Randomness for 6/14

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1) This is strangely affecting.

2) Should you fuck this rock? Science says no.

3) Cinema audiences reproducibly vary the chemical composition of air during films, by broadcasting scene specific emissions on breath. Another reason for social animals to see movies in a crowded theater.

4) The Trailers for Ghostbusters (2016) and the Art of Editing Comedy by the creator of Every Frame a Painting.

5) The 35-Year-Long Hunt to Find a Fantasy Author’s Hidden Treasure.

6) Traffic-weary homeowners and Waze are at war, again. Guess who’s winning? Filed under: The Future Is Stranger Than We Expected

7) An amazing infographic.

Randomness for 4/28

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1) An OKCupid profile for “A Normal Human.” #lol

2) New data supports Jane Jacobs’s ideas of what makes a city great.

3) Comedian reads fake book covers on subway, records reactions. Very funny, although the covers look fakey.

4) The Brilliant Career of John Cazale. If you’re only going to appear in five movies…

5) Toyota’s wooden concept car, as family heirloom.

6) Fun drawings of monsters added to photos of real world scenes.

7) 13 Short Guides That Will Make You a Color Expert.

Randomness for 3/28

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1) The weird physiological trait that suggests a young person is prone to violence.

2) The influential and well-established psychological theory of Ego Depletion may be bunk, and scientists should be worried.

3) Volleyball or fire extinguisher?

4) An oral history of the Justice League.

5) Classical art, now available gluten-free.

6) How Alfred Hitchcock blocks a scene. Video. I’m really loving this genre of short documentaries about filmmaking techniques.

7) “The Worst Game I’ve Every Played.” Video. Bought off of Steam, this game is amazingly shoddy work.

Randomness for 2/20

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1) The Author Who Cyberstalked Me.

2) “Trust me. I’m an engineer.” Video.

3) You have already missed your chance to enter the first beauty contest judged by robots.

4) A small 2009 car demolishes a 1959 Chevy. Oh, what 50 years of safety regulation can do!

5) Surprising applications of the Magnus Effect. Video. This is cool.

6) Highway font Clearview being ditched in favor of older Highway Gothic.

7) Welcome to the future: Hackers hijack CA hospital computers and demand $3.6 million ransom to release them.

Randomness for 12/24

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1) Why you don’t want to wear metal inside an MRI. Video.

2) 15 things I learnt about Islam and British values being a gay boy living opposite a mosque. h/t James Nicoll

3) MRA Dilbert. Combining Scott Adam’s own words with Scott Adam’s art.

4) Poll results: The best video essays of 2015

5) Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame.

6) DIY Netflix socks will automatically pause your show when you fall asleep.

7) The Ten Best Articles Wikipedia Deleted This Week.

Writer Perspective v. Reader Perspective: Is Fantasy a Plot Element?

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Holy crap, you guys, I have so many browser tabs open to read/link to/comment on and no enthusiasm for the job. I’m tempted to just create a giant link salad so I can be rid of them and their spinning beach ball of death.

But first, there’s a post I’ve been meaning to respond to for exactly one year, so I’m going to get it out of the way today, 365 days after it was posted.

My original post: Superheroes Are Not a Genre, in which I said that fantasy was defined by a plot element.

The response: Fantasy is not a plot element, by LJ user barbarienne (who not so incidentally did the interior design work for The Great Way, who helped me find a printer and cover designer, and was generally indispensable during the publication process. She’s the reason those books look as good as they do.)

My original post was about genres and how to combine them. Genres are defined in different ways: how they make the reader feel, what sort of plot question they have, where they’re set. What barbarienne didn’t like was that I defined fantasy by plot and not by setting.

Her post largely focuses on the importance of worldbuilding. For ex: But it is only in genre fantasy where the created setting is why the readers came here. [I removed a footnote from the middle of that sentence.] Note that she wrote “created setting” because there are several genres where the setting is central to reader interest, such as westerns and historicals, but those settings are re-created. Only science fiction blah blah blah, she covered that in her post, which I hope you’ve read.

And I agree with most of what she says. For the most part, fantasy readers love setting above all else, and some are seeking novelty while others are seeking the familiar. It’s why so many fantasy novels seem like travelogues. Even urban fantasy that’s supposedly set in our world contains sections that read like The Smart Tourist Guide To Secret Places.

