It’s Only Words – A Blast From The Past Post from December 2010

It’s Only Words – A Blast From The Past Post from December 2010

It is one of the er… interesting aspects of a writing career that moments of heartbreak and the most fallow, dark years are inextricably linked to the moments when something clicks.

Perhaps it’s true of life, anyway. Human beings are creatures of habit. If everything is going along fine – or even tolerably – nothing changes. This in terms of society explains why wars and revolutions tend to change the world in scientific and innovation terms as well as in political and social. Because once everything is made “wrong” or “uncomfortable” and a mass of humans are broken out of their routine, then you can reestablish your quotidian life using new information/science.

In 1997/8 I’d come to the conclusion I’d never sell, not at the professional level. This required I rearrange my entire life, which had been geared towards my learning the craft and trying to get published for over a decade and strongly geared that way for at least six years.

I realized early on that I couldn’t actually give up writing. It’s an ingrained habit that long predates any dreams of publishing for pay. I make up stories and I write them down to get them out of my head. I finished my first “novel” (Okay, so it was forty pages) at ten AND wrote it during finals week in fourth grade (which actually determined what kind of secondary school I would attend, so it wasn’t as unimportant as it sounds.)

So, in 98, first I tried to write just for myself, but that didn’t work. When you’re writing for yourself, there’s no reason to make sure you are understood or understandable. There’s no reason to affix the details to paper. What you write ends up sounding like memories of dreams – things that come out of the subconscious and submerge again. After a while it feels pointless.

I needed to write FOR someone, but I had no audience. These days I might have written for online. How that would have turned out is anyone’s guess, and I truly have no clue. Perhaps I’d have attracted no readers, studied, and ended up about where I am. Or perhaps I’d have attracted a couple hundred, just enough to keep writing at the level I was.

As it turned out, though, self-publication at the time was – at best – silly. So I thought I’d keep writing just as a hobby and to get readers, I’d write for fandom. Finding a fandom was something else again. My dad used to introduce me to people with “this is my daughter, she doesn’t like television” – making sure people knew my handicap up front.

I’m not going to be high and mighty here and say I picked the one fandom that was out of copyright on purpose. If Anne McCaffrey hadn’t stomped so hard on all fanfic related to her work, I’d probably have fallen into dragon riders world fanfic. Hard. As it was all the traces of those that I could find were long since shut down.

Other than that, my tastes verge on the fuddy-duddy. I wasn’t going to attempt Heinlein fanfic, (I’m not that crazy) or the rest of the genre. Dumas fanfic is the ONLY fanfic that runs to foursomes. Er… same gender foursomes. And I didn’t want to write erotica, anyway. I wanted to write stories.

So I fell into Austen fanfic at Derbyshire Writers Guild and The Republic of Pemberley. I got myself kicked out of the Republic of Pemberley in short order. No, I didn’t want to write erotica, but I reserve the right to make stupid jokes. Apparently, that wasn’t allowed at RoP.

This left me with DWG. And because I had learned to write for publication – even if I hadn’t been published – I studied the market first. What I found was so surprising that it took almost a year for it to penetrate.

You see, partly because I am foreign born and an ESL speaker, I paid a lot of attention to words, always. I think I’ve shared that my idea of how my work was received at publishers when I first started writing – I thought people sat around laughing at my misuse of idiom and wondering where I was from.

Because of this, I obsessed on words for many, many years. In fact, when I went to the Oregon writers workshop, Dean Smith STILL had to order me to not think about the words. (For which I can never thank him enough.)

But DWG taught me how truly unimportant words are. If you start writing a story that puts Darcy and Elizabeth in a perilous situation, you can have malapropisms in every line and grammar mistakes in more than half the text, and you’ll still have a lot of comments and a large following.

I’m not saying that people don’t care about words and mistakes, and I’m not going to say that most fanfic authors are illiterate – both would be false. At DWG though there are writers from all over the world and from all avocations. People write in their spare time and don’t spend hours polishing for the best word.

