Posts Tagged ‘writing musings’

Surviving My High School Reunion

So, Saturday was my high school reunion.  Aside from a general feeling of “Oh God, when did I get so old?” I was looking forward to the event, as I was interested to see how the last ten years had treated people and what they had been up to in that time period.

First of all, I want to say that I was over optimistic.  I imagined a nice, laid-back atmosphere where I’d have long conversations with people and I would come off as stunningly witty or something along those lines, and my former classmates would leave me thinking, “Man, she’s done well for herself.”

Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

Saturday I found myself getting anxious.  What was I going to tell people?  I’m a writer, which some people don’t consider a real job.  It doesn’t pay that much, it’s not terribly glamorous.  But I sucked it up, grabbed my business cards (got to justify their existence somehow, right?), and dragged my husband along.

It was…not what expected.  It was hot.  Ungodly hot.  Makes-you-sweat hot, which is just not impressive to anyone.  And it was loud, so you had to shout to be heard, which is not conducive to catching up with anyone.  And apparently I don’t actually remember names that well, or faces, for that matter, which was embarrassing and awkward.  What do you do when someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, remember me?” when you honestly don’t?  Do you say no and hurt their feelings, or yes, and hope you can play it off successfully?

By far the most common question of the night was “So, what’s new with you?”  It was a bad question, and we all knew it was a bad question, and yet we all asked it anyway.  It’d been ten years.  No one really expected anyone else to say “Yes, well, I went to college, and here’s what happened there, and I got this degree and then moved to this state for this job, and then I decided I hated that job, so now I raise alpaca.  Oh, and I got married, and then divorced, and then married again and had 15 children,” so then there’d be an awkward pause while the answerer debated the best thing to mention.

Smarter people asked about specifics, such as relationships or work, and I experimented between answering writer or author to see the different reactions.  “Writer” made people think nonfic or technical documents, whereas “author” would then get questions about genre and what was available.  I plied my business cards liberally which, for me, is, like, five.

After all, networking is the game, right?  I may not see these people for another ten years, but if they pull out that card and think of me (and hopefully my stories) between then and now, it will have accomplished something.  In theory.

The Epic Battle Against Short Stories

Any aspiring writer, once they get past the “Oh this is fun” stage into the “Oh, hey, maybe I could actually do something with this” stage, invariably starts reading writing advice.  And, invariably, they come across something that will tell them that they should write short stories so that they have some writing experience to dangle in front of potential agents/editors when they get to the novel submission phase of the process.

I have to wonder…really?  I mean, I get that it’s good to show that you can write competently enough that someone was willing to say “Here, read this” about something you wrote, but to me, comparing short stories to novels is like comparing wombats to bananas.  There’s nothing that says because someone can write a moving 5000 word piece that they will be able to pull together the plot to write a longer work.  (Alternately, there’s no telling if someone being able to write a 100K word magna opus will be able to be concise enough to pull off a story in 2000 words.)  If you’re trying to get someone to buy your novel, it seems like a synopsis and  the first chapter or so would be more useful for showing that you can string words together in a manner that makes sense and even occasionally use commas.

It may just be my bias because I tend to work on much longer projects.  It may be because I can’t quite justify spending the time and effort to hone a skill that I just don’t really care about.  It may be because I honestly believe that not everyone can be good at both.  But I just don’t get the point.

This is not to say that I don’t enjoy short stories.  Occasionally plotbunnies do appear for them, and sometimes they are even coherent enough that I let other people read them.  I own several short story collections (especially science fiction, which I feel lends itself exceptionally well to the short form).  I just don’t understand the logic that says that being able to write short stories leads to be able to write novels.

Sometimes I buy into the hype and decide that I should hone the skill just because, but these phases tend to last a few weeks at best, and invariably I either end up with scenes, not complete stories, or odd little flash fiction bits, because I can’t figure out how to get any real depth to them without expanding things to novella/novel lengths.  In the odd case that something turns out useful, I typically am so shocked nothing ever comes of it.  And many times I get bored in the middle, wander off, and never return.

So what do you think?  Are short stories a necessary step to novel publication?

Discussion About Description

As far as I know, all authors – published or no – have some aspect of the writing process that is just absolutely foreign to them.  Something that, though they have learned over the years how to put together a coherent story, continues to elude them.  (I’m not talking about beginnings, or middles, or ends.  They are all evil and everyone already knows that.)

For some people, they can’t figure out how to have their dialogue flow more naturally.  Some cannot figure out how to vary their sentence length and structure for the most impact.  Yet others get so tied up in their subplots that they never find their way out.

Mine?  Description.

This is really my own fault.  As a reader, my eyes glaze over when I get to descriptive passages.  A few words or maybe a sentence slipped into a paragraph, fine, but anything more than that and I’m off in search of the next line of dialogue.  So as a writer, my description is understandably a bit sparse (though, hopefully, it is fully integrated and doesn’t read like “Oops, Kit realized she should put some description in here”).  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing –  Hemingway, after all, is not known for his brilliant, picturesque sunsets – except that I write, for the most part, fantasy and science fiction.  So there needs to be a certain level of description to help my readers picture new species and worlds and so forth, and I am just not sure I’m getting there, though I am trying.

Anyone have any recommendations for improving my descriptive skills (that doesn’t include “sit down and describe everything in the room in great detail” because that really just makes me want to gnaw off my own leg and escape.  I’ve never understood how that is at all helpful for integrating description into a story)?  What’s your stumbling block?

Delve into the Depths

My mother was telling me the other day how – of the two stories her students wrote for NaNoWriMo last year that she actually read in their entirety – both were more or less rip-offs of other media.  Apparently she expected her 13-year-olds to be writing more original fiction.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I started writing – and for several years afterwards – I ripped all of my favorite things off.  Lemmings (the old computer games, especially Lemmings 2: The Tribes), Mighty Ducks (the animated ducks from space version), Sonic the Hedgehog, Rainbow Brite, any books I liked, Star Trek – I took and incorporated these into whatever I happened to be working on at the time, whether it was designing computer games based more or less on every SuperSolvers game ever or creating a fashion book for Dorothy and Ozma that, in the end, spanned well over five hundred pages.

And even when I graduated to original plots and characters, there was still the old Mary Sue issue to deal with.  I thought I was being smart.  I never had my self-insert be the main character, but the main character’s best friend, so said main character could talk about how lovely and pretty and smart and funny, etc., etc., et al.  her best friend was.  It wasn’t until I had been writing for years that I figured out that this was not something attractive in a story.

So I told Mom to give those kids a break.  They’re kids.  It’s probably their first story.  And if they stick with it, they’ll learn, and if they don’t learn, well, hopefully I’ll never have to read their writing.

Speaking of which, can I interest you in this alternate universe Victorian Era Star Trek story?

I kid.  No, really.