Thursday, December 29, 2011

Simply Write It, Stupid!

Procrastination, the universe knows I'm guilty of it. At around the 65k word mark of my book, I think I am realizing it more than ever. Sometimes I think I have too many friends who write and manage to publish what they write. While the thought is very encouraging, at the same time it gets rather intimidating, especially when they write far faster than I. They also manage to work at it every day, a fact which doesn't really help alleviate my own self-deprecation. Sure, I can blame the fact that I write for a living at my 40-hour day job, but considering my friend JH Glaze works in the same building I do on the same schedule and he's already well into his third book in the past two years, I really have no excuse.

It wasn't until one Tuesday writing group session at Library Coffee  I realized how bad my excuses have gotten. After to listening to my tiny word-count lament, one of the girls suggested just writing down crap, not necessarily in my book, but just random crap to get myself started. When I asked her to clarify, she said "Just write some words, and follow it with more words, and then more words after that. Do it for ten minutes." I did. Two hundred and fifty-some words later (after typing out: "This is my craptastically-crappy short story") I actually had something rather readable, and also her point. While it is good to have a game plan, while it's good to have big ideas, when you get so focused on making something good, you're so terrified of creating something crappy or mediocre that you end up not creating anything it all.

It's not post-modern. It's not minimalist. It's blank.

I don't think writer's block  has really anything to do with lack of inspiration, but everything to do with an overabundance of intimidation and anxiety. The project is overwhelming, you want to make every word count and be perfectly in place. Does your mind really work like that though? Who honestly is able to write perfect dialogue, imagery, and flow on the spot? I sure as hell can't. I don't think I know anyone who can, though it often seems like they do with their massive word counts assembled in what seems as only a matter of minutes. If someone actually claims to be able to do this, they're either lying through their teeth or not human.

This doesn't count. They fling their own poo.

So here is what I've gleaned, which I hope you take with you, is this: in the times you feel the urge to not write, write some words, follow it with more words, and then more words after that. You can edit LATER. You can embellish LATER. You can add space monkey metaphors LATER. It's always easier to polish something when you've already created it, even crap. However, it's really hard to be proud of a big pile of absolutely nothing. So faithful readers, at the risk of sounding cheesy for pulling a total "title of the film" moment on my own blog post, stop getting intimidated by your work, make it your b*tch, and simply write it, stupid!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oh Look! I Wrote Some Stuff!

So October's here...
Yeah, so to say I've been busy lately is like saying a Catholic bear sh*ts in the Pope's woods.
Please don't ask me to show what the Pope's woods look like.

Anyhoo, here's a quick update: I've been writing...a lot!
What can I say? My career is picking up faster than it was before. I just sort of wish I got paid for all the extra stuff every once and awhile. I'm not griping or anything, just getting one's name out in the community can be expensive sometimes! At least I have my free books. I still need more bookshelves though.
Where was I?
Oh, right, writing.
The book is progressing slowly but surely, reaching around 60,000 words currently and into the 10th chapter. The characters are about to embark eastward of England. My work sessions at Library Coffee Company with Wannabe Writer have been fruitful enough, though it's been getting loud lately with the various other community groups that have started also meeting there on Tuesdays. We may as well just reserve a table on all of November's Tuesdays for NaNoWriMo write-ins so we at least have access to the outlets. I digress, however.

I also joined up with my friends Nick and Jason of the Gin Rebellion and we'll be playing music together as soon as we finish figuring out, writing, and arranging our repertoire. It should be some styling Balkan sounding craziness. Been writing songs on that front. Songwriting has been a bit therapeutic for me lately. It's faster than writing books, that's for sure! Also I must admit I have a bit of a penchant for rhythmic wordplay and unconventional rhyme schemes that don't always translate well to novels, but quite nicely to song lyrics.

Now to the stuff I can actually show you! So as you know, faithful readers, I've been writing quite a bit lately for a publication called the Steampunk Chronicle. I think I've only posted links to my work only once or twice. So here is a brief list of links to some of the articles I put together:
News Articles:
Potential Steampunk TV Series 'Aether Dancer' Seeks Funding
Book Reviews:
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan
Blood in the Skies by G.D. Falksen
Convention Reports and Reviews:
Goblins and Dragons and Steampunks, Oh My! (Labyrinth of Jareth 2011)
The Adventures of Steam-Valkyrie: The Convention of Dragons (Dragon*con 2011)

Also I'm one of the Art Directors for the Mechanical Masquerade put on by the Artifice Club. I got to come up with the storyline among other things and wrote up some in character blog posts for the event:

Alright, shameless self promotion aside, I promise I will have a real post on here...someday. If you'd like to get some insight on craft though, read the book reviews. I personally believe every writer has room to improve, even the published well-knowns.
Until then, happy writing!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Writing For One's Living and Reputation

So it's been inevitable, I've stretched myself too thin. Nothing wrong with this of course, but now I've finally been moved to copy-writing full time at my day job. So yeah, those HUGE chunks of free time I had during the day? Gone now in favor of writing website copy for plumbers and donut shops.

Is this a bad thing, you might ask? Not really. I welcome it actually. Granted while it can get a little tedious writing advertising cheese over and over again, it's making me write faster. Example? You see what I've typed up so far? Written in less than two minutes. Normally it would've taken me about five to ten.

I also have been writing more and more for the Steampunk Chronicle. A close friend who works in publishing told me that one of the best ways to approach an agent after writing a book is to have an online presence established already. It's starting to pay off already by exposing more people to my work and to my existence in general, I suppose. Don't even get me started on all the free books I get to read for review, either! Though I will admit it seems sort of funny that because of this, the Borders' liquidation sales are making me balk a little. So many cheap books, so little time! I need more bookshelves...


On that note here's some advice as far as establishing your online presence: find something love and write about it. Blog about it! Find a publication involved with it and submit articles for it. If that something you love happens to be involved with the genre you are writing, all the better! The people you meet will open so many opportunities for you. But also keep in mind these few notes:

1.Be competent. Write something worth reading and write it well. If that means you need to do research or write in a certain style, by all means do so.

2. Be reliable. Have a deadline coming up and you're running late? Let your editor know. Other than than if you say you are going to do or not do something, consistently hold to your word. No one likes a flake, and a flaky reputation spreads faster than any other in most circles.

3. Be helpful. Sometimes someone asks you to take on an assignment that is not the most entertaining in the world. Take it on and make it just as good as anything else you've written. The talent to spin crap into gold speaks volumes of your ability as a writer. More importantly, the fact that you've taken on a task and performed above expectations speaks volumes of your character. People will respect you for it.

