Building An Online Community

The internet can be a cesspool that promotes the worst of humanity. But? It can also bring people together. Depending on where you hang out and who you hang out with online determines if you’ve found a supportive group of friends who share your hobbies/etc or a group that will bring you down.

At WorldCon 2019’s “Building the SFF Community Online” panel, Christopher Davis, Heather Rose Jones, Elio García Jr., fromahkyra, and Kat Tanaka (oh-cop-nick)Okopnik shared tips they use to help the online communities they moderate thrive.

For most of us, when we reach out online, we’re looking to connect. Unfortunately, not everyone online is full of good intent. Some people are intentionally trying to disrupt things — for the kicks.

7 Ways to Suppress Trolls

  1. The common phrase “don’t feed the trolls”, which advises people to just ignore antagonistic comments, actually turns into a way of ceding space to the trolls and letting them take over.
    • Instead – you should make clear rules and explicit punishments for breaking them, escalating as necessary:
      • delete threads
      • temporary bans
      • permanent bans
  2. One way to discourage trolls is to be in a space that requires a consistent name for the log in — and can attach a reputation to that. Reddit does this very well – (depending on the subreddit). The more reputation and following a username has, the less likely they’ll act to destroy the community they’ve helped build.
  3. Delete comments/threads whose topics or language are banned. Don’t memorialize bad behavior.
    • If it’s a discussion that should happen – open up a new channel for the topic, but keep a close watch on it for people crossing that line.
    • Remember that comments are coming in real-time, and it can be challenging to tell who escalated things after-the-fact. Especially if the discussion is split between multiple threads.
  4. Remember that a push to enforce ‘civility’ can be used to hold the status quo and inhibit growth. Sometimes, people need to be called out.
  5. People will find ways to break the spirit of the rules, even if they don’t break the letter of it. That’s why human moderators need to be there, to draw a line — right or wrong.
  6. Warning: if you speak up to strongly defend a person or group you are not a member of, you can cause a strong push back against the very people you were trying to defend. Back them up, show support, but going on the attack can backfire. So, be careful.
  7. As a moderator, be careful who you stop an attack thread with. If you shut down the attacker, without letting the defender reply, you’ve effectively given the attacker the last word.

4 Ways To Encourage a Supportive Community

  1. Being explicitly welcoming of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people of different genders, abilities, etc.
  2. Delegate tough topics to contained threads.
    • Easier to track/monitor
    • Easier for those who aren’t up for the discussion to avoid
  3. Not every discussion will end in total agreement, and that’s okay. People can have differing opinions. The important part is making sure that everyone’s humanity is recognized, and that people’s identities are not a target.
  4. Remember that not every member is out there posting. Lurkers may feel just as connected as the regular posters, even if you never see their names. Make it easy for audience members to make the switch to participation. Have semi-regular posts to invite people to delurk.

By promoting the behaviors you want to see, and making the space unwelcoming to those who would seek to destroy it, you can promote a supportive, and friendly community.

Let me know if there are any tips I missed!

What The Writer Needs To Know: The Brain and The Body

Writers do their best to bring life an authenticity of the full range of human conditions. Sadly, however, writers are mere mortals and can fall into some trope-tastic misunderstandings and assumptions.

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Daryl Gregory, Dr. Keren Landsman, Benjamin Kinney, Mick Schubert, and Hadas Sloin were there to set the record straight.

On “Team Brain” were Daryl and Hadas. On “Team Body” was our epidemiologist, Dr. Keren. Benjamin, as a neuro-scientist, was claiming seats on both teams. And Mick Schubert did his best to stay out of the fight.

“Favorite” Misunderstandings in Media

  • Dr. Keren – Nosebleeds as a sign of something catastrophic!
  • Daryl – The significant cough. The character thinks they’re on the mend, and they cough once, and everyone exchanges significant glances. 2 scenes later — we’re at the funeral.
  • Hadas – On The Walking Dead, they did an MRI on a zombie. By definition, there should be nothing. They zoomed in to show a single neuron (ridiculous!) And showed the ‘electrical activity’ in blue and the ‘zombie activity in red’. Claiming “it invades the brain like meningitis.” So Wrong.
  • Mick – Magical genetics, with no epigenetics. And timing! They take a blood sample and know exactly what’s wrong in 10 minutes. The tests can take longer, and more tests are ruling out what it’s NOT, than figuring out what it is.
  • Dr. Keren – On Dr. House — Oncologists don’t do surgery.
  • Benjamin – Human minds being ‘uploaded’ into digital form or AI minds being ‘downloaded’ into a body.
  • Hadas – Her career goal IS the digitization of the human brain. The human mind’s computational power is underestimated. It’s firmware — firmly attached to the body and the physical network. It’s fascinating, but we’re further away than we think.

