Tag Archives: fiction

On How Dystopias Are Formed

Interesting post over at the Freeman blog, touching on how fictional dystopias are formed:

Second, let’s say that we are indeed right now living in a capitalist dystopia, yet, for the vast majority of us, it really doesn’t look or feel much like the dismal world of Blade Runner or Elysium. If the hyper-capitalist world depicted in those films isn’t present-day United States (or Japan or Germany or Singapore), then where is it? Where is or when was that dystopic Googleland? Does it exist and has it ever existed? Answer: It doesn’t and it hasn’t.

Writer love to bits a corporatist dystopia, but it’s unrealistic. For as much as corporations benefit from state powers they are merely one of the spikes on the morning star, not the strong arm swinging it around. Starbucks has no “moral” or legal sanction to kill you and or jail you—two very big distinguishing properties of a government—if you refuse to buy their product.

A corporation can’t don the wretched mantle of state hegemony without becoming more like a government.

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My Daughter’s Stories Are the Essence of Quick Escalation



She doesn’t mince words, nor waste them. Economy of language is her greatest strength.

She actually wanted me to edit these—I did, but not too much since I didn’t want to destroy her voice for the sake of making perfect “adult” sense. Nor did I want to mar the “sheen” of the stories. What it’s a sheen of, I’m not sure.

Lavender the Allibird

Hello! I’m Lavender. I am here to tell you about my weird life. I am an Allibird. Allibirds are special. Let it begin!

I was 13 when I learned “Bird and Beak.” It became my favorite song. One day I was singing it. Now, I was in my big backyard. Then Prince Shining Star heard my sweet voice. When he saw me, he couldn’t take his eyes off me! Then he remembered from one of his books about special birds that Allibirds could be very dangerous. He flew away without a word.

I was so upset I flew away crying. I spent many months in my treehouse alone, but only with my pet ladybug, Spotty. I sobbed very long. I had nightmares that I would stay there forever.

A few days later, Shining Star came back with a case. I longed to be a princess.

He knelt down and said, “Will you marry me?”

I was so happy I fainted. When I woke up, I said “Yes!”

Finally I was a princess. The wedding would be tomorrow.

The next day we went to get married. Then we touched beaks. It was amazing.

The next day I built a nest. I laid an egg in it. It took three months to hatch.

As time passed, I wrote song lyrics. At last, the big day came. The egg hatched! I would name her Lilly.

Don’t miss the next book!

Lilly the Shy Allibird

Hi! Um, It’s me, Lilly, the shy Allibird. My pals sometimes call me Fluttershy. They call me that because when I fly, I flutter my wings, and because I am very shy.

You know my mom, Lavender, right? Now it is time for the story of my life. Lavender has told me her ten times.

When I was having supper with my family, my evil cousin flew in. Then he grabbed me by my wing. My mom punched him and my dad hit him with his talons. Finally he got away with it. He snatched me away.

He finally let me go and I fluttered my wings. It was torture! He told me to go in my room for twelve minutes, because I am twelve years old! I missed my mom and dad. All I had was a picture album of my life. I stayed there for a very long time…about four years! At last he let me go.

When I got home, I went into my big backyard. I played with my big ball. Then I met a prince. He was a parrot. His name was Prince Rainbow. He said “hi” to me, but we went back home for supper.

The next day, he came back again. He asked me, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes!” I said. Then we got married.

The next day, I laid an egg. It took two months to hatch. I will call her Jewel.

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Italicizing Foreign Words in Fiction

The dialogue in my current work in progress uses three languages: English (most of it), German (here and there), and Franco-Arabic (it is what you probably think it is). I was under the impression from previous reading that some or many foreign words that were actual foreign language words and not common loanwords (i.e., “taco”) should be italicized. But doing some Google poking there’s some different opinions and no hard and fast rules.

My particular problem is that, as I said, the foreign words are dialogic, not narrative. I’m not a fan of inserting foreign phrases during narration when it’s not basic and descriptive (“Her hijab wafted up in the wake of his forceful gas-passing.”), both in my writing and with others. It comes off as a cheap shortcut to variate writing flow but I’m sure there are some cases when it’s warranted.

I started out with one rule: definitely italicize are words/phrases that are homographic to an English word, like sine, as in sine wave, and sine of the Latin usage. Context can help clarify—i.e., “sine wave” and “sine qua non”—but not always.

Here’s probably the best set of guidelines I came across:

1. If only one unfamiliar foreign word or brief phrase is being used, italicize it.
2. If an entire sentence or passage of two or more sentences appear in a foreign language, type the passage in plain type and put the passage in quotation marks.
3. If the foreign word is a proper noun, do not italicize it.
4. If you are using two foreign words or phrases, one familiar and one unfamiliar, italicize both of them for consistency and appearance.
5. Common Latin words and abbreviations like etc., et al., and ibid. need not be italicized. An exception is sic, which should be italicized and placed in square brackets.

