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

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Last Four Boilers (Personal Update, Meta, and a Dollop of Didactic)

 Twentieth Century Fox,
Paramount Pictures,
Lightstorm Entertainment 
True story aside: the title of this post is an oldish pop culture reference (as I am wont to make), and in the course of looking up exactly how old, I may have shocked even myself. 

I have a shiny new schedule with more time for writing, but for the first time in my life, I'm not going to immediately set about stuffing it beyond its maximum capacity with all the good intentions in the world. That way lies teeth in advanced states of gnashed and hands arthritic from being wrung.

Okay. But you have been hearing me talk for weeks about the new schedule. You know I'm back. Well then just how "back" are we?

Well.....let's unpack that. And along the way, since I don't want to write an entire post just gazing at my navel about why it's best that I take it slow, I'll try to awkwardly pair it with some generic advice for everyone who wants to be a writer.

You see, normally, this is the part where I would be updating the Update Schedule* with absolutely the most ambitious regimen I could conceive of. ("Hello. folks. I'll be updating 34 times a week now, but I'm only going to do six posts on Sunday because that's a day of rest. Be SURE to check in on Fridays when no fewer than four of the posts will be six to ten pages. Book should be done by mid-January. I'm also going to start working out again, and see two movies a week for self-care. And I bought a monitor lizard.....who is pregnant.")

(*Aaaaaand now I notice that this has not been updated in over six months.)

One of the reasons I'm not the biggest fan of NaNoWriMo (particularly for the uninitiated writer) is that it is roughly analogous with someone who's never done or hasn't really been doing it for a while suddenly signing on for two or three hours a day. ("I'm going to start herding lemurs after work EVERY DAY from six until eight-thirty! I'll be the best lemur herder outside of Madagascar by year's end!")

Oh. I get the appeal. I get it so hard. There's this visceral allure in making something just almost as difficult as you can possibly handle––in saying that you're going to do it SO FUCKING HARD that you will get better right away. It proves you really want it, right? If you fill every moment with it, then you really care. And those wide expanses of unspoken-for schedule beckon like untrodden snow to be filled with "productivity" and not "wasted."

Trust me. I get it. Truuuuuuuuust me. 

You're reading a blog by the guy who decided to create an "event" called the Megathlon. It's like a triathlon except it uses every piece of cardio-vascular equipment at the gym, and the five mile run on the treadmill is the SHORTEST of those distances. The entire thing would have taken about 15 hours to finish. I was spending five hours a day in the gym "training." You're reading a blog by the guy who once signed up for 21 units in a single semester because I wanted to knock out the general education classes as fast as possible. You're reading a blog by the guy who created a checklist of minimum times for writing "training" that included things like "Three hours a day reading" and "30 minutes studying grammar." It was like NINE hours a day of this brutal regimen. I've spent most of my life basically operating under the slogan that if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. I get this impetus to dive into something overwhelming. In a lot of ways, NaNoWriMo is not even particularly notable compared to some of the daily productivity demands I've made of myself. It's kind of on the low end of the ridiculous scale.

Now for fifty points, control of the board, and a chance at the Cuisinart and the trip to Barbados, see if you can guess how many of those regimens I actually stuck to.

Okay, plot twist. The answer isn't zero.

It's actually one.

Oh, I never stuck to the nine-hour checklist or the Megathlon or "2500 words a day," and I dropped nine units from my 21 unit semester by week three. Those were absurd. But what I did stick to was a much less ambitious goal: to write every day. (Or almost every day.) Some days it is little more than a Facebook post and a couple of emails. Some days it's eight hours before hunger pulls me out of the zone. And from there I go up, adding posts when I have the time to write them, fiction when I find a dedicated few hours, and other projects as I can.

Do I overdo it? All the fucking time. This entire blog is a MONUMENT to me overdoing it. My "I can't keep this up" posts are so frequent that they ought to be a series with their own Reliquary menu. I should legally change my middle name to "Overdoinit." And usually I'm the only one who cares when I can't meet my self-imposed deadlines.

So if you want a universal lesson, oh Writer, let it be this: set reasonable goals. You're just going to feel like a failure if you set some outrageous goal and then can't hit it. Better (in many ways) to find your sweet spot and limits by working up to them.

[In the interest of keeping it real, let me hit the pause button for a second. There's like this WHOLE other side of this. I talk about it all the time but I would be remiss not to mention it here. 99% of aspiring writers who want to be paid and published and whatever else they think "success" is aren't overdoing it. They are underdoing it. They have all the excuses (which I don't judge for legitimacy, so let's not even go there) about why they can't write. From what I know of almost every working writer who ever was, I'm in great company. Almost all of them are perpetually committing themselves to writing "MORE!" And so while I own that I screw this up (royally on occasion), it's also worth mentioning that the folks who are the best in their fields at ANYTHING are probably pushing themselves just a little beyond the "design specs."]

So this time––THIS ONE TIME––I'm going to try to ramp up slowly instead of hitting the ground running. I'm going to recognize that there's a lot of life happening right now, and that if I light the last four boilers, I might run full speed into an iceberg. And I'm going to stop letting my reckless ambition write checks that my temporal inability to time loop can't cash. While it's probably safe to assume that Monday posts will return shortly, I'm really going to trickle ALL that stuff in.
  • It always takes a week or so for a new schedule to really make a difference. (That's why so many people think they've got things handled for that first week when they are, in fact, really completely overwhelmed.) I should wait until then; I expect I'm going to have a more realistic sense of the impact next week and beyond. 
  • So far, I've only really added about three hours to my schedule. 45 minutes a day makes a big perception difference in how rushed I feel getting to work, and it's often the little changes that add up rather than some big "waiting for my ship to come in" moment, but 3 hours a week is not going to give me time to finish my novel by next year. I still need to be better about more often saying no to my clients when they ask me to do a little extra work.
  • Some of this time needs to go to things other than writing. My room is a mess. I need to get to the dentist. I have fallen behind on my hiking. I would love to catch a movie. I can't fall into the trap where "All your freetime base are belong to us."
  • The holidays are coming up and they are brutal on schedules. I may need some extra time, and it's just going to be better not to have something new going before the holidays.
  • While I want to bring what's happening "on stage" back up to speed, a whole lot of what's going on right now in my writing life is "behind the scenes." Fiction. E-books. A merchandise project. I don't want to overcommit to what folks are going to "see," and then not have time for the things I have to quietly work on out of sight. 
So just in general, I think the best play is to move forward cautiously and do lots of self diagnostics so the staff down at logistics have plenty of status reports. Like a gravy, I will slowly add the writing as things thicken.

I think I'm out of metaphors, so I better wrap this up. Push yourself if you want to chase this spurious "making it" thing. But also don't overdo it if you don't want to crash into walls. And if you think I don't know how hard that fjord is to navigate, trust me. I know.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pointer Quests (Mailbox)

Whitewashed Publishing.
How to just DO it.
What if I have no talent?
Are MFAs really that bad? 
Can Netflix shows count as reading?
[Insert question about the publishing industry here]
What to do about all the poseurs?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one or two of them every week or so. 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. I don't often answer redundant questions unless I have a new take on the answer, but occasionally, I'll make a post like this one.]   

In many online role-playing games (especially the massively multiplayer kind) at some point, you will be assigned a quest that is pretty much to just go to another area and talk to another person. ("Go deliver these books to Twizzlefizzlepop in the Desiccated Woods and tell him I sent you. He has need of an adventurer of your skill.")

These are called pointer quests, and you usually get them when you are too über for the area that you're in and the game is trying to tell you to stop slumming it and go find a real challenge.

Today's post is all about the pointer quests.

