Being a Better Writer: Show Versus Tell

This post was originally written and posted May 26th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Hoo boy. What have I done?

I sat down to look at today’s blog topic, thought to myself “I should do something quick and easy since it’s Memorial Day,” and promptly my brain started buzzing on this topic.

Great job brain. Fortunately, this shouldn’t take long.

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Being a Better Writer: Ideas and Education

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you had a productive weekend. I know I did. I did some more editing on Beyond the Borderlands (who’s excited for chapter 18?) and, at long last, finished up reading Ancillary Justice and put together my thoughts on it.

So, quick news bit. July is almost over, so we’re coming up on another Patreon reward for supporters. This coming August will be an excerpt from one of the “short” stories in Unusual Events (which is almost ready for alpha). Anyway, if you’re a Patreon supporter, you’re going to get another sneak look at one of those stories! Once the last story in Unusual Events is done, I’ll be going full-time editing on it and Colony, getting both of those ready for a release at last.

And that’s the news. Now … to your regularly scheduled posting!

So, you get a lot of questions as an author. It seems that once you mention you write and sell books that many people have questions to ask of you, and a lot of these questions start to blend together—or at least you start to see the inherent similarity in all of them.

Anyway, one of the more common questions that I find myself being asked on a regular basis is “Where do you get your ideas?” And today, I kind of wanted to talk about that. Because in truth, ideas just don’t come from nowhere. I don’t sit and do nothing while waiting for inspiration to strike. I have to be actively hunting for new ideas and concepts. And if you’re going to be a writer, you’ll need to do so as well. Today, I want to talk about education.

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Ancillary Justice – “Being Literary” is Not a Free Pass for Being Poor

I fell asleep in the first forty pages of Ancillary Justice. It was not a good sign.

Now, to stave off the defenders who will undoubtedly make a case of “the best defense is a good offense,” I don’t fall asleep during books often. I’m no stranger to the great works of Science-Fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc), nor more standard and traditional classics (getting a degree in English will do that to you). So it was not as if I was not prepared to step outside and try something new. In fact, I was reading Ancillary Justice partly for those reasons. Ancillary, for those who have not heard, became in 2014 the first book to win a number of awards for “Best Sci-Fi Novel,” including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the BSFA Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Locus Award.

Yes, this book had a lot of backing.

But there was also a lot of disagreement. I saw Ancillary being brought up by critics of the Hugo Awards during this last year as a criticism that indeed something was wrong with the awards. This only made me want to read Ancillary more, and with the amount of awards it had won, I figured that whatever criticisms were being leveled at it were probably blown out of proportion.

I was wrong. After picking up my copy from the library and spending the next few weeks reading through it, I’m astounded that this was given any awards at all. Ancillary Justice is plagued with problems, many of them so up front and egregious that any halfway competent editor should have caught them immediately. Having finished Ancillary, I can’t help but wonder if its victory over so many awards was handed out in the same manner that seems to drive the Oscars these days: that of “Well, I didn’t watch it (read, in this case), but I heard it was really cool and I like the concept, so I’m voting for it.”

Simply put, Ancillary Justice should not have won any of those awards. Not with this level of poor writing.

And that’s what I want to talk about: The poor writing. Because in reading, I thought to myself “Surely I can’t be the only one who’s noticed these problems. Someone else had to have noticed them!” And it turned out I was right. A quick search of the internet proved that they were common complaints with the book, because they are in fact, crippling, weakening problems. But in almost every case, a vocal defender showed up to rebuttal the criticism, dropping a line that looked almost exactly like this one:

You just don’t get it. This is a literary book. You just don’t understand literary works.

Without fail, that was there. Criticism of Ancillary‘s many flaws? “Oh, you just don’t understand literary works.”

Well, I do. And to all those who would try and use that poor argument? I’d throw it right back at you. You don’t understand literary works. And do you know why?

Because literary is not an excuse for poor writing. Good writing is good writing. “Literary” has nothing to do with it (though claiming otherwise certainly highlights a problem with the current Sci-Fi establishment if they actually believe this excuse).

So, if good writing is good writing, and being “literary” is not a magical, get-out-of-jail-free card, then what is wrong with Ancillary Justice?

