by Sarah A. Hoyt
This is a manifesto. I’m not sure what we’re manifesting, but it’s probably destiny. Or density. When you’re dyslexic, it can get confusing. But in any case we’re manifesting something and it’s a patent manifestation.
The proximate reason for this is my post – here. Or in other words, it’s another fine mess my mouth got us into. (Okay, my typing fingers. If you’re going to be nitpicky, you’re right out of the club.)
The purpose of this is to create a new “idea” in science fiction, a new way to look at the genre. Properly observed (and I’ve observed it) I think the genre should be a way to play with possible futures, with possible outcomes, with possible ideas. The wonder of science fiction lays in the open possibility.
When we have the list of what we’re sort of aiming for, we can start getting people who “subscribe” to those ideas, or to most of them
Once we have the list of who you are and your websites, we shall send enforcers to your hom… No, wait. That’s another list. Oh, I see. That’s the list the trolls left behind. Never mind.
Once we have that list, we can we can have some large, linked aggregate, so we can help each other, and get more attention to the whole idea.
We should also en-list some critics and reviewers. I know some reviewers but not much about critics in their native habitat. However, someone else might.
Because we are rebelling against enforced conformity of style and opinion, of belief and ideology, this list is not “though shalt nots” but “You’re allowed to.” It is also, in the nature of my nature (Okay, who let the copyeditor in? Rent his robes and throw him to outer darkness, where there shall be wailing and gnawing of blue pencils) to know that this job is not completed. Heck, it’s not even really started. There will be discussion of this list at both According To Hoyt and Mad Genius Club. Come and be heard, and let the discussion begin.
You are allowed to write escapist science fiction – or fantasy. Sometimes we just need a good read. If it doesn’t have a big idea but is enjoyable, it’s still a worthy endeavor.
You are allowed to write as much as you wish. In the new limitless market we see no reason to artificially restrict your output. Anyone who thinks quality depends on how long something took to write has never known either professional writers or struggling middle-graders.
You are allowed to write first person. You are also allowed to write second person, third person, and in persons yet to be invented. As long as your work is entertaining, we hold you harmless in matters relating to verbal malfeasance.
If your world building holds internal consistency, at least according to the buying public, anyone objecting because it doesn’t conform to his or her idea of a future shall be pelted with soft boiled eggs and wear the yolk of shame.
Your objective is to sell books. Writing is communication. Your objective is to communicate with as many people as possible. Or at least to amuse them, distract them, or make the burden of life less burdensome for a while. Wishing to feed your family is also an acceptable goal.
You can write male heros. You can write female heros. You can write alien heros. You can write human heros. You can write western heros. You can write non-western heros. You can write squirrel-heros (but you have to know you’re weird.) You can write it in a boat, you can write it with a goat (but which end do you hold on the paper?) You can write it in a moat (but it will probably drip) and you can write it on a stoat.
You can have a happy ever after. You can have a happy for a while. You can have a fleeting happy. It’s your happy and you can have it if you want to.
You can write action and plot oriented books. (Who will stop you? You’ve researched fighting techniques, right?)
You can write sex. Or not. It all depends what fits the plot. You can even write sex with a robot.
You can write politics. You can write them from the right, from the left, from the middle, the top, the bottom or everywhere at once. Just remember to make them fit the plot. And remember not to infodump.
So do we have no principles? No guidelines?
Oh, it’s guidelines you want, then? Well, I was manifesting. But fine. I’ll throw out a few simple rules:
1 – Your writing should be entertaining. If you’re writing for the awards and the literary recognition, you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd. (Does the other crowd have a tiny racoon in a kilt? Or even a quilt? Think!)
2 – Your writing shouldn’t leave anyone feeling like they should scrub with pumice or commit suicide through swallowing stoats for the crime of being human, or like humans are a blight upon the Earth, or that the future is dark, dreary, evil and fraught with nastiness, because that’s all humans can do, and woe is us.
3 – Your writing should not leave anyone feeling ashamed of being: male, female, western, non-western, sickly, hale, powerful, powerless. It should use characters as characters and not as broad groups that are then used to shame other groups. Fiction is not agit prop.
4- Your writing shouldn’t be all about the message. You can, of course, have a message. But the message should not be the be-all end-all of the novel. If it is, perhaps you should be writing pamphlets.
