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The Pecman

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  1. Give us an example. To me, as long as the conflict carries the story forward, and it doesn't come from out of nowhere, I don't see the problem. On the other hand, if you have a kid who gets discovered having sex by his parents, gets thrown out of his house, has to live on the street, then gets hit by a car, later gets cancer, then decides to kill a guy to make some money... all in the first three chapters... yeah, I can see where maybe that's a little too much, and it's all kind of random. So if you can give us an example of too much conflict, I'll be glad to give you my thoughts. Again, to me, as long as the conflict and action are logical, move in a pattern, and come out of the specific overall plot of the story, there's no problem. Of course, it all has to be believable; that goes without saying. Where did you read such a thing? This sounds like pure hokum to me. Do you have a website or online survey statistics you can direct us to? As far as I'm concerned, gay kids (and adults) are just as randomly stupid, smart, rich, poor, fat, slim, ordinary, and special as straight people. We get a kind of jaded "reality" of what gay people are in TV shows and fiction -- even our own. Whenever my partner and I attend the West Hollywood Gay Pride festivals every June or so, we're always struck by how "ordinary" most of the audience is. Some of them look like totally ordinary people -- which, when you think about it, they are. We're all just people, mentally and physically. To me, our sexual orientation is just one part of what makes us who we are; it's not necessarily the most important part of our existance.
  2. Conflict is the very essance of drama. As I've often argued, conflict doesn't necessarily mean violence or catastrophe; you can have a lot of conflict just in a decision the hero has to make, or just in an internal monologue inside his or her own head. William Noble's excellent book, Conflict, Action, & Suspense (part of the Writers Digest "Elements of Fiction Writing" series) goes into all of this in great detail. While it's true that too much conflict can lead to kind of a soap opera thing, where the antagonist is getting assaulted in every single chapter, the point is made that you have to have something going on to keep the action moving and keep the reader's interest up. Think of conflict as another synonym for action. Conflict could be something as simple as a pivotal test a student has to take the next day, or maybe there's a traffic jam on the highway, and the conflict occurs because the hero is going to be delayed in a trip by fifteen minutes. Maybe the conflict happens when the hero is expecting a crucial phone call, then after he doesn't get it, he finds out his phone has been out of order for two hours. Conflict can be as simple as not knowing the information: I often see this done simply when a gay character is infatuated with another person, and we're not sure how that person will react. There's a million ways to work conflict into a story. Usually, when I criticize a story for being boring, it's the lack of conflict (and action) that drives me to it. Conflict is the very heart of drama (and comedy); without it, what you wind up with is little character studies, where there's essentially no real story there. Those can be entertaining on some level, but they aren't real stories, with a beginning, middle, and end, nor do they set up a situation and then resolve it. To me, it's the difference between a little musical "movement" and a symphony. When you try to drag out a "movement" to the length of a novel, it gets very boring, very quickly. BTW, I just discovered I have an extra copy of Mr. Noble's book. I'll be glad to give it away absolutely free to anybody who wants it -- first come, first serve.
  3. You never answered any of my three questions. I asked very politely and rationally; everything I asked was very well-thought out, clear, and specific, but you side-stepped any direct answers. Your so-called guidelines say nothing about how you'll now only allow "PG-rated" content, nor does it explain what that is. The only thing you say about content is this: "No intergenerational sex, i.e. a person of legal age seducing or having relations with someone NOT of legal age. (if you are unsure if this applies to your story, email us with some specifics and we can let you know) "No gratuitous acts of violence e.g., rape or coercion of minors, abusive situations involving minors, graphic violence, unwilling participants, dangerous sexual acts, depiction of minors being photographed without consequences (Again if this is needed as an event to develop plot it can be allowed. If not sure, ask.)" And that's all you say about it. I can ask my three questions again, but I suspect you'll still ignore them. (Why do I suddenly feel like Michael Moore hounding George W. Bush?) I don't find things like that interesting to read or write about either. But you don't say this on your website. Why not just say what you think? Well, my novel Groovy Kind of Love had a rape scene in it. I offered it to you sometime back, and you rejected it purely on that basis. I have absolutely no problem with that and bear you no malice for it. But your opinion now seems to negate that. In my novel, the rape isn't completed; it's dramatically justfied (at least, it is in my opinion); the scene certainly wasn't done in a way to glorify what happened; it's done as an act of violence, not sex at all; and the guilty party was punished. Could I have left the scene out? Maybe, but I had already set up the villain in previous chapters, and he was too interesting a character to ignore without an eventual payoff. I felt it was dramatically necessary, and I even went into some detail about the rape victim's recovery (mental and physical) for the next few chapters. I find it interesting that the original Gay Writers Guild (now essentially defunct) asked me to let them post the story. After receiving it, they told me they were a little put-off by the rape scene, and I told them, "no problem -- you don't have to post it," and I apologized for not reading their rules. You know what they did? They had a meeting and decided, "your story is good enough that we're going to change the rules to allow it anyway." And they modified their rules (which are very specific, by the way) to now say, "no rape scenes that are gratuitous or glorify the act." But the story is very definitely R-rated, and knocking it down to a PG would water it down unbearably. Your comments leave me puzzled, Beagle. Note that I was up-front enough to tell you in the first place that we were having this discussion here on Awesomedude.com, and I sent you my text in advance, just so you knew what was going on. I don't do anything behind people's backs, and I wanted to give you every opportunity to respond. Note also that I never mentioned you or your website by name, and tried to be as fair and even-handed as possible. The Dude has been kind enough to let us have this conversation uncensored, and in fact has actually encouraged the debate as an open forum, which I genuinely appreciate. I hope you agree, this is not a black and white situation, and that you'll eventually see that you've opened a huge can of worms with this. I think there's a right way and a wrong way to deal with the content of fiction by authors, particularly as it applies to graphic content. And to me, you did it the wrong way.
  4. I'm a walking-talking expert on the music of the 1960s and 1970s, since I worked in radio for part of my life, and have been an enormous fan of rock & pop music for the past 40+ years. Last time I counted them, I believe I had about 11,000 CDs in the main music room of my house, along with about 6000 albums, and I-don't-know-how-many 45's. (Remember records?) Note that the first time Jimmy Page got the idea to use a bow on the electric guitar was after he had dinner with fan (and actor) David McCallum, who at the time was the star of NBC-TV's Man From UNCLE series. McCallum introduced Page to McCallum's father, who was one of the principal violinists with the London Philharmonic. The older gent gave Page one of his old bows, and Page used it during a session for "Dazed and Confused"... and rock history was made. And I'm Casey Kasem... and that's what happened, back in late 1968. --Pecman
  5. I finally got to see Farenheit 9/11 with my partner and a friend last night. It was pretty much as I expected: a slickly-made bit of entertainment, with some facts covered up by lots of opinion. That having been said, I think the three biggest points of the movie are true: 1) Bush didn't really win the last election 2) the war in Iraq is being done for reasons other than terrorism. 3) Bush and the government are beholden to a lot of Mideastern money people. I think many hundreds of commentators around the world agree on most of this, so this is not just Michael Moore's idea. Granted, some of Moore's reasoning is flawed, and the movie has moments that are extremely contrived and manipulative, but my gut feeling is that if even 60% of the movie is true -- which I think it is -- Bush should be voted out of office. The two things that affected me the most in the movie were: the images of the wounded soldiers, like the young guys in their early 20s, who are coming back with missing limbs and so on; and the middle-aged woman who starts out as a conservative war Hawk, and winds up despising Bush after her son comes home in a coffin. Very sad and touching -- that's the kinda thing that stays with you for a long time. I don't agree (as Trent says elsewhere) that basically the movie is a pack of lies. You may not be aware that Moore hired the fact-checker who worked for The New York Times to check all the facts presented in the film, and he also had three attorneys check everything that was said, to ward off any threat of a lawsuit. Note that no lawsuits have been filed at all against Moore over this film. I'm not saying the film is 100% truthful, since some of it is largely opinion and conjecture. But there's no question to me that the war in Iraq is muddled, and is being fought over reasons that have little to do with terrorism. I also believe Bush is a very stupid guy -- probably the dimmest bulb we've had in the White House in many years -- and that bothers me more than anything else. Say what you will about Nixon, but at least that guy wasn't a dummy.
