30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 4: Maintenance

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.4.14Where I Wrote: Bronx Park, just a short walk from one of the entrances to the Bronx Zoo.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good. I was actually confused by how much I got out and how quickly it happened (from just before sunset to just after). It’s enough to balance the fact that I was a bit below quota.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Eager.

The Experience: It was around 4PM when the electrician got here.

I’ll explain, but, before I do, I wanted to throw that time out there to show how late of a start I got; it’s Fall here in New York, which means sunset is around 5PM. Not actually late, but about… 5 or 6 hours after I usually like to head out.

But it was necessary; I’ve tweeted about the spooky wiring in my room, the light turning on and off on its own. That was only pretend-enjoyable until November 1st; at exactly 12AM, it wasn’t festive anymore.

A little annoying to have to wait that long after my Anxious Hearts moment yesterday; I wanted to get out and find anywhere new.

But it just wasn’t in the cards; not if I wanted to get any writing done, get back home to post this, and get a good amount of work done.

So I settled for Bronx Park, a place I’m familiar with. And a place that’s pretty horrible for writing. In direct contrast to the miracle that was Pier 15, Bronx Park only has rough, public benches–not the worst offense…

… unless you’re a writer who gets there, looks around, and immediately goes wide-eyed as they wonder, possibly aloud, “Where the hell are the picnic tables?” I wound up sitting on a set of rough rock steps just off the main path. That lasted until nightfall, at which point my back started protesting. From there, it was on to a small set of bleachers. I had to sit on them backwards, using one of the lower foot rests as a seat, the actual bench above it serving as a makeshift table.

Improvisational. Utilitarian. A no frills arrangement engaged just to get some work done before going home and getting more work done.

And man did the pages fly there. I left around 4PM and, when I hit a point where I felt I had to stop (Chapter 2 ends in a plot choice I refused to make willy nilly), I was certain the time on my tablet was wrong. 5 and change? Seriously? I’d only been writing for about an hour?… What?

I don’t know how that works. Maybe it’s because there were no distractions–only people playing sports I don’t care about and, when night fell, only a small handful idling around.

Or maybe it was watching the electrician when he got to my apartment, taking about twenty minutes to fix three problems that I assumed would take hours.

Either way, I’ll take days like today. Straight forward. Fast and devoid of glamour.  Maintenance, done in hours less than I expected.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 3: Catching Up

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.3.14Where I Wrote: Pier 15 at South Street Seaport.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really awesome. At worst, a tiny bit worried that I’m being too indulgent with my main characters in Memory.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Really, really good.

The Experience: I got out early today, just as I’d planned after the fiasco that was Day 2.

My start was a little stunted, me stumbling with a handful of word processing apps. To accurately summarize, I spent enough time testing them earlier today that the copy of my story that I bounced between them eventually turned into a mash of wingdings and nonsense code.

When I finally found an app that worked well enough (WPS Office by Kingsoft), I set out with absolutely no plan and the possibility that WPS Office would quit on me and destroy Day 3.

But that did not happen. I had no plan, of course, so there was a bit of, “I should get off this train… Right?… Yes!” and then equal parts of, “Shit. I shouldn’t have gotten off that train.” But, in the end, I wound up here:

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Did you… Did you know there are adirondack chairs set up for the general public at Pier 15? There’s a cruise line office there, but built on top of it, there’s an outdoor, waterfront longue… with adirondak chairs. I could not have asked for a better writing spot to stumble upon. To be completely honest, I sat on one of the large, wooden steps nearby for a good hour first before wandering up, curious, and finding these; they’re that tucked away–up a ramp and all the way at the end of the elevated portion of the pier. I’d already written a good amount but when I found this spot, I immediately hunkered down and went over quota.

I didn’t make up all of the ground I lost on Day 2; only because it got really cold as the day drew on. I left hoping to find coffee nearby and a bathroom. Although I didn’t find the former, the latter was also–to my surprise–public access (just a short walk away on Front St.–just off of Fulton). Considering that there has to be coffee somewhere nearby that I missed, I’m really excited for round 2 at Pier 15.

Oddly though, the most intense part of this experience for me was when my futile search for coffee led me north to the Brooklyn Bridge. I know this will sound incredibly nerdy to non-gamers and incredibly fanboy-ish to nerds, but reaching the bridge and looking up turned Anxious Hearts on in my head–like a switch. Instantaneous. The sight of dirty, metal scaffolding and old concrete over head and I’m a kid again, staring in awe, thinking about the countless places that exist that I’ve never seen–that I won’t see. I know that may sound strange, but it’s something that I think of from time to time.

And, of course, it made me a little sad, as the combination of those thoughts and that song often does. Not defeated–not a sting of loss. More like the pressure of yearning; I can’t help thinking that if I’d started sooner–if I hadn’t waited to start these strange, short quests of mine–I’d have found so many more of those unseen places. In a strange way, it made me as sad as it made me hopeful; there’s always a time to start. There are always places to see and things to do, just waiting. All it takes to see them is the desire to find them.

And, in our case, as writers, the desire to put those places that don’t exist–our places–on paper for others to find.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 2: Baby Steps

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.2.14Where I Wrote: A Barnes & Noble Cafe in the Bronx.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Aside from not getting enough done, I actually feel great about what I wrote.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Really good.

The Experience: Well, today was absolutely a collection of lessons.

Lesson 1: I’m fine with rejection letters at this point. Literally the first thing I did after rolling out of bed was find a brand new rejection letter for “The Drowned God of the Silent Realm.” After the last two rejections, this one barely stung at all. Getting outside and heading to a random destination to work on Memory was enough to get a smile out of me again.

Lesson 2: However… it turns out that tablets really aren’t the best for writing outside. At the very least, Polaris Office just… absolutely loves to unexpectedly quit. With a short, unsatisfying apology too: “Unfortunately, Polaris Office stopped working,” it says, as if Polaris Office is shrugging it’s shoulders like, “What’s with that fucking program anyway? Pfft.” Like Polaris itself felt my sarcastic discontent when it shut itself down when I tried to write the sentence, “Not in the breath it took before lightning struck again,” for the sixth time. One thing’s for sure: Polaris Office didn’t understand my exhausted discontent when it shut down for the very first time, taking two pages of work with it.

So, ultimately, I had a good 20 minutes worth of writing, a solid 30 minutes of trying to figure out a way to continue writing without Polaris, and then, upon finding no work around, reading a bit more Alloy of Law and heading home.

When I got home, I started to investigate other apps to write with. But, of course, getting home presented another problem.

Lesson 3: Organizing your schedule with work and writing is just… really important. I’ve always known this, of course. I knew that going out to write would cut it close with work (I have a weekly quota of hours to put in, thus my settling for a writing location in the Bronx instead of heading to Manhattan, where I always want to write). What I somehow didn’t expect was that getting those last three hours would somehow take six hours of real time (it’s a strange, strange stay-at-home job). The solution: learning to roll out of bed, get directly into the shower, and leave home without trying (and repeatedly failing) to beat 6-3 in Dracula’s Curse (I will not get started about how much I love and equally hate Dracula’s Curse).