5 – You shall not commit grey goo. Grey goo, in which characters of indeterminate moral status move in a landscape of indeterminate importance towards goals that will leave no one better or worse off is not entertaining. (Unless it is to see how the book bounces off the far wall, and that has limited entertainment. Also, I’m not flinging my kindle.)
6 – Unless absolutely necessary you will have a positive feeling to your story. By this we don’t mean it will have a happy ending or that we expect pollyanish sentiments out of you. Your novel and setting can be as dystopic as you want it. In fact, your character can die at the end. Just make sure he goes down fighting and dies for something, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated.
7 – You will write in language that can be understood. You will have an idea of what your story is about, or at least of its beginning, middle and end. And so will your reader, once he reads it.
8 – You are allowed to write scientific speculation that counters “currently established fact” – just give us a reason why that makes sense in your universe. (For some universes it can be highly whimsical, for others you’ll need serious handwavium.)
9 – You will not be boring. Or at least you’ll do your best not to be boring.
10 – You shall not spend your life explaining why your not-boring is better than your fellow writers not-boring. Instead you will shut up and write.
Comments, suggestions, goats? Stoats? Oranges? Peanuts? Lightly thrown chickens? (What? I find thrown chickens humorous. No, I don’t know why. Oh, please, I’m a writer. Like I have the money for a psychiatrist.)
I approve of this so much that I have reblogged over at everwalker.wordpress.com. Hope you don’t mind, but your posts are genius!
11 Thou shall not post excuses for not writing.
That sort of ruins the fun…
Let me have a go at them rules
1) Remember that you are competing with beer money and time they could be spending with friends. Your product shall be at least as entertaining as the alternatives.
2) There shall be characters that many people can empathise with and plots that result in said characters doing meaningful things leading so some kind of satisfying conclusion.
3) If there is a message, and particularly if said message has to do with contemporary politics, then it should be part of the background. On the other hand timeless concepts such as “honour” and “responsibility” may be used without embarrassment
4) There is no rule 4
6) Sacred cows can make good BBQ steak if properly killed.
It could even be summarised. Try to make it fun, satisfying and not have a “sell-by” date.
*Sorry wrong list
** OK some whining if it makes sense for the plot but not the entire story
( also posted at AccordingtoHoyt)
And, rule five with the implied struck through word takes down about 1/3 of my output, if you count secondary characters and possibly my best work to date for main characters. (And don’t ask why. Like I have a say in what I write. Geesh. And I’ve told you I can’t afford a psychiatrist!) Yes, I know that’s not what you meant, but all the same and not being a nuisance er… the crossed out word might perhaps be best replaced with the more descriptive “sissies.” Used as in “Aging isn’t for sissies.” I’m not demanding political correctness, but it confuses the issue and the last thing we can afford is to either alienate people whot never done us no harm and/or to give the other side ammunition with which to pillory us as unrefined, uncouth, the scum of the Earth and prejudiced troglodytes. All of which doubtless we are, with perhaps the exception of “prejudiced” unless the prejudice is against written dreck.
This comment is way too convoluted. Forgive my uncaffeinated — soon to be remedied — state and the unwonted fact of finding myself defending a minor point that some might consider political correctness, considering I despise the walling off of words and the right not to be offended that some people claim — both — a blight upon the world and rational discourse. Let’s consider it instead a minor point of editing, and say I’d prefer to use lightening and not the lightening bug.
Yrs Sincerely, ever,
Sarah A. Hoyt, Gender Traitor, gadfly, iconoclast and ideological arsonist, running dog of American intellectual imperialism, etc, etc,
I think that, in general, dispositive prohibitions — “thou shalt nots” — should be deprecated.
Let me reprise my suggestion from the comments at Sarah’s Place: the only real requirement should be “somebody wins”. Note that this allows “dark” — the protagonist(s) don’t have to be the winners, but somebody in the system has to gain advantage.
What we’re fighting here is people who’ve taken the heat death of the Universe as a model. Yeah, OK, entropy wins in the end, but there can be local reversals, and at least they aren’t boring.
Do you know how many people this is gonna leave confused, disoriented, defensive and afraid? Much goo will come of it!
The gooers are going to goo. We can’t stop them. If we shut up they win. And people who could be non-gooers will become gooers because “it’s only option.” I say, let them eat goo.
I would so like to read the results instead of a lot of what is frequently on offer.
I used to be an avid scifi reader, but I’ve lately read hardly any. Mostly romance and mystery.
By the way, I’m not a writer but I love this blog.
