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[travel|conventions] Forthcoming event and convention schedule

Due to the unexpected moderation in my chemo series this spring, I am once more able to travel and attend public functions. As a result, here is my forthcoming schedule of events, conventions and public appearances. As always, these dates are contingent on my ongoing health status. I hope to remain healthy through the summer, but except for Worldcon, I’m not planning anything past June at this point. Also note there will probably be an Open Dinner in Houston, TX in the next week or so.

[links] Link salad asks what’s the matter with him? Is he all right?

Paradise Lost 3 — Looking for a tight writers’ conference with a high staff:student ratio? Plus me? Check it out.

Post-Sick SharksScrivener’s Error with a whole bunch of commentary and links on publishing and copyright, with focus on (among other things) orphan works. Recommended reading if you’re serious about this stuff.

Amazon ‘used neo-Nazi guards to keep immigrant workforce under control’ in Germany — Yep. That’s Amazon, predatory business practices and all. (Snurched from Andrew Wheeler.)

The Complete 14 Batman Window Cameos — Hahahah! (Via David Goldman.)

JayBall rules — Because reasons! (Thanks to [info]garyomaha.)

I’m Elyn Saks and this is what it’s like to live with schizophrenia — Wow. (Via Lisa Costello.)

The CIA funded abstract art during the Cold War — Umm…

Optical Calibration Targets — Oh, wow, this is cool. I want to visit some of these in person.

Bioinspired fibers change color when stretchedColor-tunable photonic fibers mimic the fruit of the “bastard hogberry” plant. (Snurched from Daily Idioms, Annotated.)

Love of aviation launches teens’ fight to reopen museum — A local story from the Portland area.

Why Almost Everyone in Russia Has a Dash Cam — And why we have so many videos of the recent Russian meteor strike. (Via David Goldman.)

Russian Meteor Is Largest Since 1908 Siberian Blast, NASA SaysA meteor that exploded in the skies above Russia’s Ural Mountains was the largest since the Tunguska blast in Siberia in 1908 and released about 33 times the energy of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Sex in the Middle Ages — Life after 40? No, wait…

Before Love: Puritan Beliefs about Sex and Marriage — Unfortunately, that Puritan sexual ethos continues to have grip on American culture, especially in the minds of the vocal and destructive Christianist minority, as part of their ongoing campaign of wholesale social repression and denial of individual rights in the name of a very narrow view of religion and morality.

Rising Voices in S. Korea, Japan Advocate Nuclear Weapons — What could possibly go wrong>

How the NRA Hobbled the ATF

The Art of Infinite War, Ctd.: The Administration’s Drone Campaign — Ta-Nehisi Coates with commentary from Judah Grunstein, who edits World Politics Review.

QotD?: How do you know?


2/16/2013
Writing time yesterday: 1.25 hours (2,400 words on novella in progress, to 15,700 words, plus 0.25 hours of collaboration with [info]the_child.)
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (fitful)
Body movement: 0.5 hours (stationary bike)
Weight: 232.6
Number of FEMA troops on my block covering up high crimes and misdemeanors in Benghazi: 0
Currently reading: Mort by Terry Pratchett

[process] Point of view

Another thing that came up over the weekend at Cascade Writers was the subject of point of view. This is a topic about which the more I learn, the less I know, so I don’t feel especially qualified to comment on it in detail. However, here’s what I talked about with my critique group.

First of all, the term “point of view” is loosely used in two different ways when discussing writing craft.

One meaning is essentially equivalent to narrator, or protagonist. Note these are not necessarily the same thing. For example, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson is the narrator but Holmes is the protagonist. In this sense, the question to be examined is at the intersection of whose story is being told, and who is doing the telling.

The other meaning of “point of view” addresses the topic of grammatical person. The overwhelming majority of fiction in the Western tradition is told in either first or third person, I believe with a tendency to favor third person narratives. For fiction purposes, we also talk about “tight”, “close”, “loose” and “omniscient” point of view. That is to say, story focus. So, for example, one might say that a text is in “loose third person”. In this sense, the question to be examined is from what linguistic and stylistic perspective the story should be told.

