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Here are my notes from the AWP panels that I attended, posted because a few people expressed interest. As always, it's a mix of what they said that was interesting to me and what I thought. I wrote up my overall conference experience here:

These are the panels I attended:
Time and Structure in the Novel - A+
Historical Fiction and Fictional History (partial) - D
Weird Science: Strategies to Encourage Innovative Writing in the Workshop - B
Substance as Style: What Noir Writing Can Teach Us About Literary Form - B-/C+
The Art of the Art of - D

Read more... )
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Some notes from the MinnSpec meeting, "Writing Sex and Erotica."

Think about what effect you're going for before you write. Porn v. erotica v. erotic romance v. sex scene in something else. For porn, a lot of it is using keywords that create a stimulus response for those who are used to that input.

Sexual tension is a very important part--the tension caused by unsuccessful/almost moments helps readers get invested.

Sex can be the action of the story, or the goal, or the conflict.

There is 1) the sex that happens, and 2) the sex that is happening in a person's head. Is the act an act, or is it an act *and* a commitment of some type?

Writing markets change really fast. Don't bother buying a book about it. Try the Erotic Readers and Writers Association (ERA).

Check Circlet Press guidelines for things they've really seen too often!

For long-form erotica, write it and try to self-publish, but don't put too much skin on the cover or Amazon will hide it.

The temptation is to do something "really different," but this leads to really alien and/or squickworthy. Try to keep relatable to at least some portion of your audience.

See Scarleteen website as a good example of what works in sex.

"Elements of Arousal" [edit to fix title] is a great resource, if you can get ahold of a copy of this out-of-print book. Also recommended, "How To Write and Sell Erotica," by M. Christian.

Note that many people are using "open" pseudonyms, just so that you can tell which genre a particular book they're writing is.

"She's a real person, I mean she's a real female person, but she's a real person!"

Consider mouthfeel (speaking) versus mindfeel (reading in your head) when you're writing, in order to get the effect you want. Consider what words you use. You may want to avoid using words that are also common cursewords, either because of personal comfort or saleability.

Be aware of what people have associated with written sex scenes, so you know what you do and do not want! I.e., "Oh, god!" is a bit cliche.

Make sure vocabulary is consistent with the character.

If you're writing a disabled character, don't pick the obvious disability all the time.

If the phrase is "how do you people do X," and that's your starting point, you haven't done your research yet.

And as always, read a lot, especially things that are outside your comfort zone or things that are recommended but not popular.

Allromanceebooks is a good place to distribute through.

For selling short stories yourself, it might be of advantage to package as 3+ stories. Otherwise people will expect it to be free. Also keep covers reasonably discreet if selling on Amazon, to keep from getting delisted.
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These are a few notes on how to adapt a work of fiction (written by yourself or someone else) for the stage, based on the May 2014 MinnSpec meeting with Michael Merriam, Terry Faust, Eli Effinger-Weintraub, and special guest John Heimbuch* of Walking Shadow Theatre Company.

Find the voice that you can do that matches well with the voice of the original writer.

Figure out the major expectations of the audience who is familiar with the source material. Then figuring out bridging material is a lot more fluid.

To find material suited for the stage, look for 1) dialog, and 2) limited set pieces.

1. Dramatize as a realistic play. No breaking of 4th wall, etc.
2. Some amount of narrative bits that are bridging, non-realistic, breaking the 4th wall, etc.

Be aware of when author's voice is a truly key part of the story, and consider how to implement it.

On stage, the things that are NOT being said can be truly powerful, even more so than in a fiction story.

Stories that are posing a question, rather than offering an answer, may work well in script.

Dramatic work is much more expensive to get done than literature, and also usually more limited in visibility.

In Minnesota, dear God, start at Fringe Festival.

Networking for theatre people: go to my show, buy me a drink afterward, and tell me how awesome I am!

As always, do individual research on theatre companies and their preferences.

Really need the feeling of the story building towards something, perhaps even more than in literature (text).

Learn pacing by watching movies esp. theatre adaptations without the sound on. You can see the flow of emotion and action that way.

Have *other* people read the play out loud before you send it anywhere, because you'll see how others interpret dialog etc.

For standard play format, see Samuel French's website,

Consider trying to write a play to be able to stage in the most minimal amount of space (examples at

Weigh the complexity of an effect or prop vs. how much value it adds to the story.

