Tag Archives: contract with reader

Liberate the writing mind from the tyranny of time

PLAYING WITH TIME IS THE WRITER’S TOOL

Freeing the mind from the constraints of the linear computer screen.

My ‘left brain’ is linear. Orderly. And must eventually win: the words I produce on the screen or page will have to load into the brain, even in chunks, in an orderly fashion.

I call that the tyranny of the chronology. Or the tyranny of time. Tyranny, in any case.

Even if the story is being told non-linearly, with foreshadowing and backstory, and revisits the same events from different points of view, the ORDER of the words in the final product must be a queue: one behind the other.

We are creatures of time, mired in time, stuck in time – and used to dealing with input presented to us, in time.

Half our metaphors and clichés involve time:

A stitch in time saves nine.
In a timely manner.
Time heals all wounds.
Time to die. Time for dinner.
To everything, turn, turn, turn.

Our most common question: What time is it?

We’re born.
We live.
We die.
In that order.

Time is a relentless dimension, going always headlong into the future from the past, with a moment only in the present – and we are dragged along, willy nilly.

So much so that we hardly notice it.

Time is like air, not noticed until there is a lack

The right brain, which doesn’t do things that way, is also dragged along. Even if it takes in many things at one perception, each instant in time will bring a different set, to be perceived and dealt with – if possible – before being assaulted by the next.

This affects writing in many different ways, but especially in giving a power to the words already on the page – in their ordered stream. The left brain resists changing that which is already sorted into a linear order. It did all that work to organize things, and now you want to change their order? It demands to know, Why? It gets in the way of finding a better order, a more coherent whole.

Loosening the grip of time

For me, one of the best ways to stop that linear progression is to go to paper: a fresh sheet of scratch paper invites scribbling. Pencil, pen, colored markers. A neon yellow highlighter. A printed copy of the current version or pieces of older versions invites scissors and tape. And rearranging. Always rearranging. Clumping – and stringing out. Grouping in different ways.

I know there is software for that – to make a screen more like a whiteboard. Maybe the next generation will be comfortable with its freedom, and not notice its inherent limitations: the screen doesn’t allow you to cut it into pieces.

But ‘going to paper’ stops time for me for long enough to see if this fiction has a BETTER timeline in it, a different order for all those perceptions and illuminations of the right mind.

Manipulating time – for story

Always in mind is the idea of how to slip all these bits and pieces of the story into the reader’s head so a coherent whole story can assemble, KNOWING the reader’s mind is different from my own, KNOWING that the story for the reader will be different from my version in many and subtle ways because every head is a whole world, and every world in a mind is different from every other one. Presenting the building blocks in the best way I can think of to invoke the reader’s use of her built-in software.

Overcoming my OWN Resistance to changing anything – to make it better – requires that I manipulate time for my own purposes, which also requires that I step out of the constraints linear time puts on ME.

‘Going to the paper’ does this every time I try it: there is something magical about messing with time, but I have to do it non-linearly, with different tools than my usual ones, and in a way that takes me back, metaphorically, to when it was okay to scribble anything anywhere (and I even had a hard time staying on the paper), before I was truly conscious of time, when there was only ‘now.’

‘Going to the paper’ in real life, too

I have to do a lot of year-end paperwork. It is stressful and confusing, and requires decisions from a mind not functional yet this morning. I can sit here, staring at the screen until the cows come home – and nothing useful will happen.

Making notes on paper, scribbling, adding bits and pieces, and drawing arrows from one piece to another – going to the paper – is the only way I’m going to get through it.

Respecting time

The most important thing a writer can do is to respect the reader’s time – and put nothing into a story that is not strictly necessary.

That said, it has to be in the context of the readers you hope to attract, as time sense is a strong predictor of the kind of books a particular reader wants, and the writer’s is developed by the sum total of everything the writer has ever read.

Pretty big order, there.

I think the most important measurement of respect is that your target readers will never demand back the time they spent reading you. And the ones who are not your ‘tribe’ will accuse you of wasting theirs.

How do you finagle ‘time’?

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A writer’s Patreon can be fun

Neon plastic dinosaur toys with text: A new venture, a writer's Patreon; Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

FOR THE CHATTY WRITER!

I just finished another free public post in my new Patreon:

Workspace notes for Scene 21.2
https://www.patreon.com/posts/18317676
984 words

I’m using this Patreon as
1) a place to post the finished scenes in Book 2 (Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD) as I create them – the first chapter of the book, Chapter 21 in the trilogy as I number continuously in case I ever get to put the whole thing in a single volume (tagged ‘Free public posts) is now posted in its entirety, a scene a post.
2) a place to talk about me, me, me: my writing process, my ideas, my scenes – for those with a burning desire to examine how I do what I do (still producing more ‘Free public posts’ for now).

Why? Because I need it; but more because my writing process produces 10 to 100 times more written material, per scene, than ever ends up in a scene, and that’s the kind of ‘reward’ Patreon recommends that writers produce for their patrons.

I’d love to see Ursula LeGuin’s work notes for The Left Hand of Darkness if they were available, so I’m enjoying producing a few of this kind of posts to see if they are attractive. My #1 patron loved the first one. We’ll see how her enthusiasm holds up.

And it got my brain going this morning to have something both specific, and not too hard (as it’s based purely on that background material I already produced) to get writing on.

Stop by and poke around the free stuff already there, and give me some feedback. Are you interested in having patrons?
https://www.patreon.com/alicia_butcher_ehrhardt

And for me, the question is: Will you be my patron?

I checked out many of the writing Patreons. It’s not an easy site to do searches, but patience was rewarded, and I looked at fifteen pages of them to see what other writers were doing, what they were offering as rewards, and where they were on their writing journeys.

For strict writers of fiction (short stories, novellas, novels), I noticed that many were looking for support while writing their first novel – with no previous material listed as proof that they could finish one.

It is continuous crowdfunding – so to keep patrons interested and coming back, the writer has to produce a lot of new material.

I’m among the more organized Patreons; it isn’t a requirement. I’m sure the pressures of keeping a subscription site going are considerable if you don’t have a lot of usable material already. There are a lot graphic artists doing things like webcomics and graphic novels. Alas, I lack the talent (or the interest to develop any I like) beyond producing at least a few more covers that scream ‘Alicia did it!’

When I get to that stage again, I might use this (if there is interest) to post not just the final cover, but some of the steps and the thinking. Again, if I’m doing the background writing anyway, some of my readers might enjoy watching the process.

