Beginnings: Not just for Page One

Here’s a post from Kill Zone Blog: Beginnings – Not Just For Page One

I’m editing the post below, largely by adding [stuff] to clarify the point this post is making. I think is a thoroughly worthwhile point.

Most readers use chapter and scene breaks as stopping points. One thing my [critique] partners and I are aware of is how it’s critical to ground the reader at the start of each chapter, scene, or POV switch [so the reader won’t be confused when they pick the book back up]. …

Unlike Chapter One, Page One, new chapters don’t have the same compelling “hook the reader” conventions. The reader should already be vested in the characters and the conflicts so they want to keep reading. [But] how do you make sure you’re not creating what’s going on? moments? … [At the beginning of every scene or chapter, you] need to ground the reader in the who, where, and when.

You should be able to work all of these into the first sentence or two in the new scene. Action beats are your friend. If the previous chapter ended with a question, it can’t hurt to remind the reader what the question was. Subtlety is your friend here. You don’t want the “moving right along” reader to feel that you’re being repetitive or casting doubts on their intelligence. [But you don’t want the reader to be confused, either.]

This is very true! When you finish a draft and decide to rechaptinate (is that a word?), then one thing you need to do is look again at the beginning of every chapter and make sure the reader is grounded in the story. This is probably less crucial if you ended the previous chapter on a cliffhanger, as the reader probably turned the page. It’s WAY more crucial if your chapters alternate between pov protagonists or in some other way you’ve taken the reader away from one plotline and now you’re bringing the reader back to that plotline. You can bet that the reader will be more comfortable with a reminder abut what was going on. This doesn’t in any way cast doubts on the reader’s attentiveness. This is just something that any reader will probably appreciate.

Of course you don’t want to do that with an As You Know, Bob conversation. (Probably you don’t.) But it does mean what you need to ground the reader in that part of the story again before, or as, you move forward.

If you’re switching pov characters, it’s a no-brainer that you should use the name of the character you’re re-joining in the first paragraph of the story. Maaaaybe the second paragraph, but probably the first paragraph. If you’re writing in first person and the character is therefore not thinking of herself by name, someone else needs to think of her by name, or you need to make it CRYSTAL clear that you’re back in her pov in some other way.

Of you’re not switching pov, but you are moving through time or shifting location, then you need to clearly indicate to the reader where and when you are. That’s why chapters often include some equivalent of “The next morning, we …” or whatever.

In fact, one of the things my editor (Navah Wolfe, a very good editor) wanted me to do with Winter of Ice and Iron was add a reference to time at the beginning of every single chapter. The action in that book moves inexorably toward midwinter, so keeping track of the passing weeks and months was important. That’s why I eventually came up with names of the month. Wolf Month, the Month of Bright Rains, and so on. Those were fun to come up with, but the reason I came up with those month names in the first place was to add time indicators to an early paragraph in every single chapter. Doing that in a smooth, subtle, non-repetitive way was of course a challenge, but not actually that difficult. The sixteenth day of Fire Maple Month offered a bright and pleasant Autumn morning … like that.

Sometimes an author is so good at voice that it’s totally clear from the moment any character opens his mouth who that character is, even without providing his name. This is an admirable skill. But no matter how good you may be at voice, I wouldn’t lean on that skill too heavily. I’d provide the character’s name anyway. And a reference to time or place, or both. Not just at the top of every chapter, but at the top of every scene — a point the linked post makes. Every scene shift involves a jump in time or place or both, so each is a potential point of confusion. Don’t confuse your reader. Not even for a second. It’s part of the craft of writing to provide orientation to the reader so smoothly that it doesn’t seem repetitive or even noticeable. If you pay attention to that craft of a well-written story, this is something I think you’ll notice the author doing.

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Tasmakat Update: Progress!

Okay, so, I must admit that I just took a break yesterday evening and finished the first book of Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation. This reminds me of this joke that I heard back when I was in grad school:

How do you know you’re in grad school? Because guilt is an inextricable part of relaxation.

This was true then and of course it’s true now. I think this is the default position for most writers, probably. How else could we ever get anything finished? Anyway, I did write 4500 words on Sunday, so that was fine.