So, in the end, today was a single, long struggle to get a lot done with way too little time. I really, really wanted to put this post off until way later, finishing the scene I was working on outside, but that felt like cheating; I planned poorly and missed my writing goal by a huge margin.

But, at the same time, I learned a ton about being an active writer. Baby steps.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 1: The Worst Possible Start

I’ve been contemplating doing daily posts for a while now; partially because I wondered if I could manage them. But also because I’m getting tired of the article-styled posts. I’ve never been keen on getting very personal here, likely because my personal life totally blows. But there’s a way to write about my life that doesn’t mean wasting breath on things that aren’t worth it, I knew. A way to relate how I feel about writing every day. At one point, I was all, “Maybe I’ll experiment and do like… a week of daily posts?”

And then I learned about NaNoWriMo. And, instantly, all of the puzzle pieces fell into place; I could not deny the challenge to be more diligent and the chance to do daily posts and the excuse to go write in new places every day.

So that’s what you’ll be getting for the next 30 days. Every day I will go somewhere, write there, update my NaNoWriMo page, and post about it all here. I know that this is extremely sudden, but I promise the Progress Sidebar will be back in December; I just couldn’t pass up this challenge.

Now that you’re up to speed, let’s get started.

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.1.14

Where I Wrote: Home (unplanned–see below)

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Pretty Good

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Horrible

The Experience: There are just those days. Days when you’re exhausted because you stood up late last night organizing your old comics for sale. Days when, despite being tired, you still awkwardly haul those comics out in the pouring rain and onto the New York subway. Someone eyes your weird, duplo comic book brief case and asks, “Selling some old comics?” and you smile and answer, “Yes,” because the day still isn’t that horrible.

Not until you get to the place where you’re supposed to sell them and find that Open Buying Day is not, in fact, a full day. And you know immediately that it’s your fault that you’re going to have to haul your awkward collection of comics back home in the pouring rain because you didn’t check the hours for Open Buying Day. You absolutely know you should’ve. You maybe even thought to check before leaving but didn’t.

It does not help that, as you leave, the people behind the counter let you know that, “Man. You missed it by like… ten minutes.” That’s the point at which your brain goes into “Thanks” mode. Maybe, “Really? Thanks, asshole,” mode is a better way to put it. You’re angry at yourself and now just determined to at least A) Not let that make you a jerk to anyone else and B) Not let the day get more screwed up. Because you expect the irony now–a bad day just can’t end well. Bad days generally follow the layout of a story with an Exposition, Rising Action, and a Conclusion. So you just wait for that Conclusion. Will a train hit this stupid pile of comics, somehow? Sounds really goofy, but hey, maybe; I mean, if I believe, I can achieve new levels of failure, right? Will the duplo lock on my duplo comic book brief case shatter because it’s not meant to stand up to 30 pounds of Silver Age pressure? That totally sounds like the one.

But then you get home without the hammer dropping. You carry your duplo case in your arms to make sure it doesn’t explode. You sit down with plenty of time to regroup and not let the Conclusion be failing on your first day of NaNoWriMo (because you just know that the day wants that to be your felling blow). If only to prove the world wrong, you sit down and get to work, find that 1,667 words is way, way more than you usually write and buckle in anyway.

And then you meet your goal. And you realize that, again, clearly now, it really was your fault you missed Open Buying Day. Because what we do with our time is always up to us–we pick and choose our victories and our failures by not being careful and not prioritizing.

I wonder how many days I didn’t prioritize my writing.

Update: The Age of Submissions Already Sucks

LSFeature-TheAgeofSubmissions

I wasn’t intending to do another update immediately; last weekend was the first weekend without Saturday morning cartoons, as you may have heard. That made this past Monday the perfect time to launch my Cliché Showcase series (I’m starting with cartoony villains).

But when the time came, I just wasn’t feeling it. Although I was excited to write about Albert Wesker and the Red Skull, I was also days away from hearing back about my very first submission. And I thought, “No matter how that turns out, I’m going to have something to talk about.”

Yep. I was right.

Before I launch into this, I have to clarify that it’s more of an update on my life; I’m not trying to share any interesting thoughts here—just laying down an experience.

So, what is it about submitting a story that really sucks? There are many, many answers:

At first, it’s the insanely tense need to make sure it’s completely perfect. Not just the story—the submission itself. There’s proper formatting to worry about, of course. But there’s also your cover letter—the need to write a single, short line about yourself that’s both unobtrusive and interesting. There’s (for me at least) the magic of repeatedly comparing submission guidelines to the email / submission portal you’ve already filled out, combing for mistakes—something I did until my eyes glazed over, looking at the two windows on my computer monitor without actually seeing them anymore. There’s hitting “Send” and immediately checking your submission again, unrealistically expecting to find an error despite the countless rechecks… Maybe I’m being way, way too open about my own neurosis here, but I think these are things that will nag any writer who’s being careful with their submissions.

The post-Send waiting is fine. The hardest part about it is being honest with yourself—knowing that the story probably won’t get picked up.

The worst part, despite all of that prep for rejection, is being rejected. Opening a reply and letting your eyes shoot straight to the familiar shapes of “Thank you,” and, “not what we’re looking for.”

Because, despite what you’ve told others and yourself, you can’t stop wondering if you’re doing it again; I came from a background of cringe-worthy writing that I was too young to second-guess, so the first question I asked myself when I got my rejection was, “Is everything I write still horrible and I just don’t know it?” If you’re like me, chances are you’ll do the same.

And you might go on to ask yourself, “Or is it just not a right fit for them?” And, “But what if it’s too weird? What if it’s not a good fit for anyone?” “It’s Fantasy/Horror. Did I mess up by not submitting this in time for Halloween?” “Is anyone even going to accept a story like this outside of Halloween?” “Is it even actually scary enough for next Halloween?” And it goes on and on…

… Until you get a hold of yourself.

Somehow, despite everything that sucks about submissions, the best feeling is finding another magazine and continuing to submit your work. Cover letters and emails will always suck for me, but sending a story to someone else, sighing out the worry and accepting that everything’s fine (understanding that this is another hurdle to jump over—another part of the impossible process you’ve chosen) is oddly grounding. You don’t give up because you’ve already passed other points where anyone else would have given up.

You’re a writer. You get back to work.

2014-(white)DGotSRSubmissionProgress10.9.14

I’ve already submitted “The Drowned God of the Silent Realm” again. I will continue to do so until someone bites or until I move on to a different story. Either way, I’m pulling it’s Progress Bar—it is adequately “Sent!” after all.

And now, onto the next grind. The last edit of War of Exiles. And, in the near distance, a much tougher breed of submissions.

The Weird, Casual Sexism of Nerddom – Part 2: The Free Female Protagonist

So, here we are; the final part of my series about sexism in nerddom. We’re going to wrap up with a look at nerd narrative. I feel like nerd culture is at a point where it’s floundering for a firm grasp on portraying women. People are trying, but they’re also still ascribing to old standards and clinging to old stereotypes, making progress really slow and making what I think of as the “Free Female Protagonist” ridiculously rare. Defining that Free Female Protagonist, as I see her, is what I’m going to try to do here. Fair warning: I’m going to do it in a round-about way, mimicking how I came to the idea. More fair warning: in order to do this, I am also going to sound like a petty bastard quite a bit… Let’s get started!

