Psychology of reading and writing: recalling vs. recognizing.

In a previous post, I mentioned I believe the usual advice given to writers (or, rather, to people who want to write) may not be that good, if not downright useless. And if one wants to be controversial, you might as well start with a big bang:

Read a lot. Reading will make you a better writer,” or variations of the same. It seems logical, common-sensical. But if you think about it, it’s a bit like saying that if you want to be a good musician, you should listen to a lot of music, or look at many paintings if you want to be a painter. A kind of craftsmanship by osmosis.

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Bad Writing: Amazon bestsellers edition

The original goal of this post was to write a mini-essay on something that annoys me about contemporary writing. As far as I know, it has no name, and I struggled to find one, so I had to settle for something as cumbersome as “mid-action or mid-description beginnings.” Essentially, the story starts in media res, but not in the middle of the plot, but in the middle of a scene, with people (sometimes a lot of people) doing, sometimes exciting or action-related, stuff… for no reason we can discern. No goals, context, purpose, or meaning are given. It’s just a picture, like a movie scene (and in many cases, it shows the writer imagined it as such.)

The protagonist can be fighting another person (and we know nothing about them so we have no reason to care,) sweating profusely from some equally strenuous activity, engaging in a heavy dialogue with a character we know nothing about, or sometimes it’s a cliché-ridden description as the character prepares to do one of those things (the standard in fantasy until a few years ago was to describe, for some unfathomable reason, the sky – usually a sunset or dawn- and how that light reflected on the local vegetation.) The opposite, of course, is to start like all stories have been writing always, with a small, perhaps only a single sentence, explanation about the why, where, and when so we can contextualize what is happening and will happen.

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Reading the Hugos (2018) “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”

This is a tough one. When I read the, what at first seemed like a wonderfully nonsensical first sentence, of this story “There’s a ticket booth on my tongue” I felt that this was it, the Hugo story of this year, and if you have read my 2017 Hugo reviews, you know that’s not a compliment. But then I read the story, and I was seriously confused, first because it is, indeed, quite confusing, but also because it wasn’t what I was expecting. My fault, really; my PSTD from reading some other Hugo finalists, encountering this story’s jumpy, fragmented style and narrative, and the use of (oh-my-god) second-person narrator  (and the title! I mean, come on!) made me think that this was one of those artsy literary experiments (and it may be, to some extent.) And with that in mind, that’s how I read it… and I understood nothing. Then I read it again, without expecting anything, and I understood it a bit better. Finally, I read it a third time, and ah, then I got it (I think.)

tisamystery

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Hemingway didn’t write like you think he wrote.

If you have spent more than a few seconds following the writing blogosphere, searching for writing tips and stuff like that you will have found variations of these two statements: “Write short, clear sentences“, sometimes followed by a “like Hemingway did.” Either as an example of simple, clear writing or as a description of his style, the universal, known-by-everybody message is the same: he wrote short sentences, and that’s the style to emulate.

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Reading the Hugos (2018): Introductory remarks

The 2018 Hugo nominees have been announced. Ahh,  the most prestigious Award in the most marvelous genres of fiction! Science, Fantasy, the marvel of cutting-edge technology, future societies, mystery, wonder, and… No, not really. This is the Hugos we are talking about. You won’t find much of that there.

Going in somewhat blind and not knowing what to expect, a year ago I reviewed the 2017 short-story finalists, and with one or two exceptions, they were all pretty bad, and hardly science fiction or fantasy at all. I don’t expect much of a difference this year, but I have skimmed the stories and, well, there may be a glimmer of hope, but, really, don’t get your hopes up — the bar was set too low anyway.

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‘Classic Conditioning One,’ a Star Wars cyberpunk story.

It was the future. The year? 2013.

Somewhere hidden below the festering nest of neon, chrome, and roving gangs of hipsters of New Los Angeles, Disney’s underground laboratory woke up from its slumber. Commanding calls and urgent messages in the middle of the night reached the bleary Disney scientists: “Rise and Shine, boys, the Vault’s up. Get to work! – B.I.”

The Boss had spoken, and from all around the country, scientists specializing in neuromarketing, behavioral sciences, and Artificial Intelligence traveled to New L.A. Their goal, to design the new Star Wars trilogy.

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