Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cardboard Cutouts

One of the earliest complaints I can recall reading about any literature was the characters were shallow. This was particularly prevalent in genre fiction. I generally read for plot and didn't mind much if the the guys and the girls wearing white hats were all alike and I didn't mind if the fella twisting his waxed handlebar mustache wasn't much different from the last guy wearing black. Provided the chrome was kept polished on the spaceships.

Or when there was a body in the library the puzzle of how it got there kept yielding satisfying surprises.

When I got a little older I started to notice and realized this was a Bad Thing. And when I started writing I figured this was a thing to avoid. How does the writer make a character out of cardboard? We don't run into cardboard characters in real life.

Take a couple Air Force officers that I know. She isn't all spit and polish when I see her camping. Or her husband who she outranks who flew a fighter-bomber. He's a lot more of a dairy farmer in him than warrior. In fact, if you didn't know he was retired Air Force you might just think him another Ag prof at Moo U.

Cardboard characters do one thing. The detectives detect; the cowboys cowboy; the pirates pirate.

The people you know in life do more than one thing. It's human nature. And we remind ourselves, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."

Take a look at your work in progress. Have your characters had a chance to get out and let their hair down? You should give them hobbies, families, and distractions.

Sure you've got this robot like guy in a scary black robe who sounds like James Earl Jones. He must have had a family and a childhood. OK, bad example. It's a bad example because none of that oh-so-elaborate backstory that Lucas built into Darth Vader shows up in the character's words or deeds. Except at the end. Luke is being killed by the Emperor to create a Dark Moment. Then something unexpected has to happen to save the day. Maybe Han Solo can come out of nowhere in the Millennium Falcon? No. Did that already. OK. We'll have Darth Vader act like a real father for the first time in the entire series. Dude, even when you're being a dad you're working!

It's contrived and lame because it serves the needs of the story.

A story has needs as it progresses through its arc. Along the way it raises problems for the characters and raises questions in the reader's mind of how to solve them. Put your characters to work solving those problems. But all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

Like I said, s/he can have a hobby. Or a family. Or a distracting neighbor. This makes the character of an archetype and more like someone you'd meet in real life. Your characters should be just like the folks you'll meet in the next campsite. Or know from PTA. Except they're in your story.

You need to give your characters a break. They need to take off time from advancing your plot to deal with a kid who's home sick from school. Or catch up with their macrame. Just put them in a situation where perhaps they WANT to be advancing the plot, but cannot. These breaks in the action are the most scaffold-like prose you can write that you can put into the narrative.

Scaffolding should hardly ever make its way into a your writing. No, you shouldn't write a prequel--or three--just to establish a black-clad robot guy's backstory.

I'm not suggesting you bloat your work with a bunch of irrelevant rabbit trails you send all your characters on. You have to be a bit intentional here. The plot has needs, and so has the reader's perception of the characters. If I've convinced you to give your characters a break, you should think about why they're taking this break in the middle of your plot.

Perhaps it is to establish a key attribute of the character's nature. Maybe she's fastidious, or maybe he's kind to animals. These are excellent little fillips to add without bloating your work. These are easy fixes you can add after an editor tells you that a character is in some way lacking a desired attribute.

Another reason for your character to take a break is to insinuate some trivial detail that you're going to use to unlock the Big Problem at the work's climax. Let's say your detective has to drop off her kid at a friend's house for a sleepover. Your detective may be trapped in a boring conversation with the friend's mother. As her attention wanders she notices barbed wire mounted on a display. The dad collects the stuff. Perhaps the solution requires the detective know something about barbed wire. Now we know who she's gonna call.

The trick is in making it not seem contrived. If the ONLY thing your detective does that is not detecting is that barbed wire scene, then your reader will think, "we'll see that again," and she'll be right! Your detective will have to do more than one kid task. And your detective will have to notice more than one oddity. Perhaps in those instances, she'll have a cell phone in hand and be advancing the plot.