* It was John Heimbuch synchronicity week for me. After the MinnSpec meeting, two different friends on Facebook befriended him, and a third friend was talking about him in another context. Only one of these people was a MinnSpecter. Minneapolis becomes a lot like a small town, if you live here for a while.

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Kids books about certain eras are a goldmine, since they include lots of weird daily life details.

Consider three areas that people will not allow screw-ups: i.e. guns, gowns, and horses for Victorian era.

For horses, making the horses get tired is pretty much gold for authenticity.

For Regency, Georgette Heyer is incredibly accurate for research, FYI.

If you change history, make sure that you specifically explain how it differs from reality, be very clear about changing history, and acknowledge in end-notes.

For basic source material, search for "Domestic Guides" etc.

If you're using a public domain character, if there's a big following, look for the Wiki.

If researching a historical individual through biography, try reading one contemporaneous and one written significantly later. And you're better doing a strong character, pushing a viewpoint, than going with the less offensive / more general speak-no-ill-of-the-dead version.

Don't get too stuck on trying to be fair, accurate, and covering everything. That usually results in less compelling stories.

When writing an outlier in a certain period, read historical things to learn where outliers *did* limit themselves to stay within societal norms.

If you're writing a public domain character, look for an annotated version of original source material to get good historical details.
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The best kind of story to write is the one that nobody else can.

In a short story, while editing, try pointing to what each sentence does. (If each sentence has to do something in a short story, writing a novel can be a relief!)

Editing exercise: cut out passes of 500 words until all that's left are the bones. Then you know exactly what to strengthen and what to de-emphasize in the actual editing process.

It's not all nuts and bolts. Strive for a little bit of beauty on the micro level in your writing.

Before killing your darlings, pause to consider why you love them, and why they don't work. This may result in other changes.

Things an editor might be considering:
* Is there a tie-in promotion?
* How about hyperlinked stories?
* Might make bonus short stories exclusive to the print version of a novel, to reduce value of bootleg online version.


Assign a different colored pen to each character while outlining to see where characters are dropping out.

Use hanging plot post-its to rearrange/add as needed.

Consider the "second-stage rocket" - another exciting plot thing introduced in the 2nd act to look forward to / write to, kind of like the "sex at 60 (pages)" convention.

Don't pull your punches; *do* have the worst thing happen (if it makes sense).

Start with a problem, have the character try to fix it, and have it all get worse.

When brainstorming, discard the first couple of plot options you think of. Or go to the first plot option, work in a reason why that won't work, go to the next, etc.

Try using sharpies for scenes to indicate characterization, setting, plot (multiple colors for multiple plotlines?), foreshadowing. Makes it easier to see how it's balanced.

Figure out what the major revelation scenes are and work back to what readers must know for that to be effective.

(Based on Worldcon notes.)
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In a contract, make sure there is language saying they "cannot take reserve against returns" for ebooks/audio.

Should stop taking reserve after 4 periods and should justify the reserve if you ask them to. What are they basing their reserve on? First year sales (much higher) or sales on current year?

Look at the contract to see what the advance is based on.

When published

Not earning out the advance doesn't mean the publisher couldn't give you a higher advance or that the publisher isn't profitable. And vice versa.

Always check royalty reports; try double-checking using Amazon rankings.

If a book is very successful, the best option may be to incorporate.
* Can give you a car and write it off.
* Less liability.
* Corporation is immortal, you just need to transfer stock.
* Make sure writer is a corporation Director, not a work-for-hire employee.

After your death

When you get a literary executor for your estate, make sure the executor divides the proceeds (not the agent, unless the agent is also the executor), which gives an incentive to keep books in print.

Set up a trust to handle money--also need a trustee to handle the money.
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My notes from the Minnspec meeting about ebooks.

Amazon still has 80% of the market.
Ebooks are ever-fresh. They don't have the dead time like print books sold in bookstores.
Creating a backlist is key to building readership in a saturated market.
Bookscan numbers matter.

Creating an ebook
Do hire an editor, or at least a copy-editor.
Do hire a cover artist to create two images, one midsize, one optimized for thumbnail size.
Do *not* try to run a PDF through an automated ebook converter.
If using Smashwords, follow Smashwords style guidelines.
Download an emulator for the different formats to check what the book looks like.
If putting out an ebook short story collection, include a couple of short stories that were published well, plus new content.

