Friday, October 28, 2011


I swear, some readers feel positively threatened by details. If they don't see an immediate purpose for the detail, it makes them anxious, like they need to take notes or they're going to have a quiz on them. They can't just let the details be part of the flavor of the story.

I wonder if some of them have had one of those nasty teachers who thought the best way of testing whether students actually read the story is to give quizzes on the minute trivial details of the story -- the sort that you're apt to read over if you're just reading normally, to absorb the gist of the story rather than to search for details you may be quizzed on.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just Lovely

As I'm trying to hash out the problem with "The Man I Love Is on the Moon," I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I'm going to have to completely tear out the existing beginning and redo it from scratch. I guess it's better that it's just three handwritten pages I need to toss. It could be 300 double-spaced MS pages on the computer, as happened to one writer I know.

And worse, I think I really need to give more thought to several of the characters before I can really push the story forward. Which means it may need some back-burner time to let the subconscious mind work on it.

At least that will give me some time to focus on getting "The Shadow of a Dead God" ready to send to its intended market.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Proto-Draft

Sometimes it's called scaffolding. It's that stuff that you've got to write to make part of a story clear in your own head, but doesn't work as finished story. Stuff dealing with the background of character relationships, or (in speculative genres) the hows and whys of the technology, magic or creepy stuff that's essential to making the story work.

In a novel, it may be possible to have an infodump work, especially in relatively hard sf. A lot of readers of Heinlein, Weber, Kratman, etc. actually enjoy those solid blocks of information about the hows and whys of the science, technology and political systems that make the world work. It makes the imagined world read more real for them.

But that's not true for all readers -- I know some readers who absolutely will not read some of my favorite authors because of their information-feed techniques. And a short story won't have room for all of that information, so you have to very carefully choose what's the absolutely essential parts that must be explicitly presented to the reader and find ways to salt them into the story.

As I'm working on "The Man I Love Is on the Moon," I'm running into that problem -- I've just written a lengthy passage in which the protagonist is reflecting upon how the current situation makes her think of a similar space disaster when she was a kid. It's important stuff, both the backstory (which is so critical to how Kitty Strowger became who and what she is) and the current events on the world scene. But it's just her telling the reader all this information directly (since it's written in first person), and I'm not sure that it works as a short story. I've seen plenty of first-person novels that stop the action so the protagonist can directly address the reader and tell about how he or she became interested in a line of work, or suchlike (the one I'm currently reading, Travis S. Taylor's Warp Speed, does, and it really gives you a feeling of this down-home sort of guy sitting there and telling you the story over a couple of beers). But when you've got only a few thousand words, can you spare the room for recollections?

I'm hoping that, as I get a completed text, I'll be able to see how to get the critical information woven into character interactions so it isn't just a big lump of the protagonist telling the reader Important Stuff.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Genre Expectations and the Problem of the Cross-Genre Story

Recently I started writing a short story for a horror fiction contest. I decided to draw upon the image of a faceless colossus in an ancient desert from the list of HP Lovecraft's unused ideas in A Commonplace Book of the Weird: The Untold Stories of H.P. Lovecraft. To make my story distinctive from the one in that book, I decided not to set it on any earthly desert, but on the Moon.

But as I'm writing my story of my astronaut hero's desperate trek across the lunar regolith, heading toward his encounter with the ancient and menacing colossus, I realize that this story is reading more and more like hard science fiction rather than cosmic horror. But I really don't see any way around having the technical details of the problem at the mining outpost, the operation of the hopper he's supposed to be taking to get help from a larger settlement, or how he jerry-rigs parts of it with an old Apollo lunar rover -- it's essential to the growing sense of menace to understand why he's in deeper and deeper trouble, and I don't know how many horror readers are familiar enough with issues of astronautics to intuit how dangerous the lunar surface is, even for someone with equipment half a century more advanced than what the Apollo astronauts took to them, without it being explicitly laid out for them.

At the same time, I'm constantly aware that if it doesn't read like horror, a lot of the gatekeepers are apt to assume that someone sent a straight-up hard-sf story to them by mistake, or without bothering to read the guidelines, and never even get to the point where the protagonist encounters the terrible faceless colossus and all its existence implies, or the terrible effect it has upon his mind.

Of course at least part of this problem could be the problem of being a beginner. When one has established a reputation in the business, there's an implicit trust that one knows what one is doing, that just isn't there for a beginner. The established figure is assumed to know what he or she is about, and is trusted until it becomes clear the story is simply not suitable. By contrast, the beginner, or relative beginner, has to prove up front that yes, he or she is worth being given the time of day.