A writing prompt, and 3 interesting links

I feel like this could generate any number of stories:

What do different colors symbolize in different countries?

Jim C. Hines has been doing a fascinating Novelist Income Survey. Overview of income:

Average Income: $114,124

Median Income: $17,000

(I think the median is more useful than the average, here. The average is pulled up significantly by those very successful outliers.)

Linda Nagata talks about how her process has changed:

I used to always keep an up-to-date printed copy of a novel as I worked on it, but that habit faded away and these days I don’t print anything out until the end. Then, as the last step in the process**, I read straight through the printed copy from beginning to end, ALOUD. I listen for clumsy bits and look for errors, fixing them (by hand) along the way.

It’s amazing how many little problem spots I still find. But simply viewing the novel in a different context — in this case printed, instead of on-screen — causes the brain to see/hear issues that were invisible before. Reading aloud means it’s going to be slow, but for me it’s an essential step. And the end is in sight!

And Steve Barnes on the “writing machine”:

The “Machine” is the overall structure of a writing career, and ANY problem you have will be on one stage or another. If you follow it, you will simply succeed:

  1. Write at least one sentence every day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Finish what you write
  4. Submit them, continue to submit until you sell.
  5. Don’t re-write except to editorial request
  6. Read 10X what you write
  7. Continue for 100 stories.

Two writing links

I found this post by Alexander Jablokov a fascinating one. In Laying rails for the locomotive, he talks about the really specific writing method that works for him:

Some writers are able to think of stuff while they write.

I sure can think of stuff, but it is almost always clever, glittery distractions from whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Pointless flashbacks, cool devices, elaborately describe artworks…name it, I’ve done it.

In order to actually write a scene, something unified in space and time that has a structure and focus and conflict and a decent ending that kicks you into the next scene, I have to already know all of those things before I actually write it. I’ve learned this through long experience.

I’ve been thinking about as I’ve dipped back into some writing advice books; the best advice still seems to be to find the method that works best for you!

And check this out: Which Paid Marketing Works (and Doesn’t Work) for Books. Tons of details about running your own writing promotion.

Arrival reactions

I like this riff by Peter Watts on Arrival:

Changing Our Minds: “Story of Your Life” in Print and on Screen.

We share a secret prayer, we writers of short SF. We utter it whenever one of our stories is about to appear in public, and it goes like this:

Please, Lord. Please, if it be Thy will, don’t

let Ted Chiang publish a story this year.

We supplicate thus because whenever Ted Chiang does put out a story— not all that often, thankfully— it’s pretty much guaranteed to walk away with every award that’s lying around, leaving nothing for the rest of us. More often than not, it deserves to. So it will come as no surprise to learn that the first movie to be based on a Ted Chiang story is very smart, and very compelling.

What might come as a shock— and I hesitate to write this down, because it smacks of heresy— is that in terms of storytelling, Arrival actually surpasses its source material.

Also, here is Abigail Nussbaum on the movie:

In fact, by the standards of Hollywood and what it tends to make of science fiction, Arrival is a remarkably thought-provoking and meditative movie, and its message of understanding and cooperation feels particularly relevant in our present moment.  But as regards to my question, how could Villeneuve and Heisserer take the implications of Chiang’s story and put them on screen, the answer is: they didn’t.  And in fact, it seems quite obvious that this was a deliberate choice.

And Locus Magazine:
Two Thousand Translations: A Speech Odyssey: A Review of Arrival

Overall, I know that I did not enjoy Arrival as much as I should have, and find it hard to communicate exactly why that is the case. Certainly, I cannot shake the feeling that everything about the film – the acting, cinematography, special effects – seems serviceable but perfunctory, as if the creative personnel, realizing that they were blessed with excellent source material and an excellent screenplay, never felt any need to work especially hard in order to produce an excellent film. Yet I suspect the main problem is my familiarity with the story that inspired the film, which I might compare to a Bach prelude: brisk, precisely constructed, and appealing because of its grace and charm. Imagine an arranger who seizes upon a Bach prelude and transforms it into a bombastic symphony for full orchestra and chorus; the result might be a magnificent work of art on its own terms, but anyone familiar with the prelude will listen uneasily, sensing that something has gone awry.

Computer vision

This is a great piece by Benedict Evans about what happens with computers can understand imagery.

Cameras, ecommerce and machine learning

Lots of great story prompts:

We should expect that every image ever taken can be searched or analyzed, and some kind of insight extracted, at massive scale. Every glossy magazine archive is now a structured data set, and so is every video feed. With that incentive (and that smarthone supply chain) far more images and video will be captured.

So, some questions for the future:

  • Every autonomous car will, necessarily, capture HD 360 degree video whenever it’s moving. Who owns that data, what else can you do with it beyond driving and how do our ideas of privacy adjust?
  • A retailer can deploy cheap commodity wireless HD cameras thoughout the store, or a mall operator the mall, and finally  know exactly what track every single person entering took through the building, and what they looked at, and then connect that to the tills for purchase data. How much does that change (surviving) retail?
  • What happens to the fashion industry when half a dozen static $100 cameras can tell you everything that anyone in Shoreditch wore this year – when you can trace a trend through social and street photography from start to the mass-market, and then look for the next emerging patterns?
  • What happens to ecommerce recommendations when a system might be able to infer things about your taste from your Instagram or Facebook photos, without needing tags or purchase history – when it can see your purchase history in your selfies?

