Categories

Intro Music by Fretts!

Our intro and our outro music is Your Government Loves You and Wants You to be Happy, by Fretts! If you love it as much as we do, you can find more beautiful music at fretts.bandcamp.com!

Positionality, Intersectionality, And Fiction.

Play

What We’re Drinking:

20160429_165826

Otra Vez! It’s a sour beer (a gose-style ale) from Sierra Nevada! It’s one of the first “mainstream” sour beers I’ve encountered. It’s funny; you know you’re in a beer town when you can buy sour beers at the Seven Eleven. One of the things I really liked about Otra Vez was that it has  the usual crisp sourness, but it retained a little bit of funk from the lactic fermentation process.

What We’re Saying:

Tiger Gray came to chat with us today!

Here’s a link to our Facebook Group if you would like to come have fun time conversations with us.

Rate and review us on iTunes, too.

Tiger Gray is an author and small publisher at Hard Limits Press. Go check them out!

Also buy their novel, No Deadly Thing, here!

Today we’re talking about positionality and how it impacts writing and fiction. Positionality is where you sit among various social identities and intersections of impression.

Cognitive dissonance is the state of holding two competing or conflicting ideas at one time. The mind then attempts to resolve dissonance, often by promoting one idea and discarding the other, often lashing out at the source of the discomfort in the process. But this dissonance can be resolved thoughtfully if you’re willing to put the work in.

Writing fiction involving marginalized groups can be tricky when writing from a place of privilege. There are times when it’s necessary to include things like racism and sexism and ableism in order to make a statement about how these forces function in the everyday world, but at the same time, if you’re able to imagine a world with spaceships and dragons, maybe you could also imagine a world in which those things don’t happen. I think writers in positions of privilege often fall into the trap of fetishizing their character’s oppression or using it as a way to arouse readers, and that’s exploitative.

This falls in to some of the problems that Sci-fi and Fantasy (and other genres too) have with rape as well.

Having the freedom to write whatever you want does not make you immune to criticism, and criticism is not the same as censorship.

Basically, if you’re using a character’s oppression in a piece of fiction, make sure you’re making that choice carefully and wisely, and make it matter.

Do research, but also talk to people who have had to be in the situations that you’re writing about. Our history and by extension our anthropology and sociology and even medical sciences are by and large written from a white and a male perspective. So even sources for research that are considered to be high quality may not have the information that you need to approach a certain subject with respect.

Try to feel some empathy for the groups that your writing might touch. Treat people’s time with respect.

Invest in people around you, invest in your community, and you’ll end up with more resources at your disposal.

And if you have a project that you feel you’re not up to yet, you can always step away from it. That’s okay too.

Your words have power. Be kind to people.

Sometimes The Unexpected Happens…

Play

What We’re Drinking:

Henry’s Hard Soda: Ginger ale.  It wasn’t great. It tasted like sugar water with a little lemon juice in it. It didn’t have enough alcohol in it to justify it being terrible. I wouldn’t buy this again.

What We’re Saying:

This is the third episode that we recorded with Mr. Robert Lashley.

It started out as an episode about managing relationships as a writer, and as happens sometimes when you get a brilliant writer on mic, quickly transformed into something magical and hypnotic and moving.

This is kind of a long one; it was impossible to cut any of it.

I think that’s about all I have to say about this episode; I don’t think I can do the rest of it justice.

Except, you should definitely go right now and buy a copy of Robert’s extraordinary book, The Homeboy Songs.

Enjoy.

Quickies: The Mystique of the Short Story.

Play

What We’re Drinking:

St. Clement Vintner’s Merlot! Ooh, Classy. Normally Merlots aren’t my favorite, I tend toward drier wines. But this wasn’t awful. Nice mouthfeel, fresh cherries.

What We’re Saying:

Tina is with us again!

I’m not great at short stories, I’m going to be honest with you.

You’d think they’d be easy to write since they’re so little, but they many of the same complications of a novel in a much smaller space. And that’s where it gets complicated.

Short stories need sharper focus than novels. If you’re including detail on something, that thing had better be important to the story. If you’re putting in a character, there’d better be a good reason for them to be there.

You only have enough space in a short story to include the things that need to be there.

You don’t really have room for subplots, which are the bread and butter of the novel.

And ideally, once your reader finishes reading your short fiction, they have gotten an entire story in a compact package, complete with beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Too much exposition can leave a reader feeling confused and disoriented in a short story. They might wonder where the story is going, and lose interest.

