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Archive for December 12th, 2008

Five Not-So Random Link Post

Justine Larbalestier has a few things to say on the need to prefect your craft. I’ll reiterate here a comment I made there, in every thing you try in life you’ll eventually reach a point where it becomes hard. What you do at that point determines what you really love, and what should just be a hobby. For, that point concerning writing came eight years ago. It was at that point I figured “If I’m going to do this writing thing, I need to really work at it.” I could have kept at the same level I was, I enjoyed telling myself and my friends the little stories. But if I hadn’t made that determination to “go beyond” and start putting more energy and start sacrificing other things, I wouldn’t be close to being published now.

K. Tempest Bradford is guest blogging over at Jeff VanderMeer’s Ecstatic Days and she has some words for genre fiction writers who maybe thinking about including rape, sexual retrograde mores, being ironic about the same, and how being a feminist does not automatically make your writing feminist. On her own blog she’s gone off on many things that (IMHO) don’t deserve the attention her vehemence brings, however she’s spot on with this criticisms.

Diana Peterfreund talk about bad and good books and some writerly response. You need to read.

Matt Jarpe links back to his 5 Writing Lessons he wished he’d learn the easy way. We all feel that pain, Matt. We all do.

Dave Klecha clues us in on making advice too cliche-ish instead of helpful. And yeah, a lot of advice comes into this realm. He also reminds us, that not all advice works for everybody.

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The Writing Cast podcast’s latest episode concerns intertextual dialog and I highly recommend listening in.

To sum up; it’s an old piece of writing advice; as a writer, you should also be a reader. Having a stock of master pieces in your head not only lets you tap into how writers have solved problems before, they also become fodder for allusion, which is a form of symbolism. Symbols key deep into our brains. For art we study the masters, copying their drawings to help us understand how to illustrate the world around us. We also study symbolism (if you’re paying attention in class that is). Symbols include not only things like the use of animal symbols in portraiture, but understanding symbols as glyphs. And there is no greater symbol in humans than 🙂 (the smilie face).

If you want to be really bored at a convention, get me started talking about typography. I can go on about type for longer than you can stay awake, trust me. These things you see in front of you right now, these letters and typefaces, they’re so common you don’t even think about them. However they are such powerful symbols they actually are responsible for altering the neural pathways in your brain. Seriously. As a designer (at least an old school designer) one of our major experiments in school is the deconstruction of type. This shows us just how far we can “break” the forms and still be readable. You would be amazed.

But back to writing. Sure, reading all the top names in your genre is a good way of know where your chosen field of writing has been and (as you read current works) where it’s headed (ie. for popular horror, reading King, Straub, and Koontz lets you know where it’s been, reading Joe Hill, IMHO, will let you know where it’s going). However, reading widely is also highly recommended. That body of works that form the basis of our Western Cultural Identity does not hurt. And here I’m talking Shakespeare, Herodotus, Dante, New Testament, Beowulf, the Les Contes des Fées, etc. And if you write fairy tales, you should know why John Barleycorn must die.

Knowing the cannon of western lit can only help us in our own writing, especially within genre writing. While having a good sense of “what works” is always good, to go beyond good you should be conscious of what you’re doing.

With my own genre, we start with Shelley’s Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus.. A nice dark SF (near SF for the time), the story works even better if you know who Prometheus was and the price he paid for his acts (no, I’m not telling, go google it). It adds resonance that has kept the story relevant all these years down the road.

This is the power of these stories. While just writing this post I came up with three lines and two concepts that will help my current WIP, A History of Lightning, work much better. These will give it a deeper context and add more hooks that set off the reader’s endorphins. They will also solve two of the main criticisms of the piece, and tie up a quibble about another allusion.

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