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Author Topic: "Show don't tell". Always good advice?  (Read 22012 times)

Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #25 on: March 02, 2007, 09:47:26 PM
Travel books often do that kind of thing.

Which is not to say that she's doing it right or anything, but that may be the vein she's working in.

Different genres have different rules. In my MFA classes, I've been drawing fire for having pacing that's too fast.



GoodDamon

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Reply #26 on: March 02, 2007, 10:45:10 PM
Different genres have different rules. In my MFA classes, I've been drawing fire for having pacing that's too fast.

A friend of mine majored in literary fiction, and told me the same thing on one of my sci-fi pieces. I read one of his literary stories in return; the prose was profoundly beautiful... and dreadfully slow-paced.

To each their own.

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #27 on: March 02, 2007, 10:56:27 PM
Marilynne told me on Tuesday that, "Young writers have social anxiety disorder. They feel they have to run into the room, blurt out what they have to say, and run out again before anyone can express disapproval."

I was a bit taken aback (I don't usually get criticized for my prose), but to be fair, I think she was right that my emphasis on "lean! lean! lean!" was damaging my writing.



Maria

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Reply #28 on: March 02, 2007, 11:32:44 PM
Some questions for Palimpsest and GoodDamon or anyone else who's writing literary SF:

Do you have a specific audience in mind when you're writing/telling stories?

In what ways do you expect the reader to connect with your stories?

Do you feel more connected to one fiction community over another?

Lately, these are some things I've been wondering about. Due to my cultural, educational, and economic background, I feel that my interests as a reader straddle both literary fiction and what's considered accessible/popular fiction. Right now, I feel that literary SF seems to be tackling situations and characters that are more representative of my experiences, but at the same time offering fluid pace and engaging storytelling that's easy to follow.       

I would write more but I need to go to work.

 




Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #29 on: March 02, 2007, 11:47:27 PM
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Do you have a specific audience in mind when you're writing/telling stories?

I have several first readers that I like to please. I suppose they're my audience.

More broadly, I write for people who are interested in the weird, who are interested in science, who are intrigued by that which is not real, and at the same time who are interested in stretching their view of the world, and who are more interested in character and beauty than fight scenes. (Not that we don't all like a good fight scene from time to time.)

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In what ways do you expect the reader to connect with your stories?

Politically, imagistically, intellectually, and through character identification. I hope those things sum up to emotional effect, but it's not my first aim.

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Do you feel more connected to one fiction community over another?


I feel more connected to the SF community, perhaps because I did Clarion West before I entered my MFA program, and perhaps because SF is where I"ve published. I used to only write very, very lightly SF stuff, stuff that was incredibly literary. Now most of my work is solidly SF.

I've found the SF community very supportive. Wiscon rocks. Clarion West rocks. Almsot all the writers I've met through other means also rock.

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Lately, these are some things I've been wondering about. Due to my cultural, educational, and economic background, I feel that my interests as a reader straddle both literary fiction and what's considered accessible/popular fiction. Right now, I feel that literary SF seems to be tackling situations and characters that are more representative of my experiences, but at the same time offering fluid pace and engaging storytelling that's easy to follow.       


My first, nitpicky reaction to this is: Easy to follow, or accessible is... in the eye of the beholder. I consider "Stone Born" quite accessible; I imagine some of the readers here would disagree. Within SF, I think Scalzi is a good benchmark for accessibility. Within SF, my work has been called inaccessible. Within the lit community, my work is often considered too accessible.

My mother reads a lot of lit, but she sometimes has trouble teasing meaning out of more advanced texts. She, I think, in some ways, is my benchmark for accessibility. If my mother, a librarian who reads every day of her life, can't follow what I'm doing, then perhaps I've gone too far. My theory is that MFA students sometimes get caught trying to write only for other MFA students, and I think this is a bad trap. I guess that gets further to the audience question.



SFEley

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Reply #30 on: March 03, 2007, 03:08:33 AM

Within the lit community, my work is often considered too accessible.


I have a comment for your lit community:




(Once again, the truth from xkcd.)

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ClintMemo

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Reply #31 on: March 03, 2007, 04:42:06 PM
My theory is that MFA students sometimes get caught trying to write only for other MFA students, and I think this is a bad trap. I guess that gets further to the audience question.

That reminds me of something I heard a jazz musician say once.  To paraphrase, he said that if you are doing a show and everyone in the audience looks just like you do, then your music is dead and you need to move on to something else.

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #32 on: March 03, 2007, 07:16:35 PM
The cartoon is completely funny.

However, I think I let some snark get in when I said my work is characterized as too accessible. No one really calls anything too accessible.

They call it too obvious. Which is to say, most MFA students have read enough and are so familiar with the mechanics of stories -- and are sufficiently afraid of obviousness and melodrama (as they should be) -- that one has to be very, very subtle to please them. This leads to a lot of stories where the whole thing turns on an unidentified element that you have to read very closely to pick up. It leads to other things too, some of them clear, many exceedingly beautiful.