Useful blogs for self-publishers:
* J.A.Konrath
* Terrible Minds
* Jim Hines

Build a marketing checklist! Things to include:
Send it out for reviews!
Google "genre" review sites, email every review site that relates or might have reviews. No review site too small!
Kirkus Review, costs $500 for self-publishers but might be worth it. - a database of bloggers
Kindle boards
Nook boards

If you get a publishing contract, make sure it includes a reversion clause and a definition of what out-of-print means--usually 5-10 years or fewer than x sales per year. Ask for production files (includes cover art and professionally produced ebook files) reversion or the ability to purchase them should the book go out of print.
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These are my notes from the "About Abusive Relationships" Minnspec presentation by relationship therapist Rebecca Chesin.

People stay in the victim role because of who they are--and that core self is also what will affect future relationships.

Strong-willed, independent characters will not stay unless they have a fear of something:
* removal of job capability
* access to money
* control of children
* control of pets


Alternating honeymoon/controlling behavior

"Grooming" a victim

Consider normal desire for hierarchy vs. abusive behavior--and the potential for a sliding scale in alien relationships.

Interesting relationships always have someone doing something wrong sometimes.

Tragedy is caused by outside sources.

Prove they love them enough to "do what you want."

There is reassurance in familiar patterns.

We never fully understand another person, only what we perceive.

We have relationships with the people we perceive - homunculus theory (do we allow the person we perceive to change)

Different (incorrect) assumptions about what the correct way to do something is are often created in childhood.

Loss of trust leads to greater conflict about the previous point.

Jumping through hoops to earn trust doesn't work unless offendee decides to re-trust.

For conflict, consider the different languages of love (see 5 Languages of Love) and the 4 mistaken goals of misbehavior.

We fall in love with people who reinforce our idea of ourselves (usually unconscious). And falling out of love happens when one or the other changes their beliefs.

Remember that not all relationships are romantic, but the same dynamics hold true.
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Lots of works start off promising something, but never deliver. Why is it important that books/movies/whatever keep the promises that they make? Panelists: Melinda Snodgrass, Sean M. Murphy, Caroline Stevermer, Abra Staffin-Wiebe

These are my brief outline notes for the keeping promises panel that I was on. The actual panel may or may not have discussed things quite different from this.

Negative promises: "I promise I won't..." Caveat: unless I do it really, really well. Much easier to get away with in a short story.

Be aware of genre promises. No deus ex machina, magic is real, crime will be solved, main male and main female character in love at the end.

Tour guide: promise sunny Caribbean and take them to Antarctica - some will like, but most don't have proper clothes or had really pinned their hopes on those sandy beaches.

Relationship promises may result in more reader emotional engagement--and greater anger if broken.


Fiction can be a collaboration between the author and the reader - one writes down words, the other imagines a world out of them. Reader believes that they're building one thing, author is really building another--the whole thing can fall apart.

Breaking previously established world rules--works best if can establish as "characters were mistaken."

Think of books that failed the "Wall Test" - often it's because of broken promise
resolution not worth reading to
resolution betrays reader's understanding of main character, or how fantasy/sci-fi world works
failure or deliberate breakage of emotional tone and resonance
ignore the limits the story sets, and not in a good way
ending not really an ending!

It's all about proper cuing for the reader--for the casual browser in the bookstore!--down to little things like "there will be erotica in this book" or "bad things will happen." First couple of pages. Consider setting, hints of themes, warnings of hot button stuff, etc. But don't stress--should all be a natural and organic part of the opening! Some people use prologs to do this kind of thing. Be vewy, vewy careful.

Beyond the story itself, author promises can include things like
I won't be a dick
I will write more of this series
I will finish this book and have it out by such-and-such a time
This is the kind of experience you get from my books

Good to be aware of that kind of promise, but as always, "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."


All CONvergence 2013 posts:

...aaaand, that's all folks! The end of my panel notes for this year! I also sat on the "Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Writing" panel, but I'm not posting my panel prep notes for that since 9/10ths of the subject matter didn't come up--so I can save it for some other day.
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These are my brief outline notes for the apocalyptic fiction panel that I was on. The actual panel may or may not have covered most of this.

I was on the panel with Fred Greenhalgh (lives off-grid, does The Cleansed podcast/radio drama), Matthew Boudreau (radio drama producer), and Ryan Alexander (mod - computer guy, hacker, Burner, etc.).

...I went back and counted, and so far I've brought about the end of civilization as we know it 4 times.

