actually so far behind that this should have gone up six fucking days ago.]  

Antonio asks:  

I have a story that I had to put on hold for at least six months because of other projects. Now I really want to get on it. But every time I see the point where I left it... I kinda feel disconnected and unmotivated.


My reply:

I answered a question not too long ago about how important it can be to at least "poke" at a work in progress if you don't want it to go stale. One of the reasons for that is exactly this. If you leave a project on the back burner for too long, there can then be a divestment of brain from interest. Maybe you think of a couple of good things here and there or a twist you would love to add, but mostly that motivation has dried out and your passion for the project goes stale. It can be really hard to try and just pick back up where you left off when your mind is scratching at the inside of your skull to try and get your idea onto paper.

Before I let Ima Lister slap down the Patented Guide to Rekindling Your Passion....(for an abandoned work in progress)™ let me just make one more quick USDA Writing Guild required disclaimer. This is the reason that it's generally a good idea to keep a limited number of irons in the fire and is why so many writers who have "made it" yodle from the mountaintops, at the slightest opportunity, the advice to finish one's shit. It is so so so so so fucking easy to take a break that turns into forever. Finishing projects, especially before bounding off to new projects, is one of the most powerful skills a writer (any artist really) can ever learn.

From here, I'm going to hand my reply over to Ima Lister, who has a few things–well five of them actually–to say about this.

Hi everyone. Time for me to drop my Patented Guide to Rekindling Your Passion....(for an abandoned work in progress)™. Remember to try these steps in order as each may depend on the aggregate effect of the last. Skipping right to step four might seem like taking Percoset instead of Advil for your headache because "fuck it, I need the good stuff," but it'll actually be less effective if you haven't run the gamut first.

1- Reread your work. 

Simple. Elegant. Refined. And ironically so overlooked.

Many writers simply look at their stale work in progress and never pick it up. And when I say they "look at it," I mean they physically glance at it from across the room. Or think about it in passing as they're eating a chocolate cream pie and rewatching season 1 of Sense 8 to prepare for the coming of season 2 next month. Or perhaps once every few months they open the text file to that blinking cursor, skim the last paragraph for the thousandth time, and then close the file again because they're just not feeling it. And if they're really avoiding it, they might carefully tiptoe around the WIP, avoiding it at all costs. They glance down the hall to make sure it's not in the bathroom before darting to their bedroom, and listen carefully for sounds in the kitchen before going to eat so that the don't run into it at the breakfast table–a bite of bran flakes frozen halfway to its mouth as their eyes meet.

"Why aren't you working on me?"

"Eat your fucking cereal."

*eyes narrow*

But what they don't do is sit down and reread it–from the very beginning. They don't give themselves that jump back into the world of their fiction. They don't engage what once captured their imagination and let all those ideas come flooding back. They don't remind themselves of all the little things they gave attention to when writing it.

Honestly, give the old dusted off words a good once over. Let it take you back to where your mind was when you were writing it. Fire up a few of the old synapses. You're going to remember more about what you wanted to do and where you wanted to go than you even realized you forgot.

For the first time through, don't mess with it if you see some revisions you want to make. Let the urge to make it better go un-indulged and let that create a tension within you to return to the work.

And if reading it doesn't work by itself....

2- Do a little revision. 

Holding back from revising during your first read might have you chomping at the bit to make some changes.

That's okay. That's what you want.  Anything to get you back to this piece.

However, if you're not so enthusiastic even after reading over some things you really think you could have worded a lot better, go ahead and try to make a few changes anyway–even if it's just to clean up the language and tighten up the grammar. Lord knows that shit could at least use some proofreading.

Going under the hood of your story kind of forces you into that mode you were in when you were working on the story before. Like most of writing, it's recursive, and you are likely to think of improvements faster than you can make them. Hopefully this knocks over enough dominos to start a chain reaction and topple you back into the headspace you were when you were really hitting it on the regular.

But if that doesn't work....

3- Skip ahead from where you are, and write the next scene you are really into.

