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Not Enough Credit, Not Enough Time: Thoughts on Writing Pt 4 (and Final)

This will conclude my series of writing advice here--but I'll still be posting for another ten days or so, have no fear. (Or have fear, if you haven't dug this.) I'll be at Boskone this weekend if anyone wants to say hello. Thanks for sticking it out this long. I hope you've all gotten something out of these--it certainly grew in the telling since I meant to just do a quicky writing post and call it a morning almost a week ago. I promise some nice techy posts to cleanse the palette.

Funny how this turned out to be a list of ten. Talk about cliche.

9. Authorial Credit

My mental processes about writing tend to flip back and forth from the idealistic to the extremely hard-headed and sensible. I both love writing with all my being, and reading too--a friend (not even an author friend) posted recently that nothing else in the world mattered but reading and writing and while I can pick holes in that as well as you can, part of me, the idealistic part, thinks there is a crazy truth in that, that stories are such a core part of being human that a massive portion of our activity on planet earth is telling and hearing them, whether or not that means getting in the publication game or the old porch-yarn here's a pot of butter for me and a tale for you magic.

I think a lot about the relationship between the reader and the writer. Because it's a weird, intimate thing between two people who are probably not going to meet. Text is fluid--there is no one book, there is the book the reader and the writer make together, and that book changes subtly for every reader because every reader is rolling up to the table with a whole different set of expectations and experiences and desires. Once you finish a book it no longer quite belongs to you in a spiritual sense, at least not as it did when it only lived in your head. It has become part of other people's heads, and mutated thre. I've heard a lot of teachers say that you should write for yourself and not an audience, and while it's true that you shouldn't pander to an audience's expectations (you can never satisfy them) to the exclusion of your own sensibilities and enjoyment, to me writing is hugely about the audience. Maybe it's my theatrical upbringing. Playing to an empty house is a fundamentally different act. And not as much fun.

So I have a number of different metaphors for that relationship. Possibly the one that gets remembered the most, which I said to a crowded room at Readercon not quite realizing the reaction it would get, is that it's a D/s relationship, and it's my book, so I'm the top. Meaning: I am creating a scene and guiding the reader through it, hoping not to screw up, to satisfy their needs, to deliver the goods with authority and power, and if they don't want to play anymore, well, safewording = closing the book.

That's the idealistic/romantic part of me, that sees the weird kind of love, that is not like anything else we call love but English is very word-poor in some areas, that happens between writers and their audience.
The hard-headed part thinks of the relationship as a creditor and a debtor. (I am quite sure this is influenced by my time as an editor, when I was very interested in the point where I could tell a story was worth reading or never would be.) The reader extends a certain amount of credit to the author--let's say 50 pages worth. And if the author can pay off that credit then that earns them more credit.

I think this proceeds very quickly: the first line earns you the first paragraph, the first paragraph earns you the first page, the first page will probably get you the whole first chapter, the first chapter will get you to chapter 3, and if a reader gets to chapter 3 and is still invested, they'll probably give you half the book if it's very long and the whole book if it's not.

That's kind of a brutal calculus, because a lot of readers will forgive a crappy first line or first paragraph, maybe they're not here for the prose stylings or they just have a lot of patience, and SFF readers tend to. But I think it's a good idea to write as though all your readers are your most cutthroat readers--they don't have the time for bad books and the Internet has trashed their attention span and they have kids and jobs and a hundred other things so the time spent with this book has to count against all of that. That first part of the book is so vital, because it spikes your reader credit score.

And if they liked one book of yours, it fascinates me how that credit stretches or doesn't. As a reader, if I loved one book by an author, I'm likely to read through at least two, maybe three more that I don't like at all before I give up on them, and even more if I hear that they've taken off in a new direction or I have reason to think they're over whatever I didn't like. So it goes from flipping over pretty fast--line, paragraph, page, chapter--to going quite slow, whole books that I just credit as being awesome because of another book I loved. Those new books have to actively not pay their bills for awhile before I cut my losses.

On the other hand, if I hate a book by an author, I'm not likely to pick up another one. They blew their credit with me already. It does happen, I can think of two major authors off the top of my head where I made a big stinkface on our first go only to fall in love with a later work.

So how does this apply practically? Well, you have to establish your credit. Those first lines and first pages really do matter--Ezra Pound cut the first 250 lines of The Wasteland--and the line he told Tom to start with is one of the most famous in the English language. Look at your beginning. Cut until you hit something you can't sacrifice, or is too awesome to lose. Consider where you're starting your story, if you've buried the lede and not given the reader something else--an interesting voice or idea or something--to pull them through. Hell, I had no idea what Snow Crash was about from the first page, but I'll be damned if I wasn't sold on reading the whole thing after one damned paragraph. That isn't always what you can pull off--but it should be the goal.

10. Radical Sincerity

So look. Here's the thing about writing. Some people think it's magical, some people think it's a job. I think it's a magical job. It's a job in that I have to go to it every day, and sit at a computer, and enter data. It's hard and I'm not always inspired and sometimes I really just want to play video games and eat cake and never think about narrative structure again. And sometimes it's not even the fun part of making things up, but the copyediting and admin and correspondence and total breakdown level exhaustion after months on tour. It is more than a full time job, and even though it is an amazing job, there is nothing particularly mystical about being a writer over, say, being a programmer.

But on the other hand, it is kind of magical. Like trauma, I'm convinced there's some chemical release that erases the knowledge of how I ever managed to write a book as soon as I've finished it. Things just drop into your head without warning and the story seems to take on its own life. For me it's a combination of playing a complex game, casting a spell, and solving a puzzle in which many pieces fit correctly but only one makes the right picture. We all come up with metaphors about writing and compare it to other tasks because even as writers we're constantly trying to understand it. We talk about muses and characters sprinting off on their own recognizance and channeling inspiration (ok, other people do. I get hives when those conversations spring up) because a lot of times we don't have a good explanation for where ideas come from, or why the story needed to go in just that way, or why on Tuesday nothing happened and at least one eyeball actually wept blood while staring at a blank screen and on Wednesday a whole story just fell out and was amazing. Why stuff that seemed phenomenally, brain-sizzlingly awesome last night is crap this morning, and what seemed like cold garbage when you finished writing it is actually pretty good when you make your editing pass. It's all weird stuff, and like most groups who suffer from low personal power and random reinforcement, we get superstitious and start churning out odd folklore.

And then you slap down your most personal obsessions and best guesses and terrors and longings and it gets mass-reproduced and a whole bunch of people (hopefully) read it and then you have to look them in the eye at readings and signings and conventions and try to black out what they know about your past, your future, how you want the world to be and what you love so that you can have a normal conversation, so that you can try to be the better self that sometimes, on really good days, goes into the work. It's not exactly normal, this thing we do. But there is a reason that so many people want to do it, and that reason is because it is awesome. Sometimes I realize the awful truth that being a writer is exactly as amazing and magical as I thought it would be when I was a kid and that's really a bit terrifying.

