No such thing as a good ugly woman

I’m sure many of you have seen where the NY Times put together an interactive chart that asked people to rank all the characters in Game of Thrones on a good-evil/ugly-beautiful axis. The results should be of interest to storytellers. There is a clear bi-lobed cluster. You could argue of course that this is the result of the show’s producers rather than a statement on … Continue reading No such thing as a good ugly woman

More on the Limitations of Writing Really Good Villainesses

One of the reasons Darth Vader is a timeless villain is because he’s Luke’s father. Luke, as the hero, represents us — either indirectly in that he fights for us, or directly as a stand-in, a power-projection of the self. Vader, then, in perverting his role as father, inverts it and becomes the antithesis of protector, and his betrayal of Luke becomes the betrayal of … Continue reading More on the Limitations of Writing Really Good Villainesses

Setting and Hardboiled Detective Fiction

I was listening to some lectures on the detective novel on the plane, and the dude really had some neat points. (Go figure.) But first, for background, you have to know that American detective fiction, sometimes labelled “hardboiled,” grew out of the English detective novel, which tended to be very genteel. The detective in the English stories, for example, was always protected by law and … Continue reading Setting and Hardboiled Detective Fiction

Why I don’t argue on the internet

Here the women met them, swords and axes in their hands, and with hideous shrieks of rage tried to drive back fugitives and pursuers alike, the fugitives as traitors, and the pursuers as foes; they mixed themselves up with the combatants, with bare hands tore away the shields of the Romans or grasped their swords, and endured wounds and mutilations… I recently discovered this quote … Continue reading Why I don’t argue on the internet

Why is there nothing to watch?

Most of us have had the experience, probably quite recently, of scrolling through literally hundreds of movies on Netflix and not being able to find a single thing. Last night I ended up switching to my cable company’s On Demand section and still came up empty. But then something interesting happened. On social media, a friend posted about an old B-movie he was watching, a … Continue reading Why is there nothing to watch?

When Criticism is the Best Medicine

When you start writing, you have the ambivalence of a toddler who both wants help down the stairs and wants to do it himself. You know you need critical feedback, but you’re inexperienced, unsure of your work — which we authors often conflate with our selves — and therefore wary of the sting. Those of you afraid of needles will know that feeling, that sometimes … Continue reading When Criticism is the Best Medicine

Can We Escape Genre?

Like branding, genre is an extended phenotype of our genetics. Humans need to be able to make sense of the world, so the brain developed a small armamentarium of “noise-reduction” shortcuts, almost none of which are aiming at what is really out there since “what is really out there” includes the rigidly uncertain and indeterminably cross-categorizable. At some point in our evolution, the brain hit … Continue reading Can We Escape Genre?

The Anatomy of Excellence in Art + Fiction

Hugo Froelich created the following diagram, The Stages of Conventionalization, in 1905 for Keramic Studio Magazine. It proposes a hierarchy of representation, what’s sometimes called a mode of genre. Impressionism, for example, employs a decorative representation, whereas the fractured faces of Picasso are symbolic. (They are, after all, still recognizable as faces.) This descriptive hierarchy applies to books as well painting. Indeed, it applies to … Continue reading The Anatomy of Excellence in Art + Fiction

In which I ramble about art & criticism

I feel like it should be kind of taboo for a writer to talk about the beta reading experience, except in very general ways. I mean, beta readers are giving up their free time — which I am certainly stingy with myself — to offer free criticism on a manuscript. And it’s absolutely vital, especially for people serious about achieving excellence. Given how reticent almost … Continue reading In which I ramble about art & criticism