  6. I have no problem discussing any facet of my stories in Email, with anybody who wants to question anything I ever did. Beyond a certain point, I have to eventually say, "well, I made certain choices for a reason, but it was deliberately done, and if you don't like it, that's cool." But that hasn't happened many times. I always try to give every single letter-writer at least the courtesy of a reply. Sometimes, I resort to a kind of boiler-plated form letter, but I at least thank them for their time, and I also will try to answer any specific questions they had. In some cases, a few readers have pointed out little flaws here and there that have made me say, "hey! I never thought of that -- let me mull that over and see if I can fix that in a later draft," and I go out and do that. So sometimes, it helps to get criticism, especially if it's on something very direct and specific. I have no doubt, though, that for every reader who does send in an email, there's probably a dozen others who didn't. I think that's just the nature of the Net: it's hard to communicate sometimes, and sadly, there are some wackos out there you gotta watch out for. But 99% of most of the emails I've ever gotten have been pleasant and complimentary. --Pecman P.S. BTW, "Hoodster" is actually a good guy, no matter what he says. Maybe a little sensitive, but generally a pretty good writer.
  7. Yeah, the journalist was loosely based on my own experience as a staff writer for a couple of magazines (not Time magazine!), and some of the character's own traits were inspired by my friend Keith Morrisette. I put the journalist in the story for two reasons: first, because I was upset at how the U.S. government is censoring certain kinds of news stories (particularly overseas), so we don't quite get all the information by the time it winds up on our TV sets and newspapers, and secondly, because when you hear about bizarre violent incidents, it's very rare that anyone ever finds out WHY it happened. Hell, I still don't know why the Columbine kids shot up the place -- unless you go with comedian Chris Rick's theory, which was "they was f-in' crazy!" Note that in a rewrite, I plan to bring back the journalist in a brief scene in the next-to-last-chapter, where he asks the lead character, "do you see yourself as a gay kid who plays football, or a football player who happens to be gay?" And the kid thinks for a moment and then answers, "I'm just me -- me first, just a guy. And those other things are just parts of me." And the writer nods and tells him that's the best answer he could possibly have. BTW, I just saw Farenheit 9/11 tonight here in LA, and man, that's a helluva movie. There's still a lot of twists and semi-truths in it, along with some contrivances, but the way Moore shows how the U.S. media is covering (and sometimes covering up) what's going on in America and overseas was quite sobering.
  8. Oh, believe me, I'm very aware of Columbine and the other school shootings around the country. Scares the living hell outta me, and I'm terribly sympathetic to the people who've gone through these tragedies. My point in weaving that into the story was mainly because of the plight of Andrew Williams, the kid in San Diego who was taunted by bullies as if he was gay, even though he wasn't. After a few months of that, he got pissed-off enough to bring a gun to school and start shooting anybody and everybody he could. After the prosecution assured his family if he pled guilty (for a speedy trial), they'd give him a relatively-light sentence, like 20-25 years, but instead they gave him life without parole, which I think is horrible. I dedicated the book to him, because I think Williams is a symbol of the consequences that happen when kids who are different are harrassed by bullies. So I was thinking about the amount of gay harrassment that goes on in schools every day, and the fact that -- unlike when geeks like myself were pushed around in school -- now, kids think they can even the odds by killing the bullies. It's a very sad situation, and I hope the story makes the point that there's a lot of victims there -- the kids who were shot, the parents, the teachers, and even the kid(s) who did the shooting. If nothing else, I hope the story makes people think about the subject. --Pecman
  9. More important than that, it's the first documentary ever made to make more than $50 million. It's well on its way to making over $100 million, which is unbelievable, given that Farenheit 9/11 only cost $6 million to make. I studied documentary filmmaking in college years ago, and I've worked on many, many TV documentaries over the years. The last one was Motown 40, which aired on ABC about five years ago, and a PBS documentary on the history of Money, right around the same time. The problem with Farenheit 9/11 is that Moore hasn't made a strict documentary. This is a film with a very strong point of view, and he chops and edits footage specifically to create a deliberately-slanted look at a complex situation. I think Moore is also guilty of "stacking the deck," arranging the facts (and carefully eliminating others) to make his targets look as bad as possible. That having been said: while I criticize his methods, I think Moore's intentions are good, and I also think he's right. I already planned to vote Bush out of office in November, if only for his anti-gay-marriage attitude (and the bad economy and the ongoing war). I like the fact that the movie will get more people behind the same idea, so that's a good thing. But a strict documentary, it ain't. It's very skillfully-done propoganda, by a very good filmmaker with a deliberate agenda. Don't fool yourself into thinking that everything in the movie is 100% accurate and true. --Pecman
  10. Paul, did you actually bother to read everything I wrote up there? Did you see where, several times, I stressed that there are no guidelines and procedures on the guy's website? He won't say exactly where the line is, except to talk vaguely of "PG-rated content." What does that mean exactly? Can you define it? If the guy just answered my three questions, I would've been fine with it. But he didn't. We have rules being enforced, but we aren't being informed what the rules are. To me, that's a big problem. And the publisher I spoke of does actually have some printed guidelines. Nowhere does it forbid sexual contact between teenagers, but that's exactly what they cited to me in their emails. Go read my stories on this website, and tell me if you think any of them are offensive or indecent in any way. And be specific, because I'd really like to know where you stand on this. --Pecman
  11. I have no problem with that, Blue. My problem is that the guy won't tell us why he wants the rules, and what the rules are. That's kind of a problem, don' t you think? And the implication is, if one were to submit a story, only to have it rejected, if you deleted the sexual content yourself, then it would be deemed acceptable. To me, that's a subtle form of censorship. But not even knowing where the line of acceptibility is... well, to me, that's maddening. I think I have an idea in my head of what the differences between erotica and pornography are. Again, it's the difference between an episode of Queer as Folk, and a XXX-rated porno video. But this website owner is essentially telling us, "I won't carry a story that can't run on broadcast television." To me, that's just crazy -- even more so, when it's not explained or justified. --Pecman
  12. I believe both Paul and Blue are right. Some (but not all) stories paint a picture of wish-fulfillment, with nothing but great-looking characters, often in very upscale surroundings. Some of it is unrealistic, but I also see where people want to read stories about attractive people. An Internet acquaintance of mine Mark Roeder, makes it a point to actually write about ordinary characters -- some plain, definitely not good-looking, a few even porky. (I've chided him on the issue of having fat gay teenage characters, saying, "jeez, tell these kids to hit the gym and lay off the carbs," but he's a stubborn guy.) If you look at any mainstream fiction, it's rare that you'll see the characters described in these stories as ugly or plain. The same is true of movies: TV shows and movies portray society as looking much better than it really is in real life. I'd say it's the nature of entertainment. While my own most recent novel, Jagged Angel, had three main characters who were all very good-looking, I made a point to mention that the lead character had a terrible inferiority complex, which led him to work out incessantly and take steroids, all in an effort to radically change his appearance. My first novel, Groovy Kind of Love, had a lead character who (by his own omission) was a 4-eyed geek, and that's reinforced several times in the story. True, the plot descended into a near-cliche "geek falls in live with the hunk best friend," but I like to think I avoided the stereotype whenever possible. (And I cheerfully admit, the geek happened to be the best-hung guy in school, but I had my own reasons for choosing to tell that story.) I don't know if any of this answers your points, but maybe it's a start. I know Keith Morrisette's characters run the gamut from good-looking to plain, so I think he's avoided the "beauty scene" plot as well.
