Appropriation versus Appreciation

When it comes to #writing and #diversity there are a lot of questions around the idea of appropriation versus appreciation and although the words get thrown around, the meanings are never fully defined or clear, and it seems that many folks are left wondering where they stand. Interrupt Magazine has a great little article that has a simple series of questions that, while it may not definitively answer the question certainly gives one a better idea of the constantly shifting sands.

Granted their example is about fashion but with a few typing tweaks below are their series of questions I altered for writers. Take a look at the questions. Take a look at the article. What do you think?

  1. What culture does this story reference, and what is my relation to that culture?

  2. Why am I writing it?

  3. Check my resources and research – Who wrote it? What is their perspective? Is it true/accurate?

  4. How accurate/respectful is it?

Non-Video Saturday: An Interview with Tim Powers

Special thanks to @Ariadnes_Thread for mentioning a great interview which is this week’s “Advice to Writers” although it really is more of a way to get to know how Tim Powers writes, what appeals to him about “secret history” and his obvious love for the genre –

Some quotes are below:

“You come home at night. You don’t want to go to bed. You take out a piece of paper and you write CHAPTER ONE. And you write two pages, and you figure that’s pretty good. So you go to bed.

“And then the next night you’re in the mood again, so you pull out a fresh piece of paper and you write CHAPTER ONE. And you write a whole different thing.

“And eventually you realize, I’ve written a whole lot of page-and-a-halfs of various CHAPTER ONES. Add it all together, it’s a lot of words. But it’s not anything. What you’ve got to learn is: Every night when you’re in the mood, instead of starting something fresh, continue that previous thing until it’s done. Which was a tricky thing to learn, actually.

Powers writes 9 pm to 1 am.

“In my own first drafts, when I re-read them, it always seems like a bunch of people in street clothes holding scripts, standing on a bare stage, looking at tape marks on the floor and reading from the script very haltingly. And you think ok, well, that’s the first rehearsal. We’re going to get sets, we’re going to get costumes, there will be real drinks in the glasses, this isn’t the finished production.

“Well you go to YouTube a hundred people have been up there and videoed it. And that’s true for any situation you can imagine. I wonder what it’s like to be on a sailing ship, squarerigger, standing at the bow in he middle of a storm. It would be useful to get some sensory impressions of that. I’ve never tried it but I’m sure a hundred people on YouTube have done it.

“What would it be like to be on skis going over a cliff in the Alps? Some poor devil has videoed it. You get to experience it to the extent of those two senses, sight and hearing.

Powers puts in a quota of a thousand words a day.

“I try to outline so absolutely that I’ll never be stuck with a question as I’m writing. My outline, before I ever start, includes bits of dialogue, even some descriptions. Of course when you’re actually writing the book, it turns out there’s things you didn’t think to outline. But I try to minimize those snags by outlining in advance to a obsessive or insane degree.”

“To an extent, I think I have an advantage in that I have been [writing professionally] forever. I think I’m fortunate in that I’ve been published since the 70s. I think if I was starting out right now, the online presence would be much more urgent. It does seem like there’s this vast churning crowd and you’ve got to do something to draw people’s eye to you.

Quick Update: A Place for Images

I know many of us use images in our blog posts, in research, in idea boards, basically any number of places. The New York Public Library just uploaded nearly 200,000 images we can use for free. There are now available over 672,316 manuscripts, maps, photographs, lithographs, postcards, and other images online in high resolution and available for download.

A few images just for examples:

Old Map of Asia Black and White
Cover of the Negro Motorist Green-BookCouple in Warming Frame Japanese Art A ride at a fair with a tent saying "Life's Unborn"

Clichés are the Worst Thing Ever

A cliché is a phrase, plot point, character, etc., that is overused and overfamiliar. Clichés make your writing seem boring, unoriginal, and simplistic—all things that good writers strive to avoid like the plague (see what I did there?) in order to keep readers focused on the story.

It’s fairly common for clichés—especially clichéd phrasing—to sneak into even the best writers’ work. Seeking them out and eliminating them is a normal part of the work of revision, but there are two main difficulties. First, one has to recognize clichés. This is especially problematic for newer or younger writers, because clichés become obvious only through exposure to them over time. The second main difficulty is that they are often invisible, because they make sense—they fit. This means that that finding an effective replacement can also be very hard. (Note: When finding ways to replace clichés, be careful to avoid awkward, confusing, or convoluted phrasing.)cliche

Among the many examples of clichés in phrasing are: dumb as a post, slept like a log, my heart raced, all talk and no action, the grass is greener on the other side, last ditch effort, light as a feather, rain on my parade, reinvent the wheel, cut to the chase, and so, so many more. Here’s a great site with tons of examples: I’m not suggesting these should never be used. In fact, they’re often entirely appropriate in dialogue. But if your writing has too many of these clichés, your work will be seriously weakened. It’s worth the effort of learning to recognize them, and at least reducing the frequency with which you employ them.

