The Trouble with “Intro”

This Intro to Writing Science Fiction class is killing me.

I spend so much of my time struggling to read through seemingly endless pages of passive verbs and switching tenses that my brain wants to explode.

And suddenly I understand why my Intro to Creative Writing class was so restrictive. In 2009, when I first took Patrick Michael Finn’s class, I was so frustrated. What do you mean it has to be ten pages or less? And no speculative fiction? So, you’re saying no spaceships or alien races?

What the hell am I supposed to write about?

And then I spent two years writing general fiction, honing and perfecting my ability to tell compelling and interesting stories in as little as six pages. Actually, I wrote and published a story that was just less than three full pages three years after that Intro class.

And here I am today, in a class that has almost no restrictions.

In fact, it has a page minimum. All stories must be at least 10 pages long, with no maximum page limit. That’s insane. Multiple stories have been 30+ pages, and guess what? I don’t read them all the way through. I see enough within the first 8 pages to know whether the story is worth reading.

Because they are riddled with “newbie” mistakes.

Now, I understand that this is an Intro class. The professor even said that those of us with experience probably shouldn’t take the class (but there’s no Intermediate Writing Science Fiction course). But, he’s not really offering any guidelines or feedback. I feel like I’m teaching the class, along with a couple other people whose stories have been at a higher level as well. So many times I’ll write a comment on a manuscript, then laugh, because it’s something Patrick would have said.

And I feel bad for these new writers. They’re hearts and brains are in the right place, but they’ve basically been thrown into the Pacific, told to breaststroke home, when they don’t even know how to dog paddle.

It’s painful to watch. And it happens 4-5 times a week.

And so now I understand Patrick’s limitations. And I appreciate them so much. Things that I consider basics in writing, aren’t universally known. People have to be taught. Shown. And these poor students are being taught by having their first drafts (and quite possibly their first ever attempts at story writing), butchered by fellow students.

So, what are these “newbie” mistakes that are driving me insane?

  • Tense changes. Pick one. Present or past? Also, 9/10 times, you should pick past.
  • Point of View change. “I went to the store, and she bought eight apples.” I’m not kidding, this is a thing. Pick one and stick to it, religiously. Also, when starting out, 9/10 times you should pick third person.
  • Passive voice. “She was having a hard time controlling her emotions”. NO! “She struggled to control her emotions”. There are times when passive voice is unavoidable, and that is the absolute only time you should use it.
  • Dialogue punctuation. It is either incorrect, or simply doesn’t exist. No joke, I read a story this term that had ZERO dialogue punctuation. “‘I don’t understand you’ he glared at her. ‘What’s to understand’ she asked.” Please, please, please, research proper punctuation for these scenarios! You are not Cormac McCarthy, so use proper punctuation! “‘I don’t understand you.’ He glared at her. ‘What’s to understand?’ She asked.”
  • Adverbs. Can you use them? Yes. Should you? Debatable. Sprinkle them in. Chances are, if you’re using a bunch of them, the writing is suffering. I will say, I haven’t noticed too many adverb abusers yet.
  • Length. This is what’s really killing me. This is a short story class. We’re reading and analyzing professional short stories. Now, they’re all about ten pages each. Some a little longer as they have more world building, character development, etc. So, when a student posts their rough draft and it’s 50 pages long, I’m immediately skeptical. Then I read almost 10 pages and I still don’t know what the plot is? Oh, then I’m pissed. Most of these stories could be shaved down to a fraction of their current length, but these writers don’t know that, because they haven’t learned to tell stories that way. They haven’t learned to start as close to the action as possible. They haven’t learned to develop characters and plot while describing someone/something. So they info dump, and give needless backstory. And. it. is. boring. as. fuck.

I’m dying. I opened three submissions that I’m supposed to be critiquing this week, not a single one of them was less than 15 pages. One of them was 40+ pages. And by page eight I gave up because the two established characters were still standing in the same room talking around the same vague issue. I scrolled through to the end to see what happened, and by then there were three new characters that apparently have nothing to do with the initial scene. Which means that the initial scene is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY!

I work two jobs, have another class to work on, a husband to spend time with, a house we’re trying to buy, a lit mag to edit, and a mountain of books to read. I absolutely do NOT have time to critique your FORTY PAGE monstrosity of a “short” story!

Please. Just, please. Read short stories. Mimic them shamelessly. Not a single short story we’ve read this term just blathers on about the relationship between two characters while they talk to each other about nothing. Not a one. So please, I’m begging you, STOP!

Ok. This is a little more accusatory than I initially planned. I know that it’s not really the students’ faults, it’s the professor’s. But I’m also incredibly frustrated. My short stories were never like this!