With respect to choice of narrator or protagonist, a sensible default rubric is to determine whose story is being told by asking which character experiences change, transition, loss or personal growth. Absent other considerations, that’s probably the character whose story you want to tell.

Note there are at least as many counterexamples to this as there are examples of it. How much does Holmes really change during any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories? Or even over the entire arc of the original canon? Likewise, in the movie version of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppinsimdb ], it is Mr. Banks who is changed and experiences profound transition, even though the film is nominally concerned with the relationship between the title character and the Banks children.

There are plenty of very good reasons to tell stories with these equivalent of over-the-shoulder basketball shots, but the simplest and clearest way to approach the story is directly.

This decision intersects quite strongly with the concept of grammatical person and story focus. First person is of course an “I” story. Third person is of course a “he” or “she” or “it” or “they” story. The focus has to do with where the narrative equivalent of the camera sits. Tight stories are told from close inside the narrator’s perspective. They literally can’t see or know anything on the page that the story action doesn’t show them. Most first person narratives are tight, for somewhat obvious reasons. A close narrative pulls back from the behind-the-eyes perspective and sits more behind the shoulder. Loose pulls back even further, following the character around from a distance. Omniscient virtually abandons the character for a wider-ranging view of the world.

Note that the looser the focus, the stronger the implied narrator. Stories written in loose or omniscient point of view can have a very strong voice as the implied narrator. Sometimes authors will explicitly acknowledge that implied narrator as a stylistic conceit, as in James Morrow’s The Last Witchfinder, where the story is narrated by a copy of Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

When you’re working in tight or close point of view, the narrative will generally notice things the character can or would notice. It will use words and concepts the character would. What a trained assassin sees on entering a room is very different from what an interior designer sees. The way they would describe the space is very different. That in turn infuses the descriptive and expository prose being used in the scene.

On the other hand, in loose or omniscient point of view, the implied narrator can take over and make all manner of observations either explicitly or implicitly, use different speech registers, and take significantly different approaches to story telling than the character would.

To return to the concept of a default rubric, absent other considerations, in Western story telling traditions we tend to write in close third person in the simple past tense, sometimes referred to as the “narrative present”.

I haven’t really touched on choices of verb tense, application of tense shifts, different types of narrator, intrusions, and many other techniques that inflect point of view. This post barely scratches the surface. Like I said, it’s a complex topic about which the more I learn, the less I understand. From my own perspective, my best work with point of view has been in my novellas “America, Such As She Is” and “The Baby Killers”. I also did some work I’m pretty pleased with in the Green books. Frankly, I’d be at a loss to analyze any of those in credible, objective detail.

That being said, for a newer writer still exploring the fundamentals of point of view, I hope these touchpoints will be helpful.

I am quite curious what the writers and editors reading this blog think about point of view. Where did I get it wrong? How would you explain the concepts? Can you intelligibly go deeper than I am able to?

[process] Dialog tags

Another thing that came up in discussion over the weekend at Cascade Writers was dialog tags. If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s the “said Maryam” that comes at the end of a snippet of quoted dialog. So:

“This is a dialog tag,” said Maryam.

Thanks to the Turkey City Lexicon and several generations of Milford-Clarion style workshopping, we’ve all had ourselves beaten half to death over “said-bookisms“. Speaking verbs, basically. “Said” and “asked” are conditionally invisible. “Replied”, “stated” and so forth are marginal. But words such as “interjected”, “erupted” and of course that old favorite, “ejaculated”, are intrusively strange except in instances of specific stylistic applicability. So:

“This is a said-bookism”, intoned Maryam.

Writers resort to said-bookisms because the two conditionally invisible dialog tags lose their invisibility through overuse. Especially structurally invariant overuse. In other words, tennis match dialog. So:

“Hello,” said Maryam.
“Hi, there,” said João.
“How are you doing?” said Maryam.
“I am fine,” said João.
“May I press you to a candied starfish?” said Maryam.
“No, I am fasting for cultural reasons,” said João.

We don’t like that. Bad style, no biscuit.

