science fiction and fantasy writer

Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page

The Illusion of Immediacy

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2014 at 4:11 pm

A discussion cropped up in the CSFG novel writing group just recently on the topic of point of view and tense (ie, past, present, future) in prose. A question was asked about a decision to write in third person point of view and present tense, for the sake of greater immediacy in the storytelling while also handling several characters’ points of view.

The dominant convention in modern English language prose fiction is to write in third person point of view (him, her) and past tense. First person point of view (I, me) is relatively common, present tense probably slightly less so. Second person (you) tends to exist only in choose-your-own-adventures and occasional literary quirks. Future tense is virtually unseen.

All of the possible combinations of point of view and tense are (at least in principle) legitimate options. However, decisions to deviate from the dominant convention should always be based on the needs of the story at hand – for example, if the story needs an unreliable narrator, you’d choose to tell it in first person or, if you need to disguise whether the protagonist lives or dies at the end, you might opt for present tense, and so on.

There’s a trap here, though, which is that, for the writer, first person point of view and present tense can both seem like they give a story a greater sense of “immediacy” – like the events are happening right here and now, and you’re right in the thick of it. Sure they do, when you’re writing it, but that might not be the case for someone else reading the story.

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Inevitability, but not predictability

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2014 at 9:43 pm

I’ve written before about the lessons in Andrew Stanton‘s excellent TED talk on storytelling and, in particular, about his characterisation of storytelling as joke telling.

I think Stanton’s right, that there are strong parallels between jokes and stories, both structurally and in terms of how they operate. Elsewhere in his talk, Stanton puts forward the idea that the endings of stories should be “inevitable, but not predictable”. That is, the ending should be set up by the story that precedes it, and the story should contain all of the information necessary to make sense of the ending, but the ending should still surprise the reader. Sounds hard? Well, that’s how the punchlines of jokes work, isn’t it?

I was reminded this week of Christopher Green’s story “Father’s Kill“, which you can follow the link to read at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. (Incidentally, this story was co-winner, with my story “Once a month, on a Sunday”, of the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010). It’s pretty short, and well worth taking five minutes to read. It’s also a very clear and succinct example of an ending that’s “inevitable, but not predictable”. This story is nothing at all like the joke at the beginning of Stanton’s TED talk, but it works exactly the same way.

Check out Shauna O’Meara’s art portfolio on Flickr

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2014 at 9:27 am

It’s great stuff, including her covers for CSFG’s Next and Nicole Murphy’s In Fabula-divino anthologies, but most exciting for me: the illustrations I commissioned from her for my as-yet-unpublished novella The Wanderers, which I wrote for my kids as a Christmas present.

Here’s one of The Wanderers pics:

foxchapter1Check out the rest here.

Aurealis Shortlist!

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2014 at 10:41 pm

My story “Cold, Cold War”, which you can read for free in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #123, has been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story.

Well. That’s very exciting.

The full shortlists will presumably be posted publicly sometime soon. Winners awarded on 5 April.

First sale of the year!

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 10:30 pm

I’ve just sold my story “Remembering Zheng He” to a new Indian magazine called The Affair.

Their first issue is due out in April. My story’s slated for Issue #2 in June.

Woot!

On Turning Ideas Into Stories

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2014 at 6:38 pm

So, having an idea for a story and having a story are two different things. “Well, duh,” you might say. But the difference between the two isn’t just words.

Having a notion that the world is round is an idea. A story is like the ship you build to prove that idea. Like a ship, a story needs something to push it along, a method for navigating and steering it and a watertight structure to prevent it from sinking without trace into the dark and airless depths of crushing despair below. Like a ship, a story is a cohesive, complex, mechanical whole, the purpose of which is to deliver your idea to its destination (your readers). And like a ship, if any parts of the machine are poorly designed or constructed, your story will end up becalmed in the middle of nowhere, go off in the wrong direction or sink without trace into the dark and airless depths of etcetera.

A story has motive force, direction and structure. An idea doesn’t necessarily have any of those things. So, you have to build them around your idea to turn it into a story.

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Locus Recommended Read!

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm

My story “The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter” has made the 2013 Locus Recommended Reading List.

It’s one of 3 stories from the Clockwork Phoenix 4 anthology to make the list – to go with thirteen starred listings from the anthology on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List.

Upcoming beginners’ course

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I’ll be teaching my “Fiction Writing – The Basics” evening course at CIT Reid Campus, starting 6.30pm on Tuesday 18 February. This’ll be the fourth time I’ve run this course.

It consists of 6 x 2 hour classes, covering:

  • structure and plot
  • turning ideas into stories
  • characters
  • getting the details right
  • editing and critiquing
  • getting published

Participants will complete the course with an understanding of the building blocks of good stories, plus approaches to improving their own writing.

You can book online at CIT Solutions.