Earlier in the week, a friend of mine posted to Facebook that he’d received his copy of the Fall 2014 issue of On Spec—with my short story, “Downtime,” in it!
Woohoo! See—that’s my actual name on the cover!
Further, my friend (also an SF writer, incidentally) said he liked it 😀
Heck, my mom was enthusiastic about it. You would expect that, but my mom would tell me if she didn’t like it.
I brought one of my precious copies with me to work, and my coworkers said they’d have to buy copies and get me to sign.
I have yet to convince Phil to read it. He will or he won’t and I’m cool with that. I’m just curious to see what Mr. Science makes of my science fiction-y self. To be honest, he hasn’t read anything I’ve written, and he’s only heard my poetry because he was kind of obligated to be at the book launch.
Of course, I read my “love” poems, the ones he’d inspired, and that embarrassed him. Maybe that’s why he’s so gun shy of my fiction . . . Trust me, dear, my fiction is not based in real life to any recognizable extent.
In any case, to any of you who live in Canada and are interested in seeing my story, you should be able to find it at your local Chapters, or your local indie shop.
For those of you outside of Canada, please visit On Spec’s web site to find out how you might be able to get your wee mitts on some of the best SF&F in Canada.
If you like speculative fiction, you might consider a subscription.
Gettin’ dreamy with it
For those of you who haven’t been following me for very long, one of my main answers to the question, where do you get your ideas? is, from my dreams, of course.
Although it doesn’t happen very often now that I’m an adult with a full time job and stress (tends to mess up my sleep), I dream in story. There are ususally one or two really good ones a year, but I’ll dream partly formed stories an additional four to six times a year.
I’m not going to tell you the content of my dream, per se, except that it’s a new adult science fiction romance (didn’t see that coming, did you—I didn’t see it coming) and the working title would be The Reality Bomb.
I’ll probably slot it in for 2015’s NaNoWriMo and let things ruminate for most of the year.
That’s what happened with Marushka. Though her story is a YA urban fantasy/fairy tale retelling, I dreamed her up January 1, 2014. TRB was a dream of January 4, 2015.
There was another dream, which I’ll call Bright and Far Away that was a space opera story with military elements, but that one didn’t grab me as firmly as either Marushka or TRB.
So dreams coming true. It’s a theme.
Tomorrow, I’ll be wooing my soul (more on that in a future post) and Tuesday, I’ll be delivering a workshop. This is a good time for creative Mellie.
Why you should take notes by hand instead of by lap top. Lifehack. This is how I do all my conference learning these days. I listen, take notes by hand, and then transcribe those notes later in a blog post. That’s three exposures to the same information by three different methods. Do I remember more? You betcha!
The content of this video really spoke to me and reminded me that I certainly could have it worse. First world problems and all that.
A few weeks ago, I reported that I’d been “called up” for another acting assignment as a consultant. I was a little wary when I first heard of the offer because it came not from the manager of the unit, but my then-current manager.
See, although I’d made the pool, the process of awarding indeterminate positions (something I’m not likely to get by virtue of my location and unwillingness to move) was ongoing and so I would be appointed as a result of an unadvertised process. It’s a fancy way of saying they couldn’t wait for the formal appointment process to get to the acting positions.
The last two times I was given an acting consultancy, I was acting in the role of training coordinator. It was not something I enjoyed. In fact, you could say that it drove me crazy.
This time, I would be committing to three specific projects:
create an 18-month training plan for three business lines;
help manage the overtime for the training team; and
administrate a SharePoint tool created to capture and calibrate performance management ratings.
I would have no further involvement with the three training plans other than to create them. This was important to me because it was the maintenance of the plan that really got to me before (make the plan, change the plan three times before it’s even approved, then change it at least once a week thereafter, but keep all activities and escalating costs within the original budget request).
I was okay with that and decided to accept the four-months-less-a-day appointment. This will take me into the first week of May.
There was a tacit understanding that I could be appointed another acting consultancy from the pool through the formal process. We agreed to cross that bridge if it was erected.
So I started collecting information from business expertise and operational management on training needs for the proposed plan. Due to a restructuring of our internal college and learning networks, the planning process has been delayed pending the completion of a new tool (also a SharePoint site, incidentally) to help in the planning process.