One of the problems with a project losing steam is that you just weren't as into the next thing that needed writing as the arc in general. Maybe the next scene you were really into was several pages from where you are now and the idea of the filler wasn't grabbing you. Maybe every time you thought about getting back into the writing, you were daunted because the next thing you had to write was a scene you weren't that into or some plodding exposition to get your characters from Cool Event 1 to Cool Event 2.

Setting aside for a moment that your reader is likely to be Just. As. Bored. and feel like something is mind-numbing filler if the writer does, the easiest way to deal with this as a writer who "doesn't wanna" right now is to skip ahead. Fuck it! There's no rule that you have to write the whole manuscript in order from first page to last. Do a scene you're really excited about to help get you back into the groove. Then use that momentum to swing back around on revision and fill in the stuff you weren't so hot on.

You may even think of a much a better way to get through that part you're not so hot on besides a slog of events you're less excited about writing.

And if this doesn't work, it might be time for some painful self honesty.....

4- Are you sure you want to write this? Like...really sure?

Okay, so you've tried everything else and nothing's working. You're just not feeling it. It's time to ask yourself a really tough question from that place of deep and profound honesty. Go to your happy place, align your chakras, and high five your patronus. And then ask yourself this question:

Do you really want to write this piece?

Remember you're not asking yourself if you think there's any possible story there or any writing value, or even if you might want to return to this story someday. Rather, you're trying to figure out if you really want to put in the time and energy to write this piece right now.

And please understand...you don't have to. You're not obligated to love everything you start. (It's a good idea to try to finish, but there's a difference between abandoning one project that just wasn't doing it for you after a while and having sixteen half finished novels lying around the house, all of which you're going to get back to "someday.") Maybe inspiration really did dry up. Maybe you've moved on as an artist. Maybe it'll come back around in a month or a year.

Sometimes writers get attached to projects because of the amount of time they've already invested in them. It's kind of part and parcel with this hubris that everything written must somehow be destined for future publication. They really need to remember that some things they write are only ever going to be practice.

Is it possible that what you really need to do is put that project on the shelf for either years or forever? Reach deep into your soul and be brutally honest.

You still want to do this? Okay, well in that case....

5-Physically rewrite what you have so far.

Take a copy, print it out, put it down next to you, and start to type the whole thing from scratch.

Hang on. Deep breaths.

I know you just felt your anal sphincter clench hard and that may sound very, very daunting, but this is actually something you should be doing anyway. Computers have made a generation of writers who are terrified of revision involving full rewriting, and they only want to tweak their completed computer drafts. Truth be told, the best thing most of them could do would be to completely rewrite their story at least once.

Can you imagine that this was once the only way to revise? Even ten, twelve, twenty times...always completely rewritten. We may not be fettered to archaic technology, but sometimes a good part of the writing process gets tossed with the luddite bathwater.

Two things happen here. Number one, you can't type as fast as you can think (by hundreds of words a minute) and if you're forced into the world of your story, you're probably going to be thinking about that. Now maybe this will simply yank your creativity cord like starting an old small engine. (Is it true lawn mowers don't have pull start engines anymore? KIDS THESE DAYS!). You may recognize this technique from the movie Finding Forester. (Or maybe you're way too old to have seen that and I am obviously a fossil.) But they did pick a trick that actually works pretty well. It's rather difficult to type something and not engage it in a creative way.

This may also lead to some of the really good artistic magic. Since you're rewriting instead of cutting and pasting, you will likely be willing to make bigger chances–like changing the tense or removing whole scenes or taking out a character. Redoing the whole thing means you're less married to all that draft and since you're doing the work regardless, you might find exactly the bit that was causing the wind drag in the first place. And with some surgery, your story is back where you were, looking better than ever, and with you excited about moving forward.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

It's Going to Get Weird Until Wed

Not that weird.
It's going to get a little weird for the next few days.

You might see posts going up late, early, or a couple one day and none the next.