Most of them are still easily on a par with published work. One or two are startlingly bad with words. And there is one who, for a while, had a “fandom” of this author’s own, devoted to analyzing and making fun of the tortured sentences.

And yet, even this language-slaying author had a real fandom, that followed the posted serials with bated breath and gave the author much love in comments.

Why? Well, because the plot of these series were almost unbearably tortured. There were kidnappings and murders and mad wives in towers, and men pining away for love, and women who were despoiled and… Yeah, I know, you’re laughing “all the elements of cheap melodrama.”

I will remind you that this melodrama sold more than any of our more plausible and restrained novels sell. I’ll also say that while the lack of internal logic annoys me – personally – a lot of people LIKE these extreme situations. Why? Because the extreme situations bring forth extreme emotions.

And in the end, people read to follow the emotions, to fee what characters they care about are feeling.

What I found at DWG is that the words mattered far less than characters people could love and situations that enthralled them or made them empathize.

What do you think? Should an author shamelessly play with the audience’s feelings? Do you read for the feeling of it? What makes you return again and again to an author?

105 responses to “It’s Only Words – A Blast From The Past Post from December 2010

  1. I’m tired and want to put off reading this until later, so just send me the flippin’ comments, okay?

    I am sooooooo tempted to leave the notification box unchecked just so I can post a shame-faced reply about remembering to tick the box.

  2. Anne McCaffrey may have been doing her fans a great favor by denying them her world in which to play. For any with the potential to make it as storytellers, she forced them out of the comfort zone of her creation and into situations where they would have to develop as writers without her crutches.

    Alternatively, having crutches is sometimes what is needed for a person to develop the strength needed to walk unassisted.

    We never really know where that road not taken might have led.

    • On the other hand, crutches can teach bad habits.

    • Ironically, she was totally supportive of Naomi (“actually the serial numbers are still there”) Novik. I like her stuff okay, and it’s fun, but boooooy is Book 1 obviously about Pern dragons.

    • Randy Wilde

      Never been into fanfic, really, except as a crutch to come up with gaming stories.

      I once sent a D&D group I was running to Pern. They went through a portal, and the first thing they saw was a green dragon sunning itself on the beach (which itself should have been a clue that something was out of the ordinary).

      Since green dragons are Evil (the Monster Manual said so) and dragons have a lot of treasure (it said that too), they attacked… and almost immediately a bunch of dragons of various colors appeared in the air above them to defend their weyrmate, and the players realized where they were.

      They eventually forgave me.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Were there Dragonriders with the defending dragons? [Smile]

        • Randy Wilde

          Not with the first batch. There were some examples in the books of dragons going off without their riders to assist other dragons, so I felt that was well within canon. A few minutes later, more dragons showed up with riders. Plus, of course, the green’s rider was there all the time, the PCs just didn’t see him since he was on the other side of the dragon from them.

          I did, at least, teach them that going “oooh, sleeping dragon in a place we’ve never been before, let’s kill it without even trying to get more information or even scout the area!” might NOT be the best course of action.

    • She didn’t just go after fanfics though, she went after RPs and fansites too, which was why a lot of her fans got angry,. I mean part of the reason she went after them was because some of those fansites had transcripts from interviews she wished people would forget, but still, it was a little harsh of her to shut down some of the largest fansites and drive some huge RP rings underground.

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    “play with the audience’s feelings”?

    Not sure what is meant by that but a writer has to “make” us care about the characters and their situation.

    • I can’t think of the number* of Literary SF/F books that I recognized as beautifully written but made me want more of their characters killed more quickly.

      Lit SF/F is a triumph of style over substance, preference of the witty quip over wisdom.

      *I am sure it is a very small number because as soon as I realize I am holding such a book it generally goes back on the store shelf.

      • Birthday girl

        Yes, at least one of this year’s nominees is that for me. I read the whole thing and just wished the MC(s) had been killed off in the beginning so it was only a short story with no point. That makes no sense, but there it is.

    • yep. That’s what it means.

    • If I don’t care about the main character I can’t get past the 3rd page.