4. Be gracious. The people you know are offering you these opportunities because they either trust you with them, or because think you have the potential to take them on. Don't put on airs. Thank them for what they offer you.

5. Be mature. The internet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. You want to know how I've how I've gotten a few page views on this blog, according to my stats? The keyword phrase: sneaking into the women's lockerroom. The internet can be your best, and also your worst friend. While it has made it much easier to get exposure, at the same time, you need to quickly learn how to put the best face forward to your potential readers. How many horror stories have we heard about authors getting butt-hurt over unfavorable reviews and arguing against them over the public forum? Too many. Not everyone is going to like your work. Acting super-sensitive about it to complete strangers is going to burn your bridges faster than a wine jug full of thermite.

6. Be passionate. This, this, and more of this! Keep in mind the reason why you're doing this above any other: because you love it. Writing can be a lot of work, but it also can be so incredibly fun. You're not doing this for the fame, and I certainly know that you're not doing this for the fortune--and if you are, you should probably reexamine your goals and then find an easier and more profitable profession.

Like an evil mastermind, muahahaha!
You are doing this because you love it. You cannot help but think up stories and want to write them down. You want to do something you enjoy. So enjoy it, dammit! Have a boring writing assignment? Make it fun. It's possible! I think I spent a good paragraph coming up with tree puns for a tree services site the other day. Did I want to write about tree services? No. Did I have to stifle my giggling while coming up with it so my coworkers wouldn't give me funny looks over my cubicle wall? You betcha, I did! Making a habit out of this practice will transcend to your other work and will keep your creativity from drying up.

A good friend of mine posted this on Twitter a few weeks ago: "Creativity is not a zero sum game. It's a renewable resource. The more you use it, the freer it flows. Thank heavens for that." This really does hold true. Don't let the fact that you are not given the most creative of tasks bar you from using that creativity and having fun with it. Every moment can be an opportunity.

Now that I've rambled on a bit, it's update and shameless plugging time!
I'd like to let you know my friend and co-worker Jeff Glaze has released his first paranormal thriller novel, The Spirit Box, on Kindle. He also has a sci-fi short story out: "Forced Intelligence" if either one sounds like something you'd be into. I've read the novel, it's pretty entertaining.

So I'm impressed with myself. This post didn't take an entire week to write! Guess all the extra writing I've been doing really has been paying off. Now if only I had time to work on the novel...

Anyhoo thanks once again, faithful readers, for reading. Until next time, happy writing!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Dry Spell, Book Review, And Other Happenings.

Good morning, faithful readers.

I guess I'm getting to the point where I need to deviate from posting up articles exclusively about fiction craft in favor of something a little more personal just so I can get any post out at all. Don't worry, I'm still keeping this relevant to the subject at hand. Writing's a journey, right? You might as well hear a bit about mine.

Lately I've been going through a writing dry spell. I blame my day job, my many social involvements, and the writing workshop I attended at Timegate. The day job has become ultimately boring and tedious. My job title is copywriter, but with the shortage of time and people, I haven't done any writing for it for at least the past 3-4 months. I realize that it's time to start looking for a new job and I've been working on a writing sample for a game developer position near Seattle. Don't get me wrong, I love my friends and the steampunk/geek community here in Atlanta. However it's got d*ck all when it comes to jobs in my field outside of temp-work.

My social life has gotten thoroughly busier. Starting one's writing career is not only about writing, it's about the connections one makes in life. It's about how to market oneself. I am a steampunk enthusiast. My novel takes place in a steampunk setting. Therefore, through certain very good friends of mine, I have been getting more involved in the steampunk community here in Atlanta and elsewhere. I'm currently helping my friend, Doctor Q put together the Mechanical Masquerade, a huge steampunk-themed masquerade ball in November (by the way, he's also putting on a Wild West themed event on July 23rd; if you're in the Atlanta area, check it out!). I've also started writing articles for his news site, The Steampunk Chronicle. Actually the reason why I started writing this post today was to garner some attention for my book review on there of Caitlin Kittredge's The Iron Thorn.  Other than that, I guess I've been out and about more to escape the now quiet darkness of my apartment--my only company my cat as I sit among wall decorations and furniture that are not even mine. But I've also found that being social is expensive, which is also why I'm learning to cope and stay home. The fact that I'm also preparing to go to the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade in two weeks helps. Sewing and Netflix work wonders for one's mind.

The writing workshop at Timegate proved to not be all that helpful, instructor-wise. Now mind you, I am learning on how to accept criticism and not take it personally, but I also am able to tell when a person does or does not have any business teaching. There is a difference between constructive criticism and personal attacks, the instructor didn't seem to know it. Also in a market where books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane and the Damned, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell often make it to the bestseller lists, how can someone honestly claim that no one writes or reads the Victorian style anymore? Really I ended up getting better advice from the participants of the workshop, and also found a new beta reader who's just been plain awesome so far. If you're reading this, hun, I will get you the next chapter soon! I just want to clean it up a little first.

I do admit the workshop has done a bit of a number on my self-esteem as a writer, making me constantly question my skill as a writer. I'm working on getting over it, though. Beer helps. Remembering the coolest moment from the workshop for me also helps. The guy who read my chapter aloud turned out to be a voice actor and not only did he enjoy it, but the way he read each character sounded almost exactly like the way they sounded in my head while writing it. To think that he was able to hear what I heard does make me feel worlds better.

As far as I'm concerned, I really should just file the instructor of that workshop away with the possible internet trolls I'll probably need to deal with once my books get out on the market. An instructor should be supportive and inspire you to improve your writing, not attempt to swear you off of it. As much as I knock on my previous creative writing professor, she has always been supportive of her students' work. She doesn't always understand my work, and who could blame her without being all that versed in genre fiction. However, I am thankful for her, especially when I was lucky to have her working with me when I can't imagine what sort of headache the Timegate instructor's students in Missouri have to go through with her on a daily basis. I imagine beer helps.

In case you missed the link, click here to read my book review for Caitlin Kittredge's The Iron Thorn!

Until next time, happy writing!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Brain Went To Hawaii, And All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post! Or:The Mental Journey in Fiction

Welcome back, faithful readers!
I should really stop offering up excuses for putting up posts so late. With the frequency of lateness lately (that was horrible, I know), I might as well just say this: expect some time between posts. I’m a busy woman as of the moment. Being single again does that to you, oddly enough. Anyway before I accidentally open that can of  hyperactive space worms, I'll just go ahead and address what I'll be talking about in this post: travel within the mind in fiction.