We are across the Break! We are in the country of sand! We are riding camels. The country of sand has, as I’m sure you’ve realized, a strong Egyptian vibe. We’re going to see pyramids and everything. I mean pyramids the way they SHOULD look, with the brick sheathed in limestone, marble, and gold. And we’ll meet one of the ro-antalet, the rulers of the country of sand, who are — I’m sure you remember this — giant lions with the heads of men. Or women. I think the ruler of this country is a queen, in honor of Hatshepsut. I have a biography of Hatshepsut somewhere on my TBR pile, but I have to admit, it’s been there for years, who knows if I’ll ever read that.

Anyway, this definitely counts as progress. However, it may move more slowly for the next bit because I don’t have a vivid image of the next scene, just a clear notion of where we are going to end up soon plus a broad outline for the upcoming crisis.

Oh, and I also bathed five of the dogs this weekend. That’s a good afternoon activity in hot weather, and for some reason several of them have wanted to roll on the gravel roads recently, like birds in a dust bath. Clouds of dust everywhere! Thus, baths. I still have one dog to do. The outdoor sink is a great item to have if you have a bunch of dogs.

Trimmed 90 claws. Didn’t quick anybody. I’m good at it and they’re cooperative. I just had to do five of them. Naamah didn’t really need hers done because the vet does that as an adjunct to any surgery and she’s the one who had pyometra a few weeks ago. Elli didn’t need hers done yet. Elli isn’t exactly mine, except in the sense that all my puppies are always my puppies. She’s a 13-year-old who comes to stay with me now and then while her real owners handle other things in their lives. I’ve got her till November or December this time around. She’s a very easy dog to have around, no trouble at all, so that’s fine. No heart murmur either. I don’t exactly regret placing Elli as a pet — she’s not very pretty and she’s rather over the size I’d prefer — but if I’d known she’d never develop a murmur … well, crystal balls, still in short supply.

Clipped my oldest, Keya, whose coat gets out of control. She’s losing muscle tone and proprioception in her rear legs, but she can stand well enough if I cover the table with a non-skid surface and don’t keep her on her feet too long. And she’s more than willing to cooperate with all grooming if you just provide occasional treats. Very into treats, Keya. She used to stand like a rock in the show ring, gazing up at me and wagging her tail, utterly ignoring everything because she knew I was the one with the chicken. Her ideal life is to sleep on a cushion and eat treats, so she’s pretty much living that life. She looks just like a puppy when she’s clipped down, but alas, this year she’s definitely showing her age. She’ll be fourteen in a few weeks, which is hard to believe.

So, that was my weekend!

This week: I need to take a careful look at tomorrow’s lab so I know what we’re doing. And the first test is Thursday, so I’ll (sigh) be grading that. It’ll be a harder test than most of these students are used to, probably. If they know the material, they’ll be fine. If they’re depending on guessing their way through a multiple-choice test, they won’t be fine. I very specifically explained the difference between “feeling that a term is familiar when you see it written down in front of you” and “being able to pull the definition of a term out of your own head without Google to help you.” I very clearly described how to memorize material that doesn’t interest you. We’ll see how it goes. There are bonus questions sprinkled through the test, which will particularly help those who are paying attention in lecture. And six essay questions, pick any three, and if they answer more than three, the best three get graded.

I will add, some of these students are going to do great. I can easily pick out four or five or six who are probably going to get As or maybe high Bs. I mean both on this test and probably for the class as a whole. Especially after the dire things I was hearing from instructors last year, I’m really happy with this bunch of students. I already know which student’s test I’m going to grade first and use as a key for the rest. This young woman may not get the top score, but she’ll be up there. She has a lot of positive energy too. I’m fairly sure she’s going to pull the students who sit next to her up about half a letter grade just because they’re sitting near her while she radiates interest and engagement. This is the kind of student who I’ll be telling, at the end of the semester, that if she needs a letter of recommendation in five years, she should ask me. I’ll remember her and I’ll write her a glowing recommendation. I mean, it’s early yet, but I would bet money that’s how well she’ll do.

So that’s how it’s going for me! I hope you all had a good weekend too, and are looking ahead at a good week.

