Open Thread: Writing

I’m still under the weather, let’s push the weekend post back a day.  (Deadline for submissions to it similarly pushed back.)

Until then, writing.

Do you do it?  What’s your style if you do, what type do you like to read if you don’t.  Anything you’d like to do better?  Questions, comments, requests for help?  It’s an open thread, go wild.

-chris the cynic

16 thoughts on “Open Thread: Writing

  1. depizan May 25, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Yep, I write space adventure stories – currently, that means Star Wars fanfic (more specifically the adventures of a few of my Star Wars: the Old Republic characters and their companions). Adventure may be a genre, but it’s at least arguably a style, too, since a certain sense of fun is implied. I also prefer to read adventure stories.

    I struggle with description, particularly of people, and with action sequences, though I at least manage to pull off action sequences. I’m pretty terrible at working physical description of characters into my stories.

    I’ve also got real problems with world building, hence my foray into fanfic. I have much less trouble writing fun adventure stories if the world is someone else’s fault than if it’s my fault.

  2. chris the cynic May 26, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I find it easier to be inspired by other people’s stories than write my own, and the inspiration is always so specific that it can’t be anything but fan fiction. It isn’t just what a character might do in a similar situation but what could happen in that exact detail-for-detail the same situation.

    Additionally I have difficulty writing in more than fragments. Part of a scene I can do, a whole scene maybe, a series of scenes put together into a plot? No.

    Which is mildly interesting because I can also create plots. But if I do figure out a plot that’s almost a sure sign I’ll never be writing any scenes for it, and if I do write scenes it’s pretty clear I’ll never have a plot.

    And then there’s sticking with an idea, that can be very hard for me. Conversely, I have a problem of getting stuck in ruts where I’ll do a thousand variations on the same idea. Witness that I’ve again written a scene from a story with a transwoman lesbian as the main character which I will almost certainly never follow up on if the past is any indication.

    Though that one I do have an excuse for retreading the same territory: I was watching a thing on Hell and it got into the demonic possession part and I was thinking that it really didn’t sound so bad (super strength, being able to speak languages without bothering to learn them first, so on, so forth) and it got into talking to members of a church where I figured that they’s see being non-straight and non-cis as signs of possession so I was inspired to write the story of someone who had a helpful demon in them trying to help them be themselves.

    Anyway, I work best when working off of someone else’s work but, and this is kind of important when talking about fan fiction, I can’t write other people’s characters. I can write my Susan or my Bella, but anyone reading will quickly see that they’re way out of character for their canon equivalents. That’s one of the problems I see with my zombie acpocalypse team. I’ve switched out Bella for Snarky Twilight Bella, but Tsukasa and JC should still be their canon selves and I have no idea what their canon selves would do when presented with vastly non-canon situations. I can’t write other people’s characters.

  3. depizan May 26, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Is there _in_ character for a character from Narnia? Mostly characterization is all over the place in the books, never mind that what we’re told often doesn’t match what we’re shown. I think there’s a fair argument that your Susan is just as in character as Lewis’s.

    Though I know what you mean about other people’s characters. It’s quite a challenge to write the companion characters (who actually _do_ have canon personalities*) in my SW:TOR fanfics. Worse, some of them don’t have very clear personalities, so the best I can manage is my guess at what their actual personality is.

    Of course, there’s also the extra challenge of writing characters I don’t like, but trying not to have my dislike color the writing. I don’t know that I’m doing a great job of conveying creepy homicidal girl, since her personality doesn’t really fit my style of writing all that well and she’s not a character type I particularly like. (She’s kind of a lot of problematic types of female characters rolled into one quasi-seductive, anti-feminine, amoral, untrustworthy killer. Yay.)

    I’m doing better at conveying sexist ass farmboy, though I’m struggling against the (very strong) temptation to make him Mr. Always Wrong, which isn’t at all helped by him kind of being Mr. Always Wrong in game. (At least by my definitions of right and wrong. He’s opposed to violence against women, but has no problem with violence against men. He doesn’t see that wanting to commit genocide against a group that you believe wants to commit genocide against your group makes you just as bad as them. He’s impossibly unworldly. He wants to protect female characters regardless of whether a) they need it and b) he’s any better at anything than they are. He acts like he owns the female PC if other men come into the picture. I hate this character. HAAAAAATE.) But the weird thing is, I’m okay with him in my fanfics. Somehow writing him made him a little better. (The fact that I dropped his wanting to commit genocide is probably a large part of that. Now he’s just an ass.)

    *Player characters, on the other hand, don’t. You can be good or evil, cruel or kind, mercenary or charitable, funny or serious, and everything in between. With them, its more a matter of fleshing out how _I_ played them.

  4. chris the cynic May 26, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Is there _in_ character for a character from Narnia?

    Perhaps not, but the larger point remains, which you seem to get in spite of my less than stellar choice of example.