Not that I'm telling you to go find a real challenge....but...um....okay look, the metaphor breaks down a little the more you deconstruct it. Yesterday around 1pm, as I tackled what I thought was going to be today's mailbox, I realized I wasn't even close. I wasn't even KIND OF close. I had written two pages and I was really just hitting the Tootsie Roll center of the Tootsie Pop. I knew I was going to be working a long night last night (got tagged out after 11pm), and that I was going to have to change tack and make that NEXT week's mailbox. (It's about how to deal with your internal critic. Stay tuned!) So instead I decided to answer some of this mail that doesn't need a whole new post, but maybe just a pointer quest.

Persephone writes:
You often call the publishing industry whitewashed. I know WHAT it means, but why do you say that?

Because it is. Oh, it's not JUST the publishing industry. All the institutions in the English-speaking world are dominated by white men. Journalism. Academia. Politics. Law enforcement. Publishing is just one more place where the gatekeepers are usually white men, and even if they're not themselves, they're often using the yardsticks of what is "high art" that have been established by white men. But you can read more about what I mean here: Why Is the Publishing Industry So Whitewashed? (Mailbox)

Alex asks:

I sit down at my computer and I just stare at it. I just can't write. How do you do it?

I might need to slip this one into the FAQ. I seem to be getting the question more and more these days. It kind of depends on what's blocking you, but I would start HERE. That's kind of the whole toolbox, so just throw it at the wall and see what sticks.

Many write:

Will you read/critique/edit my writing and/or tutor me? 

Yes, but I'm a professional writer with a very busy schedule and my time is valuable, so I charge $50-$75 an hour. This question is answered (with further details) at #10 in my Facebook FAQ (along with a LOT of other questions that I usually only get on or through Facebook).

Sawson writes: 

I'm worried that I don't have talent, and that all this work will be for nothing. Is there any way to tell?

Would that there were. I write a lot about talent, and while most people come around to what I mean when I unpack the entire bag, it really makes a lot of people's heads itch when I tell them that I don't really think it exists....at least not in the way they're using the word. Read my thoughts on it or don't, but the bottom line, Sawson, is going to be this: what are you doing "all this work" for? If it is because you love writing, then it's already worth it. Writing is worth it all on its own. The milestones beyond "for the love of the game" involve, luck, privilege, gumption, and a whole fucking shit ton of work (about ten years of which will probably be unpaid). You'll notice you can only really control about half of those things. I hate to be so blunt, but writing is a piss-poor way to be famous or rich (or even pay the bills without what amounts to a multi-year unpaid apprenticeship), so you'd better find the intrinsic rewards.

Dan writes:

Are MFAs really that bad? Why do you hate them so much?

I don't. They're not BAD. I don't hate them. What I've said, and will say again is that they are time consuming, very expensive, and privilege a certain small set of voices within a very narrow aesthetic, and if it's not exactly the kind of prose-aesthetic that a writer wants to be creating, it is NOT a good move for someone with ambitions who does not know what to do next. The kinds of careers most writers want (particularly hopeful genre novelists) would be better served by using that time to just get started. In fact, I have been very clear that there are a lot of good things about MFAs.

Mike asks:

I don't really read that much, but I want to be a writer. I love Netflix shows and stuff though, and a good story is a good story, right? 

Yes! (And that's about as far as this answer is going to go the way you want it to, Mike. I'm sorry.) 

However, it might be worth considering if what you really want to do is be in TV or film or video games?  I think writing is considered this "accessible" way into what is essentially people's love of ANOTHER art form because most people can write and the starting tools are relatively cheap. By contrast the stories about how difficult it is to break into Hollywood are the subjects of their own legend. But if you break down the numbers, it is just as unusual for a writer to "break in" to movies as it is for someone who starts out doing movies.

TV shows and movies will absolutely instill in someone certain skills that are also useful in writing. Things like pacing, dialogue, plot construction. However, the tools film uses to tell a story are totally different. At the end of the day, a writer doesn't have an actor. They don't have a set. They can't use a lens flare. There are no special effects. They can't have a soundtrack.

Writers have words. That's it. And that's why writers tend to love books. That's why writers are (with so shockingly few exceptions as to be statistically zero) always always ALWAYS into reading....a lot.

And if a writer is not reading enough, they will not have the skill to metabolize the thoughts in their head into language. Their prose will be stilted and clunky. I write more about that here: The Value of TV/Movies/AV Media to a Writer

Every few days someone asks:

[Insert question about the publishing industry here]

Fortunately I did a 20 Questions last summer that covered most of the basic questions about the publishing industry. I will mention this here, though. Most people ask this WAY before it's time to be worried about it. The vast majority of questions like "How do I find an agent?" can be easily tackled in an afternoon of online research. What really needs to happen first is for the book to be finished. And when people ask this question, they are usually putting the cliché before the horse.

Chad writes [Swear to god, the name on the email was Chad]:

Everyone thinks they're a fucking writer these days. They're just clogging up the system with their shitty self published books and Nano drafts. How can someone who's actually serious deal with it?

Oh, Chad. Dear, sweet Chad. I'm not sure where you thought this was going to go, but if you haven't realized it yet, I'm the Chef Gusteau of writing. ("Anyone can cook write.") And while I know there is technically some nuance there when it comes to the actual capability of "anyone" to write, I think a lot more people can and should be writing more often because writing is awesome.

I'm pretty sure the chip on your shoulder doesn't make you any more "serious." (Or any other adjective you try to slide in there to mean basically that you are a really real writer and they aren't.) People have tried before to get me to renounce my "populist writing philosophy," but it hasn't gone very well for them.

Are there people who are self-publishing books before they're ready, who then only sell a few copies to their friends and family and go right back to being frustrated about their writing careers? Sure. But they're not "clogging up" anything. If your book is better, it will stand out. Do agents and publishers refuse to touch anything they even think might be a Nano draft from about Dec 1st to early summer? Yep. That's true. But if your book is not strangely close to exactly 100 pages with a distinct "first-draft-feel" to the first few pages you've got nothing to worry about....right? Right?

Worry about you, Chad. This isn't the fierce competition of a sylvan glade. No one is going to steal your sunlight. We can all make it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Best Modern Science Fiction Book (Or Series) [Come vote!]

What is the very best sci-fi book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000*?  

Our latest poll is live!  Come vote!

[Note: I'm getting some reports that the voting "widget" isn't visible to everyone. The place where I make my polls recently underwent some changes (I think they got bought out by a parent company), and they've been having some growing pains. Here is a direct link 

https://poll.fm/10472241 ]

Our poll was pulled from your nominations, and now you get to decide which one wins. This was a popular topic for nominating so not only did no titles make the poll that didn't get a second, but no titles made the poll that didn't get TWO seconds (a third?) 

Let me just make ONE caveat. This poll is about BOOKS. It's about writing. If you loved watching Alan Rickman play Marvin, but found The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book to be trite and boring plot driven drivel with sophomoric humor, please vote for something else.

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go aaaaaaall to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. 

There is no way to do ranked choice voting, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

I will probably run this poll through December and post results early in January, but that's a pretty busy time of year and it might go longer if it's still picking up new votes when I remind people about it.

[*There are separate polls for other time periods, including "contemporary" (2001-present). I had to break them down because the field was just to busy.]

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Best Modern Sci Fi (Last Chance for Nominations--SECONDS NEEDED)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000?  

As I work a pair of 12+ hour days (and pull down 40 hours by Thursday––long before the first potatoes even get mashed), I will remind everyone to nominate their favorite science fiction, but not before checking the publication date because some of these books are too NEW to be on this poll (we'll have a contemporary sci fi poll separately). Running this poll is about all I've got the energy for this week, and I'm sure as fuck not going to crawl out of my warm bed and my carbohydrate coma on a perfectly good almost-bank-holiday-except-for-poor-unfortunate-retail-souls in order to post something that 90% of folks won't see because they're out suffering in some way or another from the symptoms of late stage capitalism.

So for any of you who have ever said "How can this poll not have SOANDSO?!?", now is your very last chance. Get that fucker on the poll and get it some fucking seconds.