  13. Recently, I had a heated debate with another writer who runs a gay fiction website. He had recently made the decision to exclude running any stories with R- or X-rated content, basically saying that he felt there was a profusion of pornography on the Internet, and he was tired of contributing to it. I got indignant about this, and argued that to just arbitrarily slam the door on sex scenes in novels was silly and unreasonable. Even worse, I looked upon his attitude as a subtle kind of censorship, since he was now put in the position of having to remove stories that had been on his site for months (if not years). I feel that the current political atmosphere in America has had a chilling effect on free speech. We?ve got a government that?s obsessed with Janet Jackson baring her breast on the Super Bowl, with Howard Stern doing fart jokes on the radio, and trying to stamp out Gay Marriage to appease religious fundamentalists. I believe these are all BS smokescreen issues, and the government is really ignoring the really important problems we have, like the lousy U.S. economy, rising unemployment, the lack of good education, the need to cure AIDS (and other important diseases), the importance of stem-cell research, and how the U.S. should stop trying to be the policemen of the world, particularly in the Mideast. Well, a veritiable firestorm erupted from my arguments. I told the website owner that my main problem with his decision was that he needed to do three things: 1) give us the specifics on why he felt that stories with sexual content should not be allowed. 2) tell us how reading stories with sexual content will harm teenagers (particularly when he already has an ?18 years or older? warning banner on the first page of his site). 3) give us a specific list as to what can be permitted in stories, vs. what cannot; tell us what the limits are. But the website owner got very flustered and refused to do any of this. Instead, he insisted that it was his website, and he could do what he wanted with it -- something on which I completely agree. I simply wanted to know why he felt the way he did, but I never got anywhere with my argument. I was appalled by the attitude of a half-dozen people who agreed with him, many of whom supported the web owner?s position and felt I was trying to attack the guy. I argued and argued that to me, sexual content should be a matter of choice by the writer. For a non-paying website to dictate to an author how their story should be written is absolutely appalling to me. (It?s bad enough when a paying editor forces you to make some changes, but that?s the reality of commercial book and magazine publishing, and I accept that to some degree.) I pointed out that some of the greatest works of gay fiction ever written, such as Patricia Nell Warren?s brilliant novel The Front Runner, or Edmund White?s A Boy?s Own Story, had scenes that wouldn?t pass muster with his website?s new rules. Neither novel is pornographic by any stretch of the imagination; the sex scenes are there, but they?re what I would call ?R-rated? at best ? not in-your-face explicit, but still beyond a PG. Sort of like the difference between an issue of Playboy and one of Hustler. Or, in gay terms, the difference between an episode of Showtime?s Queer as Folk (which I would call a ?soft R? in movie terms) and a XXX-rated Falcon video. And that's a big difference. My argument was, to me, the website owner should worry more about whether the writing is good first, and worry about the sexual content second. If his concerns were about teenagers getting exposed to anything, I think his biggest fear should be about them getting exposed to mediocre writing more than anything else. To me, as long as the characters are well-drawn, the story is compelling, and the quality of the writing is good, then some degree of sexual content hurts no one -- or at least, no sexually-mature teenager. (I am opposed to exposing young children to sexual content, but I also believe that?s a matter for parents to police.) Anyway, after about a week of beating my head on a brick wall, I finally took the bull by the horns and wrote a response myself for the website owner, and told him he could use it without attribution. I also apologized for upsetting him (which I clearly had), and gave my permission for him to remove all of my critical remarks -- remarks which, by the way, were in the most measured, rational tone possible. Here?s the statement I gave him to use: ?It seems to me that a lot of the gay fiction websites on the web, like Nifty, have stories that are almost totally about sex and not about people. I want the stories on my site to concentrate on story and characters first, along with good writing, and make sex a secondary issue. I'll permit some sexual content in the stories on my website, as long as it isn't gratuitous or extremely graphic. I'll make a judgment on a story-by-story basis, and will try not to have any hard-and-fast rule that tries to cover everything, because so much of it is a matter of personal taste.? And that was it. He chose not to run it, never did answer my final email (with my apology), but did -- with my permission -- delete all the messages in the debate about sexual content in gay fiction. To date, he hasn?t responded to my argument or my attempts at a reconciliation. So my question is: am I crazy here? Is sexual content a bad thing? How much sex is too much? To put things in perspective, as I?ve gone back and polished my novels Groovy Kind of Love and Jagged Angel, I?ve actually toned-down some of the sex scenes in later drafts, mainly because I think some were getting into an uncomfortable area. For my own writing, I prefer to make the sex scenes a little vague, and more about the emotions of the participants rather than what their body parts are doing. But that?s strictly my own preference. I think strong sex scenes can work if the writing is good enough -- I?d offer Gordon Merrick?s gay best-sellers as examples where this works well -- but for my own work, there?s too much of a ?yeesh? factor when there?s a (ahem) blow-by-blow description of everything going on. To me, it?s the difference between erotica and pornography. My second controversy: A few months back, I had a (polite) screaming match with a commercial book publisher who read my manuscript for Jagged Angel, but then sent it back saying, ?it?s not bad, it?s actually well-written, but we can?t publish it because the characters are under 18.? I asked where there was a U.S. law that said that stories with teenagers having sex could not be published, and they responded, there was no law -- it was just their ?policy.? Case closed. A passionate debate followed. I?ll spare you the details except to say that I couldn?t convince the editor that a) teenagers [straight, gay, and otherwise] can and do sometimes have sex, b) books of fiction with teenage characters having sex are legal in North America, and c) booksellers can and do sell books about teenagers having sex. (I can name 10 gay literary classics on this theme? but I digress.) My arguments fell on deaf ears, and now I?m preparing to publish Angel myself through P.O.D. So my second issue is: why is there a prejudice by publishers against gay fiction with teenage characters? Am I crazy, or is this legal? And does this bias exist, or is it merely a figment of my imagination? Tell me what you guys think. And please, I?m not just looking for a chorus of people agreeing with me; if I?m off-base, tell me so.