It's going to depend on writing time and internet connectivity while I spend a couple of days and change in Yosemite balancing majestic vistas with the brisk cold that is April on a mountain.

I also will be continuing the "Tab Maintenance" this coming week, which means some days with multiple postings for those on feeds. Some of that information is three years out of date.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Logan: Why Character Matters

**Part 1: No Spoilers**

A year ago if you'd told somebody that arguably the most popular X-man movie of all time, and (to many) a rival for the best of all marvel movies, would only actually have two X-men in it–two older X-men way past their prime to boot–you would probably find yourself on the working end of some skepticism.

No Magneto? No multi-mutant fight at the end? No Apocalypse or sentinels chewing though two or three mutants every time they are on scene to prove the stakes are really, really high? Pfffffffft.

And if you said that a number of critics would hail it as the best superhero movie of the decade, perhaps ever, you would likely have to deal with a bit of laughter as well. (The snickering kind–not the good belly laughs you hear before someone asks if they can buy you a mug of the finest ale this side of The Dragon's Thirst Inn in Valacia.) Going up against The Dark Knight or The Avengers, as well as older titles like Raimi's Spiderman 2 or even something a bit genre bending like The Incredibles is not something genre fans would think could be done casually by two aged out X-men.

After all, the formula for superhero movies has been ramping steadily upwards to bigger and better fights with more and more superheroes on screen at a time, higher stakes battles, more CGI than you can physiologically process, and often the fate of the very timeline hanging in the balance.

Yet there's something undeniable about these movies as they become bigger and bigger special effects extravaganzas with more and more and more superpowered characters stacked in like cordwood. (And it's not just that I stopped considering them to be on my "Must See" list after X3.) Their interest to their audience doesn't grow exponentially. The epic-fury of their battles don't make the movie "good" or "bad." Even when a story does focus on a small cadre of characters, the focus on external plot instead of characters can make blockbusters imminently forgettable–and writers don't have the benefit of soundtracks, huge stars, or special effects budgets.

The conversations about these movies still end up being about the same thing: the characters. Were they interesting? Were they believable? What did they want? What were the stakes? Did the internal conflict matter in a way that made the story more interesting or did they just ho-hum stop the city from being nuked (again). Though film gross is based on a lot of factors, and some of these movies still do well in today's market, the more critically acclaimed the film and beloved by fans, the more their characters are interesting and not their battles eye-popping.

A lot of writers describe the epicosity of their climactic battle. ("It's this HUGE battle between three massive armies....") There's something in the success of Logan, and films like it, for writers to learn about what makes a character arc genuinely compelling and what stakes will drive the highest levels of tension. After all, while a writer has an effectively infinite "special effects budget" and seamless "CGI" for as long as they want to commit pages and pages to such descriptions, writers run the same risk that any summer blockbuster might of getting so caught up in the tools of telling a story, that we forget the story itself.

And as cool as that end battle is, if readers are not invested in the characters, it'll be forgettable–no matter the magnitude or scope, it'll be forgettable.

While I have my doubts that Logan is going to "redefine the whole genre," given the current Marvel plan for a thirty movie ramp up to a sixty character crossover two movie battle royale with each movie making more than the GDP of some European countries, its runaway success and spectacular critical reception is a cautionary tale to writers who forget that what readers are really interested in is the characters, and a reminder to us all that they're the engines of any story we have.

**Part 2: Contains Spoilers**

Look at how well these characters arcs played out.  Within just a minute we've established Logan's wants and needs, and that they are constantly struggling within him. He wants to get out, go away, take a boat away from everything. He wants to die. And he wants to not love things in his world so that he can let go. But he does love things. He's fettered by his concern for the things in this world. And though at one point it seems clear that had his body not betrayed him, he would have abandoned Laura at Xavier's grave, in the end he keeps stepping up to the plate again and again for those fetters.

And in the end, they are what set him free. Not just a physical release, but his own redemption as a character.

