Wed
Jul 22 2009 5:44pm
That Ticking Sound

A while back, my friend Jane Lindskold put up a post here that discussed the difference between coincidence and contrivance and their roles in real life and in fiction. I thought when I first read it that it was a really good discussion of the two, although her observations didn’t really come as a surprise to me, since Jane and I have known each other for—what? Better than fifteen years?—and we’ve had quite a few discussions about the writer’s craft over that time. I got to thinking about some of the things she’d said, though, and it reminded me of another conversation I had with Jim Baen about the difference between two different but related terms: realistic and credible.

When you get down to it, enjoyable stories are about what makes the characters tick. Very few readers of my acquaintance are interested in stories about vast, impersonal forces. They’re interested in characters, usually (though not always) what might be defined as “people,” and how those characters respond to the problems, the opportunities, and the decisions with which they are presented. Vast impersonal forces may well form the matrix for those character-driven elements, of course. While no one is especially interested in trying to analyze the “motivations” of an avalanche, they may be very interested in the story of how a skier caught in the face of an avalanche responds to it.

Now, sometimes a character’s motivations and the stimulus that provokes a given response from him are extraordinarily easy to grasp. For example, using our skier caught in the path of the avalanche, his decision to swerve to the side, putting the flank of a mountain between him and the avalanche, is what one might call readily understandable. Other times, though, the bases for decisions are far more subjective, far more internalized, if you will, by the character.

I remember a Keith Laumer short story, “Test to Destruction,” which I think is one of the most chilling little character-driven pieces of short fiction I’ve ever encountered. The protagonist of the story is a father, a husband, an idealist, and a revolutionary committed to the overthrow of a vicious totalitarian state. (I put those qualities in that order intentionally, by the way.) He’s captured, and in the course of his interrogation (which isn’t quite as straightforward as the regime’s torturers think it is), he is presented with a series of decisions. They focus around danger to his beloved wife and daughter, presented to him in what amount to incredibly realistic hallucinations. He so deep inside them that they’ve become a virtual reality for him, one that is completely, 100 percent real. And, again and again, he risks his life to save theirs. The scenarios get progressively more horrifying, with less and less chance that he can succeed in saving them coupled with a virtual certainty that he himself will die in the attempt, yet he never hesitates. And, in the final scenario, he sees his daughter trapped in the middle of a river on a fallen tree which is going to plunge over a waterfall hundreds of feet high when he cannot possibly save her . . . at which point he dives in, swims to her, and holds her in his arms so that she won’t die alone.

I’m not going to tell you how the story ends, except to say that it’s not your typical “capable man triumphant” Laumer, and it probably will give you the odd bad dream. But I submit to you that what it’s really all about is following this character’s motivations and the decisions that he makes again and again in the face of what amount to those “vast impersonal forces.” It’s about what makes him tick.

In the case of this particular story, it’s easy for the reader to follow the character’s motivations because we basically spend the entire story inside his head. His motivations and his inner character are simultaneously built and displayed to us because of our perspective on his actions. In my opinion, though, it grows harder for a writer to do it that way as the number of characters in play in a given story increases. In those instances, a writer is forced to display a given character’s motivations from an external viewpoint, from watching what he does rather than literally experiencing it with him, if you will. And that, I think, is the point at which a writer finds it easiest to run afoul of the distinction between realistic and credible.

I happen to write primarily military science fiction, and I make use of a lot of military history as background and source material. One of the things that happens when you do that, though, is that you can find all sorts of “real world” examples of things you cannot convince a good editor to let you do in fiction. For example, the Byzantine Emperor Julian the Apostate really did decide to burn his entire transport fleet in the Persian port of Ctesiphon and then march his entire starving, mutinous army home overland. It was, as they say, a . . . suboptimal choice. In the process, he got dead and his army got destroyed. The problem is that Julian was also a very capable ruler, in very many ways, and quite a successful general. So while a historian can say “Look, I don’t care how capable he was, he really, really did this,” a storyteller can’t. Or, at least, a good storyteller can’t. He may have someone pull a Julian-level mistake, but if he does, and if the person committing the mistake has been demonstrated to be generally capable, and—especially!—if that mistake is what’s going to save the hero’s posterior, then he’s got to explain to the reader how that theoretically capable character came to be that far off his game that day. Otherwise, the decision isn’t going to be credible to the reader, no matter how thoroughly the storyteller can demonstrate its realism by pointing to actual history.

Another example. My wife, Sharon, many years ago, was given a piece of fan fiction and asked to comment on it. In terms of writing style, word choice, ability to describe scenes, and all of that sort of thing, it wasn’t half bad. But she had a problem with the villain and his henchmen’s relations with him. The villain was a thoroughly bad apple. He was vicious, vile, ambitious, ruthless, sadistic, unscrupulous, and totally unburdened by any moral principles whatsoever. He capriciously killed people who irritated him, he engaged in widespread atrocities, and (on a more personal level) he even raped the wife of his senior, most critical subordinate.

Sharon had two questions. The first was why did he do all of this? What motivated him to be so thoroughly vile, sadistic, and generally rotten? The mere fact that he wanted power didn’t explain why he acted as he acted in pursuit of that power. There could have been many reasons, of course, including his own earlier life experience (for example, the historical Vlad Tepes had a thoroughly unhappy childhood), but there was no explanation of what those reasons could have been. And when she asked the author why he acted that way, why he’d chosen that particular path to power, the response was “Because he’s the bad guy.”

That answer creates all sorts of problems on its own, but it actually pales compared to Sharon’s second question. If the villain is going to do all of these terrible, dreadful things, including raping his senior lieutenant’s wife, why are his henchmen his henchmen? Why are they loyal to him? Why doesn’t one of them simply shoot him in the back and be done with it? And the response she got to that question—“Because he’s charismatic”—didn’t really cut the mustard. Even readers who might have found the villain’s actions credible without an explanation of what had twisted and broken him into someone who could have committed them in the first place would have found it extraordinarily difficult to accept the loyalty of his subordinates without one heck of a lot of explanation on the writer’s part. It simply isn’t credible.

The piece of writing in question was fan fiction, written by a fairly young writer (indeed, Sharon was probably in her 20s herself when she encountered it, and she was older than the writer then), but it presents a wonderful example of what is and is not credible characterization. Mind you, there are all sorts of other mistakes one can make, but this one—this kind of mistake—is a fundamental, fatal flaw. To make a story work, the reader has got to care about the characters. He may love them, he may loathe them; he may want them to triumph over their enemies, or he may want their evil plans to be foiled; he may think they’re smart as whips, or some of the stupidest people he’s ever met. In the end, though, he has to care about them, and for that to happen he has to be able to both understand their motivations and find those motivations believable. Credible. Has to understand how they “tick.”