Tightly managed structure is vital for writing short stories. I don’t personally believe that short stories need to be outlined, but without having outlined a novel I wouldn’t have had the skills in creating structure to save the Marshal Davis story (available in Hot Mess!).

I think the reason I lack these skills is that I was never a reader of short stories. They never were quite enough for me, and they were a huge investment of money as a kid for stories I might not like. So the model of structure that I kind of absorbed intuitively was one that looks like a novel, not something as tight and drilled down as a short story.

Tina talks about Wild Cards, and how heavily that influenced her.

James talks about what an important learning tool short stories can be for new authors; you learn efficient writing, and it’s a fantastic way to learn basic story structure without having to invest the time in a full length novel.

James mentions Escape Pod and Pod Castle, two podcasts that allow you to listen to short fiction while you’re on the go.

Short stories are a way for an author to make money “quickly,” because they can turn over short story after short story after short story, and put them on the market until they sell. This is not something that is new, though I do think the ebook revolution has opened up new horizons for short fiction; it’s actually been around since the days of the pulps.

Writing short stories are ways to test concepts or worlds to see if it’s an idea that you want to explore further, without committing the kind of time that writing a terrible novel involves. It’s a kind of testing ground for stories. We have all written short stories that turned into longer works.

Short stories are considered a smaller investment for publishing companies, and so many new authors want to write novels, it’s a little easier to get short stories published than it is to publish a novel.

That’s not to say it’s easy; you will still get rejected.

 

Outside The Lines; or Outlining for Pantsers!

Play
20160511_233248

The outline for Allie’s 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, taped to her apartment door.

What We’re Drinking:

Crispin Natural Hard Pear Cider! I actually normally don’t like ciders because they’re often too sweet, but that’s been turning around since the dry pub cider has come into vogue in the states. This is nice, though. Bright and crisp and not too sweet. The orange is definitely in there, but the coriander is primarily in the aroma.

What We’re Saying:

Outlining?! Bah!

James and I are both what people call “pantsers,” meaning that we write by the seat of our pants, instead of plotting out your story. So we’re not exactly experts on this topic.

First off, if you’re ready to start writing, go! Go write! You can always build an outline around it later.

(Check out our episode on writer’s block here. Then hate us forever.)

Plotters outline their story first. It’s just a different way of working, neither is better or worse than the other, and the fact is that the majority of writers are some kind of hybrid between the two.

James tends to reverse outline a piece after or during the writing process, which means to build an outline based on what he’s got to make sure the story works and the structure is sound and has all its parts. This is also how I revised A Guide to a Happier Life. It’s a tool to help you see where you need to change things, what plot points need more emphasis and what isn’t working.

Prolific readers often have a kind of instinctive understanding of story structure.

Going in and doing a reverse outline can help you if you’ve pantsed a story and end up lost, or stuck, or having written yourself into a corner.

If you use Scrivener, it has this really cool structure where you write each bit in its own file, and you can move them all around if you need to. If you’re outlining you can actually plug your outline ahead of time into that structure in Scrivener so that it’s always right there when you’re working.

Some pantsers think of the first draft as an extremely wordy outline. Like you just write down the bones of the story while you have them in your brain, and then you go through and add in where you need more details, unpack things that you glossed over, etcetera.

Remember, an outline is a tool. It shouldn’t cause you anxiety, and it shouldn’t stop you from writing. Also? If you only know the beginning of the story so far, you can write from a partial outline, and you might find that the rest comes to you while you work.

James brought up the expanding outline method, where you start out with a sentence that describes your story. Then you take that sentence and expand it to a paragraph with a few more details. Then maybe each of the sentences in that story become an act, and you write a paragraph for each act, and then those sentences each become a chapter! Before you know it, you’ve got an entire outline! You snuck up on it, so it didn’t have a chance to get away from you.

I outlined my NaNoWriMo novel for 2015 from an outline according to the three act, eight sequence structure commonly used in scriptwriting, because it’s super easy. Here’s a link that explains the structure.

James brought up the following outline method: Once Upon a Time (the beginning and setting), Day After Day (the normal routine in the setting), Then One Day (the normal routine changes), Because (the characters react to the change), Finally (the characters find some kind of resolution), and Ever Since Then (the new situation at the end of the story). I love this because it’s a really easy place to start and it makes sure that you’re writing a story instead of just an idea.

 

Voice in Writing.

Play

What We’re Drinking:

Kulshan Red Ale. Kulshan is a local brewery that makes some very lovely beer. Today we’re drinking their red ale, which is one of my preferred beers of theirs. It tends to be heavier on the malt than I usually like but I find it well balanced.

