Sketch: Hidden Pushers

Susan Quinn of Ink Spells won second place and a sketch in the Demotivational Contest we had last month. This is her prize, a scene from one of her works in progress:

Although everyone now reads minds, sixteen-year-old Kira Moore can't and never will. When she almost kills her best friend by accident, she discovers she can control the minds of others and is torn between passing for normal and exposing the hidden pushers of her world.

In this scene, Kira meets a young pusher named Laney, while on their way to deeper trouble.

I've only read the one scene, but already I want to read more of this. Thanks for letting me draw some fan art, Susan!

Nobody is Perfect, Not Even Me

Until a year or two ago, we homeschooled one of our kids. It was hard sometimes, especially when I had to tell them they got something wrong. They beat themselves up so much about it, I felt bad. But I told them, "Nobody, NOBODY, gets 100% the first time. Not even me."

When it comes to critiques of my own work, though, I'm just as messed up. Especially when I was first starting, I didn't send my work out for critique so much as I sent it out so people could tell me it was good.

It doesn't work. Cuz when they tell you something isn't working, it DEVASTATES you. "I suck at this!" you say. "I'll never be a good writer. I should just quit right now."

Maybe you don't say that, but I sure did. But really it was my fault. I mean, when I say, "Tell me how good it is," even subconsciously, the only room for deviation is down.

"But what if they do tell you it's good?" See, that's the other thing. If someone tells you your work is perfect and you shouldn't change a thing, they're either wrong or lying. Nobody is perfect, and no book is perfect. Or if there is a perfect book, I haven't read it. I certainly haven't written it. Nobody gets 100% the first time.

With our homeschool student, it wasn't that they got problems wrong. It's that they expected to get them all right. Same thing here: I can't send my work out to be told it's perfect, I send it out because it's NOT perfect, and I need to know where. When people tell me something's off, I need to thank them because that's exactly what I want to hear.

Hey! Writing's Actually Useful!

I love writing, but aside from crafting novels doomed to obscurity, it's a skill I rarely find useful. Knowing how to write a query letter doesn't keep my boys from killing each other. And being able to describe the smell of coming rain doesn't help when the toilet's clogged (that requires a different scent entirely).

But every once in a while...

So my wife teaches dance. You probably didn't know that. I love seeing her do something she loves, but of course I can do nothing to help her since all my dance knowledge comes from watching Center Stage.

But the other day she was trying something new. She wanted to choreograph something with sort of a story, about a girl with no self-confidence, who fails no matter how hard she tries. To me it felt a lot like Hagai's story (the song she's using was even part of my own inspiration).

She had a problem, though, because what she had so far made it look like the girl was just trying to fit in to the rest of the group, even succumbing to peer pressure. I suggested she do what I do when one of my good guys looks like a jerk: show them doing something nice. Make the group sympathetic by showing them trying to help the girl -- that it's the girl's choice to give up, not the group excluding her.

My wife loved it, and we started talking about other ideas for the dance. I got so excited I didn't realize I was trying to outline the whole thing for her. I completely forgot that anyone who's seen a single season of So You Think You Can Dance is more qualified to choreograph than I am.

Fortunately, she forgave me.

I don't know if she'll use everything we talked about, but for that moment I felt useful. Like I had exactly the skills needed to help her. Who knew fiction was good for something besides, well, fiction?

Have you ever used your writing skills for something other than writing?

Crash Bugs

Fresh out of college, and knowing very little about the Real World, I got a job making computer games. I learned a lot there: how to estimate schedules, why I should make smart goals, how taking a vacation during crunch time can get you fired.*

And I learned about the computer game equivalent of beta reading: playtesting. I remember one tester reported a bug that crashed the game, but none of us could reproduce it, meaning we couldn't fix it. So we let it go, until one day our manager asked us about it.

KEN:** What's with this crash bug? Tester reported it like three months ago.
DEVELOPER 1: It's a random bug. Nobody can reproduce it, but it doesn't seem to happen very often.
KEN: You guys need to track it down, top priority.
DEVELOPER 1: Even Tester doesn't know what causes it. You want us to work nights on a bug we might never fix?
DEVELOPER 2: It's not a big deal, Ken. There are like ten playtesters who've never had the bug, and nobody can reproduce it. It probably won't be a big deal when the game goes live.
KEN: Then think of it this way. If the game crashes for one out of ten playtesters, then when we sell 100,000 copies that's ten thousand people who will get mad and return our buggy game.

Long story short, we fixed the bug, and I learned a valuable lesson about percentages.

This is why it's important to listen to your beta readers too. If only one of them says your villain is a cardboard cliche, it's possible they just don't get it, but it's also possible they represent a significant percentage of your future readers. (And anything two betas agree on is a virtual certainty).

So in general, unless you KNOW why you wrote something a certain way and you KNOW the commenter is wrong, listen to your betas. Chances are they're not alone.

* Not me. Another guy. And it wasn't so much the vacation that got him fired as the fact that his code never worked, no matter how much he insisted it did.

** We had 2 or 3 managers over the course of the project. They were all named Ken. Not joking.

The Creative Process

From Virus Comix. Click to enlarge. Find yourself.

I'm in the editing loop, trying to ignore the short cut.

Spoiler Camps

There are two extremes when it comes to thinking about spoilers. On one side, there is the ALL SPOILERS ARE BAD camp. These folks seem to believe that once a story is spoiled, it's not worth experiencing. I once saw a Facebook comment that said, "Any Ender's Game film will be a disappointment--imagine watching The Sixth Sense if you'd read the book first!"

I can't agree with that extreme. I'd love to see an Ender's Game movie, even knowing how it ends.

The other camp says THERE ARE NO SPOILERS. In Stephen King's words, "You might as well say 'I'm never gonna watch Wizard of Oz again because I know how it turns out.'"

It's a good point, after all we re-watch movies and re-read books all the time. But the first time you saw Wizard of Oz you didn't know how it would turn out. And I think a lot of the reason we revisit stories we love is to re-feel what we felt that first time.

Obviously I fall in between these camps. I think experiencing a story spoiler-free increases the emotional impact. The second and third viewings not only remind us of that impact, but also free us to see more in the story than we saw the first time -- clues we didn't catch, subtle hints that show the author knew what they were doing the whole time.

Spoiling a movie essentially skips that first viewing. We are half experiencing it for the first time and half watching for the clues that hint at the twist. But the emotional impact is gone because we know it's coming. At least that's what I think.

So I believe there are spoilers, but just because you've seen a movie before (or read the book) does not "spoil" it the second time.

I suspect most of us fall in between the camps, but I don't know. So where do you stand on spoilers? Have you ever had a book or movie ruined by spoilers (or the opposite: heard spoilers but still loved the story)?

Screw the Muse

The muse. Writers depend on her for inspiration. They wait for her, seek her, even honor her, all in the hopes she'll give them that spark they need to write something really great. But you know what?

I'm tired of waiting.

I put my butt in that chair everyday. Where is she? Not at work, I'll tell you that. The muse comes and goes as she pleases, striking me whenever the heck she feels like it.

Screw that.

I'm the one plotting and planning, drafting and revising. I'm the one getting critiques and rejections. Yeah, I get cool ideas out of nowhere sometimes, but they're just as likely to be contemporary YA or a freaking board game as they are to be something I can actually use. Something I can get paid for.

So here's the deal, muse: you work for me, not the other way around. I'll be at work Monday through Thursday starting at 8:30. If you want credit for this job, you'll be there too.

And if you're not, screw you. I'll do it myself.