No matter how fantastical the setting, how bizarre the technology (or the magic), the characters have to be credible. If they aren’t, the writer might as well hang it up.


David Weber is the author of the very popular Honor Harrington series. His new novel in his Safehold series, By Heresies Distressed, is available from Tor Books.

22 comments
ChristopherNJ
1. ChristopherNJ
Hi David, this is Chris. I am a big fan, esp. of your Honor novels and The Stars at War. Just finished Storm From the Shadows. I thought it was brilliant how you set up what I surmise is a future conflict with the Solarian League. It opens up a whole new storyline for what I hope are multiple novels in that direction. I love the attention you give to describing what your characters are thinking, even in little scenarios like a boat bay marine sizing up a new middy swimming the tube onto his ship for the first time. Do you have plans for another book or books in The Stars at war series? I basically just wanted to say hi from Milwaukee, I love your books, and keep on writing.
ChristopherNJ
2. MTGlen
Very interesting piece, Mr Webber, and as a poor fool who has decided to spend the next few years dabbling in writing in his spare time, I'm really beginning to encounter these issues. I vaguely remember someone (maybe Warren Ellis) saying something like story is what characters do when plot happens to them, and it's the difficult part of writing for me, no doubt about it. Plot is easy, story is a whole different ball-game.

Long-time fan of your work, byt the way - any chance of a few more insights into your take on the craft?
Luis Milan
3. LuisMilan
Quite an interesting take on credible vs. realistic, it's a pitfall many of us (naive, beginning writers) stumble upon. We have our characters, we have our villains, we have an idea of where our story is going to end... and then we trample all logic getting from Point A to Point B.

We've all been guilty, I think, of having our characters do things that, in real life, would have them stop in their tracks and question themselves: "Uh, why exactly am I doing this?".

Greetings from a fan of your work, especially the Honor Harrington series.
ChristopherNJ
4. Really David Weber
Chris --

First, thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you like the stories.

As far as what's going on in Storm from the Shadows and what it means for the future of the Honorverse, I think I've mentioned in several places now that I'm really sorted into what was originally intended as the SECOND series in that universe.

Under the original dispensation, Honor was supposed to be killed at the Battle of Manticore (which would have become the Royal Manticoran Navy's equivalent of the Battle of Trafalgar), which was also supposed to bring the war with the Republic of Haven to a conclusion. Following that, there would have been 20 or 30 years of peace, ending with the events which we're currently seeing unfold in Storm, the forthcoming Torch of Freedom (another collaboration with Eric Flint, which is scheduled for November), and Mission of Honor (which is scheduled for next July). In the intervening decades, Honor's children were supposed to grow up and become the new focal characters, with people like Michelle Henke and Alastair McKeon as their godparents/mentors. In my earlier collaborations with Eric Flint, we accidentally pulled some events forward by about 20 years, though, which meant I didn't have time for Honor to die and her children to become old enough for their projected roles.

That meant Honor got a reprieve for the Battle of Manticore, which didn't exactly break my heart for several reasons.

First, obviously (let's be honest here), I'd always known killing her off would have been a high-risk move. At the time I originally planned the series, I hadn't imagined how successful the books were going to be, or how popular the character was going to become, so I hadn't really realized just HOW high-risk it would have been. I still would have done it, without the "complication" the David-Eric collaborations had introduced into the timeline, because of the way I've always visualized the story arc . . . and, to be honest, because of the emotional impact of the scenes I had already structured (and actually written, in two cases) around her death and its military, political, and emotional consequences. Still, I would have been running a serious risk with a highly successful series, which probably wouldn't have overjoyed my publisher. [G]

Second, and even more importantly, actually, in a lot of ways, I'm relieved not to have killed her off because of how much I've personally come to like her. One of the things which I believe has always been true of my writing is that I've never hesitated to kill off even major characters, if I felt that was what the story line required. That doesn't mean it's an easy choice to let a character you really, really like die, though. It would have been an extremely painful wrench for me to let that happen to Honor.

So she's still with us, and I'm currently projecting another five to eight books (at least) in the Honorverse. Of course, I'd ORIGINALLY projected only five to eight books to get to where we are right now, too, so my estimate could be just a little bit off.

As far as the Stars at War novels are concerned, I don't have any immediate plans, but I do have some long-range hopes. All of those books have been collaborations with Steve White, and one of the things which has happened (unfortunately) as series like the Honorverse really took off is that Steve's and my writing schedules have drifted further and further apart. By the time we were working on the Shiva Option, coordinating things had become extremely difficult, as a matter of fact. So, at the moment, Steve is working on an extension of the Stars at War universe off of the "backend" of the Fourth Interstellar War and Insurrection with Shirley Meier. The basic plot they're using is one which Steve and I had worked out together back when we wrote Insurrection (actually the first novel in the series, although chronologically it comes last). Eventually, I'd like to go back and do some solo novels in that series, particularly the story of the first to interstellar wars. I'd especially like to do the Second Interstellar War writing the entire book from an ORION perspective with the HUMANS and is the "aliens" of the piece. Unfortunately, I don't have any idea at all when it might become possible for me to do that.

David
ChristopherNJ
5. Really David Weber
MT --

I've got a few more thoughts on the subject [G].

I like the "story is what characters do and plot happens to them" description. It's certainly apt!

In an odd sort of way, though, I've found that for me, at least, "story" tends to take care of itself once I've worked out "characters" and "plot." What I mean by that is that once the characters have been developed, and I've got a good feel for the technological tools available to them, and I realize what the basic plot is going to be (I think it's a mistake to nail plot down too inflexibly), the story actually develops itself as I hand the problems to the characters. The way they're structured AS characters naturally defines the way that they're going to come at analyzing the problems and the proper responses to them, and the tools I've given them define the way they're actually going to SOLVE the problems. I think that's one reason why, in my own mind, I put so much emphasis on figuring out how characters "tick" from the get-go. I'm not saying they don't develop and change -- often hugely -- as I work with them in the course of a given story, of course, because they do. And I'm a series writer, which means that I'm dealing with characters who change and grow and develop literally over the course of years, in many cases. Which, coupled with the fact that I purely hate the "Jim Kirk and Spock cannot change or develop in any way in the course of this novel" syndrome, means that they HAVE to become different people, approaching problems in ways which are logical developments of who they were earlier but are no longer identical to the ones their earlier inclinations would have suggested.

