How fiction starts: an analysis of 1200+ sff books

When I make my writing analysis posts, I usually pick random sentences but beginnings may be an even better choice. They are probably the most edited, if not overthought, parts of a book, and it’s also where writers show off their skill or (if they fail at it) their weaknesses. And if you want to see how writing changes through time, the first sentence may actually be all you need to read. And for those who have huge submission piles to plow through, the first two sentences is all you need to read for the first culling.

If you have followed me for some time, you already know my dislike of contemporary writing fads and techniques and my belief that you can see its decline in quality just in the formal aspect of writing. Strange syntax, (too) deep POVs, -ing participles galore, unnecessary descriptions, showing where telling would be perfectly fine and, finally, no personal style and no distinctive narrator—just piles and piles of descriptions, one after the other, like a transcription of a video recording. And, sure, it’s fine and all to talk about these things in the abstract and using a few examples from time to time, but it’s better to have some solid evidence to back you up. So here it is.

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Project Contact, chapter 6

Howard knew there was no time to lose. The assailants outside weren’t going to let them a few moments to mourn, breath, or pull themselves together, but he found himself unable to muster the energy to rally the people around him, or even himself, out of their glum stupor. He tried to latch on a plan, a course of action to spur everybody, but his thoughts were constantly interrupted and diverted by the faces and names of the men and women down below.

Some of the scientists were starting to stir, or were trying to call those in the lab, to no avail; others were curled against the walls, looking nowhere in particular. Svoboda was talking to someone on the phone, in Dutch, and two junior scientists were sitting down a desolate and silent Wickerman. The cops, although still shocked by their friend’s treason, looked level-headed enough, so Howard focused on them.

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Myth: the pulps paid badly (and by badly I mean better than anybody today)

My previous post on the economics of writing short stories has generally been received in a way I was not expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always overjoyed when someone reads my posts and comes to the conclusion that what needs to be done is to write MORE! That’s the spirit! But that’s not really what I thought was the most notable conclusion.

Perhaps I was being too timid and afraid of spelling it out, but there’s no need to hide it anymore: don’t try to make a living writing short stories, it’s impossible. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Of the examples I wrote, the only one who managed to get somewhat close to reasonable money was the guy who wrote more than a million words per year, never got distracted, barely ever rewrote or edited anything, and got more than half of his stories into magazine that paid, on average, 4 cents per word. Ah, yeah, and he had to publish between 72 and 110 or so short stories per year, and that just to get the equivalent of minimum wage in some Western countries.

Now, if you read that and you get all hyped up to write, by all means, do it, but don’t expect to make any serious money. Write because you love it or because it gives you a few extra hundred bucks from time to time, but that’s it. You are not going to make a living out of it, in fact, I’m not even sure there are enough pro-rate magazines out there to actually publish all the crap you’ll have to write just to be able to survive.

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Project Contact, chapter 2

Quote chapter.


 

“It is a dangerous mistake to search for analogies to the current extraterrestrial event in the usual platitudes of pre-industrial colonization and exploration. We are not savage natives nor the extraterrestrial (slightly less savage) colonizers. For all their differences, they were essentially the same, humans, and to a non-human observer, they would look like differently-dressed human primitives doing primitive human things. What’s more, many of those colonized territories eventually became powerful (superpowerful in one case) nations.

No, the correct comparison cannot be found by looking back at the history of human-to-human interactions. Perhaps a more accurate comparison would be the encroaching, displacement, and eventual extinction of the Pleistocene Megafauna by the widely more intelligent, tool-making humans. Of course, in this analogy, we are the animals.”

From the anonymous text that precipitated the Henosis Schim in 2132, a few months after First Contact.

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The sneaky “there was” and writing filler & crutches

I was going over a piece I had written when I found this seemingly innocuous sentence: “He talked to them in his crude Japanese and told that there was a group of Chinese civilians, around twenty, that was coming in their direction.” I usually do two or three proofings of the stuff I write, and this is why the second one is so important, to catch stuff like that.

Now, the sentence may not be awful, but it made me cringe a bit because I felt I heard it scream something like “I have been written by an amateur! Come and take a look!” Without much effort, I rewrote it into this:

“He talked to them in his crude Japanese and told them a group of twenty Chinese civilians was coming their way.”

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Indie self-publishing experiments, or “I’d rather eat my own gallbladder.”

I ran a little experiment a few days ago, although you can consider other of my publishing attempts in the previous years a long experiment, and I’m a strong believer in the principle of publishing negative results, not just your successes.

I knew the results wouldn’t be great, and as I began reading up on the subject my gnawing feeling got worse, but really, never for I moment I thought it would be that bad.

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Free stuff and a new short story!

I have uploaded a new short story adventure novelette,Life of the Party [I took it down as explained in a future post], and to celebrate that Cirsova #9 is out, where you can read my short story The Orb of Xarkax, both The Butcher of Greystone, a gothic dark fantasy short story, and my non-fiction book Dangerous Gamers will be free from September 3 to September 7, Pacific Time, (well, the second book from 4 to 8, so you’ll have to wait at least another day.) As far as I know, this doesn’t work for those outside the USA, but for those living there, it should already be working, at least The Butcher.

Enjoy!