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Would you turn the page?

Here’s one of those interesting “Flogging the Pro” posts at Writer Unboxed: Would you turn the page of this bestseller if you didn’t know the name of the author?

Here’s the the page:

U.S. Open September 1994

My entire life’s work rests on the outcome of this match.

My father, Javier, and I sit front row center at Flushing Meadows, the sidelines just out of reach. The linesmen stand with their arms behind their backs on either side of the court. Straight in front of us, the umpire presides over the crowd high in his chair. The ball girls crouch low, ready to sprint at a moment’s notice.

This is the third set. Nicki Chan took the first, and Ingrid Cortez squeaked out the second. This last one will determine the winner.

My father and I watch—along with the twenty thousand others in the stadium—as Nicki Chan approaches the baseline. She bends her knees and steadies herself. Then she rises onto her toes, tosses the ball in the air, and with a snap of her wrist sends a blistering serve at 126 miles per hour toward Ingrid Cortez’s backhand.

Cortez returns it with startling power. It falls just inside the line. Nicki isn’t able to get to it. Point Cortez.

I let my eyes close and exhale.

“Cuidado. The cameras are watching our reactions,” my father says through gritted teeth. He’s wearing one of his many panama hats, his curly silver hair creeping out the back.

What do you think? You can click through and vote, by the way.

My instant reaction: Oh, sports, not interested.

My second reaction: Well, for something involving sports, this author is doing a good job getting me to be interested.

It’s not the first sentence, though that’s a good first sentence. That alone isn’t enough to overcome my utter lack of interest in sports. I’m so disinterested that I’m not even sure what sport this is. Tennis? Maybe tennis. I don’t care. However, I start to be drawn in at “I let my eyes close and exhale.” This person’s reactions are starting to interest me. The father’s reprimand, “Cuidado. The cameras are watching” — that’s good. That’s starting to set up not only tension, but also the relationship between the protagonist and the father. I could care less about the game, but I’m at least somewhat interested in the people.

My conclusion: yes, I’d turn the page. Let me click through and vote … ah, I’m in the minority! Two-thirds of the votes are for not turning the page. Ray Ramey, the guy who does these posts, also votes no. That’s interesting! Why does he give this page a thumbs-down?

And then there’s one of my pet peeves, someone saying something with their teeth gritted. Have you ever tried to do that? It isn’t natural and is very difficult to do. Also, what about this sentence:

I let my eyes close and exhale.

Her eyes are exhaling?

Oh, that’s funny! I didn’t have a problem with either of those sentences. How about you? Is that a pet peeve for anyone else? I think you CAN speak with gritted teeth! I just tried it and it seemed to work for me. Also, it’s an expression that just doesn’t rub me the wrong way, whether it’s read literally or not. In the same category, I have no problem with “he hissed” even if there are no sibilants in the spoken sentence.

Also, I read that as “I [let my eyes close] and [exhale].” That’s fine, no comma needed, nothing wrong with the syntax, but I agree, now that Ramey criticized it, sure, I’d revise it. “I exhale, letting my eyes close” would be fine and avoid any risk that someone would read it as “I let my eyes [close and exhale].”

Ramey also critiques the tennis. Yes, okay, so it was tennis. I’m sure that was obvious. As far as I could tell, it could have been racquetball or maybe some other sport I have just forgotten about because I don’t care. As you can see, this is among the bottom ten of all things I would ever critique. Obviously I know so little about sports that the author can make any number of egregious errors having to do with sports and I’ll never notice.

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Novel Openings: Romances

Okay, so, a little while ago, I picked up a bunch of samples and a couple full ebooks based on this post about gentle romances and related comments, so let’s take a look at how some of these romances begin and check out what kind of immediate impression they may make.

I should add, I’m not reading ANYTHING right now. I don’t have time. The second Gael and Keir book? I stalled out, not for any fault in the book at all, quite the reverse — because I hit a particularly engaging scene and thought, I don’t have time to read the whole thing right now, so I better stop.

Ditto for An Immense World, which I trust you are all enjoying. It’s really good! But I don’t have time to read it!

