Archive for June, 2002

By the Byline

Sunday, June 30th, 2002

I have rather romantic ideas about Real Writing (as opposed to fanfiction,
where I’ve seen the worst literature has to offer, and then some). One of
them concerns how you burst onto the scene like LMB and they shower you
with Hugo awards. Not that this was going to happen to me,
mind you, but it was an ideal to strive for.

My personal plan was to get one short story into Analog and
then die happy. I’m not much for planning ahead, though I suspect that getting
published would only lead to more trying to get published, rather than the
contented old age I’ve been hoping for.

What I didn’t expect was to open up a magazine from last month and find
a short story of mine in it. At first I didn’t believe the byline - I write a column
for this magazine, and that could easily lead to typos. Nor was I quite sure,
looking at it after a more than a year, that I’d written the thing. (It did come
back to me after a few paragraphs.)

When I first sent it in, the
editor, like the Real Editor he was, said I was telegraphing the ending and
made some other equally non-encouraging remarks about the story.
I assumed he’d sent it straight to the circular bit-bucket.
Either the new editor has different tastes, or they’re getting desperate for
fiction again. I can’t really complain that
they disinterred the thing and published it, but they could have at least
told me about it. It’s not like they’re paying me - by fanfic
logic, they therefore owe me feedback.

I don’t like this sneaking up on Real Writing. My career should start like a
good plot, at the first significant twist. I wish I had that trick of appearing out
of nowhere like Penny or MJB, but I think I talk too much for that.

Charybdis and Motive

Sunday, June 30th, 2002

Lori is still quoting Minisoo, and I now see that according to Minisoo’s definition,
I would be a cathartic writer, because I don’t care about my audience in her sense
of caring. But I am not actually cathartic, according to
the dictionary definition Lori provided. Although I wouldn’t choose to write without
the muse, the muse is by no means forcing me to write; it is not the monkey on
my back Lori portrays her muse as being.

I usually am quite literal about the muse, but when I say the muse made
me write my first fic, that’s not quite true. The muse came up with the story and
pestered me with thoughts of Ymn for a few nights before I took out the laptop
and typed it up for her, but that was not true catharsis. I didn’t feel relieved.
I just started more stories and the muse snowballed. If I wanted to get the
muse off my back, I would never have let her near a keyboard. I would have
gone cold-turkey. I’ve written
enough in my life to know that writing is not something you can do just
this once
, as an experiment. Writing is like thinking - once you start,
you can’t stop. One doesn’t normally try to exorcise thoughts.

Tracing it back to the source blog, there isn’t much left to the distinction
between the alleged storyteller and cathartic writer.
Either one can write well, either one can write badly, either one can write
because of the muse, either one can feel catharsis. The only distinction that
Minisoo holds up the whole way is that she, in the guise of
storytellers, has a dynamic going with the audience that the
other camp does not. First off, this isn’t true - the main dynamic for most
writers is not with
the audience but with the fanon and possibly a beta reader or two.
Minisoo makes clear that she has some sort of cultural ideal of storytelling
behind her statements, but she doesn’t make a good case for a real
feedback loop in writing.
Fanon, as in the general written body of fanfic,
tells you much more about what is and isn’t an appropriate story than the
audience does directly. Secondly, the storytelling/catharsis split cuts straight
across Sarah T.’s distinction between aesthetic (good) and
social (bad) writers.

Yes, good and bad again. Whether it started out this way, this discussion
has turned into a game of peg the badfic writers. In Minisoo’s
scheme (as filtered through Lori), the badfic writers are a subset of the
cathartic (antisocial) writers. On Sarah’s continuum, the badfic writers are at
the social end.