The Not-So-Obvious, Narrative Kind of Sexism

I hate River Song.

I understand it’s a point of contention for Whovians, and I’d also like to point out immediately that I have enjoyed a lot of Steven Moffat’s work and respect him a lot as a writer. However, I’ve never liked River Song. And, initially, it was because of massively ham-fisted character bias; Moffat clearly loved her so much that he wrote a scene in which she made a Dalek beg for mercy. Maybe character bias is just my pet peeve (it is one of the 3 Great Fiction Sins), but that’s not the only reason I disliked River.

And I didn’t realize it until I was at a friend’s place a few years back, watching an episode with her. An episode that cold-opened with a long, panning body shot of her set to sexy music.

Now, unfortunately, I’m horrible at talking and I was a total idiot a few years ago. So, instead of trying to figure out why that intro was weird to me, I blurted out, “She’s not that attractive,” literally the first observation in a series that would ultimately lead to a non-offensive point.

My friend, very naturally, got offended for Alex Kingston. I tried to explain that she isn’t ugly—clearly she isn’t—but that it was weird that they were doing a long shot of her from toe to head with sultry saxophone. Not because Alex Kingston isn’t sultry sax worthy, but because…

… was that even the appeal of River Song???

At that point, what I understood about River came from “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” And what I took from those episodes was, “She’s extremely witty.” “She takes charge in difficult situations, which is awesome.” “She knows the Doctor really well and is also a time traveler—very intriguing.”

Essentially, what I took from those episodes is that she was a character… who had a lot of appeal that wasn’t centered around her being a sex object. And, of course, River could be sexy as well—River could be whatever she wanted to be. But River wasn’t calling the shots and neither was Alex Kingston (as far as I know). As far as I know, Steven Moffat was calling the shots. And the shots he decided to call that day were, “She’s a sex object.”

An extremely stereotypical sex object.

And that’s when I started to hate River Song. This must sound incredibly nitpicky, but, in my eyes, this was the start of River Song not being an actual character. This was the start of her being what I think of as a Catch All—a non-character who does everything that’s right and great and awesome by the sheer will of the writer… possibly because the writer doesn’t know how to make said character a person. This kind of character is everywhere (the perfect badass, cart-wheeling with guns blazing in both hands right before defusing the bomb with “00:01” left on the counter) and side-stepping a rant about how much I hate Catch Alls, I’ll get to the point; River isn’t that bad, but she was still suddenly thin and obvious.”I bet River knows how to hack / program / work this thing no one else understands.” “I bet that—unless it’s time for the Doctor to figure things out—River will.” “I bet River can kill a Dalek, single-handedly, without breaking a sweat.” And, for me, that all started with her, on top of everything else, also having to be a femme fatale, one of the many stereotypes I hate.

But I didn’t convey this well at all to my friend years ago and kept quiet about it for the time it took to casually figure it out.

But then, this graphic happened:
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I know. It’s not finite evidence that I was right about her being a Catch All—this graphic highlights a completely different set of flaws with the majority of Moffat’s run. But those flaws came as absolutely no surprise to me; this graphic, linked to me years later, only pointed out other reasons I didn’t like River without realizing. All she cared about was the Doctor, much like Amy; for a supposedly strong, independent female character, most of her screen time was spent fawning over him. And she did this despite their love not being well conveyed at all; she loves the Doctor not for a concrete experience that we’re shown (as we actually are with Amy)—she loves the Doctor because we’re told she loves the Doctor and that he loves her. And all of this resonated with my notion of her as a non-character—a talking plot device.

But it took forever for me to see it because she’s one of countless female non-characters who exist throughout all of fiction. I’m talking about nerdy things and fantasy because it’s what I do, but the fact remains that there are go-to, male-centric ideas about / approaches to female characters that persist—and result in strange, subtly off characters like River. Women will cling to men in a story and never interact with other women. Often there aren’t many named women in a story, and if there are, they will, like River Song and Amy Pond, be fixated with a single male character. The Bechdel test highlights these standards very, very clearly. If you don’t know about it, you should check it out and you should absolutely take the test for all of your writing (even beyond sexism, it’s just an awesome reviewing tool for your work). Subjecting some of your favorite stories to the test will also be eye-opening.

But all I’ve done so far is tell you what the Free Female Protagonist isn’t. And, I’m sorry, but I want to reinforce that more to make my point clear. So one more stop into the world of comics to talk about the idea that …

Women in Comics Are Strong Because They’re Like Men

It started with Captain Marvel.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Carol Danvers taking the mantel of Captain Marvel; arguably (to the very casual comic reader’s eye), she is more popular than Mar-Vell by far. I’m sure that an avid reader already has a list of reasons why I’m wrong, but I’ve seen a ton of Carol Danvers everywhere and almost no Mar-Vell in my time with comics. Besides, “captain” is a title and there’s no reason a woman can’t be a captain. So I was all for it. I’ve always loved Carol Danvers. Again, I’m not an avid comic reader, but she’s always been one of my favorite Avengers.

And then “Thor” happened.

Now… I am not upset at all that the new Thor is a woman—I think that’s awesome actually.

But I do think that it’s weird that the new Thor’s name… is Thor. Because “Thor” isn’t a title. If she was the new Captain America—cool. That makes sense. But “Thor”… is Thor’s name… Why do I not know the name of new Thor?

And, immediately, I know that this also sounds super nitpicky, because this is a step better than “She-Hulk” and “Ms. Marvel.” And maybe she does have a name. And maybe (hopefully) her name will be plastered on the cover of her new series and not… Thor’s name. But I can’t help assuming that won’t happen. From a business standpoint, I’m sure there’s a depressing, sexist branding conflict there; “But people won’t read a comic about girl Thor unless she’s heavily related to Thor!” At best, I’m assuming she’ll just take over in Journey into Mystery, which doesn’t make things much better.

And that’s the entire problem I’m getting at: the “new Thor” is still not where we need to be because she’s so heavily tied to Thor. Maybe that sounds odd, but my point is that there is still, and always has been, another way to write a female mainstream superhero.

Make a mainstream, female super hero who is completely independent of a male super hero.

I will not make the argument that this undoes the progress that Carol Danvers makes as Captain Marvel—to me, that still works and is awesome. However, it seems like Marvel is searching for their Wonder Woman (the closest to an exception that I can think of)… and missing the fact that Wonder Woman is named Wonder Woman and not “new Superman.”

But I think that this is part of a strange suite of choices that comic writers seem to make every time they try to establish a strong female lead. Does she have a male super hero’s name (Thor)? Is she being related to a male super hero in any way (She-Hulk, Batwoman)? Is she scantily clad? I’m absolutely sure there are exceptions and I’m not sure that all of those choices are consistent.

But I’m also absolutely sure that, outside of (possibly) Wonder Woman, there is no completely independent, non-male reliant, big name, super hero comic female lead who is not doing time as a sex object. I don’t want to undermine the progress that has been made, but it’s time for the jump; it’s time to try to make a new, actually independent female super hero. Not new Thor. Not Star Duchess (it sounded funnier than Star Lady).

