Monday, April 26, 2010

Progress Report: 4/26/2010

With regards to agent news... still no sign of land. Fortunately, the supplies are in good shape, so I don't think we'll be resorting to cannibalism any time soon.

Got some good work done on the Thunderstruck outline this week. I also got bashed in the head by another story. Sometimes, a story comes bubbling up in a dream, and it's sufficiently compelling that I have to pursue it. I was asked by a friend if this happens often. Hmm... how often does it need to happen to be considered "often"? Once or twice a year seems about right, at least for the amount of time I have right now for writing.

Sometimes, these stories don't actually hold up that well when they start to appear on paper, which only makes sense. Dreams have their own weird internal logic. Sometimes, there's no fixing a dream story's inherent "dream-ness."

The one thing I almost never seem to get from a story that comes to me in a dream is an ending. This can be a real challenge. The first novel I got seriously going with is called The Boy in the Glass, and it came from a dream. The first several chapters were all right there with perfect clarity, to the point that I was practically able to transcribe them verbatim from memory. Neat! They set up an excellent character and a fascinating mystery that changes her life... and then, I don't know what it means. The agony is that I'm sure that in the dream I did know what it all meant, and I lost it.

I want to get back to that novel again, damn it. I know there's a solution in there somewhere.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Games, Art, and Ebert


In terms of movie critics, Roger Ebert is my favorite... so I do wish he would stop embarrassing himself with his strange compulsion to extend his criticism to video games. Really, he hasn't got a leg to stand on. Since he does not and (by his own declaration) will not ever play video games, what credence can he possibly have? It's like a movie critic who never watches movies.

What compels Ebert to keep poking this hornet's nest? Is it a love for attention? He already gets plenty of that. Is it sheer elderly crotchety-ness? Conceivably, though it's a disappointing idea. One of the things I admire about Ebert as a movie critic is that he is almost always willing to take a movie on its own terms. He will critique an action movie on whether or not it is a good action movie, not sneer at it for daring not to be an art film.

If only he would extend the same courtesy to games.

In any case, I like Tycho's statement on the Penny Arcade blog, regardless of the personal barbs directed at Ebert as a person (barbed words are Tycho's stock and trade, after all). Ebert is, of course, arguing in bad faith. He is setting the goalposts wherever he damn well pleases, whimsically defining the terms of the discussion as it suits him, and happily and unrepentantly speaking from a place of ignorance. Here's a good example from Ebert's essay:

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
Translation: "I'm going to define a video game the way I want to define it, nyah nyah."

There are, as many have pointed out to him, countless games that are not about "winning" or "losing." They are about the experience. You don't play to win, anymore than you "win" by getting to the end of a book you're reading.

An honest discussion is one thing. Ebert is offering nothing of the sort, which is a pity. He's capable of better than that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Progress Report: 4/19/2010

I'm going to have some words with the Internet.

By and large, it's a wonderful thing, yet there are some things about the Internet that I hate. Heading that list this week is the difficulty that arises in avoiding spoilers. There I was, innocently checking out a webcomic, when lo-and-behold a big, fat, and unexpected spoiler popped onto my screen, more or less giving away the ending of Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden novel, Changes. No "spoiler warning" or anything... not that it would've helped, probably. I was ambushed by another such spoiler on DeviantArt, and yet another on a blog.

Honestly. What a pain. I'm listening to Changes right now and enjoying it immensely. Certainly it's possible to enjoy a story when you know the ending, but I think I would've preferred to get there on my own. This is not the first time that the Internet has hit me with a spoiler in the surprising and unwelcome manner of a sniper plugging a victim from a hundred yards away.

Also, my particular Internet continues to have little crashes here and there. Short, but irksome... I'm glad I don't play games online. If these could be timed in some way that they happen before you stumble on a spoiler, that would be a feature instead of a bug, but alas, it is not the case.

Yet another persistent issue with the Internet, and this is more my fault than the Net's, is that it is a goddamned massive distraction. This is why I am getting a non-Internet laptop, hopefully very cheap and used, for writing. I actually have an old laptop that used to serve that purpose and serve it well, but it's about at the end of its rope. This ancient creature has no USB ports, no Ethernet, and basically no way of transmitting data to other computers besides writing it on a floppy disc. Makes it difficult to get the writing off the computer. It also weighs about as much as a fully-grown Basset Hound.

