Saturday, June 18, 2011

Giving Scenes More Meaning

I am on the downhill slide of revisions for Firedancer, fine-tuning the major stuff I added, looking for places to tighten and cut. With the whole book slightly different and characters having acquired new facets, I took an hour to do something I never used to think about. I looked at every major scene from the perspective of "yes, but" and "no, and" to see if each scene really was integral to the plot. And guess what? It unlocked some new depths I had not previously suspected.

Being an organic writer, letting the story flow as it will onto the page, has the advantage of maintaining excitement about the writing process itself, as I find out as I go along what the story's about and what the characters' adventures are, just as a reader would. But the huge drawback to this method is that you risk having an action-oriented plot with few layers and no great planning to discover the meaning in each scene. I admire people who can outline to that level in advance; I really do. I just can't do it up front, so the work now must come after. As I progress as a writer, I discover myself looking more and more to such methods to enrich my work.

So, what did I discover? I created a table with one question at the top: Did the protagonist accomplish what she set out to do? I listed each major scene down the left side, plotted against "yes, but" and "no, and" to see what fell out of each. Most fell into the "yes, but" category. A few showed up weak, with little to no "but" consequences arising from the accomplishment. Strong plots need strong and continuing tension, which means nothing along the way can be an unqualified success. The two "no, and" answers really were enlightening, leading directly to greater character development in secondary characters affected by the scene. That was exciting, and really satisfying. It lent depths to the plot I didn't know it had.

Overall, every scene got richer in some way because of this exercise, and I am so grateful for the panel I sat in on at Radcon where I learned it. Never stop learning! Never stop pushing yourself as a writer. Adding 84 layers of meaning just to do it is pointless, but hunting for the real richness in every scene is a worthwhile exercise I highly recommend. Try it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts on No Man's Land

The No Man's Land anthology is out at last, and I've been reading the other stories appearing along with my "Falling to Eternity." It is interesting to note how many ways there are to take "military science fiction with women protagonists" as a theme. All the stories I've read thus far are action-oriented (not unexpected) but there is a rich mix of occupations and settings and underlying technology. And there is a distinctly different flavor to the outcomes.

SF has been such a "man's world" for so long that one wonders if there will ever be a true equality in the reader's mind, or if women will stop debating early in their careers whether to publish under their initials or just go for broke and put a female name on the cover. It is unfortunate that the bias is still there, no matter how enlightened we think we are. Yet I wonder how many readers are shocked--shocked!--to discover that Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Leigh Brackett, D.C. Fontana (of so many wonderful Star Trek episodes), James Tiptree, and so many other "male" SF writers are really women.

Why do we even have to go to such lengths to have our work judged fairly on its merits? I know that to many, the name doesn't matter, yet there are those to whom it does, and I wonder where such expectations of lower quality or foofoo stories come from. And I wonder if women think they must inevitably use a "kickass" female heroine to overcome these notions. Most women (and men) are neither action heroes nor crybabies, but that middle-of-the-road ordinary Jane and Joe who somehow rise to the occasion. They react differently in bad moments, is all, and their creative solutions to problems may be profoundly different to counteract physical limitations or to accommodate the normal male/female differences in worldview.

To me, that makes for interesting stories. To others, it may wave red flags emblazoned with "Tears and bitching ahead!" Personally, I like stoic, stiff-upper lip heroes . . . but I also like the ones who scream and throw things and have private meltdowns--and then get on with the job.

Thank you, Dark Quest Books and Mike McPhail for publishing such a bold anthology, and many thanks to David Weber for the kind and thoughtful introduction to it. He's right. All of these stores are worth reading. I hope a whole lotta people actually do.