Almost every writer I know has at one time or another said they felt they were Doing It Wrong and there had to be an easier/faster/slower/better/less stressful/better tasting way to write a book. Not just the standard long dark teatime of the middle third of the novel where we pretty much all think we're terrible at this and should be strung up for the imposters we are, but that the method by which we accomplish books is the wrong one.

The truth is, if there's a finished book at the end of it, it's the right way to write a book. I say that having just stayed up all night for the second time this week to finish something, which I always tell myself is stupid, and I am stupid, and I am not in college and why couldn't I do it during the day like a non-vampire? But it's never been a realistic expectation of myself not to write things the way I have always written them, which is to say all in one go, usually late at night, pushing through because if I don't stop I can't doubt myself. It's part of who I am as a writer, and however you write is part of who you are, too.

I don't really think I'm any kind of expert at this, which is a scary thing to say on the Internet where No One Is Wrong. I think there has to be an easier and better way to write a book than I do, too. When interviewers ask me for advice for young writers I usually punt and say: read everything. And that's completely true, you do have to read everything, as much as possible, to even hope to take a swing at writing, and if that sounds like too much work you probably should take up another hobby. But it's also an easy answer, because all the other ones are hard and often contradictory, like avoid cliche but also give your reader something familiar to stand on. Be radically sincere. Be in love with the world because the world is this amazing place, the present and past no less than the future and you live in it and your job is to translate it and rephrase it and turn it on its head so that other people can see it the way you do, the way it might be, or almost was, or never could be but still, somehow, is true. Don't hold anything back because you never know when you'll get another contract, but at the same time cultivate calm, and realize that you probably will if you got the first one, and don't throw the kitchen sink at it. You must be at least this passionate and driven and obsessive and committed and joyful about the minutia of literature to ride this ride. Write as fast as you can because someday you'll die and if you didn't tell all the stories you had in you it will hurt. (No one believes me when I say this is the exact and honest reason that I have written so many books while being so young. I tell them: I'm going to die soon. I have to write faster. I only have fifty years or so left if I'm lucky. That's not enough time. They laugh, and I'm not joking.)

I don't know, wear sunscreen.



I'd rather build up a tan, they say now sunscreen chemicals can be carcinogenic. And vitamin D is good for you. :P


Too much sun though is a bad idea: tanning is the first stage of cellular damage. What you need is some form of shade. Maybe portable. Perhaps you could mount it on your head.

Hmm, a head-mounted sun shade: I'm going to patent that, maybe as the Headmount Against Tanning. HAT for short.

Ah, Cat? let me just say thank you for this set of articles. I'm not quite so sure I'm grateful for the D/s metaphor, but it's certainly striking (groan).


In technical writing, I use a similar rule: the 10 PM rule. The 10 PM rules says that, whatever you write, your reader is going to be reading it at 10 PM. Your reader will also have a day job, a family, children, aging parents, and many other distractions. She will be reading this be she has to. Your job is to insure that you can convey the critical information to this tired, distracted person.

Credit's a good way of looking at it. Getting your first readers to read the manuscript before bed isn't a bad idea either.


Begin in medias res and then go back (somewhere) to explain (perhaps) - worked in The Iliad ....


Nothing else matters but writing and reading ... I can appreciate that. I do love to read - over the last year or so, I've made a more conscious effort to keep reading as an important part of my life.

I don't write, mostly because I think it takes a lot of work to do poorly and more work to do well, and it's not something that I'm willing to commit to.

But I do play a lot of video games ... and reading that first paragraph, I felt like there were times where gaming was both reading and writing, and that might help to explain why I can play some games for hundreds of hours and others maybe only once or twice at a sitting.

The old-school "classic" games didn't really have a story. You were told to do one or two or four things, and that was it. Rotate the spinner to move your ship along the edge of this board; press the button to shoot; press the superzapper to wipe out everything on the screen. Repeat until quarters are gone. It was fun when that was all we had, but now, I can't play Tempest more than once or twice before I get bored with it. (Partly because I'm not good at it, but that's also true with, say, Joust. I can play it once or twice, and then I'm done.)

The larger games, though, like the Elder Scrolls series (especially Oblivion and Skyrim), capture my attention in two ways. One is the reading aspect: "What's going on in this world? What happened before "I" came along? Who do I know? Why? What else is going on? Who's that? Why do I care?" In a sense, it's like reading a visual story (and of course there are very short stories within each game, and yes, I like to stop and read them).

But the other is a kind of guided writing task. It isn't as though I can create whatever I want (well, perhaps that's not true for Skyrim; with the Creation Kit, it is possible to make significant changes to the game) ... it's more like I'm a little kid, and it's bedtime, and my grumpy uncle is telling me a story, and every now and then I interrupt him.

"So as the brave adventurer traveled north, he came across a broken-down cart, and he saw a jester standing next to the cart."

"I don't care. Don't talk to him. Keep going north."

Grumpy clears his throat. "OK ... um ... finally, the adventurer reached the gates of the city ..."

"Wait. Go around the outside of the city. Sometimes there are fun things to find there. Or people. Or maybe dragons."

You get the idea. My choices affect the narration in some ways, more so in the newer games. Still, there's another way in which I get a small sense of writing, and that's with respect to the way I play my character.

Depending on how the game is set up, there are games where I have a picture of my character and how he or she would respond to things, so when I have a choice, whether it's on the main story line or a side quest, I think about what my character would do, and I try to choose the action that best matches my picture of him or her. (This can be a problem in some games if my picture is not what the programmers intended me to draw.)

So part of the gaming experience for me is finding out how the story goes, and part of it is doing what I can to write my part of the story ... of course at best, it's a rough draft of the novel-in-my-desk-drawer-I'll-finish-one-of-these-days, but I greatly prefer that to games where your character's choices are tightly scripted. (I also have difficulty on subsequent playthroughs writing a character who is significantly different from my first one. I don't want to lay waste to that small village, I don't want to help the scheming noble who'll promise me a position of power, and I don't want to keep that treasured heirloom for myself, not even if there are trophies/achievements/gamerscore for doing so.)

Hmm. Maybe that's why I don't write. (Insert joke about long comments here.) I'm content for the most part with reading, and I'll settle for carefully-guided "writing". (I'm also quite thin-skinned, I'm afraid. I doubt I'd survive publishing my first story.)


Cat said "I think a lot about the relationship between the reader and the writer. Because it's a weird, intimate thing between two people who are probably not going to meet. Text is fluid--there is no one book, there is the book the reader and the writer make together, and that book changes subtly for every reader because every reader is rolling up to the table with a whole different set of expectations and experiences and desires. Once you finish a book it no longer quite belongs to you in a spiritual sense, at least not as it did when it only lived in your head. It has become part of other people's heads, and mutated there."