ALMOST ditto for Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation. I’m at an exciting scene — various people summoned The Left Arm Demon, I’m not sure what that will turn out to be, but various apprentices are collapsing left and right, and Wei Wuxia leaps in to fill the breach, and … I don’t know! I haven’t had time to find out what happens next! (To be fair, I will read the rest of that particular scene tonight.)

But MOSTLY all that I’m reading now are the Murderbot novellas and bits of the second What If? book by Randall Monroe, which dropped yesterday, by the way, so if you didn’t preorder it, there you go, have a link. It’s just about perfect for reading one short essay and then putting down, so I’m delighted to have it. It couldn’t have hit the shelves at a better time.

I REALLY do not have time to read actual books because (obviously) Tasmakat, and (equally obviously) this dratted General Biology class are taking up my time. I particularly want to focus on Tasmakat and therefore I specifically do not want to get drawn into somebody else’s book.

However, I have no objections to expanding my already huge TBR pile and moving titles up and down the immense virtual stack, so, since I hadn’t yet looked at these romances, let’s look at just a few of them now.

In no order:

`1) When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare

September 21, 1808

Dear Captain Logan MacKenzie,

There is but one consolation in writing this absurd letter. And that is that you, my dear delusion, do not exist to read it.

But I run ahead of myself. Introductions first. I am Madeline Eloise Gracechurch. the greatest ninny to every draw breath in England. This will come as a shock, I fear, but you fell deeply in love with me when we did not cross paths in Brighton. And now we are engaged.

I’m instantly drawn in. This is totally charming. also, historical, so that’s a plus. I enjoy epistolary formats. This book offers just snippets of the letters Madeline writes to her fictitious beau. Tessa Dare is very well known, of course. I expect her to be good, and this beginnings suggests that she is. The title is ridiculous. But setting that aside, I like this a lot.

2) Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

I am up in the clouds now, drumming my fingernails on a countertop.

Outside the window, in an ever-swirling fog, there’s a pink neon sign that spins at an all-the-time-in-the-world tilt, which reads MAYBELL’s COFFEE SHOPE AU. Beneath, with one of the letters blinking out: Open 24 Hours.

My AU (alternate universe) café has taken years to build, the past three months being its busiest season yet. I’ve put up fairy lights and aqua tiles, floppy houseplants and red vinyl booths. A jukebox comes to life whenever I glance its way, spontaneously playing one of my favorite songs. Maybell’s Coffee Shop AU is the most beautiful place I can imagine, and I’ve imagined lots of places.

The fog breaks on cue. I glance up, on high alert, knowing what happens next because it’s happened before a hundred times. A story with a scripted beginning and boundless possibilities for how it might end.

I’m intrigued and baffled. Is this literally an alternate universe? Surely not? And yet? Let me go back to the description on Amazon and take a look …

Maybell Parish has always been a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when Maybell inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start.

Okay, so she’s daydreaming! This is a fantasy of hers! Okay, good to know. I bet people who read only romance and not fantasy aren’t going to have that Could it be? reaction to the opening. It’s just such a concrete, detailed daydream! I really wasn’t sure.

3) The Best Man by Kristen Higgins

On a beautiful day in June, in front of literally half the town, wearing a wedding dress that made her look like Cindarella and holding a bouquet of perfect pink roses, Faith Elizabeth Holland was left at the altar.

We sure didn’t see that one coming.

Wow, I didn’t see that coming either! I think this is a good opening, but not necessarily inviting. This is a prologue, by the way. I didn’t flip ahead to look at Chapter 1. The prologue is long enough that I just thought fine, let’s start here.

Did you notice how the protagonist is buried in a first person plural “we”? When does that shift? I’m flipping ahead through the prologue and the whole thing is first person plural! For pages and pages of backstory! That’s certainly … daring. Does it work? I don’t know; I haven’t settled down to actually read it. Okay, I’ve flipped to the first chapter and it looks like Faith is indeed the third-person protagonist. I wonder what the point of starting with second person plural backstory was? Is the person thinking “we” and “our town” and so forth ever going to be identified? I have no idea.

4) Digging Up Love by Chandra Blumberg

Alisha’s car wouldn’t start — again. She growled and hit the steering wheel with the heel of her hand. Why was she surprised? Every penny she earned went straight to her bakery fund, not upkeep on her run-down ride. But she did not have time for this tonight, not when she needed every second to get ready to share her big news.