So, taking this advice, in one certain case in my book:

We have a saying back home: Was du allein wissen willst, das sage niemand. If you want to keep a secret, don’t tell it to anyone.”

Would be, using rule 2 above:

We have a saying back home: ‘Was du allein wissen willst, das sage niemand.’ If you want to keep a secret, don’t tell it to anyone.”

THe problem with these rules is that, while reading from now on, I’m going to be unduly noting all the italicized/non-italicized foreign words. Language be trippin’.

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Those Words Do Not Mean What You Think They Mean

inigo_montoyaFrom a NYT article on the decline of certain word usage in literature:

I’d like to tell a story about the last half-century, based on studies done with this search engine. The first element in this story is rising individualism. A study by Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Brittany Gentile found that between 1960 and 2008 individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases.

That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded.

The second element of the story is demoralization. A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently.

Since I’m a lazy blogger I don’t feel like really delving into the study more, but I’m wondering if the researchers took some things into account. Did they bother to look at synonyms? Or if they words were negated somehow (“not collective”, “not decent”)? Or if the characters who said or thought the selfish words and phrases were portrayed negatively?

The spotlighted responses in the comments section are predictably from moral busybody-types: restless tut-tutting of the phantom “us” for falling short of some prescribed morality (probably their own). I guess wringing your hands about people you’ve never met who will never have any bearing on your life at all is a preferred way to pass the time.

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A Question for Fiction Writers Concerning Point of View

A dramatic visual representation of me peparing to do battle with this idea. Not really.

A dramatic visual representation of me thinking about this post. Not really.

My current work in progress, Sarah Jessica Porker*, is alternate history fiction/soft sci-fi. One would think that this would include a lot of world-building and lots of different characters and parties—but one would be only partially correct. There is only some POV jumping and world-building.

The thing is, I want to cut most of it out. It doesn’t need to be alternate history, nor necessarily sci-fi, because the story is about one and a half people, not about the goofy results of a different timeline or otherwordly gadgets (or gadgets that you and I have or have knowledge of, but with different nomenclature). It’s more of a thinky-doey conceptual story about what happens with a few people who try to figure a few things out, than a grand reordering of earth and technology. I want it to be more “hey, this person thought this and then did that, weird” than “crap, that fashion/gun/vehicle sounds weird and btw what is x like in this society?”

Should I shift from third person, with many parties, to first person or third person limited? Most of the novels that (I think) this would be like are small in scope, first person, or third person with strong limitations. The secondary parties that I do currently “jump” to are mainly for exposition, but there are other ways I can do info dumps with the limited POV, easily. I guess that’s why they’re secondary, but they are hardly necessary.

What say you, Internet?

* Working title, not the final one (probably).

Photo from crofesima.

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An Addendum to My Last Post About Blogging

I forget what I searched for to get this image, but here it is.

I forget what I searched for to get this image, but here it is.

In my last post, I may have made it sound like I find blogs annoying*, but I really don’t. I subscribe to many of them and I know there are some mutual subscriptions.

The crux of it was that, even though I’m not a heavy publisher, I was getting burnt out on my own blogging. One can only write so much about how terrible governments are or “hey, Jesus and God are kinda weird but I’m down with them regardless” type of philosophical crapshooting before you feel like you’re just grinding metal against metal. There are literally five or six blogs in the universe that talk about those things and I can guarantee they write about it better than I do. The savvy Internetter with the latest search engine can go to those for that.

But with fiction, it’s different. Yeah, there’s plenty of writers giving it away online, but my fiction from me and no one else. Please don’t take the last part of that sentence as a snide “I’m awesome, if you don’t like it, deal with it” adolescent disclaimer, but as an honest valuation of whatever it is I do here. Opinionating on other topics like I have been doing are repeated en masse by the digital glom of consciousness.

I’ll still do normal blogging things on here, but I will try not to waste your time with drudgery.

Photo by funkandjazz.

* This is despite how much I’ve written in the past about Super-BloggersTM and their annoying bloggy habits and enjoyment of universal adoration.

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Have No Fear, This Is an Easy Read

I’ve noticed a tendency of modern writers to write clipped sentences and paragraphs.

Like this. One or a few in each paragraph, for certain scenes.

Not even action scenes.

Ones where there’s supposed to be descriptive of a scene, or internal thought development.

I can understand if it’s first person from a certain kind of character.

Or in blogging, because reading online is different.