Pictured: The Mental Weekend Road Trip

Now the simplest way I can explain what this concept is is the run of the mill, character-learns-something-about-something plot device. You know how it goes: the main character is on top of the world, has everything, but has some fatal flaw to their personality that will lead to his or her ruin, goes through a series of events, and then either overcomes or comes to peace with that fatal flaw. Though when I say character, I don't necessarily just mean one character. The subject can be one person, two people, hell, even a whole society of people. Heck, the subject doesn't even have to be on top of the world, they could be in a rough place, they could be in search of something, they could even be dead for that matter! It really is up to you as long as you remember that a journey within the mind often results in learning something from the events on the journey. As moralistic as this type of journey is, it doesn't always have to appear preachy or dangerously close to being a cliche!

And you shall know me as Fuzzy Jesus!

Now that you already get the idea that a character can take a mental journey by learning something, let me give you another mental nugget to chew on: the character (subject) does not need to learn a damn thing!

Mmm, tasty mental nuggets!

How is this possible, you may ask? Easy, you make the reader learn something. Every action has a consequence within a series of events. If your character becomes faced with a circumstance that should change their way of thinking and doesn't learn anything about it, make the consequences appropriate for the action. The consequences speak for themselves and will affect the reader just as well as any active choice the characters make for themselves.

Pictured: Learning how to just let go!

Now I'm going to pause right now before I raise any more eyebrows. "What is the whole purpose of including a teaching aspect at all in your fiction?" you may ask. There are a number of such purposes, and you may pick and choose them based off of what you want to do with your novel. However, the most crucial aspect has little to do with learning, morals, or any other teaching cliche that would normally cause any self-respecting reader to cringe. Being conscious of every element of your story as you're writing it and how it will affect the mental journey of the character or reader presents a valuable, realistic aspect to your writing.

Novels do not have to read like a text book or a manual. Heck, what is learned within a story doesn't even have to be all that important. Sometimes your characters, plot, and setting will take on a life of their own and by presenting them realistically, by having them react to each other realistically, they may even teach you something that you never even thought was there. Think the novel as a sort of a thought experiment in that manner. Believe it or not, in working on my current novel, I had the chance to reexamine certain aspects of my own personality and some of my relationships with certain people simply because I was watching them in the forms of my characters, but as an outsider.

That's right, squirt, I don't need you and your football snatching ways anymore!

In that sense, and forgive me for rambling, the story is also different for every person who reads it. Don't believe me? Think of any time you've watched a film interpretation of one of your favorite books. Are they ever what you expect them to be? Most likely not because the director often identifies with some aspect of the work that you did not. A good example of this is Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl and how the Hollywood and BBC film versions of it differed heavily from each other (and to some readers--myself included--the source material). The Hollywood presentation focused mostly on the relationship between the sisters, the BBC version focused mostly on the personal feelings and motivations of the characters.

Why do you think English classes are so frustrating when it comes to interpreting literature? Especially when other people pick up on elements that you didn't even notice in the book? Sometimes you're not paying attention, but more than likely you simply did not identify personally with that aspect. A death in a book is going to resonate much more with someone who's lost somebody close to them than someone who has not. To get around this while reading, but more importantly while writing, the imagination is key. You must take a mental journey of your own.
Place yourself in the situation of the character, how would you feel if in that situation--and every event leading up to that situation. Now think of the character you already created, are they used to being able to fix everything in a situation they have no control over? What does an event actually do to them on a mental and emotional level? Empathy, imagination, and research are key. Read often and pay attention. The journey of the mind is not just a journey in your own mind, but also in the minds of others--real AND fictional.

Attention faithful readers! Due to much (ok, very little) coercion on Laura Fitzgerald's part, I am now on Twitter! Click here to see shorter, more frequent ramblings of mine on writing, geekery, or whatever happens to cross my mind after a whiskey sour or two!

In the meantime, happy writing!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Writing Without the Baggage Fees! On Travel in Fiction.

Plot Junkie here, back after a long weekend trip visiting Laura Fitzgerald up in NYC. Fun was had in heaps, and yours truly had the opportunity to walk around and hang out in one of her favorite publishing houses. I think I also spent too much money in the garment district to feed my costuming addiction!
Anyhoo, now vacation is over (and now I can take a breather from my day job), it's time to get back to blogging. So what better subject to discuss than the aspect of travel in fiction?

As I've said in previous posts, a story is (or at least should be!) a journey. Whether it is physically, mentally, or even spiritually, there is some sort of travel involved from point A to point B. To make sure I'm not trying to squash too much into one post, let's talk about the physical aspect of travel in fiction today.

So don't panic and remember your towel!

Now the one of the most natural ways of this aspect is travel in the literal sense. As I've mentioned in a previous post, the setting has a whole life of its own. First of all, to keep the location relevant to your story, you need a reason for the story to be there. I don't just mean because the place is cool, because yeah, it's going to be cool. Are they to meet someone? Are they on a pilgrimage? Will there be an altercation with the bad guys there? Why there? You need to question why this particular location is important or you may find your story beginning to fall to the dreaded realm of gimmicks.

You may as well take 'em here! It'll cost less!

Now that you have your destination and purpose in mind, it's time to explore. The whole point of traveling is to escape the mundane and experience a place and culture of which you are unfamiliar with. Think back to trips you've taken previously, which ones were more enjoyable? The ones you were herded around from tourist trap to tourist trap on a set schedule? Or the ones where you perhaps explored a little and discovered little hole in the wall places that exemplified the heart and lifeblood of the location? Think about this while writing. While you may wish to have your characters explore exotic or famous locations, not only is it important for there to be a reason why your characters are there (ex: an important plot point), but you must also keep in mind that the culture or environment may influence that reason and the next course of action. Obviously you should do some research into the local customs, beliefs, and history. I find that traveling blogs and documentaries are great resources for finding out about the hidden gems of a locale where you can see the real character of the place.

Even Twoflower knows to consult a guidebook!

Consider your characters and how they might react to such a place, and also how that place may react to them. Not every personality is going to fit in to a locale. Some personalities make take a shine to the place. How do the characters cope with the different circumstances? All of these considerations are great to have because it'll add a whole new level to your story where your filler material has actual purpose. Heck, you may even discover potential for continuing side plots from the people and situations your character meets while abroad. The possibilities are endless!

