Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5 Tips for Better Critiques

We all receive critique, and often not particularly good critique, which can be frustrating. So I am writing a quick guide on what I find in good critiques. Obviously, this is not all inclusive, or an authoritative guide, but I hope it helps those who maybe want to help more and aren’t sure how.

Good critique should...

Identify the Problem

Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, I wish it were. A good critique focuses on specific problems, such as:

  • Grammar and Spelling
  • Pacing
  • Plot Consistency (or Lack Thereof)

… and many more, but you get the idea. If your critique is “this story sucks”, then you haven’t told the author anything. For all they know, it’s just a personal opinion they can’t do anything about - which brings me to my next point…

Be Actionable

If you give an author advice that they can’t do anything with, your critique is still unhelpful and uninformative. “Write better” is not actionable advice - “vary your sentence structures” is. While this can sometimes be difficult to do, like when you feel you don’t have the experience to identify the problem, it’s better to be honest about it. “I’m not sure why, but this sentence feels off to me” still focuses on a specific problem for the author to consider. Which once again segues into…

Offer a Solution

While not always possible, good critiques will often offer the author a specific course of action on how to fix a perceived problem. “Write better” is still not a viable choice - but suggesting a writing guide, or that an author look into the style of another author in their field or genre is. Other examples include showing how you might phrase a scene, or…

Explain Your Fix

Especially when it comes to grammar or formatting, a critique should explain why they feel something needs changing. “This is bad” doesn’t tell an author why it’s bad, so they’re likely to make the same mistake in the future. “It seems kind of weird that an eight year old street urchin knows the intricacies of international trade laws” - while unlikely to be sent in a real critique - addresses the problem and examines why it doesn’t make sense, so that next time a similar situation arises, the author knows why it shouldn’t happen.

And, lastly…

Compliment Strengths

Critiques aren’t a negative thing - even when what the critique is saying is negative, critiques are tools for helping an author improve. Just like a sports player might not be able to see that his form is off, a writer might not be able to see when their prose is janky. However, they may also be blind to what they do well - so it’s important to point out those things along with what’s done poorly. “The dialogue feels stilted and uncomfortable, but the way you wrote the cat in that scene was funny and engaging.” It lets an author know that there are things that went right, even if the scene overall went wrong.

Well, that’s it for me. I hope this has been informative and fun. Tell me what you find in good critiques below!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Grammar vs Style

So, today I received feedback for my book from the Writer’s Digest 25th Annual Self-Published Book Awards and first, I didn’t even know I was going to receive feedback; second, it was really well thought out and actionable feedback. It did, however, have one point I contended, which I would like to share with you all.

Here is the portion of the feedback I am contending:

"... the most consistent error is found with quotation marks and attribution. When a speaker’s words end and they’re not followed by attribution (he or she said is the most common), there should be a period, not a comma. A new sentence, rather than a clause, should follow. While examples can be found throughout the book, look to page 5 for examples. Every paragraph on the page has at least one example of this issue. To explain further, the sentence that begins with “Sir Timberbrand folded” should have a period after “smile” before he speaks. In the next paragraph, “Order” should have a period, and then “Allaha” should begin a new sentence. While this punctuation rule may seem inconsequential, readers expect familiar road signs, and with a book this lengthy, it can make it very difficult for readers who would otherwise be fully engaged to get through it."
(Prior to this, the judge said that my book could do with a thorough edit, and I agree with that remark.)

Here is the particular passage the judge is referring to:

Sir Timerbrand folded Allaha’s writ of passage and returned it to her with a smile, “We may not have seen each other since we were children, but I insist you call me Alec. You look well, Ally.”

“No one has called me that since I joined the Order,” Allaha tucked the writ into one of her saddlebags. Her tone was sombre, and soft spoken. It was difficult to tell what she thought of the reunion, though it did not seem to bother Alec.
(The three paragraphs prior were character descriptions, thus the initial speaker had not been previously established.)