In short, it’s time for people to just try writing…

The Free Female Protagonist

What she isn’t:

  1. A non-character who does everything right.
  2. A scantily clad sex object (unless she’s honestly a character who wants to be sexy—she should be able to choose, after all).
  3. Attached to a male character who is established as stronger.
  4. Named after a male character.
  5. Obsessed with a male character.

What she is:

A woman. A woman written by a comfortable, brave writer.

Let’s have Madame Galaxy—a lame name off the top of my head. Let’s have a super hero with no ties to anyone and her own origin. Let’s not start her first issue by having her shouting about how she’s just as strong as a male super hero because that would immediately be awkward floundering; let’s just have her be a woman and awesome and let that be enough. Let’s embrace her relationship issues instead of glossing over them because she’s a human who will undoubtedly have relationship issues (especially if she’s straight because comic writers and artists clearly aren’t afraid to show women waking up next to / making out with other women—that’s very obvious at this point). And let’s flirt with the idea of maybe—maybe somewhere down the line having Madame Galaxy heading her own team of other super heroes with absolutely no male supervisors or Super- / Bat-peers to help her.

That is all I want. And it doesn’t seem like it’s happening enough. Thus, this article.

I want to see just Wonder Woman leading the Justice League. I cannot tell you why—I just think it would be awesome.

I want to see more characters like Korra from the Legend of Korra, who stands firm as one of my favorite protagonists of all time at this point.

And, whether my kids are boys or girls, I want them to have a collection of obvious female role models to look up to in nerd culture—without having to seek them out. And without having to lose them the way I lost Samus.

