May 202020
 

I.

In 2007, M John Harrison, a genre author of some renown, posted an essay on what he saw as the scourge of worldbuilding in genre fiction. It was Harrison’s contention that genre creators were so enamored with “worldbuilding” that it was crowding out important things like character, plot structure, and what we now call “rule of cool.” Importantly, writers were cramming irrelevant worldbuilding details into their works simply to demonstrate they’d thought of them, rather than focussing on characters and story.

In addition, he decried the rise of a certain type of fanboy that searched for every inconsistency and failure of realism in a fictional world, to crow about how they’d found a plot hole. You know, the CinemaSins types. Those who tear down works over trivialities and dismiss the emotional journey.

These were good points, and worth articulating in the climate of the day. Unfortunately, he coined this the “Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism,” presumably because he’d grown to despise his audience and wanted us all to know of his contempt. Even more unfortunately, people took his good points regarding extremism in setting-over-story and over-applied them so broadly that now we have the opposite problem — realistic portrayals of anything are scorned and everything is chaos.

Enter: Late-Season Game of Thrones, and Picard.

II.

In one of my more popular posts I point out that the great thing about Game of Thrones is that it took the Standard Fantasy Honorable Paladin, removed him from a spurious world that rewarded him simply out of narrative fiat, and placed him into a real, breathing world with other real people to explore how the story changes when the author isn’t covering him with Plot Armor. The result was complex, rich stories that people ate up.

When the show runners ran out of source material they fell back to “creating cool scenes,” such as Jamie’s infamous charge at Daenerys’s dragon. It was the fallout from that scene that told the audience “There is no more story here. No characters. Just a series of scenes we think look cool that are strung together chronologically. Don’t expect any consequences to anything. Don’t expect people to make sense.”

This is death for a long-running narrative. Cool scenes are perfect for shorts, and for music videos. They can be heart-wrenching or life-affirming, when taken on their own. But when Inigo Montoya finally tracks down the Six-Fingered Man, we expect him to try to kill him. For him to forget that the Six-Fingered Man was right in front of him, and wander away to some other part of the castle, is inexcusable. Those aren’t the actions of a human, those are the actions of an automata acting on the whims of an author that wants to prolong this revenge narrative.

Game of Thrones was a tragic example, because it started off well-written by someone who cared about the world and the people within it. Picard never had that problem, it didn’t give two damns about anyone within it making sense from the very first scene. It was a naked cash grab. Picard had a singular purpose – create individual scenes that pop. Any scene, taken in isolation, is generally pretty good. The dialog is well written and well acted. Exchanges of emotions would be compelling, if they were taken as vignettes without any greater context. Action scenes would be visually interesting and seem to matter.

The problem comes when you place these scenes in a chronological order and try to imply that they are related to each other. There is no conceivable world where the actions we see on screen are those that real humans would take. No government would ban taking box cutters onto planes and not ALSO look into who was behind the 9/11 attacks. No person would see a loved one stabbed through the chest and not call for medical help. The actions taken cannot be attributed to humans. They are taken purely for the benefit of the camera, to create a scene for an audience that does not exist within the world.

III.

Powerful scenes emerge naturally from good story-telling. They are rare, the culmination of a lot of work during the telling of a story. Scene-chasers don’t want to do that work, and they don’t care about the story. They simply want the accolades of a moving or exciting scene. An impatient writer that just wants to jump from powerful scene to powerful scene without first building the people, the story, and the world in which this can actually happen isn’t just lazy. He’s the equivalent of the over-eager virgin stripping his date’s pants off before taking the time to flirt, tease, kiss, and caress. It will be terrible for everyone involved.

Perhaps this is a problem of perverse incentives. Afterall, it is the scene where Hodor holds the door that we all remember and talk about, and not the seasons of build-up that made it meaningful. It is the 72-second Action Scene clip that gets posted on YouTube that draws attention. It is the tearful confession that’s shown just before the Oscar winner is announced. Everyone wants to write a good scene.