Reward tiers, ie, cost to patrons

My lowest tier is for scenes, and the next lowest is for scenes + background posts. Patreon wouldn’t let me offer them for less than $1, but you are allowed to cap the number of payments you will make in a month (which won’t stop you from getting them, only from paying for more than one a month).

My intention is to post up to two scenes a month, and up to two additional background scenes a month (to give myself time and space to make them look good – and remove a few spoilers from my notes which were intended to be private or to overwhelm my biographer(s)).

Patrons will help shape what I put up for those Workspace posts.

There are rewards for the truly committed – I’ve priced them in consideration of how hard it will be for me to satisfy the requests, and warned some may bring my writing on that day to a halt (I can only use each energy spoonful once, and I get far fewer than normal humans get).

Patrons can stop patronizing (patroning?) at any time, and late joiners will have the advantage of getting more early posts for free – and the disadvantage of not having as many credits toward a copy of the book when it’s finished.

So it’s an easy thing to try out.

1) Read the public posts already there (click button in sidebar to take you there).

2) Decide if you want more.

Easy peasy.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Got questions? Wish I’d had someone to answer them when I started the Patreon, but even I managed it in a week or so.

 

Flexibility is worth working through pain

Setting sun behind woman leaping. What you give to keep yourself in shape? Alicia Butcherr EhrhardtIT IS HARD WORK TO STAY FLEXIBLE

To keep writing

Over this past week, while struggling with the chore of de-junking a house, divesting myself of decades worth of stuff, and getting my singing in, I have been physically exhausted (even though I direct the work, not do it).

The sleep I’ve been getting has been fractured, erratic, odd – and never deep enough.

So, the perfect time in life to take on another major task?

So, of course I did

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started a Patreon page for Pride’s Children; NETHERWORLD, Book 2 in the trilogy (see button on sidebar – I figured out how to have one with a link!!!).

Because, among other things, I realized that the moving tasks are ordinary. And while they need to be done, and every detail has to be supervised by me, and there has been a huge emotional content (you try capturing in a few scrapbooks about twenty years worth of homeschooling three kids!), it wasn’t hard, or tricky, or complicated, or complex, or even challenging.

Ordinary stuff. Every homeschooling family has tons of stuff to dispose of. Every family moving out of a long-time home has a lot of stuff.

But there is no great intelligence or problem-solving ability necessary; in fact, that gets in the way because methodical and utilitarian are the words that describe the process. Just do it. Make a decision: box it for the move, declare it object unnecessary, give it away.

What keeps your brain usable as you get older?

I’m convinced it is USING that brain, not letting it get fuzzy and lazy and go easy.

Starting a page on another platform for promoting your work – that’s complex and challenging. Patreon doesn’t make it particularly easy – I find a lot of applications which are developed for online and Windows use somehow seem to lack menus and a sitemap which works and guides that are more than basic – and I had to keep poking to find even rudimentary details. Such as which is the best way to get your money out (when you get any).

Inexplicably, for Direct Deposit via Stripe,  the payment page gave you a form to fill out which required banking information AND your Social Security number, but which didn’t mention fees.

And for Paypal, it listed some fees which could reduce your take.

Thus giving you the impression that even though Stripe usually costs money, the direct deposit part didn’t. Making it better than Paypal.

Stuff like that. (It’s not true, BTW. But you have to figure it out based on the amount being transferred, by going to the two payment methods’ sites and doing the mental work.)

Digging and logical thinking

It would be nice to have no fees to deposit your money earned into your bank account – Amazon does it, right? Amazon’s fees are probably included in their calculation of their cut – they just don’t break it out.

Doing this kind of mental work, hard, new, in a different and unintuitive (for me) format is worth doing – because it keeps me flexible – for the next thing that comes along.

I’ve found myself getting lackadaisical about learning tasks like how to control the network of TV and Netflix and Amazon video and Youtube – the spouse clicks thousands of times a night while organizing a couple of hours of something to watch. I let him do it, most of the time.

But watching TV is not my profession. Writing is. And I take it seriously for now, and as long as I can do it. And it changes continuously, but no one is going to make it easier for me.

So I charge in, do the work, maintain the flexibility to attempt and conquer the next challenge, and revel in the ability to still master the new.

It’s exhausting – and necessary.

And then there’s all the daily physical exercise

Which keeps the physical pain under some sort of rough control, so I neither take too much additional medication nor sit here in a haze of pain, unable to think.

But physical pain is boring. Not intellectually challenging.

So I’m not talking about it.

But I gotta get my mental ‘steps’ in, and push that to the limit.


Do you find yourself slacking off when there’s something new to be learned? Are you conscious that you’re passing up opportunities to keep the ol’ cerebrum functioning? Are you making an actual choice?


Don’t forget to visit the Patreon page  – the first chapter’s on me (pages are public), and you don’t even need to figure out how to create an account, and then have to close it. Feedback welcome, whether or not you will use the platform to read.


 

The house where Pride’s Children was written

AND IT WON’T BE MINE ANY MORE

If God gives me life and brain, I will finish my epic love story, Pride’s Children, in a couple of years.

Sometimes place is important. One thinks of the Brontës writing in the rectory on the moors, and wonders if it was a cold and dismal place, or a warm and cheery one. Did they have one room they kept cozy and tended to congregate in? I could find some of my answers if I took the time to look.

Sometimes I think that Kary’s house, Sanctuary, is more real than my own. I have put more thought into how it should be.

We have lived in this house, only the second one we’ve ever owned, since March 5, 1981, which is a very long time in these moving times. We have been its only owners.

My children have known no other childhood home.

As I have become more home-bound, I have spent almost all my life in the south bedroom, with a window that opens to a quiet court ended by a cul-de-sac, where the kids all rode their tricycles and bicycles and drew in chalk on the pavement.

I insisted on this house – because the neighborhood had – and has – mature trees everywhere I look. With so many developments built on cornfields, and so many owners who don’t bother to plant a tree when they move in, the new developments have a raw look to them.

I dislike the American house which often shows its concrete foundation, stained by water and rust, like a dirty petticoat peeking out from under a lady’s skirt, long after it is built. As if we should all politely ignore all underwear hanging out. Bushes are planted – which never cover that bottom foot of dirty grey.

Ours has bushes to the ground.

Abandoning a home deliberately is something new for me. I love this one in some way, for its memories, but I’m still here, and the memories are all I have. Already. I don’t want to go start clearing the debris of the winter so the bulbs can come out – I’ve done that too many times; now it’s accompanied by the pain of sitting low, and the sleepless nights that come with the pain.