That's true as far as it goes; there are some books that I re-read and find new stuff or see existing stuff differently in every time. So I'd say that there are the author's words on the page, and then there can be the bookS that the author and reader make together.

Oh and if I comment less on a series of articles about writing than on a series about techie stuff, it's because "everyone knows I know more about tech than about writing"! ;-)


Thanks; I would never have typed that lot, and it's close enough to my opinions that I don't have to!


Starting with someone going to a party works--it worked in the Symposium, and in The Cassini Division (MacLeod), which were millenia apart. If Plato can suck people in with the promise of booze and watching people do Funny Things, it's fair game for all of us .


"... the Internet where No One Is Wrong."

I find the Internet exactly the opposite :-)


For some reason it has taken me a long time to get there, but this year I'm right there with you on working fast before I die.


I'm writing for that 80 year old me to have a wall of stories to pull down and read, so yes, now is the time to write the 40m word story that has been sitting inside me these past 50+ years. HA!

The Indie publishing world is everything that I want. I can write anything, at any time, for any reason, any way I want to, and simply publish it. I don't have to worry about levels of bureaucracy to get past just to have someone else using other people's money deciding if my books fit their line, then someone else using other people's money deciding if the books should be in their corporate store, and for other people deciding how long the book sits on the shelf before it is pulped. I can write using many pen names, never going on author tours, never signing autographs, never dealing with fervent fans who must connect with me. Fame, been there done that, and I don't even have the t-shirt; it faded in the wash, turned thread bare, became a rag used for dusting.

With Indie publishing: The books are written. The books are published. A total stranger buys a copy, reads it, and the book is complete. Total joy.


Most advice is targeted at “young aspiring writers”, but what about not so young aspiring writers? I am in my late 30’s and feel I wasted most of my youth, and only now getting into writing. Sometimes I feel too old. Is there such a thing, too old to start writing? The thought depresses the hell out of me, so I get to writing with such an anxiety I get stuck. I can literally feel the seconds ticking while I am thinking “got to write, got to write, should have done this years ago.” So, when is it too old to get started? Any advice, anyone?


There are professional writers who only really started once they retired from their main job, so yes, they do exist.

On the other hand, it's often said that the only way to learn to write is to write, and write, and write. The longer you wait, the less time you'll have had doing that writing.


The world is waiting for the first SF story written in txtspk


Doesn't work if your readers never, ever go to parties.

Unless you treat a party as an abolutely alien encounter.


Neil Gaiman's "How To Talk To Girls At Parties" is, in fact, actually about an alien encounter. Not sure if that's what you were hinting at, Alain, or if it's just irony that such a story has already been done.


I was in college in 1976 and I had a choice, become a starving author or finish my degree, get a real job with retirement, then write when I could do it for fun, rather than for money. I watched as the industry imploded on itself and realized that I'd made the right choice. Now I'm retired, with a monthly income, and at 55 I'm just starting my next career.

The advent of e-books, POD, etc..., is happening now. I've spent the past year watching the industry utterly change. This is our time. Write, finish books, and start publishing. Write whatever you want, the way you want it. There are no more gate keepers standing in the way.

If you write what you love, you will make money, but it requires that you write, finish books, publish them and keep doing that year after year.


Oh, a lot of stories have been done around that theme. But, you know, I meant it the other way around. If the readers never go to parties then they consider the very notion of a party to be an alien art form, or an alien ritual.


I've really enjoyed these posts since the second one made it's way to Austin Kleon's Tumblr, or was it BoingBoing, I can't remember.

Totally agree with the idea of giving a book fifty pages, as it's brought back a somewhat painful memory, as that was as far as I ever got with Finnegan's Wake.

Ulysses and Dubliner's are two of the finest books I've ever read, and knowing that I'll never read and understand FW isn't a nice thing to acknowledge.


The problem with "anyone can publish" is that, well, anyone can publish.

I look at what I've written, and see something which some people will read, as-is, but I see enough mistakes that I know it needs certain sorts of editing.

But I know what newspaper editors do to the letters they print, and that sort of editing I do not need at all.

And, from a customer's point of view, ebook publishing is full of low-grade rip-offs. Project Gutenberg is putting stuff out in ebook formats, and any number of people will sell you those books on Amazon, for a very modest fee.

Self publishing means that you have to fight to stand out from the dross, at any number of levels.


But how do you stand out from the crowd in self-publishing eBook market? What's the equivalent of bricks-and-mortar face-up space in an eBook marketplace? Massive publicity? Who assumes the burden of that; you, the author?

Charlie has posted on several occasions that he wants to be a writer and make a living at it. If he suddenly also needs to source his own cover art, publicize his work, ensure review copies go to the right people at the right time, and the 101 other little things that traditional publishers take on even for eBooks, then he has that much less time to actually write (which is the bit that pays the bills).

In the model of self-publishing where you write whatever you want, however you want, and you don't care whether anyone else reads it, then to my mind you've crossed that faint and blurry line from self-publishing to vanity-publishing.

"If you write what you love, you will make money, but it requires that you write, finish books, publish them and keep doing that year after year."

I think this really depends on you definition of "make money". With the odd exception, I don't think that self-publishing is a gateway to sudden riches, or even a decent paycheck. What percentage of the total number of people self-publishing are making a living? What percentage of the number of people submitting manuscripts to publishers get published? I hold my final judgement on self-publishing until someone can show me these figures side-by-side.

Another thought regarding the eBooks and self-publishing: What happens if (and probably when) big publishers finally get their act together regarding eBooks? Self-publishers are suddenly going to find themselves in the room with a 500lb gorilla, several, in fact. I think it's premature, and in the long term dangerous to a serious writing career, to count traditional publishers as down-and-out.

And finally, regarding the idea of "write what you love" and it will always find a market; I think Cat answered that one with her point 8, the "Plot, Structure, and Style" balance -- head too far off on your own track, and your readership will diminish to a grand total of one. One of the big lies that we often get told is that "everyone has one good book inside them", that we can all be writers; but the plain fact is, no we can't.

If you're happy self-publishing, and you're making some amount of money that you find satisfying while doing it, then that's great, and in all sincerity, more power to you. But I struggle to see self-publishing and e-publishing as some utopian ideal where everyone with a hankering to see their name in print will complete their opus and find their untapped audience.

(Sorry for the mild rant, but just to clarify: I'm not a published author or associated with the publishing industry in any way, these are just opinions formed after looking and listening carefully.)


Cat: "Meaning: I am creating a scene and guiding the reader through it, hoping not to screw up, to satisfy their needs, to deliver the goods with authority and power, and if they don't want to play anymore, well, safewording = closing the book."