But those pressures have always existed. So perhaps it’s that now too many people hold disdain for the work of building up a coherent world to set a scene within. Of creating and fleshing out the real people to populate a scene with. Now this work isn’t part of the work of the creative person, it is imposing a Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism, which true artists shouldn’t sully themselves with. It’s the nerds who care about what happened to the hero when he’s unhorsed mid-battle and the camera faded to black, only for him to wake up, alone, in complete safety. It’s the nerds who care about knowing why transporters work to get kidnappers into someone’s apartment but not out again. It’s the nerds who care about someone betraying everything they and their ancestors have worked for (in service of preventing humanoid extinction!), simply because it’s convenient for the protagonist.

A character in these situations is not in a living world full of real people. There are no human interactions to explore here, because there are no other humans. There are no consequences of choices to explore, because there are no consequences. These are sterile sets that exist only to provide spectacle for a camera. There are no people here. The writer has created a dead world.

IV.

“Who cares?” I am sometimes asked. “Can’t you just watch the show and enjoy it?”

It depends on what you want. Hell, on the far side of things, slapstick cartoons don’t even need object permanence as long as they are entertaining. But if I’m not in the mood for a cartoon? Can’t people inhabit a world designed to maximize on-screen drama?

One of the common effects of schizophrenia is feelings of immense importance placed on common experiences. The schizophrenic feels as if they are constantly within a defining moment of history, as if there is some supernatural focus on them specifically, and struggles to explain why this is happening. Common answers are attention from God, or aliens, or the CIA/FBI/Illuminati. 

The fact that the world is engineered for an audience is in itself deranging. The Truman Show is about a real person trapped in a dead world — a world designed to bring emotional scenes before a camera. Redshirts is about a character trapped in a dead world — a world that literally pauses when commercial breaks occur, so interesting scenes aren’t missed. Rick in Rick and Morty appears to know he’s playing for an audience.

A world where nonsensical things happen for the purpose of entertaining an outside observer is distinctly different from one where a normal narrative can happen. In all the above cases, the fact that the protagonist is in a dead world where nothing matters is what the story becomes about. All of these works are varying levels of surreal, and all of them are ultimately existential in nature. The struggle to find meaning and purpose within the meaningless existence of a dead world becomes the narrative.

If the story doesn’t become about the unbelievability of the world, then not even the protagonist is a relatable human being. The story degenerates into a series of images that have nothing to do with our common understanding of what it is to be human. There are no characters on screen, there are only puppets that pantomime human actions. There is no life anywhere, merely corpses animated by a deranged lich king who giggles as they emote strongly at one another, tears summoned to their eyes for aesthetic effect, words summoned to their lips that signify nothing deeper within. The writer has created not life, but a mockery of it.

You cannot have characters without a world for them to inhabit. You cannot have meaningful actions that are only there for spectacle. For a story to matter it must have some depth the audience will never directly see that it’s built upon. It must have a world that has been created with at least some care for those that will live within it. Worldbuilding is what prevents dead worlds.

May 192020
 

Normally I try not to call out things just for being bad, because that’s a bad spiral to fall into. But I have a special place in my heart for TNG – I bought the full series for the express purpose of teaching morality to any offspring I may have (back when that was in the realm of consideration), because it’s one of the best guides on how to be a moral person in the modern day. It’s my three-letter answer to anyone who would ask “How will you teach kids morality without religion?”

Also, this is a symptom of the wider problem of lazy writing. I’ll write more on this shortly, but it comes down to show runners simply not caring if their writers don’t think about what they are writing at all.

First, Picard isn’t all bad. There’s some good parts. The acting is amazing! Patrick Stewart knocks it out of the park. Jeri Ryan is fantastic as Seven of Nine.

And the dialog is obviously something the writers/show runners actually did care about – it works well. If this show was just a series of dialog scenes showcasing great acting, it would be perfect.

But it’s not, because that’s not all there is to story telling, and the series is trying to tell a story. A good story also needs a coherent plot, and comprehensible motivation for the people within it. Picard lacks these. Here are specific examples of what I’m talking about.

