October 8, 2014
I’m back in Texas for the Books in the Basin Festival in Midland and Odessa, Friday and Saturday. My schedule’s on the website.
After this, I just have MileHi Con, and then I can take a bit of a break. Which is good, since I’ve decided I want to finish the novel I’m working on by Thanksgiving. It’s about 3/4 done now, so I think I’ll be able to make it.
Maybe I’ll see some of you in Texas! In the meantime, have a good rest of your week.
October 6, 2014
Back in the dark ages, the mid to late 80’s, there was something of a revolution in comics and the depiction of superheroes. Watchmen came out, along with The Dark Knight, and even Wild Cards, which all posited variations of the same idea: if real people in the real world really had superpowers and/or donned costumes to fight crime, they would be neurotic at best, psychopathic at worst, and definitely some level of flat-out crazy. These stories were dark, nihilistic and–everyone said, comparing them to the 50 years of gee-whiz adventure that had come before–more realistic.
In hindsight, politically and sociologically the 80’s were just awful, weren’t they?
Along with this new embracing of “gritty” realism came a rejection of anything that was too nice, too idealistic. It was seen as immature, and the expression of idealism was considered naive, a glossing over of harsh worldly realities. Yeah, I blame the 80’s. For twenty years, a lot of storytelling seemed to get darker and more cynical. Robin died. Superman died. Everybody died, and came back so they could die again. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire made unrelenting terribleness in epic fantasy mainstream. The term “grimdark” came into use, with much gleeful rubbing of hands.
A few years ago, I read Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates. Now, Erikson does grimdark with the best of them — this book features a mass exodus of refugees who are being harried by an enemy, people are dying by the thousands, and when they finally reach the city, the gates are barred, and the survivors are all crucified by the side of the road. The story ends with a group of characters searching for one man among the survivors. Two other characters, immortal travelers, chance upon them when they have just found a dying dog. Now, this dog and his pack have been running around the whole book providing a bit of comic relief through all the terribleness (no, really). And now he’s dying no!!!!!! One of the immortals has a healing potion, and a discussion ensues: Should we use it on the dog? Probably not. The dog’s probably too far gone, better not waste it. So the immortals walk away.
And then they turn around, go back, and give the healing potion to the dog, who survives and has many more adventures throughout the series.
I absolutely fell in love with Erikson’s Malazan series in that moment. They saved the dog. For no other reason than it was a good thing to do. The Malazan series has some of the most brutal fantasy writing I’ve ever read, but it’s also filled with Save the Dog moments. Characters who dearly love each other, without cynicism. I need that. Since the 80’s, so much SF&F and comics and superhero stories seemed to be about putting good people in awful situations and seeing how horrible they can be to each other, and how unrelentingly bad the world can be. (And I was really into that for a time — I mean, I read all of Wild Cards, which got just as brutal as the rest.) Those moments of idealism stand out like spotlights in the night.
I think it’s starting to change. Saving things, unsarcastic idealistic characters — good people doing good — are coming back. As Daniel Abraham has explained, when “dark and gritty” becomes the norm, it’s no longer shocking, it’s no longer radical. So what then becomes shocking and radical? Idealism. Optimism.
My favorite comic to date is Warren Ellis’s Planetary, which is explicitly about saving things. Captain America was not supposed to work. Some people insisted that modern audiences would never buy the lawful good, earnest, idealism of that classic character. And yet, it’s one of the best, most popular superhero movies of the last 20 years. The whole Avengers sequence is filled with uncynical heroism — and I think people have been starved for that. Guardians of the Galaxy — the climactic moment involves all the main characters saving the world by coming together and holding hands. And no one’s complaining.
I really like stories about people coming together for the greater good, disparate folk who have a common cause and rise to meet great challenges. Who save things. Turns out, I’ve always liked that kind of story: Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Captain Power. Some would like to see this kind of story as childish — the people making the DC movies, for example. Grimdark isn’t going to go away.