Now, I am going to quote my reply to this, as I believe any good editor/author relationship is about give and take - as any good critic is. Sometimes, as an author, you have to accept the risk that something will throw a reader off in favor of something else - such as a further plot point or even simply a stylistic preference. (Recently, I had to determine the correct plural of "roof" - what I discovered was that "rooves" was grammatically correct but antiquated compared to "roofs", however, I used "rooves"because I thought the sound flowed better.) This is still a risk, and an editor may advise against it, but as the author, it's your story, and your choice.

Back to the matter at hand, I contended the point of quotation attribution on the grounds that it was grammatically correct but uncommon, making it a stylistic choice - or even a stylistic risk. Grammar Book and Purdue Owl Style Guides make no distinction between whether or not a quotation is followed by an attribution, and the latter of these is a guide utilized by institutes of higher education as writing resource. I could even argue that, during conversations between three or more characters, even if I did not utilize the words "he/she/they said/replied/asked", a break mentioning the character is still an attribution. By not constantly using typical attribution methods in scenes of lengthy dialogue, I am varying my sentence structure and keeping the story flowing.

However, as an avid reader myself, I do understand this is not the established format. When I first started this book, I wrote quotations as the judge recommends. It was actually someone else who suggested using commas instead of periods, and my second reason to continue to propose commas as a stylistic choice has to due with the reasoning he gave. This was my reply to the judge on why else I used commas rather than periods:
To further defend my perspective, it was also suggested by my reviewer to start new paragraphs for actions taken by new characters. That is, to consider body language, facial expressions, etc, as dialogue. I feel this distinction has created much better flow in my characters' interactions, and as these non-verbal cues often accompany spoken word - indicating tone, temperament, or emphasis - that a comma is more appropriate, as the "dialogue" has not been "completed" due to the interruption of non-verbal cues.
I don't know whether or not my judge will get my feedback, but I thought I'd see how others felt about the issue. So here are some questions I have for anyone interested in debating:

  • Do you agree with commas being utilized this way to be a stylistic choice? 
  • Do you feel that it's more important to follow established rules that make readers more comfortable?
  • If you don't agree with commas being a stylistic choice, do you still follow/understand my argument for this usage?
  • Do you feel that it's more important to challenge the established format when you feel you have a change worth trying, or to remain consistent so that your audience knows what to expect?
  • Do you think I'm just a crazy person getting wrapped up in a trivial writing detail with little impact on the actual story being written?

 I look forward to any discussions below!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black Friday Sale and Digital Book Signing!

I'm having a digital book signing for Wildflowers, Part I: Allaha of the Mountain! 

Get my book personalized, signed and mailed to you at the discounted rate of $10 for the first 28 purchases! 

Why 28? Because that's how many physical copies of the book I have right now, so after that I will need to order more, which will raise the price to $12 to cover the cost of shipping to me - but that's still $3 off for you! 

(Unfortunately, I will have to back order in groups of $16 to make the shipping price work, so if I can't reach that number, I may have to put off getting more copies.)

I will also offer digital signatures for those who already have my book or would like to purchase the ebook at the sales rate of $1.99!


First 28 purchase get a guaranteed, signed copy of my book for $10 + S&H

If we can reach at least 16, all others will get a physical signed copy for $12 + S&H

Ebook copies with a digital signature will be sold at $1.99!

Digital signatures cost $.50 because square won't let me "sell" things for free

Sign Up at my Square Store Today!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I Like It Because It's Good vs It's Good Because I Like It

Just a short examination of something I tend to think about - why people seem to take an insult against something they enjoy personally. 

I think the root of the problem is the perspective of "it's good because I like it" - which isn't true at all. Just because you like something doesn't make it inherently good. There's nothing wrong with liking it anyways - if it's something that makes you happy, you should like it. Anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is either an asshole or jealous of your happiness (possibly both). I personally like a lot of stupid things - I know they aren't good, but I like them anyways. Why? Because they make me happy, and that's all the reason I really need.

