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Monday, February 25, 2013

Valuing Differences in Writing Styles

I attended LTUE recently. It was great seeing so many friends and making new ones.

I've spent a lot of time over the last year dealing with doubt. Do I really have what it takes to be an author? Does my writing suck lemons? Is this really what I want? This was on top of chronic health problems, kitchen remodeling, job loss, and all sorts of other angst. It was not an easy year. A lot of things have changed, most of them in my head.

I was on a panel titled World Building 101. It was intimidating to be up there. Fellow panelists included James A Owen, Bob Defendi, Dan Willis, Larry Correia, and Howard Tayler. I've known all of them, except for James, for years. But I was feeling decidedly defensive, being the only woman on the panel and the least known author in the group. It didn't help it was 9 am on a Saturday and the room was packed anyway.

Howard was moderating. He'd come around to all of us the night before and told us to bring our "A game". We were going to demonstrate world building. We spent the first fifteen minutes creating two different worlds. Fun brainstorming with some great ideas. Then it turned to a discussion of how we authors build worlds for our stories.

I was starting to believe I did it wrong. All of the others start with an idea, a concept, which they build their world around. Once they have that fleshed out a bit, they drop in characters and a plot. I start with a character and a bit of plot that interests me. I build the world around whatever happens. It's a much more organic process than what they were describing.

Keep in mind these men are intimidating, big names. I've never had a creative writing class in my life. The only writing class I ever had in college was technical writing which doesn't really lend itself to fiction.

Dan Willis spoke up after I hesitantly described my process. To paraphrase, "We all write differently. Don't sweat it. Do what works for you. There is no wrong way to create a story."

There are pitfalls in writing fiction that have to do with plot holes, passive voice, switching point-of-view, and other things, but those skills can be learned. Telling stories? Creating characters and worlds? Everyone is going to do it differently. The results are a rich smorgasbord of voices and stories and ideas. Don't doubt your method, unless it isn't working for you.

Believe in your voice and your story. No one else can tell it the way you will.

And if you're ever on a panel with Howard Tayler? He can't stand the term pantsing to describe writing by the seat of your pants or making it up as you go. Just a friendly warning.


  1. I'm sorry I didn't get to talk to you more at LTUE. I enjoyed your interview on Residual Hauntings, though. I'm sure you were great on the panel. I have been struggling with doubt too. I know how,that feels!

  2. I would have loved to spend time with you, too. So many people to visit, so little time.

    The doubt monster afflicts all of us to one degree or another. If we band together, maybe we can slay our doubt monsters. Or at least send them scuttling for the hills.

    At least I got to wave hi in passing.

  3. Hopefully we can chat more at Conduit!

  4. Doubt seems to be attracted to anything we care about. =P But you might also have been getting a reporting bias. As it was a world building panel, then people can be forgiven for having their setting brain on top.

    From my perspective as a reader I think the various writing methods come with their own strengths and blind spots. The strength I see in your work is the characters. Both in their consistency and their ability to make me care. To be willing to stay there with them when everything is falling down around them.

    There are a couple of authors in your list that write characters I skip their point of view when the story head hops. I just don't or can't care about nor bear to listen to their heads and their decisions.

    The blind spot that I can postulate existing might lie in world consistency issues from things like legal or economic systems, which always have complicated underpinnings and surprising repercussions.

    However, the space opera flavor evades a fair bit of these complications by putting characters in brand new situations rather than, say in a sifi political story, dealing with centuries of layered repercussions. In space opera you can get to where the characters know no more than the readers about how a legal or an economic system really works.

    ...which thinking about it, sort of makes law and econ equivalent to magic. I wonder if Sanderson's law about solving problems with magic holds true for law/economics when those systems are amorphous and unknown? I'll have to pay attention to that in the next space opera I read...

    But honestly, these are complicated enough that they are blind spots for lots of people. Even in normal fiction that can go from observation of the here and now. Unless of course they are a pet interest. Then they get showcased.

    There is an author (not on this panel) that I read for his economic repercussion evaluation. Even though I sort of feel he only has one view point character for all his various series. I've found myself tracking the character's food preferences to remember which book I'm reading.

    So basically, writing methods changes what you write. But so does everything else. The key may be to find the strengths and weaknesses of your preferred method, and then play to it's strengths and either watch or ask for help with it's blind spots.

    ...I miss LTUE...

    Hope this year is smoother!

  5. Thanks, Hannah. The point of the post, what I took away from the panel, was that everyone's method has value. There is no one right way to write. I like your last point - play to your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. The trick is figuring them out.


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