Spoiler below

Picard saying “I learn that the man I’ve been mourning for 20 years had a daughter, then I saw her killed before me, and then I found out she has a twin, of course I’m going to go find her!” basically for the audience’s benefit. The show had absolutely failed to establish this motivation over the past 3 hours of run time, even though that was it’s only job. Yes, those facts were presented to us, but they had no salience. I am glad the writers were self-aware enough to add the line, having realized that their attempt at showing this motivation sucked, but it was bad and lazy. They should have reworked the script to show us this instead.
There were many scenes of a similar vein.

Stupid stuff happened just so the writers wouldn’t have to put in extra effort, like the fallout of the Mars attack. The writers want Synth’s banned, and the attack was a very believable way to do that. But after the Federation bans synths, they just dropped the whole thing. Any real group of humans would put SOME effort into finding out who the hell hacked the Synths and murdered all of Mars, and then make the hackers pay (or “bring them to justice”). The fact that the Synths were hacked is blindingly obvious, and yet no one did anything about it, cuz the goal of the writers wasn’t “Make a believable world” it was “make Synths be banned.”

There was this sort of stuff all throughout, and it came to the worst cresendo in the final episode. The fact that the tal’shiar romulans had a collective lobotomy at the end was inexcusable. Their entire reason for existence, what they’ve sacrificed loved ones and all their own ambitions for for thousands of years, is to prevent the extermination of all biological life. At last they are at the point where all they have to do is bomb one tiny village to accomplish this goal, and they have an entire fleet to do it. Picard mimics his ship (using an annoying Super McGuffin introduced just for this purpose) and they decide to divert all firepower into shooting those down instead of launching one damned torpedo at the village at the same time. Then the federation shows up, and they flex at them instead, rather than launching one damned torpedo as soon as possible. It’s abjectly unrealistic and stupid. And then at the very end they just…. forget that’s the reason for their existence, and fly away. And the Federation lifts the ban on Synthetics for no reason.

I don’t want to overstate how bad that final episode was. I mean, yes, it was awful. But it was the culmination of all the lazy, stupid things they’d done before, crashing home all at once. It wasn’t qualitatively worse, it was just where all the other things caught up so you could see the full quantity all the badness at once.

This post isn’t just to warn people away from wasting 10 hours of their life on a bad show, though. This is but one example of a deep rot. More on the greater problem soon.

EDIT: As I was writing this, I was alerted that Mr. Plinkett just released a video covering much the same ground. I haven’t watched it yet, but here it is if you want more examples of this type of failure.

May 292019
 

I’ve posted a few times before that one can read my novel serially online, as I’m publishing a chapter per week at What Lies Dreaming.com. If you’d rather have it all in one place, the ebook and physical book will be available July 2nd! Which means one can read to the end about 2.5 months before the final chapter is published online. And, for those who are forgetful and would rather place their order right now, you can also preorder the ebook starting today!

Right here. :)

 

Mar 292019
 

Every now and then I post a reminder about my ongoing novel. In the most recent chapter:
Despite a burgeoning famine and chaos in the streets, the emperor will not see his week of revelry and gladiator games interrupted. But he gets more than he expected when a demonic embodiment of Pride materializes in the Colosseum.

Read it as it’s being published at WhatLiesDreaming.com

You can also vote for it up to once per week via this link to Top Webfiction.

And, for those waiting to get it all at once, the full version will be purchasable in early July!

Feb 222019
 

To be clear: I agree with this pic+caption and love everything about it. :) I’m speaking of not-this.

In most *written* secondary-world Fantasy, and far-future Science Fiction, race doesn’t much matter. Because those worlds aren’t contemporary, and written word is a non-visual medium.