My issue is just that in the MFA classroom, sometimes the audience disappears, because we're writing "art." But what I or another MFA student, who read stories all day, find obvious in the context of picking up another one, may not be obvious to the sort of person who reads short stories for fun, a subgroup that includes MFA students who've left the school. I try to bear the concept of the audience in mind; I find that it's less important to most of them. But this is simply a reflection of different aims, not any lack on their part.

And, of course, we try to avoid obvious in SF, too; the benchmarks are just different, I think.



Mfitz

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Reply #33 on: March 04, 2007, 12:09:57 AM
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Within SF, I think Scalzi is a good benchmark for accessibility. Within SF, my work has been called inaccessible. Within the lit community, my work is often considered too accessible.


He is very accessible, but that was planned on his part.  I heard him talk a while back and he said he wanted to write SF that the sort of person who usually reads Carl Haason would enjoy reading.  I think he hits that mark well with Android's Dream while at the same time still writing a book that someone who usually reads David Brin, or Nancy Kress would enjoy, which is a good trick.




Mfitz

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Reply #34 on: March 04, 2007, 12:34:57 AM


Do you have a specific audience in mind when you're writing/telling stories?




I think that is great question.  I understand the value of art for art's sake, and the value of writing to exercise your inner spirit and all that, but I completely don't get people who don't write to be published, or at least read by other people.  I also completely don't get the whole you must suffer for your art, and nothing with a happy ending is truly artistic things, but that's another whole argument.

I'm the realworld-grounded black sheep in an super artsy family.  When I admitted to my family that I was interested in writing they were all thrilled to death, until they realized I wanted to write SciFi ,and worse yet, not literally or social commentary SF but Space Opera with Romance undertones (Horrors!)

Anyway, I write the sort of stories I'd like to read at the end of a high stress workday, when the option is, read a good book, eat a pound of fudge, or think about taking up drugs or alcohol.  I know I'm writing escapist brain popcorn, fluff. I' think there is a place for that sort of entertainment intoday's world, and I'd like to think I'm producing well written fluff. :-)
« Last Edit: March 04, 2007, 02:08:03 AM by SFEley »



Roney

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Reply #35 on: March 04, 2007, 06:46:22 PM
Within SF, my work has been called inaccessible. Within the lit community, my work is often considered too accessible.

YA M John Harrison AICMFP.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_are_X_and_I_claim_my_five_pounds

 :)



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #36 on: March 04, 2007, 06:51:51 PM
I'm sorry, I don't really know who John Harrison is. :) Is my brain leaking again?



SFEley

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Reply #37 on: March 04, 2007, 07:13:40 PM
I'm sorry, I don't really know who John Harrison is. :) Is my brain leaking again?

M. John Harrison -- British writer, part of the New Wave, also won the Tiptree in 2002.  FWIW, I've never read anything by him either, though he's in the Oort Cloud of writers whom I keep hearing about as major influences on other writers I like, so I expect I will someday.

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Roney

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Reply #38 on: March 04, 2007, 08:18:28 PM
M. John Harrison -- British writer, part of the New Wave, also won the Tiptree in 2002.  FWIW, I've never read anything by him either, though he's in the Oort Cloud of writers whom I keep hearing about as major influences on other writers I like, so I expect I will someday.

He was in my Oort Cloud (nice way of putting it); I read some; I'm not so keen to read any more.  I can see what other people see in him and he seems to be a really good influence on other writers, but his magic doesn't work on me.

That explanation of the comparison isn't so flattering to palimpsest, so I'd like to make it explicit at this stage that my comment was only for fun.  Her interesting "accessibility" point just fired some random neurons.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #39 on: March 04, 2007, 08:19:47 PM
*grin* Ah figgered it was the accessibility.

For a second, I thought he was the author of "The Catgirl Manifesto," but that's Richard Calder.



Anarkey

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Reply #40 on: March 05, 2007, 03:47:43 PM
He was in my Oort Cloud (nice way of putting it); I read some; I'm not so keen to read any more.  I can see what other people see in him and he seems to be a really good influence on other writers, but his magic doesn't work on me.

Thank you, Roney, you make me feel less alone in the universe. 

I read his book Light, because I kept seeing people rave about him and rave about that book in particular (not least of the ravers was Neil Gaiman) and man, I found it totally ehhhh.  And, like you, I could see the flashy tricks at work, but by and large they left me cold.  I couldn't connect.

Thought it was totally just me.

Huzzah, a partner in disdain.

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #41 on: March 05, 2007, 07:53:06 PM
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I could see the flashy tricks at work, but by and large they left me cold.  I couldn't connect.

Ha, that's how I feel about Gaiman.



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Reply #42 on: March 06, 2007, 07:33:57 PM
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I could see the flashy tricks at work, but by and large they left me cold.  I couldn't connect.

Ha, that's how I feel about Gaiman.

Me too. He's confusing.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #43 on: March 06, 2007, 08:14:53 PM
I don't find him confusing, personally. I'm just not particularly interested in his variety of angst, or the comic book-in-novel form thing.

