There was an inauguration yesterday. The United States of America swore in a new president.
But. This is a writing blog, so let’s talk about writing.
I may have complained some about how my space fantasy story that I started during NaNoWriMo went off the rails and I wasn’t sure where it was going. I might have been getting words in, but I have been struggling to advance the plot.
This weekend, I took a drive, thought about my story, and realized the problem.
When a story is fighting you, the problem just might be that you’re going the wrong direction. Sometimes, you’re writing the wrong story.
Types of Stories
We’re all familiar with the different types of stories, even if we don’t have the lists memorized. While different people split them up differently, let’s go with this subset of six categories of stories.
“Human versus human” – Someone is standing in your way, blocking you from achieving your goals.
“Human versus nature” – A survival tale.
“Human versus machine” – Technology, at whatever level, might be your undoing.
“Human versus fate” – Can you fight the gods and/or destiny?
“Human versus society” – Where you’re fighting ‘the man’, the system, the government, the corporation…
“Human versus self” – When you really are your own worst enemy
What Was Wrong In Morgan’s Story
For me, I typically write “human versus society”, where the problem is social expectations, or a corrupt government, that sort of thing. That’s my – for lack of a better term – comfort zone.
Which is a bit silly, because in my personal life, I’m the sort that is comfortable being a cog in the wheel. I can rationalize a lot, and I typically go along with authority unless I have a clear reason to fight back. Which doesn’t happen often.
With my space fantasy, I was trying to base the story structure on classic fairy tales… while still having the enemy be a nebulous corporation — or at least a debt to them.
But fairytales thrive on conflict. Well, all stories do. But fairytales thrive specifically on interpersonal conflict.
I was driving down that tree-lined highway in the mountains, thinking about my story and how to get it from where it was to the ending I needed, when the solution dawned on me.
I need an enemy, one close at hand, with motivations and reasons all their own. And I knew exactly who it was, who I’d been trying to reform since the very beginning. That was my mistake.
Not all antagonists can be swayed to the side of the main character. Some are just in it for themselves.
Now that we’re firmly into January, it’s time to determine what my goals for the year are.
Last year was intended to be a year of querying/submitting, revision, and networking.
Thusly, I listed my goals:
Querying and submitting
As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?
This year? This year my focus is on writing, revisions, and querying/submitting.
As always, I like to set SMART goals –
Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2021, but some items may have specific dates associated.
So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.
Finish my NaNoWriMo space fantasy! Preferably by April. At least the rough draft.
I’m not sure if I want to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. I skipped it last year. But, I really like participating in NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.
I managed last year’s goals to finish my revisions before Balticon! And then was query-shy in the wake of the 2020 querying climate. And I managed to at least edit my middle grade fantasy.
Remembering, of course, that rewriting IS writing, this makes revision half of my writing goals. But? The final goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.
So much to polish!
This year’s goals? Revise three of the short stories I drafted during my NaNo-Of-Shorts back in 2019.
3. Querying & Submitting
I’ve talked a lot about the differences between querying and submitting, but basically — one is to get an agent to sell your book, and one is to publishers to buy your stories. Typically, writers submit their own short stories, but publishers usually want agents to submit full length manuscripts.
Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.
Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.
This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to actively submit at least 6 short stories to at least 3 markets each markets. Plus? At least the first round of the submissions needs to be by March (for the stories that are already prepped). And query my YA fantasy 3 times a month, unless revising.
You are my supporters, my community, my friends. You cheer me on and watch me learn and grow. As always, blogging helps keep me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.
Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. Since we all know how much I hate ending a streak, I’m going to keep at it. You’ll be seeing my a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.
I’ve also started a podcast and weekly live-stream. I plan on taking a week or so off between seasons, and no more than one live-stream off a quarter (unless double-booked with a convention).
5. Conventions | Writer Groups
My goals here are: to panel at 3+ conventions, attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Staff Balticon and maybe another virtual con..
Ravencon pushed out my panelists dates from last year to this, I’m staff and panelist for Balticon again (May), and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in Washington DC. My panels were well received last year, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be accepted back. (All of my panels were topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, where my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).
Plus, I’m running social media for Balticon’s parent group. So… there’s another time suck!
What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?
First, it’s a greater reach for my blog/vlog/podcast that’s supposed to lead to a larger audience when I do get published. It’s a great way to network and meet more writers and readers who like the same stuff I do. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.
But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun?Or part of your social media addiction?
Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.
And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!
Thanks to this year being what it was, I managed to read 46 books, with 35 of them being physical and nearly all of the physical books being from the pile that moved into the house with me.
So? I’m upping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – to 36 books! Three a month is less than I’ve achieved the last couple years. Plus, half of them should be physical and already on my to-read bookcase.
