Have you ever worn a Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband, or pedometer? Ever jogged along to Zombies, Run!, the immersive running game that motivates exercise with an imaginary band of zombies? How about participating in an ARG (Alternate Reality Game)?
Experts and procrastinators agree that motivation is hard to come by. Many times people need to take action, but the consequences aren’t close enough or obvious enough. We have tunnel vision about what’s needed, but it’s possible to move rewards and consequences “into our tunnel.” The book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal suggests that games are more thrilling, rewarding, and adept at tricking the human psyche into taking action and deriving satisfaction than the real world around us.
Social changes start small and grow. My flash piece “Immeasurable”, now available in Nature, explores the possibility of motivating ourselves to be better and the costs that come when people assign point values to life. It’s free online.
Think about it– we’re already being manipulated by advertisers and campaigners, so why not manipulate ourselves with points, rewards, and feedback?
If I were a real marketer, I’d motivate you with promises or offers to encourage the action I want. Leave a comment below.
My fantastic summer kept me from blogging, but hopefully everyone else was equally awesome and busy and didn’t notice. You didn’t did you?
The fourth annual Wicked Woman Writers contest is currently underway. As a past winner and long-time evaluator (like Simon Cowell but nicer) I’m always thrilled to listen to the stories created by clever female horror writers based off the current challenge. This year, each story is only ten minutes long. There are thirteen tales of terror. Check it out at horroraddicts.net. You may recognize my voice after each of the even numbered stories, as well as in the promo as one of three ghastly Norns. Norns of gods and men, comparable to the Fates in Greek mythology.
The Masters of the Macabre contest is also sponsored by HorrorAddicts.net for the guy writers.
I recently sold a short piece of near-future speculative fiction to Nature, the weekly journal of science. Naturally, I’ll let you know when that is scheduled, as well as the confirmed date for Blood Type. Unfortunately, the story I sold to Insatiable may never appear, since they have become unresponsive. I’ll keep trying a bit longer, but may have to start submitting the piece elsewhere.
I’m gearing up for great things this year, including some collaborations.
I love hearing from you. Contact me with your thoughts and ideas. Thanks!
In attending numerous writers’ conventions, small critique groups, and writer workshops I’ve realized that amazing writers aren’t inherently prepared to critique constructively. It’s a separate skill from writing.
Feedback from qualified writers leads to a more polished product than a writers get from well-meaning but untrained friends and family. However, surprisingly little instruction is provided in most critique groups. Given a handful of manuscripts and eager writers, a critiquer needs to read without bias (ignoring favorite genre leanings, for example), and provide judgment in a way that a sensitive writer can accept, internalize, and act on. It’s as tricky as plotting a 7-book George R.R. Martin series.
When I began critiquing, I did everything at the line level with ‘track changes’ enabled. This led me to feel useful (I get to show off my understanding of grammar!) but ultimately buried important observations in a flood of red comments.
Like me, many new critiquers tend to focus on small-picture items, but a sentence level approach is nearly meaningless without context.
BE A GOOD CRITIQUER: Ask the big questions first
1) Author’s Purpose for seeking a critique: Ask yourself whether the author is seeking to improve this particular piece, or general writing skills. Usually, you can quickly get a sense of the skill level of the writer. If it’s someone young or starting out, provide a different level of critique than you would give to someone seeking to finish polishing a dog-eared piece they’ve taken to every conference for the last 5 years. (Free advice: Write something new.)
2) Author’s Purpose for the piece: The intent of the author (whether they want to seek paid publication, explore an idea, or seek catharsis for a personal issue) is absolutely integral when you address the piece, but is rarely stated prior to the critique. Be certain a story is intended humorously, for example, or your comments can come off as mocking to a sincere writer. If the work is art or exploratory, then judge it at that level, but if it’s intended commercially you’ll know how to measure it.
3) Format: I’ve marveled at critiques that offer advice at odds with the format the author has chosen. Don’t ask for more back story in a Flash piece, you should expect a quick start to a short story, and don’t wonder why a novel section isn’t resolved. At the same time, I beg all submitters to mark on their submission whether the piece is complete. The critique will be so much more valuable this way! It’s frustrating to watch reviewers comment on a short story only to discover it was a novel chapter all along.
4) Genre: If the genre isn’t clear, that’s a problem with the piece. If the genre isn’t one you are familiar with, then acknowledge it and judge its other merits. I dislike it when someone bashes a paranormal romance and calls it “Twighlight-like” then admits to never having read Twilight and not knowing anything about the genre. I, too, have preferred genre (sci-fi pieces get more comments from me), but I won’t knock a high-fantasy piece for being what it is.