"Every death is the end of the world, every divorce an apocalypse."

Sometimes worldwide destruction is the only thing that seems big enough to speak to the pain.

All sorts of worlds come to an end on an everyday basis, whether that means the end of a relationship, a job, a dream, politics, loss of religious faith, shattered dreams, serious personal injury or illness, or the death of someone close.

Restarting of the world in fiction can give us hope that our small, personal worlds can restart as well.

Philosophically, one could argue that most stories in all genres are apocalyptic!

Undervalued skills--and therefore people--become important.

Esp. appealing to makers and hackers (not computer variety) - a chance to make society from the bones of the old.

Can emphasize the coming together of different groups of people.

For writers, a chance to rebuild the world better
bicycles are the best means of transport
hand-made goods are more valued
re-emphasize values

Lots of real-world stimulus for apocalyptic scenarios: global climate change, nuclear war (very earliest childhood), volcano that's a few years overdue on errupting that will make life impossible in the northern hemisphere. Or see world closing in around us with ubiquitous surveillance and ever-increasing legislation.

Feeling of accomplishment after reading some of these, as if we've done part of our homework!

Books: World War Z, The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham, The Stand - Stephen King, There Will Be Dragons - John Ringo, The Change series - S.M. Stirling

When one man dies, it's a tragedy, when thousands die, it's statistics, when millions die, it's entertainment.

Misc. things to look up: TEOTWAWKI, Lehman's catalog


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
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CONvergence is not the most thinky of the conventions I attend, but I do have a smattering of notes from panels I watched. And a smattering of unrelated photos.


How to Write an Interesting Hero

Are you thinking of your character as a hero, a protagonist, or a PoV? There are different nuances.

Flaws may drive action more than virtues, whether by giving in to them or overcoming them.

Science Questions

Quantum mechanics leading to consciousness outside the brain = very bad science.

The Science Behind British Sci-Fi

It is a huge resource use to have limbs (or extra limbs) if you can get food without them. Look at snakes!

Fun with panspermia.

Do remember that aliens could probably not eat Earth things or at least they'd have a funny effect.

On the other hand, invasive species tend to be generalists, tolerating a wide range of food, temperature, etc.


Dystopic vs. Optimistic SF

Good site for science/fiction brainfood:

The biggest pitfall of writing in a utopia is dullness and lack of conflict.

Beware writing in a solution to the dystopia that's easy. Multiple possible solutions (all with difficulties) can add good conflict.

Contemporary Sword & Sorcery: Leaving the Battlefields for the Back Alleys

The current trend is for small-scale epic fantasy.

I also wrote down a cryptic note whose meaning I have no clue about: "Prime Books, Yamamoto, Parker." WTF, past me?

Beyond SF 101

What are your goals along the way that benchmark your progress to (your definition of) success? It helps to know the mile-markers as well as the end destination.


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
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This was the most useful (writing-related) panel that I watched. Although it was talking in specific about real, existant London, there were lots of excellent worldbuilding nuggets to take away.

London in Fact and Fiction

One effect of the Blitz is that there remain Tudor-era buildings beside the most modern of structures. Construction from radically different time periods is side-by-side because of the patchy destruction caused by the bombs--keep this kind of effect in mind for world-building.


Clean-looking cement still exists in some places. The technique for making it has been forgotten since.

Often, old ruins (previous history) are discovered and quickly excavated before they have to be covered back up again so that the city can keep on growing.

Historically, "The X Arms" is the pub you'd go to in order to meet people from X profession. Bricklayers, etc.

The first city to invent or implement a new thing is the city that has all the errors and bugs. For example, the London Underground only has one track, so they have to shut it down every night to go in and clean, instead of letting it run continuously. (The people responsible for cleaning out the hair from the Underground to keep it from catching fire are called fluffers, by the way!)

Secret London:

Great discoveries are made in places that are horrible to live in. For example, the cause of cholera was discovered because of crowding and water pollution.

London has laws requiring the keeping/presenting of a historical object in public view despite it existing in a commercial space.

If you're writing something set in a foreign city, try having the PoV be a non-native to help cover for errors.


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
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Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Syncretism, Real and Fantastic," "Journey's End," and "But That's a Different Panel: Swearing" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention. Also a few thoughts inspired by them.


Beware the "science and magic both exist and have to fight" trope.

Schisms within religious faiths are a good thing to remember when writing religion.