Remember, I don't do that endless quarterfinals shit anymore.  At most, I will do ONE round of semifinals. So the 8-20 with the most seconds get on the poll. And if those "seconds" are technically thirds, fourths, or fifths, then that's what I'm doing. So get over there and second anything you want to see on the page.

So please pop over to the original page (very important), read the rules if you haven't yet, and drop a nomination or an undersung hero. 

I'll be putting this poll together on Friday. That'll be my big day. Come back next week for the good shit.

Remember, go to the original page or it won't count. Not a comment here. Not a comment on the Facebook post. Not Tumblr. THE ORIGINAL PAGE.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Hi Folks!

Two recent events mean that we are no longer able to avoid a few big changes here at Writing About Writing, but let me tell you what's about to happen.

For the past four months, I've been "working for the weekend," so to speak. I've been knowingly overdoing it on nanny hours and letting my writing suffer a bit (though obviously not entirely). My clients were telling me that come January, the baby would be off to preschool, and there would simply not be as many hours. There would still be SOME, but it would be much closer to "the edge" of my budget. And this has been the plan for months now. I've been socking away money for that moment when the winds of fate shifted and brought the financially lean times, but a lot more opportunity for writing.

Then two things happened.

1) My October appeal went quite well. You may have noticed that I didn't do a round of direct-to-social-media, which is my usual wont on the alternative fortnight to a post like this. Things had gone SO well, and I was updating only three times a week––I felt like it was probably better to just skip it that one time. My writing income still wouldn't pay all the bills, but after October's appeal, I'd be a lot less nervous about being cut from 30 nanny hours down to 10 or 15.

2) I found out that The Smol didn't get into preschool for spring semester. Bringing the new estimate to August (as in ten months from now).

That means more income than for at least an additional nine months, but it also means almost more hours than I can handle and not enough writing time for those same nine months. I was okay to run my engines over factory specifications for a few months, but not for an entire year. That's falling right back into problems that I've spent too damned much in therapy to keep repeating.

So...I've set about making those scheduling changes happen anyway.

I'm giving up an hour a day to the morning Nanny, and I'm working out with my clients how to shave off some of the hours that end up happening on weekends and evenings, so that 20 hours/week on paper looks more like 20 hours/week in reality.

This is going to mean more writing starting December, but it's also going to mean that all of your help is more important than ever before. As with every other moment I've been able to drop the teaching of a night class or make a decision to stop a side gig to devote to writing, this is a decision and an opportunity that would not have been possible without my wonderful, generous, and generally ass-kicking patrons.

Once I'm down to the lower hours, I may need to dip into my savings to get through any greater-than-average expense months. And if that starts happening, I'm going to get nervous and pick up freelance work, side gigs, maybe even pet sitting jobs if it gets bad.

This is where all of you come in.

I would much prefer to do my appeals post when I am crunching out two or three heavy hitting posts a week, but I hope that you can see that we're still committed to a steady update schedule even though writing time is a bit hard to find right now, you can glance through the archive and see that over time, I serve up some pretty good writing about writing, and can trust me that it's going to get more robust again real soon.

Today is the first of two times a month (once a month directly to social media and once a month here on the blog) that I humbly ask you to help me keep the rent paid, the lights on, and the crisper full of vegetables instead of "backup Raman packs." Right now I can't quite make all the ends meet with just writing alone (I won't die, but things like dental plans, my cell phone, and food with cellulose take a little extra).

Remember, you don't just get Writing About Writing. There are some personal and political thoughts along with media reviews over at NOT Writing About Writing, and I often use my personal Facebook page for bite-sized thoughts and proto-versions of bigger posts that are still in the "thinking" stage. And there's "the show" on the Writing About Writing Facebook Page––where I share memes, humor, articles about everything writing, and puns all day. And anything else I write for other venues will end up here as well. Always free as well as ad free (as long as I can keep it so) but it takes 20+ hours a week to keep it all going and is a full time job if I really want to do it right.

At this time, I depend completely on donations and patrons for my writing income. As with most donation-based media, the tiniest handful of folks (less than .1%) are creating the experience the other 99.9% get to enjoy. I know it's a tough time right now. Anywhere one looks on social media, there is someone trying to crowdfund an unexpected expense.

However, if even 1% of everyone who stopped by gave a dollar, I would be able to write full time without a side gig for years to come.

If a couple dozen people pledged at the $3 level, I'd be heading into 2020 to give writing an even more robust full-time schedule without needing to worry about oncoming recessions, nanny hours, or dipping into my savings. I know that most people will ignore these appeals. But if you like my work and want it to keep seeing it (and more OF it), please take a moment and see if you can't spare a couple of dollars.

There are two ways to help.

I prefer if you become a Patron through Patreon. Even a small donation goes a long way, and with Patreon, I can budget and plan for the future. Plus, it doesn't take much to get in on some of the most active and robust reward tiers. Our monthly newsletter of behind-the-scenes updates and previews of upcoming attractions is the $3 tier because a foundation of many, smaller donors is so important.

Or if an ongoing donation is not in your cards, of course you can always make the one-time kind through Paypal. Or Venmo (at chris.brecheen@gmail.com)

Lastly, these posts will never do particularly well organically, and it is the nature of social media that I cannot reach everyone who wants to see my content. If you don't have the financial means to support us financially, but still want to help (or would like to help doubly), please engage with this post. (Shares and GIF comments are particularly good for the algorithm.)

Thank you all so much,


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Most Invested POV (Mailbox)

How can I write from the point of view of an uninvested character? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one or two of them every week or so. 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. Excuses to show you that my English major was not completely wasted are more than welcome!] 

TMC asks:

So here is my writing dilemma.

The protagonist is the person who drives the story. The POV should always belong to the person with the most invested in the scene.

Currently the only character with a POV I'm comfortable writing is not the person who's driving the story and is not the one most invested in what's going on.

This means that whatever I write, she's going to 'feel' like a passive observer.

The other three people in the scene cannot, for various reasons, become POV characters, even though one of them is driving the story and is the most invested in what's going on. And this part of the story has to happen.

My Reply:

I had some formative late teen years when The Movie Channel underwent its post-Viacom rebranding (in 1988), and blasted its acronym two or three times per commercial break during the "Weekend Multiplex" when it played what was, for a late 80's/early 90's kid who hadn't yet convinced his BEST friend to try Dungeons and Dragons, much better than trying to walk to the Swap Meet six miles away to check out the only place with Nintendo games in the whole damned valley. (Santa Clarita Valley back in the day was NOT a happening place.) I don't even think they actually said or spelled out The Movie Channel at that point. It was just TMC. And now....


There's a lot to unpack here, TMC, but before we throw some Supernatural on the big screen, order some pizza, and begin the unpacking party in earnest, let's clear up at least one misconception. Because most Americans (who would read this blog, anyway) and 75% of well-read anglophones elsewhere on Earth are already thinking that Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby is the checkmate to this whole thing.

He isn't. At least not exactly. At least not in the way most people first offer him up.

So the first thing we have to do is talk about the difference between a focalizer and a narrator. The narrator is the character telling the story. That "character" might be omniscient, limited, or one or more of the characters inhabiting the story. The FOCALIZER is the perspective through which the story is told. So even though 1984 is written as an omnicient narrator, WINSTON is the focalizer. Usually, in a first (or second) person narrative, they are the same thing.

Not always, though. Once in a while you get a narrator clearly telling a story about SOMEONE ELSE. Gatsby is such a story. It's far from the only one, but is one of the best well-known (because of its position in American Literature education standards) as an example where the narrator is not the main character throughout the entire work.