Now, that isn't to say we shouldn't be critical of the things we like - quite the opposite. By acknowledging that something you like isn't necessarily good, you're already looking at it objectively. We should always be critical of the things we like - it's how we improve them. That's why the "it's good because I like it" mindset is actually harmful - it buries flaws in works and causes people to perpetuate those same flaws in new works, since they're touted as things that are "good". 

Consider cliches - there's nothing wrong with liking cliches, but you still need to acknowledge that they aren't necessarily good. Otherwise, you end up with books, shows, and movies that are nothing but cliches, because cliches are perceived as being inherently good because people like them. When utilized sparingly, and in the right context, cliches are fine and work well - so they can be good, but not always, since they can often show a lack of originality. Creative ideas include turning cliches on their head, or subverting tropes - but just because someone doesn't use cliches also doesn't make their work good

This is why it's important to be critical of the things we like - there are no clear, one way answers to what is and isn't good. As I've heard many a time in writing, everything is a rule until it isn't. But I'm getting a little off track.

The other problem with the "it's good because I like it" mindset is that many people with this mindset think their mindset is "I like it because it's good", which is why they become so reluctant to accept that something they enjoy isn't, in fact, good. To have a true mindset of "I like it because it's good", you have to be critical - which means accepting flaws and weaknesses in a work along with its strengths. Just because a work isn't perfect, doesn't mean it isn't good. But refusing to accept that there are any flaws in a work is a good indicator that you aren't being critical, and therefore think something is good because you like it, rather than you like it because it's good. 

Rather than worrying about how "good" a work is, I prefer the mindset of "I like it because it's enjoyable". After all, the most important thing about a work isn't really how good it is, but how much you enjoyed it. 

To come back to the opening statement - the reason, I think, that people feel personally insulted when someone insults something they like is because they feel their judgement - and therefore intelligence - are being called into question. Since we often judge people based off their intelligence - and by intelligence I more mean academia, since it's not critical thinking but sheer body of knowledge that's judged - people feel a need to justify why they like things. Because if you like something stupid, you must be stupid, so the things we like can't be stupid. 

Which is a weird argument, and a stranger way to think, but certainly something people get ridiculed for. 

"You like pumpkin spice lattes? What a basic white girl... I bet you're completely unoriginal and post inspirational quotes on Instagram thinking you're changing the world."

"You like anime? What are you, like, five? Stop watching cartoons."

These are only two examples I can think of off the top of my head, but ones that highlight my point. There's nothing inherently good or bad about pumpkin spice lattes or anime in their own right, but people get ridiculed just for liking them. And it makes sense to want to defend the things you like, but when you try to say something is good when it isn't, it just makes you look worse.  

This is another reason it's important to be critical of the things we like - but more importantly, a reason to be kind

There's no need to insult someone personally because they like something you don't - and, in a funny turn of events, just because you don't like it, doesn't mean it isn't good. It just means you don't like it. I don't need to tell anyone to be critical of the things they don't like - but I feel it is important to remind people to be objective of the things they don't like. Just as the mindset of "it's good because I like it" is harmful, so is the mindset of "it's bad because I don't like it". 

Going back to cliches - cliches can be bad, such as when the plot of the story revolves around them or they're used in place of actual storytelling. (Unless it's satire, in which case, it could be very entertaining.) But just because a work involves or contains a cliche doesn't make it inherently bad. You don't have to like it, but be objective of whether or not that makes it a "bad" work or not. And never call or imply someone is stupid for liking something you don't like - you wouldn't want it to happen to you, after all. 

As a closing point, here's a review I wrote about the movie The Fountain, because implying that the reason someone doesn't like a work is just because they don't understand it (and therefore are implicitly or explicitly stated to be stupid) also doesn't make a work good. Especially when the people making this argument can't seem to explain what makes the movie good past their "understanding", which implies they don't understand, but want you to think they do so that they look smart. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - I Have a Lot of Feelings

So I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 opening night - and holy shit was I blown away. I described it as “everything I wanted and nothing I expected” - which, honestly, is the best kind of movie.