  14. Hi, Blue. My answer to your question is: there are no easy answers. Every story has to be judged on its own merits; every writer has his or her own particular style, and what works for one person may not work for everyone. (And I'm speaking in a general way -- there are still specific technical rules, as discussed before, but the rest of it is an artistic choice.) I do believe, though, that a lot of the novels I characterize as being too long are those that lean much too much on letting dialog carry the story. My feeling is, you have to bounce back and forth every so often, maybe every other scene, to telescope the story with description instead of dialog. At the same time, you can't violate the classic "show, don't tell" rule. Don't DESCRIBE an exciting scene that happened off-screen: get right in the middle of the scene and SHOW it happening as it happens. As to narrative description, Monica Wood's excellent book Description (part of the Writers Digest "Elements of Fiction Writing" series) was very helpful to me. I think you need description to set the mood, time, feel, and location of a new scene, just as an intro. Sometimes that works; other times, a powerful dialog scene works better. I sense that you've occasionally run into Writers' Block, and I can tell you for a fact that everybody has. (OK, maybe everybody except Stephen King, for whom writing is like turning on the goddamned faucet.) I ran into a little of that on Angel, due partly to horrific pressures at work, and also due to my crazed obsessive-compulsive nature, where I felt compelled to make the thing as perfect as possible. I finally realized, "screw it -- I'm not gonna try to make this thing perfect. I'm just going to jot down the bare bones of the scenes, flesh it out, and then move on. I'll come back and rewrite it again someday, and I won't worry if it's not perfect." Once I did that, and just let go of the thing and relaxed a little bit, it worked out fine. I wound up NOT doing a major rewrite after all, and kept most of what I did as-is. BTW, I do think there is a point at which there can be too much action. Jagged Angel has everything but the friggin' kitchen sink in it, and I must confess to wincing at all the crap I threw into the story. But I'd rather it be this way than being boring. Is it believable? Well, of the 1100 or so emails I've received, I think only about half-a-dozen said, "jesus, there's so much going on in this story, my HEAD is spinning," but again -- the thing was entertaining. Sure, it borders on melodrama and soap opera, but I tried to put as much of a realistic spin on it as I could. My final thought is: most of the technical nuts-and-bolts writing questions you asked are answered in many, many fine books on fiction writing out there. Have you read the books on my short list in my Gay Writing Tips piece? Read those, and you'll find the answers, or at least you'll find a place from which you can make a choice.
  15. Blue, I'm confused. I'm not sure what you specifically disagree with in my comments. If you can give me a one or two sentence summary of what you're trying to say, I'll try to respond as best I can. I'll restate mine very simply: "A lot of the gay fiction I read on the Net is poorly written, because the authors don't take the time or trouble to learn how to do it well. I think it's possible to at least learn the basics, and one way is to read my document, along with the references mentioned in the piece." That's it. (OK, plus "don't make your story BORING.") Do you have a problem with that? If you do, I'm really baffled. We can agree to disagree, if you like.
  16. Hi, Paul. I have no problem with anything you bring up here. However, I see no reason why you can't "nurture talent" and also give them the rules of the road at the same time. If I had to boil down everything I said into a single sentence, it would be this: "When you write a story, PLEASE DON'T MAKE IT BORING." That's really my biggest concern: when my eyes glaze over because some guy has written a long, long, long story where not much happens. You seem to think my rules were constructed in such a way as to immediately crush the spirit of newcomers who have never written before; that was not my intent, and I don't think I did that. I'm just concerned that they'll read a mediocre story on the net, decide, "ah, I'll imitate how this one is done, and then I'll know how to write!" And that's very troubling. And by the way, I think 90% of the stories that have bothered me the most have been those written by adults in their 40s, who are reliving their misspent teenage years through their characters. (God knows, that was the case for me with Groovy, but I copped to that at the end by explaining that much of the story was true, or at least based on truth.) Read what Nick Archer has to say about that in his diatribe. BTW, I cited one terrific story by Comicality in my closing remarks to Groovy: "Beneath the Surface," which (IMHO) is among the best things he ever wrote. I even nominated it for the "Best of Nifty" list, even though technically, it's not on Nifty. Also, Comicality and I are talking in Email, and (without quoting directly) he seems to think most of my Writing Tips are valid. So there you go.
  17. I know. It's sad, too. But you know what? There are also young guys out there who are bloody geniuses at what they do. This kid T. Scott Faulkner that wrote the story Fifteen -- dynamite story, even though it's not yet finished. Great writing by any definition, no matter how old he is. But that doesn't give amateur writers carte blanche to write a 700,000-word epic that's boring and saggy. Gimme some confict, gimme some surprises, and keep the damned story moving! That's all I ask. I'm with movie critic Roger Ebert, who once said, "the worst sin a movie director or writer can commit is to bore his or her audience. I'd rather see a bad movie that keeps me thoroughly engrossed than a fair-to-middling film that puts me to sleep." I think that applies to fiction, too. Sure, I have no problem with that. But if they were making a movie, I would tell them: learn to use the camera! Learn how to focus! Learn how to light! Learn where to put the microphone! Don't just assume you know how to make a movie because you watch a lot of them. Learn the rules! Learn how to use the tools before you go to work. And don't start by making a 10-hour miniseries; do a short film first. The same is true of writing. Being a good writer takes a lotta work. It takes practice, you have to read a lot, and it pays to do the research and learn all the rules before you break them. I would have no problem with somebody writing a 700,000-word serial as long as it held my interest, surprised me, and told a compelling story. Unfortunately, I don't see this too often, especially on the Net. BTW, Perry & Jesse has some good moments and I enjoy the characters. I think there are aspects of the story that could be improved, but it's absolutely not a bad story at all. You're doing a good job with the editing from where I sit -- though I'd toss in my pet peeve, which is that I think the characters need to have their own individual "voices," and I like to see more casual dialog, with more contractions and a more-natural feel to it. Beyond that, it's fine. In fact, I'm talking with the people behind the "Best of Nifty" list about putting together a "Best Serials on the Net" list, and I'd consider several of the ones here on Awesomedude for consideration. There's certainly a difference between a good serial and a bad one; I just wish the writers would consider my suggestion of making each novel separate, with a real beginning, middle, and end, and just move from there. To show an example of where this is done well, look at Jo Rowling's Harry Potter books: they're terribly long, it's one long serial comprising 7 years in the life of an adolescent boy... and by god, that thing is as exciting as a roller-coaster. Not a dull moment in sight, the characters are sharply-defined, there's a ton of surprises in every chapter, and (from where I sit) not a wasted page, either. Even though it's mass-market fiction, Rowling's books still follow all the rules of good writing. I don't get that feeling from many amateur serial stories on the Net, though. :roll: Maybe the encouragement we need to give younger writers is: please don't start your career as a budding author by writing an epic that never ends! Make some notes, jot down a sentence or two on what needs to happen in each chapter, and do it that way. Have an ending in mind before you write the story. And consider starting with a short story first! But I concede, there are some terrific, brilliant writers who have the ability to plunge headlong into a novel and they have absolutely no idea where it's headed. Stephen King was once asked, "why did you write for 16 hours a day for months on The Shining?" He answered, "I couldn't wait to find out how the story was going to end!" :mrgreen:
  18. I completely agree. And very few of the novels on the net are good enough to be published; most would be rejected right off the top because they're badly-written. Some that are well-written still get rejected, simply because the publisher decides they won't make money by publishing them. I own up to both; none of my fiction has been accepted by any commercial publisher, but I keep on plugging away as best I can. I won't name any specific stories by name, but I maintain that many (but not all) of the ultra-long "serialized" stories suffer from diarrhea of the pen. I have no problem with sequels per se; the problem is that the serial stories have no end and just go on, mainly because the writer has no clear idea where the story is going. To me, this is frustrating to the reader because there's no pay off... no climax... no solid resolution that at least ties up the current plot and character. There's a wonderful, rich history of serials, going back to Charles Dickens publishing Great Expectations in weekly installments in newspapers, or Conan Doyle doing the same thing with his great Sherlock Holmes stories. The difference is, those guys could write. Their stories had real ups and downs, everything in the beginning led to a logical conclusion, the characters were compelling, and the stories eventually ended. I object only to serials that go on forever without a real conclusion. No one could get away with this in real life -- although, by god, Stephen King is coming close with The Dark Tower! -- because nobody would have the patience to put up with it. I agree that soap operas have their fans, and I absolutely agree that many soap operas have plots that are unresolved and dragged out forever. But I don't think those qualify as good writing. Are they entertaining? They can be. All the stories you name have good moments, but I think some suffer from "wretched excess" at times. I sure don't get this from great serial stories on television; for example, The West Wing, even without the masterful writing of Aaron Sorkin, is one of the most compelling TV shows I've ever seen, and it tells a continuing saga of life in a fictional White House. I'm riveted to that show every week, but you can make a good argument that each episode tells a complete "mini-story" with a beginning, middle, and end, follows all the rules of good story-telling, and has enough conflict to make every minute worth it. I don't see that in many of the serial stories on the net. Me personally, I would rather that the Net writers just write successive novels, and have each of them self-contained. Write sequels with the same characters if you want. Just make each novel have a POINT and a logical end. Follow the normal rules of good story-telling; don't have any chapters where not much happens, and don't pad them out to take up space. Otherwise, some of these stories just strike me as so much BS to wade through, like a symphony that never ends, or a 4-hour movie that makes your butt hurt in the seat. Even when it's good, you wanna yell "enough already!"
  19. Hi, Paul. I really appreciate your comments. I tell you, I've been astonished by the number of writers who were very offended by what I had to say. Virtually none of the ideas I said above are mine! They come out of dozens and dozens of very effective writing books, written by authors and others with many years of experience. My gut feeling is that the books really are right, and that amateur authors are too thin-skinned to see constructive criticism for what it is. Maybe it's because I've been slugged, punched, and slapped around for so long in the world of magazine writing (in which I labored for more than 20 years), I'm used to editors critiquing my work. Early on, I took it personally, but I eventually developed enough of a thick skin to be able to say, "they're not slamming me personally -- it's just words on a page." Why these others guys can't do it is bewildering to me. And if somebody does criticize something I say, I come up with a defense and say, "well, that's your opinion, but I feel such-and-such." No big deal. It's like slamming me because I prefer chocolate chip ice cream to strawberry. Check out Nick Archer's article -- he has a very funny section on the "Let me introduce myself" syndrome. The major books on fiction writing are quick to articulate this, and they basically say: "Don't ever say or do anything that reminds the reader that they're reading a story! Make the whole process as invisible as possible." The moment you jump out of the reality of the story and say "let me introduce myself," the fourth wall is broken -- and that simply doesn't work for fiction, unless you're reading a diary or something. [i confess to doing it occasionally, but in a very, very subtle way; there was one moment in [i]Groovy[/i] where I mentioned a certain amount of money, and commented, "and in 1968, that was a huge amount of cash to me," but I think few people noticed.] And I'm particularly irked by these Net stories that just go on and on and on forever, with no end in sight. Whenever I stumble on some 68-chapter epic on Nifty that has like 3/4 of a million words, I know in advance the chances of this thing being the next War and Peace are very slim. Amateur writers have got to learn the need to organize their thoughts, get to the point, and make every chapter count. Makes me crazy otherwise! :( --Pecman
  20. Amen to all that, guys! I couldn't agree more with everything you have to say. I have a few more points myself in my dissertation elsewhere. The Dude slapped me around a little bit and made me get off my high horse and alter my original piece (which I wrote in a fit of pique), and upon reflection, I'm glad he did. I think it reads more as gentle advice, rather than a screaming complaint against bad writing on the net. I don't have permission to post it, but Nick Archer has a similar piece (mentioned in my article), which is much more sarcastic and bitchy -- and a great deal of it is dead-on accurate, too. I confess to having committed a few of his sins in my stories (novels set in either Florida or California; the geeky gay kid who has an affair with a good-looking jock; a rich kid; a traumatic move... Jesus, I must be a bigger hack than I thought!). But at the same time, I like to think I came up with a few unique spins to throw the reader off-base. In the case of Groovy, the trick there was, it starts off as one kind of story -- kind of a light-hearted, nostalgic rememberance of life in the 60s -- but then gets very heavy and traumatic as time goes on. In the case of Angel, I have a fairly dislikable lead character, who starts off one way at the beginning of the story, then becomes physically and emotionally changed, and gradually changes again to become a very different, more human, honest-to-gosh hero by the end of the story. I like to think in both cases, I avoided the stereotypes and the clich?s as much as humanly possible. Are there problems with the stories? Sure. But by god, they aren't boring, they hold your interest, the characters are believable, there's some (fairly big) surprises, and each one takes you through a fairly detailed adventure. I'm not saying every story has to do that. I'm in awe of even amateurs like David Buffet, who are in a class by themselves, as far as I'm concerned. (Although I confess to preferring his first story, Alpha Male, to Control & Kaos, though both are very, very good.) Buffet's stories are much more character-driven, where the story comes out of the people, not so much out of the situation. If you want something to strive for, Buffet's the man, as far as I'm concerned.