The kids come very rarely, and are not into dance lessons and Scouts any more, so there is nothing for them to do. They often take the train to NY, and spend the day having fun. Without me. One wanders up to Princeton for a good walk and a bunch of Pokemon Go sites. Without me. Or walks to a local park, ditto.

I face the stairs every day. Sometimes I have to go up in an undignified way. I don’t understand why that doesn’t bother other people a whole lot more than it does. If it were them, and me watching, I would have gotten us out of here years ago. No, I have no desire to stay here – with my sewing machine sitting unused in the little attic closet I turned into a sewing room. Because I have no reason to sew. No costume for Halloween, no dress for a prom. My own clothes, which I started making when I was 14, now come in the mail.

I want to make a new home

While I still can. While I can adjust to a new community. While I can meet new people and do new things with enjoyment.

I don’t even want most of our furniture. The dining room table takes a beating when you’re homeschooling three kids at it. Much of the kid furniture was IKEA, assembled on the spot and not really capable of being disassembled successfully. The nice bedroom set, with the light bridge, is too big. The solid oak kitchen table, carefully hand-finished, and in perfect shape, is too big. Somehow or other, over the last two years, it seems every dining room chair needs re-caning and refinishing (I TOLD them not to lean so hard), and the wheels on the kitchen chairs we’ve enjoyed rolling around are destroying both the chairs and the floor.

This house needs a healthy woman in charge. And people who like to do things at the workbench in the basement. I’m not that woman: I did my time.

But somewhere I need to leave a plaque:

In this house, between 2000 and 2018, Pride’s Children was written.

The beginning of it, anyway, because NETHERWORLD won’t be finished here.

There are places I could leave such a plaque, places I know, places behind – where a new owner won’t even know there is a place.

The written record

If you’re a writer, and have a thought – a blog is the perfect home to let it run free. Who knows – some day you may gather your thoughts in words, clean them up and organize them about a theme, and publish them.

I look at this blog, with over five hundred posts since I started in 2012, and I know some of those posts would make a different kind of book on writing, and others would document the production of my own epic – and marvel that the format allows them to still be there when I’ve moved on. I really ought to go see what is there. Might make for some interesting archaeology.

I’m finishing this at six a.m. because the ice dancing at the Olympics put an earworm into my brain, and then I got hungry… You know the drill. It’s a good time for humans to get nostalgic.

How think ye?


Thanks again for Stencil‘s images – consider them if you need a source of them for your own blog. The pictures make me think, and then we’re off on another wandering trail through the writer’s brain.

What do you do with infuriating reviews?

NOTHING

I won’t even defend the grammatical correctness of that statement in the picture: EVERYBODY has an opinion, most of them WRONG.

WRITERS put their opinions out into the world where anyone can read them.

Readers have opinions, too, and they get to express them in many places, one of which is the very modern REVIEW.

This is the system now, people.

Get used to it.

For all the complaints, the reviewing systems are not going to disappear because they have enfranchised the disenfranchised billions who never had a platform before, and now they do.

Moderators may keep the discussion to civil levels.

Insecure bloggers will delete or alter comments they don’t like from opinionated readers who disagree with them.

But I’m finding that I don’t spend much time reading the word of bloggers who don’t ever bother responding to their interlocutors. Not worth it. It has become a two-way street.

[Sort of. The pitifully awkward communication via mobile may be the ONE thing that destroys the system, because it is much harder to do on those tiny keyboards. But wait for good speech-to-text software and microphones that can pick up the speakers subvocalisations, and we may be back in business.]

Everyone’s a critic.

Today a writer whined about her first 1* review, on an FB group I participate in – after writing a bunch of books! Lucky woman. Most of us get a 1* on the first book!

I could tell you stories. In fact, I will. Below. Because one of those reviewers (not the 1* one this time, but bad enough) got MY goat. [Lovely thing, name of Billy, soft, intelligent, beautiful brown eyes… but I digress.]

Writers are asking for it

Literally. We want reviews. We want feedback. We want to know when our arrow has hit their bullseye.

But we don’t want their bullshite.

We want praise. Glorious and unstinting and erudite and literate (not the same thing) praise.

Because, to be able to write well (assuming that’s what the goal is; with some writers you wonder… but I digress), we have to sit at the keyboard and open all our veins to get enough blood to write with (takes lots of extra blood for all those sidetracks and failed attempts that occur with good writing… but I digress).

And being open is a target for, well, bullies. (Anyone who doesn’t like our prose is… darn it with the digressions today.)

Unconscious bullies. Jealous bullies. Bullies-who-had-a-bad-day.

What to do?

NOTHING.

Nothing overt or aimed at readers or argumentative or likely to start a flame war online!

There is enough garbage on the internet already.

And we have the example of very popular writers: pick your favorite, and your favorite book, and go look at the reviews. All of them. ESPECIALLY the negative reviews.

And remember, on AMAZON a 3* review is NEGATIVE/CRITICAL. Don’t believe me? Check those reviews on your favorite book’s page again: the 3*, 2*, and 1* are CRITICAL/NEGATIVE reviews.

On Goodreads, 3* is good, 4* is great, 5* is ‘best book I ever read.’ According to their rubric (I don’t make these things up – what’s the point when you can check so easily?).

On Amazon, 4* and 5* are good, 1*, 2*, and 3* are bad. Just to summarize that neatly for you.

Got it?

Find a place where it’s safe to vent (your own blog should be such a place, even though it’s pretty public, as long as you don’t identify anyone specific or any specific negative/critical review). Better still, complain only to friends and on closed writers’ groups, but it may not be as satisfying.

The upside?

Another review is another review. They keep adding up. SOMEONE is reading.

And reader/reviewers write their thoughts and opinions in their reviews; other people may read the reviews and gain more understanding of what they may be choosing to read. This is good, especially with the negative reviews.

But it ALWAYS points out to you that your ad copy, cover, description, back copy, quoted editorial reviews – everything up until the sample/Look Inside – is attracting certain readers. This should make you pause and THINK.

I know I have a lot of thinking to do (I knew that already, but it was far down on the To Do list, and has moved up quite a bit) when I get a negative review from someone who probably should not have read the book. Because it’s really not their kind of book – and I can’t change it to BE their kind of book. The story’s already set in concrete, all the way to the end of the trilogy, even the parts I haven’t written yet. The style, tone, characters, plot – all implacably going to be very similar to what is already published.

If someone states unambiguously they don’t like Mexican food, don’t give them a coupon and invite them to rate your Mexican restaurant. ‘Twill end badly on Yelp.

So our signals are crossed.