  4. Words are the Lego blocks of story-telling; you can use them to build a little square house or the Taj Mahal, but to focus on those blocks is to miss the main point.

    • RealityObserver

      I used to make pretty patterns with my Lego blocks – not a house, or a car, or anything recognizable, just… pretty. That, too, can be entertaining in a *private* way.

      Your point is well taken, though. When writing, I use a trick I learned when doing code – get the idea down; it may not be entirely correct, but get it down while it’s in your head. Do a *quick* look over to find anywhere that even you don’t understand it, even though you just wrote it (that takes looking at the words without the brain engaged). Set it aside for a while, then come back and clean it up to make it clear for someone else and fix any remaining errors.

      (The problem for me is that when coding, the “chunks” are a lot smaller than a piece of fiction – I am slowly learning to write a lot more before I go back.)

  5. amiegibbons15

    I think RES nailed it on the head. They’re building blocks that must be put together correctly for the building, but the art is in the final form. You can twist a beautiful sentence, but if your characters are bland and your plot is just meandering, who’s going to care to finish the book? (outside of lit classes where they seem to think the well-shaped sentence outweighs the 2D characters and lack of plot.)

    • I think RES nailed it on the head.
      A phrase that cannot be written too often. 😉

      … lit classes where they seem to think the well-shaped sentence outweighs the 2D characters and lack of plot.
      Perhaps we should denounce this as representing masculinism, reflecting the male tendency to become besotted by a well-shaped leg, saucy nose or ponderous bust, allowing such superficial factors to outweigh the substance of a person.

      • So a well-shaped sentence is promoting the patriachy? VIVE LE PATRIARCHY!

      • amiegibbons15

        Welllllll, we could. But us women aren’t much better as a gender when it comes to superficial, in looks or in writing 🙂 Then again, we could blame it on the patriarchal hegemony that tells us that’s what we should care about and therefore we do. (The diversity requirement in undergrad rears up and I remember I have an excuse for everything in my life because I am female 😉

        • I still haven’t waded through it to find the exact wording, but supposedly, the Missouri State Constitution lists the reasons that one may be excused from jury duty with the last one being, “…or if you are a woman.”

          • amiegibbons15

            Duren v. Missouri, 99 S. Ct. 664 (1979).

            • Thanks! You must have entirely too much free time on your hands.

              • amiegibbons15

                No, I’m at work. That took me literally under two minutes to google and skim 🙂

            • William O. B'Livion

              One wishes that the SCOTUS could say “Yeah, you’re probably right, but that doesn’t materially change the fact that you’re a guilty scumbag reaching for any excuse to get out of suffering the consequences of your actions, so Hey, Missouri, fix that shiznit. As for you Mr. Criminal, off to the pokey”.

          • I was excused once for being a stay at home dad. (MO)

  6. This yet again reinforces the very clear distinction I’m starting to see between structure edit and copy/line edit. Both are necessary, but structure is essential while copy/line is simply a final polish.
    As I remarked the other day: Tell yourself, “thoughts on paper, thoughts on paper, I’ll make it pretty later.”

    • Remember that if you get all the copy editing issues first, most of them will vanish while you do your structure editing, to be replaced by new ones.

      This is why I advise critiquers to start with the big stuff and work their way down to the nitpicks.

      • Oh, yes. That’s the bane of a lot of large critique groups, especially ones full of beginners who need to do critiques in order to earn crits of their own stuff. They don’t feel confident enough to crit structure, but see copy editing as “objective” and focus on things like misplaced commas and subject-verb agreement while ignoring that the story has plot holes big enough to fly the ISS through or the protagonist is a colossal jerk to the point you couldn’t care less if a convenient earthquake swallowed him up.

        The worst is the well-meaning critiquer who thinks they know all the rules of grammar and get it wrong, like flagging all forms of “to be” as “passive,” including progressive forms. Or follow rules off a cliff to the point of absurdity, or don’t know the difference between the formal language appropriate to a report and the more colloquial language appropriate to dialog in a work of fiction.