Before she could head back inside to ask for a jump, her phone lit up. FaceTime with her little sister could either brighten her mood or send it spiraling south — Simone did nothing by halves, and resisting her whirlwind was as futile as taking a stroll in a hurricane. But Alisha never dodged her sister’s, calls even on her busiest days.

This is … okay. It’s contemporary, while I somewhat prefer historicals. But besides that … it’s just okay. Let me think about why. Is that metaphor in the second paragraph not working for me? Maybe it’s not. “Nothing by halves” doesn’t really match the whirlwind metaphor. Come to think of it, “brighten” and “heading south” don’t really match either. Maybe that’s what’s going on here. Not that I’d stop with just these two paragraphs. But I’m not instantly drawn in.

Okay, for this set of romances, I definitely go first for (1) When a Scot, and then (2) Twice Shy. For me, the beginning of (3) Best Man is interesting, but it’s making me think about the stylistic choices, not about the story. And (4) is the least immediately engaging.

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Speaking of Book Reviews, Here are Some To Check Out

For quite a while, maybe all year, Scott Alexander at Astral Codex Ten has been posting very long book reviews by other people.

This was a contest, with monetary prizes for the book reviews that won.

Here’s the post.

Here are the winners:

So you see, a considerable variety of topics are represented. There are ten others that were finalists and about fifteen or so honorable mentions.

I haven’t read most of these reviews, and none of the books, almost all of which are nonfiction. (The God-Emperor of Dune is here, though! I read that one!)

The few reviews I have read have been really long, thoughtful, and fascinating, and now that links to the winners, finalists, and honorable mentions have all been gathered up into one post, I will probably read more of these reviews, and possibly some of the books. I thought some of you might also like to take a look.

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Writing Book Reviews

I’m so far behind in transferring reviews from this blog to Amazon and Goodreads, it’s not even funny. I promise I will make an attempt to do that soon. The problem is, I always have to edit reviews as I cross-post them, and that takes a certain amount of time and attention. And I have to do it from a real computer; I can’t do it from home. Still, I need to do it, and I will.

But this post isn’t actually about that. It’s about how readers sometimes write reviews.

This is a post from Book Riot: THE WORDS “I WANTED” DO NOT BELONG IN BOOK REVIEWS

And immediately, my reaction is, Yes, that’s probably true. I mean, we all know what this post is probably focused on, right? The kind of review that says, “I really wanted a coming-of-age story, and this isn’t that. I was very disappointed. One star.”

Or even, “This novel was well-written, but I wanted a happy ending. I hated this ending. Four stars, I guess, but I was really disappointed.”

On the other hand, now that I think about it, there’s a biiiiig gap between someone who says, “This isn’t what I wanted, one star” and someone who says, “This wasn’t what I wanted but it’s objectively good, four stars.” It seems to me that the former is an example of a bad review (I mean, a low quality review), while the latter might well be fine. It depends, I suppose. If the only criticism is “I expected something else,” then I think I agree with Book Riot. However, if the criticism includes “I expected something else” but also includes a thoughtful critique of why the book led the reader to expect something it doesn’t offer, that’s different. Or I believe it’s different.

Let me just take a look at the Book Riot post and see if this is the focus.

Scrolling back through my Goodreads reviews, I [the author of the post] eventually come across ones full of “I wanted” sentences. Some of them are vague, as in: I wanted more. Some are specific, as in: I wanted to know more about X character, but the book is about Y character. Or: I wanted the author to focus more on plot and less on description. Or: I wanted this book to be a love story, but all of this other stuff kept getting in the way.

… there are two kinds of “I wanted” statements that appear in reviews, both of which I used to employ with some frequency. The first is the kind Alameddine is talking about, statements that have nothing to do with the book at all. These statements are usually about the reader. They’re not even about the reader’s experience of the book — they’re about the reader’s experience of the book they wish they’d read. …

The other kind of “I wanted” statements that I see all the time are actually valid criticisms or observations clouded in this vague “I wanted” language. These statements are even more infuriating to me because the vast majority of them could be rewritten into thoughtful reviews.