Tips To Get It Right

  1. With sickness, we think we know how diseases work. Wrong. We only know how they affect us. Drugs are far more often to be guess and test, and then backwards derive the science to why it worked.
  2. Our brains’ perception of self is easily deceived.
  3. There’s been some cases of treating phantom pain (from lost limbs, etc) with mirror therapy. But, we’re not sure if it’s more than the placebo effect at this point.
  4. A human body can’t survive by consuming human blood.
  5. When someone is exposed to radiation, they’re far more likely to end up with cancer, like after chernobyl, than super powers.
  6. Super healing would lead to massive scar tissue and cancer
  7. Super speed would require eating more. Much more.
  8. Creating sensory experiences from the brain (i.e. in virtual reality simulators) is hard because it has to be customized per person. And is easiest when we bypass the brain.
  9. Genetics is hard. If changing one gene would change the trait, we already do that. Most are multiple genes with unexpected consequences.

Underused Diseases

  1. Tuberculosis
  2. Black death (not bubonic plague. Research the difference!)
  3. Influenza
  4. Stupidity
  5. Preventable ones (measles, mumps, chicken pox as an adult, tetanus, rabies, etc)

Books/Media That Got It Right

  1. Orphan Black (except the brain uploading)
  2. Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  3. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  4. Blindsight by Peter Watts
    – He got it wrong. And Bad. But, it’s a great ethical discussion.
  5. Lock In and Head On by John Scalzi

Tips Specifically For Writers

  1. Your job is to be convincing. Read as much as possible. Say/Write as little as possible, to sound convincing.
  2. Write to the limits of your knowledge. Then stop and take out half. That way, you can only be half-wrong.
  3. Write from a layperson’s perspective, then you can claim that the character misunderstood.
  4. Remember that scientists have specializations. Your character doesn’t have to know how everything works.
  5. Making magic ‘scientific’ usually doesn’t work. Understanding why it wouldn’t work in real life might help you get it less wrong.
  6. Pick your premise (zombies/magic/whatever), but be consistent after that.

A Helpful Resource!

The Science and Entertainment Exchange exists to help writers of all forms of media Get. It. Right. Their mission? To connect “entertainment industry professionals with top scientists and engineers to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging storytelling.” The website seems movie and tv focused, but Mick Schubert said it’s for all of us.


When writing about the brain and the body, beware the Dunning–Kruger  effect! A little bit of knowledge makes you think you know how something works, when you’re barely seeing the tip of the iceberg. Do your research and be sure to double-check everything you think you know.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

YA Futures

YA is big and has been since the late 90s. But the future today doesn’t look like it did even 10 or 20 years ago. What does YA science fiction readers want today?

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, I had the opportunity to listen to the top professionals in the field discuss what they see coming. On the panel were Charlie Jane Anders, James Smythe, Eric Picholle, Fonda Lee, and Kristina Perez.

3 Things That Don’t Fit In the YA Science Fiction of Today

  1. A sense of inevitable progress
    The golden-age of science-fiction brought us flying cars and space cities. From the Jetsons to Star Trek, optimism for a better world was writ large in our stories.

    These days, we’re making our dreams a little more down to earth.
  2. Angst
    The 90s and 00s taught us that angst and cynicism were ‘grown up’ and ‘mature’. Spoiler: they not. And teenage angst when written by adults, far too often turns into teenage melodrama.
  3. Space
    With the advent of the space race, sf writers assumed our future was out amongst the stars. These days, we’re looking at our own planet and resources.

    Space, right now, is a hard-sell in YA.

10 Things In YA Science-Fiction Today

  1. Social issues
    You don’t have to evaluate them, but they should be in there.

    Related? Teens don’t need as much hand-holding or explanations when dealing with LGBTQ+ themes, versus adult readers.
  2. Near future
    Where we might be in 20 years, not 100 or a 1,000.
  3. Taking the brakes off
    With YA, you can turn emotions up to 11. As a writer, you can delve into your own neuroses and baggage and trauma on the page.
  4. Hope
    The reign of dystopia is changing. The future looks bleak and people are looking for hope.
  5. AI
    Even if we’re not there yet, we’re getting really close to being able to fake true artificial intelligence. I would say some robots are pretty close to dog-level intelligence at this point.

    And then? There’s always “the singularity”, when the first artificial intelligence becomes self-aware.
  6. Genetic Manipulation/Trans-humanism
    The science is there. It’s time to explore the moral and ethical quandaries inherent.
  7. Fun Adventures
    Doing stuff with friends to fix things, save someone or something, or just wild hijinks!
  8. Hackers
    Hackers are more and more becoming the heroes of the story.
  9. Online Friendships
    Friends aren’t always local these days. Plenty of friendships have started or moved online as distance becomes less of a constraint.
  10. Mixed media
    With text conversations and real world descriptions, mixed media storytelling is getting bigger.