Fitzgerald is a lot of things, and probably Americans need to get him off that fucking pedestal and talk about a few of them (his treatment of Zelda for example), but a shitty writer was not one of them. He was ABSOLUTELY, consciously playing with the relationship between focalizer and narrator at a time when that sort of literary play was at the peak of its avant-garde status. You see a very analogous floating narrative in Mrs. Dalloway (published the same year) where the narrative is third person, but the focalizer keeps jumping around and creating almost a dreamlike quality. And you see the same sort of Focalizer v. Narrator in the stream-of-consciousness of Ulysses (published three years earlier) as the focalization jumps around while the narration remains with Leopold Bloom.

So yeah, Fitzgerald is fucking with his readers. He's breaking those conventions. The 20s were a time where the general take on society was that the "rules" from the 19th century turned out to suck, and artists were gleefully smashing them with hammers. Fitzgerald is no exception, and not particularly "experimental" among his peers. He's having a grand old time playing with the narrative conventions of the generation before just like a lot of other writers of the time: "Focalizer....just kidding, narrator. Or AM I??? Focalizer!  Psyche....gotcha again, just narrator."

And in the end, Fitzgerald "gets" us one last time because even though he has definitely shifted the focalizer status to Gatsby when he does things like tell the backstory through the latter's point of view, it ends up being Nick who is the character capable of a narrative arc and change (an essential quality for a main character). Gatsby doesn't change. Gatsby is just killed. In fact, Gatsby is so inimical to change (that doesn't benefit his transformation from James Gatz) that he wants to preserve a moment with Daisy forever and literally CAUSES the climactic conflict by demanding that there be no change. Gatsby never stops being an analogue for "The American Dream." It is NICK who changes, who realizes that the whole "fast life" covers a moral emptiness and learns a valuable lesson to become a better blah blah blah.

Not Gatsby. Nick.
Here's to bitter disillusionment that I never actually personally deal with.
That wasn't a massive non-sequitur so that your ol' blogger pal Chris could relive some of his glory days of literary analysis. (*flexes muscles like he's throwing a football*) I mean it was, but that's not JUST what it was. We're gonna use this as we unpack this question.

What we're looking at here is a question at the intersection of Character and Point of View and a great clapback to last week when I pointed out that all the Elements of Craft kind of blend together. In general, you do not want a character who wants nothing. They become boring, flat and uninteresting. They have to want something (anything!), even if it is simply a glass of water. (Readers must also know what the stakes are or they won't care.)

In old-timey fiction it was fine to have stock characters that kind of fulfilled an archetype niche and walked around inside a plot-based story. These days you can't get away with that stuff. The hegemony of character has dominated the entire world of literature (including genre). You can no longer just have a compelling mystery. Your detective has to be a zombie or an addict super-doctor or something else.

Really you don't want motivationless characters ever: if minor characters who want nothing populate the edges of your story, it can make things feel railroaded. The world will feel populated by stock characters and only the main characters will feel like they have ambitions––the literary equivalent of a picture with only the subject in color and the rest in black and white. (Possibly interesting if done well and intentionally, but otherwise.....) For a major character to have no wants means your narrative arc is "plot driven" instead of "character driven" and that can be kind of a no-no in modern fiction.

But here we are. Other characters can't carry the POV. So let's fucking do this thing!

1- This "rule" is like all other "rules" of writing.

Meaning, chuck it in the fuckit bucket if it's not working FOR you. I once read that a famous author saidd, "Don't write about kids, alcoholics, or politics," and I was like, "What, were you fucking sick the days they taught 19th century European literature in Literature class? Have you EVER read a Y.A. novel? Like EVER???? What the literal hell kind of advice is that?"

Much like Fitzgerald, you can bend, break, and eventually dance a peppy Irish Riverdance jig on this rule if you want to. The only real "rule" in writing is what you can earn and then get away with. Let them tell you you "can't" do it while young writers crawl over each other to beg you for your secret ingredient to success.

Laugh at their bemusement. Drink their tears. Delight in their screams of anguish to an uncaring god.

Is it a little unusual for a work with high ambition to follow a character who doesn't want anything for a while? Yep. You've got your work cut out for you. But there's no reason to think it can't be done.

In the great words of Westley when Buttercup said they would not survive: "Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has!"

2- POV and Focalizer

As I just wrote, you can have a focalizer not be the POV character. You don't even have to do triple reversal bait and switches like Fitzgerald was doing. ("If you put the focalizer as the main character, then I can clearly not choose the Point of View in front of ME!"  Sorry....still on The Princess Bride here.)

This isn't common or frequent, but it isn't unheard of or anything. I myself have a story (as yet unpublished) where a "bardish" storyteller character is the point of view character telling the story of a more outgoing "warrior" type who is the main character. (They are both aspects of me, and even as I write this, I realize that it has a lot to do with the fact that I think of myself as more the narrator, and when I am doing cool things that I actually admire and think are worthwhile, it's almost like I'm watching myself do them and it's not really me.)

Perhaps the most famous example of this (that ISN'T on 90% of high school curriculums) is Watson. He dutifully chronicles the stories of Sherlock Holmes and only occasionally do we know anything about his own wants and needs, other than perhaps to understand how the heck Holmes figured something out. Modern reinterpretations have fleshed him out a bit as an adrenaline junkie or having a romantic interest that conflicts with helping Holmes, but very little of any of that can be found in the Doyle stories. Now, detective fiction might not be considered "literary," but Sherlock Holmes is the only character other than Arthur of the Britons to have their own literary journal, and Holmes stories have thousands of adaptations and derivations. So....maaaaaaaybe suggesting that there's "never" a good POV character who just kind of passively reports what the focalizer is doing is just a wee bit of that "high art" elitist, gatekeeping snobbery.

Having a point of view character who cares about nothing and NO focalizer might be a difficult choice. (Purely objective narratives where no character is given sympathy or primacy are unusual but not unheard of.) But you can have your POV character focus on your focalizer and the "sin" of having her not carry much of her own motivation will be smoothed over. Or maybe THAT can be the thing she wants. To tell the focalizer's story as clearly as possible.

3-It's not the whole work.

Characters who could NOT carry the narrative can often carry chunks of it, especially when needed. It's one of the reasons you get more traditional narratives in novels, but all KINDS of "play" in short stories. Those shorter chunks of investment mean readers will put up with more unconventional shit.

No one would read an entire book from Big Wig's point of view, but Watership Down is arguably a much better story for the fact that it sometimes leaves Hazel and goes into other focalizers for a chapter. No one will slog through five hundred pages to find out that the point of view is from a character who has no narrative tension, but if the central character's tensions are still being carried while this other character merely picks up the job of basically being a "recorder" for a few pages, it'll be fine.

You might be overthinking this. Twenty pages is not the same as two hundred.

4- Authors essentially do this all the time.

A lot of authors have fun doing EXACTLY this. You might run up against some of those "rules," but if you earn it, I wouldn't worry about them too much. Think of how fun it is to occasionally have a situational comedy from one of the side character's points of view. Those characters are often flat, cliché or "one-trick-ponies" who are hardly good examples of literary characters with arcs, but for a single episode, it's kind of fun to see how Smithers or Willy or The Janitor or The Todd sees the world and that they've got more to them than they let the world see.

Readers find this DELIGHTFUL. It's like this whole different perspective for a few pages. It's a treat to see the world from another's view especially if there's something they notice from that perspective that they would never have noticed from just the original.

Like standing on a desk. O captain! my Captain!

5- GIVE her motivation. 

Of course, you could side step all of this if you thought about what she DOES want. Even if it's just a glass of water.

She doesn't have to share the motivation of the focalizer character in order for her narrative arc to be interesting. She can have her own wants, needs, goals. Maybe she wants to impress someone back home. Maybe she wants to be violent. Or maybe she doesn't, but we don't know that it's all an act until we're up in her head and seeing how she pretends to be a bad ass to cover for being terrified. Or maybe she really wants a tiny house with a white picket fence and where the hell did it all go so wrong?