7. Beta Readers
This year, again, I’m going to try not to beta-read more than 3 full manuscripts for others.
I will need the short stories I’m preparing for publication beta read. As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.
I’m still a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales.
This year, I’m starting off with my focus on drafting, not my usual revision, but plan to do a lot of querying and submitting. The middle of my year will be rather convention heavy, but by October/November, I should be back in the writer’s seat. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging and podcasting throughout the year.
Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.
We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2021 foresight.
Welcome to Part 12, my final WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write up.
The panelists for the titular panel were as follows: Trish Matson (as moderator), Valarie Valdes, Carl Fink, and Kat Clay.
The panel description was brief and to the point (since the title covered so much): The panel discusses SF mysteries set in space.
What Is Crime?
Where ever you find people, you find good people and you fine bad people. But, what makes certain people’s behavior qualify as ‘bad’? Well, there is typically an official and/or unofficial codification of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Hurting others, putting others at risk, or taking advantage of others to their detriment usually tops the list. These days, the law of your country and the society in which you find yourself defines what is and is not a crime.
In our own world, we see groups like Black Lives Matter protesting what they see as the law being excessively enforced against Black Americans — among others — without accountability. Additionally, we also see justice somehow coming down on the side with the most money more often than statistically it should.
In speculative fiction, though, we often set humanity in situations where, through ignorance, (willful or not), the humans or the aliens hurt one another. In the classic Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game series, the bugs had a hive mind and didn’t realize that killing individual bodies was ending the consciousness of another sentient being, forever, (give-or-take some sort of afterlife or reincarnation).
Crimes take place in all sorts of novels, but here are some of the major crime genres.
Types of Crime Novels
Classic Detective – like ‘locked room’ mysteries
Things To Think About When Writing About Crime in Speculative Fiction:
Three Things To Think About When Writing Laws
Who is creating the laws?
Very often in speculative fiction, and often in life, the people creating the laws do not expect them to be enforced on themselves or their families. They bring in their own prejudices and assumptions about “those-types-of-people”. Or, you have people making laws based on theory, who are out of touch with the realities of life and the deviousness of people.
If you’re in a closed environment, like a generational ship, it would likely be the officer level crew making the laws – like the Captain and those working closely with the Captain.
Who is enforcing the laws?
We expect it to be brave people and/or artificial intelligences who follow the letter of the law with a compassionate, (but far from naive), interpretation. That’s not always the case. In some societies, bribes are so expected, they’re counted as business expenses. Often, people from a particular class or background end up in law enforcement. Those enforcing the laws see people on their worst day, or only the worst people, and it can jade them, so that they come to expect that from everyone. That sort of attitude can lead to them prioritizing their own over justice, or the law.
On that generational ship, it would likely be the enlisted level crew enforcing the laws. Security has a lot of authority, but most of us know just how expendable ‘Red Shirts’ are on Star Trek: The Original Series.
Who is being policed?
We expect it to be everyone, equally, with none above the law. Historically, we have often seen poorer areas heavily policed and heavily punished in an attempt to cut down on crime, while better off areas were less heavily policed and their residents punished with a gentler touch. And we can’t forget that those with money can often make trouble with the law go away.
In the States, it used to be that children getting in trouble in school would end up in suspension – in school or out. Now, cops are called in, charges filed, and jail is becoming common.
Back to the generational ship example. Most of the policing would be of the passengers, but are there class distinctions there? Perhaps, there some who paid for a large suite for their families, while others bought just a bunk? Are there criminals assigned to the ship to work off their debts? What happens to the later generations? Do these roles become a caste system?
Things to think about when creating your speculative world. Which leads us to a few other thoughts.
Two Things To Think About Regarding The Speculative Aspect
What are the technical limitations?
If we’re futuristic, do we have cameras? If we’re magic, can we cast a truth spell or seeing spell? With the tech level, for less advanced societies, don’t give them modern forensics. For more advanced societies, think about how far forensics has come in the last century!
Play fair with the reader!
If you’re writing a who-dunnit in space, you want to establish what the laws are and at least hint at what the technology is capable of. Mystery readers typically enjoy stories better if they can either work it out themselves in advance from the clues, without it being too blatant, or see it’s obvious in retrospect.
If you make the twist something that wasn’t explained, the readers often feel cheated.
And we all know, readers who feel cheated leave 1-star bashing reviews.
If there are AIs (created beings with artificial intelligence), are they the criminal? The tool used to commit the crime? The detective? Is there a thing in their programming that’s preventing them from solving the crime?
Some of the best speculative mysteries are when the world building sets up the ‘smoking gun’, where it’s only obvious in retrospect.
Who are people?
Can you create backups of people from their last transporter session. Or from clones? So, would killing a body still count as murder.
And delving into this, are clones recognized as people? What about other species that we may or may not recognize as fully sentient? And should we enforce our morality and expectations on alien societies?