  21. Nick Nurse's comments elsewhere are good, but I think they relate more to the basics of grammar and spelling. I'm more concerned about the content of the fiction I read these days (not that grammar or spelling can be taken for granted!); I present the comments below just as a reaction to a lot of the stuff I've read lately on the Net. TIPS ON WRITING GAY FICTION (version 2.5) Maybe a better title for this piece would be how to write better gay fiction. God knows, there?s more crap out there on the Net than you can shake a stick at. But a lot of the truly bad stories out there seem to exhibit the same mistakes over and over again. It makes me crazy, because I feel very strongly that amateur fiction does not have to be amateurish! As far as I?m concerned, good writing is good writing, whether you?re being paid for it or not, and regardless of whether it?s being read by 10 readers or 10,000,000. Below is a list of my personal pet peeves in gay erotic fiction on the Net, followed by remedies and suggestions that I believe can help nip them in the bud. A lot of these ideas are intended for neophytes who write gay erotica featuring teenage characters, but many of the topics apply to characters of all ages. 1) Get your stories off to a good start. This is a particularly bad problem in the ?gay teenage romance? genre (if that is an actual genre). You know you?re in trouble when, in the very first paragraph, the character wakes up to an alarm clock or a knock on the door. Very clich?d, very predictable... and incredibly boring. Good fiction is like good filmmaking: the scenes often start right in the middle of the action, so we get rid of the preliminary, boring set-up, and cut right to the chase, to the heat of the battle. Start the story in an unpredictable way: hook the reader with the very first paragraph, preferably with some action and conflict, and make them want to read more. 2) Make the introductions of the characters interesting and unpredictable. Avoid the expected. Let the story dictate when the characters appear for the first time; don't throw them in arbitrarily. Whatever you do, avoid directly describing the characters? physical appearance ? especially the lead. Klaxon sirens go off the moment I read a story where the writer says, ?let me introduce myself. My name is so-and-so, I?m this tall, I?m this old, and I look like this.? BOR-ing! Let the reader find out what the characters look like through the eyes of other people. Or let us find out eye color, hair color, height, and all the other aspects of your characters? physical appearance naturally, through conversation, and as the story develops. There?s a thousand different ways to do that if you think about it, and there?s no need to rush it. If possible, avoid the trite routine of having a character look at himself (or herself) in the mirror and describe what they see, unless there?s a damn good reason for it. And don?t think that you have to have go out of your way to to give your characters cool, trendy names. There?s nothing wrong with using ordinary names like ?John, Mark, or Bill,? as opposed to ?Chaz, Toph, or Zephyr.? Do at least make an effort to keep the names different-sounding from each other. For example, a story featuring characters named ?Mark,? ?Marty,? and ?Marvin? might be a little confusing. And when your lead characters meet for the first time, go for the unexpected. If I read one more gay teen romance where the two characters collide in the hallway, I swear, I?ll shoot my computer monitor (and then maybe myself)! C?mon ? come up with something new! People meet in all kinds of ways ? there doesn?t always have to be a ?new kid in school,? or the ?next door neighbor who may or may not be gay.? And if you go with the ?guy falls in love with his best friend? scenario, at least try to put a new spin on the same old situation to keep the reader guessing. 3) Make every chapter count. I can?t count the number of erotic stories on the Net where the chapters go on and on and on, ad infinitum, and yet very little actually happens in each installment. There are some stories out there (and you can guess which ones I?m talking about) that literally go on for 1000 pages with no end in sight? a veritable Lord of the Rings of gay erotica. And often, the story goes absolutely nowhere, without a real plot, no narrative thread, let alone a dramatic conclusion. A good novel or short-story needs all the elements of plot, characters, and conflict to constantly propel the story forward to an inevitable climax. Noted writer David Gerrold, in his excellent book Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, said it best when he instructed, ?put a surprise on every page.? His advice works for all kinds of fiction, not just SF or fantasy. Here?s an example for a novelist: write a short synopsis of each chapter you?ve done, made up of no more than two or three sentences. If you find not much is really happening in one or more chapters, then either cut them out, or edit them way down ? even combine them, if necessary ? to spare the reader the agony of having to read them. If you feel the story is getting bogged down and predictable, change it! Throw a new spin on things: don?t go in the expected direction. Keep your reader off-balance, so that they won?t be able to predict where the story and characters are headed. And don?t give me the excuse of, ?oh, but this isn?t just a novel. It?s a serial, designed to happen over a long period of time.? Bzzzzzz! Sorry, but that?s the wrong answer. I don?t buy the idea that amateur gay erotica doesn?t have to follow the same basic rules of good story-telling as everything else. A good story is a good story, period ? straight, gay, sexual, non-sexual. And, yes, that counts for amateur fiction on the Net, too. That doesn?t mean a good story can?t be an epic: a recent hardbound edition of Stephen King?s The Stand is 1200 pages, and J.K. Rowling?s 2003 best-selling installment of Harry Potter was well over 800 pages; but those stories have tons of plot, oodles of character development, and lots of meat. I don?t see much of that in comparable 1000-page Net stories. 4) Avoid excessive dialog. There?s no easier way to make a story long, drawn-out, and boring than by using non-stop dialog for every single page. If it?s possible to reduce ten pages of relatively-unnecessary dialog to a single page (or even a single paragraph) of descriptive prose, do so! For example: ?The day went horribly wrong. I avoided meeting Tom at every opportunity, but just when I thought he wouldn?t see me, there he was ? at the water fountain, at our usual table in the cafeteria, or in the back row of my math class.? That short passage could easily replace five pages of the same situation told verbally through dialog, which would be no more interesting. Going back and forth occasionally from dialog to description helps break up the monotony of solid, wall-to-wall conversation, and also allows you to establish the mood, the location, the time of day, and the emotional feel of each scene. And when you use dialog, make it crystal-clear as to who is speaking. Nothing is worse in a novel during back-and-forth dialog scenes when the reader gets totally lost as to which character is talking. One simple trick to make dialog-heavy scenes more interesting is to have the characters do something while they talk. For example, perhaps they have a heart-to-heart talk while jogging. That gives you the opportunity to describe the other joggers at a park, the weather outside, the trees and scenery in the neighborhood. Give the characters some action as they talk. In a movie, it?s rare that two people just stand in a room and talk and do nothing else. During dialog scenes, think about the characters? physical movement, where they are in relation to each other in the room or outside, and give them something to do. And make each line of dialog count. Don?t use three sentences to say something if just one will do. 5) Make the dialog realistic. Not a day goes by when I don?t read a piece of amateur fiction on the Net and I yell out, ?REAL PEOPLE DON?T TALK THAT WAY!? When you converse with your friends or your family, make an effort to listen ? really listen! ? not only to what they say, but the exact words they use, the timing of each phrase, the pauses between sentences, and all the other nuances that give their words personality. An easy writing exercise is to read your dialog out loud, in your own voice, and see if it rings true. My personal pet peeve are writers who refuse to use contractions in dialog. ?I cannot believe that we shall not be f**king tonight, Bobby.? Uh-uh, no way! ?I can?t believe that we won?t be f**in? tonight, Bobby!? That?s more like it! Making the dialog sound more true-to-life will help bring your story and your characters to life. By the same token, don?t go crazy with accents. Be particularly wary of southern drawls or urban dialect; sometimes just a few words ? for example, an occasional ?ain?t? in conversation ? is enough to establish the nature of the character, their ethnicity, their social and economic background, and so on. By the same token, you can use a specific manner of speaking to give each of your characters a distinct, individual personality. No two people talk exactly the same way in real life; neither should your characters. 