David
ChristopherNJ
6. Really David Weber
Luis --

I think you've put your finger on a major problem for some writers. Structure is a critical part of making any story work, and the plot and its elements are the logical skeleton of that structure. If the plot doesn't make sense, then neither does the ultimate story, no matter how good the other elements incorporated into it are.

At the same time, however, I think a writer needs to bear in mind that plot is the servant of story, not its master. Plot is a tool, a means of providing direction and focus, but STORY is about convincing the reader to invest in the characters. That's one of the reasons I try not to nail too many plot elements down too specifically before I actually began writing the story. I know the major plot points I'm going to incorporate, but I generally have only a fairly loose concept of HOW I'm going to incorporate them, and one of my very few ironclad rules as a writer is that I'm perfectly prepared to stand an entire plot strand up against the wall and shoot it, even if it's one I've been working on incorporating into a series for several books, if I decide it's not working or there's a better way to go.

I think one of the very worst mistakes a writer can make is to drive his "plot ranging stakes" too firmly into the ground and then refuse to deviate from them. I've encountered too many cases of writers who are bound and determined to include every single plot point they worked out ahead of time, whether or not those plot points make sense in terms of the characters' motivations. And I've also encountered too many cases of writers who insist on including those plot points even at the expense of boring the reader.

I have my own faults as a writer, don't misunderstand me. One of them is the infamous "infodump," for example. I think, though, that it works overall for me and for my readers, and it's my chosen technique for avoiding other faults. I think another problem some people probably have when they read my stuff is that I ENJOY spending time with my characters. As a consequence, I'm inclined to give them a lot of "screen time" as they grapple with and respond to events. That may be one of the reasons I'm a series writer, or it may be a CONSEQUENCE of being a series writer. I'm quite sure that part of the reason I do it (and probably part of the reason I get away with doing it) is that my readers and I are both aware that it IS a series -- that we're GOING to be spending a lot of time with these characters and that if I don't get around to tying up all of the series' plot elements in a given book, there'll be another book in which they can be dealt with.

David
ChristopherNJ
7. Mlc
I realized as I grew close to finishing "By Schism Rent Asunder" why - although I read your books as they arrive in-house - I mostly approach them with caution and a sigh - so much "stuff" to get through to reach the story underneath.

I guess that's why I actually reread the more nourishing treecat short stories - simpler, more heart and fewer turgid politics.

This Safehold series however, almost ought to be required reading for any politically motivated and aspiring folk - it offers a breadth of vision I haven't either found - or comprehended - before. (Yes, I read Machiavelli; no, I haven't yet read Sun Tzu).

Nahrmahn - for example - is brilliantly dealt with as you both recognize and delineate the need for focus to engage his particular mind style, drive and skills if he is to succeed in his second chance.

I'm sure there are other readers whose minds also do not comprehend the variety of calculating political motivations, power plays, overwheening (and rapist type) ego machinations or the ruthless drive to be "one up" at all costs. And to personally and deliberately scheme to defend against, counter or deflect (spin control), or take revenge leaves me totally bewildered, thus I - and many like me - tend to avoid the "Nahrmahns" of the world whose lives revolve around playing "the great game" -

Query: In the individual characters' names, is the usage of all those w's and y's, h's and z's, etc., a subtle linkage to Cornish or Welsh or an other language / genetic anchorage to earth before "the beginning"?

Thanks. Definitely looking forward to "Heresies" ...
ChristopherNJ
8. F. P.
Yesterday at The Literary Lab I posted about real life plots being messy. And afterward I had trouble forgetting about what I'd said there, had trouble forgetting about my own writing work. I finally did forget, and now your post brought it all back up again today! lol

To me, here's the (frustrating) thing: real life's messy; fiction's supposed to be neat. If you're a writer trying to capture real life on the page, how do you do this when the page itself is so damn neat?

Realistic depictions of day-to-day life as an animal are my primary focus. I also write some speculative fiction...I write realistic speculative fiction. Maybe that sounds strange, but this is what I strive toward.

Yet no matter my content, I still keep coming up against the four edges and two sides of pages. If only pages were dodecahedrons.

Now I must fall back on my usual rebelliousness and demand to know from humanity: WHY MUST FICTION BE NEAT?

When you say: "So while a historian can say "Look, I don't care how capable he was, he really, really did this," a storyteller can't."

--Why can't a storyteller of any kind do this? While reading why do many humans expect everything to make sense, add up and be explained so neatly? Why are readers anti-chaos seeming? Is wanting an escape from real life responsible, because real life rarely happens neatly? Is this neatness-need an expectation set up by the many already-written books executed neatly? Is it because pages are so neatly finite, but then why can't a messy infinity exist inside a neat finity?

A think a writer should either somehow change the shape of the page or write what she wants in spite of that shape. And then persuade readers to accept this storytelling heresy.

"In an odd sort of way, though, I've found that for me, at least, "story" tends to take care of itself once I've worked out "characters" and "plot.""

--I think this is the way writing should be, as I believe plot, character and tone are the basic parts of a fictional work. When added together in different combinations or when altered slightly, nearly all the other labeled parts can be obtained.

Very interesting main post and thread!

(And here's that TLL post: http://literarylab.blogspot.com/2009/07/just-then-protagonist-tripped.html

The author used Star Wars as an example. I must add that I think Star Wars is a plot-driven fictional world.)
ChristopherNJ
9. Really David Weber
Mlc --

I think it's sort of interesting that you've commented specifically on the "fewer turgid politics" aspects of the treecat stories. Those stories, by and large, are, indeed, deliberately written to produce a different "feel," but what I found particularly interesting about your comments is the way that they demonstrate something several people have said to me in regard to the Honorverse. (And, by the way, I'm not offended by the use of "turgid" in this connection. I think most politics really are "turgid," when you get right down to it. [G])

Basically, people read the Honorverse books for a lot of different reasons. They look for different THINGS in the books. I've had people tell me that what they're really interested in are the military tactics and hardware, and they basically skip all of that political and icky romantic stuff. I've had other people tell me that they really get into the politics, and their eyes sort of "glaze over" when we get around to the actual military engagements. I've had still other people tell me that they read the books because of the different underlying "philosophical systems" of the various characters and star nations. (Well, to be fair, that particular group seems to be a little smaller than some of the others. [G])

The point I'm making is that what one reader really, really likes about the stories is sometimes the very thing that the next reader really, really skips over. On the one hand, I think that may be a compliment for the overall . . . texture of the Honorverse. There are different aspects of it which different readers find more fully realized, for example. But I think the real point is that readers, like writers, are DIFFERENT from one another. They are engaged by different aspects of the story. Which, in turn, suggests that the most successful stories are most likely to be the ones written for the broadest readership. That too narrow a focus on one particular aspect of storytelling, one particular concept that the writer wants to play with, may result in an absolute bull's-eye on a readership looking for that particular concept or focus but will also tend to produce a narrow audience.