I keep all my original drafts. I’ve gone back and read the first short story I ever wrote. 12 whole pages. Guess what? No switching tenses, no uncertain point of view. Some passive voice, some wild adverbs, but nothing that made the story unbearable. Nothing that obscured the story itself, or left the reader unsure of motivations and intentions.

That being said, it’s not a good story, and I have zero intentions of sharing it with the world at large. But it’s a hell of a lot better than most of what I’m reading in this class.

So please, read fiction. Read in the genre you’re trying to write. Please stop torturing me!

 

BZ

 

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The Quenching

Blogland!

Hi! I am so happy to be back. I’m sorry for the silence over the last week and half, but I was banned from all forms of “work” over spring break. You see, as soon as school let out, I started muttering about writing chapters of Jordinn’s Story and catching up on some reading, preparing to pile new tasks on a freshly clean plate.

In response, my husband firmly set my 3DS, with Pokémon Alpha Sapphire already loaded, into my hand. “Relax,” he said. “Take an actual break.”

So, I did. And I can never thank him enough for his insistence.

I’ve come into this new term fresh and excited again, eager to learn and try new things after an intense and mildly disappointing first term. But the best part? Is my Intro to Writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy class! We have to write two drafts of a story, at least 12 pages each, in 7.5 weeks. And though I get to post last, thanks to the alphabetical posting schedule (holla at that maiden name!), I’m well into the writing process.

And I didn’t realize what a desert my soul had become without it. Writing the first 1,500 words felt like standing under a cool shower after trudging through sand for time immemorial.

It’s a “short” story, and will probably come closer to being a novella than any short story I’ve ever written.  It follows Mel and Mal about four years before the happenings of “Cards”, and is tentatively titled, “Since the Fire”.

And I’m perfectly, incandescently happy with it.

I don’t ever want to be away from writing for this long ever again. It’s like I was lost and foundering for these last two years, the only thing keeping me moving forward was the blog and the reading.

Thank God for book reviews!

But, I have some homework to do this morning, and then I can write for a couple hours before work! Then work, some more homework, take a quiz, and then pass out.

My schedule this term is strict. I’m working more hours, both at Starbucks and at the Library, so my non-work time is doled out to various readings and school things. My only free time comes when I’ve completed assignments early.

That’s my life for the next 7 weeks.

So, my plan for the blog is this: Lots of small updates, like this post, most likely crowing about the writing class. And then Book Reviews when I’m able. I’ll post the Red Rising book review tomorrow night. Friday and Saturday nights are “free”, as long as I’m on track with all my reading for school.

Anyway, that’s the plan. Also, if you haven’t looked, the What I’m Reading page has been updated to reflect assignments, and my new personal reading.

Thanks again for being here, Blogland. Much love to you all.

 

BZ

A Calm Moment

I came here today to write the book review for Calamity, but wasn’t sure I could get it done in an hour, so I’ve slated it for tomorrow when I have more time.

So, instead, I’m here to just clear my head and talk about whatever. Feels like it’s been forever since I’ve done that.

Finals are over. I have almost two weeks off from school, in which I will play Uncharted 3 and Pokémon with reckless abandon. I’ve been reading Red Rising by Pierce Brown, and though it’s not bad, it’s… really slow.

Like, I’ll find other things to do than read this book, which isn’t normal for me. I like it… Ok, I can’t even say that. I’m completely ambivalent about it. I don’t hate it. But, I don’t really care about it either. Not a good place to be when I only have a week to finish it.

Submissions for The Audient Void are still coming in. I know Obadiah, the creator and Commandant of the magazine, sees a lot more submissions than I do. He gets them all, sends me the most promising ones, either because they need some line editing or to get my feedback about accepting them.

So far, I’m thoroughly impressed with the content I’ve seen. And we’re still accepting submissions! Check out the Facebook page here: The Audient Void for submission guidelines.

Hmm… What else is happening in my life?

Oh, I had a terrible term and am anxiously waiting to see what my grades will do to my GPA. Pretty sure my chances at Suma Cum Laude are gone. But, I should be able to just make Magna. I tell myself this is acceptable, and yet I’m still pissed.

But, next term, starting March 14th, I take two English classes! One of them is Intro to Writing Science Fiction, and I am so excited! I haven’t taken a writing class in forever, and I miss it terribly.

One of my favorite bands releases their new album in April, and is stopping in Portland in May, so I’m stoked for that.

What else?

Still waiting to hear more from Beta readers, but what has come in so far has been promising. I knew when I sent The Steel Armada out that it needs some major tweaking. It’s thin. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. It’s the malnourished body of a story that, given some additions, could be fully fleshed and detailed.

And that’s what the feedback so far has told me, but my Betas are fantastic because they’re telling me what they want more of, and where. It’s magical!

This weekend I want to get the second draft printed out and put in the binder. That way, when all the Betas have chimed in I can get to work fixing everything.

… I think that’s everything. Come back tomorrow to read all about my experience with Calamity!