I may have been spoiled for Gaiman, on accounta having heard what a genius he was for too long before picking up his books. :) I've also been told I picked up the worng ones.



Mfitz

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Reply #44 on: March 06, 2007, 09:07:37 PM
I think he writes well enough, but I just don't find the stories he tells all the interesting, or fresh.  I think other people do urban fantasy better.  But, I've not read any of his comic or graphic novel stuff so maybe if I did I'd think otherwise.



SFEley

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Reply #45 on: March 06, 2007, 09:19:50 PM
I don't find him confusing, personally. I'm just not particularly interested in his variety of angst, or the comic book-in-novel form thing.

Interesting.  I'd never thought his novels were distinctively comic-bookish.  His comic books definitely are -- the Sandman series isn't consistent in quality, but at its high points I think it has some of the best storytelling I've encountered in any medium.  There are moments in The Kindly Ones  that still give me chills.  But yes, it is a very angsty series.  Dream's not a very upbeat fella.


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I may have been spoiled for Gaiman, on accounta having heard what a genius he was for too long before picking up his books. :) I've also been told I picked up the worng ones.

Have you tried Stardust?  Not angsty at all.  It's a fairy tale, one that doesn't try to be anything else.  Of his prose work it's far and away my favorite, with Coraline, that creepy children's horror novel, coming in second.

(If you need to calibrate my taste, I'm the odd one out, the Gaiman fan who didn't like American Gods.  To me it was like a really loud school bus on a field trip that wasn't going anywhere fun.  I'm slightly annoyed that it's considered his "breakout" novel.  I did like Anansi Boys, because it was funnier.)

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #46 on: March 06, 2007, 09:29:45 PM
LOL, American Gods is indeed my pet peeve.

Coraline was okay. It didn't stand out to me, particularly, but there were some interesting images. I read it on a plane flight coming home from Australia. It kept me entertained.

I'll add _Stardust_ to the list of things I really ought to read. :)



DKT

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Reply #47 on: March 06, 2007, 09:37:20 PM
Just wanted to add that Stardust is a super quick read. 

I'm bumping into several fantasy people lately who hated American Gods. I liked it a lot but my personal favorite is Neverwhere, flaws and all.


Anarkey

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Reply #48 on: March 06, 2007, 10:19:23 PM
LOL, American Gods is indeed my pet peeve.

I have a friend who says, of American Gods, that he "liked it better when it was Sandman."  I have some sympathy for that viewpoint, because even though I enjoyed American Gods, I did feel like we were retreading some of the same territory that Sandman explored.

Have you tried Stardust?  Not angsty at all.  It's a fairy tale, one that doesn't try to be anything else.  Of his prose work it's far and away my favorite, with Coraline, that creepy children's horror novel, coming in second.

(If you need to calibrate my taste, I'm the odd one out, the Gaiman fan who didn't like American Gods.  To me it was like a really loud school bus on a field trip that wasn't going anywhere fun.  I'm slightly annoyed that it's considered his "breakout" novel.  I did like Anansi Boys, because it was funnier.)

Actually, I'll be odd with you.  I liked American Gods, but I never recommend it to anyone I'm trying to pimp Gaiman to, and I don't think it's anywhere near Gaiman's best work.  It's kind of lumpy in places.  Anansi Boys is much, much better and yes, largely because of the humor.  Also, love love loved Coraline, but it was pretty much written to order to hit all my favorite story kinks, so my love is probably deeply subjective.  I also like quite a few of the short stories, particularly the one about the goldfish from Smoke and Mirrors, whose title is escaping me at the moment.  I revisit that one, mentally, a lot.  But honestly, my favorites are "The Wolves in the Walls" and "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish" and you can read both of those standing in the aisle of your favorite bookstore in about ten minutes.

I need, maybe, to re-read Stardust.  I don't remember anything at all about it. 

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GoodDamon

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Reply #49 on: March 06, 2007, 11:54:17 PM
Wow, take a forced sabbatical from these forums, and each thread grows by two to three pages...

Someone asked "Do you have a specific audience in mind when you're writing/telling stories?"

I'd have to say it depends on the story. I'm always part of the audience, because I don't like to write what I don't like to read. But beyond that, who it's targeted at -- if anyone -- varies wildly based on what prompted me to write it. Some stories just show up in my head full-formed, and have to be written in a particular way that has nothing to do with who I'll market it to. My more literary or slipstream efforts tend to fall into that category, and when they're finished I have to do market research.

At other times, I'll get inspired by a particular market -- for instance, the Machine of Death anthology (see http://machineofdeath.net) handed me an idea on a platter, specifically designed for that market. I have no idea where else I'd submit it if they reject it.

Still other times, I make a conscious decision to write a good old-fashioned, rip-snortin', yee-haw, hard sci-fi yarn, full of space ships, explosions and flawed heroes overcoming the odds and themselves to save the day... Yeah, these you can market just about anywhere. You'd be surprised how hard it is to write a solid, hard sci-fi piece, and they're the milk and meat for the large markets like Analog and Asimov's.

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