I got a handle on the overtime process fairly quickly, organized the drive folders to reflect the (fairly simple) process, and track the overtime budget. This last is a bit of a sticking point. Almost a month into the fourth quarter I still don’t have a definitive number as to what our Q4 OT budget is . . .
I met with the then-administrator (going on parental leave as soon as his baby arrived, hence the urgency of my appointment) of the performance management SharePoint site and tool. I was given a brief tour and told that everything was set up and ready to go. All I had to do would be to watch the dear thing tick away.
Oh, yeah. And as a bonus fourth task, I was to write a nomination for the Service Excellence Awards.
My work of the first few days, aside from orientation, was to write up the nomination, due in a couple of days. Though stressful, my writing skills carried me through the nomination form and I met the deadline.
The OT process seemed to order itself fairly well.
After my initial consultation with the then-administrator of the performance management SharePoint site, he disappeared. The news came out a few days later that his wife had had her baby and he was officially on parental leave.
That was when issues started to emerge from the cracks like cockroaches in the dark.
I had already requested Designer Plus permission of the site (the highest a non-IT employee can receive) and for SharePoint Designer to be installed on my computer. The last time I had done any serious SharePoint admin, Desiger was off-limits. I didn’t know how to use the program and so turned to my friend Lynda.com to help me learn it.
I was asked to validate the management structure so that the appropriate accesses and permissions could be set up and set the deadline for noon on Thursday.
I became aware (belatedly) that a new set of custom list templates had to be imported into the site. This was not something I could do, and I have to put in a third service request to IT to have one of their specialists take care of that.
Once the templates were on the site, I created the new lists from them. Unfortunately I wasn’t advised that I could not change the names of the lists without breaking the cascading lookups and Kwiz forms customizations. Of course, when I tried out my newly created lists, they didn’t work.
Not having learned how to use either third party app (Cascading Lookup Plus or Kwiz), I was understandably at a loss as to how to proceed.
So I went ahead and amended the security list with the most recent changes to management structure.
On Friday of my second week in the acting consultancy, there was an information session by the creator of the tool, someone self-taught, like myself, but far more adept.
In that session, I learned about the naming issue, but when I’d created another new set of lists with proper names after the meeting, they still did not work. Before the day ended, I was finally informed that I would have SP Designer installed on my computer over the weekend.
On Monday of my third week, I confirmed the presence of Designer on my computer.
Then I received a call from one of the Directors indicating that the tool had to be ready to go for Wednesday. The creator of the tool was otherwise engaged for the day (two other business lines were setting up similar systems and his expertise was required).
Understandably, I panicked.
I thought my inability to get the lists to work properly meant that I had to get the templates reinstalled. I contacted the person who had imported them and asked for his help. I put in another service request to have the templates reinstalled ASAP. I got an emailed and cursory response to some of my questions from the tool’s creator, which didn’t help me much.
I initiated yet another service request for a custom permission level to be created for the site. This was another piece of the puzzle I was apparently missing. I was informed, however, that the properly named lists should work and that no reinstall was necessary. I called to cancel that service request, at least.
But the day ended without further action and the last word from my manager was to make it happen. I’d have to get the tool in functional shape by Wednesday at 9 am. I was authorized to work overtime, if necessary. How I was going to manage it, I didn’t have the first clue.
Needless to say, I hardly slept. The next day, I frightened everyone in my immediate area (sorry ladies) by having a full-blown freak out.
The creator of the tool was able to spend some time with me in the morning sorting things out. We fixed the three lists by deleting and recreating the cascading lookup columns in all of them.
I was shown how to import the three custom workflows using Designer. Running out of time, the creator fixed up two of the three and told me I’d be able to take care of the last one myself. Then, my sole support had to go help the other business lines. He said he’d try to get back to me later in the day.
So I fixed up the last of the workflows to the degree I could.
My manager called for an update and I was honest with her about the status of the project. We might be in trouble for the 9 am deadline.
Shortly after, the creator of the tool called back about ten minutes before he left for the day. He confirmed that I’d done a good job on the last of the workflows but said that we wouldn’t be able to go any further without the custom permission level (remember the second service request from Monday?) and two custom security groups for the lists themselves.