That is never going to happen if we don’t start writing those characters ourselves. So, to you, reading this, fight those standards. Start with the Bechdel test. Don’t settle for being typical and comfortable; write women who are not damsels. Not femme fatales. Not bewbs in armorkinis. And don’t avoid writing them because damsels, femme fatales, and women who like armorkinis can’t or don’t exist or shouldn’t have their stories told for some reason. Try to avoid writing them because women are always more beautifully complicated and real than need, sex, and metal tits.

~~~

Well, that was a monster of a post. You can totally look forward to me kicking back for a short while. I will keep focusing on writing, but my next post is going to be a status update on my projects, centering around that totally full Progress Bar you might have noticed at the top of my page. I’ll talk about that and what comes next in the middle of the month! Until then, thank you for the read.

And, as always, write well.

The Weird, Casual Sexism of Nerddom – Part 1: Armorkinis and Cyber Thongs

I watch a lot of streams these days; it’s the easiest, most constant form of entertainment I can get while working at my computer. Just today, I watched the second half of a playthrough of Michigan: Report from Hell, an old PS2 game. And man… if you haven’t heard of it, suffice it to say it has to be up there on the list of best worst games ever; to me, it’s the Troll 2 of video games. Definitely my favorite because the bad writing, terrible voice acting, and horrible everything else really come together to make a hilariously bad experience.

Part of what makes it so painfully archaic is the really awkward sexism that’s all over it. Michigan is as cringe-inducing as talking to your weirdly racist grandma; you lock onto your reporter with your news cam and it instantly focuses on her ass and you face palm and think, “Fuck’s sake. Someone seriously thought this was okay.”

But, the weird thing about watching Michigan was thinking, for a moment, “Man, I’m glad we’re not still this stupidly sexist,” and then checking Kotaku and finding this, Samus’ newest outfit for Smash 4:

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And realizing… Michigan isn’t all that archaic with its sexism, is it? Because, sexism is just an oddly casual thing in nerddom. And casual… in weird ways that I feel I’m going to get in trouble for talking about. But, hey, I’m going to do it anyway. Not because I want to write something flaming, but because I’ve wanted to write this article for a long time; ever since hearing about the Bechdel test and realizing I passed it without trying. My goal here: seriously just contributing to the effort to get women portrayed realistically in Fantasy, at least; because, seriously with the armorkinis.

So, the best way to do this, I think, is to attack it in two parts; first, I’m going to talk about the obvious, visual side of sexism and then I’ll move on to the not-so-obvious, narrative side of it. Originally, I was going to do all of this in one post, but I went pretty high over my post limit on the first part, so I thought it was better to take my time.

That means that, today, we’re starting with the obvious kind of sexism. Because even though it’s the obvious kind that everyone sees… it still happens.

The Obvious, Visual Kind of Sexism

So, when I was young, I thought Red Sonja was really hot. I mean, she’s still hot, of course, if that comic even still exists. But when I saw her for the first time, I thought I was looking at porn. I do not know how old I was, but the reaction was shifty eyes; “Am I even supposed to be looking at this?? She ain’t wearing nothin’.”

What I didn’t know then was that the armorkini was just the standard of lots… and lots of fantasy. I can’t name all of the places I’ve seen armorkinis, but that’s not because it’s rare; it’s because I wouldn’t know where to start, and furthermore, I cannot be bothered. Because you’ve seen them too, and if you haven’t, just google “armor bikini” (for the most sincere results that are most lacking in self-consciousness), or look in the general direction of any comic or game shop and you’ll spot one. Maybe you’ll have to look a little harder these days to find an actual, straight up, Red Sonja two piece—always at its finest when it’s sincerely donned as armor for actual battle. But even if you can’t spot an actual armorkini, it’s got loooooots of cousins.

There’s the super heroine questionmarkitard; what I can only sum up as a collection of belts that the majority of female superheroes tie together and then wear into battle. Always as ridiculous as the two piece because it’s always worn for fighting villains with superpowers.

There’s the obnoxious armor bra; because nothing says, “Tits are happening right here!” like shiny armor that’s only over a female character’s breasts, often molded to look exactly like the real thing.

There’s the sci-fi variant of all of this, which, for whatever reason, is usually more comfortable with putting weird details that draw attention to certain spots (neon track lights that go right over a character’s nipples, for example).

And then there’s cyber panties, which I’ve seen enough of to be their own thing. Cyber panties are literally just panties that are part of a woman’s power armor/futuristic outfit—always, at least, as a color choice, but often an actual change in texture that’s designed to look like a thong, a pair of panties, or, failing all of that, to just highlight that entire area (by making it a different color, for example). And, before we move on, yes, cyber camel toe is sometimes a part of that package.

It’s a Choice People Make

And I say all of this and can immediately imagine someone crossing their arms and telling me that, “Dude, these are just design choices.” And, yes, they are. Of course they are. That’s the entire problem. These are choices made to showcase and sexualize female characters… in just about everything nerds play and read and watch. It’s strange and archaic. It cheapens female characters and makes them into the same flat object—a pair of tits to stare at. And, even if there is some attempt at giving such characters depth and character, it is always lessened, dramatically, by objectification. Because adding an armor bra to your character’s design says, immediately, “First and foremost… tits are happening right here. Check those out. Also, this is a character.” Even if someone tries really hard, adding an armor bra to their design of a female character says, “This is a character. Also, check out her tits.” Neither of those treatments… is good. Neither of those treatments is what any character deserves.

Off the top of my head, it’s seriously just Ellie, Clementine, Arya, Katniss and Korra who aren’t designed in ways that showcase their body parts, sexualize them or stereotype them instantly (the pretty dress for the damsel in distress, for example). I’m sure I could think of a handful more if I tried, but, the fact is, I’d be trying. We don’t live in a society where I have a long list of female characters in nerddom that I’d want my daughter to look up to. Because that list has actually shrunk for me lately.

It Feels Like It’s a Losing Battle

Because Samus Aran isn’t on my list of strong, un-manipulated female characters anymore.

And maybe that’s the thing that finally made me start this series. This is Samus:

Samus

This is not Samus:

mainSamus is the character who inspired a lot of my female characters. Because Samus was unlike any other female character for such a long time; maybe I’m wrong, but it actually feels like she was completely different from most characters, man or woman. I still remember when I read the special about her in one issue of Nintendo Power. I looked at her stats and saw that she was seven feet tall—seven feet tall and she rolls up into a ball in her weird ass, alien power suit… Are you serious? I just sat there and stared at that page and read everything about Samus Aran and thought, She’s so fucking awesome. Me, fat little Puerto Rican kid—I sat there and wanted to be Samus because she was so goddamn cool. And that never went away—I still want to be the lone bounty hunter in Chozo armor, choosing to go on dangerous solo missions no one else could handle. Fighting… well, not Metroids, because they terrify me. But whatever—the point is, I still admire the shit out of Samus.

Which is why I absolutely hate what Sakurai has done to her.

To be fair, this is something that started with the very first Metroid. This is the culmination of the Justin Bailey code and years upon years of making the reward for successfully beating a Metroid game seeing Samus outside of her suit. But it always seemed like Samus still managed to avoid total manipulation until Brawl gave us a closer, prolonged view and the absolute fucking travesty of Metroid: Other M drove home the idea that Samus was a scared, strangely and overly-maternal idiot who followed her male supervisor’s orders without question. And now we have the… Shorts and Sports Bra Suit (I actually just shuddered as I wrote that).

So, this really obvious brand of sexism? Somehow, it’s winning. Somehow, Other M and the shorts and sports bra happened. Somehow Disney decided to sexualize Merida. Somehow, all of these decisions—the armorkini and the cyber panties—still get made in the favor of armorkinis and cyber panties. No. There’s no reason why.

If you’re writing anything and you have any female characters, and you feel like you’re making any of these choices with their design, please just make a braver choice for them. Design them not as a man or a male-centric society reflexively would—especially if you don’t design your characters; if you just stop and think, “Well, I’m not designing her because I don’t design anyone—it’ll be fine,” no, it won’t. Because if there’s any chance your story will become a movie or a show or whatever, someone will make the choice to sexualize her anyway, at which point it will be totally out of your hands. And, of course, you’re not likely to have studios listen to you unless you’re J. K. Rowling and have a Potter-level phenomenon on your hands. But still, please—try anyway. If you love your female characters, then, for their sake, try. And, to be a little more melodramatic but still honest about it, if you want your daughter to have awesome role models to look up to—try.

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I’ll start off next month with the second and final part in this series. And, if you don’t remember, I said I was reluctant to write about any of this at the end of my last post. It isn’t because of what I wrote here—it’s because of what’s coming up; I’m going to talk about the more complicated idea of sexism in narrative, which I’ve argued about with a feminism before, so it’s bound to be interesting.

