Rumors, Scandals and Other People’s Drama, oh my!

I went through a lot of drama in my former marriage due to my wife’s mental illness. I didn’t realize until recent events how much that changed me. For one, I have a very low tolerance for other people’s unnecessary drama these days. There are things worth drama and things that are blown out of proportion. I see this a lot these days. Rumors, scandals and drama abound. People assume, get angry, start hurling insults, and it just escalates into real nastiness from there.  In the midst of such overwrought drama, real issues, real problems that deserve the attention get lost. People lose interest because they hate conflict and drama. Change doesn’t occur.

There are a few things I have learned that I wish a few others would learn about these kinds of situations. Here they are:

1) Freedom of Speech does not just apply to those you like and agree with.  People these days are quick to demand that those they find offensive shut up. So much for freedom of speech. Apparently it only applies to those who say the right things. Unfortunately, a little document called the United States Constitution would take issue with that.

2) People have a right to an opinion of their own. Even if it’s not the same as yours. That’s a founding principle for democracy, folks. And it should be treasured and respected.

3) When someone is offended by something because of their assumptions and background, not specific words, they are not due an apology. Happens a lot these days. Someone writes something and people interpret it as offensive. They demand an apology. Others line up to support them. But what the author owes them is: nothing. Common courtesy would suggest a clarification might be prudent even polite. And if the words themselves were clear and inherently offensive, then an apology would be appropriate. But if the complainers takes meaning not inherent in the words, they are choosing to be offended by interpreting the words a certain way. It’s not them to whom an apology is due. They owe one to the author. Especially if a clarification was offered and they refuse to accept it.

4) Sensitivity and Respect go both ways.  If you want people to be sensitive to your feelings, etc. or those of others around you, you cannot be dismissive of theirs. Impugning anyone with whom you disagree is no more appropriate or acceptable than anything you might accuse them of saying. If the response is just as or more offensive than what provoked it, you are also just as wrong. Bullying in the name of anti-bullying is still bullying, folks. Bigotry in the  name of anti-bigotry is still bigotry, too.

5) Your views can be just as offensive as those of your opponents. Especially for those watching you shove them arrogantly down everyone’s throats. In fact, I know many people who agree in principle with the loud voices who wouldn’t stand up and be counted because they don’t want to “act like that.” The harshness of the behavior does more harm than good to the cause. You won’t convince anyone to change by chasing them off with rudeness and insults.  If you are so aggressive that people shut up and walk away, you have lost, not won. You have defeated your cause. You have not been heard.

6) Just because a group someone belongs to was guilty in the past or has currently guilty members does not make all members of said group responsible. This is a big one. “You are a priveleged white male, so you are guilty of racism, sexism, etc. by being a white male.” This is just one common example. Sorry, but no dice. I am not responsible for the sins of my ancestors. I am responsible for my own sins and actions. If you can’t separate the two, the problem lies with you. This article on Kafkatrapping and Logical Fallacies addresses how ridiculous these claims really are. And I think we should judge people as individuals not classes, groups, etc. Isn’t that what eliminating discrimination is all about?

If more people remembered these things, I think the internet and society would be more pleasant. Certainly Science Fiction and Fantasy as a community could benefit, but I believe that’s just a reflection of broader culture. I need to remember these things.  I hope my readers will as well. Most of all, I hope some will learn to do them. Productive and effective communication doesn’t occur well in the irrational environment of inflamed emotions. But it can occur in productive, reasoned dialogue. As I said before, I’ll say it again, stopping the insult hurling and talking is the better path.

For what it’s worth…


Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013) and is currently editing Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.
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Write Tip: Get In Late, Get Out Early

When I went to screenwriting school, the key thing they taught us about writing scenes was to enter a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible after that. Forget the niceties. None of this:

 

Bob walked in the room to find Guy sitting on the couch, chilling.

“Hey, dude, whassup?” Bob asked.

Guy shrugged, not even glancing over. “Nothing. You?”

“Meh. Me either.”

 

No. You’d better have something more interesting. We can assume they’re nice, normal people but we don’t need to see their mundane, routine, room entering banter to prove it.  Show us that and you’ve lost our interest. Why? We can see that every day. And when  you write it out, it’s quickly apparent how boring our lives have become.

Instead, you want to start with as dramatic a spot as possible.

 

           “Why am I here?” Hachim choked out. Sweat dripped off the arms of the chair as it soaked through his robe. After twenty minutes alone in the interrogation room, he looked like he’d fallen into a lake. Tarkanius and Aron shook their heads, and Aron was thankful he wasn’t present for the odor. They watched through the one way glass as the Major Zylo stopped across the table from the sweaty Lord, staring at him.

            “You know why you’re here,” Zylo said.