He said to add the security groups to my permission level request and try to get them all actioned right away. He committed to working with me first thing in the morning to finish off everything.
So I called IT and got them to change the service request and expedite its assignment. I informed them I’d be working late and so someone in BC might be able to help me out. It was all I could do.
I turned to fixing up the instructions and wording on the SharePoint site around the use of the tool.
About an hour into my overtime, one of the people from the other business lines, also tasked to have the tool up and functional for the following morning, called and asked me about the workflows.
I shared what I could with her and in return, she advised me who I could contact to have the permission level and security groups set up. Unfortunately, that person was in Quebec and had already left for the day.
I updated my manager at her home and, not being able to go further on my own, called Phil to pick me up.
My sleep was only marginally improved and the next day dawned a weary one.
My first order of business Wednesday morning was to get in touch with the IT person I was referred to the night before. He was very helpful and the work was completed quickly, but not in time for the 9 am deadline.
I called the creator of the tool and he finished two of the three workflows. Again, he had to leave to help others and said he’d call back as soon as he could.
I tried to follow his set up for the final workflow, but received an error when I tried to run it on the sample entry we’d made to test the tool.
The creator of the tool called back just before noon and fixed the last of the workflows. We ran it and everything was working. My relief was intense.
My manager called and I reported our belated success. We then turned our attention to the wording on the site and the three official communications pieces that should have been sent out at 9 am that morning.
I made notes for the rewording of the site, and then we worked together to revise the three email communications for our business line.
After two hours of work, my manager’s email crashed and she lost the drafts. There were tears.
We reconstructed the communications in record time (the second time around) and were able to send them for translation before I left work. My manager would not be at work Thursday or Friday, so I was the point person for approval of the communication content before they were sent on to the executive director for final approval and release.
Thursday presented its own challenges, but the communications were released just after noon. In the late afternoon, I started to receive requests for access to the tool.
Everyone should have had access.
Another panicked call to the tool’s creator and he helped me sort out part of the problem. The other was an issue that wasn’t related to anything I had done (or not done) on the site.
Friday morning saw the resolution of the access issues, and I was finally able to implement my manager’s suggested revisions for the site messaging from Wednesday afternoon.
Can we say WHEW?
This was, by far, the most stressful week I’ve experienced at work in the fourteen years I’ve worked for my employer.
Phil was incredibly supportive through the whole week. I’m so lucky to have such a great guy. I survived and am back to my usual, laid-back self, but this is not an experience I’m eager to repeat.
Lessons learned: I must get detailed documentation on any project I’m parachuted into the middle of in the future. This was a situation in which I literally didn’t know what I didn’t know (and what I needed to know to be able to do the job). Being deemed a SharePoint “expert” has its drawbacks.
And that is my tale of woe and triumph for the week.
Next weekend, I’m attending an event on Feb 1 (Imbolc for the paganish), and then, on Feb 3, I’m delivering my ‘how to get published’ workshop. It’s been moved from the afternoon to the evening and reduced to two hours, but it’s still going forward.
All is once again well in Mellie-ville.
How about you? Have you had (seemingly insurmountable) work challenges that you’ve been able to meet? Have you been able to surface from a sea of overwhelm and make your way to shore?
For the second time in as many weeks, a writer friend has suggested a post to me. This time, it was about POV. In a short story I recently critiqued, the POV (third person, past tense) shifted from a mother to her daughter. I recommended either sticking with one POV, or marking the change with more than just textual cues.
My writer friend indicated that she had a film background and asked if the omniscient POV wouldn’t allow her to shift her focus between characters in a scene.
What follows is my response.
A wee caveat: this is based on my own craft learning to date. I’m happy to lay the burden of expertise at the feet of others 🙂
My recommendations? The Write Practice, Marcy Kennedy (she’s Canadian), the Editor’s Blog (Head-Hopping Gives Readers Whiplash), and The Write Editor (The Difference Between Omniscient POV and Head Hopping). Jami Gold and WriterUnboxed are awesome too.