Clearly, as we don’t actually have any time-travel machines, these are all guesses and YA trends change faster than any other genre.

Let me know what you think is coming for YA. Did the panelists get it right?


As always, thanks for reading and I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Booktube: The World of YouTube Book Discussions

The booktuber world is right next door to the authortuber world — full of people talking about their to-read lists, the books they’re actually reading, and their own community. As opposed to us authortubers, talking about writing tips, writing progress, and apparently streaming virtual write-ins. Both are full of people passionate about books and wanting to talk about it on youtube.

In the titular panel at WorldCon, Stevie “Sablecaught” Finegan, Claire Rousseau (Books and Quills), Thomas Wagner (SFF180), Linnea Sternefält (RobotMaria133), and Brianne Reeves (BreeReadsBooks) shared with us their experiences being booktubers.

Why Youtube?

Everyone had their own path and reasons that led them to youtube.

For Claire, 5 years ago, her partner started a geeking out/gaming channel. After seeing how it went, and attending a convention, she wanted to get in on it too, but with her own hobbies. Thus, her booktube channel was born.

Linnea started as a blogger. She’d seen the English-language booktubers, but was worried there wasn’t a large enough audience in her native tongue. Then? She found the other european-vloggers and decided to try it anyway.

Bree had graduated from college and was underemployed. So, she got back to her love of books, found the community, and wanted to join the conversation.

Thomas had been doing traditional book reviews on http://www.sfReviews.net since 2001. He’d seen his gamer friends start up game vlogs and wanted to try, so he tried it — without even knowing the community was there! He’s found that reviews are a lot more personal when your face is attached to the words.

Common BookTube Videos

These booktubers wanted to talk about books on youtube, but what sort of videos are out there?

  1. Book Hall
    – A stack of new books that you’ve gotten.
    • Thomas called his a ‘mail bag’, because he didn’t know it was a thing
    • Bree loves watching these, but hates recording them
    • Linnae loves these
  2. TBR
    – Your to-be-read pile. What you’re planning to read in the coming week or month.
    • Claire loves these
  3. Wrap-up
    – Your end of the week/month where you talk about which books you actually got to, and what you thought about them.
    – Some people do a video for each book (like Thomas, with his traditional book review roots)
  4. Book discussions
    – Talking and analysing books. These come in many forms.
    1. Simple analysis
    2. Comparing the book to the movie
    3. Comparing and contrasting different books of a similar theme
  5. Top 5 Wednesday
    – Share your top 5 books in a given theme/genre

Getting Started on Booktube

Don’t be afraid to join in. You don’t need much to get started, and all of the booktubers out there started just like you, wondering why anyone would care what they think about books.

These are people who love reading and just want to connect with other fans. Just like you.

  1. All you need is a smartphone, a youtube account, and the internet
  2. Crappy videos are fine – talk to people and build community.
  3. Try to post on a consistent schedule, at least once a month.
  4. Audio is more important than video, look to upgrade that first.
  5. To upgrade your video, you can do it in phases
    1. Better microphone (like a Blue Snowball mic + pop filter)
    2. Better camera (like a logitech USB webcam)
    3. Better lighting (like umbrella lights)
    4. Video Editing (like VegasPro)
  6. Monetization.
    1. If you get big enough (4,000 view hours + 1,000 subscribers), youtube will let you monetize.
    2. Patreon may be a better way to get money, but you have to have something to offer people at the different tiers that people are interested in. And that often means bonus material.
      NOTE: Most monetized channels can pay for a coffee. Or, in a good month, start to recoup the money they spent on equipment.
      WARNING: In some countries, it is illegal to accept donations/ patronage without giving them something physical in return.

Joining the BookTube Community

Most of these tips are going to sound familiar if you’ve seen any of my other posts on joining other online communities.

  1. Subscribe to other booktubers!
  2. Comment on other booktubers!
    • Comment on what they’re discussing, be on topic! You might think a compliment like, “you’re pretty” is something everyone wants to hear. Instead? The booktuber is probably thinking you didn’t care about what they were discussing.
    • NOTE: If your comment is non-specific, just long enough that your name links back to your own channel, they can tell you’re just trying to use them to find followers. It’s rude and won’t win you any friends.
  3. Watch to the end! Many booktubers have bonus material there. Like booktube challenges, or requests for you to share your own links below (either for your channel or similar themed videos).
  4. As always, don’t be disappointed at slow traction. It takes a while to become an “overnight” success.

Booktubers to watch!

If booktube sounds up your alley or you’re already a fan, here are some people the panelists suggested to check out.

And, of course, they didn’t do it themselves, but I’m happy to plug them, our panelists:


Had you run into Booktube before?