One of the greatest successes of the character arcs in this movie is how it shows without telling. Take this very early exchange between Charles and Logan:
Charles Xavier: Fuck off, Logan.
Logan: See, you know who I am.
Charles Xavier: I always know who you are, I just sometimes don't recognize you.
So much is said in this exchange. Not just about the devastating tragedy of neurodegenerative diseases and how they take away one's ability to recognize loved ones, but also on a subtextual level to establish a meaningful lens into Logan as a character. He is "unrecognizable," which might be same thing any fan of classic Wolverine might say at the outset of this film.

This exchange also establishes a bickering relationship that is the source of so much fun (and often well needed levity) in the film. Logan never says he loves Charles. But even though he wants Xavier to die (so that he can kill himself), he still spends all his time and energy trying to protect Charles from those chasing him as well as the memory of the abject horror that it is Charles who has killed all the other X-men. Logan even indulges Xavier's quest to find a "utopia" that he (Logan) believes isn't even real. Charles never says he loves Logan either. But he spends all his time and energy trying to give Logan's life the tiniest spark of redemption and connect him with his daughter. Their actions belie their constant fighting.

Actually the movie is really great about not spoon feeding the audience in general. They never came out and said that the mutant gene had been suppressed through corn syrup, but there's some evidence there if you pay attention. Trust your readers to be smart enough to get some things, especially about character relationships, without your help. You don't have to give them everything on a silver platter.

One of their best successes is finding the way symbolism fits into the story rather than shoehorning a story into symbolism. X-24 is how Logan sees his younger self–mindless, savage destructive rage. It is his past come back to haunt him....in this case literally. And that rage kills Xavier. Wherever Logan goes, that violence follows him and destroys the innocent bystanders around him (as he did the Munsons).  In the end Logan does not have the strength to defeat his past alone. He needs the help of his daughter.

The entire movie is a parable for getting old, dying and death (as well as the loneliness that accompanies these), how the past comes back to haunt us all, but at the same time about family, redemption, and the sacrifices of a parent. The guy who found walking excruciating was able to engage in mortal combat to the last once he had a reason.

In the end, there is even a poignant metaphor as the torch of all this power is passed to a wildly diverse group of children from two white men who have spent the movie protecting it from the hands of another group of white men who wanted to control it and keep it to themselves.

But none of this symbolism came at the expense of telling a fun story about bad guys who wanted to kidnap kids and good guys who would put claws through their brain pans.  They teased the symbolism out of a compelling romp rather than try to wrap a story around a bunch of symbolism. And that makes all the difference in how compelling a narrative can be.

And perhaps more importantly, the external plot was almost insultingly simple: "Mutant-creating bad guys want to get back a mutant they created who escaped." Everything beyond that was developed through character, whether it was Logan's reluctant willingness to indulge Xavier's fantasy of Mutopia or Xavier's want of some creature comforts that ended up placing the Munsons in grave danger. What drove Logan, through all its tragedy, angst, and eventual redemption was not a railroaded plot about stopping the end of the world but rather the characters.

And he died with his heart in his hand.

Logan wasn't a perfect movie. It had pacing issues in the third reel, especially when Logan kept passing out to advance through the various plot points. The serum that made him Wolverine-y was kind of an awkward "Ha I'm badass again! Nope, just kidding!" plot point, and the grunting, limping, how-pathetic-am-I? portrayal was at times overdone. The "Chekhov's Gun" of the adamantium bullet being what would kill X-24 was stone-cold obvious about 90 minutes and change before it happened. The use of Shane was an excellent parable, and a fantastic choice for meta-media, but arguably was also a little heavy handed. A whole other article could be written about Logan and the "white savior" trope, and it never even gets particularly close to passing the Bechdel test. Overall though, Logan was an intensely character driven ride about the human condition that blew audiences away and brought the X-men arc that Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman began 17 years ago to a bittersweet and nostalgic, but satisfyingly crunchy end.