In terms of Thunderstruck, I'm back at the outline stage, grinding away. You would think the comic would make a perfectly adequate outline, or at least that's what I thought. However, I've knocked over some dominoes in the rewrite, and now I'm pretty much stuck until I can figure out where they all fall down. Outlining isn't the most fun part of life, but it's necessary.

For me, anyway. Some writers talk about sitting down and letting the story flow without knowing where it's going at all. That works okay for a short story, but with a novel, every time I've tried it I find that I paint myself into a corner.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Progress Report: 4/12/2010

Another week, another submission to an agent. This one also wanted to see the whole manuscript--that makes two now. Still haven't heard back from the first agent who has the whole story.

>twiddle, twiddle.<

Thus far, I've been doing electronic submissions only, but the agent I just submitted to wanted the printed manuscript. Weird to see the story as a massive block of pages, printed in double-space, single-sided. 98,000 words looks pretty substantial from that vantage. The contest at Suduvu is over, and it would appear that Rand Al'Thor from the Wheel of Time series is the winner. I am not a Wheel of Time fan. I have listened to most of them on audio--I like to fill up my commute with audio books, and one characteristic of Robert Jordan's series is that the books are long, so they last a while.

(There was a relative scarcity of audio books for a long time, and I pretty much devoured anything I could get out of the library. This accounts for my familiarity with a number of books that I would never have slogged through under other circumstances. Now, I have an Audible account, and I am never wanting for audio books anymore.)

The fanboy wars in the discussion thread are fascinating to behold. It has made me wonder about the psychology of fandom.

Let's not use the Wheel of Time as a specific example. I think any one of you can think of something that is a) extremely popular, and b) of low quality. You read these books, and if you're knowledgeable about the craft of writing, you know that nobody would ever teach an aspiring author to write that way. There are classes, conferences, and seminars devoted towards teaching people to write better than that.

Yet there it is. Cardboard characters, stilted dialogue, ludicrous plot, bad pacing... you name it, it's right in there in some of the bestselling books of all time.

The inescapable conclusion is that books (or any other storytelling) of low quality can still touch people. Somehow, it resonates so deeply with fans that they not only enjoy the books, they absorb them into their identity. The stories start to define them in important ways. I think every author wants to reach readers at that level, so it's weird to see it happen with poor quality material.

This is something that goes beyond discernment. People don't become fanboys/fangirls because they like something they know is kind of stupid. I think we can all walk out of a theater after the latest action blockbuster and say, "Well, that was dumb, but fun." That's the most basic level of discernment. The next level is more difficult for people to grasp--that is, when something is of high quality, but you don't enjoy it personally. Many people seem to be unable to recognize that something they don't like can still be good.

To enter the zone of the fanboy, though, means discernment goes out the window. Listen to the fanboys, and you will hear them say that the object of their affection is not only good, but the best thing ever written.

One of the Robert Jordan fans, for instance, argued passionately that Jordan's treatment of men and women was not only good, but the most accurate, spot-on, insightful depiction of the relationship between the sexes ever written. Understand that these are books where adults routinely spank one another or box each others' ears in order to communicate. Yet to this fan, his writing is masterful.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it's fascinating to me. I think it's too easy to dismiss fanboys of poor quality storytelling as being people with no taste. That's not enough of an answer. Their experiences are real and valid, their love is sincere (though they may eventually outgrow it--younger fans especially have torrid affairs with stories and characters, only to burn out and move on to the next thing as they grow. Adult fanboys tend to settle in for more lasting commitments). I don't think you can set out, as a writer, to touch that kind of chord with a large group of people. It just has to happen.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Progress Report: 4/5/2010

Ugh. Ill today.

Working along, not big progress to report in any direction. Though it seems like something's bubbling up from my subconscious, because I have had several new book ideas this week. Well, two and a half. Nothing to be scorned.

Ideas are not precisely a dime a dozen, but they are a lot cheaper than finished product. So on to more writing...

(Sorry this is so short. I feel very tired from this fever.)