Getting around that problem, which is fundamental to the early writings of people educated in English at least (I can’t comment on other languages) is part of the education of a writer. There are several basic techniques.

One is the judicious use of said-bookisms. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional “interjected” or “queried” or something, so long as the word also carries some story weight, and does not draw undue attention to itself. (Note that you get to use the speaking verb “ejaculated” precisely once in your entire professional career, otherwise we will all come to your home and mock you.) So:

“Hello,” said Maryam.
“Hi, there,” replied João.
“How are you doing?” asked Maryam.
“I am fine,” said João.
“May I press you to a candied starfish?” offered Maryam.
“No, I am fasting for cultural reasons,” exclaimed João.

Still pretty stilted, but not quite so irksome as before.

We can also employ variant structure to break up the flow of the text and provide a little more rhythm to the dialog. Varying the structure can also shift the emphasis on individual lines. So:

Maryam said, “Hello.”
“Hi, there,” replied João.
“How are you doing?” asked Maryam.
“I am fine,” João said.
Maryam offered, “May I press you to a candied starfish?”.
“No, I am fasting for cultural reasons,” João exclaimed.

Also pretty stilted, but again, not quite so irksome.

Now we can introduce blocking or action to indicate dialog, further easing the style crunch. So:

Maryam waved. “Hello.”
“Hi, there,” replied João.
“How are you doing?” asked Maryam.
“I am fine.” João smiled.
Maryam held out a small crystal dish. “May I press you to a candied starfish?”.
Hands flying up in apparent panic, João replied, “No, I am fasting for cultural reasons!”

Once we have a flow of dialog established, we can start omitting speaker referents and trust the reader to follow along. So:

Maryam waved. “Hello.”
“Hi, there,” replied João.
“How are you doing?”
“I am fine.”
She held out a small crystal dish. “May I press you to a candied starfish?”.
João’s hands flew up in apparent panic. “No, I am fasting for cultural reasons!”

Even better is dialog where each character’s voice is sufficiently distinctive that the tags aren’t needed except to keep the reader occasionally reminded of who’s got the ball in the serve-and-volley of the dialog. So:

Maryam waved. “Greetings.”
“Yo, dawg,” replied João.
“And how do you find yourself today?”
“Chillin’, not illin’.”
She proffered a small crystal dish. “Might I press you to a candied starfish?”.
“Hell, no! I ain’t eating that shit.”

One of the suggestions I made to my student group at the conference was to write a scene between a crusty, retired professor of classics from some major university in New York City riding in a taxi with a youthful recent Somali immigrant cab driver. After some basic blocking and character setting, you really shouldn’t have to tag that dialog at all. The differences in generations, cultural perspective and speech register should provide ample distinction.

For a bonus, write that scene twice, once from the cab driver’s perspective, and once from the professor’s perspective. What kinds of things does the cab driver notice and look for? What kinds of things does the professor notice and look for? How can you work those into dialog?

Your thoughts?

[personal] Updatery of various sorts

Cancer: As calendula_witch notes, we’re essentially on hold til August 11th. Peripheral neuropathy seems to have ceased deepening and may be improving slightly. I continue in pretty deep emotional turmoil and distress over this new diagnosis and its attendant ambiguities.

Health otherwise: Lately I’ve had my eyes checked (everything’s fine) and my feet checked due to a couple of small issues. Happily I do not appear to be experiencing the precursors to Dupuytren’s contraction, which does run in my family. Unhappily I do appear to be experiencing the precursors to arthritis. Oh, well.

Writing: Sekrit Projekt is 95% to bed and Endurance revisions are underway. I’m going to be all Endurance all the time until I get it turned in, either before surgery or before we leave for New Zealand and Australia, whichever winds up actually happening. However, these next few days I’ll be at Writer’s Weekend, pro’ing with davidlevine, which may affect my writing time.

Internetitudinosity: Due to the aforementioned Writer’s Weekend, I may be offline from this afternoon through Sunday night. Regular blogging service will resume when bandwidth once more presents itself. Likewise email responsiveness. The management of this blog humbly apologizes for any inconvenience.

They Say That Five Things Make a Post: This is thing five.