Now mind you traveling does not always equal the destination, it also includes the trip along the way. These days this concept may be a little difficult to grasp when plane flights can have you anywhere within only a few hours. However when I think of some of the road trips I've been on over the past few years, the stories of what happened along the way often were as interesting, if not more than what happened at the destination.

Come on, you would stop too if you saw this on the side of the road!

The same works for your fiction. There will always be some person, some place, or some thing en route that will grab your notice or attention. Remember of course to make it relevant to the plot, the character, or even theme of your story. Including tidbits like these will draw out the journey and give the reader the sense they are also traveling with the character, which is always fun if executed properly.

Another aspect of travel in the physical sense is that of time travel.

You called?
Now, swooning over the hawtness of Matt Smith aside, time travel is a bit of a tricky thing to deal with in fiction. Not only do you need to deal with knowing and understanding certain periods of history to make it believable, you also need to think of what the characters do to blend in (or not!) to survive in a world that's not like their own on so many levels. You also need to take into account of what the characters may or may not do upon the knowledge of what has happened, or what will happen in accordance to their own time. Dr. Who often makes up for this problem with the aspect of  "wibbly-wobbly-timey-whimy stuff" in that certain periods in time can be rewritten and it would not interrupt too heavily with the future. Also the show works with the aspect of alternate timelines and universes where inconsistencies all make sense (even if very little) and is still enjoyable. There are still so many aspects to cover on time travel that I may go over in another post, but the key is to remember that it shouldn't be your deus ex machina. Like I said, time travel is tricky and you need to have it well planned out before attempting to bring it in to save a story, otherwise your readers will call you out on it, and you can either expect rolling eyes or uncomfortable questions at convention panels.

Well now that I've finally finished this post days after starting it, I want to thank you, my faithful readers, for continuing to read my ramblings. Also thank you for putting up with my geeky photo choices! Next post I will discuss the aspect of travel within the mind and emotions of a character, so keep an eye out! Hopefully I won't be as swamped at work as I have been of late to get it quicker to you this time.
In the meantime, happy writing!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Literarily Sneaking Into the Women's Lockerroom!: On Gender and POV

Courtesy of the Internet.

One post down, another to go. Also if there's anything other writing and storytelling issues you would like me to address, feel free to e-mail me anytime at plotjunkie at gmail dot com. Today I will be answering Livingsword's request to address the issue of writing in someone of the opposite gender's point of view.

I will admit now that I was pretty stumped for a little while when I received this request. It was not necessarily because I have trouble doing this, myself. Actually it was more along the lines of that I don't have much trouble at all. I don't want to sound conceited, but that's the truth of it. I suppose I had never really thought about it all that thoroughly. Keep in mind, I am no expert. If anything you are also helping me out by prompting me to analyze what I do to get past the issue. By being aware of what, how, and why you are able to do something enables you to learn much more and only gives you room to improve.

That aside I can understand why POV from a different gender is a bit of a stumbling block. Men and women do think and speak differently. According to studies, the brains of men and women are built and wired differently for processing and communicating information and emotions. Does that mean that they all act and think the same as each other? Heck no! The key to getting past that issue is realizing that.

People have different priorities, personalities, and pasts. What sort of features does the character you want to portray have? Writing in a different point of of view is not necessarily putting yourself into another's situation. It's putting yourself into the other's situation and emulating what they would do given their opinions, background, disposition, personality, etc.

I don't say "shoes" because not everyone can walk in heels.

The trick is to fully understand what motivates your character. Was your female character entered into hundreds as beauty pageants as a child? Then that character may have set rules for what beauty is and may also abhor imperfection in the world out of her own insecurities. Was your male character raised by women only? Then there's a possibility he responds and empathizes with women better than men, and depending on how he related with his family, may resolve to verbal battles rather than physical altercations when faced with a problem. Given his or her personality, how is your character likely to respond when presented with a serious problem?

One of the simplest ways I can think of to properly write POV is to just read and keep reading. Try to find books that have characters that are similar to the ones you want to portray, listen to their voices, study their actions, and pay attention to their backgrounds and personalities. Another way is to pick someone you know that you may want to base a character on and talk to them, get to know them, learn their opinions on anything. Actually a pretty interesting trick I've noticed in books is how a person's speech patterns often sound similar to what they are thinking. Have an existing character in your story that you want to write a POV scene for? Listen to what they say and write to match them! Though noticing what a person doesn't say is also just as important. A person's physical movements often also speak volumes about what they are thinking or how they are thinking it. Does the person smile a lot, but have a hard time maintaining eye contact? How does the person's face look while being herded through a crowd?

Am I saying that you should avoid gender stereotypes and tropes altogether? Once again, heck no! Feel free to add stereotypes to your fullest desire, but have a reason for that trope to be there otherwise your character is not going to make a lick of sense. For example, take Padme from Star Wars: Episodes 1-3. Can anyone explain to me how she goes from a fourteen year old strong, calculating QUEEN OF AN ENTIRE PLANET with wisdom far beyond her years,

Essentially, this.
to a needy twenty-seven year old with the sensibilities of a boy-obsessed teeny-bopper? this
The only explanation I can think of is the writer succumbing to a misplaced gender stereotype. How the heck does a woman who has seen several wars with the death count in the thousands, who has stood up to and held her own against politicians from all across the galaxy, who has on more than one occasion survived almost certain death, and who has just given birth to two healthy children who have all the potential to save the universe decide to let herself die because OH MAI GAWD MY HUSBAND IS EVIL AND TRIED TO KILL ME?

It's probably for this reason why many women complain that men can't write realistic female characters and vise versa. I think what often happens is that we are so consumed by the idea that the opposite gender is "not like me" that we often forget they too are real people with their own priorities and ways of dealing with them, despite the potential genetic disposition. While studies have shown that men and women's brains technically work differently, they also do show that the way we are is more likely to follow the course of nurture over nature. Granted, it will take some time to get a hang of this, and if you're still having a hard time, try this as practice: start writing a scene from a first person's point of view. Do NOT assign a name or gender yet. When you are finished, decide on the two and elaborate (or take away) from there depending on how you want to further develop the character. That way you will have the basic structure of the human being before deciding what makes that being a man or a woman.

Or both...

Well, I've just run my brain through the gauntlet! Hopefully my ramblings will make sense to you or I've given you something to work with. Of course feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section. I'd like to get other people's take on this as well since I haven't given much thought to it previously.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Environment-Scaping While Keeping Those D*mn Kids Off Your Lawn!