 

BZ

Good News and the Itch

I feel like it’s been forever.

Forever since I had free time to just think about and enjoy my writing. School is the primary obstacle here. I am so sick of classwork that I could puke. Or consider giving up. Like, seriously consider just ignoring the mountains of responsibility I’m treating like molehills, and move on with the next phase of my life.

What started as this wonderful opportunity, this chance to do something for myself that would matter, has suddenly become a burden. The thing that must be overcome before anything else can even be brought to the table.

Trevor and I are preparing to buy a house. I think we’re ready. The money is close enough to the goal we set last year, and I am tired of living in a tiny, wore out apartment, and walking through rain and snow to wash clothes. I want a place that’s truly ours.

And a space that’s mine. With a desk and bookshelves, and maybe a tiny reading nook.

But, now we’re thinking that we should wait until school is over. Until I’m done. And I’m angry at the very idea. And not just because it would keep us out of a house. I’m angry at school in general. I want to finish the edits on The Steel Armada. I want to write Jordinn’s Story. I want to edit Cards. I want to work on side projects, and read all kinds of books.

And even though I’m doing some of those things, there’s so much I’m still unable to do. And school is the most readily available scapegoat.

But, besides my general dissatisfaction with my productivity, things are good.

I sent my query letter and first five pages to my best friend Bill (aka Brittany) a couple days ago, and have been waiting anxiously all this time. Every notification on my phone made my heart pound, thinking it was her email, telling me how terrible my story is.

I sent it to her because, although I know she loves me, I also respect her taste in literature. She’s intelligent, and writes a little herself, and enjoys editing. So, when I told her about my intent to query an agent, she offered to look things over if I wanted her to.

She got back to me today.

She loved it! I asked for more details, and she gave really great feedback. I trust her input, and I’m trying my best not to talk myself out of believing the compliments she gave my work.

I suddenly understand the gnawing doubt inherent in being a writer. No matter how much I trust, respect, and like what she said, there’s still a part of me that doubts it.

I’m telling that part of me to go to hell.

… I’m also getting a second opinion.

I’m going to send the same exact email to both my best friend, and Sister from another Mister, Patty, as well as Trevor. Believe it or not, he hasn’t seen a single word of The Steel Armada. We’ll see what they say.

After all their feedback, and any necessary changes thus, I’ll send it to the agent. And that has me beyond nervous. Even though I’ve told myself a thousand times that it won’t come to anything more than feedback at best. Showing my work to a professional has me tied in knots.

Anyway, I’m ignoring pretty serious amounts of homework for this. I don’t mind personally, but my guilt is eating at me. If I don’t do my homework tonight, or at least a big chunk of it, it’ll cut in to my time with Trevor tomorrow, and that’s not fair.

So, I’ll see you soon Blogland. Probably Monday, with a review of Mistborn: Secret History.

 

BZ

Brain is Melted…

It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that wanted to melt my brain. This Witchcraft class might be the death of me. It’s interesting subject matter, but the textbook is so… dry. Also, writing papers is so freaking boring.

Thesis statements? Elaborating on quotes to further hammer my point into the reader’s brain, as if they can’t make conclusions of their own? I hate it. I always have. And it’s exactly why I’m an English major.

Anyway, first week of homework is done for that class. Tomorrow will be a mad dash of reading and quiz taking in my other class in order to make time to finish The Magicians in time for Wednesday’s Book Club meeting.

Tonight’s plan is to read as much as I can of the novel, then eat dinner and watch Howl’s Moving Castle with the husband.

So that’s pretty much all I have to say. Things are calm today. Sundays are my one day off a week, and I share it with Trevor, so we do chores and make food. Easy days.

I’ll see you soon Blogland, most likely tomorrow or Thursday. Sometime this week I’ll have the book review for The Magicians up. Have a good week!

 

BZ

And School is Back…

And I’m already over it.

My classes sound interesting, and so far they’re all right, but mostly I just want this to be over so I can spend my free time doing the things I want. Writing, reading, and editing. Although, my Heresy and Witchcraft in Europe class actually solved a pretty major problem within Jordinn’s Story, so that was awesome.

As the complete writing nerd that I am, I don’t think any subject matter is a waste of time. In Fantasy fiction, authors must create worlds, races, and cultures from scratch. And though I personally don’t adhere to any religion, no society exists without it. So, my lack of religious knowledge has actually made writing harder for me, since writing believable religions has proven difficult. That’s why I took this class. It looks at how religions, specifically Christianity, dealt with Heresy and Witchcraft. How the major religion of the world reacted to and treated dissenters and magic users.

Yeah, I’m going to learn a lot.

I’ve already hinted at religions and ritualism in Jordinn’s Story, but this class is going to help me flesh it out. I’ll have to do some research on Voodooism, so I can amp up the religion in Cards too.

