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Friday Five

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
I’m getting ready for the mini-tour and knocking off wordcount on Heaven’s Spite, so today we have a list of five things about writing as a career.

1. Writing is a physical act. Yes, you do it sitting in front of a word-processor, or sitting at a desk. That does not mean it is effortless. The sheer brute physical labor of typing eighty to a hundred thousand words for a novel (and let’s not even talk about revisions) is hard on the delicate structures of your wrist and arm, not to mention your brachial plexus (thoracic outlet syndrome and carpal tunnel problems are real risks to writers.) Plus there’s the fact that sitting for long periods is hard on the body.

Stretching and moderate exercise will not only make sure you have a less-painful career at the keyboard, but it will also help your writing. It clears out toxins and makes the prose more supple. More importantly, you have got to take care of yourself, or your body might rebel. And that ain’t pretty.

2. A story is an arc. The story equation goes like this: There is a situation in equilibrium. Something happens to disturb that equilibrium. The rest of the story is events finding a new equilibrium, and when it is found, the story naturally ends. The first line of the story is like your first cut in a duel. It holds the pattern for the rest of the arc. The story expands from that first line, and reaches a point where it must contract–where all the threads of expansion need to be picked back up and woven back down to a line. This point is not necessarily the climax. It’s different for each piece of work.

Finding that arc, finding the point where the story has to stop expanding and must start contracting toward climax and denouement, takes practice. This is why writing’s a skilled art–it takes lots and lots of practice.

3. The story belongs to the character who changes the most. I’ve attributed this saying to Karen Fisher, but I think it was actually Laura Kalpakian who said it.

Writers often bemoan the secondary character who thrusts him or herself onto the stage and won’t go away. Often, this is the principle at work–the secondary character is actually the one doing the changing. You can even have a main character who is not the character the story belongs to. That also takes practice and skill to pull off.

When you’re stuck in a story, or the characters seem lifeless, turn this into a question. “Whose story is this? Who is changing? Who is changing the most?” Often this helps jolt everything into perspective and shows you the hole in the structure.

4. No risk, no reward. If your characters aren’t risking anything, if there is not a significant chance that they will lose something that matters to them, there is little emotional payoff for the reader. Characters who are flawless have no real way of letting the reader identify with them, and they are never more than paper cutouts.

I do not want a paper cutout. I want blood and guts and bad breath. I want my characters to risk things. I want to risk things every time I sit down at this goddamn keyboard. Because I also want that reward.

5. Beware those who want something for nothing. Jess Hartley, this past week, had an interaction with such a one. This has happened many a time. Lots of people want something for nothing. And they assume that once you’re published, you hold a magic golden key for giving them what they want. What’s more, they assume that you will share this mythical golden key–that it is your duty, your pleasure and your obligation to hand over the golden key to them just for the asking.

This is another outcropping of Speshul Snowflakeism, and a particularly insidious one. Because this sort of Snowflake gets very passive-aggressive when it comes to getting what they want. It took me a merry go round with a few of them before I learned the signs and started just laughing and pressing the delete button when one cropped up.

Note that I’m not talking about the person who extends a perfectly civil, reasonable request and understands when an author can or can’t fulfill that request. I’m talking about the person who presumes a personal relationship with an author where none exists, and further presumes that the author Owes Him/Her Something on the basis of that presumption. That presumption is toxic. I could go on and on, but what would be the point? Just beware of those who expect something for nothing, on many levels.

That’s about it. I’ll add two links: Darkshiver on a particular social media don’t, and the inimitable Wolfinthewood with another roundup of links about the Google Book Settlement.

And now I’ve got to go get cracking. Books will not write themselves, and the small suitcase I’m taking won’t pack itself, either.

Over and out.