6) Show... don't tell. Practically every book on writing ever written repeats this like a mantra. What it means is: don?t have your characters just talk about something that happened ?off-camera.? Make an effort to actively describe what actually happened, when it happens! Try to use all the senses ? not just sight, but also smell, taste, touch, hearing, even time-of-day ? when you describe the scene. Use action verbs. Make every effort to keep the description interesting, but be careful about being overly poetic. Be direct and to the point, and use simile and allusion sparingly. Paint a picture of the whole scene, and give us a clue as to the time of day, where it takes place, and what it looks and feels like. Give us enough detail so that readers will get a whiff of what it would feel like to stand there and watch it all happen. But don?t go overboard and start describing the trees instead of the forest. 7) Be careful with adverbs and adjectives. I used to have a creative writing teacher in college who had a red pen with which she would brutally slash out every word on a page ending in ?ly.? Most experts agree that writers need to use descriptive adverbs and adjectives very carefully. (Ooops! There?s an ?ly? word right there!) For example: ?Come here,? he said seductively. Uh-uh. We should already know the guy?s being seductive by the way he stands, the way he looks, and the way he acts. Don?t use an adverb or adjective to prop up a weak sentence. The only time you can legitimately use words like this is when the actual meaning might otherwise be unclear; for example, ?Oh, that looks great.? Is the speaker being sincere, or sarcastic? Are they amazed, or are they bored? A well-placed adverb would work there. By the same token, use adjectives sparingly. It?s very easy to go overboard, particularly when describing a sunset, a large building, a picturesque home, or detailing a dazzling character with whom your hero has just fallen in love (or lust). I think there?s a balance that has to be be struck between too many adjectives and too few, but it?s the sort of thing each writer has to work out for themselves, depending on their writing style. For example, Hemingway?s classic style was very sparse, yet also very clear, while Anne Rice provides extraordinarily rich details of every room, every character, and every scene. Each works well for the writers? own style. 8. Be careful with point of view. When you tell a story, you can choose to tell it through the eyes of a single character (1st person), or from an omniscient narrator (3rd person). Many beginning writers go with 1st person, so that the reader experiences everything through the eyes of the story?s hero. If you use this technique, resist the urge to jump to the point of view of another character! This technique smacks of amateurism, because it can confuse the reader, causing them to subconsciously worry by whom the story is being told at any given moment. Stick with one character and one character only! (If you doubt my advice, show me a single best-selling novel by a major author that goes back and forth between different characters for 1st person. There are very, very few, for this very reason.) Writing from a 3rd person point of view sometimes takes more effort, but can be more rewarding, since it gives you the ability to describe a situation from different points of view. You can also reveal to the reader different story elements that your hero cannot possibly see or know about. Each technique has its pros and cons, but whatever you do, go with one method ? and one method only! ? and stick with it for the duration of your story. There are those who believe you can go back and forth between 1st person and 3rd person, even within a single chapter, but I say again: show me a single best-selling novel by a major author that does so, and I?ll eat it. Using a technique this crude runs the risk of snapping the reader right out of the story, ruining the illusion that what they?re reading is actually happening before their very eyes. (I concede that a handful of 1st/3rd-person novels do exist. But they?re extremely rare, and it?s a technique best attempted only by experts.) 9) Make the sex scenes believable. I?m bewildered by the number of gay stories out there showing young teenagers or virgins engaged in the sort of activities that noted porn star Jeff Stryker only dreams about. While fantasy is all well and good, I think good erotica has to be rooted firmly in reality. Don?t have your characters do anything that?s beyond what?s really believable or possible. As advanced as young teens are today, what with the easy availability of porno and adult images on the Net, I think it?s more interesting (and more realistic) to show neophytes struggling with sex. And don?t assume that everybody in your story needs to have a body of Adonis, the face of Brad Pitt, and endowed with a foot-long phallus. Everybody?s different in real-life, and I think the characters in fiction should be the same way. I don?t mean your characters can?t be attractive ? just keep in mind that sometimes, it?s the flaws that make them interesting, not just their beauty. And people, please try to make the sex scenes work with the plot! Don?t just arbitrarily have your characters shed their clothes and start humping in every chapter, just because you feel like it. To me, the best gay fiction on the net are those that have a real plot and characters, along with the sex. Ideally, the story should still work even if somebody came along and snipped the sex scenes out. The stronger you make the story, and the more your readers really care about your characters, the more entertaining the sex scenes can be. Finally, try to avoid making the sex scenes just one anatomical description after another. Sure, love, lust, and sex can all be different, and everybody has their own individual style and preference (and predilictions). But I find the key is to concentrate not just on what the characters see and what they do, but also how they feel. Think about Tip #6: use all the senses to describe the sex between your characters. And alternate what they do in bed ? hell, get them out of the bed, have them go at it in a car, at the beach, in an elevator, whatever and wherever?s possible in your story. Going through the same motions in every chapter is as boring as a 20-year marriage. Variety is the spice of life, and this is never more true than it is with sex. 10) Keep the conflict going! Some writers out there insist on having nothing but ?sweetness and light? in their stories. Nobody ever gets mad; nobody ever gets hurt. Everybody accepts the characters for who and what they are. It?s a nice thought, but real life is a lot harder than that. Conflict is what makes drama possible; without conflict, a story just lays there, like a lox. Conflict doesn?t necessarily have to come from a villain, nor does it have to involve violence. Characters can clash with each other, or with relatives, or even argue with themselves. Many books on writing stress that the best stories deal with characters who have a moral conflict, where they have to make a difficult decision. That in itself can be a conflict. Every great novel has conflict oozing from every chapter; yours should, too. 11) Don't summarize the plot at the end, or at the beginning of the next chapter. Don?t spell things out ? it?s not necessary. Let the reader discover for themselves what?s going on. Readers are smarter than you think. If something isn?t clear, chances are they?ll tell you about it. If they forget what happened in the last chapter, they can always go back and re-read it for themselves, just as they would with a printed book. By the same token, don?t assume you need to list all your characters and describe them separately for your readers. Your story should be good enough on its own that the reader should be able to figure out who everybody is. If they can?t, your story probably has bigger problems than just a character list can solve. 12) Whatever you do, don't ever take criticism personally. When you post your stories on the Net and invite comments, people will sometimes react negatively. Outright nutcases, personal attacks, or spam can be a problem, but if a reader takes the time to raise some significant issues about your actual work, and they do so in a rational, thoughtful, honest way, don?t just ignore them. At least consider what they have to say, and give them the courtesy of a reply. Remember that they?re not criticizing you personally ? they?re just criticizing words on a page. Don?t overreact! Count to ten, relax, remind yourself that it?s just one person?s opinion, and get on with it. And you never know: maybe the reader has a point. If a single person is confused or troubled by one aspect of your story, maybe others will be, too. Some writers that I?ve talked to in Email tell me, ?you must be wrong. Why, I have a thousand readers who love what I do!? That may well be true, but just because you get a lot of accolades doesn?t necessarily mean you?re terrific at your craft. Look at your own work objectively. If you see any evidence of violating rules #1-#10 above, chances are, your work could stand some improvement. Bear in mind that there are always exceptions to the rules, and I concede there are situations where it might be possible to break one of the rules and get away with it, provided you do so in a way that?s not clich?d or contrived. But that takes far more skill than most amateurs have. Again, amateur writing does not have to be amateurish! If your goal is just to satisfy a small audience