I’m glad they tried something obviously out of their regular reading zone. I’m very appreciative of their reviewing – most readers don’t, and it is an effort I appreciate. I’m not particularly pleased they rated the way they did, but I’m very glad they pointed out in their review what they liked and what they didn’t. That’s data for me, not for writing, but for marketing.

Not sure this counts as a rant, but it is an attempt to bang my head on the wall. Without doing too much damage – I’m slow enough already.

As an author, I do not go to my reviews and down rate the reviews I don’t like. It’s better if readers do that.

Now I’m going to take a nap. All this ranting wipes me out. Especially the ‘tread lightly’ part.


A reminder that Quozio and Stencil provide me ways to make images, gratis, and I would get a subscription if I needed more than a few graphics a month. This little bit of advertising – and the things I create with their tools – will have to be my form of payment for now. I AM grateful. The words, of course, are mine.


What’s your favorite negative review?

The pain of discovering typos in published work

ONLY GOD HAS NO TYPOS

Pride goeth before a fall

I know that. I expected that. And my typo rate was, I thought, rather low, especially considering that I ended up being, for reasons too long to go into, my own proofreader.

And I worked my tail off at it. It’s very hard to be critical of your own work. So? It’s part of the job.

Now, I have found egregious (well, to me) typos in traditionally published books – one major book on writing that I use almost daily has ‘principal’ (main, or the guy who is in charge of a school) instead of ‘principle’ (fundamental truth or morally correct behavior) not once, but twice – so the author got it wrong and the proofreader failed to correct it; or a proofreader got it wrong, changed it, and the author didn’t catch the incorrect correction. Or they both have no idea they don’t know.

I earmarked the place, and occasionally toy with the idea of sending a note to the author (which I don’t do – not my circus, not my monkeys). For future editions, you see. Because it is the kind of book that gets future editions.

But it amuses me to know it’s there. And I still love the book.

Proud of having low error rate, until…

I had found ONE wrong word, ONE extra ‘s’ at the end of a word, and a couple of places where, when doing the final formatting pass through MS Word (to get widow and orphan control, running headers and footers, and right margin indents for the print version of Pride’s Children), WORD inserted some stupidities (specifically, leaving –” as the only thing at the beginning of a line, 5 or 6 times) after I published.

They’re on my list of things to correct on the CreateSpace file (yeah, it’s on the to do list, somewhere in the 9000s). No one who reviewed has commented on those tiny typos, so they’re not all that significant in the flow (or my readers are being kind).

And all but the first two are not present in the ebook, which didn’t go through Word.

Acceptable. Imperfect, but not too much.

Possibly because my youngest daughter mentioned it (she finally read the book!!!), I was a little more attuned to a particular possibility when I was sitting in the doctor’s office yesterday, reading my own book.

And then, wham! I saw it. I’m not even sure if it’s the same thing my daughter mentioned (though it may be), and I now know exactly what I did, and it really doesn’t affect the story that much.

But I am now aware of a FLAW that I, as a perfectionist, can’t let stand.

Easy to fix?

Can’t let it stand.

You know me.

I moved the idea of putting an errata page on prideschildren.com up on the list – so those lovely people who purchase the first book in the trilogy in paper can correct their own copies (not that many readers, but still…), possibly now aware that they have the coveted First Edition – flaws and all.

Or I can slink away, offering (consider yourselves offered to, if you are one of these wonderful people) a corrected copy as soon as I can make them, and being aware that they were either too kind to point this out to me, or, better, too engrossed in the story to even notice.

The ebook will be corrected (again, asap – not a fast possibility, either), so that anyone who downloads it again will automatically get the corrections. If they care. Because this new little typo is in both versions. [hangs head]

The good side

There’s ALWAYS a good side.

I caught it (before I had a chance to look up my daughter’s questioning whether I had it right). From reading it myself in a relaxed way, with nothing else to read. Rather than from it being scornfully pointed out by a reader. Rather less painful – or is it?

Because I’m indie and self-published, it is both my responsibility and my right to fix it (so I don’t have principal for principle for all eternity of this print run).

CreateSpace and Amazon make it easy to fix (haven’t done it yet, so that’s ‘easy in principle’ for now): I upload the corrected files (I believe), wait, and within a couple of days, I can hold my head up in public again.

I have added (mentally – that darn To Do list is so darn long) a few things to the ‘look out for’ list for my AutoCrit editing passes. Especially since my brain appears to be losing its mind, I will now examine every single ‘s in each scene because the world not understanding that plurals don’t have apostrophes is its problem, not mine. I will speak sternly to the brain, and it will whine that it’s so overburdened already, and I will remind it that I’m in charge.

Etc. I.e., I will improve my skills based on this little irritating contretemps.

And because I’m indie, I don’t have to deal with a proofreader about the whole thing.

So why am I making a big deal of this?

Because professional means that you worry about these details, and that you try to make the next one have fewer (not less) errors.

It’s good for me to see where improvement is necessary (believe me, there is a whole new process in place so this particular little error won’t recur).

And it actually bolsters my belief that self-editing, and learning from your self-editing how to be a better writer is critical.

I stand behind my own work, even in the tiny places.

For the future

It’s okay to point typos out to me if you notice them. I just got a wonderful email back after my beta reader read – and liked – the next chapter. I strive to send her finished work. And her wonderful nitpickiness tells me what she likes, asks questions which lead often to some wonderful back-and-forth, and always mentions the little things. She found two. I love her for that.

It also reinforces that doing the beta reading one chapter at a time has some significant advantages for me: a chapter is a reasonable size chunk of writing to deal with at a time. Things get noticed.

And I can’t see how this would possibly work with a traditional publisher, the timing, and the diffusing of responsibility. All while the writer is supposed to be writing the next book. Not for me, anyway.

So there it is. And no, you won’t find out from me what I did wrong (at least not until the Errata page comes out). If you didn’t notice, I’m not going to be the one to point it out. Nope.

Welcome to the wonderful world of independent writing. PLEASE feel free to contribute your own stories.


Thanks to Stencil and Quozio, my go to places for images. I’m resonsible for the silly words that appear in them.

Welcome, drive-by lurker and reader

GLAD TO HAVE YOU VISIT A SPELL

It has happened a number of times, so I will remark on it: I get up in the morning, and, while drinking Diet Coke #1 (my preferred form of caffeine), I check my blog stats, and lo and behold, there has been a jump in ‘views.’

The pattern is the same: though there may be many views of the archives, I assume it’s mostly one new person because a whole bunch of posts get a single view. I think this person may visit the archives page to see which posts might be attracting a few minutes of their attention.