What We’re Saying:

Today we’re talking about voice! There are three kinds of voice in fiction, generally speaking.

Authorial voice is kind of slippery. It happens in your writing without you trying to make it happen. It is just how you write. You can’t try to write your voice, and in most cases you can’t detect your own voice when you read, because it’s going to just seem normal to you. You can control how much of your own voice appears in your writing in a couple of ways. You can attempt to mimic another author’s voice, and you can edit voice out. Kind of the less you mess with you writing, the more voice will be in there.

Narrative voice is the tone, theme, ambiance, etc of your story. By which I mean it’s all of those things put together. By which I actually mean that it includes all of those things but is something else besides. Each of your stories is going to have a slightly different voice, even when they’re in series. I’m writing a prequel to my novel that has a very different feel than the novel, but involves similar concepts and themes and some of the same characters.

Narrative voice is much more under your control in the writing process than is authorial voice. It has to be; you need to tailor it to fit the story that you’re telling.

James influences the narrative voice in the piece that he’s writing by carefully choosing the music that he listens to while he’s writing. I’m more visual, so I tend to think of the voice of a story in terms of colors, images, or in terms of how a movie is shot.

Character voice is the third and probably the most exacting kind of voice that you’ll need in your writing. Character voice refers to how a character talks and in limited points of view, also how a character thinks. Even the tone of the exposition when writing in limited points of view will contain character voice.

So these voices, these qualities in your writing, come through in the variations between your writing and someone else’s writing; the variations in one story as compared to another story. It appears in the differences between one character’s point of view and the point of view that you use in the next chapter. And when you edit, those variations tend to get stripped away. This is because formal writing, in accordance with rules of grammar, tends to be all the same. The goal in this kind of writing is to make language uniform. Uniformity is what makes language universal and understandable.

But the differences are where the beauty lies. And a lot of those differences are considered grammatical flaws. So the more you edit, the more of your voice you’re going to strip away. You can edit a piece of prose to death.

We all have unique voices, and in terms of authorial voice you cannot see it or deliberately write in it, which makes the feedback “I love your voice!” particularly unhelpful.

Your voice will change as you write. It will be influenced by your life experiences, by things that you read, by films that you see, and by unspoken lessons that you learn while writing.

Your voice rocks. Go find it and use it. Write more, read more.

Hugo Awards Minicast!

Play

Hey, gang, we’re here with another minicast.

We usually put these things out when there’s something going on that we don’t want to wait on our release schedule to talk about. This is one of those times.

The Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies are at it again.

If you don’t know who any of these guys are, they’re sci-fi authors and fans who believe that the sci-fi community is practicing some kind of affirmative action by promoting the work of female authors, queer authors, and authors of color, and as a result they have been presenting their own slates for the Hugo awards and stuffing the ballot box.

The most vocal ringleaders are Vox Day, Brad Torgerson, and Larry Correia. I’m not linking to any of them because I don’t want to give them traffic. If you want to know what they say about it, Google is your friend.

The Hugo Awards are important because they’re a kind of a people’s choice award in science fiction, and anyone who can afford a membership to WorldCon can vote in the awards. Last year, in 2015, they dominated the awards. Several nominees dropped their nominations, not wanting to have won in this way, and many of the categories experienced a no award vote.

This is ruining (or if you ask George RR Martin, has already ruined) the Hugo Awards, because the only way to prevent this from happening is to more strictly control the nomination/voting process, which kind of strips away its populist spirit. Also, for new authors particularly, a Hugo Award is a big deal. When we have reactionary elements trying to keep authors from marginalized groups from receiving this award, it stunts the careers of these authors.

In response, George RR Martin set up the Alfie Awards in 2015, and says that he’ll do so again this year.

But what can we do?

We can support the work of marginalized authors, and we can not tolerate this kind of right wing suppressive nonsense in our industry. We can also listen to some of the moderating influences in the community like George RR Martin and Chuck Wendig when they decry this kind of bullshit.

Thanks for listening.

He Said, She Said: The Art of Writing Dialogue.

Play

What We’re Drinking:

Port Townsend Porter. I generally don’t care for dark beers, as they tend to be a bit sweet and nutty, and I like tangy/bitter/sour/salty flavors in beers a lot more. Smells like toast, it was not terrible. James quite liked it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink it again.

What We’re Saying:

We do not encourage underage drinking. Now that that’s out of the way…

James wants to make sure we all know that being overwhelmed by life isn’t the same as procrastination, and he is correct. Also, writing in your blog? That counts as writing.