I am not arguing here that stories which have small readership are inferior, necessarily, to stories which have a broader readership. Nor am I attempting to assert that the quality or "worth" of the story should be assessed solely in terms of its sales -- of its commercial success. One thing that I would like to throw out for consideration, however, is something a very junior editorial assistant said to me many, many years ago. We were talking about editing a manuscript down for length considerations, and she pointed out that the writer or the editor who is cutting passages knows exactly what was in the original story. He (or she) knows exactly what was taken out, and is perfectly placed to observe whether or not the story was weakened or strengthened in the process. The reader isn't. The reader is in the position of the movie audience seeing the final cut, and as a general rule, doesn't miss -- or doesn't REALIZE it misses -- what it never knew was there in the first place.

The reason I mention this is that the novel in question was a first novel, and the length reduction was a part of getting it down to a size the publishing house might be willing to risk printing AS a first novel. (That is, the publishing house WASN'T going to risk printing it at its original length. End of story.) And the corollary to her comments about what the reader does or doesn't know was there to begin with was that without the cuts, the story wasn't going to be published -- or, not, at least, by that publishing house. And, the point she was making was that if it was never published, if it was never circulated, then aside from whatever personal satisfaction the writer might have taken out of putting the story together in the first place, it would never matter at all. That a story which never found an audience was a story which, for all intents and purposes was never told in the first place.

So what I'm saying here is that, yes, broader audience equals greater commercial success. No question about that, and if you're going to make your living as a professional writer, that's one of those sordid considerations you have to bear in mind. But it's equally true that speaking of the work purely as craft (or "art," much as I dislike applying that particular term to my own work), a beautifully produced story which is able to garner only a minute readership is, in my opinion, a failure. It's a failure in the same sense that "art" which can be appreciated only by a select subgroup of the cognoscenti is a failure. It isn't speaking to the general audience of our fellow humans, and that, I think, is one of the storyteller's primary responsibilities.

David
ChristopherNJ
10. Really David Weber
Mlc --

Oops! I forgot your question about the "w"s, "y"s, and etc.

I'm not attempting to link the language to any specific language family here on Earth. In fact, the universal language of Safehold is English. What I am trying to do (and as I've mentioned in a few other places, it may or may not have been a wonderful idea on my part) is to remind the reader that the language has shifted, drifted, over a period of almost a thousand years without audio recording.

I thought about different ways of accomplishing that, including creating distinct national/regional dialects, but while some people find the nonstandard spellings of the names distracting, I think that, over all, dialect is MORE distracting to one's readership. The truth is that even though words are spelled exactly the same in different areas of Safehold, and even though they may have exactly the same meaning (which is not necessarily always the case, you understand), they are still going to be pronounced differently because of the manner in which an animal-powered civilization is divided by the limitations of its transport system and the manner in which a lack of audio recordings is going to prevent the conservation of standardized pronunciation.

David
ChristopherNJ
11. Really David Weber
F.P. --

In some ways, I agree with you completely about the "messiness" of life and the desirability -- at least theoretically -- of having fiction echo that same absence of . . . artificially imposed order, shall we say?

The problem, I think, lies in the fact that readers have to process the stories we tell them. It isn't enough that events in the story COULD happen; it has to be possible to convince the reader that they DID happen. I think that as my friend Jane pointed out where coincidence and contrivance were concerned, a writer can get away with a single "coincidence" which is fundamental to the plot, but not with SEVERAL such coincidences. The same thing is true, I think, about "messy" elements. A writer can get away with having a SINGLE character whose actions -- in some specific regard -- don't "make sense." By and large, he's going to get hammered by at least some of his readers (and quite a few critics) if he can't come up with a way to EXPLAIN to the reader why this character is acting in this particular fashion, but he can probably survive ONE character like that. What he can't survive -- as a storyteller -- is a story in which all of the characters are Dadists. That is, a story in which the over all atmosphere generated by the characters' actions is one of chaos, one in which the reader is unable to understand or parse the characters' motivations in a fashion that lets him process what's going on.

I liked your description of the page as being "neatly bounded," and you're quite right that "real life" isn't like that. Unfortunately, I think that the acceptance of those "edges" is a fundamental part of the writer's craft. No matter how much we'd like to remove those boundaries, or reshape them, we really can't. We may, occasionally, get away with ignoring them, or opening them up in the same way that theater "opens" the wall of the stage when actors turn to interact directly with the audience, but even then, we are artificially opening a peephole through an intrinsically solid boundary.

You also said: " think a writer should either somehow change the shape of the page or write what she wants in spite of that shape. And then persuade readers to accept this storytelling heresy." As I just suggested in the preceding paragraph, I think that "changing the shape of the page" is probably the next best thing to impossible in the long run. I do, however, completely agree with you about the fact that a writer should "write what she wants . . . and then persuade readers to accept this storytelling heresy." While we might differ on whether or not one can successfully "write what she wants" in regard to somehow evading the limiting edges of the page, I very strongly agree that a writer should not allow himself or herself to be arbitrarily "locked into" what you might think of as the conventional wisdom of writing. I think you have to be aware that if you break the rules you're taking a chance, but that's okay. Without taking chances, you're never going to be published in the first place. I mean, on the face of it actually sending your manuscript to a commercial publisher in the belief that that publisher will actually PAY you for the privilege of printing and distributing your work takes a certain amount of chutzpah.

One of the critical things about writing successfully (defined as writing stories that find a broad enough readership to actually earn you a living) is that YOU have to like what you're WRITING, or the readers aren't going to like what they're READING. If you're writing something just because you think that what you're producing is going to find a market, rather than because it's something you ENJOY writing, it's automatically not going to be your best work. Moreover, I don't believe there is anyone out there whose literary tastes are absolutely and exclusively unique. That is, if YOU enjoy reading (or writing) a particular type of story, then there's going to be someone ELSE out there who will also enjoy it, and that person is your natural readership. Find him. Write YOUR stories and keep submitting them somewhere until you find an editor who recognizes that, yes, there's a readership for this type of story. I'm not saying that you have to limit yourself to a particular genre, or even to a particular writing style, but simply that whatever the genre you're writing or the style in which you are writing, choose one that you like and that comes as naturally as possible to you.

As for accepting "storytelling heresies," one should bear in mind that heresies become the new orthodoxy in the fullness of time. That doesn't mean that EVERY heresy is going to succeed, but rather that every ORTHODOXY was, once upon a time, a heresy. So I don't think there's anything remotely wrong with venturing into "storytelling heresy." I do think that you have to be aware that convincing an editor or a publisher to venture there with you may not be the easiest thing you've ever done, but you might also be surprised how readily some editors and publishers will step outside the lines with you if what you've done is strong.