Though the poll itself was a total flop. I did get two responses--one on facebook, the other on here-- on what to post about next. So to get to first things first, this post will answer Jeff's request to discuss the development of atmosphere and scene environment.

Setting (or "place" as my former creative writing professor often referred to) is an often neglected element of story telling that you need to be mindful of when writing fiction. I'm not just talking about describing the place and setting, I am talking about the skill to successfully draw the reader into the environment on more levels than the visual one.

You won't be needing one of these.

Ever notice how certain places incite different moods within you? Of course you have! Why do you think that is? Could it be the music playing off in the distance? The way certain things move or don't move around you? The temperature or weather? The answer is yes to all. One of the best ways to show and not tell in your writing is the ability to create an environment that evokes or harbors certain emotions without having to tell the reader that they should feel them. The best way to do this is by putting yourself into an environment and visualize using your physical senses. For example,"The park was a peaceful place" could have a deeper impact if it was elaborated like so:

The park was a vision of soft gold and lush greens as the sun dappled the ground through the forest's patchwork canopy. Even the wind itself was sighing as it winnowed about the benches, shifting about but not disheveling those who passed through it. Off in the distance, the Hertfordshire Brass Band could be heard lazily playing "Que Sera!" from the bandstand and those walking through the park could not help but step to the music. Even upon the pond the ducks were waltzing about the wads of bread an old woman was pitching into the water.
I know, that may have made you gag a little. However did you notice how I created a peaceful environment without actually telling you that it was peaceful? I'm not saying you need to do this for every statement. Heck, you even say it was peaceful, but then elaborate on saying why it was peaceful. The big question is why. What is it about this environment that defines its character? In this sense, I suppose you could say the setting and environment are characters in themselves.

Cute...but that's not what I meant.

What happened to this environment to make it look, sound, smell, or taste (Yes, taste! Trust me on this one!) this way? Or conversely, what sort of things about your environment would you notice with the physical senses considering its history? Are the prison cell bars new and untouched, or are they so old and neglected that you would need a tetanus shot after touching them?  How has the current political regime in a place affected the appearance of the surrounding villages? How would the street your character grew up on look and sound like with regards to his and his family's background or economic level?

This would probably explain my cookie addiction...

Also an environment can also be colored by the character, both physically and mentally. Think about your bedroom, what could it tell others about your personality? You don't necessarily have to reveal every background detail of a character, however it is possible the subtly hint at them by describing the sort of apartment they live in, or even the contents of the backseat of their car. You can even reveal what mood they are in with what they might have recently done to their environment by cleaning, destroying, neglecting, or even rearranging it.

Mentally, the character could also view an environment through their emotions. A person could look at something like two trees towards each other and think several entirely different things based off of what his or her mood is at the time.
For example:
He stopped. On each side of the path there was a tree. One was seasoned and strong, though scarred. The other was thinner, far younger, but recently wounded by a foolish bird who had thought to build its nest on a set of branches that were not strong enough to bear the burden. Both trees grew towards the center as what any arborist would assume was to fight for the same patch of light over the path. It might have been the reason, he thought, to begin with. But through the years the trees unknowingly grew towards each other. And now even though their roots held them so far away, they slowly raised their branches in familiar, yet reluctant greeting, unsure whether to take hold of the other's for fear of falling in the space between.
"Seattle..." he mused, shaking his head, and continuing on his way down the shaded path.

Notice the projection and personification I'm using to reveal this character's feelings? Now if these trees were viewed by someone seething over a new enemy, he may see it as the trees reaching out to fight or protect their territory. Someone religious or seeking salvation might see a steeple being formed by the trees. Someone imaginative or superstitious might see it as a possible doorway into the faerie realm. Think of using your environment as a Rorschach test for your characters.

I see a herd of wild ponies running across a plain...
Writing this way will also help draw your readers into the emotional environment of the character, allowing them to empathize with him or her without slapping them across the face with feelings.

With picture of what a slapped face looks like.

There are many tricks you can use to bring a reader into your story so they will experience it rather than just read it. Feel free to experiment with some of the methods I've used here to work place (Thank you Dr. Taylor!) into your fiction. I think you'll be rather satisfied in how it often brings out the richness of the rest of your story elements by giving the reader the chance to escape into the unfamiliar by experiencing the story themselves. Keep in mind that by reader, I also mean you. You should take the time to explore your story's environment. You should be able to experience the story yourself. So have fun and keep working at it. You'll find that if you can draw yourself in and be enveloped by your setting, the readers will soon follow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Short Story Preview: The Mural

Hey hey!

I know! I'm taking too long to write another post! It's on its way, I promise. Work and social life have been swamping me the past week and a half. I guess being newly single does that to you. Anyhoo, I'd thought I would post an excerpt from a short story I've been currently working on. It was based on a nightmare I had years ago that impressed me so much visually I'd thought I'd expand on it.