But the thing is, I wasn’t talking about the reader’s experience of fantasy. I was talking about the issues a creator has to consider when mixing genres. For example, if you’re creating a fantasy/western, you could just add magic to a story set in Dodge City. You could, if you wanted, create a pseudo-Old West map in the way that other writers create pseudo-medieval maps, but you don’t have to. The magic a writer adds to Dodge City changes the type of story you can tell there, and while it might change some of the characters (gun-slinging wizard?) it doesn’t have to. But it will always change the way the plot progresses. Even if they’re stock western characters with nothing fantastical about them, if they’re facing a dragon or cursed dueling pistols or telepathic cattle rustlers, the fantasy elements affect the plot.

Fantasy readers, with their particular reading protocols, may not experience it that way. “It’s the old west with dragons!” they’d say, as though it was an entry in one of Rick Steve’s books. Fantasy can be defined in several ways, but among the fans of the genre, they’re looking for a interesting fantastical setting, but from the outside, readers think of it in terms of a story containing things that “aren’t real” (often with the implication that they are risible, childish, or a waste of time).

Okay. Let me backtrack a bit to my own books: when it was clear that Child of Fire was popular among fantasy readers who also loved mysteries and thrillers, Del Rey tried to push the book by sending it to mystery/crime reviewers, too. It’s a novel that crossed genres! Why not expect it to beyond the overlap of fantasy and crime into readers of crime novels?

But it didn’t. Crime/mystery readers and reviewers were mostly uninterested. (I say “mostly” because I got some very nice feedback from readers who wouldn’t ordinarily touch a fantasy novel; they only read it because they knew my wife and were surprised by how much they enjoyed it.) Why? It wasn’t the setting. It wasn’t even the general plot questions (Two people arrive in town to find and kill a very bad man). It was the fantastical elements that made up the plot: the spells, the spell book, the monsters, etc.

And if you think Spell books that summon monsters are part of the worldbuilding, you’re not wrong. But they are also elements of the plot, and powerful influences on the characters. In fact, they are all those things at once; as a writer, I can’t think of them in any other way. The temptation that Frodo feels to put on the One Ring is not just a question of character (Frodo can resist where others can’t) and it’s not just a plot question (can he resist temptation for the whole journey) and it’s not just evidence at the way magic works in the setting of Middle Earth. It’s all those things at once, and they are inextricable.

So, to sum up:

1. Speaking generally, fantasy readers read fantasy because they are looking for setting.
2. Speaking generally, fantasy readers experience fantastical story elements as worldbuilding first, character and plot elements second, because as much as they love great characters and exciting plots, setting is the commonplace attraction.
3. Speaking generally, non-fantasy readers experience fantastical story elements in a variety of ways, but typically as elements of the plot. In other words, fantasy readers -> “This is a school where kids learn magic!” / other people -> “These kids overcome their problems by casting spells.”
4. Search your feelings. You know number three is true.
5. For a creator who is combining fantasy with other genres, the fantasy elements may be related to the setting but it’s more likely that the fantasy elements will be plot-based.
6. If it’s unclear what I mean by “plot-based” well, consider questions like: “How can the characters achieve their ends?” “What obstacles interfere with the characters’ efforts?” “What goal are they trying to achieve?” Those are plot questions.
7. For example: Among all the space ships and robots, Star Wars has wizards who use telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, and can shoot blue lightning from their fingertips. When a creator is trying to decide what a character should do next, all those (fantastical) elements are on the table.
8. Some people will try to argue that the presence of fantastical elements indicates a fantasy setting. Those people are wrong. A book set in our New York City, but with jewelry thieves who are secretly dragons, is a fantasy plot in a mundane setting.
9. Which means I believe writers can/must sometimes do fantasy worldbuilding in mundane settings.
10. Those fantastical plot elements can be a tough sell to readers outside the genre, but not as tough as it used to be.

Now I remember why I put off responding to this post, because it’s so much easier to cruise Twitter reading jokes like:

Randomness for 12/3

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1) Skimp or Spend, an Illustrated Mens’ Style Buying Guide

2) Seven Things I Learned Reading ISIS’s Magazine.

3) She can write like a man, they said, by which they meant, She can write.

4) Piecaken

5) I dressed like Cookie (from EMPIRE) for a week to get over my Impostor Syndrome.

6) Purple Rain, remade in a language without a word for “purple”.

7) That history of the Mork and Mindy show you didn’t know you wanted.

Randomness for 11/12

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1) Icons Unmasked. I liked the Goku one.