The more seamlessly you can mix plot-advancing and character-deepening the better. Life does not come to us neat, but is a cocktail of diversity. We work, we play, and we have extraneous obligations all mixed up. If you make it that way for all your characters, nobody will complain that they're made of cardboard.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Shoe Leather

In my first novel I had several scenes in the San Francisco Bay area, someplace I've never been. I also had several scenes in Washington, DC, someplace where I lived for a few years after grad school. The scenes in DC were easier to write and they read better, too.

I've found that when I write a scene where I've been, I can remember details of the place, things like the greasy scent of coal-smoke can add a lot of verisimilitude to a narrative. Despite watching a lot of TV and movies, your readers should appreciate descriptions of senses beyond just sight and sound. The easiest way I know to pick up those associations is to put myself in the space.

Agreed? Great, tell me when you get back from Talos IV. Oh, you're not writing Science Fiction, call when you get back from Regency Cornwall.

Even if your story is set in someplace on this planet in this century, you may not have the money for an airline ticket, or the time away from your day job.

I've never been inside a starship, but I have toured the USS Silversides and U-505. I figured a submarine is as close to a spaceship as I'm likely to see in the next century or so. Beyond that, I figure they'll be a bit more like a commercial airliner. When Sid Feynman is aboard the starship Fat Chance, the narrative is an extrapolation from the submarines I've been aboard.

Though I've never been aboard a train pulled by a Victorian coal-fired steam locomotive. I have waited in the train station at Great Malvern. And I have ridden the coal-fired automobile ferry operating on Lake Michigan. 

I suppose Mycroft Holmes would experience the same permeating odor. So, I mixed the two together.

Working within your budget and schedule find the place that seems closest to your story's setting. And be creative. What is like-unto that is close enough?

I've noticed a fair number of science fiction novels have a lot of meetings in restaurants. There was a wonderful restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids that was located in the basement of a much larger building. It was dark and Germanic with decor that made me think the Reformation had been worked out in similar pubs across northern Europe. A thoroughly civilized place, I believe it deserves a spot in one of my stories.

The trick is to get close enough and then fake the rest. You MUST get close enough that nobody knows where you faked it.

If your budget lets you take a day-trip a few hours away, that might be a worthy research activity. If your day job takes you someplace you don't usually go, look for the spots along the way that'll fit into your work in progress.

Sure, you can use the Internet, Google street view, books, and movies to help with research, but nothing can match being there and writing down that experience.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Seals Under The Log

Well, no, they weren't Seals, exactly.

This story starts over 20 years ago. I might have seen something and sent an email asking for a sample issue, but I am unsure. All I know is that I was surprised when I went to the mailbox and found a large manilla envelope addressed to me. Curious. It was postmarked from London, England. Very curious. I carried it inside and opened the envelope.

It contained a single issue of a magazine published by a church in London. The one that C. H. Spurgeon preached at over a century ago. I didn't have time to read it so I put it on the hearth beside my fireplace. And there it sat. For years.

Then it got moved to the basement where all the magazines that pile up get put into bigger piles. To maybe get read someday. But we all know someday never comes and the magazines get tossed out unread. And there it sat. For more years.

Is it a miracle that the magazine did not get discarded unread? No. Miracles don't work that way.

The timing of the next part is fuzzy, because I don't quite remember the sequence of events. But these things happened. I got cancer and I taught Sunday School.

I think teaching came first. And the topic of one of the Sunday School lessons was, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" I'm also fuzzy about how it came to be that I flipped through the pages of the magazine. Was it just random browsing? I think maybe it was.

This magazine had a picture that caught my attention. I don't think I would have read the article had I not seen the photo. A bunch of strapping lads were carrying a honking huge log. They seemed to be having a very bad time of it.

I looked into the article to find out what was up with the picture. Turned out the lads were volunteers undergoing the rigorous training for the British SAS. Those dudes are ninjas. Think of them as tea-swilling Navy Seals with a posh accent.