5) Story/Plot Elements: Address what elements of the story work and don’t. Authors are notoriously bad at identifying plot holes in their own stories. Don’t offer a solution, and if you can’t help yourself then offer it without the expectation that the writer will accept that suggestion.
6) All that other stuff you thought was important: If the other items are addressed, you’re finally permitted to point out words used incorrectly, bad grammar, and all the nit-picky basics. Choose only one or two items to mention, since it’s pointless to focus on these items if the other elements need work. If the story is poor, who cares whether the person knows how to use a semicolon or write great dialogue?
I’ve virtually given up giving line edits, since that isn’t what will help most writers grow. You want to hear the same thing we say a million times per critique session? Here’s my 30 second overview on the tips you need at each level–
- Basic: Format properly to be taken seriously; use active verbs; eliminate unnecessary words; choose pronounceable names; adhere to proper mechanics; avoid clichés. (i.e., don’t open with weather, the character doesn’t awaken in an unfamiliar room, it’s not a dream, name your characters)
- Advanced: Open with an intriguing beginning; swiftly provide who, when and where; smooth transitions; stop relying on adjectives and adverbs, especially around dialogue; adhere to POV.
- Master: Identify the theme and seek to reinforce it; suggest a market (if they plan to sell the piece); strong characterizations; is the goal and what’s at stake consistently clear?
The irony of critiques: It’s the stories I like the most that I critique most harshly, because I want them to achieve the greatness they’re so close to. I can see what they’re striving to deliver. The stories where I’m not certain of their intended message, or what idea prompted enough enthusiasm to generate the story, get fewer comments.
If you’ve ever gotten a particularly useful or useless critique, let me know about it. If you’ve ever gotten a critique from me, let me know if it was helpful, if you made changes, and how I can improve.
If you’d like me to expand on any of these points, let me know. I didn’t mean for this post to be as long as it is, actually. But I have lots to say when it comes to the art of writing, and the particularly sensitive topic of critiques.
About the Author:
Heather has critiqued in the annual Horror Addicts Writers Workshop (2012, 2013), Baycon Writers Workshop (2012, 2013), Cascade Writers Workshop (2012), Norwescon (2013), Marlene’s Writers Critique group (ongoing), and Cloudcity Wordslingers as well as online forums such as Book Country.
I’m packed and fly out early for this year’s Baycon 2013 Science-Fiction convention. It’s my third year attending, and second as a panelist.
The year’s theme is Triskaidekaphobicon, and there’s an emphasis on a new horror track that I’ll be assisting with this year.
I’ll also be bringing my family, so I’ve volunteered to help with some of the kids events, though I imagine my kids will spend part of their time across the street at Great America.
The tentative schedule has me very busy, though times may shift when I get there and see the final schedule. Here’s where I think I need to be–so say hello if you see me!
Assist with the HorrorAddicts.net table
Meet the Guest (assist with the prep)
HorrorAddicts Tea on the Party Floor
Family Friendly Spooky Cartoons and Cereal
Writing Workshop Pro (private session)
Character Slam Book [I may be double booked here with the writing workshop, in which case Emerian Rich will run the show on her own.]
Trick or Treat Carnival
Wicked Women Writers BOF
Podcast Live! Recording of Poe’s The Raven
LIVE Podcast/Skype Interview
Self-Publishing Tips & Traps
Reading from Horrible Disasters
Horror Addicts BOF
I can also be found occasionally manning the HorrorAddicts.net table and even delivering a TerrorGram if necessary.
While I was at Rainforest Writers, the Horrible Disaster Anthology was released by HorrorAddicts.net:
HorrorAddicts.net proudly presents Horrible Disasters. Thirteen authors from around the globe share their visions of terror set during real natural disasters throughout history. Travel back in time to earth shattering events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the Winter of Terror avalanches, 1950. What supernatural events went unnoticed? What creatures caused such destruction without remorse? Stock your emergency kit, hunker in your bunker, and prepare for… Horrible Disasters. Proceeds go to help disaster relief globally by way of the Rescue Task Force
My short story is set during the Winter of Terror in 1950. A vagabond ex-soldier is swept up in an alpine avalanche. Injured but alive, he encounters a hermit, a boy, and the fabled barbegazi. Trapped on the mountain beneath the looming weight of another snowy avalanche, he risks his life to free the child and defeat the monster before an unsuspecting village is buried.
The Winter of Terror is famous for the series of avalanches which killed over 265 people.
