Blog Archives

I Don’t Want to Put My Foot In It

Yesterday, I wanted to wrote a blog post discussing my idea that genre popularity comes and goes in cycles. For example, sword and sorcery and space opera cycle in and out about every twenty or thirty years. This would be in contrast to an article in Fantasy Faction that argued that urban fantasy is more like Neanderthals. I really had issues with the article (and to be honest, I have some issues with Fantasy Faction in general). But, I don’t know nearly enough about Neanderthals to determine whether or not the whole premise is flawed. And I hate putting my foot in my mouth. 

Not only do I not know enough about Neanderthals, but I also need more facts to back me up on my own premise. How does one determine which genres are in and which are out? How do I weed out my own (and individual critical) bias? 

Are there hard numbers? What should I do about passionate fandoms? (Sword and sorcery has a very passionate fanbase, when can I say “this particular time is an upswing, a surge in popularity”?) Can genres die or do they recede, awaiting a new take, a new cultural climate?

I don’t know. And if I write about it, I really want to do the research. 

Which is why I’m largely reluctant to do “research” blog posts. Yes, I’ve done some individual work analysis that doesn’t require research and sourcing, but I’m always wary about those posts. And I’d love criticism of those pieces. Did I get my analysis of Cowboy Bebop right? Am I being too occidental, too American in my criticism of Naruto? Have I missed the point about Glee and Harry Potter? I hope not, but I’m always concerned about getting it wrong. Spectacularly wrong. 

And I have been wrong before. I took a class on modern American poetry and we were studying William Carlos Williams. The class was assigned to explicate a poem of Williams. I don’t remember the poem now, but I do remember getting the poem wrong. So very wrong. It was almost funny how badly I missed everything. 

I don’t want to make that mistake. Either in doing poor research or in reading badly.

Part of why I’m questioning myself, not that I don’t always do it, is because I’m annoyed with myself. 

For one thing, in my post about my concerns about Harry Potter before finally reading the damn books, I neglected to bring up race as an issue. Are the five African Briton, two Indian Briton, and one Chinese Briton enough? Are their roles big enough to pass muster? With who? 

I also read an inspiring interview with George R.R. Martin over at I09 this morning. Damn, so much food for thought. I think I may have to rethink some of my positions. And I also have tons to think about after a blog post on Orbit by Brent Weeks. Maybe I should give him another look?

Today so far has made me rethink a lot of my own preconceptions. I need to think about this. And figure things out on my own. Now, it’s back to research and writing. 

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Posts on Writing: Building

Maybe, just maybe, I should title this post: Playing Gardner, Playing Architect. Because, honestly, that’s what this post is going to be mostly about. 

Trying to figure out how to describe the two poles of writing is a struggle in itself. Outlining is easy enough to understand. But pantsing? Really? No. Just no. I don’t like that term. 

But what is a good term to use in it’s place? Gardens and structures are well and good, but they are metaphors. So what then?

How about free flowing? No, that is still a bit too metaphorical (flowing being watery, and free too political). What about intuitive? I think that could work. And it does imply an extreme. Let’s go with it.

The gardener and the architect. Intuition and outline. Yes, I think this could work. 

But these are just extremes. And hell, even in these extremes, it is not like there is total stylistic purity.

Fundamentally, a gardener plants seeds and waters, waiting for the plants to emerge. But looking at it from a larger scale, does a gardener not plan out his or her garden? Is there not, perhaps, some element of architecture in the garden? 

And the same goes for architects. Isn’t there some intuitiveness , some chaos in the initial stages of a project? 

What I’m trying to get at is that there is no absolute. There are extremes, yes, but nothing is absolute. Most writers work in the middle, between the two. And as their skills develop, they gravitate to what works best for them. 

And some writers are able to shift back and forth as needed. Want to work in film and television? You need to outline. It is an unavoidable part of the pitching process.

And what does one make of a “head outline?” While George R.R. Martin describes his writing in terms of gardening, it is fairly clear that he has a significant part of A Song of Ice and Fire pre-planned in his head. 

Does outlining equate solely to mapping out the project on paper (or on computer) before the main writing begins?

I will admit that the interplay of outlining and intuition has troubled me in my own work. On the one hand, I naturally gravitate towards outlining. But there is just something “magical” about “channeling” a work without knowing where it will end (baring the head outline). 

Perhaps it depends on the work itself and who is telling the story. What I mean is this: “Who is the narrator?” and “What perspective is this in?” I’ve found outlining in first person perspective to be a pain. Seriously, the best thing is to have a clear head outline and just go. Of course that particular story was first person, present tense. A very crazy experiment, if I do say so myself. 

I have also experienced the sensation of outlining “killing” the desire to see the work progress beyond that phase. And, in experimenting without outlining, I often find the work takes far longer to write. 

At the end of the day, I think the question of how a particular writer writes is best left up to the writer him or herself. And it is important, I believe, to discover what works best on one’s own. Advice can be sought, but method cannot be taught comfortably. 