Sounds more like a description of film/TV to me. In a recorded ore broadcast dramatic presentation the viewer is led through the action by the actors and director and author. They can choose to stop and do something else - and since cheap videorecording they can choose to rewind - but they aren't in charge. There is an off switch, but that's more or less it. The pace and sequence are controlled for you.

One reason that reading is often more fun than watching TV is that I am in charge. I can go back or forward or stop or repeat or look at the map at the begining of the book or add new bits to the story - I've been doing that since I was a kid, continuoing the dialogue or whatever, filling in backstory, telling myself what happend next, saving the phenomena of incompetant technobabble - but its all at my own pace. The book is there, in my hands. The author once thought those thoughts and wrote those words but now I am in change and they are laid out on the slab in front of me for me to do what I want with them.


But even if you are in control of how many times you re-read a scene, or how you interpret the author's words in the privacy of your own head, you can't change what the author wrote, or how they wrote it. Their original words still form the scaffolding on which you build everything else in your head.

You can record a TV show or movie, rewind it, replay bits, watch a given scene out of context, make notes, imagine the characters carrying on their dialog or interactions off screen (in fact, I would say this is the mark of good, rounded, living characters in any medium -- if you can't imagine them living outside the depicted scene, they probably lack depth). TV and movies encourage you to be more passive in your consumption, but you don't always have to be.

(Sorry, all that sounded a little more abrupt and confrontational than I intended!)


I was thinking very much the same things.


Jean Lamb: "Starting with someone going to a party works--it worked in the Symposium, and in The Cassini Division (MacLeod), which were millenia apart. If Plato can suck people in with the promise of booze and watching people do Funny Things, it's fair game for all of us ."

And The Hobbit (an Unexpected Party at that), and The Lord of the Rings, and Gawain and the Green Knight (a New Year party no less - many other Arthurian stories start at Pentecost or Easter or Christmas), and , and even sort-of for A Game of Thrones (the king turns up wanting a feast).


As one of those self-published types, I'd like to point out something interesting. Even with my efforts (and I'm just one of the crowd), it took a majority of my time to write the manuscripts, and perhaps a day or two to come up with cover art, using a very old copy of Photoshop I got as a college student.

I'm bombarded weekly with marketing tips from the companies which are selling my book. Some are useful, some aren't, but they do want to sell more of my stuff. It makes money for them.

While I'd love to have a professional editor and access to the markets that the companies have, the economics of signing on with a publisher don't make much sense either. To put it very bluntly, they appear to be charging a majority of the profits for a minority of the work of getting the story to readers. Moreover, I'd have to hire a literary attorney (probably at the cost of the advance I got as a newbie) to make sure I didn't give away rights to my firstborn son as part of the contract.

I don't know whether that financial situation can change, but for those willing to do some of their own work (such as cover art, layout, and so forth), it's not hard to make a book. It's also more useful than swanning around in a slush pile, hoping to be noticed. Making money this way is harder, but then again, so is sitting in a slush pile.


I think more people ought to know what an ancient Greek symposium was like:

"According to Plato's account, the celebration was upstaged by the unexpected entrance of the toast of the town, the young Alcibiades, dropping in drunken and nearly naked, having just left another symposium."


Sorry heteromeles, I honestly did not mean to denigrate self-publishing (though I kinda came off that way).

I do know several folks who've self published, and seem to be making something of it, but you hit on one of the key things that always gets under my skin when people discuss self-publishing. You said:

"Making money this way is harder, but then again, so is sitting in a slush pile"

That's the point: Being successful in either traditional or self-publishing is hard. Self-publishing isn't some kind of magic short cut to success as a writer, it may improve your chances, or it may not; you can be unlucky in self-publishing as well as traditional. But so many people seem to think of self-publishing as the easy route to bestseller-dom and instant success.


The biggest drawback to self publishing is lack of advertizing and not having shelf space in a real bookshop. However, that last feature is becoming less important.


I'm 57. 'Too late' means pretty much when you die. Anything before then isn't too late.

Helen Hoover Santmeyer (...AND LADIES OF THE CLUB) hit the bestseller list when she was in the nursing home. Michener didn't really get started till his 40's, and he was still writing in his 90's. Jack Williamson would have been writing in his 100's if he'd lived that long.

And nothing is ever wasted. You know things now that you never knew in your 20's, and can write people your age much better (I remembering reading one book where people were supposedly semi-immortal, but everyone acted like a grad student even if they were tottery and gray).

So, get started. Just remember, first drafts are allowed to suck.


Charlie has posted on several occasions that he wants to be a writer and make a living at it. If he suddenly also needs to source his own cover art, publicize his work, ensure review copies go to the right people at the right time, and the 101 other little things that traditional publishers take on even for eBooks, then he has that much less time to actually write (which is the bit that pays the bills).

[apologies for the long quote, but I felt it was appropriate]

This is what the old agent/publisher system used to do. As the publishers continue to lose ground, we're seeing less of it. A common complaint for years has been that 10% of the authors get 90% of the money and marketing; the rest are relegated to "product" with two to four weeks of shelf space before being remaindered.

Copy editing seems to be very much hit and miss, going by recently-printed things I read, and apparently several publishers no bother to keep an eye on their spell checker software after ramming the last copy edits through, judging by the number of homonym and near-homonym errors I've been seeing.

Marketing... for most authors, that's limited to getting some shelf space. With the decline of shelves, that's becoming harder to do.

I've been an SF fan since I learned to read, and I'd never even heard of "Charles Stross" until I came across a copy of "Singularity Sky" in a pile at a flea market. The handful of book stores we used to have is now zero (none), though there's still a video store with a few shelves of "best sellers".

Editing, markup, production, marketing, distribution.

SF has always been a niche market, though, and SF writers have been facing these problems for decades. From what I've read, the Science Fiction Writers of America was founded to try to deal with some of it.

The hammerlock on the whole thing used to be distribution - it didn't matter if you could print the finished product in your garage, because other than hawking them at cons or through newsletters, they weren't going anywhere.

anyone can write it

...but agenting and editing still lets plenty of festering crap slide by, from books that stopped so suddenly I examined the bindings to see if pages fell out, to stuff that looked like James Joyce channeling Star Trek while on LSD.

For years writers have been sitting around bemoaning the state of affairs while the publishers circle the wagons and fill out job applications. They're not all going to go away, but if 90% of their profits in a particular genre go to any specific $BIGNAME_WRITER, standard business school practice is to cut all the little fish loose and concentrate their resources where the money is. We're not quite there yet, but it's coming.

Back to the SFWA... that organization seems to be a dead end, but the reasons it was created still exist. And, criminy, this is the 21st century. We have practically instant, nearly free communications now. I can see a group of writers getting together and forming a co-op, paying for the services publishers do now, and if it was properly organized and managed, the co-op could be funded to handle an advance payment system similar to what writers are used to.

