Thursday, February 25, 2016

Twitter: A Writer's Tool

Before I made a Twitter account I seriously doubted the usefulness of the resource.  Why would you want to be limited to 140 characters a pop?  What can Twitter do for me that Facebook can't?  While Facebook can be utilized in much the same ways as Twitter, Twitter does its job better for certain groups of people.

I have conversed with several prominent members of my field through Twitter.  For names most people recognize, this is difficult.  But for higher-ups in a specific area such as SFF writers, this is sometimes easy.  I have conversed with the likes of Brian McClellan, Caroline Yaochim, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells on Twitter.  I am followed by novelist David Farland (a pen name for Dave Wolverton) and short fiction writer Alex Shvartsman, among others.  Many of these sorts of folks will respond to direct questions and some comments, assuming you're being civil.

I've learned a lot from reading tweets and clicking on links to posts and Google Hangouts by writers of speculative fiction.  Some more specific information I've garnered from talking to lesser-name writers directly.  They really are quite nice, in general.

Twitter can be a great tool for writers.  It can be used for both networking and for gathering information.  I do not regret making an account whatsoever.

Friday, February 19, 2016


This quote from former President Bill Clinton, which I found on ("Bill Clinton Campaigns for Hillary in SC and GA"; photo also from that post), has multiple "meaningless words" and phrases.

"Change maker" is the first meaningless phrase.  Outside of politics, there might be some shred of meaning for the term, but within politics the phrase is hollow.  Some politicians make more changes than others, sure, but everyone makes changes.  Even the most classical conservatives make changes.  "Change maker" is a buzzphrase, stripped of its denotation until all that is left is a positive connotation for most.

There are three instances of "inclusion" in this quote, and zero of them have meaning.  When you see  the word "inclusive," you may get a warm feeling, but that's all there is to the word as it relates to the words "economics," "politics," and "society."  There are policies that could fall under the category of "inclusive," but as Mr. Clinton used the word, there is buzz without sting.

"Safe" falls toward being a meaningless word as well.  It can mean many things.  No policy can satisfy "safety" by all of its definitions.  In context one can assume that the word is used to describe a state in which terrorism is infrequent, so there is some meaning to be found here.

The final "meaningless word" Bill Clinton used in this quote is "Americans," specifically after the phrase "who we are as."  There isn't a unified idea of what it means to be an American.  Beyond that, Mr. Clinton never attempts to narrow what being an American means.  He simply says that his wife would "[keep] us safe without giving up who we are as Americans."

Virtually no part of this sentence has any meaning whatsoever.  It is political up to the lip of the jar.  If anything, Mr. Clinton is saying that his wife is a liberal.  Well, so is her opponent.  There isn't really a way to fix Mr. Clinton's statement.  Add meaning by actually saying something.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Editing Process

"Editing process" is a term I use loosely.  I don't really have a unified approach to editing my writing.  Part of this is because I write a wide variety of different genres.  Another part is that some of my manuscripts come out better in their first draft than others.  My path for editing fiction is often quite different than my path for editing nonfiction.

For fiction, a full cycle from first draft to final draft can take years.  There are several reasons for this.  One is that it often takes me months to complete the first draft of a story.  I have a few stories that have been in the works for over a year.  Length of story is a small component of this problem.  My problem here is that I have trouble sustaining effort on projects until they're done, either because of other work (and subsequent loss of momentum) or because I'm unhappy with the quality of the work-in-progress.  I really need to learn to just finish the stories, and I hope to finish my works-in-progress eventually.  The next reason my stories take a long time to develop is because I don't like making major changes right away.  My first few rounds of editing generally go after problems at the paragraph and sentence levels, avoiding larger problems that aren't glaring.  After months of a story lying around I tend to be more apt to making large-scale changes, such as completely rewriting a story from the beginning.  Closely related to that second reason, the uncertain endpoint for stories leads them to continue changing over time.  Until I've posted a story to my blog or had it accepted somewhere, my stories are stuck in limbo.  I make changes every once in a while to continuously improve them.

Most of the time I'll ask alpha and/or beta-readers to critique my stories before I start submitting (and sometimes later).  I then use that feedback to make changes.  Most of this feedback is small stuff, so I make sure the mistakes are indeed mistakes, then I fix them.  For larger pieces of feedback, such as comments about a weakness in a character, I will go through the manuscript and make changes throughout in order to improve my story.  I don't take all advice given to me.  If I feel that the changes recommended would harm my story either in style or vision, I will ignore them.