The Mural

It all started when a mural appeared by none other means than overnight on the wall across from the Brown Street Theatre in Rothton, Massachusetts during the summer of 1872. No one knew who had done it, though there were many who were seeking to find out, as they were sure it was done as some cruel joke. The wall itself belonged to the side of a corner deli and pie shop, which was confusing both to its patrons and owners since the mural appeared to have nothing to do with sandwiches.
The mural was painted in cloistered sections, as if it were the wall or window of a cathedral. The top section contained a star-shaped fiery pit surrounded by every horror conceived within the minds of men, and also perhaps some more that the mind had not yet the imagination or courage to manifest. Below that there were six sections, each containing a man of equally horrible appearance. One man had scissor-blades for fingers, another black-feathered wings, another with shards of glass sticking from his knees, finger-joints, and elbows. The others had various other torturous accoutrements to define them, though four things remained constant. Their skin was pale, putrid with the gray and yellow gauntness of corpse-hood, and their hair was equally pale and yellow, clinging oily and sparse to their skulls. Most unsettling of all, however, was that their mouths and eyelids were sewn shut with large, jagged stitches of thick, black twine.
            I had been serving as house manager to the theatre over the past fifteen seasons, long enough to witness everything and anything our kindly producer and proprietor Mr. Jacobs had varying whim to put on. From the works of Marlow, to Our American Cousin, the Brown Street Theatre was known throughout the entire region to perform the best version despite having only a small town’s budget. Was it our actors? I highly doubt it! Miranda Jacobs, Mr. Jacobs’ wife was an insufferable hack whose histrionics both on and behind the stage was something of a curiosity—the sort of curiosity that inspires one while watching a train derail into a burning orphanage! Unfortunately it was also Mrs. Jacobs whom would be cast as the principle actress in nearly every production (with exception to a certain piece from the sixteenth century where there were no female characters, until an awkward additional part was written to accommodate her).
            No, if anything it was the excellent contraption that Mr. Jacobs had installed in a curtained glass box behind the audience, right above the boiler room. It was a rather ingenious thing, powered from the boiler below to control the lamps, the backdrops, and the modest pipe organ that lined the walls beside the stage. Most remarkable of all, however, was its mysterious ability to create visual effects on the stage so closely mimicking reality that even the most skeptical of persons could be persuaded to believe in ghosts and faeries. I had asked Mr. Jacobs before where he had purchased such a thing, though his answer was never sound. Sometimes he would say that it was all the rage overseas. Other times he would reference some engineer in New Jersey whom was kindly enough to donate his prototype. I did not mind so much. Mr. Jacobs was a bit of a scatterbrained sort and as long as the machine kept the theater in business, the devil himself could have invented it!
            I had stepped into the theater on that Thursday morning. We happened to be into our second week running a stage adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil (which thankfully Mrs. Jacobs had not insisted on playing a female version of the lead because it would require her to cover her “unnaturally youthful beauty”). I had been just as puzzled as other patrons of Steinberg’s Deli when I bought my meager breakfast, upon seeing the macabre tribute to the arts that was splayed across the wall in meticulous detail. Though as I walked into Mr. Jacob’s office, I was even further puzzled to discover that my employer seemed relaxed and agreeable in disposition. Surely he had seen the mural when he arrived this morning? How could he not be disturbed by its very presence, much more about what sort of effect it would have on business!
            I coughed.
            Mr. Jacobs looked up. He always appeared to be somewhat a cross between a turtle and a hare, hunched and closed featured, yet also made of long lines and limbs.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who wants to help the scatterbrained Plot Junkie?

I will post something more comprehensive soon, I promise! I actually have two posts in the works, just can't decide which one to focus on more or post first. So I will leave this decision to YOU, faithful readers!

Here are your options:
-Recognizing themes in your work
-The Importance of Language
-Something else (comment on this post if there's something in writing fiction you'd like to see me address, or a question)
-I don't care as long as it has funny pictures

The poll app is at the bottom of this page. If you don't have the ability to vote on the poll, either comment on the link on facebook, or email me at: plotjunkie AT gmail dot com.

Voting ends at the end of the day on Wednesday (midnight, eastern time).

Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning Writing Conventions Through Unconventional Means

Once again, I apologize for such a late post. Recent events have made it very hard to write as of late, but I think I have found enough peace of mind to at least endure the pain and continue. This post may seem a bit disjointed and shorter than usual, but bear with me here.

A conversation with WannabeWriter at our writing group meet-up two weeks ago got me thinking about certain things that have prepared me for writing and telling stories.

I suppose I've been making up stories since my parents forced my brother to share his dinosaur toys with me when we were small children. He would smash them into each other. I'd divide them into families and create stories with them (though come to think of it, the triceratops mommy and stegosaurus daddy would not have been able to produce a t-rex and a brontosaurus as children unless mommy triceratops was keeping something from Mr. Stegosaurus!)


Of course after a thousand games of make-believe, my friends started to get tired of playing through either age or popularity. However to my luck, right before my pre-teen years I discovered online roleplaying games. My involvement started small with a Star Wars chat-based game and then evolved into generic fantasy on not only chat rooms, but in forums. Forum posting and chat rooms were probably the main vehicles for teaching me how to write. Many times when you needed to collaborate with another roleplayer, you had to be able to create the scene as well as interact with the character. You also had to learn how to respect the boundaries of your and the other person's characters and plotlines, or the other person would not take you seriously and won't play with you anymore.

You want me to do what with whom and that herring?

Also, if you were lucky like me, you would find a group of people who would give you advice and encouragement in writing your posts. I kept writing my own works, mind you. Though looking back at what I wrote back in high school and also at the style I am writing with now, the only ways I could submit the previous works for publication  is to either change the stories completely, or rewrite most of what I have and pass them off as a YA novels.

Anyway, I digress

Later on when I started college, my classmate and friend Laura got me into tabletop roleplaying games. Now there were rules on what you could and couldn't do, what you could and couldn't be. It didn't stifle creativity, though. Rather it gave it parameters to work within. Hell, my first tabletop character was a renaissance festival juggler who had been hit in the head one too many times with clubs, and according to my character sheet, the only two things I was good for was juggling and comically insulting people. Within the first 15 minutes I had done more damage out of anyone in the party. Looking back now, I find it rather entertaining that 3 years later I met her real life equivalent while I was working at the Georgia Renaissance Festival.

Tiny, but fierce!

Through gaming, we learned that failure was not always an end all, but rather it was just another path to something more interesting. We also learned that even the most basic or flawed of characters had the ability to become epic in their own right. Eventually I started live action roleplaying with Forest of Doors as a full time monster/ non-player character where I was required to switch characters up every half an hour or so--not only did my costumes get a full run of the gauntlet, but I needed to adopt different belief systems, cultures, and motivations-- and thus learned how to provide a greater of variety of characters beyond what I pulled from my own personality and intuition.

Laugh about them all you want, but they probably know a hell more about characterization than you do!

They say that it takes 10,000 hours (or 10 years) to master a craft. I think though in terms of writing fiction, this statement is bollocks. Most people may probably think that only writing, writing classes, and reading books on writing constitutes experience towards story-telling mastery. However there are so many other ways to learn character and plot development that you probably never even heard about. You can probably write for 10 straight years and still not be able to master telling a story unless you have other experiences to support it. Sure, you can make a paragraph flowery and powerful, but can you write and understand a convincing relationship between two characters?

Ever do any acting? You're getting experience in character development. Write and poetry or song lyrics? You're getting experience in language and perhaps plot development depending on the nature of the work. Watch television and the news? You have an abundance of possibilities before you in learning about writing and storytelling as a whole!

Though conversely, you can also learn a lot about what NOT to do when writing.