PERSONAL NOTE: I will always believe that the moment a clone experiences life differently than the original, they are creating their own memories and are their own person, with all the rights that entails. Why yes, I’m a second-born identical twin, why do you ask?
All The Book Recommendations!
The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun (The Robot Series) – Isaac Asimov
Long Arm of Gil Hamilton – Larry Niven
Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
Retrieval Artist Series – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
All Systems Red (Murderbot) – Martha Wells
A Pale White In The Black – K. B. Wagers
A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
Lord Darcy Series – Randall Garrett
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – Ursula Le Guin
An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
Ethan of Athos – Lois Bujold
And Then There Were (N-One) [Uncanny Magazine] – Sarah Pinsker
Revelation Space – Alistair Reynolds
Deadly Litter – James White
What other things do you consider when you set a crime in space?
Do you have any favorite ‘crimes in space’ novels you’d like to recommend?
Welcome to Part 11, the penultimate of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.
The panelists for the titular panel were: A.j. Ponder (as moderator), Katya de Becerra, Darcie Little Badger, and Joe Struss. The panel description was as follows:
Does writing for young adults differ from other writing? In what ways? How do writers approach it? What are some examples — from classics and from the panelists own work?
In the modern publishing industry, YA is a booming and, for now, a seemingly ever growing market. Despite the huge variety found within the category, there are two unifying requirements:
The age of the point-of-view (POV) character needs to be young adult themselves, typically sixteen to maybe nineteen.
The story must address issues that are important to young adults – such as coming of age, starting their independent lives, and establishing their own identities.
While these themes can be explored in adult literature, those characters are often dealing with the aftermath of the decisions they made as young adults and the shape of the lives those decisions created.
Why is all the best literature YA and what makes it so great?
Obviously, we can’t list all the reasons, but here are some of the ones that easily sprang to mind for the panelists.
YA literature is targeted toward teens as they’re growing and changing, and can be a formative part of their growth.
YA literature is often about characters who are transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and that sort of growth makes for good stories. Stories are almost always about change.
It has a great source of variety and diversity.
There is a lot of space for experimentation in YA, with the genre expectations less strict
Horror stories within a story
Epistolary – which is more texting than letters and newspaper clippings these days.
Books can help model ways of handling things teens are going through, in a way that’s removed enough to not be traumatic, nor preachy. They can help with topical matters, trauma, depression, anxiety, and more.
Dystopian YA shows that you can stand up to huge systems and make a difference — it’s an empowering message
What are the limits on cursing, sex, gore, violence, etc within YA?
Of course, with writing, if you do it well enough, nothing is truly a mistake. But, these are things you may want to avoid:
Chasing trends – the market fluxuates and your story may come after the enthusiasm has died down, especially if you’re being traditionally published, a process that can take years.
Giving up too soon – publishing is a hard business, but perseverance can take you a long way. Maybe your road to success is your fifth manuscript, or your 200th agent query, or your twelth re-write, or self-publishing. But, you’ll never know if you give up.
Not reaching out and hanging out with better writers – having a supportive group of writers you can call on is so helpful during the process. Having good friends who are better writers can only push you to reach their levels.
Not being open to constructive criticism –
CAVEAT – Constructive criticism from people you trust. BEFORE the work is published. After it’s published, it’s no use to you and will only make you second guess yourself.
There is very little to glean from negative reviews, unless you have structural or sensitivity issues. It’s best just to not read reviews. Or have a friend only forward the ones they think you need to see.
Not writing things you enjoy or not using a voice that works for you and/or the story
Not reading widely – while you shouldn’t chase trends, you should know the shape of your market, and reading outside your genre just broadens you.
Not doing your teen research – A lot of writers these days have teens magically loving 80s music and pop references. While there are some teens who do, they’re not the norm, and the trend is a bit overdone these days. Also, you have writers ignoring technology. If you’re doing a contemporary story, pay attention to the apps teens are using, how they’re using them, current slang, and more. These things become outdated quickly.
Overdoing the angsty teen stereotype – Okay, this one wasn’t in the panel, but I skipped that phase, myself. (Right, Mom?) And when done poorly, it makes it hard to connect to the whiny main character.
YA stories these days run the gamut of genres and intensity, just like the true lives of teens themselves.
If you’re writing for teens, just be careful. With the popularity of YA books amongst adults, more and more YA books have main characters that teens often claim sound like adults. Keep the teen perspective in mind and write for the intended audience — or age your character up and just do an adult novel.
Do you enjoy YA novels? What are your favorites?
Have you written a YA novel? What did you find to be your biggest struggles?
There are more ways to write a novel than there are writers — and what worked last time, may not work this time. In this episode, I talk about all the advice out there — and ways you can use and adapt them to work for you.
