I’m not sure this has anything to do with my being a frothing mass of angry nd. Maybe it does. I cannot say because I have no framework of reference. Guess I am not (yet) moving in all the right circles for me.
Of course, this was once more sparked by Craft in the Real World my Mathew Salesses. There is a part where he speaks about Chinese traditions in storytelling. That has nothing to do with my own storytelling. Some things stood out for me simply because I want them in my stories. The ones I write as much as the ones I read.
Explicit emotions, wanting to make the reader feel something. Purposeful lack of interiority. Romantic irony. Directly addressing the audience or at all times an awareness of the audience and the structure surrounding story telling with all its participants.
I have never put names on these things except for myself and always as ways I deviate from correct writing. It is on me that I don’t understand why a protag’s head can’t just be empty, its last brain cell being squizzly squiggly fucking bendy and gallivanting around on a perpetual 404-error.
That the protag shouldn’t be addressing the audience (in)directly. Like, am I the only one who does this? Talk to my imagined audience in my head, performing on a stage of my own making as if I’m in a live feed?
That direct and unabashed emotions are the food for the soul my heart hungers for. Why would a metaphor transport the point better? Emotions are raw and leave you vulnerable. Why should I put up walls around that again when I just chipped them away carefully?
These are things I like. (along with free-floating dialogue, no descriptions, and info dumps). But they are branded as Bad Writing. When truly, they may all just be part of a different tradition. Maybe I just don’t know because all I get is western style stuff.
I grew up not questioning it. Writing craft advice was The Gospel. It was me that didn’t get it. Somehow I managed to not get the basics of writing, my fave pastime of all time. But try as I might, I could not like what that advice produced in my hands. It was obvious, that I was the problem.
Tell you what? I will be a fucking problem.
I was taught there is a right way to write, and now I begin to understand it is just one tradition. A dominant tradition people are loth to let go. Hell if I know why. Maybe it is easier to judge stories following a pattern. If it strays, it is a bad story. Easy.
If you have different right ways to tell a story, this becomes increasingly difficult. Not only are you expected to understand the different ways (but do you have to? Can’t you just enjoy?) The possibility to be “wrong” increases. You are prone to make mistakes.
I can see where this is making a lot of people very uncomfortable. Can’t say I care, though. I have been made very uncomfortable approaching the subject from the other side for a long time. How about we meet in the middle?
Or better yet, yeet those preconceptions into the sun where they belong. Embrace the multitude of traditions and writing styles. Celebrate them merging into a kaleidoscopic flux of self-renewing creativity.
Not everything that can come from this will be gold. But let’s be honest. How much is getting published these days that isn’t gold either?
The one thing I know now is that traditional western story telling can never meet all my narrative needs. It was not made to. It does not have to.
Writing and publishing will be all rolled into one for this one and I am not taking criticism. 😙 I will freely admit that writing is doing a much better job of being diverse than tradpub which is part of the problem because producing all those amazing things means nothing if tradpub ignores them wholesale. 🤷♂️
Writing and books are advertised as being a choice, wide range, a free-for all. Anything goes! You just have to do it well. (And with enough practice that is a given, right?!?) (Who decides what well even is?!? 🤨)
Well, here I go. I have written a thing and also, I like reading a thing or maybe even two thing if spoons. I am very picky where my reading is concerned. This may tie into the overall issue depicted here. (I say “may” but really, I am certain it does.)
But that’s fine. I finally found my people – writers, some of them even published. And I finally get access to The Writing. And it’s like, let’s go to the fruit market!
We go. We arrive. And every stall I see sells apples. Like, different kinds, sour, sweet, crunchy, gnarly. There’s absolutely every kind of apple you can imagine. Some are suspiciously close to pears and one looks like it’d rather be a peach.
So I wonder, where are the other fruits? Mangoes anyone? Blueberries, please? And I get those looks of incomprehension.
– Like, we’re at a fruit market.
– Yes, yes, we are, so where are the fruits?
– Look around. It’s all fruit.
– Yes, but it is all the same kind of fruit.
– It is all fruit!
And then there is this horrible dawning of maybe the “all” doesn’t mean everything in this place is fruit, but these are all the different fruits there are. This is it. You want fruit? You better like apple.
And so I stand there, clutching my raspberries to my heart until they squish because I will never have apples.
Also, I would like some non-apples to read please.
When I got Craft in the Real World (CitRW) by Matthew Salesses, I did with reservations. I have received a lot of craft advice in my life and have developed a raging rage against most of it. I have shown my whole ass ripping advice from Stephen King to shreds because, how dare?
I never found the words to express why craft advice was making me so angry. I pinned a part on it being prescriptive. One shoe doesn’t fit all, that much I knew. I just didn’t know how to argue for more diverse shoes because everybody was so set on having white sneakers.
I settled on “everything does something, you just have to decide if it is a something you want.”
A valiant attempt but falling short in so many ways. And I didn’t know how to catch the pieces and make them make sense. It was obvious to me. Why could others not see it?
Reading CitRW is like trying to chip a lion out your block of marble for years only to learn that the advice on how to do this was geared at people working clay.
The Surprise – I though I was just too stupid/bad at it/ incapable.
The Relief – I can still do this! There is a way and I am not all lost/wrong.
The Pain – Why did I try to apply the wrong approach for so long?
The ANGER – Why did nobody tell me this was wrong for me? Why did everybody insist on it being helpful and THE ONLY RIGHT WAY when it is clearly NOT? Why did I suffer through so much perceived failure and the inability to streamline my words and still keep them meaningful?
The realisation that, surrounded by white, mostly allo cishet people – who is there to notice we’re trapped in an ideology of our almost-peers making? White male supremacy is so insidious, we don’t see all its tentacles groping through our lives.