But they never leave a comment or a like or a name or…

And so, for those of you in this category, first I say Welcome!

And then I suggest that you leave a thought. A comment on a post somewhere. An opinion. A like. Even an argument, if civilly stated. I love to get readers, and I like even better having my conversational gambits (for that is what blog posts are, conversation starters) taken up by someone new.

I won’t sell you anything (beyond the gentle suggestion that if you like my prose enough to read that many posts, you might enjoy my fiction (free short stories available, one novel ditto on Amazon, and more to come). But it’s always nice to know who’s listening.

Stay a bit. Chat. Visit with an idea or another commenter (I don’t turn comments off for older posts). Gimme a few words back.

I don’t bite – I just have opinions, which I like to support with whatever data I have.

The internet of ideas depends on you, too.

New Year’s Sale on Pride’s Children ebook

MARKETING 101: PERIODICALLY RUN A SALE – $2.99

People have new Kindles they got for Christmas, or they have downloaded the free Kindle app for their phone or desktop or tablet or iPad…

It reminded me that after all the hoopla is over may be a very good time to think what you want to spend time reading. Let me make it easier for my readers right now.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (Book 1 of the trilogy) is almost 170K of a novel of obsession, betrayal, and love – and I’m just getting started.

I’m working hard on Book 2, NETHERWORLD. I have plans to put Too Late up on Amazon as an ebook. My body has been giving me a lot of guff – maybe a sale will encourage everything to settle down and let me write.

Remember: Amazon lets you gift someone an ebook in the easiest way possible – check the product page. The sale will be worldwide – as soon as Amazon changes the price for me.

Enjoy!

How to self-edit fiction with AutoCrit

CAN A WRITER SELF-EDIT SUCCESSFULLY FOR PUBLICATION?

I keep getting into online discussions with editors (cui bono?) who insist that no writer of fiction can or should self-edit. Not for publication, they say. And they cite the example of so many self-published books which are full of typos and grammar mistakes and spelling errors as proof.

Yes, there are many self-published books which need better editing. According to Sturgeon’s Law (Theodore Sturgeon, 1918-1985, American SF author and critic):

90% of SF is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.

My paraphrase, but it will serve. It is now being applied particularly to self-published work, but applies to traditionally-published work as well. We can argue about the percentages, but the point is that much work gets published without meeting someone’s standards.

Some of us care. A lot.

I happen to believe that the best gift an author can give herself is to learn to self-edit well enough for publication.

The reason is simple: If you can learn to produce quality work all by yourself, the READER gets the unvarnished best the writer can produce, UNALTERED by someone else.

Voice unaltered. Tone unaltered. Style unaltered. Judgment unaltered. Story unaltered.

The thing which makes a particular writer unique is preserved for the delectation of the reader. Artisanal. As all writing should be.

And it only comes from really being aware of what you write – and why.

Okay. Now that we have the WHY, let’s have the HOW:

Think of the best quality in published traditional work. You should aspire to better that standard.

This is not an easy task. There is learning. And failing. And getting appropriate feedback. And yes, making mistakes in judgment and execution.

But setting yourself a rigorous process, adding to that process as you learn, and following that process isn’t that hard. It just requires becoming aware of the difference between the story in your head, and the story on the page, and not quitting until the difference is as small as you can humanly make it. We call this ‘work.’ Hard work. I have made a contract with my readers that I will do this work before they get to read what I write.

It is work that is rewarded by making you a better writer. Big reward. Useful reward. And, in the long run, it will save you money, frustration, and dealing with people who don’t get your vision for your own work.

Enter the final mechanical stage.

Once I have used everything I have learned about writing from my teachers, books by Sol Stein, Donald Maass, Blake Snyder, the Dramatica team, and all the reference books off- and online, I have a scene or a chapter which needs to be cleansed of dead skin.

It isn’t ready for the beta reader until it is finished, but my ‘finished’ needs the final mechanical stage. I use AutoCrit for this purpose. As close as I can get to the original AutoCrit program which is basically a counter of terms and a comparer of those terms against a database. There is a new version; I’ve learned to ignore the new parts because the last thing in the world I would pay attention to is a program telling me what to write. Writing is my job.

I want the mechanical editor to tell me what I’ve done, in a very black-and-white way. I want it to count for me, because counting adverbs is the most boring thing I can think to do by human. Or counting the number of times a four-word phrase (each possible four-word phrase in my text) is used. Or counting the number of times I have used words or phrases (and showing me where they are). And making a list of unusual words.

For this I use certain specific sections of AutoCrit.

After pasting the text in, I visit the following menu items:

Strong Writing: Adverbs, Cliches, Redundancies, and Unnecessary Filler Words.

Word Choice: Generic Descriptions, and Personal Words and Phrases.

Repetition: Repeated Uncommon Words, Word Frequency, and Phrase Frequency.

For all of the above, I ignore the program’s nagging (such as ‘Remove about 3’ when it somehow decides that I have too many occurrences of ‘that’), because for me, AutoCrit is only an automated counter doing the dirty work for me because I’m too lazy to do it myself (and know that humans given mechanical tasks make huge mistakes because they get BORED).

I do NOT use other sections. Why? Because they judge me. Or someone wrote a little piece of text to put there that sounds just like it. Once we go from comparing the number of times I use ‘that’ to the average for fiction in their database, I have all the information I want from an algorithm.

Pièce de résistance: how to use the information.

This is the writer’s job: every single counted detail from my text, generated easily by a program, is now subject to the final test: Is this the way I want it?

In other words, it’s back to me. Not with suggested ‘improvements.’ Just counted, and displayed for me to decide if it serves my final intent to have the text stay the way I wrote it (remember, I considered it pretty much finished before I tossed it into AutoCrit).

If it shows me clichés from its database that I have used, I have to decide if the character using the cliches uses cliches. Some do, some don’t. Clichés are neither good nor bad. For some characters I will keep the cliché but try to make the sentiment unique again – which leads to some pretty interesting substitutions from that subconscious brain.

If it shows me I have used one of my personal words a certain number of times (my worst lately tends to be ‘get’ and its variations ‘got’ and ‘getting’ and ‘gotten’ – all of which I’ve input to my personal words file in AC), I will decide 1) if there are too many, 2) if they are the only way to say something (rare), 3) if they have a literary intention (parallel structure often leads to word repetition the database can’t account for),…

Generic Descriptions usually have to be separated into two piles: those in dialogue (and even those benefit by tweaking) which mark a specific character; and those in the internal monologue where I dump what other people use a narrator for (It was a dark and stormy…), ie, description. I may have a very good reason (really) for using the generic description, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded to check.