Side note: Hot Mess, which is discussed at some length, is out now on Amazon, and we are in fact taking submissions for the next edition of Hot Mess.

We discuss the value of being able to talk shop, and it is really important. Writing can be an isolating calling, and for non-performing writers, I think building community can be even more difficult. So thanks for giving us an excuse to sit and have fantastic conversations about the work we’re passionate about.

Finally, the topic! Dialogue!

James thinks dialogue is one of my strengths as a writer. I have no accurate understanding of my abilities because impostor syndrome, so we’ll just go with it.

The truth is, I do have fun writing dialogue. I had to learn to be good at it because it was the easiest way to squeeze the exposition out of my writing.

Writing in fiction is kind of split up into three very broad categories: exposition, dialogue, and action. And you can get away with a lot more dialogue than you can action. Or exposition for that matter.

One of the best ways to improve dialogue is to really pay attention to how other people interact, and that means like not just listening in to other people’s conversations, but also paying attention to things like subtext and paralanguage. Sometimes that helps you understand what isn’t being directly said. Understanding that is a way to help make your dialogue more compelling and realistic.

Dialogue can establish intercharacter relationships, and those relationships are vital to driving plot and giving your characters agency. It wasn’t until I started breaking apart True Grit in order to reverse engineer an outline for my Western that I realized how much the plot is driven by the relationships between the three main characters. And this is one of my favorite books of all time so it was really thrilling to discover something new about it.

Dialogue can be used to establish and heighten conflict, and it can be used to both increase and release tension.

Writing believable and distinct character voices requires relinquishing your authorial voice. Maybe not entirely, but significantly. So sometimes when I’m moving from an exposition-heavy section of writing into a place that will be dialogue heavy, I usually take a break. Because for me, authorial voice can become a rut that’s hard to get out of. This is something I struggled with while working on the Novella project.

Reading the dialogue you’ve written out loud can help you see if it sounds natural or not. Also, dialogue is often not grammatically correct; this is something you can definitely see when you’re listening in on conversations, but only if you pay attention to it. Otherwise it’s invisible to us.

Spoken language is different from written language.

Abandon your english nerdery and don’t be afraid to get “down and dirty” with some working class style dialogue.

Use regional dialects to help flesh out your character’s identity; the region that your character learned to speak in carries with it a whole lot of other things as well; culture, heroes, knowledge of place, etc.

James talks about using spanglish for one of his characters in one of his Works in Progress to identify that character as latina. Which is great because telling the reader that your character is latina doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them that your character is latina.

Writing dialogue for groups is much, much more difficult than one on one dialogue. Keeping track of who’s speaking and everyone’s relationships and motivations is difficult. Making sure you keep up with your dialogue tags is doubly important in these group conversations.

Also, regarding dialogue tags, you don’t actually want to vary them too much. If you leave most of them as “he said, she said,” they kind of disappear into the writing, and the reader reads them but doesn’t really notice them.

Do you have any questions, thoughts, or things to add about writing dialogue?

What We Hate About Science Fiction/Fantasy, Part 2!

Play

Content warning! This episode includes frank discussion about rape in science fiction and fantasy, in both books and television/film.

What We’re Drinking:

Bernard Griffith Syrah Port, 2012. It was waaaay too sweet for both of us.

What We’re Saying:

Continuation of our Sci-fi/Fantasy gripes episode. We plug Throwing Shade right off the top, one of my favorite podcasts. You should definitely check it out.

Gripe 1: Supermen. People like Gandalf and Rand Al’Thor are really boring characters, because there’s no obstacle that they can’t overcome, and therefor no tension. That’s why Tolkein et al tend to use these characters really sparingly. It’s because they’re sort of a kind of…

Gripe 2: Deus ex Machina! Deus ex machina is a latin phrase meaning “god in the machine.” It is, in a literary sense, when some kind of sudden or unexpected or bizarrely coincidental thing happens that resolves an otherwise difficult situation for your characters. Any kind of fiction can suffer from deus ex machina, but I feel like it’s more common in fantasy and sci-fi because of the future technology and magic systems. They make it so easy to deus ex machina. And it’s lazy writing. It’s almost always better to let a character die than to deus ex machina. Both this and the first gripe (supermen) represent an idealization of the person or the world that breaks the reader’s engagement with the piece because we know the world doesn’t work that way! Stop it.