Maybe, and this is a little meta but I could see it working, she wants everyone to know JUST HOW FUCKING MUCH SHE DOES. NOT. CARE. And that becomes its own driving pulse for that character. I wouldn't read a whole novel of that, but for a few pages, the irony of a character who was passionate about being blasé could be fucking hilarious!

Mostly I'm just going to keep hammering #1, though. If you've been around a while (and you have, The Movie Chann TMC), you know I really hate saying "if you have a good reason" because everyone thinks their reason is spectacular. Instead I say Earn It.

If you earn it, the only "rules" are what you can get away with, and while a lot of process and craft advice has some really good basis for being advice in the first place, some of it still needs to be punched in the face. And as you move even further away and leave behind good, solid, oft-agreed-upon process and craft advice and go out into the world of narrative arcs and "what makes for a good story," you're deep into the territory where A) there are LOTS of exceptions because no one tells writers what they can't fucking do, B) they're really more like helpful suggestions to keep things a bit easier for beginners, and perhaps most importantly, C) some of the best stories you can think of took some "rule" or another and fucked with it––and that's exactly the reason they were so remarkable.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Meta/Personal Update, October 2019's Best, and a Reminder

Hi everyone,

Greetings from the beginning of the Really-Rough-Time-Of-Year zone. This would normally be a post I would send only to my Patrons since they keep the lights on around here, but since I was doing jazz hands anyway, I decided to throw in some meta and whip up a casserole of post topics.

Not only am I heading into a period of chaotic scheduling, demanding loved ones, and overwhelming commitments, but PG&E tells me they're going to be shutting off my power again, company is coming tomorrow, and I'm not the brightest star in the firmament to begin with this time of year.

I'm still working to bring you at least the the two good posts a week, but it's a rough time for reasons both pragmatic and existential. If I fail on a post in the next six weeks, please don't think less of me.

Good news on that whole "Busy As Fuck" front though. I was basically screaming-while-working-50-hours during this entire semester with the presumption that my Nanny hours would be cut in January and leave me with barely enough to get by. I've learned that because the baby didn't get into preschool for Spring, my current schedule is good for another almost year. Which, while great for my pocketbook, was entirely too much for my writing schedule to withstand. I've also taken some steps to make sure that my nanny schedule gets a little easier as soon as December, and I'm working with my clients to try to shave a few more hours here and there so that "on paper" and "in praxis" have a bigger area of overlap.

I wasn't going to make it for another eight months, so I decided to get to work making my schedule more long-term tenable right away.

I also want to let everyone know that it looks like PG&E is going to be shutting off our power again this week. We still haven't gotten any rain, and even though it's a bit colder, fire season drags on. So when the winds kick up the grid goes down. As always, I will do my best to bring you all the smoking hot content you've come to expect.

So without further ado, here are the posts for October that will go on to fame and fortune in our Greatest Hits menu

Fuck This! See You Next Week/ Emergency Post

One of the best performing posts of this YEAR, nevermind last month, was simply my frustrated moment of realizing that I had to kick my update schedule to the curb while the fires were happening. I wrote it instead of a post, flipped off a second post that I was supposed to write the next day and went to Disneyland (albiet for a working vacation) instead.

Similarly the second best post from October was a warning that the fires and smoke were coming and that historically meant I would probably lose some posts along the way. I'm combining them so that not everything in the "best" posts is quite so meta.

11 Reasons Fame Probably Doesn't Look Like You Think It Does/ Part 2

If you've got this idea that fame means you're swimming in friendships and hot dates, it might surprise you to know that the opposite tends to be true.

Part 2 also would have made the grade for one of the month's best, but I decided to combine it. (Also this post has its third and final part written now.)

What To Do With That First Novel

So you've finished your first novel.

What do you do with it?

Honorable Mention: Hi Everyone

Our appeals post almost never does well enough to be in the month's best, but this month it would have been #2. So if you're a writer hoping to crowdfund your career, you might want to take a look at what makes for a good appeals post.

LASTLY (but not leastly)....

Go nominate Best Modern Science Fiction books (or series).  Be sure and read the rules (because we're getting a lot of nominations that are after 2000) if you haven't already. But if you've got a fucking book you want to see on the poll, nominate that shit! But in the name of Zues's butthole, please go to the original page. I can't deal with nominations all over the damned blogoverse.

Friday, November 15, 2019

11 Reasons Fame Probably Doesn't Look Like You Think (The Renown Margin) Part 3

Link Back to Part 2


All the way back to part 1

8- It can actually be a little lonely sometimes.  

If you have this idea that fame means people are swimming in friends and always have a jet-setting plan, it's probably wrong. If anything, I've found I have fewer people who are close. Some of that is on me. I'm not healthy about my work/life balance, and I go up to eleven in being introverted, but these things have been true for most of my adult life. What I've noticed is that I kind of grow apart from people at a pretty normal pace, but it has gotten even harder to make new connections. Many of the folks I meet through my work or my online persona are flightier and flakier. (More prone to bail on the entire friendship over a single issue of disagreement or simply tethered so much to social media that something like a "break from Facebook" means we never really see each other again.) Which, of course, makes me more cynical and guarded for my own protection and well-being, which can lead to MORE flighty and flaky people. And the end result is that I actually trusted people more (and trusted MORE people) before I started to make a public name for myself.

The longer I'm "famous" (god, I hate using that word for whatever the heck quasi, proto, not-really famous it is that I am *scratches teeth some more*).

There's this weird phenomenon that happens when people enter my orbit. MOST people don't want to bother me. They are acutely aware of my space and time, are worried that they're being an imposition into it, and leave me alone out of respect. They are kind, polite, and considerate, and assume I'm constantly too busy. Which of course, I generally am if I'm writing, but definitely not all the time, and more so because most people don't want to bother me....

Then there's this other group. People who have far less regard for my time, are impolite, inconsiderate, maybe a little entitled but always disrespectful. They kind of demand time and energy from me ("Hey, I know you just told me that you're doing your writing from 8-12, but just one quick question...."). They show up like Columbo. ("If I could just have one more moment of your time....") They fill my chat with mammothian paragraphs about childhood traumas or ongoing life events. They ask me REALLY personal questions. They jump past "Hey, can we flirt a bit online" and jump right to an explicit fantasy or skip the part where they get my consent before sending me an unsolicited sexual photo. More than a few (probably thinking they are being complimentary and cute) tell me that I am adorable and they are going to marry me. (Can we start with dinner, please?) Unless I'm rude as fuck, they don't get the hint. Sometimes when I finally am rude, they get pissed off and call me names, threatening to use their considerable social clout to destroy me. It's all very unpleasant.

And therein lies one of the shittiest parts of the whole thing. "Fame" (such as it is) creates a paradox in the world of folks who are willing to approach me. I get a lot of attention from exactly the wrong kind of people, and I am left at a respectful distance by exactly the sort of people I would love to be closer to. It becomes harder and requires more effort to nurture the seeds of good relationships and see that they aren't crowded out by folks I'm less interested in.

There are, of course, some remarkable exceptions. They approach timidly, check in early and often, and are respectful, but are also clear that they want into my world. My cynicism shields are worn down. We find a rapport. I have made some wonderful friendships this way, and in one case an editor who spins my straw into gold.

I mean, as with any of these examples, I can't really speak for anyone with the kind of fame that makes a glamorous six-figure evening a feasible expense, but I have my suspicions. I very much doubt that the upper crust of famous folks wants to go out with the sorts of people who are willing to crowd them, treat them like they are consumables, and ask invasive questions. Probably they'd rather have their real peeps there, and those get harder and harder to find.