Most of the bad things that happen in my life are the results of me doing something evil, stupid, or both. It's not rocket surgery to figure out that someone who is in prison for Armed Robbery got there because he did something bad. Other bad circumstances, like divorce, follow prior bad acts like sleeping with your spouse's best friend. We're lucky when we can identify a causal link between a bad action and a bad outcome.

I'm too stupid most of the time to see I'm suffering now because of something bad that I did that led up to it. When a train goes off the rails, there's a lot of twisted wreckage strewn about. My moral derailments cause a lot of grief in my life.

Was God punishing me with Cancer for some prior bad act?

Reading the magazine I learned the log carrying was part of SAS training. All the punishment these lads were experiencing was not because they were bad. It was because they were good. These are the cream of the British military and they suffered because they were the best of the best.

I'm not the best of the best. I'm just a guy who does what he can and trusts in the imputed righteousness of Christ. I hope you'll see it inhere within my life. My Cancer wasn't a judgment, but a kind of preparation. I did not volunteer for it, but I got through it. People said I was brave. I shrug. I got through it.

If someone you know has cancer and you think it is not fair that such a good person should be so afflicted, it might just be God is training some kind of ninja.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are You IN or OUT?

I like the advertisement where the new homeowner stands in the open door of his house and calls his dad saying, "Yes, I am heating/cooling the whole neighborhood." (I forgot whether the ad showed summer or winter, but you get the idea.) In real life, I want the door closed. Either get in the house or stay outside, make up your mind.

In theater, TV and/or movies there's a term, "the fourth wall" referring to the space that separates the performer from the audience. An actor should address his or her remarks to the other players on stage and not address the audience directly.

This is one of those rules that was largely observed until sometime in the late '60s or early '70s when it was broken with great comedic effect. You just don't do that. But they did and that made the comedy work.

There's a good reason why you don't break down the fourth wall. And that's got to do with the fictive dream. When you start reading a story about a fella who leaps tall buildings in a single bound, is bullet-proof, and has x-ray vision, you go along with it even if he's wearing blue spandex. You suspend disbelief because you're in the story. You can believe for a while that all this is because he's from Krypton where there is a red sun and heavier gravity and stuff.

People go along and build a mental image of this fictional world even when nobody's wearing spandex and there's just a little old lady is sipping tea in Saint Mary Mead while people around her are dropping like flies.

The story has an internal consistency that defines the world of the writer's construction. The world's consistency keeps the reader in the story. In this world, the reader should just be a wiretap on a POV character's sensory inputs with just the POV character's interpretations to guide the reader's perception.

I can get peeved when something breaks that pattern and takes me out of the story. As a writer this is a very bad thing. Because when the reader gets out of the story, s/he may realize the hour is getting late and turn out the light. Or there's something better on TV. 

The writer wants the reader to be oblivious to the world outside the story.

Can you break this rule? Sure. Look at the scenes with Fred Savage and Peter Falk in The Princess Bride. They work to bracket the story of Wesley and Princess Buttercup, and when the story might get bogged down, the kid and the grandfather are there to provide color commentary. Framing is a good thing, and these little asides are also a good thing to let the reader settle into a story and reflect upon it. Technically, this is not really breaking the fourth wall as much as a Greek Chorus, 

There are subtler ways to take the reader out of the story that I regard as mere ineptitude. Things like, the "Little did I suspect" annoyance I've talked about before

The worst way to take the reader out of the story is to make a character do something completely out of character. Characters have to act according to human nature, and they have to be consistent with the sort of person you've established already in the novel. Someone who's a nervous nellie thru the first two thirds of the story can't become laid back in the third act. If you've got a tough biker dude in a leather jacket, you can't put him on water skis and make him jump a shark.

If you write science fiction you can have aliens and ray guns, but you can't drop a tentacled body in the library of a manor in Saint Mary Mead with a hot gat in Miss Marple's fist and having her beat the truth out of a reluctant witness.

I'm cool with putting a sly reference to something the reader might recognize to another work, but it has to be done with a straight face so that anyone who doesn't recognize the allusion will notice nothing strange. But this is risky. You aren't as clever as you wish you were. Nobody is.