Would it be easy? No. Would it be simple? No. Would it take more of your time than just sending it to an agent? Probably. Would it be a vehicle for some people to try to grab and run for their personal glory and profit? Almost certainly. But your major alternative is to handcuff yourself to a ship that's riding a little lower in the water every financial statement. You other alternative is, if ebooks wind up dominating the market, trying to sell to Amazon, or to an agent Amazon's marketbots accept contact from.

I'd also like to point out that the last two books I bought (and paid a pretty penny for!) were both self-published, and obscure enough it took a while to track down who to buy them from. The whole world isn't accessible to search engines... yet, anyway.


Some fair rebuttals in there, and I suppose that at the bottom line the only concrete thing that we can say is that the ePub, self-pub, trad-pub thing is far from played out to conclusion. 

Ideally I'd love to hear first hand tales from someone who has solid experience on all sides, or even get the pro's to offer some reasons beyond whats already been said here for sticking with the traditional model (although I can understand that could be a bit close to biting the hand, and all that).

In the end I stick by what I said that I find it difficult to count the traditional publishers as down and out just yet. They may be riding low in the water, but that doesn't mean they're past the point of ordering all hands to the pumps and turning that sucker around.

(And I do agree that traditional publishing does not guarantee high quality, but it seems a bit similar to the old "seat belts kill more than they save" argument, to me.


Here's what I think will happen. It's a multi-part deal.

On the one hand, I'm hearing complaints from all over that authors are being forced to take on more of the publisher's tasks and/or that the publisher's are cutting the quality of what they do. This comes from academic writers as well as fiction writers, (aside: given the number of academics who've looked aghast when I suggested self publishing, I'm permanently disillusioned about how progressive academics are). Anyway, if I was comparing publishing to, say, big department stores, I'd compare them to Sears. Or K-Mart. You know that smell of desperation?

On the other hand, there's Amazon and Apple, both of which have about as friendly a smile as any shark, and both of which are trying to corner all the action.

My take is that we'll see the rise of two things: 1. The public slush pile, otherwise known as self-publishing on Amazon etc., and 2. The value-adding publishers, who have figured out how to add enough value to good slush through editing, marketing, and distribution to stay in business. The biggest of these companies will make some miniscule part of the self-pub universe into Names.

In other words, I'm expecting publishing to start looking more like American Idol.

The nice thing about American Idol is that there are a lot of niches where people make their living away from the Idol machine, and I think that's where the next generation of midlist authors will ultimately go. There probably many genre authors who can reach their audience as efficiently as any publisher could, and they may stay independent for the rest of their careers.


I am madly, heartstoppingly in love with this series of writing advice. Your voice is so clear and almost conversational and wonderful to listen to. I don't agree with everything you've said, but the idea of what you've said, the spirit of the law rather tan the letter of it, is exactly point-on. It's more than motivating to see that someone else feels the same way I do - has that same sense of wonder and terror toward writing, the two feelings so twisted up that they both become each other. I salute you, good sir. And I thank you.


I've been away from the intertubes for a while but now I've read through these posts on writing - and I can't find much to disagree with, which is lovely.

I'm not and never will be a writer, but I am a musician and Cat's advice rings true for music (and probably other arts).

In particular, the advice "Don't trust your friends' opinion of your work". That's so true - I can always spot the friends of a artist at a gig, they are the ones ignoring the performance. A few of my mates can draw a crowd, and I'll turn up to cheer them along, but I'm usually outside the venue chatting to the other musicians, where we tell each other "x is a really nice person, but god their music is terrible" - and next week, a different one of us is on stage and the rest are all bitching in the car park about them. One of my mates is touring at the moment and I've no idea why anyone would want to put themselves through one of his gigs but apparently people do, and most of them even pay!

And my own unsolicited music-based tips? Okay, just cross out music and put in writing: 1)Remember it's fun. 2)If you like it, someone else will, and John Peel will play it if nobody else does(*). 3)Get technical if you like, but it's basically about hitting stuff with your fingers, (hands, feet etc), and perhaps a bit of shouting. 4)Play every day. 5)If you are awful, so what? Awful has an audience. 6) As long as you can perform, it's never too late. 7) Don't wait for someone to ask you to do it. 8)Get a following and the deals will follow you. 9)Keep everything 10)Remember it's fun.

(*)For certain values of John Peel


Dirk @ 14 Feersum Endjinn ??


I thought that was in Glaswegian. Not one of my better reads.


I suppose a corollary is: If someone you don't know is willing to pay for your work you are doing OK. If they come back for seconds you are doing more than OK.


This is a great post and great discussion. Surely this is the making of mandatory reading (textbook or ebook) in all creative writing classes. This is a great example of why Charlie should be making money off of this site instead of just considering it advertising (and sad that some of his links go to used book sites.)

Regarding publishing options, I think there could be interesting comparisons between the relationship between big budget movies and YouTube success stories versus books and self publishing. A ranking and rating system for blogs could possibly get more recognition of the great job Charlie and Cat do on their blogs. Best wishes.


Advertizing: I think that maybe one person in 10,000 would be interested enough to buy my book. So theoretically I could sell around 50,000 copies in the English speaking world. The difference between that and what I do sell is the advertizing deficit.


You could add Ivy Compton- Burnett to the List of Mature Late Starters ...

" She was over forty when she made her debut in the 1920s alongside a much younger generation of novelists like Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, with whom she had in some ways more in common than with her own contemporaries, whose imaginations had been formed and furnished before the First World War."

I find her work ..well, not to my personal taste and I skimmed through the books that I picked up second hand but I have friends who raved about her to me. All right - One friend who Enthused about her stuff hence the second hand skimming.

There's no accounting for personal taste in fiction, and even amongst Our Hosts Published Opus there are some that i had a bit of a struggle with ..well I did read the first Two - halves of one - Novel/s in the " Merchant Princes " series but they just don't work for me, and whilst I have the remainder of the sequence they are at the bottom of a pile of un-read novels that I will get around to one of these days.

My own opinion is that Our Host is a Talented and gifted writer who is also a very pragmatic and sensible Business Man in a Very Tough Business and I'd be Bloody Astonished if he were to say that his Spread of Books, across the range of Fantasy and SF - that embraces a very wide readership in the range of his personal tastes and talent - wasn't patterned on a carefully designed Business Model of his own device after he had begun developing his talent.

On the other Paw the success of Ivy Compton- Burnett probably owed nothing at all to design and everything to accident born of a peculiar talent that I simply am incapable of appreciating.


Dirk No The "writer" had a form of dyslexia - but the idea was the same as putting in in2 txtng


Whatever it was, it annoyed me and I would not touch another book like that


My worry about self publishing is that it narrows the market from the people that can write, to the people who can write, edit, design, and self publicise.