First, a character’s race certainly matters in stories set on our world (or a recognizable facsimile) any time in the past, present, or near-future. Race matters a lot in the real world, it has major impacts on a character’s life and experiences that are very pertinent to the reader. A black character in a Urban Fantasy is still dealing with hostile social forces, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and common stereotypes. A Hispanic kid in a cyberpunk world still has to deal with similar issues. These things inform who the character is, and how we relate to them, because these are forces we experience (or at least are intimately familiar with) in our real lives. Describe a character by their race and we internalize and remember it. Simply the fact of how they look has shaped their lives in ways the reader will be familiar with.
In a secondary or far-future world, this is not the case. In a world where the ruling majority have dark skin and people with light skin are the foreigners… so what? Or one peoples have straight hair, the others kinky. Or one peoples have folded eyes, the others not. Or mix and match, and alter other features as well. It doesn’t really matter, because there are no social or experiential implications to any of these traits for the reader. We aren’t immersed in the politics and culture of the non-contemporary world. We may be told that “the flat-nosed people oppressed the sharp-nosed people for centuries,” but there’s no emotional history that goes along with literally living our entire lives in a world like that and seeing the consequences daily. Of seeing photos of men murdered in the street.*
These things can make for cool cosmetic differences, sure. It’s boring to have everyone look the same, and mixing it up can give each group a distinctive flair. But it doesn’t mean anything on an emotional level. And I’ve found that, for that reason, I very quickly forget a character’s racial characteristics in any non-contemporary novel.
In one novel, set in the very far future, the protagonist was introduced as black. Ok, great. A hundred pages later this was mentioned again, and I was surprised. I had forgotten his skin color. In large part, because it didn’t matter. It had no effect on the story, as humanity had advanced beyond such prejudices (and had better things to be prejudiced about). I don’t really have visual representations in my memory of any character that isn’t on the cover of a novel, so if it doesn’t matter in other ways, it fades from memory quickly. When I was reminded of his race again, about 150 pages after that, I was surprised again. Doh.
I’m reading another novel, in which the character’s racial features are mentioned a fair bit more often, and do matter somewhat. But when they aren’t specifically commented on, my awareness of them disappears. It’s hard to keep track of what the various racial groups are in that world, what they look like, and how they interact. And you can’t tell who belongs to which group just by looking at them, because they are physically invisible except in any paragraph where the author is describing them. To be completely honest, I kinda wish they were over-the-top exaggerated features that really stuck out in memory. Like pointy ears. Or horns. Or scaled skin. Or short & stocky & fond of beards. Different skin tones and eye-shapes is hard to keep track of once the cast of characters is greater than three.
Secondly, a character’s race does matter–even if it’s not story-relevant–in any visual medium. That’s why it’s good to have the multi-ethnic cast of a Star Trek, or the new Star Wars. It’s why the non-whiteness of the Avatar: The Last Airbender characters is refreshing. Even though their races explicitly don’t matter (except perhaps to separate people into teams), we see them every second they are on screen. Humans do update on fictional evidence. Seeing someone with dark skin treated like an equal does matter on a visceral level. Even in a completely fantastical setting.
Sadly, the written word is not a visual medium. You only see that which the author is talking about at the specific moment. And unless they’re talking about a person’s racial characteristics, they’re pretty invisible.
So, while race doesn’t need to be left out, I don’t think it’s nearly as important as writers seem to think it is. Unless the character appears on the cover, or the work is optioned for adaptation into a visual medium later, it doesn’t make much difference for non-contemporary settings. I guess in the end this doesn’t matter, except for making me grumble about people thinking they are being progressive when in fact nothing is being accomplished, because the medium they work in isn’t a visual one.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
(As an aside, while I have trouble remembering a character’s physical characteristics, you can tell me their sexuality once and never mention it or any effects of it again, and I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if this is common among humans, or if I’m much more sex-interested/motivated that most?)

*For this same reason, race does actually matter in contemporary settings. Hermione could certainly have been black as written. Not a single word would need to be changed in the books. But, unless English culture is drastically different from American culture, it would mean something different *to the reader* for a black character to have her story. For her to go through seven years and never have anyone comment on her skin color, or make assumptions based on it, or treat her dismissively because of it, says a lot about the society she is living in. The reader would have noticed, and would have inferred things about wizarding society. I’m fine with a re-imagining of Hermione as a black character. I’d actually be really interested in seeing that, it sounds awesome. But to pretend that she could have been black all along without it changing anything about how the story is read is disingenuous.
Oct 242018
 

tl;dr – I’m publishing a novel at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. It’s Lovecraftian fantasy in 2nd century Rome, updating weekly on Sundays. Chapter 1 drops on 11/11/18. There are 44 chapters in total. I based it on a story I wrote a few years ago, but I would NOT recommend reading that story now, as it contains huge spoilers.