James unexpectedly went off on a kind of awesome feminist tangent at this point after a mention of G Willow Wilson, which was AMAZING. Thanks, James!

And that brings us to…

Gripe 3: Princesses! I am so tired, so tired of women in sci-fi fantasy that lack agency. I’m exhausted by the women-as-prize trope. So if you write a princess, she had better have a fucking sword or a laser blaster. Or be the admiral of a space armada. Or a high-level politician. Enough of this helpless damsel plot point garbage. And that leads us directly to…

Gripe 4: RAPE! We know rape happened, we definitely know it still happens. If you’re not going to handle it in a way that motivates your female character, don’t handle it! Don’t use the rape of a female character to motivate your male hero. Also? I feel like rape can be just as dramatic when done off-camera. I feel like all depictions of rape in fiction that I’ve read and almost all of the ones depicted in movies and television are sexualized, with the notable exception of the rape of Dr. Melfi on the Sopranos, which I thought was really well done. If you’re going to write it like it’s sex, don’t! Depicting rape as sex fails to delineate between the two and feeds rape culture.

So I was pretty drunk at this point and forgot two of my six points. But that’s okay, because we went on a few tangents that padded out the episode length. Sorry, folks, I was drinking!

The takeaway, I think, is that by avoiding lazy tropes in our fiction, we all have the power and ability to write better books.  And I don’t view that as a restriction; I think that’s really exciting! There are so many good books for us to write!

 

 

What We Hate About Science Fiction/Fantasy!

Play

What We’re Drinking:

Bacardi Gold. A pretty standard gold rum that people use to get drunk. I didn’t find it to have as much character as my personal favorite rum.

What We’re Saying:

Please tell us what we should be drinking on the show!

So before you turn off the podcast, we like science fiction and fantasy! We write sci-fi/fantasy! We just want to help make the genre better. There’s no reason that you can’t write sci-fi/fantasy and write good fiction!

We definitely want to do an episode about literary fiction and communities at some point to balance the scales.

Thing 1: Speculative Fiction is a supergenre that came about fairly recently and seems to cover science fiction, fantasy and all associated subgenres, and it’s a dumb name because all fiction is speculative in nature. All fiction is, when you get down to it, a what-if question.

Thing 2: Classic fantasy, especially epic fantasy, tends to be offensively boring, and I personally blame J. R. R. Tolkien. In my opinion, Tolkien wrote long books that were, in the majority, long and detailed descriptions of the worlds of white men. James disagrees; he states that Tolkien opened up a door for writers to access fantastic worlds and have them published. But the fact that Tolkien developed the prototype for epic fantasy worlds kinda for white dudes is not just a problem, it’s exceptionally boring. That and the fact that Joseph Campbell, whose “hero’s journey” is the structure that many epic fantasy tales take, said that women don’t take the hero’s journey, that they are the prize at the end of the journey, has left the fantasy genre in a state of anemia from which it is only just now recovering. The graveyard of sad tropes.

The Writing Excuses Podcast can be found here; it’s another excellent, high quality writing podcast. You should definitely check them out.

Thing 3: Magic systems. Kind of the point of magic as a tool in writing is to give the author a way to break rules without pulling people out of the stories. I mean it reinforces genre and when well written can communicate a sense of wonder that is really important to the fantasy genre, but structurally, it lets us break rules. So when you develop rules for your magic system and then communicate those to your reader, you’re basically letting the reader backstage to see how stuff works. I can’t speak for all readers of the genre, but I don’t want to know the rules of your magic system! I want it to be lovely and wondrous and outside my understanding!

Here’s an article on the subject by N.K. Jemisin.

Thing 4: Vampires. Or rather, vampire worlds. In order to write a compelling vampire story, all you need to do is understand why we write about vampires. We write about them because there’s something in the vampiric nature that reflects humanity. And when you abandon that, your vampires become shells. The same goes for werewolves and other fantastic races and monsters.

And stop using non-human races as stand-ins for human races. There have been reasons why this could have been constructive in the past, but we have different ways now to explore race, it’s not necessary to continue to code the conversation.

In closing, Star Wars isn’t science fiction.

What do you hate about science fiction? What do you hate about Fantasy? What did we get wrong?

 

 

 

 

 

JK Rowling Minicast.

Play

Hey, loyal listeners.

We wanted to get a minicast out regarding the new JK Rowling material that’s being released about the wizarding world in the Americas.

Here’s the trailer.

It’s disappointing to witness Rowling’s silence on the matter of how native cultures appear to be portrayed in her Magic in the Americas materials.