Thank you for reading. As always, a Like and a Follow would be greatly appreciated. But all the same, take care and write well.

Games for Writers – Dark Souls

G4W-DarkSouls

Disclaimer: This article has been a long time coming. At this point, I’m actually a little reluctant to write about video games on here instead of just post straight writing talk, but, like I said last post, I feel I deserve a break and this post is ultimately about writing anyway. Still, just to start us off, apologies if you’re a writer but not a gamer.

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Because there’s a really, really great chance you’ve already played Dark Souls. I have to acknowledge immediately that last gen, I was incredibly close-minded about the series I played (for a long time, it was almost totally Playstation 1 era series or GTFO). So, forgive me, but I still haven’t played Mass Effect. I haven’t played any of the Dead Space’s except for the last one. I gave Assassin’s Creed two minutes before giving up on it.

And, until it was offered for free on XBL a few months ago, I’d never played Dark Souls. I’d never played Dark Souls and I was really, really tired of hearing people go on about how awesome Dark Souls is.

And now, of course, please humor me as I go on for way too long about how fucking awesome Dark Souls is and explain why it’s probably one of the best series a prospective Fantasy writer could ever play.

For the sake of not just ranting, I will do this in two direct points that support one bottom line: for a game with extremely little actual story, Dark Souls has a weirdly moving story exclusively because of really subtle but strong world-building.

Point 1: The Bosses Have So Much Charm / Mystique / Whatever That They’re Characters

So, I posted a link a while back on Twitter about the music I was using for a writing session. This is the song I linked. It’s the music that plays while you fight Gravelord Nito. And, really, if you haven’t played Dark Souls, just from reading this paragraph, you already know almost all there is to know about Gravelord Nito; his name, you fight him, he’s in Dark Souls. Here—I’ll round out your knowledge of him; he’s “the first of the undead.” He’s a god made of skeletons that are mashed together. He wears a cloak made out of darkness and he wields a big sword. There. That’s about 90% of all there is to know about him.

That said, I… love… Gravelord Nito. I definitely didn’t do him justice with my description in the last paragraph because I really can’t; I gave you hard facts and, as there are for most of the bosses in Dark Souls, there are next to no hard facts to be had about him. I can tell you as much about Gravelord Nito’s definitive personality as I could tell you about any other boss in Dark Souls—nothing.

But… there is a ton of characterization that I simply can’t explain because you’d have to experience it to understand. Gravelord Nito isn’t just awesome because he’s a (truly) awesome looking, giant skeleton(s) man with a sword; he’s awesome because it takes you, the player, many—many—hours of struggle to get to him. He’s awesome because you have to go through the Tomb of Giants to find him and the Tomb of Giants is incredibly dark, terrifying and dangerous. He’s awesome because, despite being Dark Souls’ god of death, he’s tucked at the back of a nondescript hole in a wall deep underground. He’s awesome because he’s sleeping in a giant coffin in that hole but he comes out to kill you when you show up; and because, at the start of his boss fight, he slowly walks out of the dark to face you.

And—before I keep just listing these minute, seemingly throw-a-way details—what do any of these details say?

Well, hours of struggle to even get the chance to be killed by him immediately gives him a huge degree of godly mystique—he’s so important that not just anyone can turn on the game and face him.

His being beyond the pitch black Tomb of Giants, with its giant skeletons (all untouched until you come along) says that no one has faced him in ages—it says that he is beyond an unfathomable depth.

That he’s tucked at the end of a weird, small hole in a cave says all kinds of potentially terrifying things about the mysteries of the unseen; according to Dark Souls, a god could be sleeping at the end of a cave in my local park, which is, immediately, more terrifying than placing him at the end of a huge, obviously evil castle. But, to bring this back to Nito, it says that he’s possibly beyond human trappings and flattery; he’s beyond needing a temple in his name somehow—a cave is fine for his slumber just as a grave is fine for any human.

And, of course, the fact that he’s sleeping when you find him and the way that he slowly walks around to face you speaks volumes about how ancient he is. The design choice to make him hunch-backed adds to this idea.

All of this… conveyed… with subtle detail. It blows my mind. It blows my mind even more because this is a fraction of what Dark Souls conveys about one boss. Just about all of the bosses in this game have that much silent detail worked into them. My reflex here is to just rattle off a bunch of boss names and a handful of their details, but it will mean absolutely nothing to you if you haven’t played it, so instead, I’ll just say this:

If you’re a Fantasy writer, I can honestly not think of a better lesson than Dark Souls on how to give your monsters and villains real, evocative mystique and story with almost no dialogue. In a really weird, writery kind of way, every boss in this game is beautiful. Seriously, for the first time in ages, even though I knew next to nothing about him, I actually got upset when I killed the last boss.

Phew… Okay. I have to move on now.

Point 2: The Settings Tell a Story

As you may have noticed, I got derailed on one of my points about Nito and started talking about how his cave was oddly terrifying in how normal it is. I didn’t take that out because, ya know, laziness, but that environmental element is one thread of the really dense tapestry of Lordran, the setting for Dark Souls.

I do not want to start the Ever-Rant again and I also don’t want to get spoilery, so I’ll cut my explanation down to this: at one point, you start to venture down beneath the starting area. The starting area is a town, so what’s beneath it winds up being, at first, a large, weird cellar. In that cellar, waiting around a collection of long tables, there is a large group of Hollows (feral undead [there are undead who aren’t feral, like your character]). In this same room with the Hollows, on a sub level, there’s a giant, undead butcher cutting large pieces of meat. If you defeat all of these enemies and then happen to explore the hole directly behind the butcher’s table, you’ll fall into a pit, landing directly onto a large pile of discarded bodies. It’s gross—I know. But not as gross as the huge, undead rat that’s on the level below, a spear sticking out of one of its eyes.

And, seriously, the point is not to gross you out. The point here is to give you a good example of the completely silent but weirdly detailed storytelling that’s all over Lordran. The butcher is preparing meals for all of the Hollows that are waiting above him. What the butcher doesn’t use, he throws downstairs, meaning that he’s serving humans or undead to the Hollows above for whatever reason. But regardless, downstairs is where the giant rat eats what he throws away (growing gigantic from left-overs its been scavenging for years, presumably). For bonus points, the spear in the rat’s eye implies that someone was thrown down here in fighting shape and tried to defend themselves.

This kind of detail is everywhere. And, sure, there are just strange, video gamey locations too that are clearly designed to get the player from point A to B. But then, there are little spots like the area directly before Nito, where a large group of ancient, lifeless skeletons are all kneeling in worship, facing the portal that leads to him, until they fall apart at your touch.

Despite having pretty much no dialogue or plot, Lordran is incredibly alive with story. And, of course, working in details like these shouldn’t compromise your writing (for example, I’m definitely not suggesting that you wedge the armory where your lizardmen make their giant lizard swords into a story just to show that, hey, this is how they get their swords [especially not when world-building like that is easiest in a medium like video games, where ambling and looking at everything is natural]). But it’s always a good thing to remember to make your world that alive.

As countless other areas in Dark Souls showed me, the setting is a place that exists without your character’s influence.

The Bottom Line: Even Though It Doesn’t Have a Story, Dark Souls Has Tons of Story

Even if you’re not convinced, you should still give Dark Souls a try if only because the very last area in the game is—I promise—beautifully evocative. It placed so much mystique on the final boss that, like I said, I was actually upset when I killed him, as if I was making a mistake. It was a feeling I’ve only gotten one other time—at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and that game had the benefit of a million cutscenes and tons of dialogue. The fact that Dark Souls got the same emotion from me with next to no dialogue, will always blow my mind.

So, if you haven’t played Dark Souls, I promise it will positively impact your Fantasy writing. Even if you’ve already played it but didn’t pay attention to the fine details, play it again with a keener eye. Look out for all of the subtle things it does and, if you haven’t, just look up all of its secrets (because this is the kind of game that has huge, completely missable secrets). I promise that you will not regret at least seeing the subtlety of Lordran and its cast of silent characters.

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Well, apologies if this post was a little short, but it was seriously an effort not to go on forever about this game and spoil everything for you. Still, I hope that you enjoyed! If you did, I’d appreciate a Like and a Follow!

In the middle of the month, I’ll come back to straight writing talk. In fact, I might—might—come back with the most difficult topic I possibly can. At least, it immediately feels like a difficult, dangerous topic. We’ll see. If you don’t want to miss a post about something I’m even reluctant to mention here, you should Subscribe! Cause I’m probably going to write about it anyway…! … Yay!