Are you a booktuber yourself? Tell us how you got into it and share your link below!

As always, thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more panel notes. And maybe some ramblings on PitchWars, because it’s that time of year again.

Done To Death: The Art of Killing Characters

When you’re reading a story and a character dies, you can tell if it’s just the writer trying to manipulate your emotions or if it’s good storytelling.

In the titular panel at Worldcon77, Patrick Rothfuss, Veronica Roth, Su J Sokel, Amy Ogden, and Daryl Gregory did their best to make sure we know that every death should count.

Before we got started, the panelists listed their credentials…

How many characters have you killed?

  • Su killed 3 in one novel.
  • Veronica, in her Divergent series, asked if we counted “outside of catastrophic events?”
  • Amy killed all of humanity. Twice.
  • Patrick has killed 5 characters.
  • Daryl says his only die offstage.

How To Use Death and What Deaths Are Overdone

Fridging Characters

There are tropes that keep popping up, and one of the most trite ones in fiction is using the horrific death of a 2-dimensional female character to motivate the (usually male) main character.

From TVTropes: “The name of the trope comes from a storyline in Green Lantern, in which the villain Major Force leaves the corpse of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, literally stuffed into a refrigerator for him to find.

We’re not saying horrific deaths are bad (in fiction. Please don’t kill people.) We’re just saying they need to matter beyond character motivation.

Parents

Many stories start off with the parents being killed. Even books for those who aren’t old enough for school. And this is traumatic for small kids. We want to teach empathy. We want them to understand death. This is a bad way to do it.

Daryl’s daughter would always go ask him for a snack during the Lion King stampede and get back just as Simba was running away.

Patrick’s sons loved the 3 Little Pigs and the wolf destroying the houses. But they wanted him to tell it without gobbling the pigs all up.

As Amy said, “as a mom, I’m tired of seeing myself die. As a queer person, I’m tired of seeing myself die.”

Queer Characters and Characters of Color

Either as bad guys or as expendable characters, queer characters or characters of color are often the first to die.

Children

Killing children, just to demonstrate that the villain is a bad guy.

Patrick declared, “if that’s all you can do, you’re a bad writer. I stand by this.”

Other

Veronica, in retrospect, admits that there is a bullshit death in her second book. She could have handled that differently. There are plenty of horrible ways to LIVE!

The list could go on. Do we want to show readers the gritty truth, or a better world?

How Do You Make a Death Not Bullshit?

  1. Give fullness to the dead character’s story arc
  2. Try to only kill well rounded main or secondary characters, but think first if there is another way to progress the plot.
  3. Listen to the character – they should tell you if their death is bullshit.
  4. Feel free to have foreshadowing — best done when it’s only obvious in retrospect.
  5. Context matters — who is being killed by whom?
  6. If you do kill characters — parents, children, lovers, make it matter. Make the reader cry and miss them forever.
  7. Showing life after trauma is important.

The Power Of Writing

At this point, the panel started to meander, but we followed along for the ride.

Patrick shared a story. After the Frog Princess, 70 kids were hospitalized from salmonella (from licking frogs). Now, he worries a lot about the consequences of what he writes.

Veronica asked, “then how do you write?”

Patrick — the man whose audience is still waiting, 8 years later, for book 3 of his series — replied, “I’m the wrong person to ask.”

Where You Are Emotionally Affects Your Writing

For almost all of us, what we’re worried about and what we’re struggling with tries to come through in our writing.

There are two approaches.

  1. You can try to leave it at the door.
    • Personal essays, blogs, etc on whatever is bothering you can be a cathartic way to get it out, so you can focus on the story you want to tell.
  2. You can use your writing to work through it
    • So many writers end up doing this. Even if they don’t know that they are.
      • Veronica’s first series was literally about exposure therapy. Later, she went on to be prescribed it!
      • Patrick was thanked for his handling of PTSD in his writing. 10 years later, he realized where it came from. Now he’s in therapy.
      • Amy notes that as a mom, she’s leaving a worse world for her child than she was given. Everything she writes is about climate change.
    • NOTE: Mission-oriented novels come across like after-school specials. It’s okay to work through things, but forcing the theme doesn’t come across as genuine.

[Audience Question] How Do You Handle Villainous Deaths

Everything should be complex — the desire to simplify makes it less real. Just remember, death is a change and it’s the final one. [source?]

Disney took the violence out. Took the blame out. The hero still wins, the bad guy still dies. But, the hero isn’t the hand by which the villain dies. And that might be wrong. There should be consequence.l

[Audience Question] Which Death Would You Undo?

Veronica said, “Lynn.”

Amy’s answer? “Humanity deserved it.”


What stories have you read where death was handled wrong? Which ones have done it well?

If you write, how many characters have YOU killed?