        I’m starting to think that a lot of my own struggles to squeeze out words are the result of too much emphasis on that fine grain copy-editing, both in the crit groups I used to belong to and from various essayists giving advice like it was the Word of God. So I end up completely paralyzed and unable to get words on paper (other than outlines), because they aren’t Perfect, so therefore they’re Wrong and I’m a terrible writer.

        That and the years and decades of struggling to get published in an enormously competitive environment where there was no good enough, where I got tons and tons of “very good but not what I’m looking for” rejections, to the point that I’d freeze in the middle of a story and be unable to finish it because something inside me figures it’d just bounce around gathering rejections and was a waste of time, so I might as well try this other cool story idea that had come to me.

        • ‘like flagging all forms of “to be” as “passive,” including progressive forms'”

          I think this may be partially laid at the feet of Strunk and White. “There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground” is not what I’d call the world’s punchiest sentence, but I don’t think listing it as a failure to use the active voice was a helpful decision.

          • Those damned, lying leaves! They’ll lie to you on the ground, they’ll lie to you on trees, they’ll lie to you any chance they get — I hate them all and can’t wait to see them composted.

          • It is. Failure to use active voice, that is.

            Though it would have been wiser to phrase it otherwise, as people who need to be told that probably do not have a strong grip on the knowledge the passive voice and active voice, while mutually exclusive, are not exhaustive: you can also have linking verbs.

            • One of the (many) times I earned the enmity of a teacher was when an English teacher was exhorting us to never use the passive voice. I pointed out that *all* of our textbooks and reading assignments were written that way.

            • Okay, while I knew linking verbs were a category of their own, I had somehow started thinking of them as active voice (although not very active verbs). Oops.

  7. Interesting observations of the DWG community. My own opinion in the fanfic world is exactly the opposite: the first thing I look for is language, and if the language has problems, I don’t read it no matter how interesting the premise sounds. My theory is that there’s a lot of stuff out there, 90% of it is garbage, and I need a filter. My first filter is that if the author didn’t feel that it was worth her time to read the story carefully, edit it, and correct the language, then it clearly isn’t worth my time to read it.

    • It’s actually one of my filters for technical manuscripts in my day job. If they don’t deem it important enough to try and write it up in proper English, chances are it isn’t worth my while to read it.

    • I’ll admit that I tend to be the opposite with fanfics. If something had perfect wording and grammar but nothing happens and the characters are all morons who sit around twiddling their thumbs and moping about utter nonsense then I won’t read it. On the other hand if the author has a shaky grasp of language, but manages to make me interested in what the characters are doing and actually moves the plot along then I’ll read it and enjoy it.

      With my own stuff I do my best to proofread it, but for reasons I cannot find a beta reader I can trust, so I know there are loads of mistakes in my fanfics.

      I feel so dirty admitting I write fanfics here. Please don’t judge me, please.

      • reddragonhawk

        I don’t write fanfic, but I like to read well-written fic that’s based on something I like, for example a TV show, that maybe has plot holes that go unanswered, or the show starts off really great and then descends into stupidity. Sometimes a nice fanfic brightens the day. 🙂

        • I rip off the idea and file off the serial numbers, then.

          Of course, sometimes when I do that, I file them off so thoroughly that even I can’t recognize the original source any more. (Sometimes can’t even remember it.)

          • RealityObserver

            I agree with many people that even CSI (the TV version) can’t find the original serial number. Not that they had serial numbers on the stories they told around the fire in front of the cave…

            • Well, having read many large collections of fairy tales — the Grimm Brothers, Asbjørnsen and Moe, Joseph Jacobs, Italo Calvino — I can see the serial numbers often. Mind you, it can be a bit hard to tell who was the original owner. . . .

      • Oh, no question interesting stuff has to happen in order for me to keep reading, but the problem with using that as a filter is that you usually have to read a fair way into the fic to discover whether that it’s interesting or not. Whereas with the language it’s usually obvious in the first couple of paragraphs whether the author cared enough to try or not.