Logan's success, measured against a tiny handful of the best movies of the genre ever, carries with it a lot of lessons for writers. Characters are vital...more important even than a big exciting external plot. A couple of well thought out characters inexorably drawn towards a climax of high personal stakes in a tight, contained story within a story about how excruciating death without meaning can be is far, far better storytelling than a railroaded, save-the-universe plot with epic battles and dozens of mutant powers on incredible CGI display.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Best Book Marketed to Young Women

What is the best book marketed to young women? 

I have extra time with The Contrarian again this week, so my heavy hitters are going to be over the weekend. We'll also be finishing up our "Tabs Cleanup" over next week, so those of you on feeds, be ready for a bit more posting than normal.

Obviously the heightened state of the nominations means we're certainly going to take this poll into semifinals (and perhaps quarterfinals). Regardless, it'll extend beyond April, so let's take another week to grab all the nominations we can get and have a proper throw down.

Rules are on the original page if you have questions, particularly about what "marketed to young women" means for the sake of the poll.

Please please please put any new nominations on the comments of the original page. If you leave them here, you might not get a second, and I might not see it when I compile the poll.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Story Fundamentals, Part the Second: Setting (by Arielle K Harris)

Story Fundamentals, Part the Second: Setting
Arielle K Harris  

So you don’t want your writing to be crap, and you’re here for advice.  You now know, either by reading my last article Story Fundamentals, Part the First: Style or by using your own acute observational skills, that style is a thing and as essential to writing as your pen and paper, or your fingertips and your word processor.  What I failed to mention in that article is that style doesn’t necessarily need to be a conscious choice or decision you make, just a sense of self-awareness.  If you try to consciously adopt a particular style it may quickly backfire on you and become forced and contrived if not done perfectly right.

The same goes for the next element of storytelling I’ll discuss, which is setting.  A poorly contrived setting is as easy to see through as that of style, but even worse is a story that omits setting details altogether and relies on vagueness, minimalism, and hopes that the reader fills in the blanks.  A story written like this doesn’t really have a setting, it has a set.  Not the good kind of set like for a high-end movie or HBO series, more like a middle-school production of As You Like it where the Forest of Arden is constructed out of toilet paper tubes.  You know how much I love to quote Ursula Le Guin, well I’m going to do it again:

“It is a fake plainness.  It is not really simple, but flat.  It is not really clear, but inexact.  Its directness is specious.  Its sensory clues – extremely important in imaginative writing – are vague and generalised; the rocks, the wind, the trees are not there, are not felt; the scenery is cardboard, or plastic.”

You can clearly see the fakeness in a setting made of cardboard, and with that awareness no reader will be able to immerse themselves into your story.  A setting must be fully realized, solid, and instantly felt and seen through your words.

I’m a fantasy writer so I worldbuild my settings.  This is my favorite part of the writing process; it’s like traveling but free, inside your own head, and you always know the language.  Building an entire world out of nothing can be daunting but I actually find it less of an undertaking than setting a story in the real world.  Real world stories require intense research, especially if the location is not where you live, or have lived, and if you get it wrong then critics can easily point to flaws in your assumptions.  Worlds you make up are entirely under your control so you can’t make up a street that shouldn’t exist.  If you’ve written it then it does exist.

However worldbuilding requires utmost consistency, maybe you wrote that street into existence on page 25 but by page 60 your characters are running around and that street no longer leads to where it used to, unintentionally (there are times when, of course, this may happen intentionally).  Or the path through your forest is supposed to be going east but several scenes later your questing hero drags herself forward, nearly reaching her destination, but is now facing into the sunset (unless of course you’ve already made it clear that your world has a sun which sets in the east).

The best way I’ve found to ensure internal consistency in worldbuilding is with maps (this could easily be true in real world settings too, and the maps are already drawn for you).  There’s no better way to make sure you know your way through your world than to put it down on paper and refer to it frequently.  Your map doesn’t need to be particularly attractive or artistic if it’s just a writing resource for your own personal use, it just needs to show you the geographical space your characters are moving around in so you can see directions, limitations, and distances.

