February 4th, 2005

bear by san

(no subject)

We like oyceter's version of the meme better.

Five Fictional People I Wanted to Be During Childhood/Adolescence: (in roughly chronological order)

1. Alec Ramsay
2. Aslan (Hazel the rabbit was a runner up for this slot.)
3. Menolly of Harper Hall
4. Jareth the Goblin King
5. Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin

I have always had a little bit of a problem with this whole gender role thing, apparently. Never mind figuring out what species I was.
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    quixotic quixotic
bear by san

Instant Gratification Not-Quite-Paella

I came home from work this morning starving, and realized I haven't had paella since 1997. So I, um, improvised. As usual, given my kitchen, it's fusion cuisine.

1 cup sushi rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 head garlic, chopped
1 pat butter

Get a heavy-bottomed pan, like a cast iron skillet, and heat it. Sautee the garlic in the olive oil and butter. Normally, one would also add onions at this point, but I appear to be out of onions. When the garlic is soft, add the rice, and sautee the rice in the oil and garlic until it is transparent with a little white dot in the middle of each grain. At this point, add seasonings (I used curry powder, sweet paprika, cayenne, turmeric, garlic powder, kosher salt, pepper, and cilantro. I said it was fusion paella.) and then:

2 cups chicken stock
1.5 cups mixed frozen veggies
1 cup frozen corn
meat from two leftover chicken drumsticks
handful of cashews

Just sort of float this stuff on top.


Cook uncovered until the rice is done and the bottom has a lovely crunchy brown crust. Eat. Sigh happily. Probably serves about four normal people, or two large/hungry ones.

I'm probably going to squeeze a lime on mine and then dump some good yogurt on top, because it wound up going sort of Indian on me.

Come on over! There's lots!
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    hungry hungry
bear by san

The writing koans

The more I learn about this stuff, the truer they get.

By "the writing koans," I mean those oft-repeated bits of beginner advice or comment that seem ridiculously simple, or simply wrong-headed, and eventually start to unveil layer after layer of meaning as you start to figure out how this process works. And it's not something that can really be explained. It just has to be grokked.

I have a list of them that I figure I'll be adding to for a long time.

Here's a few (it's not an exhaustive list.):

Omit needless words! Omit needless words! (yes, twice, on purpose.)
Show, don't tell.
Fall down seven times; get up eight. (Alternately: "Try, fail. Try again. Fail better.")
Character is conflict (or "Character is plot.")
You have to write a million word of shit.(see also: "Writing can't be taught; it can only be learned." and "Good, now go write for ten years.")
Start at the beginning of the story./ Start with action./ Start with a change.
Write what you know. (I prefer "Know what you write.")

And more.

In other news, yhlee is smart (and cranky) about race and SFF over here.
bear by san

More reviews and news--

Ah, my Locus arrived. And unopened, for once. I guess the nomailman took pity on me this month. In addition to the review of Hammered, there's several reviews of my short fiction. Nick Gevers likes the monkey story (...on balance, Elizabeth Bear tackles human/alien perplexity more acutely than Jasper in "When You Visit the Magoebaskloof Hotel, be Certain not to Miss the Samango Monkeys," (sorry, unwrecked) which, despite its title, is set on a bleak, distant planet, where human colonists beat their heads against the cognitive brick wall of a gentle indigenous species, only to see the aliens comprehend our nature with wise facility. He loathed "Follow Me Light" with a loathing, however, saying Elizabeth Bear's "Follow Me Light," on the other hand, is a tepid account of a lady lawyer falling in love with the sea-king's ugly son -- or something of that sort. Rich Horton, (on the other hand) didn't find the monkey story worthy of comment, but said, Elizabeth Bear's "Follow Me Light" is an intriguing story of a public defender who falls for a handicapped colleague who has a very unexpected family history, which explains his injuries but opens up other questions.

Rich also reviewed All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, but didn't comment on my story. He loved Ben Rosenbaum's sparkling pen, however--and who can blame him? Ben's shiiiiny.

In other news, I have just agreed to be a judge in the 11th annual ChiZine short story contest in June, along with somebody exciting, and somebody whose identity has not yet been revealed to me. Because I just can't get enough slush!
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    Breaking Benjamin - So Cold
drive train _ netcurmudgeon

Koans for writers: "Show, don't tell."

With regard to my post on writing koans, and show-don't-tell in particular, rezendi said "I think it's possible to get too pathological about this one." Which gives me the ideal opportunity to yammer on a little about what I mean by "unpacking." And how this particular koan unpacked for me--and continues to. greygirlbeast said in her blog today that writers are like wine; they get better with age.