  5. depizan May 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Yeah. I’ve got to say, it gives me real respect for people who write television shows (well, the good tv writers anyway). They have to do essentially the same thing – write someone else’s characters. I’m retroactively amazed at how rarely the characters in various shows I’ve liked seemed out of character. Or did I just not think about it that way and so not notice…

  6. EllieMurasaki May 27, 2013 at 9:05 am

    My writing history is mostly short story or flash fiction length. My third longest story (of well past five hundred completed stories with at least another hundred that I either never finished or haven’t finished yet) is, if I recall correctly, about eight thousand words, my second longest about 20K, and my longest about 80K. I’m trying to write a novel now. As you can probably imagine, it’s a bit intimidating.

    My writing history is also mostly fanfiction, of which the vast majority is for Supernatural. Damn that show has gotten hard to like. The recent stuff is mostly original fiction; that’s probably connected to the previous sentence. Definitely connected in the case of my novel, as it’s a direct response to Supernatural.

    I’ve published two stories in A Dinner of Herbs, Smashwords editions coming next month.

    Future publications will be through Lulu and Smashwords exclusively. Kindle Worlds pissed me right the fuck off. They’re dangling the carrot of being paid for fanfic in front of fanfic writers, without any intent of ever paying fanfic writers (that’s what ‘percentage of net’ means–got any idea how many famous and high-grossing movies never made a net profit?), with the intent of controlling fanfic writers (no crossovers even between Worlds and no porn, for starters), and with the intent of mining fanfic writers for ideas to add to canon and for the next Fifty Shades (side-eyeing the ‘no porn’ here, by the way) with explicit intent to never compensate the fanfic writers for the ideas that make it into canon.

  7. Silver Tyger (@SilvercatTyger) May 27, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Yeah, Kindle Worlds seems like a terrible idea to me, as a writer.

    Chris, I get around that by changing the characters enough that it’s no longer the same person. Basically I start by using their names, then the personality changes as I come up with the story. By the time I actually get around to writing it, it’s not the same people at all (except for still being superheros / villains, usually. I have a thing…)

    CN: ableist language, mental

    How much responsibility do we have to write non-problematic things? I have a novel ready for editing and I’m giving it the side-eye because it completely fails the Bechdel Test. Admittedly, it’s pretty tightly focused on the two/three main characters (one of them is multiple and both headmates are involved), but the only women that show up are very brief (one character’s mom, one’s childhood crush, and some fairy tale witches).

    There’s one character I could change to a woman with no real problem (except slight historical questionability, but bleep that. It’s a fictional world anyway). And there’s the multiple pair, one of which is the antagonist, which gets back to problematic, but at least he’s more morally gray rather than being ‘crazy person! with multiple personalities!’ And the protagonist is asexual and the main antagonist is bisexual and asexual-ish (but it only comes up briefly).

    So I don’t know how bad I should feel and how much I should change.

  8. EllieMurasaki May 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    I vote you change the character you’re already thinking of changing. Women had a lot bigger role in history than histories say–it’s just that men who didn’t think much of women wrote nearly all the histories.

  9. christhecynic May 27, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    The following should be taken with giant gobs of “In my opinion,” because that’s all it is: my opinion.

    How much responsibility do we have to write non-problematic things?

    Barring magical infallibility I doubt anyone will ever write non-problematic things, strive for the goal of course, but if you hold out until you achieve it then you’ll never be ready to call it done.

    More to your specifics, since a solution presents itself I say go for it, change the character you can change without problem. Seriously, before you read the rest of what I have to say, I want it to be very clear that my recommended course of action is to flip that character.

    If you couldn’t change the character then what I’d be focusing on is that there’s a reason the Bechdel test is something that reveals sexism only when applied in aggregate. In a perfect world a randomly chosen something with an extremely (and I do mean extremely) tight focus on two characters would still fail the Bechdel test 3/4ths of the time. It would just fail the reverse Bechdel an equal amount of the time. (The breakdown would be 1/4th Bechdel pass, 1/4th reverse-Bechdel pass, 1/2 fail both.) That’s part of what comes from having very few characters focused on. Larger casts are better for giving you more people who can talk to each other (and if you do have two women who can talk to each other, it’s hard to believe that they won’t find something other than a man to talk about if you put some thought into it), but not all stories call for larger casts.

    If you couldn’t fix your work, and since you can this is moot, what I’d want to know is how it compared to the rest of your works. This fails the Bechdel test because it focuses so tightly on very few characters most of them male, do you have a comparable number of things that pass the Bechdel and fail the reverse because they focus equally tightly on an equally small number of characters most of them female? Do your works that don’t have such a small focused-on cast have problematic skews? That sort of thing.

