I came across some really good writing posts and articles of late, so have some links:
First, here is a good post on point of view and selectivity by James Alan Gardner. Found via Jay Lake.
In the middle of the post, there is a unnecessary swipe against what Gardner calls “li-fi” – I presume he means literary fiction – but the overall point is a good one. Because different characters do notice different things, they use different words and they also describe what they notice in different ways. And slip-ups happen all the time, in every genre. How many hard SF novels are there were a non-scientist character starts sprouting technobabble to describe some science fictional marvel that this character would probably neither understand nor care about in real life? How many romances give us a detailed description of the heroine’s gown from the hero’s POV, when most men (unless they are involved in the fashion industry) would neither notice a lot of details about women’s clothing nor know what a gown of chartreuse organdy is?
For example, a POV character of “the novel”* has a thing for cars. Which means that whenever I’m writing from his POV, he’s bound to notice cars. Consequently, there’s never just a passing car or a honking car in a street scene, it’s always an old red Nissan or a dark blue Renault Megane. What is more, he also views the other characters in terms of what cars they drive. I actually have a list of which character drives which car, because cars keep coming up with this POV character. Meanwhile, the second POV character in “the novel” couldn’t care less about cars. When he’s talking about his car – and there’s quite a bit of driving around, so it comes up – he always mentions brand and model. To her it’s just “that silly sportscar of his”.
At The Millions, Cathy Day wonders whether the current short story renaissance is more the result of creative writing programs training students almost exclusively in the short story form.
Some very interesting reading there, particularly if you’ve been the student who tends towards novella or novel length works in a workshop full of short story writers. Or if you’ve been the teacher of that student. My creative writing teacher at university always did his best to accommodate me, even though what I wrote was usually two or three times as long as what the other wrote.
I ran into the problem from the teacher’s perspective, when I transformed my remedial seventh grade English class into an ad-hoc writing workshop last week. It was a hot day and several students just happened to feel unwell (not unwell enough to go swimming at the lake, I’m sure), so I was basically stuck with the two writer kids and two stragglers who showed up ten minutes late. So I suggested to the two writer kids that we skip the English for the day and talk about their stories instead**. One kid had half a page of story and was stuck, so I made the class brainstorm suggestions how the story might continue. The second kid had eight or nine pages of handwritten story. Reading the whole thing out took forever, especially since the girl is a slow reader. I frequently had to shush the other students and tell the kid with the half page story that since the girl had listened to his story, he should damn well listen to hers, even if it was long. They also got the “Even if you don’t like someone else’s story, it’s still a matter of civility to listen, be nice and not roll your eyes at the romance bits” lecture. Ah, workshop basics.
I really wish I could persuade the school to let me offer a proper creative writing class, but until then I’ll sneak in what I can.
Theodora Goss has two wonderful posts about how writing can take over and colonize your life: Two Worlds and The Tapeworm.
So very true – and I say this as the person who took daily notes about the appearance and fading of a bruise on my sprained ankle, because I needed the data to get the timeline in “the novel” right, as some characters get in a fight and I needed to know how long the bruises would be visible.
Finally, actor James Arness died aged 88. James Arness is probably best remembered for playing Marshall Matt Dillon in a whopping twenty seasons of Gunsmoke, though he also appeared in two SF classics of the 1950s, as the titular creature in The Thing and fighting atomic ants in Them!.
*It actually has a title, but that title includes a very rude word, which no publisher will allow me to keep, so it’s just “the novel” for now.
**After all, it’s not as if those kids did not have issues in German, too. Besides, it does wonders for the self-esteem of those kids that an adult is taking their writing seriously.