Not familiar with the Barbegazi? Here’s a copy of the Wikipedia entry and a picture of a barbegazi that I particularly like:
Barbegazi are mythical creatures from Swiss and French mythology. A variety of dwarf or gnome, a barbegazi resembles a small white-furred man with a long beard and enormous feet. They travel in the mountains that are their home by skiing with their massive feet, or using them as snowshoes. In the summer they aestivate in caves and tunnels and do not come out until the first snowfall. The word barbegazi comes from the French barbe-glacée, meaning “frozen beard”. Because of their penchant for high altitudes and low temperatures, they are rarely sighted by humans, but sometimes help shepherds round up lost sheep. Their greatest known excitement is surfing on avalanches with their remarkably large feet, but they are said to give low whistling cries to warn humans of the danger above, sometimes they will give their best effort to dig humans out from the snow.
Considering how completely adorable these creatures are, you’d think my story would be cheerful. But what fun is that?
I’ve just returned from the Rainforest Writers Village Retreat 2013. There are numerous blog posts after a writer’s retreat. If you want to hear about the general experience, check those out. This one is more personal.
At the retreat, panelists explained the difference between literary and commercial fiction—boiling it down to resonance and resolution. My week had a theme that stretched back to the first Rainforest I’d attended, last year.
Both years, I spent the week before Rainforest visiting my brother, his new baby, and his inoperable brain tumor. Surgery removed most, but not all, of the tumor. If they’d continued he would have lost language. They dominated my thoughts at Rainforest. I went for a walk and in a moment of unlikely coincidence, met another writer attending for the first time. We made friends on the path and walked back, agreeing that it’s easy to feel like an outsider. After Rainforest he thanked me in his blog for cheering him up. Only later did I find out his mother had a brain tumor. Can you imagine the conversation we could have had, if we had known? I’m glad we didn’t.
But I knew he shared my feelings of alienation. They should label the nametags of newbies at all writer’s conventions and retreats. Just attending is a huge act of bravery, and most of us aren’t the types to introduce ourselves around.
This year I knew the schedule and expectations, but still sensed people testing each other, trying to find where they ranked in the pantheon of writers. J.A. Pitts gave a lecture on the “Imposter Syndrome” which rang true for many people. It’s hard to see your own accomplishments because you know how you got there and aren’t sure you can add to your successes. I don’t think I’m insecure, until someone asks about my writing, which I’m proud of but don’t like discussing in real life (IRL). It’s a bit like first-time podcasters editing their own recordings. They’re shocked to hear their own voices, but eventually don’t notice it anymore. I’m still hearing the sound of my own voice when I talk about writing IRL, and no matter how relevant it is, it sounds inane to my ear. John Pitts argues that you need to take a stand and say what you have to say. James Van Pelt agreed, saying that writers need three things. The third of which is something worth saying.
I consciously started attending conventions and the retreat in order to step outside the insular bubble of indie authors I’d accumulated on the internet. It’s wonderful, and comfortable, but limiting. At this retreat something that should have been shop-talk, “What agents are you querying?” threw me. This isn’t the sort of thing my circle of indie authors discusses, for obvious reasons.
One person who was confident, and rightly so, was Robert J. Sawyer. Plainly successful in his career, he spoke about turning prose into scripts. Late one night, I saw him sitting on the couch with James Van Pelt on his right hand, neophytes sitting on the floor in a ring at his knee, making an imaginary director somewhere happy at the symbolic postures.
As it got later, we covered many interesting topics. If you want to realize how far you have to go, listen to insiders discuss the minutia of writer’s sartorial choices and who has a shtick to make them memorable. I didn’t know most of the people they referred to by first name.
I left thinking about all the advice given by the pros, and grateful for the new people I’d met. Next year, I’m resolved to seek out anyone new and introduce myself. Bob does a great job of that. Perhaps I can make someone’s time more comfortable. Because these annual events are starting to become milestones by which I measure my progress. And I can see the changes in other people’s lives, a year at a time.
My brother’s son is a year old and saying his first words. My brother’s tumor isn’t growing, according to MRIs. But I couldn’t help thinking of my friend from the last year. His mother died a few weeks before Rainforest and he had to give up his spot.
I hope he’ll be back next year.
My theme was progress. What will yours be?
Last year I attended the Rainforest Writers Village and enjoyed it so much I signed up as soon as registration opened for this year. I will be attending session #1 at the end of February on the Olympic Peninsula in the beautiful rainforest. And I have a plan.
In the month of February, I joined members of the Cloudcity Wordslingers in a wordcount writing contest. Each day we’ve reported our wordcount. In order to improve our consistency, in addition to word count, our speadsheet’s formula includes the chain of consecutive days in the calculated points. This has made me feel incredibly productive. By mid-month, I’d written roughly 22,000 words, so I’m looking forward to spending time editing and submitting.
See all the contest detail on the Wicked Women Writers blog.
Essentially, each woman writer who signs up will be assigned a location, an item, and a disability. She will then record a ten minute audio short story for the contest. The deadline to enter is June 20, 2013.
The men’s Master of the Macabre contest will also be announced soon!