I don't know how familiar you may be with Georgette Heyer. If you aren't familiar with her, she was a British romance writer who also happened to be an outstanding historian. What she produced was probably pretty close to "heretical" for her time -- the spunky, intelligent, THINKING romance heroine who neither languished waiting for the Handsome Hero™ to come to her rescue nor spent her time hopelessly driven and battered by the Winds of Tempestuous Passion™. Heyer heroines were fully developed PEOPLE with working brains who coped. (Mind you, they got into some absolutely mind boggling scrapes along the way, and yet somehow every individual step in the preposterous circumstances enveloping them made absolute sense when it happened.) I always loved the books, and I've got most of them (which means a LOT, given how prolific she was) in paper.

Her "heretical" female characters have become an accepted "orthodoxy," which is one reason that I mention her. But another reason is that if you read her books you realize that her characters are actually using period English when they speak to one another. They're using Regency Period constructions AND slang, they're using them correctly, and a 20th-century or a 21st-century reader has no trouble at all FOLLOWING them. It's really a remarkable performance, and I'm quite sure a great many editors would cringe at the very thought of allowing a writer to use that sort of construction and slang. After all, it's probably going to be used wrong, and even if it's used correctly, how is the reader going to understand it? You're just going to confuse them. Write it in modern English, and they'll understand that you're doing it so that the sense comes through without generating a feeling of artificial "quaintness."

But the key point here is that Heyer was able to do what she wanted to do without causing any problems at all for her readers. Suggesting that you wanted to do something like this would probably pop all kinds of automatic red flags on the part of any experienced editor, because they would so clearly see all the ways it could go wrong. All the ways it HAS gone wrong in so many stories they've seen. They would probably discourage you, sight unseen, from making the attempt.

But . . . but if you CAN pull it off, do it. It becomes a part of your unique voice, your own storytelling technique. And, I feel quite sure, it was something that Georgette Heyer (who also published excellent dictionaries of thieves' cant and period slang) did because she loved it. Because it was the way she chose to write and she was able to make -- or convince -- the reader to accept her particular "heresy."

David
ChristopherNJ
12. F. P.
Thanks a bunch for such a detailed great response--this is a great discussion!

Actually, I think we're in agreement on nearly all of this, and your second paragraph is very true. I don't submit my work anymore, haven't done so in years. If I want anything of mine published, I publish it myself. I'm doing my own thing, and I've honestly never come cross an existing market for what I write. Believe me, I've looked, have been at this for fifteen years. I won't write to a market. Most of my writing is unorthodox for varying reasons; to be honest, I'm a very peculiar person, am out of step a lot. The many writing don't-do-this rules people cite—these don't-dos are usually what I like to read, and I write what I like to read. I also shoot for something different with each new story, something unique, so I don't necessarily have once voice. All of this isn't a prescription for getting work published--that I know.

But I agree with what you said when generally applied to writers and getting published.

I first posted from a reader's perspective too: I actually prefer clearly written, more logical fiction; if I'm forced to ask a zillion questions, I get annoyed and think the creator hasn't done her job. At the same time, sometimes I feel unfair when I'm both reading and watching (as in movies); like by participating in fiction and having be-logical expectations, I'm asking the creators to make sense in a universe that often doesn't make much sense. (At least to me it doesn't.)

I've worked in nonfiction (scientific) publishing, and I think writing nonfiction is generally harder than writing fiction because nonfiction must answer to "facts" more. Nevertheless, at least nonfiction writers have many already-defined facts as material; fiction writers must use their imagination much more. In that one way, fiction writing is agonizingly tough!

Requiring that fiction be realistic--I think that sets up an inherent paradox. And for me as a writer too: making so many realism demands of my fiction, I'm (as usual) trying to do the impossible, as you've suggested. I'm very aware of this, so sometimes I'll trod a middle path between clarity and obscurity: I answer the main original questions generated all while generating some new side ones that I never answer. Basically, I include some ambiguity so a story won't wind up completely neat. I don't want to sound like I think I'm a god. And I think that answering-questions-only-generates-new questions is the crazy way the real universe works.

I'm not familiar with Heyer's work; I'll check it out. Yours too--I like the female character you've created in Honor!

Thanks again for your response,

F. P.
ChristopherNJ
13. F. P.
Oh--also, when you said this in your main post:

"In the case of this particular story, it’s easy for the reader to follow the character’s motivations because we basically spend the entire story inside his head. His motivations and his inner character are simultaneously built and displayed to us because of our perspective on his actions. In my opinion, though, it grows harder for a writer to do it that way as the number of characters in play in a given story increases. In those instances, a writer is forced to display a given character’s motivations from an external viewpoint, from watching what he does rather than literally experiencing it with him, if you will."

--I think that's so true in general.

And you've made me wonder if first-person narration has an advantage there. It's never been my favorite read (omniscient third-person is), and I've rarely written using it. But lately I've been warming to it more. The novel I'm working on now is first-person. I wonder if empathizing with narrator characters inside first-person narrations may be easier, at least I'm feeling this is the case as I'm writing using it.
ChristopherNJ
14. Really David Weber
F.P. --

One thing that self-publishing makes possible is for a writer who's producing primarily as a labor of love to find an audience, anyway. This, I think, is a good thing, although it obviously has a few downsides, as well. I do love the fact that electronic self-publishing has done so much to hit the old "vanity presses" over the head once and for all, though!

Being "a very peculiar person . . . out of step a lot" isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it? I've heard the same thing said about me, on occasion (most frequently, now that I think about it, by my wife). I wonder if part of the problem you have -- that "sometimes I feel unfair" aspect you were commenting about -- comes about because of the fact that as a READER, you're looking at something different from what you look for as a WRITER? In other words, you're reading (or watching the movie)for entertainment and, perhaps, insight delivered by someone else, whereas in your writing, you're looking to DEVELOP insight from an internal perspective.

I have probably a thousand short stories, simply sitting around in file cabinets and/or (the more recent ones of them) archived on disk, which will never see publication. They weren't written for publication. In a lot of ways, most of them were written as "study projects." There was something in particular I wanted to experiment with, so I wrote a short story in which I focused on that particular element. The story as a whole might well be publishable, if that was what I decided to do with it, but that wasn't why it was created and I have no intention of ever going back and pulling them out for publication. In other words, those stories were written for MYSELF, with no eye towards commercial success or even worrying about what anyone else might think of them.