Welcome to Part 10 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.
The panelists for the titular panel were: Susana Polo (as moderator), Brent Lambert, Ira Alexandre, Jess Weaver, and Alexandra Rowland. The panel description was as follows:
Fanfiction’s popularity continues to grow, tapping into the special creative connection between authors and fans. What is it about this literary nexus that is so fascinating and stimulating for fans? And what might authors have to learn from fans who write it?
Fanfiction, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are stories written by fans of books or television shows or movies or games or whatever, expanding or reinterpreting the stories that the author presented. The official material is known as “canon”. (One ‘n’, not talking about the large gun). Fanfic has often been seen as ‘fringe’, even within fringe genres.
Although, these days, more and more professionally published authors are admitting to having written fanfic either in the past, or present.
In fact, an Archive of Our Own (or AO3), a website that hosts fanfiction from any writer who created an account, won the Hugo in 2019 for best fan work. Fanfiction as a derivative work is definitely becoming more accepted.
What Draws People To Fanfic?
There are tons of draws for both readers and writers of fanfic to enjoy:
more nuanced explorations of the characters and worlds that they adore.
unapologetically weird stories, freed from market pressure
a community with a certain level of acceptance — of ‘weirdness’ and letting people do their own thing, follow their own interests, and exploration
a found-family sense of community
a way to explore “what ifs”
turning conventional stories into far more diverse ones, giving more people representation
despite some stereotypes, the quality is often on par with non-fanfic writing
writing stories for an already existing fanbase — original fiction has to create that fanbase from scratch
the pure joy of sharing something you love
Popular Fanfic Tropes
slash fiction – In the days of yore, when fanfiction was originally shared online, it would often have the names of the main characters it featured in the title with slashes between their names. Such as “Kirk/Spock” or what-have-you.
One very popular subgenre of fanfiction arose, called “slash fiction” in which canonically straight characters were shown in non-straight relationships. This type of fanfic became very common in the days when that sort of sexual preference was hidden in the subtext, if included at all. Some of these stories were sweet crushes, some were romantic stories, and some were straight up smut.
characters we always see ‘saving the world’ written into calm, coffee shop sort of situations
slice of life stories
fanfic enjoys the contrast: characters from loud/action heavy stories often get quiet fanfic, while characters from quiet stories often get action heavy stories
cross-overs! What would happen if character from this fandom met the character from that fandom? Doctor Who and Buffy or what-have-you
‘but there was only one bed’
canonically divergent – but what if X had never happened
What Can a Writer Learn From Fanfic?
The biggest thing many writers learn is how to accept constructive criticism. When you’re putting your work out there, either in its entirety, or a chapter at a time, you’re getting likes and comments and unabashed love. But, while the readers love both the source material and your stories, and honestly just want the best and most nuanced reflection of the cannon work, their comments can be biting.
Fanfic, at its heart, can also be a deep criticism of the canonical work, in prose format.
Writing Fanfic teaches:
besides dealing with criticism — both constructive and not
how characters work
what excites readers and keeps them coming back
it lets them experiment with voices and styles and genres
Plus? plenty of tough love on grammar and more
Writers and their own Fanfic Communities
Writers have historically had a fraught history with fanfic. Some writers have embraced it (see the Lovecraftian universe), some revile it, wanting complete control over their created worlds and characters, and some have done both.
Legal disputes over the original author using plots similar to those found in fanfic of their works have led many authors feeling compelled to ban others from playing in their creative worlds.
The panelists shared a story of a guy from a Marvel fanfic community who disappeared, and the community was thrilled one of their own had made it! He’d been hired to write for Marvel! But. When Marvel found out, they dropped the job offer. It can be tricky.
So. Should you read fanfiction of your own works? It might be a bad idea. Once you put your world, your stories out there? The ideas belong a little bit to every reader. The experience of their connection to your book belongs to them. And being told that your reading of a book was wrong… invalidates that experience.
In the fanfic community, there is a belief that your work lives beyond you, and can exist on a whole ecosystem of beliefs.
Two views can be valid at the same time, without invalidating one or the other. But, it can be a struggle to internalize and balance other peoples’ opinions about your works.
Of course, there are some writers who write fanfic of their own stories — things that let them explore ‘what ifs’ of taking the characters or the stories in a different direction. As one of the panelists shared, it can give you the space to be black or queer or both. It can be healing to do your own fanfic, counter-balancing all the work you have to do to be palatable to the market, and remembering what it is to write someDthing not beholden to anyone (except the ‘like’ button).
Fanfic is filling the role of folk-art in our modern culture. We have a need to communal stories and this lets us explore this. Copyright allows people to make money and to own their own story and canon.
Have you written fanfic? Have people written fanfic about your original works? Tell me about your experience!