 

I wrote the short story “Of All Possible Worlds” in early 2015. I wrote it hoping to win a spot in an anthology looking for Lovecraftian fiction in pre-gunpowder settings, called “Swords v Cthulhu.” Inspired by Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, specifically his “Fall of the Roman Republic” arc, and Sister Y’s hypothesized Transdimensional Justice Monster, I wrote a story set in Imperial Rome.

“Swords v Cthulhu” capped all stories at 5,000 words. When I was about 3,000 words in, I realized that I was barely 1/3rd of the way into my story. I cut entire scenes, including a sub-plot and an entire character, because I really wanted into this anthology. My final draft was still nearly 1000 words over, so I cut worldbuilding and condensed detail, and finally squeaked in at just a couple words under 5000.

This was well worth the effort. Not only did I get into the anthology, but one of the editors gushed about how fantastic this story was. The book came out in August of 2016, and I was contacted a few months after that by the editor of Wilde Stories–the annual anthology of the Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. The story was reprinted in Wilde Stories 2017.

I was elated, and not only due to the great reception. I had so much more I wanted to say in that story, and so much more I could do with it. The most terrifying thing for me, as a new writer, was the idea of writing a novel that no one wanted. A novel is a huge project for a part-time writer, over a year of concentrated effort, and no way to know ahead of time if it was worth all that pain. This validation was like a giant green light. “People like this story! Write the rest of it now!”

And so I did. I labored over this manuscript for a year and a half. I submitted all of to my writing group and spent several more months revising and rewriting. Our group’s head, Nebula-award winning author Ed Bryant, at one point called it “Bravara writing!”, which helped more than words can say.

It’s been well over a year since I finished this novel. I have a lot of faith in it. I wrestled for quite a while with the publishing options available. In the end, I’m going to go with the time-honored Rationalist tradition of serially publishing fiction online, a chapter at a time. My reading experience of HPMoR and Unsong was drastically improved by reading along with everyone else as chapters came out, and I really enjoy that format. I’d like to do it with something of mine a well. :)

The novel is titled “What Lies Dreaming.” Chapter 1 will drop on November 11th, at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. Every Sunday another chapter comes out, until all forty-four are up. The novel is broken up into eight sections, each corresponding to one day in-story. Around the time we reach the last “day”, I’ll release the full book for purchase, both in ebook and paper options, should one wish to purchase it.

I’ll also have a Patreon up. There’s no need to support via Patreon, but anyone who does gets chapters one week early at the $1/month tier, and access to the Discord server. At higher tiers people can get access to Author’s Notes, some non-canon deleted content (including one full chapter that was cut), getting to read an entire “day” when the first chapter of that day releases, signed physical copies of the book when it becomes available, etc. None of these are needed to enjoy the story, but I want to offer them as extra thanks to anyone willing to support the arts.

A note about the story that served as the jumping off point for What Lies Dreaming: I would recommend NOT going back to re-read or re-listen to it. While the main storyline has been somewhat altered, and expanded upon greatly, the short story does include massive spoilers for the novel. If you have read the short story, please don’t drop spoilers for those who haven’t.

 

May 252018
 

This is a follow-up to my last post about Flee, My Pretty One. As might be apparent from some of my writings, I used to be far more leftist. As a younger man, I was ready for the revolution. In large part I think it’s just plain hormonal, I’m quite a bio-determinist when it comes to personality. But in part it was also because I just didn’t have much to lose.  When you’re already at the bottom things can’t really get worse, right? As a kid I had nothing except rage, so what did I care? Burn it all, start over, at least this way there’s a chance things will be better. Now that I have well over a decade of labor stored up in the form of property and savings and obligations from the govt, I’m much less excited about razing the world. Like, hey, some of that stuff that’s gonna be razed is my stuff! Can we implement change without incinerating all my stuff? That stuff is years of my life…

But I still understand the urgency needed, the screams that change cannot wait. How many tens of thousands of lives are we willing to sacrifice while we slowly increment our way to a new system? How many who didn’t have to die? But there’s also the realization now that unless things are carefully planned and go slowly, the result of burning it all down is often worse that the previous status quo.