My advice is to be consistent. Think through how your story-world works. Write some scaffolding if you aren't sure whether the rest of the story-world has room in it for a hard-boiled spinster detective.

Friday, August 23, 2013

In Praise of Bar Camp

I hear that years back Tim O'Reilly or some other rich guy out west started having these rather exclusive get-togethers for only the best people. This is cool. It's his right to spend his time and money as he wants. This get-together was called Foo Camp.

When you draw a circle around the best people--or any circle for that matter--there's going to be a lot more people outside the circle than inside. And some of those people on the outside thought it would be a good idea to have a non-exclusive get-together for all the average Joes like me. And they organized something with the name Bar Camp.

Over time, the phenomenon of Bar Camp made its way to Grand Rapids, MI and five years ago I went to my first Bar Camp. I'm wearing a tee-shirt that Google gave away that year. In subsequent years Google quit sponsoring Bar Camp and other local sponsors have chipped in. The food is better and it's all free.

The way Bar Camp works is that smart people get together and are confronted with a blank piece of paper marked off into cells. The rows represent times and the columns represent rooms. Beside the paper are markers and everyone present is expected to give a presentation, or be ready to.

Last year I gave a very well received talk on How To Publish An EBook. If you click the link you'll get additional links that expand upon each point. If you've got an idea of self-publishing, I hope you'll benefit from it. I'm debating upon reprising the talk this year.

There are rules to Bar Camp, but they're pretty easy. Most important is that everyone is a participant, there are no spectators.

One cool thing about Bar Camp is the scheduling app. If you direct your browser to you'll see it. The delightful Laura Bergells uploaded the video above that explains how the scheduling app works. The guys who put the app together are wizards.

And Jeff DeMaagd always brings amazing lighted plexiglass signs.

I just got back from the Friday night session. The coolest thing about Bar Camp is learning about things that the smart kids are doing. I feel like something of an old man and a troglodyte when I hear a kid who's been in business since 2003 describe how he uses Google advertising in a fashion that's a lot more sophisticated than most Fortune 500 companies. And he's telling BarCamp his secrets! Or another guy who's just conducted an experiment that turns business on and off like a switch.

Every year Bar Camp GR shows me the best aspects of human nature. There are folks I see pretty much once a year and it's a real joy to reconnect with them. Kudos to Ross Hunter, Dave Brondsema, Casey Dubois, Mike Mol, Ben Rousch, and Adam Tauno Williams. High praise to Atomic Object, Calvin College, Collective Idea, Cascade Engineering, CQL, Fusionary, Mutually Human, Open Source Technologies, Universal Mind,, GR Makers, Grr Con, and Software GR. I love you guys.

Droogs and Public Safety

A while back in correspondence with a person who did not want to be named publicly, I had reason to reflect upon violence and social dysfunction perpetrated by young savages.

This conversation (about an accused white supremacist who is--surprisingly--not white) came in the context of Trayvon Martin aftermath, so any mention of "savages" needs to be immediately defended against a false charge of racism. If you want to dismiss me as a blatant racist, here's your excuse. You may now retire to your cocoon now.

I don't think being black or white or yellow makes you more or less likely to be a savage. 

Yet, how do we explain all that crime without being willfully blind to the statistics? And when you get down to individual cases, I'm thinking about the Australian baseball player murdered by youths who happen to be black.

The two competing narratives on right and left are: this is a racially motivated crime vs this is just bored kids acting out. I will go with the lefty narrative because it is more interesting.

At first, I thought the violence commonly reported in the black community (particularly black-on-black violence) was a bitter legacy of slavery. Though the peculiar institution ended over a hundred years before any of the perpetrators were born, it is nevertheless conceivable that dysfunctional social patterns of criminality fitted to slavery persist to this day.

Supposing, as many would prefer, we believe (despite one perpetrator's tweets) this murder is a modern day reenactment of the Leopold and Loeb case, or the Hitchcock movie Rope that Leopold and Loeb inspired. If so, where did this savagery come from?