of fans who read for free, more power to you. But if you really want to be a good writer, you?ve got to work at it. Chances are, you might be getting two thousand emails instead of just a thousand if you were a better writer. Of course, all of the above tips are based on the assumption that the would-be writer is fluent in English and already knows the basic rules of spelling and grammar. If you don?t, a terrific source is Strunk & White?s Elements of Style, which has been the standard for all basic writing courses for decades. I also like The Chicago Manual of Style, which goes over the same material in infinite detail. And having a good dictionary and a thesaurus by your word-processor is always a nice idea; the ones built in to programs like Microsoft Word are very convenient, but are rarely as good as their printed equivalents. I won?t go into nitpicks, like whether or not you use HTML or text-only to post your stories. (Personally, I think HTML will at least more-closely resemble conventional typesetting, and that?s bound to be easier to read than plain text.) Just think about putting the greatest effort into what you write. Some of the best stories I?ve ever read on the Net have been those that were just regular, dumb ol? ASCII; and some of the worst-written stories had fancy Flash-enhanced graphics, ten typefaces on every page, and erotic illustrations. I?ll take good storytelling over fancy layout anytime. HOW TO BE A BETTER WRITER Damned if I know! If I knew all the answers, I?d be a best-selling novelist and live on the beach in Maui, sipping Mai-Tais with several ?personal assistants? at sunset. The three most-successful commercial novelists I personally admire most are probably Stephen King, Anne Rice, and J.K. Rowling ? not necessarily in that order. They struggled for many years to get where they are, and all of them started by taking writing classes in high school and college, reading good books on writing, and working night and day at perfecting their craft. Their persistence made them very rich (over a billion dollars, in the case of Jo Rowling), and got them millions of adoring fans ? and deservedly so. As of Summer 2004, Amazon.com reports that there?s over 1200 books in print on fiction writing. You could spend your life reading them and not necessarily become a better writer. That having been said, the three main books on writing that I?ve found to be most useful are: THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman Fireside Books ISBN #068485743X HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL by James N. Frey St. Martin?s Press (two volumes) ISBN #0312010443 and #0312104782 and ON WRITING by Stephen King Pocket Books ISBN #0743455967 Each book runs about 300 pages and costs under $10 each in paperback (half that if you pick them up used). Each one is useful to a point, with solid gold nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout, but none is perfect. I?ve read at least 25 or 30 books on writing (and have a shelf full of dozens more I?ve barely skimmed, some not even yet cracked open), I?ve taken a half-dozen college-level classes on writing years ago, and I made a pretty good living as a writer and editor for a half-dozen newsstand magazines for over two decades. Despite that, I readily admit that I?m far from knowing all there is to know about writing. But the three books above taught me more about writing fiction than anything else I?ve seen, heard, or experienced. Lukeman?s book gives a good rundown on the top 25 things not to put in a novel ? specific items that will immediately turn off editors, agents, or anybody else who knows how to recognize amateurish elements. James Frey?s original book (a classic that?s been used in college-level writing classes throughout the 1990s) goes into great detail on how to build up the strengths you already have, and figure out what works and what doesn?t. Frey?s second book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling, isn?t quite as enthralling, but provides another dozen or so good ideas that can help any budding novelist. Stephen King?s book is more a general philosophy on how the process works; the first half is a biographical essay on how and why he came to be a writer, and the second goes into the nuts and bolts on writing. King also gives the very good advice that to be a good writer, you also have to read ? a lot. And by that I mean published books with solid literary merit, not just amateur Net fiction posted for free. I find a steady diet of the latter can actually hurt you in the long run, simply because most of the truly good fiction out there are those you have to pay for. Even if you?re not a fan of King?s work, there?s a lot to learn from what he has to say in On Writing. I?ve also gotten a good deal of useful info from the Writers Digest ?Elements of Fiction Writing? books, particularly Monica Wood?s Description, Orson Scott Card?s Characters and Viewpoint, and Jack Bickham?s Scene and Structure. Each of those is under ten bucks in paperback, and helped to shed light on the specific topics covered. David Gerrold?s Worlds of Wonder (mentioned above) was also useful, and David?s experience as a storyteller and writing teacher will be beneficial, regardless of your story?s genre. Another good (and free) resource is Lars Eighner?s Lavender Blue, which is available for free here on the web: http://www.io.com/~eighner/index.html While it purports to be a short document on how to write gay fiction, the reality is that Lars stresses a lot of good, solid writing principles that will work for all types of fiction. Many of his concepts are echoed in the other books I?ve read, and if nothing else, the price is right. Lars wrote many fine erotic stories in the 1980s and 1990s, including work for some of the biggest gay publishers in North America, and his comments are earthy, precise, and to the point. (Although Lars? online book is free, I strongly encourage readers to send him a donation through the Paypal link on his site.) Since initially writing and posting this document in May of 2004, I received many dozens of comments, most of which agreed with many of the points I brought up. My friend and fellow author Nick Archer came up with a complimentary list that?s as funny to read as it is incisive, titled Jumping the Shark in Gay Fiction: http://www.keithmorrisette.com/14b_JumpShark.html While Nick?s approach is very funny and tongue-in-cheek, many of his points are absolutely dead-on. I concede to having used a couple of them in my own stories ? such as having a romance between a jock and a geek, or setting tales in Florida or California ? but I like to think I threw enough of a spin on what I did to get away with it and avoid the cliche. So again, there?s always exceptions to the rules, but I think Nick?s points are nonetheless valid and very useful, particularly to neophytes. Those who are concerned about dialog can read Felix Lance Falcon?s excellent (and very funny) Dialog and Writing Lesson, which is on Nifty?s website: http://nifty.nisusnet.com/nifty/informatio...n/dialog-lesson A lot of what Felix has to say actually applies to many types of fiction writing, but it does at least provide a basic run-down on where to put punctuation (inside or outside of quotes), how to differentiate between different characters in the same scene, and other valuable tips to writers. Another good resource is the Gay Authors.org website, which has a variety of links relating to free online dictionaries, writing tips, software, and writers? organizations: http://www.gayauthors.org/author-resources.html And as to sexual content, a group of gay teenagers got together wrote a piece for Nifty titled Memo to Writers About Teens, which is also on Nifty: http://www.nifty.org/nifty/information/mem...emo-to-writers/ Their comments, originally written in June of 2003 and updated in December of that year, brings home the fact that many older writers are living vicariously through their stories, and come up with sexual situations that make absolutely no sense to actual teenagers living today. They were sharply-critical as to the types of activities that occur in many teen-oriented stories. On reflection, I think a lot of what they have to say expands on my note #9 above: Make the sex scenes believable. I think this is particularly important with stories featuring young characters. Finally, noted gay author Ronald Donaghe?s website has an irregularly-posted newsletter intended to provide resources and information for gay authors. His newsletter is here: http://www.rldbooks.com/Newsletter/Indy-NewsList.html The site reviews contemporary gay fiction, and also provides a way for gay authors to promote their books, along with links to other writers and resources. It?s highly recommended. I hope by offering these general comments, those of you who are thinking about writing gay fiction, or want to improve the quality of your work, will find what I have to say to be useful. At the very least, I hope my ideas will stop writers from making these same mistakes over and over again. God knows, I don?t profess to see-all, know-all. But I figure if I can stop even one more bad erotic story from being posted on the Net, and help the author find a way to improve their writing, my life will have served a purpose! ?The Pecman last updated 25 June 2004 Feedback and constructive criticism are welcomed at thepecman@yahoo.com.
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