There are so many things I loved about this movie that I don’t even know where to start. But, to make things simple, I’ll go with the big things first, and then delve into the small things.

Spoilers Ahead

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New Pages! I Play RPGs

I decided to post the shorts I like to write for my RPG characters in lieu of a standard backstory. Check them out by clicking the "RPG Writing" tab at the top, or the link here.

Nemain is a 6'6" Strix that is a Magus variant multiclass barbarian. Her favorite spell is a furious fire breath, and her best skill is her +19 to Intimidate checks. She uses them to scream at her opponents.

Coughing. Hacking. Wet, scratching tar and ash - it pools under her, blood so polluted it looks black. Every movement sends glass stabbing through her muscles, pins and needles burning in the wake of her stillness. She pulls herself up to her elbows, just enough to hack up the bile in her lungs without drowning in it. Her hair - what’s left of it - curtains her face, ash, dirt and mud hiding the color entirely. It’s matted and uneven, bloody pieces of scalp showing where it was pulled out roughly. Cuts and bruises mark the entirety of her black skin, and one ear is shorn off entirely.

She tries to push herself to her feet, but one leg is bent at an odd angle and refuses to move. With a growl, she thrusts a hand forward and claws into the dirt. She pulls, dragging herself...

Read More About Nemain

Mazhig is a black dragon half elf sorcerer that spits acid both literally and metaphorically, with a 20 in intelligence and charisma but an 11 in wisdom that makes a lot of sense in hindsight. His favorite spell is fireball and his best skill is pretty much all the Knowledge.

My name is Mahzig. And I hate traveling.

I sneer at my reflection in a river. This form is so unattractive. If it weren’t for my race’s reputation, I wouldn’t take humanoid form at all. At least I could do it to begin with. Unlike those other assholes. Probably wouldn't have seen the point if they could. Morons. Nersthom too. Letting some idiotic black dragons get the better of him. But I guess I should be glad Nersthom was an idiot. After all, it did save my life.

Maybe I should start from the beginning.
Read More About Mazhig

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Asexuality in Wildflowers

Sometimes I worry about how my characters are perceived - specifically due to a few factors. While I'd like to be able to say "I am completely confident that my writing has gotten my point across clearly", the problem is that sometimes points in a story that seem clear to me don't seem clear to others. Sometimes personal experience creates a bias which colors those perceptions, and I don't want to be misconstrued on a few points.

So, to begin with, I am asexual. As such, the main character of my first novel - Allaha - is also asexual. Unlike me, however, Allaha is also aromantic.

The main thing that concerns me is that Allaha is a very stoic, reserved character - and this is not due to her sexuality or romantic orientation, but I am concerned that people will think it is. Spoilers ahead as I try to make things more clear, just for fair warning.

Why I Loved the New Power Rangers Movie

So I saw the new Power Rangers movie this weekend and I thought it was awesome! I thought they did really well, considering the source material, and that they really breathed some life into the story.

Getting more into the details (I'll try not to spoil anything, but I can't guarantee it), the first thing they did was give the Rangers an actual plot.

That is to say, it isn't just "random monsters show up and the Rangers fight them", or "the monsters show up in this random small coastal town because the Rangers are there". Let's start with the opening scene:

A prehistoric landscape comes into view, with pterodactyls flying in the background. Pan down to a clearly wounded Red Ranger crawling across the ground to an equally wounded Yellow Ranger. He apologizes to her as she gives him her power coin, revealing that under her armor she is an extraterrestrial. The Red Ranger also takes off his armor, revealing he is also an extraterrestrial. He buries the coins, telling them to seek "those who are worthy" and ordering someone to "send the meteor to my location". This is right before Green Ranger Rita Repulsa shows up to attempt to kill the Red Ranger, Zordon. Before she can, the meteor hits - sending Rita into a nearby body of water before closing on a shot of dying Zordon.

