“Fantasy became as bland as everything else in entertainment. To be a bestseller, you’ve got to rub the corners off. The more you can predict the emotional arc of a book, the more successful it will become.
“I do understand that Game of Thrones is different. It has its political dimensions; I’m very fond of the dwarf and I’m very pleased that George [R R Martin], who’s a good friend, has had such a huge success. But ultimately it’s a soap opera. In order to have success on that scale, you have to obey certain rules. I’ve had conversations with fantasy writers who are ambitious for bestseller status and I’ve had to ask them, ‘Yes, but do you want to have to write those sorts of books in order to get there?’”
Emphasis mine. I've long felt this way about SF and fantasy, and writing generally. The cost of becoming famous, or a bestseller, is that you have to write the kinds of books that most everyone would want to read — in short, mass-market material. There's no end of people lining up outside the door to create such things. As for me, I decided a while ago I'd rather try and create something that couldn't have anyone else's name on it but mine.Read more
Stop reading this. Go to Netflix, your local video kiosk, wherever you can get your hands on a copy of Predestination. Watch it first, because I can guarantee it will be one of the best things you've seen all year, and odds are you might never have run into it if someone else hadn't told you about it. I want to put all this up front, because this movie deserves discussion and thought, and yet it is absolutely impossible to talk about this film without treading into complete spoiler territory. Those are just the facts. Go no further unless you are prepared.
Predestination is nominally science fiction, adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein short story "'All You Zombies — '", but like all the best SF, it doesn't stay stuck inside that container; it batters its way out and leaps towards bigger things. It deals with a man (Ethan Hawke) who appears to be some kind of spy in the employ of a nebulous organization, working behind the scenes to stop a terrorist named "The Fizzle Bomber" from destroying several square blocks of New York City. There's only one curious little detail, one that scoots by quickly enough that you might not catch it: the bombing hasn't happened yet. It's to happen at some point in the future. The spies are time travelers, fixing history when it breaks.Read more
Otakon kept me busy for the past week or so — see here for more on that score; it was the fun kind of busy — so not much blogging taking place. Some catch-up, then:
Tags: real life
An earnest question: "What is your writing process like? That is, from "I have an idea!" to "Time to put this on Amazon!" how do your stories typically unfold?"
I said it deserved a more detailed answer, so here we are.Read more
Earlier this week I completed the first end-to-end outline of The Palace of the Red Desert — not a complete outline, but the first one that covers all the plot territory from A to Z. The next move is to step through the document and flesh it out — go over it obsessively, see how things I wrote earlier need to be revised in the light of things I wrote later, add details I missed previously, make notes to myself about what to emphasize, and so on.Read more
For thousands of years across a variety of cultures, people who meditate have tried to put their experiences into words that they hoped others who did not meditate would get. Because our entire way of understanding life, the universe, and everything is fundamentally wrong, these teachers were forced to speak in metaphors. But all of the best Buddhist teachers said this quite explicitly. ... If we learn to read the words of ancient Buddhist teachers in that spirit, we no longer see them as doctrines that must be accepted on faith alone but as attempts to tell us about an experience that is not easy to put in words.
The fact that something is not easy to put into words bothers some people, but I wonder why. Is it because of the inexpressible nature of it, or because they have to go through the trouble of finding out themselves, and are not even sure they'll get anything for their trouble?Read more
... such apparently anodyne studio fare as today’s plethora of superhero and comic-book movies are so often fascinatingly and intricately political, and why it’s worth paying attention to them and taking them seriously, despite the often-decried inanity of their subjects or sub-adult tenor of their themes. But this, too, involves looking at them with an eye that differs from the nostalgic exaltation of traditional Hollywood methods and manners.
This isn't a bad essay, since it puts forth a brave idea: dramas like The Graduate do in fact still get made. One thing Brody leaves out, though, is the place of promotion in all this — what productions studios choose to push.Read more
Holiday schedule and trying to disentangle the outline for Palace of the Red Desert (plus work, plus some distractions on Les Twittars) kept me away from these here pages for a few days. Of the aforementioned, Desert was the thorn in my side that was both the sharpest and most deeply piercing.Read more
In my last post about doing long-form vs. short-form work, I singled out a few reasons on my end why I picked the former over the latter, and what I felt it had done for me. Here, I'm going to talk about some of the things I ask myself that help me settle on the subject matter for a long-form story.
1. How rich is it?
By "rich" I mean this: How deeply can I dig into the idea? How much storytelling fuel does it provide me with?
Obviously this is going to vary widely depending on the person doing the digging; if you aren't a student of modern politics, for instance, you're not going to see as much potential in a counterfactual story about JFK or MLK not getting assassinated than someone who compulsively reads most every piece of respectable nonfiction published on those subjects. You always bring something to the table. But what's already sitting on the table also matters deeply.
Right now a friends of mine and I are discussing a story that revolves around a single, very simply idea, from which an absolutely staggering amount of material can be
2. How normative is it?
My original definition was "how broadly does the idea affect things?", but that only works for obvious what-if stuff. The real meaning of "normative" seems to be "how broadly does the idea force us to reassess things?"
The real what-if for Flight of the Vajra* wasn't "What if matter could be made as malleable and programmable as computer code?" (although that is in there), but "What if humanity, after providing itself with unimaginable physical comfort and material power, couldn't figure out what the hell to do with itself after that?" I thought that stating the question that way — making the nascent dilemma explicit — was the better way to frame the story.
3. How urgent is it?
Fishing metaphor. Sometimes, you land what seems like a kicking good idea for a story, and it just lies there at the bottom of the boat. Then sometimes you land what to other people would be a relative minnow, but it just won't stop thrashing around in your mind. It nags at you to be told the way a bad toothache forces you to head for the dentist.
Urgency is subjective, in the same way that curiosity about subject matter is subjective. Why you are drawn to tell a particular story is deeply personal, and may in fact be one of the best things to listen down into. If I want to tell any story, whether about the near or far future, it's because I have some emotional skin in the game, however remote. I don't want to tell a story about a technical accomplishment alone, because anyone can do that. There has to be something about it that insists that I be the one to say it, and that what I have to bring to the table will matter.
4. What can I bring to the table?
This last part, I keep coming back to a great deal lately. Most people think of creativity as a matter of inventing things — making stuff up — rather than synthesizing things. What comes out of our own experience and person-to-person relationships is at least as important, if not more so, than the stuff we invent. The latter has to be enriched by and transmuted through the former.
I don't think any of the books I've written now, I could have written when I was younger — no, not even if someone had handed me an outline of the books and said "Here, run, with these." The story was only half the story.
I'll have more to say about all this in yet another post.
A fellow author (and work comrade) noted that she was having trouble concentrating on a long-form piece of fiction for a workshop in the fall. Her forte has been short fiction, and she's gotten some of it published; my forte is long-form. Strangely, I find long-form work more comfortable than short-form, and this has baffled more than a few people: how is it that I can stick to something longer and finish it, but shorter work throws me off?Read more