2) Theater from the back of a car during a traffic jam. Video.

3) The top ten Lifehacker posts of all time.

4) “If you were with me, you’d suffer.” Australia falls in love with Chinese dating show.

5) What it’s like to drive the worst car ever built.

6) Every country where James Bond has spied.

7)

I took 4 days off writing. Here’s why that’s okay.

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A while ago, I tweeted this:

I joke a lot on Twitter, but that’s an actual thing I do to motivate me to get out of bed: I imagine the burning regret I will feel for every minute of my wasted life, because there have been a lot of them.

For me, a lot of the work I’ve done to make myself a better writer has been about increasing my productivity. When I first started out, I could barely get through a few hundred words a day. Finishing anything took forever, and everything I finished was mostly bullshit, and it was all so incredibly hard.

It took me a while to realize why I couldn’t get anything done: I’m easily distracted. Looking out the window, checking the internet, oooh that book looks interesting… all of it stole my time and attention away.

Then there’s the daydreaming, and I don’t mean about my characters or what they’re feeling. I’m talking about stupid shit like wondering if I could hit one of the rats running through the tree outside with an arrow, or what I would say to encourage JRR Tolkien if I could time travel back to the time he was struggling with Fellowship…. Really useless, stupid shit.

But I learned that working slowly was hurting me. Too many word echoes. Too many continuity errors. Poor pacing. I became a much better writer when I taught myself to speed up. I’m still not all that fast, but I’m better than I was.

The thing is, I suspect I’ve hit my personal upper limit.

Recently, I challenged myself to accomplish 10k words a week, with the added incentive that I could take days off, guilt-free, if I hit goal early. Why not? I’d certainly managed 2k or 2.5K on dedicated writing days. If I could manage five days of two thousand words each, I could take two whole days off and feel fine about it.

And it worked. For one week. Then I had to stop because I realized I was just typing out weirdly detailed extraneous bullshit about every minute detail of whatever behavior was happening in my mind’s eye. Everything was draggy and dull and bloated. So I stopped, tossed aside my dumb new plan, and took a couple of days to do nothing.

Check out Chuck Wendig’s post here about his productivity. Chuck writes quickly, finishing a few books a year. His stuff is popular (unless you love Mandalorians more than you probably should) and he gets critical raves, too. But, as he says in his post, this is what works for him. As much as I would like to be that prolific, it just ain’t gonna happen. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

(One place I would disagree with Chuck is this statement: “Fourth and finally, and I’m mighty sorry to report this, but a full-time writing career is not easily maintained by writing slowly.” I’d suggest a writing career isn’t easily maintained in general, and there are plenty of authors doing very well releasing books slowly. GRRM, Susanna Clarke, Pat Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch each have probably sold more copies of their latest than I will sell in a lifetime, but it has nothing to do with writing books quickly)

And this is why (to finally get around to the point of this post) I would warn people against gamifying your writing output. Yeah, I just spent a couple hundred words talking about increasing productivity and finding what works for you, but turning your process into a game, with points and levels, strikes me as leaning way too hard on productivity.

Because increasing productivity can be harmful to our work and our legacy, if we’re lucky enough to have one. It might be pleasant to award ourselves points for submitting stories, but if the stories don’t sell, then what good is it? Better to award points for actually selling work to a publisher, which supposedly writers can’t control, but if the work is solid and we’re putting them into the hands of buyers, we’ll eventually hit the mark.

And that’s why I cut off a productivity experiment. It was turning my fast-paced thriller into yet another bloated fantasy, and that sucks. Yeah, it would be great to write four books a year that were critical and popular darlings. It would be great to write a book every four years that readers turned into instant best-sellers. It would, in fact, be great to revive my moribund writing career so that I could maybe hit the midlist someday.

But then I read something like this and I’m reminded that I simply need to keep doing what I do, for the reasons I do it. I need to keep pushing myself toward better, more personal, more original stories, and productivity is secondary.

Randomness for 9/13

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1) Why Salad Is Overrated.

2) Actually, salad is good.

3) Ice-T will has some startling information for you in these (fake) SVU screencaps.

4) Most Heinous Stories of Role-Playing Games Gone Wrong.

5) Picture Yourself as a Stereotypical Man. “Stereotype threat” and academic achievement, or how to erase any statistical difference between whites and blacks / men and women.

6) I love this book design.

7) Classic book covers turned into gifs.