Oh, now, that’s interesting! This is an assertion that using the phrase “I wanted” is a signal that the review lacks thoughtfulness. Maybe it is!

But in a lot of cases, these “I wanted more” sentences are actually getting at something the author is or isn’t doing. Whether that thing is good or bad (or, more actually, whether it works for you and why) can help other readers figure out if that book is going to work for them.

Years ago, I would have written a scathing review about how I wanted answers, closure, a tidy resolution, and rated it poorly because I didn’t get any of those things. Happily, I’ve gotten better at writing reviews and thinking critically about books. So instead of writing, “I wanted closure and there wasn’t any, this book sucks!” I wrote: “I loved the first half! But then my brain started doing that “explain! explain! please explain!” dance, and the lack of explanation was just too distracting. So, for readers like me, who crave explanations, maybe know that this is a book that explains nothing. If you prepare yourself for that, and can manage your expectations, it’s a beautiful story about grief and transformation.”

This is a really good point! The author of this post has done a great job of pulling me around to pretty much agreeing with her, when I don’t think I leaned that way at the beginning.

On the other hand, I do think the first version is perfectly fine as long as you leave off the final clause. I wanted closure and there wasn’t any is a perfectly fine sentence that ought to indicate to anyone who reads the review: and if you also want closure in your novels, you’ll probably hate this too. The trick is to leave off the concluding “This book sucks!”

I will just add, there are obviously possible exceptions. If a reviewer writes: “I wanted a book that was basically readable, that showed some degree of facility with the English language, that wasn’t chock-full of typos, and that had something resembling a plot, or at least coherent events that were somehow tied together. Unfortunately, this book lacked any of the above. One of the worst book-shaped objects I’ve ever wasted time reading.” then that seems pretty fair to me.

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Kingfisher and Wombat

Ursula Vernon is laying out a choose-your-own-adventure story on Twitter. It’s highly amusing

This is a use of Twitter that I haven’t personally seen before and I hereby declare that it is The Ideal Use of Twitter.

The story is still ongoing at the time I type this. If you get down to the bottom, you can vote on what Our Hero ought to do next.

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Defining Positive Fantasy

All right, so, I went to a panel on “Hopepunk” fantasy at WorldCon, and this panel was somewhat disappointing to me because it included an (accidental) bait-and-switch. The panel description mentioned The Goblin Emperor, but the panelists had a very specific definition of “Hopepunk” that excluded The Goblin Emperor and any book like that one.

Their basic definition:

Hopepunk = fantasy with a gritty feel, in which the protagonist and the protagonist’s friends and/or community of outsiders push back against a repressive political system.

Really, the panelists seemed to limit the term to that very specific sub-sub-sub-genre. Now, in some ways, I agree. I think that “punk” in the term does indeed imply gritty, and I guess I’m okay with the rest of that definition, though I don’t think it’s necessarily part of what I think of when I think of cyperpunk, steampunk, hopepunk, silkpunk, or any other type of fantasy with “punk” in the name. But I do think that a gritty feel to the worldbuilding is implied, and that feel is almost (but not quite) absent from The Goblin Emperor. The panelists agreed. They were uninterested in The Goblin Emperor and books of that type.

Well, I’m interested in that sort of novel. I’m not keen on the kind of fantasy the panelists focused on. I can only tolerate so much grit. If the worldbuilding is gritty, then the book needs to be way better written or I won’t be able to tolerate it, and even then, it’s pushing uphill. That’s just not what I prefer. Plus as the political situation in the novel gets more repressive, I start to find it more claustrophobic. Plus that’s not the type of story I like best anyway.

So, then … if The Goblin Emperor is not hopepunk, what is it?

Other terms got tossed around during this panel. “Sweetweird” was one of those. I think the term practically defines itself, but I’d never heard it before. If you also haven’t heard it previously, here’s a post about it.

