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In This Issue:

 

Writing News


Yesterday, The Verge published "Overlay," a short story I wrote last fall. 

Some of you know the personal reasons I wrote this story, but I'm still planning to cover that more in a blog post. Here, I want to talk about the animated short.

Narrative is an interesting thing. I take a lot of inspiration from film and television, but visual storytelling is very different. To distill a story—even one as short as "Overlay"—into three minutes is a real challenge.

They simplified the story substantially, including taking out a whole character, and altered the plot a little. And it worked. They managed to keep the emotional center while streamlining it into something ideally suited for the short video format. It made me tear up. What an experience, watching my own writing adapted like that.

Also, if I may: OMG THEY MADE A MOVIE OF MY STUFF!! 🥳😄😍

When I sat down to write about how technology could improve lives, I actually had two ideas. The second felt a little too cynical for this project. I also suspect I couldn't have done it justice in the desired length. I think, though, I will write it. Can't promise it for March, but maybe April.

We've had a yo-yo winter so far, and they're calling for snow tonight which will probably morph into ice by morning. I am off to acquire Emergency Snow Day Food for the cats so they don't start eating the windowsills.

Until next month,
Liz

 

On the Blog

 
Recent blog posts:

Recommendation of the Month


This month: TV!


The Good Place (2016—)


This is one of those shows everybody tries to talk about without giving away details, which is not particularly inviting if it's not a show you're following. But having watched 2-1/2 seasons over the last several weeks...I get it. And I'll try to avoid spoilers here as well.

This is the story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell, who, like the rest of the ensemble, is fantastic), a young woman who dies and wakes up in "the Good Place." She's praised for her life of philanthropy and sacrifice, given a home, and introduced to her soul mate, with whom she'll be happily spending eternity. The problem? Eleanor wasn't a philanthropist in life. In fact, she was...kind of a jerk. And if she gets found out, she'll get tossed unceremoniously into "the Bad Place." Initially Eleanor tries to fake it, but rapidly discovers she's not cut out for that. Fortunately, Chidi, her soul mate, was an ethics professor when he was alive, and he agrees to try to teach her to be a better person.

"Um, Liz," I hear you ask, "isn't this supposed to be a sitcom?" It is. And in some ways it's much like any other sitcom out there, with some filler episodes and some badly-executed tropes. But overall? The Good Place is a briskly funny, smartly-written study of ethics, morality, absurdity, and kindness. The lesson seems to be this: since none of us are getting out of this alive, we might as well help each other whenever we can. Which is a damn nice message to be hearing right now.

As for the infamous spoilers...I'll only say Eleanor's not the only person who's not what she seems, and that as soon as you think the show has locked itself into repetition, it tosses everything into the air and reinvents itself. Some reinventions work better than others, but it's always fascinating to see what the show tries next. And that's what I'd hate to spoil for you.

Writing Tip of the Month
 

Tip #14: Tell the Damn Truth


The strangest thing about fiction is that it doesn't work if it's not honest.

It sounds backward, suggesting that ultimately fiction has to tell the truth, but any story that's going to resonate with a reader has to speak to something fundamentally human. This is especially true for speculative fiction, I find; the more alien you make your story, the more incisive you can be about the world we live in now.

Sometimes writing comes easily to me, but as often as not it's pulling teeth. To finish a story, short or long, there has to be something inside of it that's pulling me along through those bad days. I don't always know what it is while I'm writing, but when I'm finished I can look back and see what's driven me. 

The truth of your story may be different each time. You may never be able to name it. But if you shy away from it, or hedge your own beliefs, odds are you'll find yourself with a story that somehow doesn't work. 

If you want to write, if you want to tell a story, you've got to trust your gut, even when it scares you. Especially when it scares you. It's not always easy, but when it works, there's nothing better.

Q&A


Q: What's the worst writing advice you've ever received?

A: This question didn't come to me directly. It was a Twitter thing, and I didn't post my answer, which is this:

"You should quit, because your work is terrible and you lack the skills to improve."

This answer didn't seem to fit in with things like "get rid of all your adverbs" and "contacts are more important than good material." But you know? I think it's the kind of answer that needs discussing—not because someone said it to me (which they did), but because it's the kind of thing that gets said to a lot of writers really, really often.

And it's not just terrible advice. It's mean, inexcusable, and damaging advice.

If you're going to publish, it can be useful to have some kind of safe mode where you can shield the vulnerability that's necessary for writing. I'm getting better at this, with practice, but it's still hard; I think I'll never find it easy.

But this particular bad advice is hard for a lot of writers to shake off, because self-examination is part of the process. Questioning everything in our lives, including our own work, is necessary to produce work that's genuine. Truthful. Advice like this can shake you. It can shut you down completely.

Don't let it.

I've heard story after story of writers hearing this from crit partners, family members, agents. (Readers are allowed to say it, I'm afraid, but they're talking to each other, not to you.) I can only guess at the motivation of people who'd say such things; I certainly have An Opinion about the person who said it to me.

But if someone comes at you with this kind of bullshit, you can't listen. You can't. I don't care how smart you think they are, or how new you are or how raw or how long you've been struggling or how much you're doubting yourself. You cannot take advice like this to heart, because it's not advice. It's cruelty designed to shut you down. Anybody who feeds you a line like that isn't worth listening to about a single thing.

Ignore them, block them, and keep writing.

Send questions about Liz's books, other books, writing, publishing, or SFF in general to spec.fic.and.mangoes.list@gmail.com.

Until next time, everyone!

Copyright © 2019 Speculative Fiction and Mangoes, All rights reserved.


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