My own editing steps often start while I'm writing.  Sometimes I fix my stories up as I write them (a habit I'm trying to break); other times I make myself notes for later regarding what I'll need to revise.  After my first draft is finished, I let my work sit for a few weeks (assuming I have the time).  When my eyes have refreshed sufficiently, I reread my story and note what changes should be made.  I will usually fix small errors as I go.  After I have a list of changes to be made, I make those changes.  After I have my second draft, I read through the story again and repeat until I have my third draft.  Then my fourth.  Then my fifth.  Some of my stories look very similar to their original forms, while others are barely recognizable.

For nonfiction, my editing steps are much the same as my steps for fiction.  The main exceptions are that I usually don't have alpha/beta readers and I don't often wait more than a few days before making edits.  For something like a blog post, edits often take place a few minutes after I've finished my last sentence.  If I were trying to get something published professionally I would probably adopt a system closer to that which I use for my stories.  I don't think the changes would quite compare to those that I've made over the past four years for a certain story though.  It is also virtually unheard of for me to note future revisions while I write a nonfiction piece.

The way I have written about my editing process may make it seem like an actual procession of actions that I adopt for each piece.  This is deceiving.  While my process is very loosely the same each time, I don't force myself to use any particular method.  Sometimes I print my manuscripts out and write notes on the paper.  Other times I do everything on the computer, adding notes in red type within red brackets.  Often I take notes with pencil on paper as I read from my laptop.  It's a little different every time.  For this process I leave a big disclaimer: results may vary.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Subgenres of SF

I hope to do reviews of sci-fi and fantasy stories professionally some day.  In writing these reviews, I often define the subgenre of particular stories.  As far as I can remember, I've never written a post describing the subgenres of sci-fi, but I have posted about fantasy twice.  The more recent, far better post can be found here.  Today I would like to detail just the four main types of sci-fi prose: hard SF, military SF, soft SF, and space opera.

Hard SF is also defined as technological sci-fi.  This is the most common use of the subgenre.  Hard SF emphasizes science, particularly the "hard" sciences or natural sciences.  These include chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and others.  Technology is not a required aspect to a hard SF story, though most stories of the subgenre deal with it.  One story I'll be reviewing for class has its scientific bases in zoology.  I consider the story hard SF (though it's a blend with contemporary fantasy).  In hard SF, the facts behind the science are crucial; however, because these stories are often projected far into the future, the science only needs to be plausible.  Analog Science Fiction and Fact is perhaps the most prestigious magazine for and most frequent publisher of hard SF.

Military SF is well-named.  It's science fiction that focuses on militaries.  Usually the protagonist is a soldier, though this is not a hard requirement.  Military SF is fairly rare, though not as rare as one might think.  Even in sci-fi stories that aren't strictly military, war and combat are frequent elements.  Military SF exists on a spectrum from space opera to hard SF.  Sometimes you get unlikely aliens and what seems like magic, while other times you get detailed explanations of the physics behind a soaring missile.  When well-written, military SF gives us fantastic romps.  As far as I know, there aren't any major publishers who focus on military SF.  Stories in this subgenre appear sporadically.

Soft SF has many clarified names.  It can be psychological SF, philosophical SF, or sociological SF.  The borders of soft SF are blurry.  Soft SF is supposed to be at least somewhat focused on science, most typically the "soft" sciences or social sciences.  The humanities can also lend themselves to soft SF.  It is unclear where stories with little "soft" implications and some "hard" implications should be placed.  Most of those stories will end up being either military SF or some blend of sci-fi and fantasy, but that is not always the case.  Soft SF seems to be attributed to stories less often than the other main subgenres of sci-fi.  Sometimes stories in the gray region are coupled with true soft SF under the nondescript name of "sci-fi."  True soft SF is the sort of stuff that makes you question what you know about yourself, society, and even existence.  It can show you what's inside your head, describe society better than most literary fiction, or present a deep philosophical question.  Orson Scott Card's books Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind (sequels to Ender's Game) are excellent examples of soft SF.

Because it hasn't really changed since I wrote about it before, I'm just going to quote my post about fantasy subgenres to describe space opera, since realistically it's a blend: "Space opera is where the line between fantasy and science-fiction blurs. Some consider it fantasy, others science-fiction. Star Wars and Star Trek are both considered space opera. Science as we know it is completely disregarded on multiple planets in both settings, which some argue makes space opera a subgenre of fantasy. The often futuristic settings of space opera stories make them appear to be science-fiction. To be fair, space opera can be regarded as a subgenre of both science-fiction and fantasy."

Science fiction has far fewer subgenres than fantasy.  Part of the reason for this is that fantasy is a much larger concept.  The other part is that the boxes we have built for sci-fi are quite large.  Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to break these subgenres up into better classifications, other than to separate them out into biological SF, sociological SF, etc.  This wouldn't actually help very much because stories that blend would still blend.  My rule of thumb is that if I can't put a subgenre to a story I don't; I just call it "sci-fi" and leave it at that.