        And if it makes you feel better about your confession, I’ve written several fanfics but am too cowardly to try posting them to fanfiction.net or AO3 or anything like that. So you’re probably better than I am. : – )

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, I’ve heard that the writer only has a few pages (for a short work) or a few chapters (for a longer work) to convince the reader to continue.

          It doesn’t matter if it is the “language” or the “action” that convinces the reader to continue.

          • Some of that hinges on your assumptions going in. If it’s a Tom Clancy, you know the first two thirds are gonna be a slog, but the action in the last third is worth it.

            • First you have to hook your readers into your reputation, only then can you relax — and even then it’s dangerous.

        • You should post them, if it’s an idea that interested you enough to write it down there are probably other people out there wishing that it had been written. That’s what got me started posting things, I could never find the stuff I wanted to read so I wrote it. As for being a coward, part of the reason my stuff has lingering grammar issues is because I’m too afraid to ask anyone to proof read it for me. Fanfiction does not require much in the way of bravery and remember, there’s some really terrible fics out there that people love. Anything you write is bound to be better than a good 80% of them.

    • I tend to be sort of in the middle. Grammar and idioms can knock me out of a fanfic if they’re egregious enough, but I have enough tolerance to accept some level of “bad” if the story is good enough.

      I’ve actually been considering getting an account on fanfiction.net, just so I can post my “words often confused in fanfiction” document. 🙂

  8. Speaking of tortured plots: one alpha reader objected to certain plot devices in my draft novel — and was astonished when I told her the real-life examples they were based on!
    Sometimes, humans are capable of things too absurd for fiction.

    • I just had a thought.

      Maybe it’s that when we write something from life we don’t build a foundation for it the way we’d do if we were making up something odd. No “two previous hints that this is possible in this story world” or no groundwork laid that a particular character is going to jump a particular way.

      • Yep. Same problem if you are writing in a world that you’ve had in your head a long time.

        • This is why it is important to routinely flush your head.

          • I’ve often been told to SOAK my head, but methinks that flushing it may be a bit much in most cases.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Yep, “flushing your head” might cause you to lose your brain. [Grin]

            • You too? There’s also been a few times I wanted to take my brain out and wash it down with grain alcohol and a wire brush…sometimes brain bleach just isn’t strong enough.

    • “Fiction has to be believable. The truth only has to be true.”

  9. floridaeditor

    I return to my favorite authors mostly because I think they’re right about the themes they explore. Well thought out characters with believable and consistent behavior; a good plot that isn’t completely predictable and has no gaping holes or loose ends; and at least a little humor all contribute to me wanting to read more of an author.

    • It’s kind of like food– it’s got to provide what your body needs, first off; then it has to taste alright; finally, it has to look acceptable.

      Sometimes you need a candy bar, sometimes you need a steak, but it always has to not be poison to you. (The themes have to be right, and anything you’re “allergic” to has to be in small enough amounts to pass through.)

      It has to taste alright— that is, the story has to function– plot, characters and all.

      It has to be served at least not totally wrong. Doesn’t matter how great the soup is when it’s served in an upside down plate, you’re not going to get anything out of it.

      • Randy Wilde

        It’s kind of like food– it’s got to provide what your body needs, first off; then it has to taste alright; finally, it has to look acceptable.

        Is it bad that my first thought at reading this was “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love has Electrolytes!”?

    • reddragonhawk

      I get nutty when I can predict more or less the exact outcome. “Why am I giving you money if I already know what’s going to happen after a few pages?”

  10. Should an author shamelessly play with the audience’s feelings?

    NO!!!!!!

    They should not be afraid to interact with the audience’s feelings, appeal to the feelings, to recognize and even seduce the audiences’ feelings– but not play with them. That makes the spell break.

    • reddragonhawk

      Word.

    • Yeah, I want to be emotionally moved not emotionally toyed with.

      • That line can be mighty thin…

        • True. And vary from person to person.

