Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Abyss & Apex

Abyss & Apex accepted one of my science fiction stories for publication!  "And Our Lady Splendor" will appear in the 3rd Quarter Issue, due out in July.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Better Left Unsaid

I’ve played musical instruments for over twenty years, and I learned that while the notes are important, the rests (the moments of silence for your instrument) are equally important. Such omissions are also pertinent in writing.

I don’t mean that there should be large whitespaces between words or scenes. Instead, what I’m referencing are the pieces of narrative and dialog that we purposefully withhold from the reader. Let me provide an example of two pieces of writing and ask which is stronger.

Example 1:
“Hey, Don,” Evan said. “Did you go to the basketball game last night? We used to all go every Wednesday, so I was surprised I didn’t see you there. It was a great game; the home team came from behind to win by three points at the buzzer.”

“Of course not,” Don said. “Jenny used to go to the games, too. Then she broke up with me. After four years together. I still can’t believe she dumped me for Frank.”

“Actually, I saw her there with Frank. They looked pretty happy – holding hands and laughing.”

Example 2:
“Hey, Don,” Evan said. “I didn’t see you at the game last night.”

“Those games just make me think of Jenny,” Don said. “She wasn’t there, was she?”

Evan nodded slowly. “With Frank.”

Personally, I’d rather avoid the info dump in the first example. And I might even like something more elusive than the second example – revealing the relationship with Jenny through subtle hints. And I might give Frank a last name of Khan so that Don can scream it in frustration (yes, I’m kidding).

Besides allowing the reader to think, omission also prevents unnatural dialog. For example, if a story begins with two characters meeting at a football game, they wouldn’t say, “Well, here we are at the game that we planned on attending three weeks ago.” Work those details in, if necessary, through other means. Don’t slap the reader in the face with it: “Here, you need this information!”

Some things are better left unsaid, especially details that can be revealed subtly. Trust your readers. Trust your readers. Trust your readers.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Why Elves?

Among the myriad of established fantasy races, I continue to find elves captivating. They come in numerous forms and varieties, but I usually enjoy their presence as a reader and a writer.

A number of years ago, I’d written a short story around elves playing a game. There wasn’t much to the story, and it never sold before I locked it away, but on one of my rejections, an editor wrote: “Why elves?” Looking back, I realize the editor didn’t see anything in the plot requiring elves (likely because there wasn’t much of a plot). But at the time, I found it comical. What other race would I have used? For me, it was an exploration of this fascinating race, and I hoped to capture a slice of their lives.

Years later, I figured out that my failure in the story was a lack of plot. I had characters playing a game of no consequence in a generic setting. My next attempt was to take a human character and thrust him into the elves’ environment. What this allowed was an entry-level point of view – someone with limited knowledge of elves who would take everything in and point out anything he found curious or unusual. The character’s observations were my observations as I dreamed of their world and what they were like.

The challenge in writing about elves is to avoid clich├ęs without violating key aspects that make elves what they are. In the end, it becomes a balancing act. But what I find most alluring about elves is their illusiveness - the ineffable qualities that humanity cannot understand. Whether it’s their craftsmanship, magic, language, longevity or intelligence – there are aspects of elves beyond my grasp. Regardless of what I might create, I always want to retain an enigma around them.

Ironically, the mystery I admire creates a superiority I detest. Because elves have inexplicable skills, humans become inferior. And the elves know it. In some stories, humans are prey to the elves’ amoral (or perhaps immoral) whims. Even Tolkien’s elves had a darker side, according to their deeds recorded in The Silmarillion.

Despite their arrogance, I won’t shun the elves. I’m drawn toward them, like so many stories of humans discovering the fey folk in the deep woods, never to return. We need more elves in today’s fantasy.