Month: May 2017

Hugo Nominee Reading: All the Birds in the Sky

For hard-core sci-fi/fantasy nerds out there, you may have heard that the 2017 Hugo nominations are up. I’m making my way through as many standalone novels and series before voting closes on July 15th (two days before my birthday–that should make it easy to remember), and the first book I read to these ends is All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

Let me start off by saying that I think Anders’s writing technique is fantastic–there aren’t dull points or confusing sentences or anything gumming up the works. There are also a few scenes which shone as beautiful, amazing moments (my favorite was the scene where Patricia refuses to let Roberta mess with her anymore using spicy food). But as a whole I did not enjoy the experience of reading this book, because there is so very much pain in it.

Let me clarify. Most books have a lot of pain in them. Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files gets the snot beat out of him in every book. In the Song of Ice and Fire books, people are slaughtered en mass, with flayings and hangings and burning up in different types of fire to boot. But in these books, even though there’s pain, there’s also something worth going through it for. Harry Dresden normally needs to save someone. The people of the Song of Ice and Fire books want their king to win, or to liberate slaves or to get to have all the money or sex they want. There’s something worth living for.

But in All the Birds in the Sky, there’s a period where the characters are utterly miserable, in both senses of the word. They are miserable people, with no apparent redeeming qualities, and they are miserable in their lives, with nothing good to look forward to. Reading about two people so wretched hurt, and even when that period is over, the characters don’t get tons more interesting. While they do become better people after the ordeal of middle school, they still don’t seem like full people. I find it easiest to explain this part with Freud’s superego, ego, id idea. Patricia is all ego, while Lawrence is all superego and id. He’s either inventing something crazy or wondering how he can get into someone’s pants, and so I don’t find him engaging or interesting. He fails to provoke my sympathy. I spent the half of the book from his perspective wishing I was reading about Patricia instead.

I will continue reading the standalone nominees in the search of the one which I feels deserves a Hugo, but this book is not the one.

Stephen King’s “Shut Door” Policy

I began responding to On Writing by Stephen King in a post a few weeks ago. This week I’ll discuss his “shut door” policy, wherein the writer writes the whole first draft and lets no one see it until it’s done.

I think the entire matter of writing is so personal that there’s no one right way to do it. There are things every writer should try, and the “shut door” policy is one of them–when you’re green, and you’ve not yet hit the magical 1,000,000 words of writing mark, write an entire book in a vacuum and get it done. This is a huge milestone in a writer’s development: having finished a book. It’s necessary to do, and it’s necessary to not get bogged down in edits before you get there.

I myself had to go through this stage. I wrote two of my first three books this way, not letting anyone see what I had written until it was over, lest they derail me. But for me, this was just a stage of writing I had to go through, to understand how to write so much, and to get a bunch of practice in, including practice finishing a book. On my current book, I am letting people read it whenever I get to a milestone (about every 25,000 words). I listen to what they say, edit what I have so far, and then continue writing.

Let me defend this method by listing its benefits. First, it is easier to fix a plot hole when there’s 50,000 words to comb through and alter than when there’s 100,000. You’ve halved your work.

Second, so long as you have the right people reading your unfinished manuscript, they give you ideas. “Hey, wouldn’t this be cool?” And as with fixing a problem, laying a new thread in the story is a lot easier if you haven’t got the braid all the way done, yet.

King says not to let people read your book while you’re writing it so that you don’t get bogged down in questions such as “Why was that character wearing green? What does that signify?” But so long as those you allow to read your work aren’t the sort of person to ask such nonsense questions,  this is not a concern.

Thanks for reading! See you next time.