Already, we have a story that I find much cooler than the original. Zordon is no longer a random talking head - he's a Red Ranger that lost his team after being betrayed by one of his own. Rita is also a more believable villain - one that has a past, and has shown the ability to kill her enemies.

I've seen some people that are unhappy with this - saying that it's similar to Batman v Superman in making characters dark. However, I disagree - the Rangers haven't been made dark for the sake of being made dark - a problem in B v S - they've been made more realistic for the situation. There are story driven reasons for the more mature take, rather than pushing a take to make the story.

Flash forward to the actual movie - Jason Scott is the star football player of Angel Grove, who ends up crashing a car after a prank gone too far. This messes up his knee and ends his football career, as well as landing him in detention. In detention, he meets Billy Cranston.

Billy is, in his own words, "on the spectrum" - and it made my heart happy just to hear him say it. While I don't have enough knowledge to say whether or not the portrayal by RJ Cyler was accurate, reading his commentary about the character let's me know he at least put in the effort and research to try and make it accurate. And this is such a great thing - an autistic superhero. Autistic. Superhero. How many of those have you heard of before?

And Trini - Trini is an LGBT+ character. Some reviews I've seen have remarked how sexuality isn't touched much in the film, despite including an LGBT+ character. Once again, however, actor commentary makes this make more sense - Becky G has said that Trini doesn't even really know her sexuality, and it still figuring things out. I love this because it is such a cool concept to include, because so often characters that are LGBT+ are very clear on their orientation - and this isn't always the case, especially as a teenager.

Zach is a wild child that sometimes sleeps in a train car in a quarry, who also has a sick mother that he's the only one there to take care of.

Kimberly is a cheerleader that's on bad terms with her squad - and her former friends. And - though I won't say it here - it's for a good reason.

What I love about these Rangers is that they aren't the perfect, squeaky clean teenagers their predecessors were - they're, in the words of Jason, "screw-ups". And you know what? I relate to screw ups, and I think almost everyone does. I lot of my life I felt like a screw up - I made mistakes, some bigger than others, and dealt with (at the time) undiagnosed ADHD. I like these Rangers because they feel like real teenagers - and real teenagers "with attitude", at that. (The most attitude the old Power Rangers had was a positive one.)

If you want to say the Power Rangers is not the right place to tackle real world issues, I'd like to remind you that this was a show with a Native American, Asian, black, and female main character superhero in the 90s. While today we can recognize that a lot of those portrayals had racist and sexist overtones (the female Ranger was pink, the black guy was the Black Ranger, the Asian girl was the Yellow Ranger), it was still progressive for its time - meaning that the Power Rangers have always taken on these kinds of issues, you just didn't notice because you were a kid.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the Red Ranger - and I watched all the way from Mighty Morphin' to SPD to never see a female Red Ranger. This didn't stop me from coming up with my own Power Rangers force (Mythic Rangers, I was a dragon), but I can see how it could discourage other girls that they never got to be the leader on the show. This new Power Rangers is pushing the envelope, and giving representation to all kinds of people not used to seeing themselves on screen - so before you bash it for being "darker" or "not enough like the original", try to make sure the image of the old Power Rangers isn't just a bit rosy tinted.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sometimes, I have fun - though I'm not sure if I can say the same for "Jamie". Mainly, I'm posting this for any younger or newer writers that might not spot the problems with this email as quickly as I did, and to help them learn the right questions to ask in this situation. But also, for those who did catch on, perhaps some amusement was drawn. Either way, I wish Jamie all the luck.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Welcome to Jeongwon!

Time to learn about another country ind Magdra, Jeongwon!

Jeongwon is a large country to the far east of the Harian continent. It is covered in mostly plains, with a forest to the south and a group of jungle islands off of the southeast coast. Their main imports are wine and citrus, while their major exports are spices and slaves. Read more...

Beautiful People #8 - Siblings

(Series by  Cait @ Paper Fury  and  Sky @ Further Up and Further In ) Alright! Getting back into the swing of things! So my plan is to ...