My other class is Food and Culture. I haven’t dug into this one as much, since coursework isn’t due until Tuesday, versus Witchcraft’s looming Sunday deadline, but it should also offer a unique perspective into human society and cultures. Learning about people and how they interact with their worlds is never a waste of time for a fantasy writer.

But, I haven’t much time, since I have to read 16ish pages of my assigned reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. It’s not terrible, but it’s not fiction either.

Before I sign off, I want to say something about Alan Rickman. I know the world is mourning, and I know all your feeds and social media are flooded with the tears and lamenting of the multitude of fans. I know this, and still, I am heartbroken.

Rickman was always a delight. He could sway my opinion of a film, and my preconceptions. I’d have little to no interest, which is often the case with me and films, but as soon as I saw his name I’d perk up. I’d be intrigued. Because I knew I could depend on him to make anything better.

Before I knew him as Snape, he was Marvin, the Paranoid Android, and Metatron, the Voice of God. (Yes, I came late to the Harry Potter film train, and I still haven’t seen them all. And no, yelling at me won’t help.) I knew him as the reserved yet astoundingly devoted Colonel Brandon. He was Harry, the man tempted by the younger woman, in Love, Actually. He was Hans Gruber, the man who said “Motherfucker” in such a funny way that it’s something my husband and I quote and laugh at often.

And, while reading Harry Potter, I’d seen stills and the first two movies, and he forever became my image of Severus Snape, my favorite Potter character from day one of the books. Rickman perfectly captured the complexity and depth of Snape, the loathing and the unbidden love that he never could reconcile for Harry. Alan Rickman brought to life a level of loyalty and utter devotion that, until I read Snape’s tale through to the end, I could never fully comprehend.wands

So tonight, I raise my wand, which I believe was a Dragon Heart-string, 9 inch Ashwood, in remembrance of Alan Rickman, for showing the world, and myself, that no one is ever as simple as they seem, and that when you truly love someone, time is irrelevant. You love them. Always.

 

BZ

Rehashing the Past

I won’t lie, I came here with the intention of writing the book review for The Aeronaut’s Windlass. But, the longer I gaped at the blank screen, the cursor blinking its impatience, the less I knew what to say.

Perhaps Monday will be better.

I’ve been going through old posts, curious to see what goals I’d planned for 2015, and how the year actually stacked up in comparison. Sadly, I didn’t accomplish much of what I’d planned. And that’s almost entirely because of school and the second job.

I did it to myself, and while it’s lamentable, I don’t truly regret it. The second job is worth it. The education is worth it. I’m finally comfortable with the fact that the writing isn’t going anywhere. It’s a part of me, and I will always make time to do it. Taking the time to pursue education and experiences is not a bad thing.

So, last year I wanted to write 104 posts. That did not happen. Instead, there were 75. Not terrible, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

I wanted to finish the edits on Vessels, which most definitely did not happen. Again, with the unforeseen time-sink of the second job, I can’t really be upset with myself. I did finish the first round of edits, so I at least made some serious progress.

I’d planned to finish the rough draft of Jordinn’s Story, but again, that did not happen. Again, I’m not too worried about it right now.

I wanted to read 30 books and 15 short stories. I blew that goal out of the water.

I also want to point out that, yet again, there were more views on the blog in 2015 than in any other year. That’s continuous growth for four straight years. Not too shabby. Granted my views for the year are less than what some bloggers get in a day, so there’s that…

But, that’s not why the blog is here. I’m glad you all stop in and read my words. Some of you have been following me since the beginning, and the fact that you still stop by blows my mind. The blog is a place to share my fascination with all things reading and writing with a community that understands completely. It’s at once humbling and utterly ego-boosting to see that people read what I write in any capacity. Especially my typically unorganized, rant-y posts that are mostly just stream of consciousness dribbles.

I use the blog as a place to decompress and get some direction. My mind never shuts down, and sometimes I just need to get everything out so I can shuffle through the mess and find the bits that actually require my attention. The blog is perfect for that.

There are a lot of things I want to do, not just this year, but in general. Blogging helps me prioritize and keeps me moving in the right direction. Without it, I’m fairly certain I’d unravel at any given moment, the threads of my mind unstitching me bit by bit.

But, I’m here. I have goals, some of them pretty lofty (Summa Cum Laude here I come!). And with some patience, ambition, and organization, I’ll achieve them all, one by one.

Have I mentioned that I am horribly stubborn? I’m sure by now, you’ve figured that out. I am still writing this blog, after all.

Anyway, thanks, as always, for reading this. You help me. You inspire me and encourage me, even when I’m hard on myself for the time and work I let slip away. If you keep reading, you’ll see me accomplish all those things I dreamed of, and you’ll know that, on some level, you helped me along the way.

I promise.

See you Monday, Blogland.

 

BZ