Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Tasmanian writer Tansy Rayner Roberts has won the 2010 Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award for Siren Beat, a novella published by Western Australian small press Twelfth Planet Press and edited by Alisa Krasnostein.

I really enjoyed this novella (part of the Doubles series where it was partnered by Roadkill by Robert Shearman) when I read it last year. The books from this press get better and better, I think. The cover art is always intriguing and I love the variety in the books they put out. Small press has a valuable part to play, particularly in genre fiction, as a place where shorter fiction can be published apart from magazines. Collections, anthologies and novellas are unlikely to be published by mainstream publishers who are forced by commercial constraints to focus on uncontroversial novel length fiction but they definitely are worth the read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October Aussie Spec Fic Blog Carnival

This month's blog Carnival is up at FableCroft. I love these Carnivals. There's always a mass of news and lots of useful writing information that's worth referring back to through out the month. Why not go and have a look.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Importance of Distance.

One of the best pieces of writing advice ever was given to me by my creative writing teacher many years ago. It was to put away a piece of writing for as long as possible when you have it to the point where you think it is finished. At the time I was sceptical. I had finished my first story and it was polished to within an inch of its life, wasn't it. I had sweated over every word, every comma. What possible difference could putting it aside make? I should be sending it out. Shouldn't I.

Fortunately I was a beginner and writing had yet to become something I tackled seriously and professionally. In the next few weeks Real Life intervened and I was too busy dealing with that to even look at my writing. When I did I was stunned - and embarrassed - as flat writing, over-writing and just plain indulgent writing all jumped out at me, not to mention the parts where, assuming the reader knew what was in my head, I had not put it on the page.

I redrafted and edited and took it back to my teacher who suggested I send it to a national writing competition. I was hesitant, sure I would mess up on manuscript presentation or some other critical aspect of submitting but with Pam's gentle pressure I sent it off to the Alexandra Hasluck Award - and came first. I can't tell you the emotions when I picked up the phone and was given the news. I was overwhelmed.

After I calmed down I realised what a valuable lesson I had learned - and my enforced break from writing while I was on holiday recently has reinforced it. Before I went to Aussiecon 4 and then on to holiday in Tasmania I had been struggling with my current work in progress. While I was happy with most of it there were sections that just were not alive and I couldn't see how to fix them. Now a month later I have just returned to it and already I can see so much that needs to be done.

It's easy to fall in love with what we write but we need to distance ourselves because sometimes what we love does not help the story. It may even damage it. When you've finished your story, put it away and give it some time to mature. When you come back, I promise you will see it with fresh eyes.

PS It works when you are blocked too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Revenge of Omni Rampant?

Over the last few decades, the style of writing preferred by publishers has changed. When I was a child, books were usually written from the viewpoint of the omniscient author, who was free to step in to describe the setting - and often did, at considerable length, before introducing any characters. In extreme cases, such an author would shift the point-of-view from one character to another, even within the same scene, and would also comment on the action from a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint, sometimes even presaging future thoughts or actions of the characters.

My belief is that this style of writing dates back to a time when reading aloud was a common after-dinner entertainment. The person doing the reading was rather like the bards of old, telling the story and commenting on it: a character in his or her own right. But with the advent of radio, reading aloud lost its appeal as a social activity, and as a result, the acceptable style of writing started to change. By the turn of the new century, the "tight third" (also "close third" or "deep third") point-of-view, which sticks to one viewpoint per scene - even the narrative passages are told through the eyes of the POV character - had become almost compulsory. "Head-hopping" - changing POV within a scene - was virtually outlawed.

This newer style of writing has been taught in genre writing classes and insisted on by members of many critique groups for at least a decade. A few established writers continued to write from an intrusive omniscient viewpoint, but new writers didn't dare, because, it was said, no publisher would be interested in such work.

Something else that appeared to have gone out of fashion is the intrusive dialogue tag, with or without a modifying adverb. So "grumbled", "opined" and "shouted angrily" were taboo. Stephen King's noteworthy treatise "On Writing", in which he insists that "said" is the only acceptable dialogue tag, had a lot to do with this. After all, we'd all love to be able to write like Mr King, or at least have a chance at earning his kind of income! So we all stopped using tags where we could get away with it, and used only an unadorned "said", or very occasionally "asked" when we could not.

Furthermore, we were exhorted to start the story "in media res" - right in the thick of the action. A leisurely description of the scenery or the weather was no longer allowed: the reader, we were assured, wanted action on page one, and would not read any further if no action was forthcoming.

The new style seemed entrenched. I ignored the occasional relapse, seeing it as the last stand of an outmoded writing technique. But there have been signs of the old style making a comeback. One of this country's biggest publishing houses recently released, within a few weeks of each other, two fantasy books written in unashamedly omniscient style. And there is not only head hopping, dear friends. In both books we find intrusive dialogue tags, often with attached adverbs. On a single page of one of them, I found three POV changes and five different dialogue tabs. Only one of these was "said" and it came trailing an adverb. And neither of the books started with an action scene.

Is this extreme form of the omniscient point-of-view the new black in fantasy writing? Only time will tell, but I, for one, certainly hope not. The tight third allows the reader to forget that he or she is reading. In the hands of a master such as Joe Abercrombie or Margo Lanagan, the author, the reader and the book all disappear, leaving only the experience of the characters, fed straight into the reader's mind. You simply can't have this kind of sensory immersion experience with omni rampant.

I'm sure I'm not alone in preferring the tight third, but I'd like to hear what others think. Should we start an Association for the Defence of the Tight Third POV, the Non-intrusive Dialogue Tag and the Full-on Action Start? Or is it already a Lost Cause?