Monday, August 31, 2009

About Plotting and Exposition

This is what I'm thinking about these days, stuff I never learned in the two years I put in as an undergrad with creative fiction and non-fiction writing classes.

One of the challenges of the fiction writer, especially in sci-fi, is presenting exposition on setting or backstory without coming off as tedious. It's what I've heard Cory Doctorow call the "info-dump," and apparently, a big chunk of it is something to avoid.

For instance, it's not a good idea to start off telling a whole back-story in a prologue just to set the scene. Or in the middle of a conversation, the main character should not ruminate at length to give the reader an idea of what's going on or the other character's past history, and so on.

So, how does this get done? The info has to be presented somehow. As I read (or usually, re-reading), I'm noticing how the author in question accomplishes the task. Use of flashbacks, the out-of-place or otherwise ignorant main character or secondary (who needs to have everything explained), or some other device.

Love it or hate it, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an interesting example of this. I re-read this recently, and by the way, I'm kinda in a "wish-I-could-love-it" mood about it, but I don't exactly hate it. Make sense?

How to present big chunks of backstory about Harry's worst enemy while staying with the protagonist? If someone just told him, that might be dull. Instead, Rowling uses the Pensieve, which imparts the memories of others in scenes the reader can see. Harry and Dumbledore discuss the import of the memories before and after (it's somewhat less dull that way).

Presto. When it comes to sci-fi, devices may be cybernetic instead of magical, but the concept is the same.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mega Challenge

Aside from having a funky name, I like the 'tude over at flash site Brain Harvest, especially the mustaches. They're Clarion workshop alumni who wanted to make something happen. I like it. Plus, a contest deadline is always motivating, to me anyhow.

Thanks to Jamie for posting this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


So, I'm alive, and in spite of the fact I haven't posted in FIVE FRIGGIN' WEEKS. Two unfortunate things have happened, causally relating to this:

My cat threw up on my laptop. Seriously, I am not making that up. Right in the middle of the keyboard, so now a bunch of keys don't function. Maybe I could have had some fun with synonyms, trying to work without those keys, but since one of them is A, another is W and another is Delete, I really couldn't manage. I must use Delete more than any other key (it takes the place of the PC Backspace).

Also, I have a high-maintenance guest in my home in the form of my mother-in-law. That might sound amusing until you hear that she has Alzheimer's. That condition is not without some humor, as anyone caring for someone like that can tell you, but mostly it's a pain in the backside (sorry, honey). I won't go into it here, but suffice to say, it's distracting, and six weeks of it is too much for me (four down, two to go). I haven't written much of anything other than lesson plans in weeks.

Stir in wacky offspring who resists sleeping and homeschooling plus the stress of three different not-fun deadlines on top of gearing up for Fall teaching. I was kinda close to mental breakdown at one point, but somehow recovered with help from loved ones, and I'm invigorated by the directed study I'm teaching. So, here I am!

In the interim, I got a rejection from Every Day Fiction, which I'm actually a little relieved by. After submitting, I started to think my piece really didn't fit in with what they do there, in terms of themes people seem to enjoy as well as quality (only sometimes, though). Not to sound sour grapes-ish, but I've been aggrieved by the appearance of typos and other issues with more than a few posts. That is really not snarky pseudo-superiority, that's just the English teacher in me talking. I've not been published yet, outside my freelance news features and academic stuff, so I can't gripe there. It's just that with some of the issues I've seen, it rankled a bit that my rejection note encouraged me to rework the story and submit to a "more forgiving" venue. But I'm glad for another reason: that story's been percolating a little in my head, and I think it could be a traditional-length piece with some work.

Look for more regular postings from here on out.