Or at least, worse for those with something to lose. When you’re being killed by the system, anything is appropriate. Everyone has a right to self-defense.

But I’m not being killed by the system, and neither are most people (I think). So it feels like sacrificing the many to maybe save a few. Not a bright idea. OTOH, are you willing to live in Omelas? And all that results in a lot  of angst and self-hate, and that’s how we get art, right?

My drift greyward has been helped along by the fact that I’ve always had friends across the political spectrum. And for some time I was one of the most-left people in my circles. It did suck leaving that identity behind. I think what sucked most is that the community I have now is more like a group of friends and other real people. As opposed to what I had then, which was an ideology. A movement, full of fire and passion, which provided instant connection and relatability with everyone else within it. We hated the same things, loved the same stuff, had the same outlook. Now everyone I know is a unique and complicated person and I have to go through a lot of work to get to know them and fit them into my life. It was so much easier, and more fun, when things were straightforward and passionate. People sometimes accuse rationalists of being akin to a religion/cult, but this is a well-grounded community, and isn’t even 1/5th as religion-like as the leftist movement was when I was in it. I miss that. :/ But now that I’m no longer a child I must put away childish things, etc etc

It’s harder to be friends with leftists nowadays, because it’s tough to relate when you can see the Crazy. We’re still friends, but there’s a bit more distance, it takes more effort.

I still remember that anger though, and I still identify with it. Sometimes. When no one else is watching.

May 222018
 

Saaaaaay… I normally do an Author’s Notes post when a story of mine gets published. Did I not do that for Flee, My Pretty One? It kinda looks like I didn’t, I don’t see one on here.

Weird.

So! This was originally written quite a while ago, for an open anthology call on the theme of “Start A Revolution.” I’ve been rabidly anti-corporation for most of my life. They’re soulless, profit-maximizing monstrosities, who know nothing of human values. Optimizers unfettered by concern for us. Stross calls them invaders from Mars. Many people have pointed out that they resemble the problem of unfriendly AI in their lack of human values + ability to alter their environment to fit their utility functions (including, infamously and recently, Ted Chaing) I agree, and I would love (or rather, once would have loved) to see a revolution bringing these forces to heel.

I call them Dragons. For two reasons. The first is that dragons are already known for their rapacious love of treasure, and their willingness to do anything to horde it. They are powerful, and non-human, so they make a good metaphor.

The second is that I’m racist against dragons. If that’s a thing? I realized this back when I was playing Shadowrun. During the course of a campaign, I realized that no matter what he did, I would never trust Dunkelzahn. He could be a saint for centuries, doing only good works, and die sacrificing himself to save me personally, and I still would say “Good riddance. You can’t trust a fucking dragon. He was obviously motivated by some evil plot, he held hatred for us all in his heart, and it will come to light eventually.” I’d be horrified if my offspring dated a dragon. Etc. I don’t care what they do, I know they’re evil.

And like, if you’re going to be racist, I think it’s probably best to be racist against a fictional giant lizard species, so you aren’t hurting anyone. And as long as I’m at it, I can maybe use that racism in my stories, so anyone who’s similar to me can get that same visceral revulsion.

Anyway, yes, the story is about starting a revolution against corporations, except that corporations are actual non-human persons(?) in the story. This makes it more satisfying to attack them, since violence against a person is always more meaningful than violence against “the system.” And giving your villains a voice and agency is more exciting.

Except, of course, violence is bad. And the real world is messy and fuzzy, so trying to apply sufficient violence to the correct target is never as clean as Hollywood and/or activists make it seem. So it all keeps spiraling into ever more chaos until everything is shit around you. And thus was born “Flee, My Pretty One.”

Of note: This story had a lot of near-misses when it was seeking publication, with editors saying “This is good, but it’s not quite right for us.” Then Trump was elected. And the next place I submitted to said “Wow, this is great, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the society.” And I nodded and said “Oh yes, yup, that’s exactly what I was doing.”