What do you mean that this isn’t a good map, it has a compass and everything!

The above was my working map for the first part of Bestial, and I have to admit it was not my best effort at cartography.  It did the job, though, I was able to orient myself appropriately when my characters moved between these three locations.  Sometimes it’s really as simple as that!

There is of course something to be said for a more detailed map that covers more geographical area, but that’s only necessary when your story takes place throughout a larger region.  If your entire story takes place in one city it’s unlikely you’ll need to know the geography of a whole continent.

That's a bit better.

This one was a map I drafted for an older, unfinished novel and it looks a bit more like one might expect of a fantasy map – it even has simplistically-named mountain ranges √† la Mount Doom.  I did intend this one to be added into the book which is why it’s all pretty and stuff and not on a post-it note.  This novel was going to take place across the whole of this landmass so I needed to know a lot more than the orientation of three locations.  I intended to do a second map just of the capital city of Cobault as well, giving myself street map with which to orient myself and inform my narrative, so that I wouldn’t get lost in my imaginary metropolis where a lot of the action would happen.

When in doubt always worldbuild in more detail that you might actually need.  Even if you don’t think you’ll ever refer to the types of vegetation that grows on your world’s hills, or the region’s primary exports (which is invariably determined by its geography), or the relative position of the sun when your characters start questing, you should know it.  The more you know about your world the more fluent you are in its details.  Those details are what makes a setting fully realized, believable, and lacking in cardboard.  For a great worldbuilding resource have a look at Patricia C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions which are incredibly detailed and pretty damn comprehensive.

One issue I’ll discuss in terms of those beautiful details, however, is the horror that is the infodump.  You know infodump, it comes at the beginning of many stories, often labelled as a Prologue (I’m looking at you, Anne McCaffrey, the first mother of dragons, may you rest in peace), and what follows is an expositional orgy, sometimes as much as ten pages of it.  You might feel like there’s a lot about your world that needs explaining but infodump is a surefire way to bore the pants off your reader.

So your world has two moons and an unusual tidal pattern because of it.  Don’t tell me “On the fifth planet from the star K4-B lies a planet with two moons and an unusual tidal pattern.”  Tell me something like:

“J’ruk looked up quickly to orient himself, seeing the second moon Hoj rising towards its sister Ko.  He readied his fishing gear on the sand, grateful for the exposed length of sandbar and the brilliance of the sky.  This would be a good night to go derssi-fishing as the lithe and elusive cephalopods would only found in the tidal pools on this, the lowest tide of the cycle.”

Make the details embellishments to your story and, further to that, have them drive your story onward.  If the tides hadn’t been that low J’ruk wouldn’t have been out there that night, leading to whatever exciting action is bound to happen next.  If there hadn’t been two moons then this incredibly low tide wouldn’t have occurred.  It’s all connected, or at least it should be.

A good setting is more than just a backdrop to your story, it should be part and parcel of it.  Your story shouldn’t be able to exist without it.  Could Lord of the Rings have happened anywhere other than Middle Earth?  No, certainly not.  Throughout the writing of your story the setting will influence your character’s decisions, motives, history, and even their moods (I dare you to try to stay cheerful on a long, difficult journey in the rain).  It will determine limiting factors in battle and define whole civilizations.  It will tell you what foods are eaten, what fabrics are worn, and what professions people have.  Only once you understand your setting and have created your world in its entirety are you able to tell the story taking place in it.

But first you’ll need to know your characters, so stay tuned for the next installment of Story Fundamentals!

Arielle K Harris is the author of the novel Bestial as well as the ridiculous steampunk time travel drama short story The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When. She is responsible for one very opinionated toddler as well as a writer, poet, falconer, knitter of many half-finished scarves, drinker of tea, enthusiast for wine and sometimes has been known to have wild birds in her spare room.

She can be found online at her own website: www.ariellekharris.com as well as on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ariellekharris/ and her published work can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/author/ariellekharris

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.