Friday, March 26, 2010


I think it’s important to keep a personal writing log. Beyond the public journaling you might do on your blog or website, it’s good to have something private where you can be a little more blunt and honest in expressing yourself.

I’ve been keeping a writing journal for several years. At first, I had quite a few entries within a short time span, but more recently, I tend only to add entries every couple of months. For me, I’m not as interested in a daily account as I am in periodically expressing my thoughts on where I’m at and where I’m going. I reread these entries to better understand where I’ve come from and to remind myself about my past objectives so that I can decide whether or not I’ve run off in the wrong direction or a better direction (in the case where things may have changed). I can also jot down ideas for future stories or note why I might delay certain projects.

Another benefit of journaling is that it allows for safe venting. Sometimes I see writers use discussion boards or blogs for sharing negative thoughts, and such expressions (especially if they’re aimed at specific people or markets) risk being unprofessional. I think there’s a false sense of security in discussion boards that editors and publishers won’t read posts, but as I’ve pointed out in a past article, anyone can set up Google alerts that will send an email whenever new web content is discovered that matches the alert keywords.

If you haven’t tried journaling before, I recommend starting one. It will help you to better understand who you are and who you want to be as a writer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brevity is not Better

There is a trend I’ve noticed among writers, one that dictates a journalistic approach to writing. To be brief is to be published and accepted; to expound is to be boring and narrow-minded. I heartily disagree.

I read a book some years ago aimed at improving your writing by considering a number of areas, from characters to plot to pacing. The noticeable motif through many chapters was the idea of brevity. Use fewer words; cut, cut, cut. While I agree that there is a point of excess with anything (at some point a sentence must end), excessively diminishing one’s work is an extreme measure.

One of the rules I see is to only use one adjective. In the book of advice, it suggested removing all but one adjective because to do otherwise will trouble readers to remember too many details and eliminate their ability to exercise their imaginations (because you as the writer are forcing them to see things certain ways). This seems like a decent rule when you consider terrible sentences that do use too many adjectives or adverbs. But to follow this rule would mean that Dorothy should not have been following the yellow brick road. Instead, Frank Baum should have chosen the more important of the two modifiers. Perhaps yellow. That way the reader could consider why the path was yellow. Maybe it was sulfuric; maybe it was made of gold (ah, but if that were true, he could have used the word gilded, so that might be a wrong assumption by the reader).

Ridiculous? Yes. Why are we lured into this trend (I’m holding back from a tangent rant on trends)? I think the simple answer is that we believe it enhances our chances of becoming published. Some who frequent this site may have seen my motto that if you write for yourself, don’t be upset when you aren’t published because you’ve already reached your target audience. But to compromise on style for the sole purpose of publication seems like too much of a sacrifice. And so what if 90% (I’m making this figure up) of the current bestsellers are written in this style? Does that mean it’s what readers actually want? Correlations cannot be extrapolated into conclusions.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for this style of writing or that all writers who use it are evil (in fact, I might employ the technique at points for the sake of a story). My main point is that as writers, we need to write the way we want to write and not abandon all for the sake of remaining “in style” with whatever seems current. My secondary point is that as a reader, I love details. I will personalize enough of the story, but I won’t feel betrayed in having a scene painted for me. The stories that stick with me the most are the ones that rooted me in the world through details. It was more than one pointed adjective at a time that drew me into Tolkien’s world. Think about the stories that you want to return to the most; how were they written?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2010

“The Long Retreat” by Robert Reed – Lieutenant Castor is one of the closest assistants to the ailing emperor. Only a small entourage remains of the army as they retreat from the enemy. When it seems they cannot retreat anymore, Castor learns that the empire is much larger than he imagined.

The story had an intriguing premise with realistic characters. It was too difficult for me to wrap my mind around the plausibility of the empire, so I never felt fully grounded to the plot.

“Bait” by Robin Aurelian – Navin and his family go on a hunting trip for fantastical game. Navin, who hates these trips, has a knack for attracting pests. During the trip, he draws the attention of a rare parasite that threatens to take over his body.

“Bait” was a nice, quick read that was a tad grotesque at points.

“Writers of the Future” by Charles Oberndorf – As part of his world tour, the narrator attends Magnus Esner’s writing workshop. He learns about how to write stories readers can interact with, which is the standard of this distant future, where the line between man and machine is so blended, it’s difficult to identify where consciousness ends.

Oberndorf presents several complex ideas in this tale. It made me think about my own writing and the conveyance of ideas.

“Songwood” by Marc Laidlaw – Spar the gargoyle seeks passage oversea by stowing himself aboard a vessel. He discovers that the ship’s feminine figurehead is alive because it is made of songwood. The two converse secretly, finding they share a special bond though one is wood and one is stone.

This was my favorite story of the issue. A love story in fantasy form, I found it engaging and touching.

“Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” by Paul Park – The narrator investigates his family’s past, trying to understand the mysteries of his life.

I had a difficult time following this story. It was full of excerpts and other narration compiled together into one tale. I think it makes a good study for writing techniques (which were very impressive), but it didn’t hold my interest.

“The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales” by Steven Popkes – A retelling of five familiar fairy tales.

This was a fun read, and I liked how Popkes tied the tales together.

“The Late Night Train” by Kate Wilhelm – As the sole caretaker for her aging parents, the narrator feels trapped between her abusive father and passive mother.

I connected with the protagonist’s pain, the unbearable situation she endured each day. Well written and surprisingly realistic.

“Nanosferatu” by Dean Whitlock – Hugh Graeber strives to create the perfect drug: a panacea that requires a lifetime prescription. His researchers design nanobots that improve health dramatically, but they never die.

I really enjoyed the change in narration in this piece, and I found myself admiring the writer’s skills as much as the story itself.

“City of the Dog” by John Langan – The narrator finds what he thinks is an injured dog while accompanying his girlfriend, Kaitlyn, to a club. Kaitlyn refuses to wait for him while he goes to inspect the wounded animal, a mistake that he later regrets when Kaitlyn disappears.

This story moves very fast, but the timing is great. Aside from being too explicit at times, I thought highly of it. I loved the eeriness and the ending.