The disturbing image of Malcolm McDowell came to mind. Consider the savages of A Clockwork Orange. They have their every need provided by a generous and beneficent State. The droogs are all lily white and the story of their violent criminality is utterly believable. No racism here boyo.

If race does not cause savagery, then perhaps welfare causes it. 

Earned accomplishment is the source of happiness. Leopold and Loeb were trust fund kiddies, as were the privileged antagonists of Rope. When opportunities for earned accomplishment are limited, or social forces discourage or sabotage it, people act out. When every material need is provided without effort boredom becomes a problem. 

The savagery that we find so offensive may not be the legacy of slavery, but an unexpected consequence of Santa Claus. Maybe you do should dismiss this line of reasoning as mere racism. It's less threatening than an attack on Santa Claus.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Benefits of Marriage

Beauty and the Beast is a metaphor of marriage.

Somehow the walk down the aisle and the love of a good woman changes a guy from someone who stores motorcycle parts around the Living Room floor into a responsible adult.

However, this effect has an impact on a man's ability to independently cope with life.

I saw this when my wife went to work at a part-time job. She was doing news at a local radio station. Not every day, but on weekends I'd be left to forage on my own.

When your sweetie works radio news, she's called upon to talk on the air at the top and the bottom of the hour. When she's talking on the air, she can't talk to you. And before those times, she's worried about doing her job, not yacking with someone back home.

I can't find my favorite cereal.

I should check the time, but I pick up the phone without looking until after dialing. Oops, it's minutes before the hour.

Not good.

I walk to the pantry with the cordless phone cradled in my neck when she answers.

"Do you know where the cereal is?"

She answers with a bit of irritation on the edge of her voice that she doesn't know. I should ring off ASAP so she can do her job.

I yank open the pantry door.

This door was cut to accommodate a carpet we replaced with linoleum, putting the bottom edge at the perfect height. As the door opens, it comes up over my big toe and catches on my toenail.

The nail peels back.

My power of description fail to give the exquisite pain fair representation.

I slam the door closed and hop on the one good foot.

The action unbalances me. I fall backwards. The phone goes flying. I land in the plastic wastebasket. The door bounces open again.

A bag of empty pop cans stacked atop not-yet-recycled newspapers tumbles out of the pantry. The pop cans land all over me.

My toe hurts too much to do anything but laugh.

I fish the phone out of the trash strewn across the kitchen floor and my long-suffering spouse is still on the line.

My toe is throbbing. I try to explain what happened.

My wife is neither amused nor sympathetic in the last moments before she has to go on the air.
She mumbles something like "that's nice" and rings off.

Every day, single males are capable of doing all sorts of stupid, dangerous and painful things without any help.

But it takes a wife to remind you that all this happened on your fortieth birthday.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Truth Hurts

In the 1930s, Jiro Horikoshi had a problem. He had a set of impossible requirements for the design of an airplane. Other designers had gone over the requirements and agreed that they were impossible and quit. Yet, Mr. Horikoshi persisted in his work and set about making his design as light as possible. Then he did something unusual, he checked the strength-of-materials tables and found them in error.

After he corrected the errors in his reference materials, he achieved the impossible designing the Misubishi A6M Zero, the most capable fighter airplane at the beginning of World War II.

During the height of the Cold War, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven wrote several stories about the Co-Dominium wherein the USA and USSR decide to get together quit competing and divide the world between them. The story shows a very stable empire wherein science and technology has stagnated and only the CoDo weapons labs are doing anything new.

What's interesting is the way the CoDo stifles scientific advancement. All the reference works published have had subtle errors deliberately introduced. This makes further scientific progress in the CoDo as impossible as the Japanese Zero.

Moving forward to today, I was reminded by a twitter exchange with someone who was insistent upon damning me for insulting Indigenous Americans. I had, in fact, inserted tongue in cheek and referred to academics living in a 23rd century Ann Arbor as "savages." "Savages in the Americas" could only mean Indians. Despite the fact that savagery has been perpetrated by all races in the Americas. (Little known fact: white people taught scalping to the Indians.)