In addition, I think most people who eventually become successful professional storytellers/writers did a lot of writing for their own pleasure before they ever saw publication at all. That was certainly the way it worked in my own case. One thing I think happens sometimes is that what was written for the author's own pleasure, or because the author was trying to work something out in his own head through the medium of the written word, segues into something which is recognized -- by the author or by someone else who 's seen it -- as publishable. In many ways, that's what happened with INSURRECTION, my own first novel, written in collaboration with Steve White. It wasn't the first novel I'd written, although it was only the second I'd ever submitted, but it didn't start out to be a novel at all. It started out to be short stories being exchanged with someone who had an interest in the same war game for which I was currently designing a new module. It was only after we were well into what eventually became the novel that we realized we were actually writing one at all!

Like you, I've also done a lot of nonfiction writing. In fact, I wrote advertising copy, ran a small public relations firm, wrote newspaper and magazine articles, produced radio and video commercials, etc., for many years. I started in the PR field writing radio copy when I was about 17, and I went on to become a typesetter, to do paste-up art (poorly, but well enough to get by, and I'm probably dating myself by mentioning it at all), and a host of other things. In fact, I may be one of the last living trained Linotype operators. (Now THAT'S a useful skill, don't you think?) In the course of that part of my career, one of the things I frequently had to do was to take highly technical material (financial data; in at least one case scientific data on wastewater management; statistical data from Housing and Urban Development studies, etc.) and turn it into something that was both factually accurate and simultaneously accessible to both the general public and to people who worked professionally in areas related to the technical data in question. I think that the experience of doing that sort of writing is great training for anyone, but I think I'd be inclined to quibble a bit about whether writing nonfiction or fiction is "harder." As I see it, it's more a case of being hard in different WAYS .

The fiction writer is constrained by (a) constraints he places upon himself and (b) constraints which are inherent in his genre or subject. The nonfiction writer is constrained by the "real constraints" imposed by the need to be factually correct (often in a complex field whose readers are well placed to check and evaluate his accuracy). His emphasis is also usually quite different from the emphasis of a fiction writer, especially if you're talking about a technical or scientific piece. It's explicative, informative, and often argumentative writing, where entertainment value is secondary and where the writer's main purpose is (usually) far less concerned with dealing with what we might call the human condition and more on focusing on the "nuts and bolts" of his subject. That isn't to say that a fiction writer can't also inform and explain, but simply that to succeed in doing both of those things, he FIRST has to entertain and engage the reader who didn't come to his work looking to be educated in a specific area of knowledge.

Obviously, there are as many kinds of nonfiction writing as there are fiction writing. For example, a historian's nonfiction writing (although it could be argued -- and I speak as an academically trained historian here, you understand -- that history is its own form of interpretive storytelling) is going to be significantly different from that of an astrophysicist proposing a new theory on planetary formation. So I don't want to get too carried away trying to establish some kind of hard and fast differentiation between ALL fiction and ALL nonfiction writing. But I really do believe, having done quite a lot of both types of writing, that the basic rules are the same for both. You simply have to recognize where and how the constraints differ and then honor the differences. I said the fiction writer's constraints are the ones that he sets for himself and the ones established by his genre or subject, and that's absolutely true. He gets to set them, and to choose which of those associated with his genre or story material he's going to respect. In that sense he has a great deal more flexibility than the nonfiction writer. But once he's chosen those constraints, he HAS to respect them. Without that, he has no structure, no framework, and if he routinely violates his own constraints in order to get himself (or his characters) out of problems or "fix" plotholes, his readers won't forgive him.

You're absolutely right that "answering questions only generates new questions" is the way the real universe works. It's also the way that writing works, and, frankly, that's one reason I write series. As I work my way through answering one question, another question, or sometimes another dozen questions, come to the fore. The way my head works, I have to figure out answers for those questions, as well, and that's what compels me into the next book, the next twist in the overall plot for the series.

I think something which is true for every successful professional writer I've ever met is that we would undoubtedly be "writing for ourselves" even if we weren't writing for publication. Bob Asprin once told a convention panel that "Writers are like rats. If we don't wear our fingers down a little bit every day on the keyboard, our fangs grow through our brains and kill us." I didn't always agree with Bob about everything, but I was pretty sure he had a point in that case! Put perhaps somewhat more elegantly, Isaac Asimov once said that his greatest fear was that his publisher would figure out that, whether they paid him or not, he'd go right on writing. I know that's true in my case. The fortunate thing for me -- like a lot of other professional writers -- is that the publisher WILL pay me, so I can do a lot more writing than I'd have time for under other circumstances.

David
ChristopherNJ
15. Terry Flores
Hello David,

I have almost all of your books, including all of the series. I keep hoping for a new War God book, but I'm happy reading the Safehold series for now.

One thing I find interesting about character development are the possible approaches. The most challenging method give the reader hints, clues and glimpses, and lets them form their own opinions. The least challenging is simply to beat the reader over the head with descriptions. In reading Hell's Gate for instance, I'm struck by how much character development is simply one character describing another, like Shaylar telling us that Jasak is a noble, polite hero, period. We don't get to make any determination of our own, she tells us what it is and what to think about it. I actually tend to skip over such passages, because they are usually telling me something that I've already determined!

What you call the "infodump" as related to a character's background, side stories, and so forth are fine to me, because they are things I couldn't know or determine on my own. I especially like them when I'm reading a book for the umpteenth time, paying attention to the littlest details.

Thanks for all your great stories, hope to see many more.
ChristopherNJ
16. F. P.
I don't want to fill here with stuff about me, but I also don't want to respond at my place and post a link because that may seem like sleazy self-promotion. I'll just write this one post with more about me, then I'll shut up about that.

Being peculiar isn't a bad thing as long as you're not a singularity, which I'm pretty sure I am. I've even confirmed this using outside sources; they too are pretty sure I am. And most people seemingly don't like singularities. I've encountered much negative resistance. So I'm just not bothering that much trying to "reach people" anymore.

But I think a big part of my personal artistic problem is: sometimes the page just isn't enough for me. My writing is very visual. I feel frustrated building my stories on such a one-dimensional seeming medium. I've written some screenplays, but I've never made films (which I'd planned on doing). I think I should either be writing and directing films, or writing and directing stageplays.

In my opinion, stageplays and films are probably the best media for realism because actual people and props can be used; sounds, visuals, even smells--all this and so much more helps bring a "story to life" more effectively. Not always, but often.

I know little about stagewriting, and screenwriting seems even more impossible to succeed in than novelwriting, so I've simply been doing more (and planning on doing more) with drawings and paintings for my stories.