Coined by sci-fi and fantasy novelist Charlie Jane Anders, “sweetweird” describes a certain kind of media that centers the loving and nourishing power of friendship in a strange, bizarre, and difficult world. … “The core idea of sweetweird is: the world makes no sense, but we can be nurturing, frivolous and kind,” Anders writes in “The Sweetweird Manifesto.” “We don’t have to respond to the ludicrous illogic of the world around us by turning mean and nasty, or by expecting everyone else to be horrible. At the very least, we can carve out friendly, supportive spaces in the midst of chaotic nonsense, and maybe help each other survive.”

When we’re defining a type of fantasy by including “the world does not make sense,” that seems to me to put that in the realm of magical realism or maybe some types of supernatural horror. A world filled with or typified by chaotic weirdness does not seem very attractive to me, regardless of whether the characters are nice to one another. Although certainly I’d prefer that to a world of chaotic weirdness where the characters are mean and nasty to one another. Regardless, this is not, of course, a sub-sub-sub-genre that fits The Goblin Emperor or other works like that, whatever those other works might be.

Another new-to-me term introduced in this panel was “squeecore,” which, unlike “sweetweird,” is not a term that immediately conveys anything to me. Except, ugh, “squee,” really? This is not a modern slang term that I actually want to see turn into a real word. If it fades out of usage in the next decade, that’s fine with me. But, always interested in new terms for sub-sub-sub-sub-genres, so I immediately looked it up. Here is a post about this, actually a transcript of a podcast that apparently got people talking about the term.

What is squeecore? You’re soaking in it. Squeecore is the dominant literary movement in contemporary SFF; a movement so ubiquitous, it’s nearly invisible. … The essence of squee is wish fulfillment. Squeecore lives for the “hell yeah” moment; the “you go, girl” moment; the gushy feeling of victory by proxy. It’s aspirational; it’s escapism; it’s a dominant, and I would even say gentrified, form of SFF.

This podcast is defining this type of SFF as being written by and for people who haven’t ever had to struggle financially. That’s where the term “gentrified” is coming from. I’m pausing here, because I know for certain that this characterization is not correct for some of the authors specifically mentioned as writing this kind of SFF. I think this is therefore a perception by people who are pushing back against this tone in SFF, but also who are not necessarily correct in their perceptions.

Also, this transcript goes on:

 … these are stories that are congratulating you for reading them, without really challenging you. They’re telling you, you’re so special and good for reading this. And a major feature of squeecore is treating the act of making or consuming squeecore fiction as a heroic political act in and of itself.

And I’m kind of thinking, about the people doing the podcast, Wow, you’re reading a LOT of stuff into this type of fiction, and I think that’s probably mostly you. That’s how it seems when I skim through the whole transcript. I will add, I didn’t read through the whole thing carefully. That’s therefore my first reaction. I’m also probably biased against the opinions expressed here because those opinions are so negative, and guess what they’re negative about? Right: The Goblin Emperor is presented as an example of this self-conscious and self-congratulatory type of YA-adjacent, overly positive, Pollyanna-ish fantasy.

Obviously I don’t agree at all. So I’m rejecting all these terms. None of them apply to the kind of fantasy I most prefer, which is, let me see if I can make a list that is reasonably accurate. Okay, here:

  1. Positive in tone
  2. Not gritty
  3. Not self-conscious
  4. High fantasy in style, or something in that ballpark
  5. Ends with the world in a better place

I realize #5 may be an extension of #1, but I think it’s a little different. The tone of the novel is obvious from the first pages. You don’t need to read to the end of, say, Troubled Waters or Chalice or The Cloud Roads to know that the story is going to be positive. You can tell that right away, immediately. They then go on to end with the characters in a better place, which is part of what the tone promises; but also, at least by the end of the series, with the world better off as well. If the characters solve their problems by essentially creating a pocket universe and crawling into it after giving up on getting the world to improve, that is not at all what I’m talking about here.

I can come up with a long list of novels that fit this sub-sub-sub genre, but we still don’t have a word for books that fit those criteria. Not hopepunk, not sweetweird, not (ugh) squeecore. The closest is therefore still …. noblebright. Which is a term that did not catch on, and no wonder. I don’t think anyone likes it much. I don’t. But the way the term is handled, it still comes much, much closer to defining the type of fantasy that includes The Goblin Emperor and other books like that than any other term I know of.