But, regardless, thanks for reading! And, as always, write well!

 

The Traits of the Working Writer – Part 3: Understanding and Awareness

Here we are—the end of this series on the Traits of the Working Writer. And I’m glad; I’ve been getting way too metaphysical with these articles and I’m eager to get back to casual stuff; articles about Star Wars and video games.

But there’s no reason I can’t be casual, direct, and practical about this last set of Traits, so, in that spirit, let’s get right to it.

These last two Traits are at odds, just like the first two pairs. I saved this pair for last, however, because one of these traits… is something most writers are lacking—even professionals.

I’ll get to the Understanding that not everyone will love your work.

But first, I want to talk about…

The Awareness that You Might Be Infatuated with Your Work…

A young writer comes up with an idea. And they know it’s a good idea. They totally love it and that’s cool; why would anyone not love their work? Why would any writer not love their characters? After all, if they didn’t, how could their readers possibly love them? No, a writer’s love of their characters, their setting, their world isn’t the problem.

The problem comes when a writer isn’t Aware… how much they love their work. Because there are, of course, degrees to how big of a crush a writer can have on their projects. A writer may really like an idea but relegate it to a short story because they know they won’t be able to carry it as a full novel. A writer may create something they love enough to dedicate one novel to it. One may love an idea so much that they decide to make a series out of it. And, of course, all of that is totally fine.

But someone may also love a single idea, detail, concept or—even—a sentence so much that it’s destructive. To say it directly, a writer can be totally infatuated with their writing to the point where they have absolutely no gauge for what makes it good anymore. Or, more painfully, they have no way to tell if it’s actually good at all. And that is totally, totally horrible. And sad. Bulletball horrible and sad. And if you don’t know what Bulletball is, don’t look it up. Just understand that it’s really, seriously, very sad!

Suffice it to say, you need to be Aware of how into your stories you are. All writers need to be Aware that they can take that love too far, particularly because it’s easy to become infatuated with any part of your work at any time. On the plot level, you may be so in love with an event that you refuse to get rid of it no matter how little it serves your story. On the character level (and I’ve already talked about this as a Fiction Sin), it’s incredibly easy to shove your favorite character into scenes they shouldn’t be in because you want to see them there—to the extent that it becomes incredibly cloying when you, inevitably, start wedging them into every moment of the story. And, as I mentioned before, on just the level of execution, a writer can be so in love with a sentence—no, we’re taking this a step further—so in love with a slight nuance in gesture (“He shook his head with rare disapproval.”) that they would sacrifice the strength of their voice and the flow of their prose for it (instead of just, “He shook his head no,” and letting the character’s penchant for agreeing speak through his previous actions).

Any of these degrees of infatuation can strike at any moment. But not if you’re Aware that they might. Not if you give your work to fellow writers and actually read their comments. It is, of course, a slippery slope because some people just really, really suck at reading your work (other writers in particular, so go with someone you trust), but unless someone’s a total douchebag, their comments will always be based on an honest reflex. That is to say, if you suspect you’re infatuated with your work, the best way to find out is to give your work to someone else who you know will actually read it and actually criticize it. If when it comes back, you find yourself refuting absolutely everything they said, you’re probably infatuated. Because, I promise, there’s always something wrong with a work in progress. Even published works have mistakes.

And even outside of mistakes—even if your reader is just expressing a difference in preferences—there’s also something to learn from that. Namely…

… the Understanding that Not Everyone Will Love Your Work.

So, one of my friends is a man of many talents; he just naturally picks up hobbies and, somehow, does all of them well. I have no idea why or how, but the point is, one of his main hobbies when I met him was Fantasy writing. We eventually got to shopping work to each other, and he quickly warned, “I’m going to write every thought that comes to mind when I read your stuff. It’s just the way I do it.”

And man was he totally not lying. At first, it was really defeating; I’d already started to accept that my writing wasn’t perfect at that point, but this friend of mine was the one of the few to not resort to the “What manuscript?” Shuffle (Step 1: Give Friend Manuscript – Step 2: Meet Up with Friend and Watch Them Talk About Everything Under the Sun Except for Your Manuscript). So, getting pages back that were, symbolically, all red, was totally defeating. That was, of course, an extremely helpful experience though (I’m here writing this article, once again being insanely open about how bad of a writer I was, because his critiques made me honest [and actually, seriously, led me to stop being infatuated with the first version of my book]). But, there was something else that I realized in his critiques.

He really did write down every criticism that came to mind. So, naturally, a lot of it… wound up being matters of taste. And, somehow, that was extremely reassuring. Yes, the one short story had an extremely mixed up intro that absolutely confused readers; that was a clear, undeniable mistake that I learned from. But, “I really don’t dig this one character’s name,” was almost… liberating to read. Because, of course he didn’t like that name—dude was totally George R. R. Martin-centric, so of course he didn’t (my character’s name definitely wasn’t sharp, concise, and straight-forward like Martin’s are), but that didn’t mean my character’s name was actually wrong.

And that reinforced an Understanding I’d already come to from the others’ opinions of my early work (particularly in college workshops); you really cannot ever… please everyone. You will try and you will maybe assume that writing the perfect book means that you have to make everyone happy. You will, no matter what you do, reflexively want everyone to love your work and you will possible turn a colder shoulder to people who aren’t interested (maybe [we’re Fantasy writers after all, so you have to be ready for some people to not care about your writing period]).

But regardless of all of those reflexes, it is completely impossible for everyone in the world to love your writing. As I’ve said before, there’s enough dissention between two people to make universal ideas—about anything—absolutely impossible. That’s a little much, but the point is, even fans of your work won’t like a particular event in your story. Some might not like a scene or a character. Some might think one line of dialogue is painful.

The point is, nothing will ever be perfect for anyone.

And that’s not bad!

It sounds like the worst thing in the world, but it is, literally, natural; you will never escape criticism because it is part of how humanity works. That means that you cannot—ever—let the fear of criticism stop you.

This should be another paradox. The Fear Paradox?… I just want to write about Dark Souls. Seriously.

Finding the Balance

So, fuck it. Right? Why not write the story you want to write? There’s seriously nothing holding you back from choosing names and scenes and creating until your ______(s) fall(s) off.

But no! Of course there are. There are the rules of the craft itself. The wit to make tasteful decisions for your story. The devotion to practice. There’s the grace to have reverence for other writers’ work but respect for your own. There’s the need to appease your drive for perfection while also nurturing your ability to be decisive. There’s the ability to be aware when you’re crushing on your own work and the understanding that it will never be loved by everyone.

And, of course, there’s the need to realize that writing is always a give and take; it’s always a battle of balances. There are decisions everywhere—at every step of the process—and they will all impact your work, and the only person who’s qualified to make those decisions is you. A self-consciously confident, manically focused you.

Good luck! : D

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Well, that’ll about do it. Thanks for reading this article (double thanks if you read all three [triple thanks if you… I thought I’d have a joke by the time I got here [I didn’t])]). I hope this series has helped and that you enjoyed reading. If you did, drop me a Like. And maybe Subscribe for more content like this… and maybe Share this article. : )

Regardless though, thanks again and, as always, write well!

The Traits of the Working Writer – Part 2: Drive and Decisiveness

Last month, we started talking about what I think of as the Traits of the Working Writer. In case you missed that post, here’s a link . To quickly recap, these Traits are what I consider the cornerstones to being a successful writer; probably not absolutely essential… but still really great personality Traits for any writer to have, I think, and ones that you’ll likely acquire at some point on the long, long road to getting published (if you haven’t acquired them already).

Last time, we opened with Reverence for other writers’ work and Respect for your own. And, although I didn’t really focus on it, I think it was clear in that post how these two Traits are at odds. To put it clearly, Reverence and Respect really butt heads during the editing process, when you want to take influence (critiques) from other writers but also want to stay true to your own style.

The head butting intensifies in this post with the Drive to edit your work to perfection … and the Decisiveness that it takes to stop editing your work to death.

The Drive for Perfection…

Right.

Okay…

I have no idea where to even begin with Drive.

To my knowledge… there is no other Trait in a writer that is both necessary for success and completely and totally defeating. As an old friend once told me, “I thought about writing a novel once… But then I never started because I felt foolish.” It was my first day of training at Borders, and the training supervisor at the time shook his head as he said it, looking away. When I asked him what he meant, he said that he just didn’t feel like he’d be able to get it right—that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to tell the story he wanted to.