Craft advice with a clear ideology and target audience took a life of its own, pretended that it had no ideology, and was falsely accepted as a neutral thing. Just like not using Deus Ex Machina prevails in western literature because Aristotle didn’t like it and we just took his word for it being bad.
So I just took the word of other white people. I did not reflect on where they got those ideas from. I did not reflect on what the written said about who it was from and who it was for. After all, isn’t SFF a free for all? Shouldn’t the place of magic and spaceships be free from preconceptions?
I guess it should.
Doesn’t mean the readers are free of those. Readers have expectations. And those are learnt as much as writing to meet them is. And the small number of women heroines in SFF only mirrored it’s predominantly male audience, right?
The first five pages of CitRW taught me more about craft then everything else up to that point. The whole book has changed my world. Not the way I write, but how I think about it, how I judge the framework it comes from and the framework I want it to go into.
CitRW also changed the way I beta and CP. I now understand why things work for me better. I can rattle at my perception to better see where the work comes from and how that influences the way it was written. I can start to see your craft and with it your privilege – or lack thereof.
I don’t think my writing has become more palatable to an implied “general audience”. But now I know why and I can consciously think on whether I do want to change things up for them or if I want to stick with a craft that speaks to my desired audience. (My desired audience, quite shockingly, is not middle aged, able bodies allo chishet white men of fair income.)
Also, I am petty and angry. If I had to read stories for them for most of my life, it’s time for payback and for them to read stories for me for a change. If I find enough to identify with an identity so far from mine, so can you.
And, just so you know, I will judge you on your PERCEPTION of craft.
Rows and rows of headstones, I painted a grey night without stars. Maybe if you had graveyards here, this is what it would look like. Paint a moon on your sky and clouds. Gnarly-fingered trees are reaching.
It is not a well-kept place. Stones are broken and fallen. Dry leaves on the ground for the noise it makes to walk on them. The iconography of horror means nothing here. And yet I can touch the heavy taste of the air closing in. How can I read all the tombstones when it is so dark?
Because I know what they say. There is my name on all of them, each single one: me, me, me. There lies the girl that dreamt of growing up normal. Sometimes I can still hear her whisper dreams in my head.
The lies the woman that dreamt of fortune and fame and acclaim. Her words are buried beside her. In the darkest nights, the ground still moves. The headstone of the sweet one has fallen over just as easily as the dreams of marrying the first love and settling down with kids and a dog.
I am not a dog person. I am even less of a kids person. That one is forgotten, a wisp of smoke indistinguishable from the clouds. The list goes on and on. There have been so many of me.
This is what you don’t see: it is all of us.
When I see you, I know there is a graveyard like this behind your eyes. We buried many people to be where we are today. We do not talk about the dead. They haunt us. They shine through our eyes and we cannot help it.
They say the dead don’t return for an encore and it is a lie. We live them every day. It’s okay. I will not tell on the small bodies in your backyard. Knowing who you left behind makes a strong case. I will hear you out.
Beginnings are the bane of authors, it seems. They have to be Just Right™ or they will get your manuscript rejected. Or so the story goes.
Ngl, I hate it here. There’s few things I love writing as much as beginnings. It’s an enchanted moment, sacred, when I get to dip a new reader into my worlds. Yes, sometimes it is fun to dunk them head-first into the sea of sparkle but usually I want them to feel the same sense of wonder I did when I found/created/explored this world.
For me, starting a book is like opening a door. And there are few times when I want to topple and drown immediately after. Or duck out of the line of fire. I want a sense of my surroundings first. And yes, sometimes diving into the sea of glitter is great. Also, it gets boring after a while.
By now I know beginnings, how they are supposed to look and work and I hate it. Like actively NOPE. It is customary to start with some small action, something to set the scene while drawing the reader right in and also, get the plot rolling.
The number of books I start where I know that whatever the protag is about to embark on will fail is atrocious. I do not want to see my protgas fail. Truth be told, I absolutely LOVE it when the first thing goes right and that is the reason the rest of the book goes down. Chef’s kiss.
There are lists of ways how you do NOT start a book. I read them and I shake my head because, nope, I see nothing wrong there. I like beginnings that start with somebody coming to or running away. It complements my feeling of stepping into a new world. I can slip into it slowly and get to know its wonders.
I also like people running, because usually they run away from something which can tell you so much. 🥺
So, what am I supposed to do? Action.
And yes, many people interpret that as ACTION!action. Like, shooting, fighting, explosions. I find that dull and distracting. I don’t care about any of this yet. Yes, you can signal clearly who the correct side to root for is. No, it won’t work because I’m naturally suspicious about it.
What do I consider successful beginnings? (Not considering prologues here)
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. Two people ride into a city. Impending doom has not happened yet.
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah. A magic merchant and her companion complete a deal and everything goes well.
Cambion’s Law by Erin Fulmer – The protag outs herself as half-demon getting coffee and goes for a jog where she stumbles over the plot.
Finna by Nino Cipri – The protag arrives at work to cover a shift and hates every second of it.
The prologue of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is the kind of beginning I mean. It starts, there’s fighting. Do I care? Nope. To this day I am very sorry for the poor Hunduns. 🤷♂️
I think what is important for me in a beginning is to get a feeling of my new friends, their world and the story I can expect ahead. If you start with fighting, that’s what I will expect: fighting. If you start with characters, I will expect character development on the grounds of things happening. If you have a lot of descriptions (side-eyeing you, Gideon the Ninth) I expect many more descriptions.
Personally, I want to go gently into my new world. I want to get invested. And if I am getting dunked in a sea of glitter, I at least want to know that the details of this romp are irrelevant for what is coming.