Authenticity, History, and the Making of Fantasy

Sometimes, I think I should just ignore these stupid and repetitive critical arguments that erupt in fantasy every few months. It’s stupid because nothing is ever solved, no progress made. And repetitive because these arguments, in one form or another, reemerge every couple of months. And why I jump in? I’m bored.

Anyway, this recent fracas comes about thanks to renewed arguments over authenticity and history. Daniel Abraham authored a post last week that explored whether or not fantasy needs to be historically authentic. And yesterday, Theo over at Black Gate authored a rebuttal arguing for an increased level of authenticity, the “Primacy of History,” if you will.

My own take is skeptical of the need for historical authenticity. History is always contested. Every generation rewrites history for its own reasons. So, what is meant by authenticity? Is it inspiration that matches the writer’s, or a specific reader’s, definition of what “authentic history” is? Is it a work that has an authenticity, historic or not, of its own? What is it?

Abraham’s argument takes to task certain reader’s (and writer’s) defense of works that have questionable and objectionable issues for a modern audience. That an inspiration is misogynistic does not give the writer a pass to write misogyny. That people of color may not have been in certain areas does not excuse whitewashing.

The reason, I think, why we are having this repeated debate is because of the market. With the success of A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a demand for “realistic,” “historical,” etc. fantasy. Basically, there is a subset of readership who only read ASOIAF because of its similarities to historical fiction. And these readers exert pressure to produce and market more works like ASOIAF.

Now, I get that this form of fantasy is a reaction to Tolkien and his imitators who have (and still do) dominate the genre. “Historic authenticity” plays, I think, a rallying point and bulwark for the gritty school of fantasy.

But, I think that Theo may be right. That so often “historical authenticity” is a way for some fantasy writers to get away with not exercising their imaginations to their fullest extent does not surprise me. Why create one’s own world when you can easily appropriate a historical culture, change the names, mutate some aspects of culture, and go to town?

Like Paul Cornell and Abraham have stated, what is added to a work: the characters, their personalities, the culture, etc. is the choice of the author. Using historical “authenticity” is an excuse. And not a very good one.

Personally, I don’t care about “historical authenticity.” If a writer wants to base his or her world on the Wars of the Roses, that’s great. If they want to spice it up by weakening religion or having warrior women running around, that’s great. If that author wants to merge feudal and modern Japan, that’s great, too (although Naruto has already done that). I personally don’t see any problems with women in armor, knights riding motorcycles, expies of Babylon and Hattusa connected by a train. In fact, I think that would be cool.

All I’m saying is that as long as the work is internally consistent, authentic to itself, and is excellently written, I don’t have a problem.

Breaking In, Hope, and Anxiety

Getting published, in any form, is fraught in equal measure with hope and anxiety. Hope that you’ll make the sell, and anxiety that all you’ll get is rejection slips. As any writing website will tell you, it helps immeasurably if you can follow the preferred submission method. If a magazine wants a submission formatted a certain way, format it that way. Otherwise the editor will reject your story, no matter how good it is, outright. The key is researching what the agent, editor, or whoever decides wants.

A few days ago, I watched Cartoon Block’s video of a Marvel Comics panel at Wonder Con (I think). There, they answered questions about how an artist can get a job at Marvel. And, if you check out the DC submission page, much the same is true with them. Essentially, the various comic cons act as a form of job fair. The key is, again, to know what works best. Personally, I really liked Joe Quesada’s portfolio recommendations.

The convention or trade show as job fair is equally true with video game developers. The key thing is to make contacts in the industry and to really understand what their format is for hiring new writers. This is still an area that I’m unfamiliar with, but from everything I’ve read, it is highly recommended that one goes to trade shows and conventions to get noticed.

It also helps to have your name and your work out there. If you have previous publishing credits or say a Deviantart account, you may have more of a leg up in some instances.

That was breaking in, now lets talk about hope and anxiety. Working in comics, either traditional American style or Manga style, is fraught with problems. Like the Comicvine Podcast mentioned last week, it is rare that creator owned works will become wildly successful. That is not to say that every one should just go work for DC or Marvel. Just be aware of what the risks are and be prepared to deal with the issues that will arise. Much of this is also true of OELs. I will admit that I’m not as familiar with OELs as I should be, but it is clear that they are nowhere near as popular (or as respected) as their Japanese counterparts.

That said, a new writer does not need to have a spectacular, career defining idea or work right off the bat like JK Rowling. LB Gale on her site has an interesting look at George RR Martin’s career. It was twenty or more years after he started writing professionally before he started on A Game of Thrones, the first book of his A Song of Ice and Fire. Now, which works of his are going to be remembered? You got it, A Song of Ice and Fire.

At the end of it all, writing professionally is hard work. You never know when you will make a sell. But, in the end, it is important to keep trying. Persistence does pay off.