Tag Archives: Writing

Two years of lockdown; one year+ writing on Zoom

In March 2020, California decided that non-essential employees should start working remotely. You know, just for a bit, until all the fuss died down and we could all return to our cubicles.

By Feb 2021, after numerous in-person events were either canceled or migrated to online formats, I realized it was probably going to be a serious stretch before I could hang with my fellow word miners. No coffee shops, no bar-cons, no weekend workshops, and no woodsy retreats. Thank you, pandemic-enablers. Really, you shouldn’t have.

We were truly stuck inside for the duration. So, taking a page from a weekend Google Hangout group, I decided to try my luck at this whole Zoom thing. I called it “Story-breaking and kvetching” after two of my favorite group writer activities. It started out as a Saturday thing, and then an occasional Sunday thing, with the times alternating from morning to evening to accommodate folks in different time zones.

Once, last summer, I even held a late-night session from Sweden and was able to snag a guest appearance from a London friend. Score!

The number of participants varies. A few times I’ve been alone and used the time to write quietly. Once we had 10 people. Mostly, it’s a die-hard core of 3-5 folks from Viable Paradise, Paradise Lost, and CODEX. Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings. Plus the odd Thursday when I’m on deadline.

I’ve moved away from the “kvetching” aspect (although that still happens, because, writers) to focus more on a 30-minute check-in before we do 90 minutes of writing. I’m always interested in how people are surviving the Permanent Health Crisis, what are they working on, and hey, did you sell a story or finish your novel? Excellent! Virtual high fives all around.

I’ll be honest. I would much rather sit with my friends on comfy furniture with laptops and beverages than stare at this screen and chat in a side window. And that time will come again, in some form. Meanwhile, I hope people continue to show up, or stop by for the first time, and mine some words.

You are most welcome. Tuesdays and Fridays. Plus the odd Thursday.

Viable Paradise redux: Burden of Exposition

Three years I attended the week-long bootcamp/spiritual pummeling/lovefest known as Viable Paradise.  If you’re a serious genre writer, or simply looking for your tribe, check them out.

Several of our instructors discussed the special challenge faced by SF/F writers: how much exposition is necessary to create the world?  More importantly, how much is too much?  They referred to this as the burden of exposition.  For every cool technology, language, ritual, gender, and dinner item that you invent for your story, there is a corresponding weight for your reader.  They have to carry that around in their mental backpack  as they traverse the landscape of your tale.  After a while, that backpack is going to get heavy.  When it’s heavy, it’s distracting.

I had a trunk story that I revised after VP.  It was a Jack Vance-inspired story, set in a far future Earth where garbage men were priests, and hereditary Princes ruled absolutely, surrounded by Official Toadies.  I filled it with all sorts of weird world building because hey, I was having fun.

However, the story was too long.  I needed to bring it in at 5000 words.  I needed to lose at least one scene, and a lot of description.  I really fought through those edits, since I was worried that the readers wouldn’t appreciate the story I didn’t provide context for everything.

Wrong. Readers are “extrapolating machines” (Therese Hayden Smith).  Give them enough clues, and they’ll usually figure it out.

Once I embraced this principle, I carved away enough words to meet the editor’s requirement.   The end result wasn’t my original vision, but it got the job done.  And I still liked it.

So did the editor at Perihelion SF.  In his acceptance letter, he wrote:

I’m sort of glad you  didn’t make any attempt whatsoever to explain how that society came to be. That would be unnecessarily confusing and probably elicit an immediate rejection.

So when you’re asking the reader to carry all your Cool Details, choose wisely.