Yes there are people who will be able to do all of these things well, but probably not all of the people who are writing today.

From looking at self published stuff on Amazon I get the impression that the editing issue is a particular issue for a lot of people.

Maybe we'll end up with a new model with wandering bands of Ronin Editors, but I'd expect that for every author who escapes exploitative publishers, two more are going to fall afoul of dodgy freelance marketers and the like.

And that's assuming they don't get drowned out in a sea of spambot reviewed fakes.

It is probably still a good time for self publishing, but only is because there aren't that many other people doing it yet, and because the traditional publishers are making some frankly deranged choices in their own approach to digital publishing. Both of those things are going to change fast.


When you get beyond fiction, I think self-publishing makes a lot of sense for niche markets. These include:

--Family projects. We're going to update the family cookbook and run it through Lulu, instead of going to the copy store. Family histories, wedding keepsakes, and such are perfect for print on demand. This is democratic publishing at its best.

--Local and obscure science. Scientific publishing is already very similar to a vanity press, and there's now little apparent reason (other than habit) for smaller scientific societies to contract with big publishers when they can print publications themselves more cheaply. All they're doing is going back to the way things were done 50-100 years ago. Similarly, things like local field guides are often already self-published, and it's only getting easier. Print on demand is great in this regard, because it means you don't have the fight with the spouse about the boxes of books in the house. If you need more to sell, you make more.*

And so forth. While print on demand does cost more, it gets around the problem of storing the books from a traditional print run. Better, it also gets around the problem of getting that stored physical copy to a person. There are a bunch of niche markets that can benefit from this.

*Yes, we're getting to online field guides. I just saw the first semi-decent one about a month ago. The two problems with smartphone guides are 1. getting the colors right (this really matters with flowers) and 2. Making sure there's decent reception for all that data, if the guide is in the Cloud. My favorite wild area has crappy reception, even though it's surrounded by cell phone towers. In much of the wild world, cell phone reception is bad to non-existent.


... and (3) having something that's fully readable in bright sun, which still is a problem with my phone screen at least.


I found Bascule's(sp?) writing initially irritating but found that it became very easy to cope with if I vocalised it while reading. From that point on I found myself really enjoying the character.

I guess Bank's must have had a lot of flak about it as there was a lot of complaint at the time and I don't think he's repeated the experiment - at least not at such a 'Trainspotting' level.

-- Andrew


I can understand a writer wanting to experiment, so I forgave him that one. "Matter" OTOH had such a lazily wrapped up stinker of an ending I doubt whether I'll buy another Culture novel.


Dirk Errr.. hate to tell you but it was not a "Culture" novel It was a stand-alone, like "The Algebraist" and "Against a Dark Background"


Greg wrote:

DirkErrr.. hate to tell you but it was not a "Culture" novelIt was a stand-alone, like "The Algebraist" and "Against a Dark Background"

Which, Matter? No, it was a Culture novel. All the references and reviews I'm finding back me up on this - most of the key people in the endgame there were SC or SC-associated, and the Culture and others are referenced extensively, though I haven't completely re-read it just now to verify all the details.


Re Feersum Endjinn -

Attempting to read it actually caused me a low end migraine after about an hour, which is unique in my reading experience. Other books and magazines and so forth I've thrown across a room out of frustration and getting fed up with stupidity, but never actual pain.

Couldn't ever finish it.

I appreciate what he was trying to do, but can't read it.


I rather liked Feersum Endjinn. It pretty much is only the spelling, not the language, that is being played with. The actual language is pretty straightforward English. Well, nearer to what we speak now than Shakespeare is (and the spelling nearer than Chaucer)

Anyone read Riddley Walker? It does something similar with spelling (utterly different book in all sorts of other ways).


GW Herbert @ 50 We were talking about "Feersum Endjinn", NOT "Matter" - pay attention at the back, there!

54: 48 is about Matter, #49 (which is addressed to #48) says "not culture". So you wouldn't have to be that dim to be confused?

Feersum Endjinn's the only Banks I won't read again, though I enjoyed it. Hopefully nobody's considering writing a whole book in 1337speak.


I agree that "Matter" did not leave me hankering for more Culture novels, it felt like it was hastily written to satisfy publisher/fan demand after the full-circle kind of wrap up in "Look to Windward".

However, I would recommend that you give "Surface Detail" a go -- I thought it was much better, back closer to the quality of the previous Culture novels. It struck me as a kind of anti-Culture novel, like it took all of the wodnerful tech that the Culture used to make life easier for it's inhabitants and looked at the dark side of that, at how other civilizations could use it to opress their people. Plus it had one of the best Ship-characters in any of the books (I thought)!


Cat - congratulations on your Nebula nomination for 'Silently And Very Fast'.




It most certainly did not stand alone.


I might get Surface Detail from the library if I see it, but won't buy it.


Dirk, I'm sure you'll be 'delighted' to hear that a story written entirely in txt-speak is on the longlist for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2012.


If it wins, I plan to protest by saying WITM8


It's just as well the moderators here don't speak txtspk or you might find that comment removed for gratuitous rudeness.



Speaking of money matters, if Charles is reading this maybe he could comment on such matters with respect to authors. Everything from accountants, accountancy requirements and costs, to what is tax deductible, to the effects of (small) royalties on unemployment status.


Here is where I have to disagree with your view of the D/s relationship between author & reader. The way I see it, the sub is actually the one in control of the relationship: the sub gets to say 'yes' or 'no' to the activity; the sub voluntarily cedes control to the dom; . And maybe I'm just ignorant about d/s but I think that the words themselves create a false impression of who's in charge.

Great post by the way, it really got me thinking.


Royalties and unemployment status: the royalty payments won't stop you from "actively seeking work", but if you're doing more writing it could get difficult. You might be classed as self-employed. But there are various rules on how such intermittent income would be handled.

It would be something where self-publishing would be a bad idea, because you could be classed as self-employed.

E-books and self-publishing in general are one of those areas where there might be applicable precedents, but they might not be appropriate.


re: UK unemployment - a friend was recently told that if they wanted to leave town for a day (no overnight stop) then they'd have to fill in a holiday form and that if they didn't they'd lose 2 weeks payment and Housing Benefit. Luckily he knew this was nonsense, but I wonder how many people they're saying that to?

Even if you miss a signing day (the only reason you need a 'holiday form') and so lose 2 weeks payment, it's still possible to qualify for housing benefit under the low (zero) income threshold rule.

tl;dr - if you wonder about aspects of benefit rules, don't ask the staff


I went through a bit of that in California, and the magic word is "freelancing." If you have a one-off job, writing "freelance" on your unemployment stub seems to be the best way to phrase it.


I do not write, I do not aspire to write for a living, or even for more than communicating. However I read a lot, which means that I reread a lot too.