Just that part alone tells me that this is a personality debate, not a real
discussion of fanfic. It is, therefore, not going to end, as someone else
mentioned. But at least it’s made me think once again about motive in fanfiction.
(I have had the feeling since the whole muse blog blowout that the
misinterpretation of my statements about the muse had a lot to do with
statements I made in Zendom a while back about ulterior motives in

The current debate is about fanfic writers’ motives for writing. I believe
that if someone can tell your motive for writing your story, then it’s a bad
story. If someone can tell your motive for writing fanfic in general, then
you’re a bad writer. In a way, this is what people are saying. When Sarah T.
can tell you’re writing in order to socialize, she calls that bad fic. When
Lori can psychoanalyze you based on your writing, she calls that bad fic.
If I even suspect certain ulterior motives, I’m outta there.

I’ve never said that my reason for writing is the real reason,
because as far as I’m concerned, the writer’s motive is irrelevant unless it
happens to reach out and hit the reader on the head with an anvil (bad!).
From the reader’s end (and in judging fic, we do it as the reader), there is
only one good reason for writing a story: the story itself.
Not the audience, not catharsis, not your social set, not aesthetics, not
dysfunction, just the story.

If you have another motive, keep it to yourself. I get enough anvils
on the head from Joss.

Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

Sunday, June 30th, 2002

I’m not actually from Boston; I just live here. I’m from Lizzie Borden territory, and on my way back from Southeastern Massachusetts today I stopped by the Lizzie Borden B&B and Museum for the half-hour tour.

It was a little pricey, but I found out a few things I’d either forgotten or never known. Does everyone know the words to Lizzie Borden took an axe? I always think of it as a local crime, but it was the crime of its century, and the sort of people who appreciate axe murderers come from all over the world to spend a night in the house, possibly in the very room, where Lizzie allegedly solved her inheritance problems.

Her father was a real piece of work, and though no one deserves ten whacks to the head with a axe, he came close. His wife, Lizzie’s stepmother, got eighteen, more passionate, whacks - or perhaps she had a softer head. So the children’s poem suffers from significant whack-inflation.

You’ll never find yourself in Fall River unless you’re on your way to Cape Cod on I-195, in which case it’s highly unlikely you’ll be there at a time the house is open (11:00am - 2:30pm daily in the summer, similar hours on weekends in spring and fall), or be willing to spot $7.50 a head for this glimpse into local history. The house is right across from the bus terminal, not that they mention that on the B&B flyer.

Scylla and Charybdis

Friday, June 28th, 2002

Lori blogged about
in fanfic
, and I said: You said someone said, “For storytellers, it’s all
about the dynamic between writer/speaker and audience.” Then you went on to
say how the catharsis was also a cry to the audience. Where do people who
don’t write for an audience at all fit in?

I don’t have time to go back to the original blogs, since I’m going away to
a keyboardless place for the weekend, so I’m probably misinterpreting some of
this blogversation. I’m not aiming for accurate representation; this is just my take
on the words and phrases being tossed around. You have been warned.

It looked to me like the source bloggers
were saying that good writers want to communicate with their audience and bad
writers are just doing a brain dump onto the keyboard without regard for their
audience. Lori did a little analysis of the more godawful and oversensitive of
the bad writers, saying that they also were communicating something to the
audience - a plea for approval, perhaps. I noticed that no one acknowledged
doing it purely for yourself as a legitimate (source blog) or
possible (Lori’s blog) option. (I’m sure Lori would have defended the introverts
if she’d had the time.)

I don’t think you have to be doing some “dynamic” thing with your
audience in order to be a good writer, and I don’t think that literary merit is
determined by anything but the audience’s enjoyment of the work. In fact,
a work that both rabid ’shippers with “no feeling for language
& no love of prose” and English professors slumming here in fandom
can appreciate has more true literary merit than
Pulitzer material that the average fan doesn’t enjoy. Shakespeare wrote to
both levels, and if we can’t do it, that’s our fault, not our readers’.

And Shakespeare is dead now, so he’s not doing anything dynamic with
his audience. It makes no difference today whether he was interested in his
audience or in his dysfunctions or in his next paycheck. Only the words
on paper matter.

Aristotle on Plot

Thursday, June 27th, 2002

I once said a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Aristotle agrees. (The translation is from A New Aristotle Reader, J. L. Ackrill, ed.)