I never, ever, use AC’s Homonyms tab, because it is excessive, and I can spell, and have NEVER yet found myself using the wrong homonym. Okay, maybe two or three times in the 3.5 MILLION words I’ve put through AC, but NOT by using the Homonyms tab. Too much stuff to process – there are a lot of homonyms in English, and they will find all of them and offer what seems like every other word in a red box. There must be a better way to do that mechanically (don’t mark every ‘you’ because it might be ‘ewe’); meanwhile, I put those words I might misspell by accident into my Personal Words file (though, thought, through, thorough).

Summary

First, examine every single kind of counted word or phrase that you might not otherwise catch, and

Last, decide whether and how to fix it: you’re the author – it’s your baby.

Very simple.

It still takes time, and a lot of effort, and a lot of thinking, and going back and forth to Scrivener with the text of a scene.

I find I can do about 5-10 corrections at a time, after which I save the results in Scrivener, get a fresh copy of the text, paste it into AC, and re-process that tab/menu/submenu.

All other types of errors – spelling, punctuation, point of view consistency, chronology and plotting, content (was this character a red-head?) – should have been eliminated (by me, the spellchecker, and a dictionary/thesaurus) before I use AC.

But I care – and I’m not using my beta reader except as a first reader. For what should be finished work, so she has as clean an experience as I can make. I don’t want her pristine read complicated by anything that distracts her from the flow; when she tells me something doesn’t work for her, it is going to be taken very seriously.


And that is how I use AutoCrit (I have a Lifetime membership – worth every penny) to do what no human editor should be asked to do (count) and what I don’t want an editor to do (change ANY of my words, which includes suggesting I change them). They may not be happy about this, but it is the least traumatic way for me.

I really should stop even clicking on those ‘everything needs an editor’ posts. Their authors, some of them editors, hate people like me.

Is the gift worth your LIFE?

ONLY IF YOU HAVE TO

I wake up angry too many days.

Then I spend time getting myself at least back to neutral, because I live with other people, and it isn’t fair to them to have to put up with me in that mood, unless I have no other choice, and we already know I have a choice, because I have used that choice successfully every day for many years now: figure out how to, today, and get over yourself.

Every day I berate myself

Because I don’t get to work sooner.

I sit at my computer, and end up checking out whether anything has changed in the world since I forced myself to go to bed last night. Now that we have online subscriptions to the Washington Post and The New York Times, I do a quick flip through the headlined new articles, to see if anything needs my attention.

I remember the comic (xkcd, I believe) about how someone can’t go to bed because the internet is broken.

I know it’s partly physical: for some reason probably related to illness, the brain comes on slowly, and usually doesn’t really focus on anything mentally challenging until after first nap. That baffles me, and scares me, because I have to drag myself into that first nap, too, always convinced before I do so that it won’t help, that if I could just force myself through, block the internet, START working I would now be fine for the rest of the day, and I’d get everything done which never gets done.

Every day I test out my mental speed by doing hard sudokus: under about 6:30 minutes, I can probably do something useful with a small effort; over that, and I can’t usually write, and, worse, make mistakes of epic proportions (luckily Scrivener has snapshots and I do backups erratically but so far successfully). Those scare me – when it takes you a month to write a scene exactly the way you want it, and you think you have deleted it, well, it’s not a pretty feeling.

Nothing helps until somehow

The process starts up by itself, if it’s going to that day.

Many days it doesn’t – and I am helpless to understand why. Because it seems that other, equally stressed days, work.

I laugh when I see people suggest taking days off: it takes me so long to get back to where I was when I’m forced by Life to do something else for a few days that I am pretty sure I won’t make it back to writing ever.

My brain is on instructions to at least try every day, and, indeed, I have no idea what I’d do with a day taken off deliberately from writing.

Back to the ‘gift’ I’m writing about

And that gift IS writing.

Not that I have any choice in the matter, it seems, but the writing, as it is now, is the result of who I’ve become.

And that’s the question: if I had to choose, and I had the Hobson’s choice of writing what I do and being sick, or neither, would I value what I’m writing enough to choose illness if that were its price?

Is one single story – if that’s all I manage – worth a life?

Is LoTR worth Tolkien’s life, GWTW Margaret Mitchell’s? And why classify myself with them (and neither was ill). What about ‘Barbie Takes Manhattan’? Or ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’? Or ‘Harry the Cat’?

The choice is an illusion

I have children and a husband – they come first.

And, as soon as they don’t need me this instant, I try again to focus.

I took my nap, am more awake (though sudoku still says well over 7 min.), and I come back to the same question: is this worth writing? Is it worth my life? I’m not sure what the answer is, but it certainly is what I want to do with my life, with the energy I get, with the time I spend/waste every day.

I didn’t make this choice – it chose me. Somehow. Like the other gifts in my life, I’ve found myself nose deep in the pool whether I liked it or not.

By standing on tiptoe, I manage not to drown. And then another day comes, and another task, and I find myself, on the good days, inside my head walking Kary and Andrew through an exchange, planning exactly how Bianca will take the next step, knowing what is coming, but not exactly how the words will play out yet.

And wishing I could speed it up.

What did you get for Christmas?

The same old thing.

I don’t want a pony.

But I want this. And if this is the price, yes, bring it on.

Hope you got what you wanted.


 

Is the artist in the way of the art?

IS THE WRITER’S APPEARANCE A DETRIMENT TO HER OWN WRITING SUCCESS?

When I was growing up, books had plain covers (no representative art), and the only means of interaction between reader and writer were the words on the page.

I usually skipped things like Forewords, and if I read the author’s bio, it was a quick pass, more destined to reinforce his name than anything else, so if I liked the work I could find more by him.

To this day, I have no idea what Robert Heinlein looked like, and only know what Asimov looked like because he was a bit of a media hound (and I had him confused with Einstein, which would have tickled his fancy. I think.).

There are statues of Marcus Aurelius, in stone or bronze, I assume – never even thought to look.

Modern digital life has changed all that

It is almost annoying when an author goes to a great deal of trouble not to let readers know what she looks like.

I prefer actual current photographs for avatars.

It is a problem for those with multiple pen names.

And I wonder just how much it influences the readers, especially in some genres.

Should Romance writers be pretty?

Humans who have sight are very visual creatures. It is estimated (somewhere) that 80% of our energy goes to dealing with visual input.

We react negatively to ugly things – after millenia of evolution that correlated ugly things with things that were often bad for us, such as rotted animals or toxic snakes.