I like the series as an indication on what may be going inside the mind of the author. Because in my experience there are two main reading modes (that may mix and shift in the same book) for fiction. One where you identify with the main character and follow that point of view, and one where you identify with an (almost) omniscient narrator/observer, and watch events develop. In a way, you get a peek into a writer construct. The first kind of narrative makes for a very fast read, as you need to know , and you need it now. The second goes much more slowly, as you get the time to reflect on the how, the why, and may court disbelief to identify influences, homages, and returning to the point above, what made the writer write this.

I will not touch the self-publishing debate, as it is a persistent one in this blog, except to say that I buy some 50+ books a year, both paper and electronic, read roughly twice that amount, and I have read maybe two self-published books, in total, discounting friends and family. Not because I discount them, but as the reader side of what Cat wrote, "I'm going to die soon. I have to read faster. I only have fifty years or so left if I'm lucky. That's not enough time." So I have to choose and pick, and I will reread an old favorite before a new book with no credit. I aim to try ten new authors every year, and yet there are always more. So I select, based on recommendations, friends' reviews (strangers' reviews I have found to be untrustworthy), and still find a few bombs along the way.


Dik @ 58 I think we've both got our knickers in a twist here ....

Matter is part of the "Culture" set, but I don't think Feersum Endjinn is. Reference on the suthor's page of the "Fantastic Fiction" web-site list can be founf HERE

It also syas: NOVELS Against a Dark Background (1993) Feersum Endjinn (1994) The Algebraist (2004) The Hydrogen Sonata (2012) With the specifically Culture ones being listed separately.



@68, you're talking about the different narrative voices, such as: - Third person omniscient (the narrator knows the motivations, secrets and histroy of every character and the whole setting, to a degree and clarity that even the characters may not be aware of). - Third person limited (where the narrative follows one or more characters, but only narrates what they know/observe/think -- what I think you mean by "almost omniscient"). - First person (self explanatory). - Second person (Charlie's "Halting State" and "Rule 34"; very divisive one this, puts some people right off the story, but effective when used well).

There are others, and blends of the above, but I can't remember them all off the top of my head. Most modern novels are written in third person limited, and first person narratives are also quite popular (a great way to use the "unreliable narrator" device to good effect, or to create total empathy with the narrator); a number of novels also blend points of view, with some characters' story lines being told in third person limited and others in first person. Third person omniscient tends to be little used in modern literature (I am sure that there are examples though, and sometimes a novel breaks out into it for a short stretch of exposition) and is much more common in older books -- it is actually quite a hard voice to write effectively in, badly handled it can create a very flat story with little suspense.

There is another voice that is quite common in modern thrillers (particularly stuff by authors like Dan Brown and James Patterson), and the phrase I have heard that I think describes it best is "grass hopper on a skillet". Essentially it is third person limited, but it hops through so many points of view in rapid succession, that it is closer to third person omniscient. It can be characterised by the tendancy for the writer, in a scene involving several characters, to jump into the POV of each character for a few lines or paragraphs (re-read Da Vinci Code, if you dare, and you can see the whole book is littered with this kind of writing). It creates a very propulsive, but shallow narrative.


Greg: it is far from clear which comments you think you're replying to half the time. We have to assume that your comment #49 was a reply to Dirk's comment at #48, that being his most recent and where he specifically talks about 'Matter' in the context of the Culture novels.

Everyone else following that sub-thread appears to me at least to be talking about Matter, whereas you seem to think FE is still the subject.

You would make it easier for the rest of us if you used the 'Reply' link for making replies to single comments.


And the Book of Job chapters 38-41 are written in First Person Omniscient - that's a hard voice to bring off well!


That multiple-viewpoint third-person limited seems to have supplanted third-person omniscient, and it might be derived from cinematic story-telling. Taken to the extremes, such as Dan Brown (who is a bad writer in so many ways, but still sells), the fast cutting between viewpoints matches some modern cinema, and I think both can take it too far. But there is a lot of third-person omniscient in cinema, and you can end up with a sort of composite of the two, a sort of omniscient storyteller who is trying to put you in the shoes of the participants.


This is true for all of the narrative voices: Used well they are very effective, used badly and they're just annoying.

The extra trap that the fast-cutting, multiple-viewpoint writers seem to fall into regularly is that of forgetting what each character knows and doesn't know. Picking on Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" again (because this is how it was illustrated to me, not becuase I bear a particular grudge against the man -- I don't think his books are very good, but so far no one's forcing me to read them): There's a scene at one point, in which the protagonists unwittingly visit the main villain, and attempt to persuade him to help them, unaware of who he is -- nothing particularly odd here, could be played a couple of different ways: keeping the reader unaware of the villain's true motives for a twist later on, revealing his motives and playing up the suspense, and a bunch of others I'm sure. So Dan Brown goes for option one: Keep his motive's hidden, in order to continue with the murder-mystery-suspense-teasure-hunt-on-crack style of the story. BUT, he also has to, in every scene, have at least one paragraph of the thoughts of each character involved -- that's his style, he's done it through the rest of the book, and if he dropped it now, anyone paying attention would immediately know who the villain is. Trouble is, in this particular scene as he spends a few paragraphs with the villain's interior monologue, he lies to the reader by having the villain be completely unaware of his own motives. This happens over and over in these sort of stories -- it's just lazy writing, and worse, it play's a dishonest trick on the reader.


No, I was not talking in terms of chosen narrative voice, but in my reaction as a reader. I had no problems strongly identifying with Gibson's Case, despite the third person narrative in Neuromancer, while not identifying at all with Murakami's first person narratives in 1Q84.

The voice chosen may make it harder or easier, and it is one of the reasons why 2nd person feels so weird, but I was instead indicating how books where there is a strong emotional involvement end up being read quickly, usually without questioning dodgy authorial choices, while ones where there is a certain detachment get read leisurely, and the author needs a much more polished prose to avoid doubts.

The many PoV narratives are either ambitious or deliberately trying to make sure at least one character clicks with the reader and gets them hooked into the story.


OK. Tried to type this several times and kept changing my mind. I got a bit confused between your posts.

Are you just saying the if you're more invested in a book you enjoy it in a different way to one where you are less invested and spending more time trying to understand what the author is trying to do? That some books you read solely for the plot and characters, whereas others you want to peak under the hood and see what makes them tick? (I thought for a bit that you were being masochistic and forcing yourself to read books you didn't found slow and un-engaging -- but I figured I was going the wrong way with that one.)

From talking with friends who enjoy the fast-paced multi-POV thrillers, the reason they are so popular is the fact that it requires no long attention span to read them. They can be picked up and read for 5 minutes, with no real requirement to engage the ol' grey matter. (I'm not trying to look down on anyone who reads these books, novels are a very subjective, completely personal taste thing). Most of these style of books usually have few sympathetic, or even particularly well rounded, characters -- the plot is the whole of everything: each short chapter ends with a cliff hanger, and it's all about moving everything forward at breakneck pace; characters are sketched in broad strokes with everything hung on one or two traits, and maybe some dark event in their past for the look of depth.