Now, that’s an extreme example of the negative side of the Drive for perfection; a well spoken, intelligent old man didn’t even want to start writing his novel. But, Drive is a Trait that is always—always—hyper-active in writers and exists in countless forms on every level of the writing process.

Forms like…

… having the one story you’ve been planning for ages. You’ve cycled through several timelines, magic systems, races, and even general plot ideas, all in the name of making it absolutely perfect. Also, you’ve been doing this, and not actually writing the story, for 20 years. Or…

… having the one story you’ve actually written that you’ve since been editing and editing… and maybe rewriting and editing some more because you just know—you just know—that it can still be better.

I can keep going (straight on through Weird Psychoses Town [I personally cannot stop adding / changing monsters in the world of War of Exiles (because there’s always a cooler monster)]), but I think I’ll just stop here. Because, you get the point, of course. But also…

… because the Drive for perfection is definitely not completely bad or else it wouldn’t be on this list of invaluable Traits. It’s really important to acknowledge how far we can let ourselves go with editing and planning but the alternative is just kinda shrugging. Shrugging and looking down at the pizzas stains on your shirt and being all, “Shu’s good enough. Print it. Don care.”

To say it in a better way… as insane as it probably is for me to keep changing monsters (we’re talking full on, vehemently deleting the original version of a monster because the newer monster’s got like, “Ooooh! Like a bunch of eyes!” which I actually said aloud to myself last night, out of the blue), I do it because I honestly think that the new ideas I’m getting are superior and I always—always—want to put superior ideas in my work. So, the writer who’s tweaking that timeline, changing events, is doing it because they know that the new timeline is better—that the new events are more mature or make more sense. The fine editor waits on that manuscript because they know there’s still something that’s off about it.

And, really, that aspiration for high quality is always awesome. Why would it ever be better to just throw in the towel and shove a collection of first ideas at an editor? (“This is the… Adventure of Garry! I dunno… Look… money now?”) Of course, there are people who can very quickly produce fiction without a problem. But, for most of us… ideas seriously aren’t just perfect… immediately—especially not at the start. Seriously, how many of us are big on place-holder names? How many people have just scrawled in an exhausted, “Fart Town” on their map before taking a night or a week or a month to figure out something better? I’d like to think most of us have… not with “Fart Town” exactly, but… you get it.

The Drive for perfection in one’s work is invaluable to a successful writer.

Just like the ability to not take that Drive too far and actually… make decisions.

… and the Decisiveness Necessary to Move on.

There are three things I can immediately say about Decisiveness.

First, Decisiveness is in direct, heated conflict with Drive at all times. I don’t want to go right back into how bad it is to nurse a story to death because we’ve already talked about it. Suffice it to say, Decisiveness is completely reliant on Drive for its description; Decisiveness is anti-Drive—the ability to let go and let a story be and let characters speak and perhaps accept a particular name (or, ya know, monster—whatever) instead of stubbornly searching for a better one despite finding nothing. Essentially, it’s realizing that there is an end to how healthy Drive can be, and it’s right on the corner of Neuroses and Nit-Pick Way. Decisiveness, put most simply, is the ability to decide on elements in your story and stand by them.

Second, it’s incredibly important to foster Decisiveness so that you can be comfortable with moving on to the next step with your projects (whether it’s from planning to writing, writing to sharing, or sharing to submitting) and actually grow as a writer. Because going in too hard with Drive can happen at every turn in the writing process. It can, and often does, play on a sentence level; I know I’m not alone in just hating one sentence and walking away from my work for hours because I just can’t figure it out. I really, really wish I had a statistic for how many times the solution was going back and just deleting that sentence, scene, or chapter altogether and starting fresh. But the point is, there’s always another entity—a third party in the battle between you and the outline or you and the manuscript. And, in my experience, that third entity is always just a point of view. That point of view should be Decisiveness stepping in and being all, “… You sure that ending isn’t okay?” and, most commonly for me, “If you don’t like this scene, delete it all and start again after you decide the optimal angle to take it from.”

Third,… and most dramatic,… at some point, Acceptance may mean that you just have to call it. Literally, at some point, time may completely run out for you and you may just have to face the music and—just—decide. Not because someone’s holding a gun to your head, but because you’re like me and want to be a novelist first and foremost and you know that the Successful Novelist window is one that absolutely closes. Whether for financial reasons or family reasons or what have you, time eventually just runs out or becomes so narrow and cluttered with everything else in life that it’s way, way less possible to get through it. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be published, but putting out a series of books absolutely requires a large portion of time. And, for us, that really, really means actual writing time—actual years spent punching keys and finishing stories (all the more difficult for us Fantasy writers with our 300-900 page manuscripts). Maybe this sounds over-dramatic, but, to be honest, it’s taken me 9 years to finish the one book. I have 11 more planned at this point. That math doesn’t add up to normal human years.

Which means that, for me, the time has come. Decision time.

Finding the Balance

The very best that I can give you when it comes to balancing Drive and Acceptance is a summary of how I decide on things now. Because I have always been crazy about letting ideas mature, but, as I said, I have no time for slow, casual months of idle brainstorming now.

So, for me, there is no more contemplating the pros and cons of a particular name for weeks—no more wondering if maaaaybe I want the one city to look old or swanky. No, it’s down to one shot decision making time based entirely on theme, plot, character, and every other element that makes up a story. It’s down to “What name works with this character’s personality/power/theme?” paired with, “What do I think sounds awesome?” Very often, I find myself looking at something I’m not sure about and bringing Reverence and Respect into it; “Do I not like this because it’s too much like someone else’s work?” or, more often, “Can I live with this being my style, published under my name?”

Whatever decisions are made like this, they’re made in tandem with my editing and are worked in—quickly—where they belong; and, of course, it’s important to note “quickly” because, for me, part of Drive having such a stranglehold on my process was the idea that making whatever finite decisions and subsequent changes would take a ton of work. It doesn’t; the start of my editing session a few days ago was changing the name of one science from Alchemy to Mnemography. Making that change, along with changes for related nouns (“Alchemicals,” “Alchemical Belt,” etc.) took a grand total of two minutes. In total, from realizing “Alchemy” didn’t make sense to deciding that I like “Mnemography” a lot more, I probably spent about ten minutes trying out different names, five minutes looking up “mnemo” to figure out why my brain threw it at me, and twenty minutes shooting an email about it to another writer, during the writing of which I decided I loved it… regardless of asking that other writer for opinions about it (“Which dress do you think I should wear? This one, or thiiiis one?”). Maybe this is cheating, but I also decided all of the related nouns for the science in that email. So, overall, from Drive to Decisiveness and execution, it took about thirty seven minutes. It’s not always this smooth, of course, but the goal is always to have as little time between deliberation and execution as possible.

And on the note of it not always being easy, maybe you noticed that I’m saying all of this after talking about neurotically changing monsters. And, obviously yes, I totally am still Driven to make things perfect, but the key is that I don’t let Drive stop me anymore—I don’t write in a monster that I hate and then get salty about it and ignore my story for a while; I have a full cast of monsters already in the book that I already like, but when an alternative idea for one comes up, I dive in and change it as quickly as I can, or, if the stars align and Escribyr, the Dwarven God of Writing, smiles down on me (up at me?), the monster isn’t actually in my book and I just spend twenty minutes editing one entry in my world glossary file and I’m done.

And I don’t want to keep ranting about this, so, the point is, Drive should never, ever stop a writer, and the way to make sure it doesn’t is to be Decisive.

If you are the kind of writer who second-guesses everything—if you are a slave to Drive like I’ve been—then just know that the decisions you’re considering and the changes you’re putting off making can be done in seconds. Those elements you aren’t sure about that are keeping you from actually writing your story can be sorted out in an afternoon. All it takes is devotion to finding an answer, some Acceptance, a little sprinkle of Respect for your own work on top, and a side of You Don’t Have Forever, Dammit—Write Already.

~~~

By the way, yes, Escribyr does wield a quill pen that has a massive warhammer on its feather end. How does that even work? I’ll let you decide.

As always, thanks for reading! And come back around the middle of the month for the final article in this series, in which I’ll discuss the Understanding that not everyone will love your work… and the Awareness that you might be infatuated with your own story. It’s gonna be good!

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