Go ahead. Check them out. I’ll wait while you scan a few of the articles 🙂
In a visual medium, the POV is omniscient, or at most limited third simulated by a voice over. You can’t really “show” the inner thoughts and feelings of a character on screen. So in film, the POV is the camera’s and by extension, the director, producer, and/or editor may have a hand in influencing the final product.
There is such a thing as an omniscient POV in writing, and it used to be used, but it’s not really popular anymore. Further, it’s hard to do well.
In cinematic terms, omniscient translates to the page as a wide shot, interspersed with close ups on various characters, but it’s all external observation. Visually, you have the zoom or cut to give you a clue as to which character or characters are the focus of the scene.
In writing, you have to do something that simulates the zoom to cue the reader that the focus of the scene is now changing. Otherwise, you could end up confusing your reader (who’s talking now? why do I have to hear from this character? why is this important to the scene/story?).
Readers have changed over the last century. This is primarily due to movies and television (where a complete story is told in 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours), video games (complete action smorgasbord), and the internet (e.g. Twitter: describe your day in 140 characters anyone?). Flash fiction and micro fiction now have journals devoted to them. Books have been written in Tweets.
Readers like shorter forms of fiction because they can read a complete story in a limited period of time (think CommuterLit.com).
If the story isn’t short, then the author must continually hook the reader and keep them interested in the story. Part of this is engaging the reader in the story (what’s at stake?) and the character (why should I care?).
Omniscient POV requires readers to pay attention and do a little more work than they might otherwise be inclined to do. It’s not personal. You don’t stick with any one character long enough for the reader to become invested in that character and you’re observing like a camera, never delving into a character’s thoughts or feelings.
A limited third POV focuses intimately on one character: She ran to his side and thought, Is he dead? Oh, please, no.
Some writers, for example George R. R. Martin in Game of Thrones, shift between characters in the limited third POV, but you will find, generally, that an entire chapter will be from one character’s POV.
If an author changes POV characters in the middle of a chapter, the POV will change when the scene changes (therefore one POV per scene) and there will often be a visual cue such as an extra line between the paragraphs, or a symbol like # or * set off in the middle of its own line. Barbara Kyle, Canadian author of historical thrillers set in the Tudor era, uses this latter technique.
A lot of young adult fiction uses first person POV (I, me, my) because it sinks the reader immediately into the thoughts and feelings of the character. This can either cement the relationship (he’s just like me!) or alienate the reader (why won’t he stop whining?). Most first person narratives stick with one character through the entire story.
Then you have the experimental authors who will mix third and first person POVs. Deborah Harkness does this in A Discovery of Witches. Diana Gabaldon did it first, however, in her Outlander series. The protagonist is written in first person and all other POV characters are written in third.
Hardly anyone can write well in the second person POV (you look in the closet and find a boy huddling in the corner). It has been done, but it requires a deft hand and mind. If any form is going to use second person POV, it’s likely a short, flash, or micro fiction story.
This gets even more complicated when you add tenses to your POV. Past and present are the usual choices. I can’t think of a novel written in the future tense in any POV. Again shorter forms may take the pressure of future tense but it feels awkward to read no matter what.
For short fiction, I’d recommend figuring out whose story you’re telling and sticking with that character throughout. If you lose the reader, they’ll put your story down.
If that reader is an editor or a contest judge, your chances of publication may be shot.
I’m just saying 🙂
Was this post helpful to anyone else? Please let me know in the comments. Also, as I mentioned last week, if you have any burning writing questions, I’ll be happy to do my best to answer them. Or refer you to the experts who answer them better than I ever could 😀
A friend asked me if I had any posts about passive voice. Realizing that I didn’t, I answered her question and then put the post on my task list.
Interestingly enough, a day later, I was reading Victoria Mixon’s The Art & Craft of Fiction (yes, I read the second one first—sue me, or rather, don’t) and she wrote about the very topic 🙂
Before we get going, I just want to say that I meant to have this post up yesterday, but life intervened. A visit from some friends from out of town necessitated the cleaning of the house and shovelling of the drive. A sick mother required groceries. Not wanting to cook after cleaning, Phil and I went out to supper. And so the day disappeared. I got most of the post written yesterday, but not all of it.
Today, I need to get this post up, compile my curation posts for the week, and then I have to work some on the course I’m going to be facilitating at the beginning of February, return to revising IoS, and write a few more words in Marushka.