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Tasmakat Update: Let’s Not Use the Word “Momentum” just yet

Okay, so, I did take ten days or so, starting the WorldCon weekend, to cut rather than move forward. I actually enjoyed that — few hard decisions about cutting huge sections; it was almost all cutting at the sentence and occasionally paragraph level. Plus, I got to revisit the parts of the story I wrote really fast and barely remember. Occasionally I was literally saying to myself, “Oh, look at this! I remember this!” That’s kind of fun.

There are parts that are probably still too slow. On the other hand, some important foreshadowing takes place in those scenes. That’s why they’re in there in the first place. Dealing with that is most likely going to be annoying and difficult, but hey! It’s a job for later, not for now, so I don’t care.

I cut almost exactly 30,000 words, which is to say, about 100 pages, which was my goal. That makes the length of the in-progress manuscript seem insane, but not ABSOLUTELY insane, so I’m more comfortable moving forward. I’m hoping I can finish this book within another 300 pages (that’s 90,000 words, and YES, I am completely aware that that is the total length of many novels, there’s no need to point that out.) If I hope for 300 pages, I bet it’s more. But, well, whatever, I decline to worry about that now.

So, I finished cutting this past Saturday. I also paused and estimated that if I can manage 3000 words every Saturday and Sunday and 2000 words every workday, then I might about get this manuscript finished by the end of October. Yes, the Gen Bio class is definitely in the way. Definitely. But working out that calculation immediately made me feel better. That daily goal strikes me as (a) challenging, but (b) also reassuringly within reach. It makes me feel that this project is under control. I don’t have to hit that deadline, there’s not that kind of stress, but seeing “the end of October” pop out of this kind of calculation makes me feel that probably I’ll be typing THE END at least in November somewhere, not next January or anything dire like that.

Also, I wrote 5000 words on Sunday. And I know exactly what I’m doing next, which is even better! I don’t want to declare that I’ve recovered forward momentum, but I hope I have. Ryo had an intense conversation with Soretes that sorted out certain extremely important things and set up the next scenes. We haven’t left Avaras yet, but it’s now clear we’re going to be heading south almost at once.

I honestly thought Geras would be going with Aras and Ryo into the country of sand. It’s just now become clear that he won’t. He’s come all this way, for excellent and important reasons, but I’m sending him off in a different direction in the very next scene. I’m almost sure that’s what’s going to happen. It makes sense to do that, and, major perk, it cuts the character list down for the last third of the book. The middle third of the novel was quite difficult because of the immense character list. If I eventually do a major cut out of that portion of the book, I’ll probably lose some characters, and I know for certain that various readers would find that disappointing. Regardless, whittling down the character list will help simplify things for almost the entire rest of the story. Going into the country of fire: Aras, Ryo, Tasmakat, and just one other person. I almost typed that character’s name. I forget you all don’t know what’s happened so far, but I think I had better not include that name in this post, as that might constitute at least a minor spoiler.

Anyway: tonight, Ryo will have a couple more conversations, not as intense, and then I will most likely write the entire journey to the country of fire in about two paragraphs. Then he and Aras and the others will cross the bridge and head south. They have a distinct goal in mind. I’m not sure when that goal will get utterly derailed, but probably pretty soon. Probably not this coming chapter, but probably the one after that. I’m chuckling as I imagine reader reactions to the moment that happens. I’m going to get a real kick out of dropping that revelation on you all. I don’t think anybody will see it coming, although I’ve foreshadowed it.

It’s tempting to hint about it further, but I am heroically resisting the urge.

So: things are looking pretty good!

AND I have finally graded the five-page basic chemistry worksheets I created and assigned for students to do while I was gone last Thursday. I hope they didn’t find it as intensely boring to do that assignment as I did to grade it, because ugh, that was truly stultifyingly boring. A couple of them blew that off, but most of them did a decent job and some a quite good job. Overall, I’m quite pleased. I can see I need to go over a couple of terms, including what is meant by “valance electrons” if I want them to understand that. I’m a little uncertain about whether to bother. This isn’t Intro to Chemistry. In that class, the concept is really important. In General Bio, now that we’re out of the chemistry chapter, we aren’t going to mention that again.

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