This is yet another source of frustration for me as far as "financial success" is concerned, because I always wanted to see my stories produced visually, but that will never happen.

To top all this off, I've been going through a philosophical reading and viewing crisis, as I've described here. Does this happen to other people? I think (lol) maybe I think too much about all this.

Actually, though I've written nonfiction over the years, I didn't have the professional experience you had--I should have been clearer there. I've only just started getting paid for nonfiction writing work. I used to be a nonfiction editor; I was an editor before I was a writer. But I did do some rewriting back then and I've written my own nonfiction; often when blogging over the years, I wrote essays not posts. I consider myself an essayist in part; I've written philosophical essays on science (I have some background in real science). But even when I'm windbagging philosophical in nonfiction, I still find nonfiction harder writing (and editing) than fiction. So maybe my opinion on their comparative difficulties is very colored by own abilities; because I can't stand following real-life rules, writing nonfiction is so damn hard for me.

Your third paragraph--why don't you publish at least a few of them??? I really enjoy personal stories: they're like the writer's heart rather than the writer's head. Sometimes I get tired of listening to so many talking human heads; people need mouths in their chests. Actually, I often write how you described (except mine are based on exercise-exploring single ideas). And the way you explained the process made me think of Borges. His "fictions" sound like exercises inside his head. But they work to those outside his head too!

Even if you think you couldn't sell those exercises, I bet your regular readers would like to read some. You could always publish them yourself. Intention and execution aren't necessarily the same thing; just because you didn't intend their being published doesn't necessarily mean they didn't come out as publishable or shouldn't be published. Maybe some are happy accidents. Maybe they came out different than you think. If you haven't looked at them in a long time, your opinion on them may change once you do you look at them again.

W.r.t. your Insurrection, yesterday I read on your website about your writing history--that was an interesting read. I think you've done really well as a writer, and you sound like you enjoy writing so much.

Your posts have given me a lot to think about, and I'm still thinking about it--and reading them. Thanks again for the conversation!

--F
Maiane Bakroeva
17. Isilel
He was vicious, vile, ambitious, ruthless, sadistic, unscrupulous, and totally unburdened by any moral principles whatsoever. He capriciously killed people who irritated him, he engaged in widespread atrocities, and (on a more personal level) he even raped the wife of his senior, most critical subordinate.

May I point out that historically, such behavior did work out for some despots? This description fits Josef Stalin to a T, for instance. And he was unquestionably charismatic and some people who met him even ascribed hypnotic abilities to him.

As to his reasons - difficult to say, of course. Paranoia, naturally. Desire to test the depths of his subordinates submission and increase their terror of him.
Nor was his childhood history particularly hard for his time. Some people are just ruthless sociopaths IMHO and unfortunately have enough other talents and luck to rise to the top in times of turmoil.

Re: Julian - there must have been a reason for his decision. Some false information or maybe something changed drastically after he made it. Maybe there was some omen? Even the most clever people were quite superstitious at the time.
ChristopherNJ
18. Really David Weber
Isilel --

I think I'd argue with your equation of Stalin and the fictitious villain I described on several levels. The biggest one would be that I doubt very much that even though Stalin NEVER relied on his "charisma" to guarantee his survival (which is how the author basically explained his fictitious villain's survival), he ever viciously raped the wife or daughter of the head of his secret police. Mind you, I haven't actually gone back and checked to see whether or not Beria HAD a wife or daughter, but if he had, then I suspect that someone with the brutal survival instincts of Josef Stalin would have arranged to have him removed from office and/or killed before offering that sort of provocation. I wasn't arguing that the unrealistic aspect was his ability to do nasty things and REMAIN IN POWER. With enough of a coercive machine, enough application of terror, you can go a long way towards making EFFECTIVE opposition to your regime extraordinarily difficult. The problem comes when you begin doing things which are going to alienate the people you rely upon to RUN the coercive machine in question, which was what the fictitious character was doing.

In the end, Stalin's behavior is probably what actually did do him in, and he dodged destruction as a direct consequence of his actions by the skin of his teeth more than once. In order to remain in power, he periodically purged his potential enemies. His entire approach to maintaining his authority within the machine was to see to it that no one -- NO ONE -- amassed enough power to pose a significant threat to him. His purge of the Red Army in the late thirties, for example, was carried out because he feared the potential power of his better, more senior commanders. I don't have the figures in front of me, but virtually all of the most senior ranks were eliminated, and the purge reached all the way down to colonels and majors. Most of those Stalin regarded as particularly "dangerous" were simply executed; the others were sent to some of those extraordinarily nasty prison camps which were always so much a part of the Soviet system. Then, of course, came 1941 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The wounds Stalin had inflicted on his own military were a major factor in the early German successes, and the truth is that Germany came very close to initial victory. Now, Stalin's control of the repressive mechanisms of the state was powerful enough that there was little chance of his being removed from power by some sort of internal coup, but if the Soviet Union had been DEFEATED, he would have been stripped of power, at the very least, and his very survival would have been . . . extraordinarily unlikely, shall we say. In order to stave off those dire consequences, he was forced to "rehabilitate" an awful lot of those officers he'd purged and to rely upon their loyalty to "Mother Russia" or (in some cases, at least) their genuine loyalty to the Marxist-Leninist state. And, of course, in addition to that loyalty, there were the commissars assigned at every level in the Soviet military -- the political officers whose primary function was to remove (i.e., arrest for execution) anyone who seemed remotely disloyal. Or who failed to carry out his orders (whether those orders made sense -- or were even possible to carry out -- or not).

My point is that there was a specific methodology by which a combination of the ruthless removal of even SUSPECTED threats (which did tend to decapitate potential focuses of opposition, even if it killed a lot of innocent people along the way), brutal suppression, networks of internal spies and informants, and appeals to external sources of loyalty OTHER THAN Stalin himself sustained him in power FOR A TIME. In a way, this is getting back to my original point about reality and credibility. In fact, you made the point for me when you said "May I point out that historically, such behavior did work out for some despots?" The operative words here are "historically" and "for some despots." The entire point of my original argument was that you can find historical examples which support even the most "unlikely" or (in the sense an editor would use the term) "un-credible" turns of events. And you will find that in using those historical examples you can find "some" incidents in which they worked. You will probably find many more examples, however, in which they DIDN'T work (indefinitely, at least), and from a literary perspective the problem is that the examples tend to be contra intuitive. That is, the reader, exposed to such an outcome without a satisfying, CREDIBLE explanation of why it worked IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE finds it difficult to suspend disbelief in the story in front of him.