            Hachim coughed. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

            “So you always sweat this much when you’re innocent?”

            Hachim grabbed the towel Zylo tossed across the table at him and began wiping the exposed flesh of his face, brow, neck and arms. “It’s hot in here.”

            “I’m perfectly comfortable.” Zylo sat in the seat across from him and leaned back, watching as the Lord cleaned himself. “You’re gonna need a new robe.”

 

Are you hooked yet? I hope so. This scene should be a lot more interesting. If not, go back to your boring life. I hope you’re very happy there.

The difference between scene 1 and scene 2 is that when scene 1 starts, nothing is happening. The characters aren’t even all that interesting. In scene 2, the drama has started before we’re allowed in the room. Hachim’s already sweating, Zylo’s already hostile. It’s obvious right away Hachim is guilty of something, at least as far as Zylo’s concerned, and Zylo intends to get to the bottom of it. We’d like to as well. To me, this illustrates well the craft of getting into a scene as late as possible. Something interesting is already happening. No wasted space. No chit chat.

Now let me show you the rest of the scene so we can talk about point two: getting out as soon after.

  “What is this about? You have no right to detain me without cause!”

            Zylo nodded, then slid a datapad across the table, watching as Hachim set down the towel and began to read.

            “Conspiracy? Assassination?” Hachim’s eyes darted up from the screen. “I had nothing to do with it.”

            “You knew about it.”

            Hachim shook his head. “If you could prove it, you’d have already arrested me.” He smiled smugly.

            Zylo laughed. “The Alien Leadership Summit.”

            Hachim’s eyes raced to finish the charges. “What about it?” Hachim slid the datapad back across the table and shot him a confused look that wasn’t very convincing.

            “What’s the location?”

            “That’s classified for the Council.”

            “I have clearance, trust me. I’m on the security team.”

            Hachim hesitated, then melted under Zylo’s stare. “Idolis.”

            Zylo shook his head. “Buzz! Wrong answer. And it was all over the news.”

            “So? I am not the only person privy to that.” Hachim leaned back in his chair, attempting to appear bored, but Aron saw the fear in his eyes. And Zylo saw it, too.

            Zylo chuckled. “Yes, you were.”

            Hachim looked at him again, startled. “What?”

            Zylo nodded, smirking. “Each Lord was given a different location.”

            Hachim frowned. “A different location? They can’t hold the Summit in more than one place…” His voice trailed off as the implications sank in. Zylo raised a brow as their eyes met. “Lies? A trap?”

            “A security precaution. How many people did you tell?”

            Hachim shook his head. “No, I’m innocent. I’m not going to tolerate this abuse.” Slowly, he stood from his chair and took a step toward the door.

            Zylo shoved Hachim back into the chair. “Sit down and start answering.” Hachim looked offended at the treatment. Zylo wasn’t even phased. “Now!”

            Aron looked at Tarkanius, wondering if it were time for them to join the interrogation. Tarkanius shook his head. “No. Let him suffer.”

            “Then their fate will be yours.” Zylo shrugged and turned to casually stroll toward the door. Hachim’s eyes widened.

            “It was Niger’s idea,” Hachim began. Zylo turned back as Hachim’s shoulders sank with his weight in the chair.

 

Can you see how fast it moves? And the whole thing is fairly dramatic. In fact, you don’t even get to know what he tells him. Why? Because talk is boring. It’s more interesting to show that in the scenes that follow. In context, this opens Chapter 12 in my forthcoming novel The Returning, so readers will actually know more coming into it than you did. They’ll know, for example, that Hachim has been betraying his trust as a public servant. That people’s lives are at risk if he’s leaked the data as suspected. People we care about’s lives. Still, it illustrates my point well. It’s tight. It’s dramatic. It sets up the character’s relationship quickly. The characters are revealed through action and dialogue. There’s tight pace. And it holds your interest. Plus, even both pieces combined, it’s short. In late, out early.

Try it. Not only will your pacing automatically be better. Your readers are likely to turn pages faster. And your writing is even going to be more fun. Yes, this is an interrogation scene. But you can do the same thing with any scene where there’s conflict, and, frankly, most of the time, if you scene doesn’t have conflict, you shouldn’t be writing it. Seriously. Conflict is the heart of good fiction. If you don’t have conflict at the heart of a scene, find a way to dismiss it with a couple quick telling sentences and skip to the next dramatic moment. Your readers will thank you for it.