I don't think anyone's asserting that Feersum was a Culture book. I believe we've all agreed that Matter was.

This has become an overly violent agreement on the underlying point, and I see no point to increase the combatancy, so in the name of cooperative tension-reducing I'll buy you a beer if you make it to the San Francisco Bay Area if you'll read the .... fifth? I think chapter of Feersum to me, the one I kept having to quit in the middle of, after you've had the beer 8-) This should be amusing for all, assuming it doesn't cause me a migraine.


Meaning: where no one thinks they're wrong.


Of course not. Henry Miller didn't write his first book til he was 40. In fact, you've lived more, you have more experience to bring, so maybe you have more to write about. Maybe not--I don't know you. But maybe. If you've been reading, if you've even tried writing a little, you've had your hand in.

Everyone wastes their youth on something.

There's too much stock put in the concept of the wunderkind. And I say that having been one. It's amazing to write a great book at any age, or even a good one. And I tell you, no one would give me any respect when I was a baby publishing. My age was always mentioned in reviews, and I was relieved when I turned 30.


Having done both, I suppose I could hit that topic before my formal time here ends.


Thank you, though in most circles, I am not considered a "sir."


Yes, you're sight. The sub is controlling things--what they read, when, how much, how long. They negotiated when they read the back of the book, hemmed and hawed, and then bought it. And if they don't want anymore, in the trash it goes.


Cat writes:

Meaning: where no one thinks they're wrong.

The internet is a particularly insidious problem for people bright enough to be right most of the time.

It both lets you get away with the in-person social faux pas of simply walking away from a mistake or misstatement, without acknowledging it, and also puts you in contact more readily with people who are either as smart or smarter than you are or are domain experts in the field you're attempting to be an amateur expert in.

Balancing enough forceful personality to express opinions writ large here, and enough introspection and grace to back down when you're wrong, is really hard.


Cat, I'm sure I'd not be the only one that would love to hear your opinions and experiences on this!

And apologies; I've posted a lot on your last few threads and don't think I've actually got round to thanking you for some wonderfully interesting and thought provoking pieces.


Yes, but I do my best to correct the Net :-)


"...and also puts you in contact more readily with people who are either as smart or smarter than you are or are domain experts in the field you're attempting to be an amateur expert in."

I think we have barely begun to see the social effects of the Net due to likeminded people finding each other, for good or evil. It will speed up cultural evolution tremendously.


"...and also puts you in contact more readily with people who are either as smart or smarter than you are or are domain experts in the field you're attempting to be an amateur expert in."

But ... that's exactly why I'm here! I'm not going to learn from people who know less than me, after all.


Your second interpretation was right. But it is not a conscious choice, just the way I react to a book. Which is why I may spend three months with a book, or five hours. As for multiple viewpoint, I actually had Song of Ice and Fire in mind, where most people have their particular favorites, and people they positively dislike, and clamour for more chapters with their favorites.

The point I did not make clear was that books can engage you in different ways, and though the author may prefer a certain style, the reader will still approach the text in their own way, with his/her own baggage and predisposition.


Absolutely. Not only does each reader bring different baggage and perceptions that effect the experience that they have with a book, the same reader can bring different baggage on separate re-reads, and experience the story in substantially different ways.

I would also differentiate between multi-threaded stories and multi-viewpoint style. I haven't read "Song of Ice and Fire" (I know! I know!), but I suspect that it falls into the category of multi-threaded, where any one scene is told from a particular character's point of view, but there may be many overlapping plot-lines and within that format a single scene can be re-told from a different character's view point (Rashomon being the classic example in film); whereas multi-viewpoint is when, within a single scene, the narrative bounces in and out of each character's point of view -- like all narrative devices it can be used well, but in most cases it gives the effect of reading a story that's been edited by Tony Scott (king of the 2-second cut).


Yes, "Song of Ice and Fire" is composed of seperate chapters each following one character. (Or at leasst the first three or four volumes are, I've not read the others yet) There is some overlap - i.e. scenes re-seen from a different point of view - but on the whole each scene gets one viewpoint. If anything he does the opposite more, rather than re-tell the same scene he jumps about, so there are gaps and you have to infer what happened between

GRRM has are quite a lot of narrative habits like that that can become repetitive if you read the book in big chunks. Another one is the cliffhanger. He likes leaving you unsure whether a character is in fact alive or dead at the end of their scene. He does that at least ten times in the first couple of parts, more than once to some of them.

In some ways the book reads more like a serial than a big novel. Though he doesn't always resolve his cliffhangers on-stage - very often you find out what really happened some chapters later when someone is mentioned in passing - which is a sort-of realism serial fiction often doesn't have - we might care desperately about the fate of X who has just been buried alive or poisoned or trampled by a horse; but that doesn't mean that Y and Z, from whose POV the next couple of chapters are told, care enough about them to tell us what actually happened.

More generally, isn't Malory's Morte D'Arthur in effect told from mulitple points of view? Its made up of many separate "books" each telling the tale of a different knight (usually).


Dirk wrote:

I think we have barely begun to see the social effects of the Net due to likeminded people finding each other, for good or evil. It will speed up cultural evolution tremendously.

Cultural, and technical. A couple of technical examples...

I am an independent expert on nuclear weapons design and technical proliferation issues. I was before I found other like-minded people on the internet, but a small collaborative community has pushed all our knowledge much faster than any one of us could have developed (or all of us together) with the traditional on-paper collaboration that predated the late 1980s / early 1990s.

Internet collaboration and a conference series that was organized and publicized via email and Usenet led to the development of a viable community and much of the current crop of space startup companies.


I seem to recognize your name from somewhere - high energy weapons archive? sci.military.moderated?


Yes and yes.


Whatever happened to SMM? It just seemed to die


I was getting around 1,000 spams past basic filtering a day into the moderation mailbox, and another equal amount in the space related newsgroups I moderated; finding signal became nigh-on impossible.

I think my relatively active anti-spam fighting made those mailboxes an attractive nuisance, and people were going after me on purpose with custom filter-evading stuff. But the end result was I couldn't keep up. All the groups ended up eventually with other moderators, but they were eventually dead.

Given that my spam experience went back to and Canter and Siegel, it was highly frustrating, but ultimately one gets overwhelmed if the tech doesn't keep up, and then whatever venue that is is not sustainable.


That's why I moved to gmail. At its worst my old address got 7000 per day. Now the amount of spam that gets through gmail is around two pieces a week, with the span bin at a constant 1500 or so. I always use the same gmail, across the Net



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This page contains a single entry by Cat Valente published on February 16, 2012 1:24 PM.

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