Sure, their lives look a little glitzy if you check out their Instagram feeds. But that can be a lot of smoke and mirrors. You know, I get invited to things too. I have talks and trips and end up at a rave once in a blue moon or on a boat dressed up and surrounded by people who are looking mighty dapper. I have clients that have me driving for sixteen hours and changing diapers all over Disneyland so that they can enjoy a little mini-vacation with their kids, but if I just post the pictures of me on Hyperspace Mountain, it looks like I'm frolicking off for yet another weekend of merriment. Multiply my income by a factor of ten (and toss in some extroversion) and I'd probably have a pretty jumping Instagram feed too. But it's just the highlight reel. Plucking out the parts where I'm changing a diaper while a five-year-old cries that the Fast Pass on Splash Mountain has another hour or when I'm feeling sick in the hotel from dehydration makes me look like I have a pretty exciting life. But don't be fooled! My day-to-day existence is quiet and I watch a lot of Netflix in bed alone at 8pm on weekend nights. So I'm not sure a rockabilly Instagram really proves that fame means friends or partners or anything.

9- The people that become truly fascinated by me are usually not what you might imagine.

This one's going to be long because it's actually like FIVE bullet points in one.

Do you know this scene? The statuesque brunette approaches confidently. Eye contact never wavers. "I like your work. This may seem forward, Mr. Famousdude, but this is my room key. If you want no questions, no strings, no attachments, come in twenty minutes and I'll show you JUST how much I really....(a dramatic pause)...appreciate your work."

Ha. Yeah, I saw that movie too. That bullshit is right up there with "Nice shoes...."

I mean, I'm not Neil Gaiman, so maybe he and Stephen King have to sift through all the goddamned room keys that have been shoved into their pockets to find the one for their OWN room every time they want to take a fucking nap, but somehow I kind of doubt it.

There definitely are people who get fixated on me, but that's really not what they act like. It does happen that suddenly I'm getting lots of attention. But it's probably not what you think. Usually it's a little dehumanizing and a lot of projection.

They tend to fall into a few different categories:

Category 1- My nemeses.

So there was this guy I knew, about twenty years ago. And I guess he felt like we were in competition about a lot of stuff because we both wanted to be writers. He got really upset that I was going to be the prince in a vampire game instead of him. Anyway he sort of said, "We shall never be friends again!" all official like, after I implied that I thought the US intelligence community knew more about 9-11 than it had let on (which turned out to be exactly the case). And I didn't think much about him after that, until he approached me––well beelined towards me as soon as he saw me is really more like it––at a mutual friend's wake to ask how my writing was going. I told him that after an unsatisfying attempt to clean up a novel, I was doing an undergrad writing program and was about 2/3 through it. He quickly made sure I knew HE was much more successful than me and that HE had been making money writing for quite some time. He even scoffed. Like, the honest-to-god throat noise people make on TV when closed captioning reads, "(scoffs)". And then he was off again. Having fulfilled whatever fantasy he replayed over and over in the shower, he immediately left and spent the rest of the wake ignoring me. His "neener neener" moment was done, so he had no more use for protracted contact. I realized then that he had been thinking about me a LOT more than I ever did about him (and honestly, I hope he found some kind of catharsis in trying to rub my face in his writing career because it's not good to bottle that shit in). Since then, what few times our paths have crossed, he's done that power move "I-do-not-see-you" thing, so I guess I'm still his nemesis.

That was before I was quasi-famous, but I think a lot about that wake and how I realized he was obsessing about me way more than I even remembered he existed. I sort of discover this happens from time to time. ("Do you remember me Mister The Writing About Writing Guy???" "Um....no.")

Some people who fixate on me do so because they have this idea that I represent something, or that have slighted them, or that I am a paragon of the left (or that I am a paragon of watered-down white-dude liberalism if they're to MY left), or that I need to be more neoliberal or more socialist or that I need to be more sensitive to the nuance of boomer white Christians who are not oppressive jerkwads. Or maybe they think that if they take me down a peg or three, they will elevate themselves, so they're constantly trying. Or maybe they think I am in desperate need of their contrary opinion. Or perhaps they took umbrage once (with whatever), and now everything I do now sucks. ("Look at this asshole! Putting milk on TOP of cereal like a fucking shitstain. Instead of pouring the cereal into the milk. Jesus fucking Christ, what a choadmonkey.") In a couple of cases, these were people trying to build their own social media reach and they just got so unbelievably pissed that I was gaining an audience with greater speed and success than they were (ironically, despite ignoring my advice when I gave it). In some way, I become kind of a symbol to them. And it's not a good symbol.

As you can imagine, this is not a great kind of attention to get. It may be obsessive and fixating like the statuesque brunette in the movies, but it is seldom pleasant. I remove such folks from my life whenever I find them, but it always rattles me to know that someone takes the time and energy to think I'm worth considering their archenemy. And I don't exactly get to debrief these folks, so I seldom know what their problem is. I just notice that suddenly they seem to have a lot of energy to give to hating me.

Category 2- The temporary balm.

Here's one that has happened a SHOCKING number of times, and gone down each time in almost exactly the same way: Someone pops into my life to say, "HEY THERE!" They've found me through my work and reach out at first for any number of reasons. They aren't rude or pushy. They treat consent as a vital ingredient instead of an afterthought. Something clicks somewhere along the line and there is some flirting or sometimes some much more direct intention declaration. They are exciting, engaging, attractive, and I'm a pretty normal person who likes being appreciated. I let them get to know me over a little bit of time (for reasons I'll talk about in Category 4). I learn a bit about them, they about me. There are some deeper conversations (often heavy on the emotional labor for me as they talk through some big stuff). Flirting becomes steamy. Feelings are admitted to. Intentions are exchanged. Perhaps a rendezvous is even planned.

Then they suddenly disappear from my life. Poof! Often, it's not a true ghosting*. They're still there. They will still say hi and tell me how their day went if I ask. But all talk of what was building is conspicuously avoided.

*Though sometimes it is.

It is usually a little while later that I connect the dots. Sometimes they just reached out because they were a little lonely or feeling a little insecure. Sometimes they're going through a breakup. Then a couple of weeks after the silent treatment started, I see a post where they've checked in with the person they were breaking up with. ("Third anniversary!") The little conflict with their husband they frequently talked about when we first met is suddenly going "Oh So Much Better" right before all the discussions of a meet-up go silent and all talk of being in a non-monogamous arrangement stops. Or I discover that they weren't quite as open and polyamorous as they first assured me they were, and their "actually-quite-jealous" boyfriend has discovered our correspondence. Or maybe they stop chatting with me all of a sudden, and then a month later let it slip that they've been in a relationship with someone local for about a month now....so, right around the time they stopped chatting with me.

The clues show up.

I realize what happened––that I was the source of a lot of self-esteem repair and emotional labor and that once things were better (perhaps even because of that self-esteem repair and emotional labor), I was kind of expendable. There wasn't a lot of honesty about what was really going on––and to be fair, in some cases it's entirely possible that the lacking honesty was SELF-honesty or that the buzzkill development really could not have been foreseen. Though certainly in some situations, there was conscious, willful deception. Of course, nobody "owes" me anything, and there's no single person I would ever point to and screech, "Hey, what about MEEEEEEEEEEE!" When this happens once in a while it isn't anyone's fault. It's just life. However, as a pattern that happens over and over, it hurts my feelings to just be the self-esteem spackle paste and emotional labor engine until someone is feeling better, and then be cast aside. I developed feelings for these people, got my heart a little broken, and it makes me that much more jaded and cynical about the next person who says, "HEY THERE!!"

Category 3- People who are frightening.

I'm not here to decide who is unwell and especially not why, but sometimes people step outside of the social contract so far that they frighten me. As someone with a higher profile than normal, I think that sometimes I'm the person who someone fixates on when they were going to fixate on something. But whatever happens, it can be alarming. Maybe I get an email from someone, with whom I've been quite casual until that moment, that has a shockingly explicit description of how much they want to have sex with me and what they would do, complete with unsolicited pictures. Or a friend on my Facebook suddenly starts chatting with me one day and talks about a marriage proposal that is "ha ha not real," but then the next message salvo talks about the dresses and the guest list and where we're going to live, and then I get thirty paragraphs of chat while I'm asleep and one of them is about how a post I wrote about semicolons (or something) was clearly a secret message in code that I was ambivalent about the marriage, and that they are calling off the wedding and washing their hands of our relationship completely. There have been death threats.