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Being a Better Writer: Inspiration

This post was originally written and posted May 21st, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

A few weeks ago, I made the rare, conscious decision to stop reading a book. This wasn’t a case of “I don’t find this interesting,” where I set the book down one day and then don’t pick it back up because it wasn’t holding my interest. No, this was something different. This was a conscious choice, a distinct mental observation that I no longer wanted to read it. It wasn’t because the writing was poor. It was actually pretty good. And it wasn’t because the story was dull, because it certainly wasn’t.

It was because of what the book inspired.

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Hugo Awards Voting Deadline Coming Up Fast—The Hugos Need YOU!

If you’re voting or planning to vote in the Hugo Awards this year, be aware that the deadline is coming up soon. End of July soon, so if you haven’t submitted your ballots yet, be sure to get on that.

And remember: What is important is that you vote for what you see as the best works of the year. Not what someone else’s blog said you should vote for; that’s been the problem with the Hugos thus far that part of the controversy hinges on. Read it yourself, and vote on it yourself. Ignore the shouted accusations of “neo-nazi” or “sexist” being thrown out at the ones who don’t vote with the “in crowd” and just vote. For whatever you read and thought was the greatest.

I’ve already seen a blog from one newcomer to the Hugo Awards chronicling their experiences reading and voting for the Hugo Awards thus far. Add your voice to the mix (for the vote, blogging is optional)! The Hugo Awards, despite trying to represent the entirety of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, represent a near microscopic slice of the fanbase, one so small as to put the entire collective within the margin of error of a fraction of the whole (for the math, see this post). They’ve needed fresh eyes for a long time. They’ve needed fresh readers. Fresh voters. They’ve needed people who will nominate works, read the nominees, and then cast their vote.

In ten days the voting for the Hugo this year will be done and over. If you can, make sure your vote is part of it.

And if not? If you’re new to this and—like many, many others—had no idea that as a fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you’re allowed to have a voice in what is the best of Sci-Fi/Fantasy? There’s next year. The 2016 Hugo Awards. Make a note on your calendar, leave a message on your phone … give yourself a reminder so that next year, when once again the Hugo Awards rise from their slumber and ask “What’s the greatest this year in Science-Fiction and Fantasy?” you come with an answer.

Being a Better Writer: Crafting an Army of Foes

Welcome back, readers! It was a long and busy weekend, and as much fun as it was I’m glad to be back to work, fingers to keyboard once more.

Still, it was a fun weekend. CMP Con was a fun way to spend a day, and the panel on writing and fanfiction I moderated for was an absolute blast. You get a couple of writers and authors together in a single group and let them start discussing writing, and fun debate and deliberation are going to happen (though we did, for once and all, clear up the question of music links in stories—a unified “Yes, that’s fine”). We had a great turnout, great questions from the audience, and a good time was had by all. I was told there will be a youtube video of the panel going up at some point in the future, so it may be possible for those of you who were unable to attend to see some of the action, but that one is out of my hands. As of this morning, at least, nothing is up yet, but I’ll check occasionally through the week.

Outside of the panel, the rest of the con was good fun. There was a pretty impressive turnout, too (local papers reported a turnout of about 800 on the first day; for a smaller con of this nature it was a pretty good turnout), and it showed. The con venue was packed with vendors (some of whom I couldn’t resist spending money at), and there were a number of other fun panels to go to.

All in all, it was good fun. Seriously, cons are a great way to spend some time with other fans.

In any case, most of you didn’t come here to hear about another fun con. You came here today for one thing, and one thing only: a writing guide post! And luckily for you, I’m delivering.

So, this week’s topic? It actually comes from a reader, who wrote into me this weekend with a question about worldbuilding. XxEpsilomxX wanted to know if I had any advice on “… the correct way to make your own list of enemies that your main protagonist, and even maybe main antagonist or characters will end up fighting?”

As it turns out, I do. So this week, we’re going to look into my process once again, but this time at what goes into the creation of the myriad of foes that my characters face. How do I set about creation of—not a villain, which we’ve discussed before—but the army of foes that can sometimes come along with the villain?

In other words, how to create an army of mooks?

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