By ‘whole’ I mean ‘with a beginning, a middle, and an end’. By ‘beginning’ [in this context] I mean ‘that which is not necessarily the consequent of something else, but has some state or happening naturally consequent on it’, by ‘end’ ‘a state that is the necessary or usual consequent of something else, but has itself no such consequent’, by ‘middle’ ‘that which is consequent and has consequents’. Well-ordered plots, then, will exhibit these characteristics, and will not begin or end just anywhere.

The Sorting Hat

Thursday, June 27th, 2002

Want to Get Sorted?
I’m a Gryffindor!

I don’t remember what that means…

Jemima Roast

Thursday, June 27th, 2002

The lovely ladies at the J/C Index message board are planning to
my long-lost Voyager novel, Colony.
I’ve even made a non-binding agreement to edit (ok, rewrite) the thing based
on reader input. I’m not sure I meant that one.

In any event, if you’d like to join in the fun, you have about two weeks to
read or reread Colony, or at least dig up your old critiques and prepare
them for posting at the
. I’ll tell you more as it hits the fan. I may also run a blog bash in
parallel or conjunction or maybe do something on my dormant
updates list
for the occasion.

The Plot Thickens

Thursday, June 27th, 2002

At the end of each chapter of the Novelist’s Essential Guide to
Creating Plot
there’s a plotting exercise. One of them was the very thing
I had planned to do with LMB’s Komarr: do a plot summary of a
novel you enjoy.

Now that I know that switching back and forth in Komarr was
really parallel plots, I don’t think I’ll try the exercise on it. Instead, I’ll probably
use this excuse to reread another LMB book - preferably one more similar to what
I’m aiming for.

Since I keep skipping the exercises, the plot book is turning into just a
paean to plot. Back in the Poetics section, I learned that the
Ancient Greek for plot is mythos, which also means theme, story
or speech. So when I found that Chapter One of the Seven Saga lacked an
it was just plot after all.

Funny how defining things (or reading paeans to things) can pin down
very fuzzy uneasiness about your stories and their storiness.

Blog War Anonymous

Wednesday, June 26th, 2002

Just a link to amuse Seema:
War Anonymous
. (The link to make your own twelve-step program is
_____ Anonymous.)

There’s fresh blog war at
Your Guide
to the Blog Wars
, and fresh character-lovin’ zen at


Tuesday, June 25th, 2002

I felt like a how-to-write book, so I browsed through the library shelves. I didn’t spot the book Mike recommended, but I did find Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis. I’d barely started it on the T when I found the section on Spectacle and decided this was the book for me. Spectacle is one of the six basic dramatic elements, according to Aristotle. Aristotle rates it the least important.

Spectacle is the flashy stuff, like invisible rabbits slamming doors or helicopters landing on stage, or, as I tried to explain on a mailing list once, basic biology lessons:

Sex scenes are often part of contemporary novels and might be considered spectacle, also. They usually do little to advance the plot, revealing nothing much about the characters, and may be included merely for their shock valued or titillation. The lengthy description of a sex act may provide pleasure to the reader, but it usually advances the story no more than the sentence, “They made love until dawn.”

Again, that was J. Madison Davis, award-winning novelist, not yours truly. If it had been me, all that qualification (”might be,” “usually,” “may be,” “may,” “usually” again) would be replaced with definite, vigorous absolutes.

Speaking of public vindication of previously unpopular opinions of mine, the recent VVS9 implosion was quite gratifying. You wonder (if you’re an INTP) how so many people can be so clueless about so obvious a pattern over so long a time, especially when you saw the writing on the wall (or you were the writing on the wall) so early on. I admit, another disgruntled VVS8 writer egged me on to make some less-than-over-it comments on the issue, but I don’t feel vindictive about VVS8 this long after the fact. I’m just happy to see clues sprouting up all over. And it’s hard, too hard, to pass up the opportunity to say…

I told you so.