Online retailers have been extremely good at retail as logistics, but much less good at retail as discovery and recommendation – much less good at showing you something you didn’t know you might like (link). I sometimes compare Amazon to Sears Roebuck a century ago – they let you buy anything you could buy in a big city, but they don’t let you shop the way you can in a big city. (I think this is also a big reason why ebook sales have flatlined – what do you buy?)

That’s an aside at the end about ebook sales, but quite interesting. I’ve found that the discovery mechanism for good ebooks is… I don’t know what it is actually. I’m still thinking about this whole topic, still don’t have a good handle on it. And I don’t know enough about machine learning to know if that will make a difference.

News Diet

I have been on a news diet since not sleeping much the night of November 8th, and I think I’ll be on a news diet for the next four years. I have that luxury since I don’t live in the US, and I have to say, I’ve felt healthier and more productive ever since. Also, one advantage of having as a poor memory as I do: I’ll be quickly forgetting all the stupid crap I was reading in the run-up to the American election.

Some of my favourite writers have chimed in with their thoughts, but as usual, Ursula K. Le Guin’s take is the most insightful. This is a beautiful piece, worth reading in its entirety.

The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water

Americans have voted for a politics of fear, anger, and hatred, and those of us who oppose this politics are now trying to figure out how we can oppose it usefully. I want to defend my country, my republic. In the atmosphere of fear, anger, and hatred, opposition too easily becomes division, fixed enmity. I’m looking for a place to stand, or a way to go, where the behavior of those I oppose will not control my behavior.

Americans are given to naming enemies and declaring righteous war against them. Indians are the enemy, socialism is the enemy, cancer is the enemy, Jews are the enemy, Muslims are the enemy, sugar is the enemy. We don’t support education, we declare a war on illiteracy. We make war on drugs, war on Viet Nam, war on Iraq, war on obesity, war on terror, war on poverty. We see death, the terms on which we have life, as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

Defeat for the enemy, victory for us, aggression as the means to that end: this obsessive metaphor is used even by those who know that aggressive war offers no solution, and has no end but desolation.

The election of 2016 was one of the battles of the American Civil War. The Trump voters knew it, if we didn’t, and they won it. Their victory helps me see where my own thinking has been at fault.

I will try never to use the metaphor of war where it doesn’t belong, because I think it has come to shape our thinking and dominate our minds so that we tend to see the destructive force of aggression as the only way to meet any challenge. I want to find a better way.

It goes from there, just as beautifully. I’m a pacifist but I don’t know much about Lao Tzu (a much different tradition, arriving at the same location: peace is difficult, yet worth the effort); I think I’ve going to have to remedy that.

I’ve also been thinking about Canadians who have moved to the US. I went back and re-read Emily St. John Mandel’s piece from earlier this year, The Year of Numbered Rooms, and found it greatly moving and relevant. Especially in the context of the subject of Station Eleven.

Three from Mythcreants

Four Fictional Economies That Don’t Make Sense

Most of us understand the basics of economics, but even so, it’s easy get the details wrong in our worldbuilding. When that happens, audiences realize something isn’t right, even if they can’t quite name what it is. Let’s take a look at some fictional worlds that didn’t do a great job so that we can avoid similar mistakes in our own work.

Five Lessons Writers Can Learn from Roleplaying Games

1. Difficult Problems Must Actually Be Difficult

PCs usually approach problems by trying to find the most efficient way to solve them, not by looking for the easiest way to a dramatic conclusion.

Striking an End Note That Resonates

Writers frequently obsess over their opening paragraph, hoping to make a great first impression. But the last impression also matters. It sets the mood that the reader walks away with, giving it a disproportionate impact on how they feel about the story or whether or not they recommend it to their friends.

Person of Interest, Epic Fantasy, Writing Advice

The Stealth Futurism of ‘Person of Interest’

Andrew Marr’s Paperback Heroes – a masculine view of epic fantasy entrenching bias.

The Authors of The Kingkiller Chronicle and An Ember in the Ashes Offer Writing Advice in This Fun Chat

Get Inspired for NaNoWriMo with Advice from Your Favorite SFF Authors!

Also, I loved this post from Captain Awkward: #913: “You don’t have to quit your day job right this second to follow a creative dream.”

You need to get connected to your passions right now, TODAY.

Some ways to do that, listed in no particular order of importance:

  • Collect your heroes. Read Steal Like An Artist and choose your hall of virtual mentors. Whose art makes you want to make art? Dig into their work and read, watch, listen intently.
  • Create rituals. Look into The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and whether or not the “spiritual” language works for you, think about trying out her daily practices (free-writing three pages every morning) and weekly practices (The Artist’s Date, where you spend 1-2 hours by yourself exploring and giving yourself permission to daydream and absorb and create).
  • Get social. What is a professional group, MeetUp group, online community or other social network of people who do what you want to do? Join one of those and practice saying out loud to other people what it is that you want to do. “My name is ______ and I’m an attorney but I also _______ and want to be a ______.
  • Find the local scene. Chances are that where you live someone is doing the thing you want to be doing with your life. Subscribe to the local theater company. Go to the local indie film screening. Get on the list for art openings at galleries, readings, humanities festivals. Sit on boards, volunteer behind the scenes if you can. In a careerist sense this is “building your network.” In a creative sense this is “filling the well.”
  • Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Is there an evening or weekend class in what you want to be doing that you could take? Try something out. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to be immediately supporting yourself with this creative pursuit. Experiment and play.
  • Use your breaks. Do you get vacation time at this nice law job of yours? Can you plan to take some of it specifically around a film festival or artists’ retreat or concert or play you want to see? Plan out your vacation time over the next 22 months and make sure you’re giving yourself regular intervals to recharge and soak up what you want to do.