This unpacking thing may in part be why.

"Show, don't tell," is probably about the first piece of advice that every beginning writer gets. And it's generally said to mean "dramatize, don't summarize." And okay, that's a starting point. But it's a pretty weak one--especially taken to extremes. Summarization is a critical skill in a fiction writer's toolkit; it's the "sequence" in scene-and-sequence (a mechanistic treatment of writing narrative that I hate, loathe, detest, despise, and abhor in general, but enough of that elsewhere--there's nuggets of merit in it, but I think they're best found by taking scene-and-sequence as descriptive rather than prescriptive.). Summarization is exposition, it's denouement, it's introduction, it's part of worldbuilding--

And it also keeps one from writing long, boring scenes when, essentially, they can be summed up thusly: "After we rescued Peter from the witch-king, we went to IHoP for a pancake snack."

So, okay. That's the first level of unpacking. Unfortunately, some of the damage done by that level can be seen, live and in person, in the manuscript for All the Windwracked Stars I posted over at my Fictons journal last year. (elizabethbear)

But after you've been writing for a while, you start to figure this stuff out. You get out of the habit of summarizing a story and into the habit of dramatizing it, and you discover that there are places where a well-placed summary (as small as a phrase, as long as a chapter) comes in damned handy.

But then you also discover that that's not what "Show, don't tell" really means.

What it really means is that incluing is more effective than exposition. That, in other words, there are ways to make the actual narrative function as worldbuilding and backstory. That you can reveal a great deal of what you need the reader to know by showing it rather than explaining it. That you don't need to tell the reader that Bruno was a prizefighter, and he left the ring after he killed a man. The reader is smart. The reader, in fact, is nigh-on to a mindreader, and subtext is powerful.

It's an epiphany. It leaves you dizzy. It makes your hands shake. And you write and write and write and lean into this revelation like it was a strong wind.

And six months later, you start to realize that there are circumstances where it's inefficient. Where subtlety and sidelong glances lose most of your readers. Where you fail to close the gates that keep them following the sheepdog to the pasture of your choosing. That your readers, in short, are confused, because you have become coy. And you realize that that wasn't what "Show, don't tell" meant at all.

What it means was that you actually can narrate or exposit anything, as long as you do it engagingly. Anything, that is, except one thing. Character development and motivation; these are things that have to be demonstrated, grounded. The reader has to be made to feel them. They have to be in the reader's gut; the reader has to be in the character, he has to comprehend the character. You discover the magic of the thing tanaise called "inpositioning," of making the character's motivations explicit in his actions. Of showing the disconnect between what he does, and what he says (the single best teaching example of this I can think of is a scene in Roger Zelazny's The Guns of Avalon between Benedict and Corwin which includes what I consider to be one of the best paragraphs of oblique characterization in fantasy: "I glanced away and so did Ganelon. When I looked back, his face had returned to normal, and he had lowered his arm." It's a paragraph, two sentences, twenty-three words, that completely define two characters for me. Taken out of context, not so much, but in the place where the two men have been shown, and their relationships demonstrated, it's breathtaking.) and making the reader understand the three-dimensionality of the character by showing him in parallax view. If he jumps when you close one eye, you can see him against the background of stars.

Except that's wrong. That's not what "Show, don't tell" means. Because sometimes a simple declarative sentence can be devastating. Sometimes you can tell the reader, flat out, mano a mano as it were-- "She was tired."

And you can break the reader's heart with three words.

So I've had a new epiphany. And now I think, what it means is that the reader believes what he sees; he believes in the world that is demonstrated to him, that he is grounded in, that he comprehends. He understands it from the perspectives the writer shows him, those angles--and the unique angle he brings on his own, his "50%." And those things mesh together to make the story he percieves, and enjoys, or dislikes.

Except I'm pretty sure that I'm also wrong about that.

They keep unpacking and unpacking and unpacking. Otherwise they would be rules, not koans.

"Some say he is a holy man; others, that he is a shithead."
bear by san

Progress Notes

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We are going to bring it in around 100 K. Page 355 and there's nothing left to write but a fight scene, some domestic drama, a spousal abandonment, a failed reconciliation and some denouement.You know you're in trouble when your fuzzy wish-fulfillment talking animal companion is not speaking to you.
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    Trevor Jones -- Pennies for the Ferryman