Other things, such as the thickness of the ankles of young women in countries where sunlight was insufficient part of the year – which is an indication of ricketts, a disease which might also have affected her other bones, and make her more likely to have problems in childbirth, have gotten folded into our standards of beauty: thick ankles = not attractive.

I notice the way authors present themselves (check out Kristin Hannah’s Amazon author page) – and wonder how much that affects her sales (she’s gorgeous, and that’s a great photo). Wonder how any others can compete.

Do readers wonder if any of what’s in the stories is based on experience?

What about opinionated authors?

What do you think of authors whose claim to fame includes a very solid amount of in-your-face-ness? Are you more likely to read their books?

I loved Rudyard Kipling stories; reading about his attitudes has put a bit of a damper on reading his books, and would make me think hard about gifting them to a grandchild if I had one.

I make judgments about people based on their appearance

All the time.

I also immediately catch myself at it now, and look at those judgments dispassionately to see how much might be true. I have managed to change my own opinions quite a bit by a continued practice, and no longer automatically make some judgments which used to bother me a lot because they were so automatic, and couldn’t possibly be true.

But I’m wondering if, in the race for sales, those who look good have an unfair advantage. Again.

At least in getting started in the race.

Choose how you present yourself online

Not suggesting this should change, but I can’t quite stop making those automatic judgments about the photos that people choose to represent themselves with on their author page. Or avatar. Or book cover.

The good thing is that it is usually just at a few places, say Amazon, FB, your blog, and they don’t get to see what you look like first thing in the morning.

I need to work on that.

Do you ever think about how you are influenced by what you ‘know’ about an author?

I write today in Uttar Pradesh

THE MOUNTAINS I CAN’T CLIMB ARE MINE

Years ago, when I set Pride’s Children in 2005-2006, I worked out Book 1, PURGATORY, in a little more detail than the remaining volumes of the trilogy (there being only so much you can carry in your head at a time, and Book 1 was quite a lot to handle).

I emphasize that the rough draft was complete, Book 1 to the end of Book 3. I know what is happening – I’m an extreme plotter, and little of importance has changed since 2000.

Some of my research has come back, not so much to haunt me, but to challenge me, as I work through turning an unbelievably rough first draft (don’t be fooled by the perfect spelling, and all the punctuation marks being in their places) into the final draft, a one-step scene by scene process for me.

Victory after a month?

I finished a scene, which took me over a month to write, yesterday. I listened to it (one of my final steps) and declared it finished to my exacting standards (hehe), posted in my victory journal, and started working on the next scene immediately.

And immediately ran into a road block at a deceptively-simple plot point:  What time do we leave the hotel in the morning?

Did a bit of quick research on distances, times, and roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, and realized I had a whopping big plot problem.

One part of the research held: I had changed the date of the scene by three days, but the sun still rose within two minutes of my original date. Don’t laugh at me – it’s a plot point, and I pay attention (so the readers doesn’t have to) in great detail when I can. I think I need that degree of detail myself, when writing, to fully go somewhere inside my head which I can’t go to in reality because of time or distance – or because it’s in the past.

Research tools have changed

But when I wrote the rough draft, I was not concerned with details of traffic and distance in India. I did a quick pass, found the things I needed, figured I could nudge or hedge enough to make it work – after all, the scene had bridging a time and spatial gap only as a minor part, and moved on to the more important character plot points.

Today, I had to pay for that.

I had to have characters be somewhere at that particular time – which meant they had to get in a car at an appropriate time, and go to bed at a time which went with the rest, and have dinner first (all of which should be transparent to the reader), and fly in from the other side of the world.

Google Earth: villain and hero

Google Earth showed me it wouldn’t work. Not as I set it up originally, because they do such silly things as calculate how long it will take you from Point A to Point B at a PARTICULAR time of day on a day which might not be in 2005 (that calculation is lost), but can be extrapolated, with some care and patience, from what it might take today. Or next Tuesday.

It’s designed for commuters and tour guides. It is amazingly useful for me.

I hope some day to have a host of Indian readers – it’s a huge market of English speakers which has been barely tapped because of other problems such as rural electrification, vast population density, and its immense size. But I’m not going to be successful with them (assuming they actually like and read my writing) if I mysteriously shorten the distance between two Indian cities in an area where people actually know how long it takes to go from one to the other. The suspension of disbelief will go Poof!

There are many side benefits to spending time with errant details

The area is more real to me than ever before. And it was pretty solid then.

Other details that are important – and peripherally hooked in – such as who sits next to whom during a conversation, suddenly have answers from logic, not imagination. Thank goodness for real-world anchors occasionally! It gets a little rarified in the cloud-cuckoo-land of making it all up as you go.

And because I started Pride’s Children to tell myself a real story, real in the sense that it could happen, not necessarily that it did, I can believe my own lies.

 

Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?


What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!


How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

Fiction: the SECOND-BEST path to empathy

DIRECT EXPERIENCE BEST PATH TO EMPATHY?

En carne propia‘ – ‘in your own flesh’ – is always the best way, subject to the limitation that reflection is necessary to develop empathy, and a certain amount of facility with the concept of sharing something emotional with another human being, which is not necessarily evident in all cases of shared experience.

Having cancer does not confer automatic empathy with other victims of the disease.

And direct experience also has the flaw of actually being divisive if the two people with the same experience have reacted very differently, and they put that down to some inherent quality in themselves. This results in the ‘I got cancer, and I did X, and now I’m far better than those lazy sods who won’t make the effort to do X…’ phenomenon.

Because direct experience doesn’t include another person.

You’d think it would make people empathetic, or at least sympathetic toward the others in similar circumstances, but no.

Fiction is a largely underused way to deliberately develop empathy

The fiction-based trick is that you can be pulled into experiencing what another person – a character in a book – experiences, IF there is enough information in the writing.

On August 22, 2017, I had a guest post on Big Al’s Books and Pals, and I posted the link to that article here. The title Al chose out of the ones I supplied as suggestions was ‘Want to be someone else? Read fiction.’ Which is true, but didn’t mention empathy. My bad – I should have chosen my own title.

I had a couple of interesting conversations there with readers of the blog who commented, and that was the extent of the feedback.

I’m reproducing the whole post here:


Fiction is uniquely positioned to develop and increase empathy, because it provides a way around and under and through the barriers most people put up around their hearts and minds.

Humans think in stories. Why? Because we spend our lives learning the rules that ensure our survival.

Our brains are wired to learn in two ways: first, by direct personal experience – a hard way to learn some rules. Our feelings then cement the lessons, make them unforgettable.