One Muslim guy issued a fatwa on me.

These things frighten me. Whether it's high-key ignoring consent (which does not bode well for a "marriage" if one is keeping score, just FYI) or the thought that maybe I have an actual not-funny stalker, these things make me double-check the locks on the door and wonder if that green Civic is following me.

Category 4- Stars in the eyes

A lot of the people who think they like me actually like the fantasy image of me. They have a sense of some brush strokes because of my writing and sort of....fill in the blanks with stuff they want to see. It's not really me. And I have to be very careful when it seems like I'm dealing with someone who thinks I'm really great and have no flaws or is just gushing.

I'm just a person. I'm riddled with flaws just like everyone else. And I sometimes have to make sure these folks stay at arm's length for a bit while they learn that I can be a testy, delicate little shitweasel at the end of a long day, I suck at getting to sleep at a consistent time, I have worked hard to overcome poor boundaries but sometimes I slide back into bad habits and have a hard time saying no (but get resentful if I'm steamrolled instead of checked-in with), and I probably land on the wrong side of at least one thing they would mark as "Very Important" on a dating profile. Plus I'd be late to my own funeral, and when I'm tired and not paying attention, I leave my dirty socks wherever I was when I decided I was done wearing them.

Get me off of this pedestal, please.

A couple of years back I shelved my "groupie threesome jokes" here at Writing About Writing. Not because I lost interest in threesomes (oh PERISH the thought), but because the "groupie" thing that had been a complete absurd joke was becoming not-entirely-absurd, and there's a big ethical question in taking advantage of a power differential like that. I know some famous people do. (One of my friends has a story about being approached by Mike Myers's assistant––she refused but....damn.) And I'm not here to infantilize any free-agent's genuine, enthusiastic consent, but a lot of the time there's a little bit of squicky pressure being applied to someone who is so excited to be there that they might not feel comfortable saying no.

It can be a weird paradox to be on a pedestal. Such positive attention has a compelling side, but it also feels strange and uncomfortable and it gets old faster than you might think. It's not just for these folks' sake that I wait until they kind of KNOW me to let them in. It's for me as well. One of the worst things you can do to someone is fail to live up to their expectations, and if someone is projecting everything they like onto you, the real, unvarnished you is very likely to let them down eventually. And there can be all kinds of bad fallout when that rebounds onto the person being pedestaled just for being who they always were.

Category 5- Think of what he could do for me!

I've only seen this a couple of times, but I imagine it starts to get more and more common as numbers grow. People start to fixate on me because they think I am a gateway to something they want. I can get them followers or promote their work or they will raise their station by having a *COUGH* famous boyfriend or something. In some cases, it has been so explicit that people have sent me multiple requests a day to share something from their wall or provided me the exact wording they wanted for me to promote something. Sometimes this is coupled with intense personal interaction as well, as they try to sidle into my "ingratiated zone" as fast as they can. In one case someone all but explicitly asked me how far they would have to go to quid-pro-quo get some sort of regular promotion slot on my page. ("Whatever has a girl got to do to be your pet promotion project on your page?" was, I believe, the exact wording. Not exactly subtle.)

When people find me through my work and instigate some kind of friendship (even if it eventually goes further), most of the time it blooms like any other relationship. We "meet" (even if online). Though my work is the catalyst, there's no presumption of intimacy. At first we're mostly strangers, maybe we realize we like the cut of each other's respective jibs, there is some kind of connection. Eventually there are side conversations away from the public interactions (this works online or in person). Friendship ensues. It is all very organic and takes time as a rapport is built.

If someone suddenly jumps ahead five or six steps in that process because they're fixating on me, it's usually not good. It's usually because they're not really seeing a PERSON there, or at least not an entire person. I am a stand in for something. And if it isn't explicitly bad, it can be at least dangerous for me not to insulate myself from the harm they might do, however unintentional.

I can't imagine any of these not being exponentially worse in both quantity and scope for anyone with any real level of fame, and I'm absolutely sure that's the reason that people either make themselves incredibly hard to contact directly and/or are extremely circumspect about how they handle strangers.

10- The reason that I am "famous" is its own social barrier.

Most people who are famous are so because of something they do. A few are just so stinking rich that they are also famous, but even then, those people are not usually quietly rich. They're like CEO of a major company or get really involved in funding political super PACs that undermine democracy....or, you know.....something.

Most famous people DO something that puts them into the spotlight. Maybe they play a sport really well. Or they are a musician who rocks a currently en vogue sound and has millions of fans. Perhaps they act in mainstream movies or television. They are an artist of some renown.

And the chances are pretty good that they got there through no small amount of work. [And yes, there may be other factors that matter more like nepotism or being a cis white dude, but the work is also essential.] I don't mean a couple of hours on weekends or even a few hours a day. Like, have you ever seen the training regimens for professional athletes? There is a certain level of maybe-not-so-healthy obsession with which people, who are famous for what they do, work at that thing to get better. Usually it is their life's obsession. They spend more time on That One Thing™ than most people do on a full time job and a reasonably passionate hobby.....combined.

That sort of idée fixe can get in the way of normal, healthy relationships, be they friendships or romantic.

I spend 40-50 hours a week writing (and that's after I pull a 30-hour week being a nanny for side gig money). My writing puts the kibosh on a lot of social activities. If I'm not skipping parties because I'm actually writing, I'm skipping them because I am completely wiped out from the schedule I maintain in order to keep writing. When people say, "Hey we should get together," no matter how much I like them and WANT to hang out, I'm probably going to never feel like I have time unless they invite me to something specific, I block it off on my calendar, and then do my writing work around knowing that it's there and planning for it.

And that's just the getting out and being social. Sometimes my loved ones who are already in my life and close to me have to deal with the gobs of time I shovel at writing. What little vestige of looks-like-fame-under-a-microscope that I've achieved is the result of a lot of evenings and weekends spent writing the next post, and saying no to being social. My peeps would like more time from me for this plan or that week away or just this evening, but I'm rationing my non-writing time and I have to say no. And when I did cohabit with a partner, that sometimes included saying that I couldn't come downstairs and watch Netflix or just hang out until I wrapped up another hour of work.

I have said, "I can't right now. I'm writing," to more plans that I would like to have partaken in than I can really count. Thousands for sure over the years. Some days it feels like millions.

As writing starts to pay bills, there is a little more discretionary time since you don't necessarily have to come home FROM work to get your writing work done, but most people still don't have a very good sense of how much work (reading and writing in my case––plus posting all those memes) goes into being renowned enough at something to achieve a level of notoriety.

It's not weekend-warrior effort.

It's not something a typical friendship (or courtship) fits into easily.

11-There's no line out the door

Okay, this one is pretty much just about dating and romance.

Add all these things up, and you get no line out the door. Once you factor in that the "room" where I'm "famous" (nominally?) is a niche, online place with only a smattering of folks who exist in any physical, geographic local, and once you deal with the paradox that the kinds of folks who would jump into a relationship sight unseen are probably not filling out the healthiest of dating pools, and that that most of my friends from before I started blogging are pretty blasé about my writing career, and that my writing itself creates a barrier to having lots of time to pursue relationships and date....you start to see how these factors can actually limit the field.

And even after all of that, there are still a lot of other factors that end up coming into play.