But even that is getting out of hand.

Maybe it’s just me.

I’m not concerned with “online readability” posting techniques, building a social media platform, hosting blog tours, throwing contests at you every week, indecipherable industry acronyms, graphical links and bolded words everywhere, marketing myself to hell.

See, even in that paragraph I used too many commas.

I don’t like screaming at people that come to this blog.

But in printed fiction this style gets aggravating. It reads like those Dr. Seuss’s Board Books.

Should I be blaming authors, readers, editors?

Functional, grown adults should not be writing like this for other adults.

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Dude, You Write Like a Girl

In my current work in progress the protagonist is an early-twenties female, and more than a few times I had to stop myself and ask, “Would someone of her cultural makeup actually do/say that?”, and the fact that it’s in first person makes this issue much more crucial. And it brings up the entire issue of how unique should your character?

You see, in character-driven stories in the first person, I would think that there has to be some unnaturalness about the protagonist. You don’t want to be reading the story of someone who typifies their demographic. Stories are about something or someone unusual, not expected, so there has to be some quirks that smudges our expectations — without taxing the reader by stretching the suspension of disbelief too far.

Then there’s the looming criticism of the feministas-lite — I didn’t make the woman strong enough, she’s too subservient to the male paradigm, and by the way, what does a man know about how a woman thinks? This might be a purely conjectured (paranoid) prediction on my part, but let’s face it: the woman’s market for fiction is pretty big, and this is somewhat of a romance novel so this kind of complaint could be on the horizon. The idea that certain thoughts or actions belong to certain genders is worthy of ridicule, but since feminism has had a good few decades of making everyone feel guilty and battering-ramming the cultural roles of the sexes (whoops! I’ll have to edit that out later), this reluctance for someone like me in writing from a woman’s point of view is automatic. Feminist critique serves as an ankle-strapped minirevolver in the critical arsenal of over-imaginative reviewers; sexism can be read into a wad of chewing gum. I’m not too worried about it, ultimately, though I haven’t completely sloughed off the socialization.

So, do men and women inherently think differently, or are they only tendencies — and are these tendencies genetic or cultural/subcultural? I don’t know gender theory, nor do I care to really delve into a subject foisted by remorseful universities with too much public funding, but it is worth thinking about. In fiction, as long as it’s within the realm of the believable universe, the author can make anyone think or do anything. Regardless, someone, somewhere will have a problem with it.

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Bad Religion vs. Bad Art vs. Sanitized Art

“If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.” -Madeleine L’Engle

A few months ago I read an interview with an agent working within the CBA industry. For those not in the know — and I was one of those until very recently — CBA is the “Christian” Booksellers Association*, the official gatekeepers (I think) for things all literary sold in the achingly stifled environment of Your Local Christian Bookstore. The thing that stuck out to me was that, when directly asked if the books she accepts contain swearing, the agent flat out said that those kinds of books were not accepted. While this in itself isn’t necessarily that odd, it was a little strange when I looked at what the agent considered to be the bellwether publication. Amazon had some sample pages, and the writing was not good. It was passable in the sense that it was error-free and I’m almost sure there was a decent story in there, but the author’s grasp of the nuances of language was shaky: inaccurate metaphors, weird sentence construction, obvious cliches, high school-level dialogue (the characters speaking were educated adults). I couldn’t see any lit-head taking that aspect of the book very seriously, and some of the reviews reflected that. It made me ask internally whether God would find more offensive swearing — done by a Christian character or not — or bad writing. I chose the former.

Here’s the thing: bad writing is in the willful control of the author (really the editor, who should be picking these things out), but I can’t see the act of an author narrating a cursing out of, say, an abusive boss as condemnable — unless it was badly written. Except for some subjects of prurient interest, there’s no reason for a Christian author not to describe the offensive things in life, but what well-adjusted adults seem to be unable to parse is the idea that description does not equal prescription; they conflate explanation with approval. This is bolstered by the fact that it can be difficult to distill what an author’s true affections are through fictional narrative. It is hidden underneath a created universe, and sometimes religious folk want someone’s doctrine spelled out before the venture into consuming your art.

I’ll give my amateurish opinion in the form of a rhetorical question here. Christians show no compunctions about placing in their story characters holding an absence of true belief, which is really the only sin that gets us in the end. Indeed, without formal data on hand, this is probably one of the defining characteristics of Christian(ized) fiction. Why, then, is the presence of unbelief acceptable in this instance but something microscopically significant as swearing isn’t?

*I used the scare quotes because objects can’t be Christian, only people can. Jesus didn’t die for entertainment mediums, unless you’re talking about any kind of audio recording with an accordion. Them things are from the pits of hell.

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