So faithful readers, as an exercise I want you to start paying attention to the activities you are involved in and what can you learn from them. I did it mostly with roleplaying, but I also played music, acted, watched documentaries, and simply surrounded myself with a wealth of experiences. Do you work with doctors or engineers? Start paying attention to how they interact (or don't) with each other, does their environment influence their actions or attitudes? Do you like jogging? Start paying attention to the people and areas you pass, create stories in your head about them based off of what you see and hear. Have a favorite stand-up comedian? Pay attention to his words and expressions and try to figure what it is that makes him funny and successful, use it for one of your characters!

When you start becoming one with the universe and how it can work, the more likely the universe you create will become just as real as the one you live in. So get out there and experience the endless possibilities, yourself! In the meantime, happy writing!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aliens vs Academia: A Look Into the Literary/Genre Debate, Part 3

Welcome back faithful readers! I apologize for taking such a long time to get this post up. I felt a little like last week's post seemed a little rushed. In all honesty, however, I think I may have taken on too broad of a subject to squeeze all the issues within a blog post for each side. I suppose that's the point of having an ongoing blog, though--so I can continuously comment on these subjects in more detail as the mood or relevance strikes me. Anyhoo,onto the next post!

So last week I commented on what genre writers need to learn from literary writers. It's now your turn to listen up, writers of the literary camp. Yes, you...the writer scanning the shelves for the latest Booker Prize winner while furiously cuddling your copy of Franzen's The Corrections!

Alright, finish your low-fat soy latte and then listen up!

I have a bone to pick with you, so before you start complaining about how unappreciated your works are by the public, I'd like you to consider the following advice from your genre cousins:

1. Remember that the characters are individual creatures, and the story is a story.

I know. You may want to address complex issues in prose. You may have read Nabokov, Hawthorne, and Voltaire and wanted to use your story to poetically and metaphorically capture the mind and inspire them to your cause. You may also frown on popular fiction and how superficial and cut and dry it is. Now let me tell you now that you need to get off your high horse and listen. What often happens when you write a novel on an issue without any experience in writing stories is that your story will not sound like a story, it will sound like a lecture. Also your characters will often act as nothing more than metaphors or mouthpieces for the issue--resulting in wooden characters with no life of their own.

Hell, you may as well just give them t-shirts.
Sure, it is possible to address complex issues while avoiding these problems, but first you must learn the basics of plotting and character development. I have two suggestions on learning how to do this: A. read popular or genre fiction and pay attention to what themes are being presented and how the author addresses them. And B. Read one of the classics and pay attention to how the author builds suspense, works the plot, and develops the characters rather than what his themes or metaphors are.

2. For a story to be a story, something must happen.

This is one of the biggest complaints I have about the literary crowd. The assumption many misinformed literary writers have is the story does not need a plot as long as its well written--the "slice of life" so to speak.  The reasoning behind this is that a good writer does not need to resort to explosions and other tropes to write well and keep a reader's interest. This idea is a load of bollocks. When you tell someone about your average, run of the mill day, how long does it take for their eyes to glaze over? When you talk about putting together a spreadsheet for work, do you describe it in poetic and metaphoric detail? Try doing it. How long did it take for their eyes to glaze over?

Bored now!
Now try mentioning something like your co-worker left a note on your desk saying "lunch, 12 sharp, don't be late" on it, did not show up for an hour, and when you returned, your building was reduced to a smoldering pile of ash. Are the eyes glazing over now? Probably not, and the same works for fiction. For a novel to be a story, it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. This does not need to be in a linear timeline, but it still needs to be a moving journey whether the journey be in a character's mindset, or in a fight to save the world. A plot-less story reads like a giant beginning, and often leaves the reader unsatisfied as if they were shown a giant menu of food, were allowed to smell them, were told what was in every single one, and then handed them the check without tasting, eating, or even watching them being made.

Mmm...tasty food pictures!
 You may have created an interesting, complex character, but would you really want to read 400 pages about him being bored with his life and doing nothing about it? What you must ask yourself is: what is it about this particular day of his sets it apart from all the rest of them? Why should the reader commit to reading 400 pages when he could read the first and last page and not tell if anything in the story has changed?

3. Language should not be a stumbling block.

I know, you may want to craft beautiful language and metaphor to bring out the themes of the book. You may want the reader to carefully read the text and force them to think. However the average reader is going to read that particular sentence three times and get frustrated that it's keeping him from continuing the story, and more than likely put down the book in favor of someone who actually makes sense. Remember that writing is a form of communication and language is a carrier rather than the content. If the reader cannot understand the basic meaning of a certain sentence, it's not the reader's fault, it's yours for not communicating effectively.

Nope! Still don't get it!

The biggest tip I have for this problem is for you to be subtle and relevant in your writing. Make sure the sentences make sense when reading them! If it takes five times of reading to understand that your character scraped their knee on the pavement, it's time to simplify! The best hidden meaning is the kind that sneaks up on you rather than the kind that sets up a roadblock and expects you to figure it out before you can continue.

4. The reader is your friend.

This is the literary writer's biggest sin. I have seen complaints all over the board about how people need to raise themselves to a higher standard of reading so literary novels will sell better and not die out. This is stupid. What many writers often forget is that fiction is a part of the entertainment industry. Just like an actor wouldn't expect people to buy tickets to see their films for the "good of the industry", you shouldn't expect people to buy and read your books because it's "good for literature". Another complaint is that readers should be reading "what's good for them".

Nothing like a good, heaping dose of literary castor oil!

Let me ask you this: Would you rather have someone start reading your book because they have to, or because they want to? A successful story establishes a solid relationship between the teller and the reader. You can't expect readers to obligate themselves into enjoying something that's good for them, but not enjoyable. However, you can still give them the entertainment they want without sacrificing the nature of your story and pandering down your skill. Whether you need to make your characters more identifiable, or you need to add more suspense--you need to make the read worth reading to your readers (try saying that 3x fast!). When the reader opens your book, they are trusting you to make the experience worth their while. If you can't offer them something that will draw them in and keep them interested, then you are betraying their trust. An ending doesn't always need to be happy, but it still needs to be fulfilling. A character doesn't have to be a goody-goody as long as he can incite interest or sympathy in the person reading about him. You don't have to write like everybody else out there, but you need to give the reader a reason to care otherwise you are wasting your and their time as your beautifully written book rots on the shelves of English professors or used bookstores.

Don't let this happen to your novel!

5. The literary genre is also a genre.

That's right. I hate to be harsh, but the literary genre still follows its own conventions. I blame this a bit on the literarti trying to impress each other so much, that they often imitate the critically-acclaimed authors to death. That aside, don't fall into the trap of thinking that the literary way of writing is the only good way of writing. A good, effectively told and well written story is what it is whether or not it has a dragon, a murder, or a mid-life crisis in it. Write in a genre if you enjoy writing in that genre, not to satisfy the critics in the New York Times!

