Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tips from the crit group II

More partial advice from a hive mind quarreling with itself.

In a dodgy town, would a dodgy business have a big sign? A literal question which nevertheless raises questions of nuance within extreme societies. Could a town which embraces violence nevertheless frown on drug use? Does the Biggest Cheese blatantly advertise, or go subtle and upmarket?

Neologisms. Explain them the second time you use them, to create an air of mystery. Also, ones that look like typos will just keep grating on the reader’s nerves. My hero, Teh, agrees with that.

Extended metaphors are cool but need to be consistent and not overlap too much. BONUS GENRE POINT: Particularly if they’re actually a function of a collective hallucination.

A protagonist’s lack of interest may be entirely in character, but it blocks the view of the reader trying to see the world.

Make sure you know the humans are human. I can’t remember what that meant, or who ‘you’ was in the sentence.

Losing the bar fight would be better. Sympathy is a powerful connection between reader and character, and nobody likes an invincible smart-arse.

A person’s greatest strength is also often their key weakness. I don’t think this is actually true – but then, I don’t have any weaknesses. I’m an invincible smart-arse.

Someone mentioned a screenwriting standard technique – write your characters out and draw lines to show their connections. Any characters with only one line attaching them to the rest gets cut. (I’d be happy to give credit for this nifty technique, but can’t find the origin.)
Presumably, instead of being cut, that lonesome character could be further entangled. (In fact, I tend to merge outlying characters together when editing; this increases their connections to the main plot, does weird things to their motivations, and creates personalities with real psychological incoherence depth.)

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Gay Elves

Last year, I saw a Special Issue call for LGBT fantasy fiction.

This was brilliant news for me:
Most of the fiction I write has a fantastical element.
Most of my characters aren’t straight.

So: bingo.

Plus, an explicit call felt like a chance to really dig into plots, metaphors and motifs around sexuality and gender. I’ve read a lot around the topic, and I get frustrated by the lag between the complexity that’s possible, and my comparatively rough-hewn writing. This call seemed like a chance to level up – to make my creative explorations more sophisticated.

I had the following exchange with my brain.

ME: So! What have we got? First thought, best thought! Sock it to me.
BRAIN: GAY ELVES.
ME: Oh, come on. I’m not even that interested in elves.
BRAIN: GAY ELVES.
ME: There’s literally no limit on the worlds we could invent. Whole cultures, new ways of living. That’s the point of fantasy. Nobody even has to reproduce the way humans do! What would that do to socio-sexual norms, eh, brain?
BRAIN: GAAAY EEEELVES

And that carried on for weeks.

I couldn’t believe that a genre tag had become a weird clamp on my imagination. Faced with limitless possibilities, I recoiled into the bog of the idea of Proper Fantasy – quasi-mediaeval doorstops with non-human warrior types. This was daft, as a third of the books I read last year were ‘fantasy’ (depending how you categorise vampire erotica) and I know it’s a very broad church. (Last year I read Saladin Ahmed, Mary Anne Mohanraj and Kameron Hurley, none of whom are doing elves). Even the doorstops have variety.

Alright, I thought, gay bloody elves. Bring on the pseudo-celtic posh-boys, let’s see what can be done with them. I heard the harp music, saw the tips of their pointy ears in the mist. But they wouldn’t speak, dance, snog, or develop any independent motivation. They just floated there, hair wafting in an invisible breeze.

So I had to peel my brain away from them.

I wrote this, which has no elves in it*. I clearly couldn’t handle infinite possibility, so I grabbed a fragment of European mediaeval life that fascinates me – travelling players – and spun it sideways.

(And it’s been published by the excellent Expanded Horizons, whose mission is to put out more diverse speculative fiction, and who probably never get gay elves stuck in their heads.)

*May contain traces of elves. Manufactured in a flat where other products contain elf oils and byproducts. 

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