Don't make good guys all Religion A and bad guys all Religion B, especially if there is also a racial/cultural divide.



Historical note: mass production / industrialization was brought back from visiting China.

At the end of the journey, one character arc conclusion is the main character's transformation or failure to transform. Decide this consciously.

Don't forget, people also bring back unfortunate things, intentionally or not. Invasive species, disease, etc.

Ponder the immigrant experience, and also what aspects of it a returning traveler may experience.



If there's going to be swearing and you're afraid of negative reader reaction, cue the reader in on the first page by using a swearword, so that they know what to expect. Can also do this with general tone/mood.

This made me think about cultural comfort with different behaviors that switches for a person depending on what language they're speaking in. For example, my maternal grandfather could be very earthy while speaking Plattdeutsch, but he would never dream of saying such things in English.

Fantastic Profanity [N.K. Jemisin on the cultural context of swearwords]:

All posts from 4th Street 2013:
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Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Narrative Conventions," "Fantasy of Discovery," and "Tell, Don't Show" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention, and perhaps a few thoughts inspired by them. Also a few unrelated 4th St photos.


If you're going to play games with narrative conventions, make sure you have something simpler to pull the reader through.

Alternative narrative structures can create a sense of strangeness, cause reader to pay more attention, or create surprise humor.



Mystery and discovery novel are not the same. Consider the nature of the antagonist.

Often man vs. nature.

Writing a fantasy of discovery may be sued to counter the stakes-escalation arms-race in sequels.

Expand scope by showing effect and ramification on the society of the disovery.

Keep in mind the character arc must change too.

Fantasy of discovery may lead to more participation for reader and a higher level of reader engagement--if you like that sort of thing.


Tell, don't show, is much easier when writing in a conversational first person tone.

Telling may be a very effective way to avoid showing something else.

You can slow down all the details and show them
a) if the reader knows that things are heading for something bad, or
b) if you want to make the reader think something bad is coming (they will still need *some* payoff).


All posts from 4th Street 2013:
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Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Idiom, Character, and Worldbuilding," "Building the Spear," "Short Fiction," and "Heroine's Journey" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention, and perhaps a few thoughts inspired by them (and I can't remember which are thoughts and which are notes!).


Shift idiom, addressing nouns to indicate (even if the reader does not notice consciously) a language change.

Idiom is an excellent way to worldbuild and also provide class information.

Consciously using or not using a character's native idioms can show their reaction to being in another culture.

Don't make swearwords interchangeable with their English versions! Make them based on something cultural in-world.

And remember real-world meanings so you don't screw it up.

We carry the idioms of previous centuries with us, long after the originating circumstances have passed.


For worldbuilding depth and character relationships, try using implied instead of explicit history.

Jo Walton has described works which lean on prior events for their emotional impact as being full of "very sharp spear points on some very long spears".

Readers want moments to be bigger than they actually are. They're on your side when it comes to building emotional investment. The trick is figuring out where they're investing.

Exercise: watch High Noon, followed by Rio Bravo, which John Wayne made as an answer to High Noon--because he hated High Noon.

If the spear is emotional, or otherwise not part of the main plot, you can have the plot resolve, launch the spear--and not show it landing. It's a way to keep the reader satisfied yet still going, "Agh!"

In a series, previous books may be building toward one spearpoint, but you darn well bettwer figure out what your readers have been building toward in the current book.

Before ending, stop and think about what your subconscious has been building in when you weren't paying attention.

Jo Walton's discussion of the subject:


For more originality, maybe try making it a non-gendered success (by how you build the culture) instead of breaking gender roles against the oppression of the patriarchy.

Always question automatically assigned gender for characters major and minor, i.e. not just traditional or warrior woman.

Stages: maiden, mother/weaver, matriarch/priestess, crone

Female/queer/non-white/disabled is not necessarily a choose-one-only.

Our genre is very much in favor of the underdog, which can make starting with a character in power (not one who just has it to lose it) very difficult.

Beware the female heroine who doesn't have other female friends because she's "not like other girls."

Campbell's mono-myth, "hero's journey," does not apply to *all the things*.

More female mentors are appearing in fiction now.

All posts from 4th Street 2013:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy) that I have a little bit of time again, I should wrap up my 2012 4th Street Fantasy notes! These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what!