Nothing like having ambitious plans for what should be a day of rest 😉
Let’s start with passive sentence structure
Think of a relatively simple sentence.
The dog licked my ice cream.
Most likely, you thought of a sentence with a straightforward structure, as I did: Subject (noun) and predicate (verb and possibly object, or receiver of the action depicted by the verb).
Here is the same sentence written with a passive structure:
My ice cream was licked by the dog.
See what I did there?
A passive sentence switches the positions of the subject and object in the sentence and so the verb also has to change, generally, we have a “to be” verb and by. That’s how you recognize passive sentence structure: “to be” plus by.
Now, you may be thinking: I don’t write like that. I don’t try to write that way. Is this really an issue?
Well, some people want to sound more educated and awkward sentence structure sounds smart. Counterintuitive, but it’s kind of what we’ve been taught.
Academic texts and books from past centuries tend to use English that is a little different from what we speak and write commonly today. It sounds strange, awkward, but these writers are held up as authorities, paragons, or otherwise people-who-know-how-to-write.
So we learn (unconsciously) that strange or awkward means better. That’s where the tendency to passive structure can come from.
Also, in the work world, business writing may utilize passive structure to avoid sounding accusatory, or to distance the writer from an unpopular policy that the writer may not agree with but must nonetheless enforce.
You have to be critical about your thought process around phrasing. Both academic texts and classic literature are written in the way they are because they are serving a specific purpose, or because language changes over time. Business writing is all about rhetoric, purpose, and audience.
Using passive structure may have been acceptable at the time a particular book was written, and it may be required in academic or business contexts. It’s not wrong. It’s just not something you should do in the short story or novel you write today.
In fiction, you want to effectively simulate the way people speak.
An extension of passive structure included in “passive voice”
Passive structure is more clearly displayed in a sentence that has a predicate including an object. That’s where you see the “to be” plus by tell.
What if you don’t have an object in your sentence?
The dog ran.
The dog was running.
This is where you get the prohibition against “to be” verbs or progressive verb forms (-ing verbs) in general.
If you excise all “to be” verbs from your writing, you will find that you have a HUGE problem. Sometimes you need to use them.
With regard to progressive verb forms, don’t use them if a simpler version of the sentence can be written instead.
Also roped into passive voice by some editors are words like “only” or “just,” or phrases like “began to,” “started to,” or “tried to.”
In general, “only” and “just” are called zero words. They can be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence from which they’ve been removed. Try a simple Find exercise to remove these words from your text. It will be rare that you absolutely must have either of those two words.
The other group of phrases are symptoms of what I like to call the Yoda fallacy. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says to Luke, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Like “just” and “only”, “tried to,” “started to,” or “began to” can often, though not all the time, be removed without changing the essential meaning of your sentence.
These words sap the energy from your sentences.
Other verb forms and contractions
If you write a passage describing past events, a flashback, chunk of backstory, or to convey essential events that don’t need the full scene treatment, you have to use the pluperfect verb form.
I had run.
Like the deadly “to be” verbs, the “had” of the pluperfect is vilified. Some people will tell you to eliminate every last one of them.
The thing is, they do serve a purpose, that of indicating that the events you write about using that verb form occurred in the past. This is especially important if you write in the past tense to begin with.
The solution? Contract those pluperfect hads.
It makes the “had” fade into the background. It sounds more natural when read silently in the head, too.
The same thing applies to the conditional verb forms.
Thus, “I would run” becomes “I’d run,” and “I would have run” becomes “I’d have run.”
People speak in contractions. It’s how we roll.
Basically, you squish more zero words out of your sentences.
What it comes down to
If you stick to a simple sentence structure where the subject comes first and is closely followed by its verb, you’ll be in good shape.
Avoid progressive verb forms (“to be” plus –ing).
Delete zero words.
Do or do not. There is no try (begin, or start).
Contract what makes sense to contract.
When editing, if you read your text out loud, you’ll be able to hear all of the above, potentially pacifying problems.
I really enjoyed writing this post. If you have any questions you’d like answered, please let me know. I’ll be happy to answer in post form 🙂
Have a good “end” everybody. Most of the weekend has already passed 😦