10-point Scale for Judgment Calls

In a recent discussion launched by Leta Blake, several of us discussed writers who complain in a simplistic way about “too much sex,” especially in Romance. Others on the thread asked for sensitivity about a reader’s (or writer’s) desire not to be judged for their preferences and desires to avoid stories that prove to be triggering or personally distasteful.

I’ve longed for a broader set of measures for books than 5 unranked stars. I have to read a lot of both positive and negative reviews — and the online sample — to guess the quality and author direction for the story. I most want that level of information when choosing a Mystery, because the AlsoBot and ‘Other Titles Like This One’ don’t meet my needs on most retail or review sites.

But today we were talking about sexual situation in Romance. So here’s the evaluation scale I wish I could find when choosing  a story, and that I apply as a writer while deciding what belongs in a particular story. (And I bet this won’t display well on a mobile device). Continue reading

You Get What You Measure: Fiction Edition

In grade school, I was the youngest and smallest in the class and always chosen last for any team sports. The boys groaned when the even-odd count resulted in me on their team.
You Get What You Measure, Fiction Writers!On the other hand, for the 7,583 times we were forced to play prison ball in the guise of physical education, I was the last person standing on my team more than fifty percent of the time. I was nimble, so the bell rang before anyone managed to cream me with the ball.

How did I achieve this? The boys’ goal was to win the game by smashing the ball into people as hard as they could. Most often they picked off the girls first, but forgot about me till the end. My goal? Never touch the ball and never let it touch me. I had no other concept of “winning.”

When I worked as a technical writer on product software, we had specific measures for productivity and quality, plus an external schedule, milestones, and job-related incentives for innovation and creativity. It’s a world in which it’s relatively easy to track success as a writer.

Now that I work full-time as a fiction writer and publisher of non-fiction, I need different markers for success in my writing. For me, daily word count is not an adequate measure of productivity.  However, I was also formerly a manager known for creative definition of realistic measures for productivity and success. So I’ve been thinking about how to understand my own productivity as a fiction writer without focusing only on word count and number of publications per quarter. I’m sharing some of those ideas here for other fiction writers, especially those who don’t write fiction full time as their principal income.

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We’re Both Professionals — What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

John Gardner said:

“Fiction does its work by creating a dream in reader’s mind.… One of the chief mistakes a writer can make is to allow…the reader’s mind to be distracted, even momentarily, from the fictional dream.”*

editornote2To achieve this goal through good editing of a fiction manuscript, two opposing kinds of intelligence drive the editor-writer relationship:

  • If you’re the writer, you are the dream-maker, seeking to impress your imagination on the reader, to keep the reader immersed in your lucid, fictive dream.
  • If you’re the editor, you serve as the ultimate reader, seeking to impose common rules of grammar, mechanics, and story structure to resolve any errors or distractions that might cause the reader to break from the dream.

No sane editor makes a claim of infallibility, but misaligned goals and differing professional experiences can result in problems in the editor-writer relationship.

Here are some cases where, beyond simple human error, you and your editor might get crosswise: Continue reading

Is that Blood on My Manuscript? Or Are You Just Happy to Ream Me?

editornotesShortly after Leta Blake posted her plea—Authors, Tell Me How Much Editing Hurts—I was walking on a long empty beach with a friend who spent the last thirty years as a literary editor, parallel to my thirty years in technical communications.

On our walk, with the Pacific Ocean crashing at our feet, we discussed how to help new writers get the most out of the writer/editor engagement. I’m sharing here our mutual thoughts about “first edit” experience for fiction writers preparing a manuscript for publication.

What Your Editor Does—and Why It Might Hurt

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Up on Blocks

Here’s a quote from Philip Pullman (of His Dark Materials) that PVG posted on the Passive Voice blog today:

All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?

Up on Blocks  - CanyonChasersIn the community discussion, many writers disagreed with Pullman’s, but I buy it. I’ve been “blocked” in other, non-writing professional work—when I don’t know the answers and have to wait for the creative solution to come. And I’ve done enough complex remodels that I know plumbers and carpenters have to be creative…and it some times takes a while to find the answer.

Over 30 years of professional writing, I’ve asserted that what people call “writer’s block” is God’s way of keeping down the level of crap that gets out into the world. Writing might slow down, and require a few walks around the neighborhood, but if I’m facing anything that’s called a block, I ask myself these questions: Continue reading

Arcs – like the Greek guy says! (not orcs)

Don McQuinn and I have indulged several conversations on techniques of fiction. Lately we’ve switched from the Celtic Swell to a couple of Greek hangouts. So our notes and scribbles are typically illuminated with coffee stains and ketchup.

Lately, we’ve been musing on — or been bemused by — questions of structure. Here’s a first conversation on structure in genre fiction.
ANNIE: If we’re going to talk about structure, I have to say first that I believe in the three-part act.
(draws Aristotelian slope) Aristotelian structure

DON: It’s worked for 3000 years. I think we should stay with it. Continue reading

Dialect in Dialog – doing right by the reader

That chat Don McQuinn and I began on Dialog in fiction has spun new conversations.
See Don’s recent James Rollins Interview on Dialog. (James Rollins writes  best-selling thrillers.)
(Our first “dialog” is here.)
Don asked Jim a proxy question for me in that interview: how to let readers know the meaning of foreign words in dialog, without disrupting the flow.  Jim provides great examples from his work in that interview with Don.
Why I asked: I wrestle with the issue all the time. Continue reading

WIP: Accidental Heretics Book 3

Accidental HereticsI have a post up on the Accidental Heretics site, discussing the existential problems I’m working on in Book 3 of the Accidental Heretics series from Jugum Press (where I write as “E.A. Stewart”).

The painful part of fiction writing (versus technical writing) is that if there’s a problem, one is required as the author to dig deep into personal experience to describe why people do what they day and how they feel while they are doing it — and then as the author to turn around and make these characters suffer for the choices that I, as the author, force on them.

I’m off to spend the rest of the day torturing a character that I love. He must be made to suffer as I once did (minus the sword, the armor, the horse, and the other historical baggage he has to carry).

Paean to Stephen Sartarelli

I owe a debt to Stephen Sartarelli that I can never repay.
If I could go back in time to when my mind was still flexible enough to master a new language — say age 12 — and immerse myself in Italian, I might not owe him as much, and I could instead focus on what I owe Andrea Camilleri as a reader.

However, I found Camilleri only through publication of Sartarelli’s first translation (of The Shape of Water), when I was searching for more translations of Manuel Vazquez Montalbán’s books. My search revealed that Camilleri had named his detective as an homage to Montalbán, so I purchased the first Camilleri translation. I’ve since given The Shape of Water as a gift more than a dozen times.
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