atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#2634: Just a couple things before bed.

I bet some of these have been on Star Trek. TNG, anyway.

When I went to the Philippines I saw some strange-looking plants at a botanical garden; and that was just one little corner of the Pacific. There's all kinds of ways to accomplish the basic feat of getting animals to spread your seeds around by encasing them in tasty packages.

I've tried durian candy; it had the flavor without the stink. I didn't really like it all that much, though.

The others look interesting. I've seen the "horned melon" for sale at the local Jewel, and always wanted to try it, but never felt up to spending $4 for one.

* * *

Never respond to reviews, because your emotions will get the better of you.

I rest my case.

It's really sad. The reviewer said she's spun an excellent story and only gave her two stars because it foundered on grammar and punctuation--if she'd had someone edit the thing for her and fix those errors, I bet he'd have given her a better rating.

If you're a writer, you should eagerly seek out and happily listen to real criticism of your work. You can't get better without it.

Me, the first time someone actually told me that my story had this and that problem, I was thrilled: no one had ever said that about my writing before. (Real, honest, constructive criticism, not effluent from the creator of Darkmaster, I mean.)

It really helped that he was right. The helpful critic, I mean, not Darkmaster's creator.

It's not because I'm a masochist that I want to hear people's negative impressions of my work; it's because I can't fix what I don't know is wrong and being the guy who wrote it only makes the problems harder for me to see. I know what I meant to do when I wrote the thing, but stuff doesn't always work right--and I might not be able to see that the way a fresh perspective could.

All too often, though, creative people who get good at their thing hear too much praise and not enough critique. It gives them a big head and leads them to think their shit doesn't stink; so if you say one negative word about their stuff, they get angry and offended and upset.

I remember asking a professional manga/anime artist for his impression of something I'd done (Magical Angel Selene) and I still remember his critique. He immediately identified several things I was doing wrong, things which--when he pointed them out--I wanted to slap myself and say, "Of course!" I couldn't tell what was wrong; I only knew that something wasn't right...and with a couple of words, a few pointers, he showed me what I was doing wrong and told me how to correct it.

You can only go so far as an artist by following your instincts. Sooner or later, you need other people to look at your work and tell you what you're doing wrong, because eventually you get past the point where your internal critic can do you any good.

When I was just starting to write, I knew I had a serious problem with dialogue. I went through stories and wrote comments in the margins about how lousy the dialogue was. It was wooden, stilted--just plain awful--and it didn't flow like conversation does. I practiced it like a mofo to get better at it; and my further efforts were illuminated with notes in the margin like "this sounds natural" and "this is no good" and "I like this!" and so on--all notes from myself, to myself--and it got me to the point now that I can write dialogue that sounds natural and reads well.

Any other problems with it, I can't see.

I've benefitted, I think, from three important things.

1) A good role model. Heinlein's stories were almost universally written in proper English, and you could tell when he was deviating from it. I think it's Heinlein's work that made me realize I should try writing, myself, to see how I liked it; certainly by 1979 I had finally twigged to the fact that I liked it when we got an assignment to write a fictional story for school.

2) A huge vocabulary. I remember words very well. I was in a spelling bee in elementary school. I never studied for the thing; I had entered it on a lark and only lost because I got rattled and added an "N" to "antenna" ("anntenna", I think). I suddenly realized that it was down to me and one other kid, and I got all flustered. *sigh*

I learned to read before the "whole word" bullshit got started, so I have no trouble sounding out words I don't know, and as I've begun to assimilate latin and greek roots my "language toolkit" has become more robust.

3) A highly self-critical view of my work. I'm a really good writer, and I know it; but I don't think I walk on water. I make some stupid mistakes and I follow blind alleys and I waste effort on stories that can't possibly work. I also know that even the really good stuff is not on par with the work of the great writers. I don't mind that; I'd be happy with being published in hard copy and selling enough to pay back my advance. "Best seller" is almost certainly beyond my reach, but that doesn't bother me. It'd just be nice to have people pay money to read my book and say, "Hey, I enjoyed this; thanks for writing it."

#3 also kind of stands in my way, though. I've passed one novel around and everyone has asked, "Why aren't you trying to get this published?"

I say, "It's a rough draft! There's a whole bunch of stuff missing!"

"It doesn't need it!"


So I'm better at listening to negative critiques than positive ones. Oh well.

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