I would like to suggest Rule 3.14: Pie is a Good Thing.
The Dark Side does have first rights on the cookie meme, but I don’t think anyone has claimed “Working towards a zero-calorie-chocolate future”. See? Nice and positive, forward-thinking …
More seriously, it would be good as someone mentioned to avoid prohibitions–phrase rules/suggestions/hints in a positive rather than a negative way. Or as benefits/privileges, e.g. “If you are part of the Human Wave SF project, you *get to* write: stories where the heroes win; characters that are fun to be with; worlds where making an effort makes a difference.” And so on.
I dunno, “Thou shalt not be a pretentious literati git,” has a nice ring to it.
*The coon snaffles off some pie.”
I DO like that.
Yes, but there need to be if not rules, boundaries, or it becomes another case of “the anti-authoritarians failed to organize.” We’re not compelling anyone to join. If you fit these parameters, then you’re of us.
On the whole sub-cookie-meme. I propose another enticement <em>Be Not Afraid
Thanks for another amazing post. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve re-blogged it.
As this is the fiction I both enjoy reading and writing, I’m glad to see that I am now “allowed” to do so without shame. I think it is a pity that so little of it has been forthcoming from the “establishment” over the last [insert number] years.
I think political correctness has been a bane on good writing. So many people nitpick over the use of particular words as though the people being referred to can’t tell the difference between a generic description and an insult. The English language doesn’t contain a gender-neutral singular pronoun, so until it does we’re either going to have to pluralize all our references, or do the hopscotch thing where we keep switching between him and her, he and she. Personally, I find hopscotch annoying. Does anyone know of a gender-neutral singular pronoun that we can import from another language?
“Thou shalt” works a lot better than any “thou shalt not”.
Thou shalt have fun, and encourage others to have fun, with your writing. What could be better than helping to rediscover a sense of wonder?
I don’t mind you reblog it, and I say damn it, “he” is historically and grammatically accurate. I’m REALLY tired of the war on language.
I like to use political correctness as “Thou shalt consider the implications of the words that you use”. Words are powerful, and rather than crippling language, I think PC has the potential as a tool to help us communicate with each other on a much more effective level—especially if I’m communicating with someone who has an entirely different set of experiences from my own.
Jack, I respectfully disagree. You’re thinking of “political correctness” as a way of “speaking/writing/chosing your words carefully”. “Political Correctness” is “Thought Control”. To be “Policially Correct” you must *think* the proper way. One can say something in the “proper Politically Correct” manner but if what you say is the “wrong thought”, then you’re not Politically Correct.
Actually, there’s a difference between thinking about the implications and walling off entire domains of thought and speculation. PC is the latter. Research into how the brain works is hampered by this because it’s not “acceptable” that ability might be inherited.
Since Human Wave explicitly permits all lines of thought so long as they make a good story, Human Wave can’t be politically correct.
PC might have started with the intentions you’re attributing to it, but human nature has turned it into thought control. To avoid accidentally saying anything out of line, you have to avoid thinking anything out of line. Once you hit that point, you have thought control.
Hmm. Can I offer ‘Neither science nor technology nor commerce nor Christianity (other religions already have exclusion in the rest of sf/fantasy) nor gender nor skin color nor sexual orientation make anything inherently evil’ to the rule list 🙂
CATS! Everybody forgot CATS! Supercilious, no patience with fools OR the politically correct. Priorities on straight and moving forward. NAP!
Cats aren’t compulsory, but I think most of us are cat infested.
Very dada-esque, Alger.
Thou shalt write long books only if the long part is worth reading and contributes to the plot and characters. And if thine friends and editor politely suggest that the “middle bit” doth drag like a turtle in a tar-pit, lo, heedest thou their comments!
I’d comment, but I think the point is that I should be writing instead …
I sort-of reblogged, with my own thoughts.
By and large yo got me. The grey goo CAN be a moral gray area, but that’s only because we don’t know whom to root for. Frankly, I don’t create GOOD characters and EVIL characters, I tend to make them more believable. At least I hope so. BUT I still clearly signal whom to root for. This is kind of needed, otherwise the reader tends to feel mehish. And your commenter missed the point. Real life CAN be grey goo (depends on who you are) BUT fiction isn’t. Fiction — good fiction — is the result of the human brain creating order out of random. We like order. It gives us warm fuzzies. That’s why we like fiction and learn from it. Replicating life is… life. Not story.