In any case, that’s how you get in late, and get out early. I hope it helps you improve your craft. Feel free to comment, ask questions, dialogue about it. I won’t bite…well, then, part of the dramatic tension is your not knowing for sure if that’s true. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

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Lessons In Letting Go: The Author And His Babies

One of the more important lessons I’ve learned since I started on the path to writing professional fiction in 2008 is about letting my babies go. There is a point with every manuscript where you are so close to it, you want to just hold it tightly and keep chipping away its deficiencies, molding it gently and lovingly into the best baby it can be no matter how long it takes. And don’t get me wrong, revision is a good thing. Striving for quality is important and professional. Insisting on perfection, however, is not. Did that just rock you in your boots? Was it unexpected? It shouldn’t be. If there’s anything writing should teach you it’s that you’re not perfect.

Writing is often like holding a microscope lens up to the world and pointing out all the flaws and tears and imperfections. And the more you do it, the more uncomfortable it can sometimes be as things hit close to home and remind you of your own failures, weaknesses and imperfectness. Do you know what I mean? So many parts of me as a writer wind up there glaring at me from the page. And so many things come out through the writing which wake me up from my vain self-ignorance and glorious denial to provide a reality check. There’s always that point where I just can’t stop rewriting. I tell myself time and again “Just another little polish on those adverbs” or “Just another little trimming of expositional diarrhea” and the next thing I know I’ve done a whole new draft. Sometimes I even recognize myself putting back in things I’m sure I took out before as unnecessary. And that’s the first sign it’s time to set down the manuscript and think about what you’re doing.

Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? And the more you study craft and listen to writers talk about it and read reviews and critiques and read other writers, the worse it can get. You realize “maybe I’m not there yet. I’m not good enough.” And you  know that if this work gets published it will be out there forever representing you. And you just can’t let that be your legacy. Am I right?

Why am I thinking about this on the eve of the release of my debut novel? It’s because my friend Patty saw the 4 star review I posted of my novel on Goodreads and lambasted me for giving my own novel anything less than 5 stars. I started researching and found bestselling novelist Kat Richardson, a friend of mine who’s also on Goodreads, has given her novels 4 star reviews. So I asked her for advice.

She said this: “I believe in honesty, not self-inflation. I don’t think the books are perfect and I think 5 starts ought to imply near-perfection. I have rated some higher than others because I, as the author, feel some are actually better realized products of my intent. ”

And that made me reflect on the times since I handed in the manuscript when I’ve gone through and nitpicked the novel, worried what reviewers will say, worried what readers will think, worried about the pros I respect whom I asked to blurb my book. And then the blurbs started coming in and they were so positive. And although yes, the authors may not be telling me the flaws they see, they are willing to have their name associated with my book in a sort of endorsement and that means something, right? It’s like being accepted into an exclusive club of sorts…like my writing just became legitimately professional level. Even if it’s beginning professional. After all, it doesn’t matter how big a name, every author had a first novel. And most of them have written better books since. So letting go is part of the process, isn’t it? And as hard as it is, it’s a healthy part of it.

For me, I would never rate my own book 5 stars out of 5 because I know it’s not perfect. I know I’m not perfect. I mean, I gave Robert Silverberg’s “Lord Valentine’s Castle” 5 stars. I gave “The Lord Of The Rings” 5 stars. My book can’t even begin to compare. In fact, by those standards, I’m thinking three would be stretching. I am no Silverberg. And I am no Tolkein. But Silverberg and Tolkein started somewhere, didn’t they? And it’s probably a place very similar to where I am right now as far as how they felt about their own work. Silverberg has criticized his own early work as not very good. I read it and thought it was still brilliant. So given that reality, should I really feel too concerned about putting something out there at this time that’s not the best I’ll ever write? My answer to that is: Of course not! What I have to worry about is putting out something right now that’s less than the best I can do at this moment.

Since handing in The Worker Prince final draft to my publisher, I’ve written short stories and most of the next book in the trilogy. I have found myself breezing through certain aspects of the writing which I really struggled over and agonized through when I wrote Book 1. How can that be? And through my chat with Kat and considering Patty’s pushing me I realized it’s a natural part of growing as a writer, learning craft and internalizing what you learn. Of course things you’ve learned get easier over time because they become like instinct. And other things need to be learned. I’m sure when I finish Book 2 and turn it in, I’ll be wondering if it’s good enough. Book 3 as well a year after that. My whole career I’ll probably release every novel I ever write with the same reservations. It’s natural. It’s normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not time to let them go.

In so many ways for novelists, our books are like babies. We do our best to guard them, nourish them, raise them up to the best they can be. But then they reach 18 and it’s time to set them free, let them face the world on their own two feet and come into their own. It’s a natural part of the lifecycle of a novel or short story. And I’m pretty sure after what I’ve experienced that as flawed as my first novel is no one is coming to stone me or insist I retract it or apologize to every other person who’s a real novelist for besmirching them by daring to label myself the same, you know? Okay, it doesn’t release until October 4th so I may be wrong, but somehow, I don’t think so. Somehow I think I’m ok. And you know what? That’s a good lesson to learn.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

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