These are from the "But That's Another Panel" panel, which turned out to be about why we like divine right kings in fantasy (upon hearing this, Phil made the counter-argument that we don't, or at least we haven't recently).


In fantasy, consider divine right kings as personifications of powerful forces--gods, weather, failed crops, plague etc.--that humans cannot control or see. A king? Him, they can see. They can talk to. They can, if necessary, kill.

Or do we have kings just because we want to play with knights and swords? Does that mean that having kings is laziness on our part?

If you want one person to have the power to significantly change the world, a divine-right king or someone close to him is a good choice.

Also implies that God has a hand in things, and that "everything will work out all right in the end."

Etymology side-note: "lord" originally meant loaf-giver, and "lady" meant loaf-maker. Generosity is one of the things that marks a king.

Is a divine mandate good because if bad things happen you can say, "The mandate was clearly withdrawn; time to kill the king!"

Think about what tropes you're using, why they came into existence, what need/function they fill, and how to fulfill/subvert that function. Do not confuse roles things play in fiction with the roles they play in real life, but be aware of the differences as a thing to play with.

I will close my notes about 4th Street with tentacles, but the rest of my posts can be found here.

cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what! The full description of the panel topics is here.

Families, Festivals, and Fireworks


When you feel truly connected to a place, there is less need to ritualize things like eating traditional ethnic dishes that were eaten at the time you left (or things made by a person who has died or moved beyond reach). Rituals, especially ones centering around food, can be an excellent way to show loss.

Science, Technology, and Fantasy

Should you want to have technology or "laws" of nature prove to be incorrect or incomplete for story purposes later, you need to signal that to readers early on, or at least lay the groundwork for a fallible world view. How to be inconsistent in your worldbuilding, in other words.

The length of history implies certain levels of technological advancement or a powerful interior or exterior force suppressing it. Keep technological innovation timelines in mind when worldbuilding. Cycles of decay are another option, but even with decay, you must consider where it bottoms-out and how long it has had to build up again since. One cataclysm won't do it forever.

Not all technology rises in lockstep. It rises and falls in different areas.

In apocalypses, you need to consider the death of those relying on medications that are no longer manufactured, or aids that are no longer available.

Consider the idea of inherent versus skilled/learned ability and which is valued or reinforced.

Frequently, a writer wants to write in "the vague now-ish," but that is not best achieved by removing all technology. No cellphones, dear horror writer? Really?

This is also the panel where I figured out that yes, I could talk about writing an apocalypse or a post-apocalyptic setting quite a bit.


Blood, Love, and Rhetoric

When avoiding a violence- or conflict-related resolution, establish the heart's desire of the character early on, and show character's changing emotional reactions in a path leading to the conclusion, whether
1) to establish a pattern and then break it at the peak, or
2) to use incremental change as a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the conclusion.

Does having a fight as the climax ending obviate more interesting climax options? Consider before writing that final scene/while doing revisions.

Can you satisfy both sets of readers by having an emotional climax in a story that is structured with a series of fight scenes? See Clint Eastwood. What cues do you need to slide in to make it satisfactory despite them not expecting it (because they totally won't--we've all been thoroughly programmed for the violent story climax).

Consider the structure as nesting code when history or story plot wants violence but not for that to be the climax and yet for the reader to be satisfied. If you want to end not-violence, you need to begin not-violence. Consider nesting themes, character arcs, etc. You can go down multiple layers as long as you close your loops and particularly if you mirror the order of introduced changes (or use overlapping wave patters, I suppose, but as a former comp-sci person, nested loops makes a lot of sense).

In horror especially, the character transformation resulting from it may be the most interesting part.

Violence may lead to expectation of blood and pain, but satisfactory amounts of blood (possibly metaphorical blood) and pain (possibly emotional) can be in the ending without violence, or at least without a fight. Eastwood!


(All my 4th Street Fantasy 2012 posts.)
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what! The full description of the panel topics is here.

Teens, Work, & Fantasy

Finding a happy profession that makes a difference is a good alternate happy-ending state to marriage, etc.

Writing for kids and other non-genre readers, you may want to create an entry point by starting with something they understand (school!) and then taking small steps forward into the unknown (school for magic!).

(All my 4th Street Fantasy panel notes)
Flip-side: kids are used to filling in blanks in their reading through context, so as long as you don't expect them to understand tropes yet, you may not need excessive history or worldbuilding (which may bore them).

"Work is boring." School is boring, too--but it's a huge genre because kids already have it, so they like the idea of it being more interesting.