Now, I spent quite a few words up above in a very brief and necessarily simplistic and cursory analysis of why Stalin managed to survive despite his excesses, and pointing out that those excesses were never directed against people crucial to his regime's survival (without, at least, having made the individuals in question NO LONGER crucial to his survival). If the author of the piece I used in my example had provided anything like that sort of the treatment of how and why the villain was able to maintain power, it would've gone a long way towards satisfying Sharon's and my inability to suspend disbelief. He didn't do that, and because of that we were unable to find his survival credible, especially since he DID extend his vicious behavior to the immediate families of the innermost circle of subordinates upon whom his survival absolutely depended. Moreover, he acted CAPRICIOUSLY. He wasn't raping wives and daughters in order to terrify people into supporting him; he was doing it -- personally (that is, not through the mechanism of some office of internal security) -- because he enjoyed it. To put it in Don Corleone's terms, it was personal, not "just business," yet the families of the people to whom he did it didn't turn upon him even though they had the potential power to overthrow him. That was the credibility problem. The threat that brutal and cruel punishment will be visited upon those you love IF YOU BECOME A THREAT can go a long way towards discouraging any temptation to oppose the power behind that threat; the capricious application of brutality and cruelty to those you love on what amounts to a whim, however, removes the preventative aspect. If it's likely to happen anyway, the threat is undermined and the temptation to "treason" is actually enhanced because the only way to be certain that it's not going to be capriciously applied to YOUR loved ones is to eliminate the person who might do it.

As an illustration, as I slipped into this response above, "In the end, Stalin's behavior is probably what actually DID do him in." (Note the subtly indicated emphasis this time around :-)) I'm referring here, of course, to the famous "Doctors' Plot." Stalin continued to purge his potential enemies (real and imagined) after World War II. In fact, I've seen it argued (convincingly, I think) that in some ways the purges were even more targeted and severe after the war. His final purge was of the Soviet medical community -- hence the "Doctors' Plot." Interestingly enough, he died -- quite soon after he began purging the medical community, as a matter of fact -- of medical complications. I suppose it's entirely possible that he would have died anyway. Indications, however, are that he was helped to die, which probably had a little bit to do with the fact that this time around he was targeting members of a group which found itself in a position to get to him. In other words, the "un-credible" behavior which "historically" kept him alive up to that point ultimately directly contributed to his final death. His ultimate demise, and the circumstances under which it occurred, are VERY "credible" in the editorial, literary sense of the word.

It's not difficult at all to get a reader to accept that the threat of being purged, and of seeing one's family murdered or exiled to a gulog, could make someone desperate enough to take the risk of poisoning or medically murdering a brutal dictator. The problem comes in getting the reader to accept that someone in that position WOULDN'T be disloyal to the person behind the threat. That a dictator or tyrant could get away with routinely brutalizing the families of the very people who RUN the suppressive machine that keeps him in power. THAT'S where the "credibility" factor comes into play from a storytelling perspective.

As far as the REASONS for Stalin's brutality are concerned, there are all sorts of historical explanations. Terror as a governing technique has a very long history in Russia. There was a reason they called Ivan the Terrible "the Terrible," after all, and in Russian history, it was generally the more LENIENT regimes which ran the greatest risk of being overthrown. Stalin was extremely well placed to see directly, first-hand, how the final tsar ultimately fell as a combination of long-standing internal problems, the external threat of the German Army, and the erosion of Nicholas II's suppressive power at the hands of the more process-oriented Kerensky-style reformers. He'd also been in an excellent position to witness the incredible violence and brutality practiced by both sides in the Russian civil war between the Whites and the Reds, and the lesson he'd taken away from that was that brutality and terror worked while anything which might be perceived as "weakness" only invited attack. Completely exclusive of any factors of personal history or experience (that "unhappy childhood" of Vlad Tepes I referred to in an earlier post), there were strong historical, "institutional" reasons for him to believe that sort of policy would work in the specific instance of Russian. It HAD worked, for centuries, after all. Again, though, that was something which was nowhere referenced in the fan-fic piece I used as my example. THIS historical villain had overthrown a society with a tradition of popular government and NO tradition of brutal repressiveness, so it wasn't a case of his following the pattern of those who had come before him. In a situation like that, it becomes incumbent upon the storyteller to explain why the villain has BROKEN with the pattern of previous regimes and chosen to do it in this particular way. Without that explanation, and without that explanation's making sense, it's difficult to convince the reader that the villain's actions are "credible," because they aren't UNDERSTANDABLE.

As far as Julian the Apostate is concerned, capability doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as stability. They called him "the Apostate," for example, because of his hostility towards Christianity, which had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire. He blamed the Christians for a lot of the problems he faced and deliberately returned to paganism as an antidote to what he viewed as Christianity's pernicious influence. In some ways, from a purely intellectual perspective, his argument made at least some sense, but in attempting to suppress Christianity -- at that point in its history, at least -- he was GUARANTEEING himself a source of
internal unrest and opposition, and, in fact, that became a significant problem for him. His decision to return home overland, on the other hand, stemmed from a combination of frustration, anger at his army (sort of an "Oh, yeah? Well, I'll show YOU!" attitude), and arrogance (in terms of faith in his own military genius and fatal contempt for his opposition). Again, I never said that you couldn't have a character "pull a Julian," only that if a writer does that, he has to EXPLAIN the character's behavior in a way which is credible and doesn't simply say "People really do things like this. Deal with it."

David
Skip Burrell
19. bbu26
Hi David, I'm a big fan of all your stories, but at the moment I'm a bit frustrated. I'm one of the growing number of readers that prefer ebooks to dead-tree versions. And right now, BHD is NOT available as an ebook, and I can't find ANY information on when, or even if, it will be available.

I'm ready to buy an ebook as soon as I can get it.

It's too bad your contract with Tor doesn't *require* an ebook release simultaneously with the dead-tree version.

Sorry to vent, but maybe someone is listening here who can do something about it.
Torie Atkinson
20. Torie
@ 19 bbu26

This is not the place for it. Comments here should remain on-topic about his post.
ChristopherNJ
21. Doublejack
I like the concept of writing heresies. I've flirted with the boundaries of preconceived notions and perception biases as ways of accessing character motivations. I think that's one way of looking at how character's tick.

I have noted that readers' preference profiles range from reading literature that fits their comfort zones to literature that challenges their comfort zones. Newly emerging writers strive mightily for the latter. Established authors have a better chance of delivering the latter, though it's by no means absolute. Storytelling heresies seem to spring more often from the latter too.

Oh, and I hate to burst bubbles, but I set type on a Merganthlaler Linotype for several years. Mostly job shop work and monthly Law Review text for a law school chapbook publication. Set cold lead too.

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