I might be personally ambiamorous, but I'm deeply involved with two people who are polyamorous, so everyone who is monogamous is out. Even here in the wild and free Bay Area, that is MOST people––monogamy is still the default relationship model for almost everyone. And within the non-monogamous community, there are still a lot of different needs and wants. I've got nothing against someone who wants a weekly playdate with a friend (actually that sounds pretty fucking awesome, Tee Bee Haitch), but what I'm actually willing to seek out and expend time and energy looking for is different.

Star Trek transporters have not been invented. The people who I've definitely got a "Fuck yes" rapport with exist, but they are not all living in my apartment complex. They are scattered to the winds of fate. Yes, there are fifteen or so cities in the world where if I were to visit, I'm not saying I'm definitely getting laid, but I really like my chances. Those folks might be "at my door" if one of us lived in the other's home town, but we don't. [It is a sad and lamentable story; do not even attempt to contain your tears.] Unless someone is willing to move* (I can't because of The Contrarian), we are tragically torn apart by destiny. Honestly, things start to get pretty dicey around 20 miles unless someone is really comfortable only getting together once a week or so, and now we're back to what each person is really even looking for.

(*Chasing a "maybe" with an Internet romantic interest would be its own sort of "Danger, Will Robinson" move.)

And there is the matter of the chemistry test. (Oh mine gets much easier when I know someone and like them, easier still if I trust them, and if they bring some unbridled enthusiasm to the table, there's not even any stoichiometry equations, but there is STILL a Chemistry test.)

So when it comes to people close enough to date, who want the same thing OUT of dating, aren't displaying stars-in-their-eyes in a way that I need to be worried about a power differential, and I would want to date them (and they me).....my "fame" doesn't really mean much.

It turns out it's more likely to make me insulate myself a bit from the world, be a little over-cautious, jaded, and cynical until I really know people's motives and intentions are on the level, and between that and the work make a more typical-looking social life much more difficult to engineer.

While I can't speak for every outrageously famous actor or musician (certainly not the ones more willing to exploit their fame to cozy up to a smokin hot fan), I can tell you that I suspect the law of large numbers mean that it's definitely not all it's cracked up to be.

As a parting thought, it is worth noting that unsolicited nudes and cyber harassment and stalkers are the everyday experiences of non-men with little or no "fame" to speak of. As a dude-shaped human with a million followers, readers in every continent, and actual honest-to-goodness "fans," after seven years of building up an audience and gaining more and more notoriety, my experience has begun to look like that of many women and gender-variant folks for having the audacity to simply exist.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Elements of Craft in Fiction (Mailbox)

What ARE the elements of craft in fiction? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one or two of them every week or so. 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. And sometimes my parentheticals will be longer than my answers. You're just going to have to learn to deal.]   
Ariane asks

I just finished reading your blog post about Revision Land.

At number 4, you talk about a list of craft elements you check for artistic purposes. Can you give examples?

Thank you.

My reply,

Elements of craft (in fiction) can be both deceptively simple and shockingly complicated. At the lowest common denominator, there are only seven.
  • Character
  • Plot
  • Point of view
  • Setting
  • Style
  • Tone 
  • Theme

That's it. Seven. That's what you're working on when you write fiction. Pretty much seven things.

Now you can find longer lists, but I humbly submit that they will simply be breaking one or more of these elements down further. (Protagonists and antagonists are characters. Exposition is part of plot. Figurative language [often listed as "symbols"] is a subset of style.) I myself have already started some essays on ideas like punctum and significant detail in a menu called Elements of Craft; however, most of these are subsets of style (maaaaaybe tone).

Mostly it's just these seven things.

Answering your question though, Ariene, is going to require a quick detour. These seven things are....distilled concepts. There is a lot to unpack (or there wouldn't be advanced degrees dedicated to unpacking them).  Three things in particular that must be understood in the broader tradition of analyzing fiction.

One- Within each of these concepts is a deep honeycomb of sub-elements, as I mentioned above. There's a reason some lists break things down further. Learning about character leads to types of characters (anti-hero, protagonist, foil) as well as character archetypes (the fool, the wizard, the lover), which might lead to a discussion of how characters can be more than one of these things or straddle the edge or move as they develop. And then you have how to do round vs. flat characters. And you can examine the depth of good characters, understanding tropes and clichés that you want to avoid. And suddenly you've spent weeks (months maybe) simply trying to understand this ONE element of fiction. And this is true with any of the elements. They go down about as far as you are willing to keep drilling.

Two- We pull these concepts apart to study them and examine them and to talk about them when we discuss fiction, but in some ways, they are artificial boundaries. They all kind of blend together, and while there might be some simplistic differences between setting and character, as you take a closer look, you may begin to see that in fact the two have un-extractable interplay with each other. You may think that plot and point of view are discrete ideas, but how much would the plot change if it were from ANOTHER point of view (say the antagonist's)? At what point (exactly) does style become tone or vice versa? So we use these terms as sort of artificial containers, but there's a lot of overlap.

It's like trying to find the exact point that red becomes blue.

Three- The primacy of theme. Theme is sort of the biggest element of craft within a story. If anything could be said to be analogous in fiction to the non-fiction idea of a thesis statement or central message, it would be theme. Most of the other elements interplay with theme (in a more significant way than they all interplay with each other). In fact, as college students begin to write essays analyzing fiction past freshmen level composition, they are almost always about how some element or another interacts with theme, and almost every graduate-level analysis does so. Theme becomes the sort of central element through which all others are doing their work. Your setting should reflect your theme (Steinbeck does this so conspicuously that high school sophomores often have to write about it). Tone and style should reflect theme. Or maybe they don't reflect it but draw sharp relief of contrast to it, as in satire. (A serious theme with an absurd tone. Or vice versa.) Think of theme as if it were a center circle laid over a Venn diagram of six circles, where each of the other six circles touch each other, so that all are connected to all others.

Turns out what I described is really hard to find an image of on Google,
and the best I can do is "funny."
So think of theme, like the "weed" of your story.
(JFC, I'm never going to get to speak at my Alma Mater.)

So when I say that I check my craft, I mean that I look for elements and make sure they are all supporting each other. If I find that my setting is just a BART station, I try to use something like the tile patterns to subtly reinforce a theme within the story. Or if I find that my tone is too light-hearted for the subject I'm tackling, I decide if I want to make the tone heavier or draw attention to how it is inappropriate so the discordance is a conscious decision. A hodgepodge of elements might all be good at their part, but if they do not all sort of point toward the same artistic vision, the work can be a little muddy. And despite the claim that art is PURELY subjective (it's not), what consistently makes for good art is the way the elements all point toward that thematic vision.

It's important to make sure I'm crystal clear about something: these are things you TEASE OUT in a revision––a later revision, at that. You don't sit down at the first draft (or even the second or third) with all this meta-craft shit in your head, and try to write from that point. Just write a story that you think is a GOOD story. Then later, on your almost-last pass, you can double-check to see if there's not some element wandering randomly out in the field instead of upholding your artistic and thematic vision.

So when I say I check the elements, I do mean that there is literally a point in my revision process of a considered piece of fiction where I am sitting there with my list of seven elements and making sure that the choices I've made (unconsciously until that moment) in creating those elements are serving the story and the theme, and I try to tweak them a little closer to the vision if they're not.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Best Modern Science Fiction (Nominations and Seconds Needed)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000?  

Hey folks.

Let me say two things. First, this is your moment. This is your time. It's all about you now. You're the only one that can save us. You know every single time these polls go live, some righteously indignant follower says "How can you have Suchandsuch poll without Soandso title? It negates the entire validity of the poll." The thing is, these polls are always based on YOUR nominations. So nominate Soandso!

Also....a few of you need to check the publication dates of your nominations. Several of them are not within 1976-2000. We have a separate category for 2001 to present.

Check out the rules in THE ORIGINAL POST and also remember to go THERE to nominate or it won't count. Don't nominate a book in a comment here. ESPECIALLY don't nominate on a comment at Facebook. Not Tumblr. HERE.