Military/vocational school is an interesting work/school intersection that can play well.

Get Your Reality Out of My Fantasy

I was disappointed by this panel. I liked the idea of questioning when we should go all-out for fantasy and just say fuck reality, but instead it went straight to the "how to make writing realistic" place. I was in the mood for strawberry ice cream, and I got chocolate. 4th Street has given me this chocolate ice cream before, and it is tasty, but I am sad that I did not get to try the strawberry flavor this time around.

Does realism come down to "if people do/are this, they will get hurt"?

The humor break that allows a reader to persevere through the grue and the grim does not need to be long--it can be just a small, almost-subconscious detail in passing.

Packaging needs to reflect both genre and tone more than actual plot or characters. Is it grim, thoughtful, fluffy, etc.?

Make it realistic without the grim by populating the world with "real" minor characters by using swift, small, telling details to sketch a ghost of a character.

Also, always consider the light source in a scene. What can be seen, and what cannot?

Accessibility, Genre, and Depth

Does accessibility just come down to "accessible for who?" Choices made to open a book to one audience may pull it away from another.

Intertextual reference works because of textural clues, but of course people who won't pick them up need them to be invisible. Basically, it's like leaving clues only visible through IR goggles, without creating hazards that will trip those who can't see them.

Consider Markov Chains, where a thing may depend only on the previous thing, n-1, not on what n-1 was derived from (n-2). Is this a useful alternative perspective on derivative works?

Accessible does not mean unsophisticated. Do not make that mistake.

Sometimes not writing as an exclusionary "hipster" SF/F insider may mean using what an insider sees as a tired trope. How can you subvert it for their pleasure without ruining the resonance of the trope for an outsider?

Collaborations & Shared Worlds

Establish boundaries of what you can and cannot do with the other writers characters without permission straight from the get-go.

When collaborating with an artist, first ask "what do you enjoy drawing?" (Neil Gaimon)

When handed cover art, it may be wise to revise your manuscript a little to make the cover art work better with the story, since they almost certainly won't be revising the cover art!

In a successful collaboration , the writing of each will change the outcome of the other.

(All my 4th Street Fantasy 2012 posts.)
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (crazy)
Ignore the video, but listen to the song:

"Watch Her Disappear"
(Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan)

Last night I dreamed that I was dreaming of you
And from a window across the lawn I watched you undress
Wearing your sunset of purple tightly woven around your hair
That rose in strangled ebony curls
Moving in a yellow bedroom light
The air is wet with sound
The faraway yelping of a wounded dog
And the ground is drinking a slow faucet leak
Your house is so soft and fading as it soaks the black summer heat
A light goes on and the door opens
And a yellow cat runs out on the stream of hall light and into the yard

A wooden cherry scent is faintly breathing the air
I hear your champagne laugh
You wear two lavender orchids
One in your hair and one on your hip
A string of yellow carnival lights comes on with the dusk
Circling the lake with a slowly dipping halo
And I hear a banjo tango

And you dance into the shadow of a black poplar tree
And I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing despair)
These are my notes from the 2011 4th Street Fantasy convention. For this particular panel, these are just the thoughts that I had in reaction to it, not necessarily what was actually discussed.

Magic, Monsters, and Metaphor

A lot of this focused on the transformation from human to beast and vice versa.

In these stories, is transformation the final end point? For example, the Beast transforming back into the Prince at the end.

A monster transforms to--what? if not human? The point seems to be to make the outer shell more true to the self. What else?

There's a long tradition in horror of what happens when a beast [metaphorical or an actual animal] appears to be human, beginning with Little Red Riding Hood and going on to Men in Black [an Ed suit], the horror of an innocent wolf being forced into human ways in the Tiffany Aching books, Mimic, Bodysnatchers--even in Alien, the horror is because of the beast within. Though there's an equal balance where the horror is in the forced concealment/change/rejection of magical or natural creatures. The artificially created chimerae in Moon Over Soho, the shapeshifter in Melusine, the bear husband story.

So we have beast-human transformations representing:
* innocence
* horror
* outside of society because of power or punishment
* hidden beauty/power

Magical transformation as a power corrupts metaphor? See the idea of permanent transformation caused by crime/sin (Wendigo).

Why are monsters/monstrous transformations and aliens not interchangeable metaphors?


cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
Abra Staffin-Wiebe

March 2019

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