I’ve been pissed at the system my entire life, regardless of the political party in charge. Because it’s not about the political parties, for the most part. It’s about the entrenched powers that stay entrenched from one election to the next, regardless of whether the Reds or the Blues are nominally in charge that moment. I guess most people aren’t that upset with the system itself. So, on the one hand, it’s interesting to see so much of the population suddenly as riled up as I’ve always been. It helped get this story published, at least. But I’m dismayed that what they’re angry at is still the politicians. I figure this means that once the politician in charge is swapped out, society will return to how it was, and nothing will have changed.

>:(

May 172018
 

The more I write, and talk with other writers, the more I get the impression there’s two major styles of writing. And no, this isn’t the old Pantser vs Plotter thing. Like all arguments that break a large field into two distinct sides, it lacks nuance and isn’t fully reflective of the world. But it does give us good tools for thinking about the thing.

Work-style writing. I call it this because doing this style of writing feels like work. The author is consciously and deliberately trying to sculpt something impressive. They struggle with theme and voice. They dredge up their great fears for themselves/their in-group/the future, they incorporate their philosophical outlook on life (hopefully without being preachy), and forge it all into this piece of their psyche that has every bit of emotion and skill they currently possess. They go over it again and again, looking for flaws, tightening things, worrying about every bit. And when they’re done they worry “Will people get what I was trying too say? Am I being too obscure? Too blatant?” This sort of writing is pretty darn pretentious, and every writer doing it not-so-secretly wishes their work will win ALL the awards. The point of this style of writing is in the presentation of an impressive finished product for an admiring audience. There is no point to it without an audience. It’s fulfilling when it works, but it is not inherently fun to do, and it takes immense amount of energy.

Fun-style writing. This is the writer sitting down and just having a good time while writing. This type of writing is a joy to engage in! It’s what many people say writing should be like. All the things mentioned in Work-style may still be present, writing in themes and philosophy and so forth can be really fun! But it’s not the point. If they’re in, great, if not, whatever. There isn’t a ton of worrying about it. The author is greatly amusing themselves by living out this fantastic story/scenario in their mind, and incidentally also doing the extra work necessary to share this fantasy with everyone else who wishes to read it. This is a thing that a writer would do on their own, for fun, even if no one ever saw the result, because there is joy in the process. The finished work is a byproduct, not the goal. Writing the story down still takes time, and skill! But it is more invigorating than draining, and so fun-style writers tend to be far more prolific.

Work-style generally reads slower. Fun-style goes fast, and is snappy. Work-style invites you into the author’s mind. Fun-style invites you to be the author’s friend. Work-style often makes demands of its readers, requiring work on their side as well. Fun-style primarily wants the reader to enjoy themselves.

A writer can do either style of writing, depending on what they wish to work on next. Even a single work can alternate between the two, being mainly fun-style, with patches of work-style here and there. But for the most part, one can tell when a novel is work-style, and when it’s fun-style.

I am primarily a work-style writer. I’ve done fun-style writing before, and it’s just the best damn thing ever. :) Both my Amazing Man stories were just me having a damn good time, writing whatever I thought would be fun and awesome to write next. I gave no fucks at all, aside from amusing myself. Each one took less than a single weekend to write (most of my stories are a month-ish process. Although that’s while holding down a full-time job). The first Amazing Man story was the most fun I’ve ever had while writing, until I wrote the second one and had an even better time!

And yet, I don’t really do that sort of writing. Something about it feels… cheap. Maybe it’s the ingrained puritan work ethic of my parents, saying that doing fun things is lazy and that nothing of value can be created unless laborious suffering is involved. Maybe it really is just a taste thing—I often dislike fun-style novels/stories, and almost never fall in love with them. Whereas I really enjoy work-style works (when they resonate with me, obvs not the majority of them). Or maybe it’s just straight-up old, snobby prejudice.

I don’t begrudge authors writing for fun. Often, even very well-known authors who made their mark writing a great work-style piece will shift to fun-style, because it’s damned fun to do. I certainly don’t blame them. But I wish there was some way to know beforehand that this was a fun work, so my expectations were correctly lowered. That’s probably clarifies a bit why some of my reviews go the way they do. I’m more likely to enjoy work-style, and feel annoyed if the author is just having a good time when I was expecting something more involved.

But when some writers talk about how great it is to write, and others talk about how hard it is to do so, I think this is the primary difference.