        • Just wondering how one would go about ‘breaking the fourth wall’ in a novel (it’s obviously been done in stage plays). I guess it would have to be a interactive novel then…

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Well, Simon Hawke wrote a trilogy where the “writer” got involved in the story. First, we had the writer “get hot and bothered” by describing a female character. Then after the writer sends an ordinary person from our world to a world ruled by an Evil Sorcerer, every time we see the Evil Sorcerer the Evil Sorcerer hears the writer narrating the story. Oh, the end of the trilogy has the Evil Sorcerer entering the writer’s world and takes it over. Apparently the Evil Sorcerer also purchases the book publisher that publishes the writer’s books. [Evil Grin]

            • Am I the om;y one here to have read Typewriter In the Sky?

              I have not (yet) read the Jasper Fforde novels, but wonder would they cross that line?

              For that matter, does Number of the Beast break the wall?

              • The one written by L. Ron Hubbard, usually bundled with “Fear”? I’ve not only read it, I’ve seen at least two TV treatments of it, and A. Bertram Chandler even riffed off it. Heck, so have a bunch of people.

                Jasper Fforde… he’s one of those delightfully demented writers you’ll either love or hate, with the possible exception of “Shades of Grey,” which is… limp.

                The Thursday Next novels might be hard to follow if you don’t read them in order. On the other hand, they have alternate universes, time travel, vampires, the People’s Republic of Wales, the Toast Marketing Board, cheese smugglers, the Crimean War (now in its 150th year!), the Literary Police, airships, DIY gene splicing kits, Neanderthals, and various Smitings from heaven. “Shaken, not stirred.”

          • In The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams discusses with the reader whether the book should have a happy ending or not. (Apparently, Adams’ original intention was not, but his editor and early readers prevailed.)

        • Does it depend on how involved the author is with the characters’ feelings?

  11. First the basic unit of fiction is the story. Those who think the basic unit is the sentence or word tragically misunderstand fiction. Sometimes you’ll see these over-educated types have contests for the best opening sentence. See http://americanbookreview.org/100bestlines.asp. Basic misunderstanding. The only great first sentence is that from 100 Years of Solitude, and that’s because it foreshadows so much of the story and central character in a wonderful economy of words. You can have a great first page (see Home is the Hangman) http://mreadz.com/new/index.php?id=184144, great opening scene (see A Malady of Magicks) http://www.amazon.com/Malady-Magicks-Craig-Shaw-Gardner/dp/0441516629#reader_B00EGSXZO0, but a great first sentence is as rare as a unicorn in Peter Beagle country.

    • > best opening sentence

      And when they miss, they miss hard…

      “The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

      I tried visualizing a sky as a random hash of moving black and white dots, then wrote it off as literary hyperbole.

      It was more than fifteen years later when I first saw a television that simply went dark gray between channels. I thought of “Neuromancer” as soon as I saw it.

      And nowadays, modern TVs don’t have any empty channels; they only switch between active channels. So there’s a new generation that has no idea what Gibson was trying to say…

      • ….I haven’t actually read Neuromancer, but I’ve seen the opening sentence before and was always genuinely under the impression that for some reason the sky was supposed to be staticky. Whoops?

      • Before they scan, you can go to a dead channel.

        ….

        They’re blue. A sort of cross between dusk-sky and clear-blue-sky, if I was trying to picture it.

        Totally different.

      • It is probably evidence of my age to have wondered whether this …


        … would be the color of television, tuned to an undead channel.

        Many a Saturday morning of my childhood was spent in contemplation of that mandala, awaiting its transformation into images of Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Heckle and Jeckle, Ruff & Reddy, Beanie & Cecil, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Sylvester and other friends. Shucks, I was even happy to spend time with Sky King & Penny, Sgt. Preston & his faithful dog Yukon King, or Roy & Dale.

        • Ah, but once one gets older they could stay up and watch the TV until they played the national anthem over a clip of a flag waving against a blue sky and the test pattern came on … as I and The Spouse learned shortly after we discovered the channel that ran Dobie Gillis and The Burns and Allen Show after the late night movie.