But what I think it would be helpful to recognize is that grim and gritty isn’t any more realistic than idealism. It’s a choice. Sure, Wild Cards can get really dark — but I’ve chosen to write Wild Cards stories about friendship. My upcoming story in Lowball is an outright comedy. Terrible things happen in the world. Really great things happen, too. When someone tries to tell me that grim is more realistic because people are generally awful, I point them to stories like this: during the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, firefighters stopped to save one homeowner’s chickens. They saved the chickens, for no other reason than it was a good thing to do.
We makers of fiction, we’re not doing realism. We’re making choices. And I know what kind of world I’d rather be spending my spare time in.
October 3, 2014
My brain’s a bit scattered today, so this is going to be a post of random things. Like, how I’ve spent the last couple of days dipping my toe into MRA and PUA screeds, in the interest of “know thine enemy,” and I’m really really glad I grew up expecting to make my own living and support myself in this world, meaning I would never need to depend on finding a guy to do it for me, and how that may be the real triumph of feminism right there.
Anyway. I’ve had Ookla the Mok’s song “Doctor Octopus” stuck in my head since FenCon (“Boom-shalaktopus!”). I got to meet and hang out with the band at the convention. They’re really great and you should check them out.
I have a million errands I’m going to try to get done today, like: new passport photo, flu shot, and putting together a Wonder Woman costume for my niece. Because that’s the kind of aunt I am.
Have a great weekend everyone!
October 1, 2014
So, I taught a workshop last weekend! And it went pretty well, I think. I talked about a lot of stuff, and I promised my students I would post one of the checklists I mentioned, but didn’t have a print out for. (See, every workshop I learn a lot about what works, and I incorporate that into the next one. I’m really getting to like slide shows and handouts.)
This is a character checklist, but a much more useful one that the one that goes “What is your character’s favorite food?” Because I worry that the “vital statistics” type checklists I’ve seen in some “how to write” books trick us into including information in our stories that isn’t actually necessary, while forgetting more pivotal details like Why is your character doing this stuff in the first place. So yeah, I’ve never really done “What is your character’s favorite color?” type characterization surveys, and instead think a lot about “How did my character get into this situation and what personality trait is going to get her out?”
So, here’s a character and plot checklist I’ve adapted from the course materials from the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, by Jeanne Cavelos. (Yes, sixteen years later I still have all my course materials from Odyssey and I still use them.) Jeanne has put a ton of writing information and resources on the Odyssey website — and Odyssey even sponsors online workshops, if you’re interested in more in-depth work. So, without further ado, a character checklist:
Character Checklist (from Jeanne Cavelos & Odyssey):
- Does your character grow out of the setting in which he was raised? What is his relationship with the setting? Does he have any effect on it?
- Is the reader “shown” the character through powerful, concrete sensory details that allow him to visualize the person and his actions?
- Are small and large actions, appearance, and dialogue the main sources of revelation of character?
- Is what you tell us about the character consistent with what you show about the character?
- Are all the details included significant, or is there extraneous detail or information?
- Are there any generic elements in your character? If this character is an archetype, have you made him individual and specific?
- Does the character have some “consistent inconsistencies?”
- Have you researched necessary areas to be able to write about such a character?
- Does the character’s personality have an effect on the plot?
- Does the character have a clear central desire? Why does he want this? Is this desire integrated into the plot? Do we know what set this desire off, and how it is finally resolved? Does the character have something important at stake in the conflict?
- Does the character have clear opinions about what’s going on around him?
- Does the character enhance or embody symbols or themes in the story?
- Does the character change?
September 29, 2014
September 26, 2014
September 24, 2014
So last night was the season premiere of Agents of SHIELD: Dirty pool, you guys. Dirty effing pool. *sobs uncontrollably*
I will be at FenCon in Dallas this weekend as the Special Workshop Guest, crushing participants’ hopes and dreams (not really). My schedule is posted. Alas — you had to sign up for the workshop ahead of time, so you won’t be able to just drop in. But I’ll be around the rest of the convention.
I took some time out to do a little bit of sewing last night. I feel much better now.