And second, by empathy – acquiring knowledge through the experience of others.

For this, reading fiction is the best way to learn. The rub is the experience has to feel real for it to serve that purpose, exactly as if it happened to us. And the way we do that is through our emotions, which are engaged when the experience is ours.

Fiction is better than facts: facts have no emotional component to make them stick. We store them away, hope to remember them when we need them. Going on a hike across the desert? Bring water. Check.

Fiction is better than non-fiction: reports of the experience, say, of crossing the Antarctic in the middle of winter, are both entertaining and raise in us sympathy for the sufferings of the explorers. Poor guys!

And reading fiction is much better than video input for one simple reason: we can’t pretend video is happening to us when it is so clearly happening to someone else. Sympathy, not empathy.

And that’s the key: reading fiction is the best way we have to feel the emotions created by experiencing something as directly as possible without it happening to us. Because, as we read, we have to put in the effort to create, out of black marks on a page, the actual experience in our minds.

Listening to stories works almost as well, but requires a storyteller, and the emotional component is affected by that teller.

Reading is just you and the book.

Oh, and the author.

Most fiction invokes the sympathetic response in the reader – the entertainment value hooks the reader, and we’re off on an adventure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because we need entertainment to relax after our own lives, however crazy or calm. Lots of entertainment.

But the best fiction aims deeper: to ‘grab the jugular.’ To ‘feel like a punch in the gut.’ Or the dreaded, to make you think. Which is really to make you experience, to fully engage your empathy, to make you feel as if it happened to you. To teach you. To change you.

Here is where another of the rules of life comes into play: humans hate being preached to. The preaching is an overt attempt to change the reader or the listener, via logic backed up with emotion. Usually negative emotion, fear: you are bad, you will go to hell, you must change! You are bad, you will destroy the Earth, you must change! If you touch the stove, you will get burned, don’t!

So the author without the moral authority of the preacher or the physical authority of the dictator has to be sneaky. Covert. Tease and wheedle rather than command. Better still: make you complicit in your own change. Make you want to change.

And how does the author do that? By pulling you in with superior entertainment value (remember, we need lots of stories) up front, and by layering the experience which creates the empathy for the new experience under that. Great stories, story moral picked up by the reader from being the character, having the story happen directly to him.

We then come full circle to Show, Don’t Tell. Show the character having the divorce or being attacked by terrorists or marrying the prince. If you have your parameters right, if you’re telling the story the right way, the reader has identified with the character, and the reader is getting divorced. The reader has to escape the terrorists to save the President. The reader walking down the aisle just realized the rest of her life is proscribed by royal protocol.

The author’s power is very real.

Authors don’t always use this power to its fullest, because there is a final step: choosing the purpose of the empathy, choosing the change for a higher aim: the good of humanity.

Sounds horribly preachy, doesn’t it?

What prompted this post is that I don’t like a recent way this power is being used, to push an agenda which makes me sick to my stomach: the proposal, supported by carefully crafted stories, that people who are defective/handicapped/ill should remove themselves from the world because they are a burden to other people, and that this frees the other people to go on to something better.

Disabled people already face an uphill battle in many areas of their lives. Having society go back to an earlier model of disability which says that ‘they’ are a burden to other people, and therefore don’t have the right to the same hopes and aspirations as the ‘normals,’ is a huge step backward. To encourage them to consider removing themselves is a further abuse against their rights to live and to love.

As an author of fiction, I have the following tools:
I know how to create sympathy and empathy.
I know how to appeal to men and women.
I know how to entertain.
I know how to bury something deep in the fabric of a story.
I know how to make you identify with a character.
I know how to create situations that test the limits of character and privilege.
I know how to manipulate your emotions.
And I know that ‘disability porn’ – using disabled people to be ‘inspirational’ – is roundly despised by disabled people everywhere.

By picking the right story to tell, I believe I can make you buy my premise that disability is not the end of life as you know it.

Now that I’ve revealed many of my secrets, you still have to decide whether you’re going to let me try. And then decide if I know what the heck I’m talking about.


Why repost my own post?

Because I don’t think readers of the original blog, which sends out daily emails with reviews of indie books, are used to posts that are not a review, and I’m hoping the ideas will resonate with readers of this blog.

 

Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly

LET ME SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR FLY

Let me show you around.

Let me show off the carefully constructed room I have created for myself, and I want you to see.

Constructing the tough scenes

I have spent over two weeks crafting the scene I just finished.

I have known for almost all of this century what would happen here: this scene has ONE main job.

It is a pivotal scene: without this one scene, the second book of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, comes to a screeching halt.

The way I write, though, that is not unusual.

Perennial preparation

Outside my window a pair of goldfinches is systematically eating every single seed on the drying heads of the coneflowers planted just, it seems, for them and for this purpose. I never see them at other times of year – the little yellow and black birds, tiny compared to the big fat robins that eat the worms, tinier still compared to the crows and pigeons, and microscopic compared to the hawk that lives around here somewher (in themiddle of suburban NJ!), but bigger than the hummingbirds whose feeder I need to replenish today.

But for the goldfinches to have this feast, a whole host of details must have gone perfectly: the perennial plants were introduced years ago, the weeds have been removed (now by my assistant, as I can’t do much of that any more), the fertilizer was applied, and, most importantly, I have kept that same assistant from removing the drying seedheads of this year’s crop as garden debris. Yes, it would look a lot tidier, but the whole point of the garden was hummingbirds and butterflies – and the other wildlife that eats the various seeds and drinks the different flower nectars.

It is still a surprise to the writer

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m an extreme plotter. Hundreds or thousands of pieces have pre-planned scenes (yes, there is a bit of give – I’m not a psychic) where they will ‘happen.’

This particular scene had the regular mix of other bits attached – some pieces are identifiable as recommended by Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s books for screenwriters, and others come straight from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction.

I have known about the details for the past two years.

But the details as executed, oh!

And it was still very hard work – three weeks of it – to turn this collection of plot points and character bits, events and revelations, new leads and old connections – into something that I felt would take me there, and be so real I couldn’t imagine changing any of it (now – the weeks have been nothing BUT changing the HOW).

So I can take a reader there with me, invite that reader into this scene, one of the rooms on this long house tour of mine, and have the reader feel at home and comfy in the plush padded armchair whose footstool has a hand-embroidered tapestry cover.

It is finished now

And it is real, and reliably causes my brain to load the experience.

So it’s ready to eventually share. Here’s a taste:

Andrew snippet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What? Where? Why? I promise it all connects.

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.