    Basically, your body of work should have women talking to women as much as men talking to men, and women talking to women should talk about things other than men as much as men talking to men talk about things other than women. And that becomes the real test for what you do. Making The Shawshank Redemption, or a story about a monastery (with only male monks), or whathaveyou, isn’t a sign that you’ve screwed over feminism forever, because it’s just one part of your body of work and sometimes things should fail. (Randomly adding two women to a setting that shouldn’t have women in it so they can talk about things other than a male doesn’t do feminism any favors.) It’s if you’re constantly skewing male, which right now our entire culture is, that there is a problem.

    In this case, since you can switch a character to female without real problems I say do it. Definitely do it. Given the way culture as a whole is skewed if you’re going to even risk skew make sure it goes the other way. But in general, in the end it’s a question about skew and to understand skew you need more than one datapoint. Is your work skewed? If it is, which way? All things being equal, about half of your characters should be female (need the about partly because of differences in numbers between the primary genders, but mostly because not everyone falls on the binary.) Not in every story, sometimes it’ll go more one way or the other due to setting or random chance, but overall. All things being equal the Bechdel test should pass just as often as the reverse, no less. So if you look at your stories and realize that’s not happening, you do have a problem. A serious one. But it is important to look at things in a larger context.

    One story skewing male isn’t necessarily worse than one paragraph skewing male. It depends on context. And the context is all of your stories. I’ve tried to find another way to phrase this and failed. It’s not right, but maybe it’s got enough resemblance to right that you can sort of see right reflected in it. Anyway, here’s the bad phrasing I haven’t been able to improve on: It’s sort of like you earn your fails. If you consistently pass and then put out a story set in an all boys’ school told in first person by a boy who doesn’t eavesdrop and is thus a part of every conversation that’s going to fail the Bechdel test, but because it’s in the context of you passing all the time it’s completely different than if you fail all the time. Moreover, given the balance you’ve previously shown there’s no reason not to expect you to make an all female book at some point. But if you’re failing left and right, if your stories constantly invisible women and make it seem like men are the only ones who matter, then you haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt when you put out the Bechdel failing book I just described.

    Or something like that. I’m tired and I hope this makes some kind of sense.

  10. Silver Tyger (@SilvercatTyger) May 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Ellie, yeah, I was thinking that as I wrote that sentence. 🙂 I haven’t done as much reading as I’d like (there’s always more! How can I keep up?!) but even just from the books I know exist, well, yeah…

    Thanks, Chris.

    The novel is set in the same world as a comic I mean to create (I have about five scripts done, a bunch of stories to be rewritten, a bunch of characters… you know how it goes). I switched a bunch of characters to women there before, including the main character (because like so much of my stuff it started as fanfic AU-ish stuff). And because it’s such a big unlimited world I’m trying to be as diverse as possible in it. There’s a lot still to do (… like actually getting it done…) But the novel wouldn’t get published until a bunch of the comic is done.

    For some reason, I have an unfortunate tendency to write male viewpoint characters to start off, despite not being one. I could theorize, but it’s basically something I need to watch.

  11. froborr May 28, 2013 at 10:07 am

    How much responsibility do we have to write non-problematic things?

    None whatsoever.

    It’s not a matter of responsibility, because with no power comes no responsibility and it’s hard to have less power than a writer. It’s a matter of choice–of trying to write something non-problematic because you don’t want to write things that are problematic. If you want to change a character for that reason, cool, go for it. If you don’t want to, don’t. Be aware that no matter what you do, someone somewhere will criticize you for it, so if you’re concerned about that make up your mind which criticisms you care about. (For instance, I personally would care more about Ana giving me a positive review than, say, Orson Scott Card or someone from NOM.)

  12. froborr May 28, 2013 at 10:08 am

    As for what kind of writing I do… does “unfinished” count as a genre?

  13. anamardoll May 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

    LOL. The first and possibly only time I am considered more valuable than Orson Scott Card. I treasure this. 😀

  14. chris the cynic May 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    You’re always more valuable than Orson Scott Card.

    Opinionwise at least, absolute values should not be placed on people because people do not work that way. That’s only for evil thought experiments involving lifeboats or bomb shelters thought up by ethicists. (And on that subject, you totally get into the bomb shelter first.)

  15. anamardoll May 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    LOL! One-side, Orson!

    (On a serious note, it is deeply saddening to me that such a talented writer is such a jackass.)

    I do think we have a responsibility to write progressively, but then I also think that most writers are privileged, if only by virtue of being literate and having the time and ability to write. Sometimes this means putting serious consideration into diversifying a cast or passign Bechdel tests; other times it’s as simple as not falling into harmful stereotypes.

  16. Silver Tyger (@SilvercatTyger) May 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    The catch is sometimes avoiding stereotypes means not diversifying certain characters. I had one character I originally described as black, until I realized, oh wait, making the character that turns into a lion-man black might not be the image I’m going for… He’s a white dude now. Well, for the few pages where he’s human. (He’s awesome to write though… pure Author Appeal)

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