 So yeah, I think I've spent far too much time on writing this post. However I hope that what may be gleaned from all this is that everyone stands room for improvement, and that it is the writer who is responsible for the success of his or her work. Students of writing should be open to improvement, and instructors of writing should be open to what their writers desire to accomplish with their works. Hopefully with time, the literary and genre debate will no longer be a debate, but rather just a part of the discussion on the craft we love so much.

Until then, here are some great resources on the debate:
Kay Dacus's blog post "Literary vs. Pop Fic"
An archived discussion on the conventions of literary fiction
An excellent post on "The Literary Fiction/Thriller Divide" with the opinions of several published authors.
Donna Sirrani's post on "Literary Fiction and Writing Workshops"
Leah Raeder's post: "To Write Good Books, or To Write What You Love"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aliens vs Academia: A Look Into the Literary/Genre Debate, Part 2

Alright faithful readers! You've gotten this far in listening to my rantings on this little genre war. Good! I'm glad you're still reading. If you're a first time reader (or if you need to be refreshed on the post), click here for part one.

In this post I would like to mostly address the writers and the rare instructors of the genre camp (which I've yet to, but would like to meet sometime).

Think back to the last class you took with a literary minded professor, if you had one. What were often the most common complaints? Underdeveloped characters? Lack of voice, style, and imagery? Too many unfamiliar details and terms at once? Unrealistic actions? Is your brain cluttered with jargon by now? Because mine certainly was, but I also had the distinct disadvantage of having a writing professor who looked and spoke like Professor Trelawney from the Harry Potter series.

Do what I say or your book will die an untimely death!

Now I know what you're thinking. They don't know or appreciate the genre you are writing in, and you're right. They probably don't. However there is some merit to these complaints, the key is remembering that their words should be SUGGESTIONS. The key is to translate their idea of how to fix something into something that will actually work for your story without sacrificing the flavor of it.

Common complaints and how to translate them:

You need to develop your voice: I don't feel the way your narrator is speaking really matches up to your story. Pay attention to your story and word it in a way that enhances the feel of it. It is set in a high society Victorian world? Read some stories of the era and try to write in a similar manner. Is the main character rather terse in how he speaks to people? Write in a similar way. Of course this comment can also mean that you are being lazy with language and need to read some authors who play with it more. This is the perfect opportunity to expand your vocabulary--just don't overdo it on the thesaurus surfing.

Thesaurus abuse--it's a serious crime.

What's an orc?: What's an orc? I really don't know what this thing you're expecting me to know about is because I haven't read the billion fantasy novels you've probably read; either describe it at some point close to it or just use a real, freakin' English word!

Ha...very funny...

I don't see this character: Alright, I know what this character looks like. He/she sounds exactly all of your other ones, though. Is this an individual or a hand puppet, or even worse, a mini me or talking head? What are their opinions? Do they have any particular way of expressing themselves? Show! Not tell me!

Show, not tell!: Exactly as it sounds. Now you may think that you need to release certain details in exposition for the reader to understand the setting, but there are other ways of revealing them. Telling too much often messes with pacing and runs the risk of talking at the reader, rather than talking to them. This also can mean that you need to work on developing your imagery. Take this time to play around with symbolism and metaphor. Sometimes the best works are the ones you can read again and notice how the writer is foreshadowing a future event or the character's feelings through the language you write.

Why can't you write something real?: Harsh advice, and often the criticism that will drive any genre-writing student to automatically not take their instructor seriously. I hate to say it, but the instructor is often right, but that doesn't mean you need to abandon your genre of choice. The biggest sin, I believe, of genre writers is the tendency to avoid cliches by cramming as many details and exceptions to the norm into their world, that it gets to the point where even the Mary Sue litmus test needs an overhaul to make room for all of the plot twists/tropes and cliche exceptions of cliches.  If you have a good story, tell it and stop worrying about whether your dragons are different in that they are actually chickens with scales and breathe acid instead of fire--oh and they are also avid Shakespeare fans. I'm not saying that you should get rid of them, but how important are they really in your story? Does the main character always have to be the chosen one because their grandfather's sword called out to them in a dream and told them to slay the evil werewolf-king who happens to have a magic mirror who keeps him forever young? I guess what I'm saying is simplify and find other ways other than description to make something done before more interesting in your own works. If you treat your characters (however fantastical they are) like real people in a real setting, it'll keep the eyes from rolling.

This is moving too fast for me: This is all plot and no reaction. A story does not necessarily have to be full of action scenes. In fact, I recommend against it. Now if you've done your homework, you would have readMary Lynn Mercer's article on balancing plot with character. If not, take the time to read it now. Read it? Good. One of the main differences that often sets a genre story from a literary one is the conception that genre is more plot-driven, while literary is more character driven. I don't believe this needs to be the case, but it is, most unfortunately, what seems to be currently. Now I am not saying that one is better than the other, but as the article says, there needs a good proportion of each. When you have all action and no reaction or no character development, the pretty explosions will keep you reading, but it's hard to believe what's happening or care about who's doing it because the character can be any joe shmoe with muscle-bound arms, or whatever pithy description you gave him. The story sounds like every one like it out there and your plot will probably be predictable. As a result, once the book is done, the chance your readers will want to pick it up again is very low.

In this book, generic action hero will save the world from a giant mongoose.

Genre writers have usually read enough of their own genres to have seen all sorts of fantastic plots. The trouble is a fantastic plot with poor execution creates a schlocky story. Campy and schlocky, of course, can also be fun--if that's what it intended to do (and even then, it takes some skill to make it satire in that respect). Also a fantastic plot is not entirely what drives readers to keep reading and buying your books. What genre writers can learn most from the literary camp is that it's not just what happens that makes a well-written great story, it's also how it's told.

So next time you're in a class with a literary professor who just can't understand the merit of your epic science-fiction novel, don't dismiss them completely as elitist. Listen to him or her. You don't have to write exactly how he or her wants it, but keep in mind that writing require craft as well as imagination. Learn what you can and don't lose sight of what you love to write so you can prove the pretentious literati wrong about genre. After all, how can it be art when your heart's not in it?

Thanks for reading my ramblings on this subject and keep an eye out soon for the next part of this series where I'll be addressing the literary fiction writers. In the meantime, happy writing!