At first I thought she was just stupid, but I've come to believe that being deliberately obtuse is far too common in post-modernist rhetoric. I'm not ragging on any partisan group, but on ALL partisan groups. We all construe evil in the words of our political adversaries and impute good intent to the words of our political cobelligerents.

It is just easier to demonize the other than to engage, or learn from his/her ideas. I am openly a Christian, but I try not to blatantly shove it in people's faces. Yet, when I've talked to Atheists about whether any of that church stuff is real, the most thoughtful conversations have always taught me what my faith looks like from the outside. I've benefitted from those insights.

Sure, it would be less threatening to find an excuse to dismiss everything s/he's saying. We all have a fixed capacity for truth and can only accept truth in limited doses. Truth is complicated and as likely to critique my position in the midst of establishing it.

So, what has this to do with the Japanese Zero and the CoDominium?

In both of those cases, people were limited by mistake or by malice, because basic facts were wrong. In the case of Mr. Horikoshi, he dug deeper for the truth, found it and used it. Our post-modern rhetorical games of strawman bashing and deliberate obtuseness can win arguments, and make us feel better, but they push us away from truth and push us into stagnation like the CoDo. Think of it as a stupid tax.

And if you disagree with any of this, you're a poopyhead.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Just Change The Names

I was recently reminded of words I penned 13 years ago. What has changed? Just the names. The activists have only gotten more overt about their dishonesty. Change the names to Travon or Sacco & Vanzetti if you want to rewrite this for today or for the 1920s.

If you sought a one-word characterization of recent politics, polarized might come to mind. We're seeing the extremes of left and right going beyond saying the other guys are wrong to saying they are evil. And you see this online with one side calling the other "wingnuts" and the other side calling their opposites "moonbats." 

Why is this?

For one thing, the stakes have been raised. A lot of folks believe we're only one Supreme Court Justice away from resumption of the Salem Witch Trials. 

A lot of other folks believe the Axis of Evil will enable someone to create a mushroom cloud over Manhattan. Because the stakes are so high, we're disinclined to shrug and go back to ignoring the politicians.

We're in an environment where you simply cannot talk to some people. I think this is because we disagree about what some words mean. For instance, I think everyone from the most moonbattish to the wingnuttiest believe in "liberty and justice for all." But what does liberty and justice mean?

Some think that "liberty" means freedom to be left alone. Others think that "liberty" means being able to be self-actualized. Freidrich Hayek would say that liberty means that one is free to starve to death. 

Conversely, Thomas Merton would say that I am not free if my brother is in bondage. Some think that "justice" means that the law should apply to everyone equally. Others think that "justice" means that everyone should play on a level playing field.

Thus Michael Moore speaks of clean water and universal health care when he's thinking about freedom because he's thinking about something completely different from Charleton Heston when he's asserting the second amendment.

To half of America the term "economic justice" means that everyone should be taxed at a fixed rate and no rich person should be taxed more simply because he can afford it and no poor person taxed less simply because he can't. The other side believes there is no justice if anyone in society doesn't have a satisfactory standard of living.

Take the words "good" and "evil." The moonbat's good is the wingnut's evil and vice versa. Is it evil to allow people to starve? and good to force others to pay to feed them? If you say, "yes" then what if that person being starved is in a permanent vegetative state like Terri Shiavo?

I leave as an exercise to the reader finding an equally ironic formulation of the wingnuts involving pro-life, Scott Peterson and the death penalty.

The problem is that it does not suffice to form up sides and throw rocks at each other. There are insights in each partisan position that the other side must aggregate to understand the world as it is and to refine the quality of his own thinking. That's the genius of democracy. People disagree, but a democratic process forces disparate voices to be accommodated and extreme voices of wingnuts are cancelled-out by the extreme voices of moonbats.

