Thursday, September 1, 2011

Critique and Revision Process

After I finish putting a story together, I am not sure that it all works. And there are probably plenty of typographical errors and maybe a grammar and/or punctuation mistake. Here is my method that has evolved over the years.

First, the story goes to my Gang of Three. I thanked my gangster friends, by name, in my acceptance speech at Writers of the Future in 2011. We are writers. We trust each others. We understand the genres we write in. We love history. We have an acquaintance with literature.

Our Gang of Three critiques are "soup to nuts." Does the plot work? Is it boring? Are there unnecessary scenes? Does the plot work? Were you ever confused about the action? Did any words sound wrong? All of it.

Then I revise. My gangster friends are generally convincing, so I take about 80% of their suggestions.

Next I send to a few writer friends who do not necessarily "get" the genre I'm working in--historical speculative fiction, mostly. Since the gangsters understand me, it's great to hear from people who are a little less on my wavelength. Once a friend pointed out how confused he was through two pages. He was not exactly sure what was going on. The problem was remedied by changing "man" in the first sentence of the story to "rider." I thought the horse in sentence two was obviously underneath the dude.

Next I throw it open to Codex, a forum for new writers, though some of the "new" writers joined a few years ago and are now highly successful. They take things apart well. By this time I have many of what I recognized as "kinks" worked out. So I usually have to consider advice seriously before I change things. However, sometimes I get a review from a friend on the forum that I immediately agree with and make lots of small revisions. The big revisions are probably done by now, though.

Finally my wife reads the story. She's a fabulous reader. She can spot all the errors that crept in from the revisions. And she reads for story and flow. Now and then she'll give me a suggestion that leads me to undo revisions that writers suggested. I trust her.

Sometimes I send to friends, but usually I never hear from them. Most are not that interested. Heck, if the world's greatest romance writer was a friend, I doubt I'd be that interested in reading her latest take on girl hates boy, girl is put in position that she can't get away from boy, girl gets interested in boy, boy gets interested in girl, then a big misunderstanding . . . See, I don't get it.

Somewhere in there I may send the story through my larger group--Stonepile Writers. But we only do six pages at a time (1500 words), so the only complete stories I would see critiqued are flash fiction. I don't do much flash. I crawl 40 page stories through, six pages at a time, though. It's good to participate. And I sometimes get a few good suggestions that I would possibly agree with. But by now the work is polished.

This seems way too complicated. But it gives me confidence that I have honed the story into the best form possible before submitting it to a seriously critical reader--a slush reader or an editor.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Idea Stories

A long time ago I talked about how I built an idea story. The idea came from saying, "We know that people vote in elections using names of dead people. But what if the living voted in an election for the dead." I was satisfied with the story. But it never sold to a speculative fiction magazine or anthology. I think the biggest problem was that the editors wants to see on the first page that this is really a speculative fiction story--wants to have someone casting a spell or projecting their consciousness onto the internet.

Suffrage has a vicious military incursion, matched by decisive explosive violence, followed by brief, intense sorrow, and then the zombies arise in the aftermath and the real crazy stuff starts. I never found a reader who said, "I stopped reading after the second page because I didn't see zombies." Readers glowed about the story. But writers have to take the business as it exists and under those conditions, Suffrage was not marketable without a big named author on the masthead that said, "Oh, yeah, you'll get zombies, baybee." I gave the story to my local university press. I'm glad people got to read it.

Then I formulated another idea story, set on an outlying planet in the reemerging galactic empire. I wrote almost the whole thing, worrying that it might become boring, then watching it become boring. The problem was that, unlike Suffrage, I only took a cursory amount of time to create characters, and the characters were mostly described by their professions. It was like science fiction from the 1950s.

Now I think I figured it out. The two characters from the empire were not just professions. They were student and teacher. Teacher is taking advantage of gaps in knowledge of the reemerging empire, to travel around and do good on a planetary scale. He has had five successes. But the empire is horrified that this loose cannon is interfering on a massive scale with social development--those interventions could have been horrible disasters. So the teacher is an outlaw.

He contacts his student so that he can do another intervention. She has the ability to work inside the empire and get resources to help him. That's the first page or so. She gets to the planet and he points her toward personally discovering the problem that he wants to solve. She agrees. She investigates--where the most ink is spilled.

Then she decides. Then comes the ending.

This story does not have the Suffrage problem. However, when the story was "all idea" it was dead. Adding the drama was the hard part.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Odds

I have written before about the long odds of writing and publishing. I am now convinced if you write well, which entails a lot, then you just have to find the right reader for the stuff you write. And this may be a huge struggle.

It is frustrating to see stuff published that you write circles around. Does that really happen? Does the industry really care who writes something as long as it is well written? One author rigorously tested that theory.

You can find this story in other places, but this blogger reports it well.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Crushing Irony of Keynesian Economics

During the Great Depression John Maynard Keynes reprised a discredited theory that government spending stimulates the economy. Frederic Bastiat, in 1850, had provided the jiu jitsu response to this old theory by asking, "When you spend, where does the money come from?" That is, if the government is giving away food, shelter, and clothing, from whence do they get the resources? The answer is often, "From taking the food, clothing, and shelter of others."

Bastiat's idea that Napoleon could not make France more wealthy by burning Paris or by breaking all the windows in France or by paying workers to dig holes and cover them up without withdrawing resources from the economy is known as "crowding out." Government activity crowds out private activity. There is an irony to crowding out that exposes just how foolish Keynes' recycling of Napoleon's idea is.

If the government decides to boost the economy by paying workers to grow potatoes and make potato chips, then private potato chip makers are crowded out. However, if the government decides to dig holes and fill them in, no private "hole-digger-filler-iners" are crowded out, because the market does not perform useless tasks.

So the more useless the government's spending is, the less it crowds out private spending. Hence, Keynes is wrong in any case. But Keynes' government spending would do the most damage to the private economy if the government did something useful.

Fortunately, government mostly concentrates on useless production, such as giving cocaine to monkeys, constructing bridges to nowhere, and building tunnels for turtles to walk under the highway.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


In my acceptance speech at Writers of the Future, I said "Thank you," a lot of times. And just now I got another rush of "thank you."

Due to Writers of the Future, excellent professional writers will give me the time of day. They know who I am. Many have offered to help and some have already helped. I am a member of an online group of newly minted professional writers and some young giants in the field.

All of my "Thank yous" from my acceptance speech are still the core of what took me to where I am. But it just occurred to me that I owe even more thanks than before.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hewlett Packard dv8 FAIL

I have written about my Pavillion dv8's problems before. It starts flipping the wireless on and off, along with the treble and bass controls as if it were haunted. I find lots of people with this same crazy problem on the internet. You can even see videos of the problem on YouTube.

An engineer solved the problem last February. But he is not an HP employee and HP techs still have no clue that there is a solution, even though it is on the HP support forums. So tomorrow I mail my computer to HP again and hope that they will follow the solution. The difficulty is that solving the problem is not exactly their job description. They are supposed to follow a preset algorithm, do various tests, and try stuff.

Last time I sent the computer to them it was over 20 days before I got it back. The problem did not recur until a month later, but it built over time and now it's paralyzing me for longer periods of time. I could just take the computer apart and fix it myself--it involves taping some stuff to shield from static. But that would void my warranty, so if my motherboard fries next week, I'll be out of luck.

I am not optimistic.