    • Harder to get people to read the hundred best first pages…

      Worse still to try to cite the hundred best plot summaries.

      And I’m fond of some of those first sentences. Even the Neuromancer one. Though I’ve never understood the love for “Call me Ishmael.” Great book, but not a great sentence. Now, “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” That’s a sentence.

      • Never understood the love for “Call me Ishmael”?

        Read your Bible.* Note: the first sentence is not, “My name is Ishmael.”

        *Alternatively, read your Wiki. Either way, there is a wealth of information and context implicit in those three words, all of which would have been recognized instantly by readers of that era.

        N.B. – this is one half of my argument that it is impossible to study American Literature in contemporary colleges, for all American Literature stems from two roots:

        1. Moby Dick, the first great American novel, which requires a level of Biblical literacy not available in any English department

        2. Huck Finn, (I know, that’s not the actual title; suck it up) which revolves around a variety of understandings of the significance and interpretation of a word which cannot be used in college classrooms, except in specific circumstances having nothing to do with novels.

        Moby & Huck are the foundation of the American novel, and any attempt to study the “genre” without addressing them is as nonsensical as studying the English novel without mentioning Defoe, Fielding, Austen or Dickens. Or, more generically, studying the SF novel while ignoring RAH and John Campbell.

        Sheesh — next they’ll be a studyin’ the Western without watching a single film by John Ford.

  12. Malaprops are FUN. I give props for malaprops!
    I like characters, too. That’s why I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan stories. Hangman lost me. I did rather like the wizard.

    • Bujold is who hooked me onto Baen in the first place. At the time I shared her mildly liberal views — but she’s never been preachy about them. The very first thing I read by her was from her UK publisher at the time: bored to tears on a Channel ferry, I bought “Shards of Honor”, the debut novel by a then completely unknown author, from the newsagent on board. I wasn’t blown away like the first times I read “1984” or “Ender’s Game”, but I do remember thinking “we’re going to be hearing a lot more of this one”. Never could get into her fantasy but am extremely fond of the Vorkosigan series. Her level of characterization has rarely been equalled in speculative fiction, never surpassed.
      “Mirror Dance” is one of my favorite SciFi novels ever, right up there with EG and ST.

  13. No Sarah. We _like_ being bored when reading. Phpppttt!

  14. I recently read “Molon Labe” by Boston T. Party, which describes a “Free State Project” to take over Wyoming. I thought the style was atrocious, the conspiracy theories caused me to roll my eyes, and the opposite parallels a little jarring (the book starts in 2002, and includes a strengthening of the Assault Weapons Ban at about the time when it expired, among other things–to be fair, though, the book was copyrighted 2004). Nonetheless, the characters and the plot was interesting enough that I read it all the way through in about a week, including a couple of late nights that hurt me in the morning…

  15. What I found at DWG is that the words mattered far less than characters people could love and situations that enthralled them or made them empathize.

    Years ago, when The Daughter was very small and our household was tied up with that, school and work I took to watching a soap opera. I watched basically though one character arch — in which a character had been revealed to be evil manipulative bitch. She wanted to get one boy to marry her, and almost tricked him into thinking that he was the father of her baby. She was exposed and humbled. Then she was redeemed through self-sacrifice, in pain and suffering, by seeming abandonment and baptized through fire and water — neither figuratively. Ultimately she was won the love a handsome mysterious stranger, an older man who had suffered much for love and who also happened to be very very rich…

    At which point the character was written out because the actress, in real life, had landed a lead in a Broadway musical that turned out to be successful and no longer could do both.

    Yup melodrama. Over the top and ridiculous beyond belief and I knew it. But it was fun escape, which was exactly what was needed at the time.

  16.         Now, if you really want to see how words and story differ, go read some of Amanda McKittrick Ros’s work. I forget the exact terms of the Inkling’s Challenge (it involved reading a certain amount of Ms. Ros’s work aloud, without laughing), but it was many years before anyone won.

    And it’s all public domain, now. Try Project Gutenberg.