Neither side should be given the power to silence the other, and each side should thank the other side for serving to refine their own thinking. Peruse the Socratic dialogs and you'll see Socrates thank those who contradict him most sharply. They call to his mind the parts of his thinking that need work and create opportunities to elaborate the parts of his thinking that aren't immediately obvious.

I think that my own position is most strongly vindicated when I talk to someone on the other side, and instead of hearing reasoned arguments, I hear abuse and insult. Maybe I'm wrong, but I know that the other fellow won't set me straight and I can go on from there.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Groucho And Me

I have read that in Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club he said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

I have from time to time contemplated an organization to which I do not belong, the SFWA. Since I have been known to write Science Fiction (as seen here) and I do reside in America (as seen here), the thought of joining has occurred.

Like pipefitters or electricians, it makes sense that scribblers should band together to advance their common interest. I am a software engineer and maintain my membership in the I.E.E.E. for this reason. In fact, in my youth I served on the local chapter's board to advance my profession.

Yet, writing is less like a profession or even a skilled trade and more like something else. ...something that meets in a 12-step program.

Writers as many will tell you are commonly objects of abuse and exploitation at the hands of Publishers. Having some kind of collective bargaining unit might make sense. Or even some kind of warning system telling you who to stay away from, or what to avoid in contract negotiations.

I managed to maintain a healthy disinterest in the SFWA because I got the impression it does none of those things. Yet, they made themselves odious a while back by mau-mauing some of their own for thought-crime. I condemned their cultural Stalinism then went back to giving them the benign neglect of which I thought them worthy.

Then I heard about someone named Vox Day being drummed out of the SFWA. I've never met the fellow nor had any occasion to interact with him either positively nor negatively. Then I read this. And upon expending just a few milliseconds' more effort discovered that Stanislaw Lem had also been evicted.

OK, now I understand what's going on.

This is like academia. The politics is so vicious because nothing important is at stake.

Actually, that's not exactly true. There are people involved. People with feelings. The cool-kids-clique is bullying the unpopular kid to keep everyone else in line. This is inhuman. Come to think of it. It's a good thing that Harrison Ford never ran his anti-Turing-test on some kids I knew in High School.


Don't Repeat Yourself is a good thing to remember when you are writing.

When you are in the middle of a scene you may be tempted to describe events that have taken place earlier in the work. Don't.

Rookie writers repeat themselves because they fear the reader didn't get it, or they failed to completely cover the matter the first time and repeat themselves with a few more details later. The writer has a word processor that's perfectly capable of going back to the first point where it was mentioned so that s/he can rewrite it.

This can sneak into your work unawares. You may forget you said that already. Thus you may not catch this until you review your work as a whole. This is something you should be asking your beta-readers to be on the lookout for.

OR you may also be tempted to describe events that have taken place in other novels that you've written. That's another matter. Let's suppose the events that have taken place in other novels are things that would naturally come to the mind of the POV character at this point in the current narrative. It's natural to be reminded by similar  events or events with reasonable associations.

You do not want to rewrite the earlier novel here. That's stupid.

The reader of this work may have read the earlier work. If s/he enjoyed the work, a reminder of the pleasure of the earlier work is a Good Thing. If s/he has never read the earlier work, now's a good time to advertise.

Ah, that is another matter.

You want to tease the earlier work, but do so in a fashion that is natural from the POV character's perspective. When you are reminded of past events, it can be somewhat fragmentary. And that works to the writers' advantage. The POV character need not think of all the details. Maybe the event happened with other characters and what your POV character knows is incomplete.

Choose the most provocative aspect of the prior event and put that into your current narrative with only enough supporting detail to clearly convey it. Leave out just enough to pique the interest. Put in just enough that your reader will trust you have written an enjoyable prior novel. Be careful, there's a fine line between teasing and annoying.

You might add some new meaning that the POV character has gained through experience, or disclose something that you didn't get to the first time around. BUT tread lightly.

You can hide an Easter Egg, but that's all.

Those more worthy than I: