Monday, January 28, 2013

Masochism as a way of life

As a writer, it's often very difficult to get honest feedback. In my opinion, there are two types of dishonesty when dealing with criticism of your work. The first is the most obvious and common -- people just don't want to:

a) be mean
b) get on your bad side
c) harm a friendship/relationship
d) all of the above

It's actually really selfish. I know that sounds weird, because, after all, this person took time out of their life and busy schedule to read something for you. However, being less than honest is the opposite of being helpful, it literally harms your ability to properly edit and shape your work. Why do they do this? So that they aren't uncomfortable. That's selfish. It's better to say, "I don't feel comfortable critiquing your work."

The second type of dishonesty comes through disinterest. An uninterested party will often give your work just a cursory review, leading to poor feedback that can be just as dangerous. The critique masquerades as a powerful, impartial examination, but in reality it's just a sloppy glance that leads you astray.

You really have to be on your guard for both these types of input.

You also have a responsibility to both properly and specifically inform your reader what sort of feedback you desire, and you must accept the critique with grace and courtesy.

When you hand something to someone to read, be honest as to what you're looking for in return. Unless they're from an MFA in English program somewhere, they've never really been trained how to give feedback.

My first reaction on getting feedback is to always argue the reader's conclusions. I desperately want to defend my work and it's validity. I think it's just natural - the way parents often defend their kids before knowing the whole story. Put the feedback aside after you read it. Calm down. Read it again. Never respond immediately. Technology seems to drive us towards our baser responses, and it would be so easy to fling off an e-mail into the wired. Don't do it.

The reality is -- I'd rather someone say my piece just doesn't work, than to get some false praise that keeps me engaged in a fruitless pursuit. Value honesty.

So, to me, writers must have a certain masochistic streak. The only way our works get better is if they're torn down. It's a very organic thing, though -- like growing muscle. If you want to write, you're going to get hurt. But, to paraphrase Pink (wow, NEVER thought I'd ever type that ... I should take a screenshot), just because you're hurt, it doesn't mean you'll die. Keep at it.

And, find someone good to give you feedback!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I love all the bits and pieces

My last blog spoke a bit to the concept of world building. I love how compact, creative expressions can create a world - a song, a poem, or even a painting. I long for my writing to be even partially as concise as those forms.

While not considered a particularly literary pursuit, I have really enjoyed some of the worlds expressed through board games! I've always loved video games, but there is something visceral about the tactile nature of board games - the pieces, the cards, the dice, or whatever each individual game may bring.

A lot of people think of Monopoly or Life as being the essential board games; those people are missing out. I highly encourage you to check out the web site for Board Game Geek. You'll see a list for The Hotness on the left hand side. You'll be blown away by the variety and scope of the games listed. Besides that, some of the art is AMAZING.

I bring this up because I've long thought about creating a game in an unusual world I've been thinking about. Cooperatively competitive ... Meaning, you do better the more you work with others. I would love to support the world with short stories and novels, but I think I want to start with the game. More on it later!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The world is the thing.

As I await the fate of Blackburn Burrow, I'm working on several other projects. One is a sci-fi anime homage called Gaia 4. While I have a first draft screenplay done, I really consider that more of an outline for the novel. It gave me ample opportunity to develop the characters voices, while creating dynamic, moving plot.

However, unlike books, film uses cheats to world build. You're given visual clues with connotations as to the social and political nature of the culture. The written word allows you to go so much deeper. World-building is one of the greatest joys of writing. It also takes a heck of a lot of work and is filled with myriad pitfalls. If you build a certain pillar of the culture, you can't just go an ignore it several chapters or books later. As a reader, I despise that kind of retcon, and I constantly endeavor to never force my readers to face such a disconnect.

Gaia 4 has the subtitle The Last City -- and, that's exactly what it is, an isolated and completely insular colony. Knowing that, and knowing what is to come, it was important to generate a mechanism to explain why there hadn't been more of a cultural shift in the society, especially when faced with the constant stresses they've endured. The answer has to be completely organic.

So, I had to begin at the establishment of the city and accept that the city's "history" may actually change the story I envisioned. A story is a huge puzzle; the pieces have to fit. If you force something into your story that doesn't belong, it really affects the integrity of the whole narrative.

Just a little something I was thinking about.

Don't forget, you can download copies of the Blackburn Burrow comic for free through Amazon! The art is amazing. Definitely worth checking out.