Cool. I’m all for moral ambiguity, but I want characters who have definite intent, take action to achieve something, and stories where achieving it (or failing) has consequence.
I read your blog, Marshall, and liked what you had to say. I agree with the running commentary on it that some moral ambiguity in our characters can make them both more believable and much more interesting.
I think there is, though, a difference between the Grey Goo and moral ambiguity. Grey Goo, for me, is closer to what Sarah was talking about, an amoral landscape filled with vague caricatures of people who move to no purpose. This sounds way too much like the ancient Greek idea of the afterlife, not a place you want to visit for any length of time.
I think the problem with ‘literature’ is that it is too involved with the author and not enough with the story. I think the greatest praise a writer can get is not, ‘He’s a great writer’ but ‘He’s a great story-teller.’ It seems to me that most people who write ‘genre’ aspire to the latter while most who write ‘literature’ aspire to the former. At least, that’s how it appears from here, deep in swamps of genre. [grin]
I’m with you on the gray goo afterlife… I have a nice little blog post I’m working on that should be up in a day or two… Not being a writer like Marshall or Sarah I can’t sneeze and have 2000 words appear on the screen.
I was gifted with ease of language — despite English being my second language. One of my stories in Analog got dinged because the critic said “it is clear she spent days polishing it.” It was in fact an idea I had at midnight on Friday. Finished it at two am. Took it to my writers’ group the next day. Fixed plot hole. Did quick pass for typos. Mailed it.
Anyway, this is not a brag. I can also commit horrible wordage, if I’m not feeling well — being natural, it’s not conscious — but it freed me to look at the other stuff that “story” is. I get tired of seeing people praised for beautiful language while I can see them straining at every word, and while their story isn’t there. I guess the anger has been building a long time?
I personally find it mystifying that I can babble on for hours in speech, but have difficulty staying semi coherent while writing… I go back and look at pieces and realize I just _stop_ in the middle of sentences, or nearly as bad when I self edit in mid sentence and end up with extra articles, wrong verb tenses or end up screwing up singular and plural forms.
Language should be in service to story, not the other way around.
The whole purpose of writing stories is to communicate an idea. If the writing gets in the way of the communication, the story fails. If the beauty of the writing IS the idea, then you can’t really call it a story, it is content-negative art.
There’s nothing wrong with a beautifully crafted story infused with language that evokes beautiful imagery. There’s nothing wrong with polishing a story till it shines. The only problem would be if, in polishing it, you actually removed all the character from it and left it impenetrable, opaque, and soulless. Stories like that aren’t bought by genre magazines.
Yes, exactly. Actually Edward II — Kit Marlowe’s — is a good example of moral grey goo. Halfway through it, when reading and therefore not entertained by blood on stage, you’re just going “These people are just horrible. All of them. Kill them all.”
Ah! The Hamlet movie with whatshisname the Big Name Actor!
Hamlet: “Everybody dies and we all go home.”
Volition & Verve!
“Your novel and setting can be as dystopic as you want it. In fact, your character can die at the end. Just make sure he goes down fighting and dies for something, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated.”
Oh very yes. I wonder if #6 part of the reason for the backlash against Mass Effect 3. The point is definitely something I definitely agree on—the reader needs some kind of ray of hope to get through the story, and a downer ending doesn’t have to be utterly depressing if it’s done well.
I was linked here through Faolan’s Pen (and helped edit his blog post). He’s focused on thinking outside of the box and… dual-wielding “Metalstorm pistols”? I don’t know. http://faolanspen.com/?p=106
Still fighting with the habits ingrained from my university degrees: this post makes me want to hug you. Thank you. I’m going to print this out so I can thwap my forehead with it whenever I feel literary obligations stifling my words.
Since few of us are really masochists at heart, and, at present there is plenty available reading for those who are, it occurred to me that, from the reader’s standpoint, it cannot be said clearly enough: Please do not insult the reader’s intelligence, do not belittle your reader and do not lecture your reader.
Excellent! Came in via Marshall Maresca’s post, also wrote a little more on my own. Thank you!
Can someone make this the first lecture in any writing class or “Why we write AND get paid” I am reminded of the the bio of Jim Butcher (Dresden Files)
As a LONG time reader of Science fiction – first picked up Have SpaceSuit will Travel in 6th grade – and a flock of other genres, I have bounced most of the recent books off the wall. What ever happened to actually learning a little science in science fiction or simply having a good time in an alternate universe.