Clichéd plot points can be even more difficult to notice, because they depend on you, the writer, being familiar with your genre. You might come up with a brilliant story idea for a murder mystery, for example, but if you haven’t read widely in that genre, you might discover–after you’ve put a lot of time into writing, revising, and submitting—that you’ve used a plot that’s been done and done again, and that seems tired (old hat!) to folks who do know the genre. If you’re committing to writing in a particular genre, it makes sense to read widely in that genre (of course). But in the meantime, find a good writing group or set of friends and associates who you can bounce ideas off of. They can save you a lot of time.

Similarly, it’s easy to fall into character clichés or stereotypes, if you’re not careful. One I wrote into a story myself is the female healer. Once I came to know that genre better, I changed her to a blacksmith, which worked out even better for the story. Subverting reader expectations for characters can make your stories more interesting, in part because you have to work harder to make characters more complex—more three-dimensional.earlybird

There are many great resources for understanding and avoiding story and character clichés. A great general source, though it’s aimed specifically at television, is the website In spite of what their intro screen says, many tropes are, indeed, clichés or stereotypes, and the site is well worth extensive exploration. There are also a number of sites that identify genre-specific clichés to avoid, including, the sci-fi cliché section of the TV Tropes site, and Diana Wynne Jones’ book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is also worth a read if fantasy is your field.

Now, go learn, and then write, revise, repeat. And don’t forget: tomorrow is a new day, always look on the bright side, and the early bird gets the worm.


1 Comment more...

#Art and #Fear – A Tumblr Story about Pots

A great little story about the problem with “perfection.”

This comes from David Bayles and Ted Orland (via qweety) Perfection is intimidating. I think most artists blocks come from the fear of creating something imperfect.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.Clay Pots

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

My 5 Best Reads of the Year

I read a lot. My goal each year is to read 100 books, and I usually read more. Books, and writing, are two things I can happily talk about all day long. For the last few years, I’ve done a post here about my top five reads that year. I have fairly wide ranging tastes, so there’s a decent variety in these selections.

1. Lock-In by John Scalzi– This was a really amazingly detailed book. A disease sweeps the world, and leaves people “locked in” to their bodies. A new technology emerges to give these victims something like a normal life. There are political, philosophical, and various social ramifications that are part of the background. The major plot is a murder mystery with a twist. I was really impressed with the storytelling and world building.

2. Mars Up Close by Marc Kaufman– I’m a little bit of a science geek (in addition to many other kinds of geek). I’ve always been fascinated by the space program. This book has gorgeous pictures sent back from Mars, as well as a history of the various probes we have sent there, what they have found, and what the discoveries mean. This is worth going through for the pictures alone.

3. World War Z by Max Brooks- For those who have seen the movie, this was much better and more detailed. It’s the story of a zombie plague that caused serious issues all over the planet (hmm, two plague books this year). Aside from people having to believe that suddenly there were zombies roaming around, there were all manner of complications all over the world. The history of the plague, its outbreak, and then recovery, are detailed in various first person interviews with survivors and witnesses of what happened. I thought it was really well done.

4. Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen– This one is really not for the faint of heart. Special Agent Smoky Barrett of the FBI is one of their best serial killer hunters. As the book starts, she’s recovering from a great tragedy. Her team is getting by without her, but they need her back, especially when a new threat emerges who seems to be highly interested in Barrett coming out of retirement. It’s a dark story with some really grim scenes, but I thought it was very well written and plotted.

5. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay– I’ve seen a lot of different settings for fantasy books. I don’t recall seeing Moorish Spain used as the background before. This book had some great characters, and did a great job depicting the strife, frustration, and foolishness from the clash of religions. I think this was a great story with unexpected twists and turns along the way. For a “fantasy” book, there was no magic or otherworldly elements, barring one character having visions. It was great, though.

Honorable Mention:

Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan. This begins a fantasy series that has a lot of stereotypes but rises above them to be a really entertaining read. A warrior and a thief travel together as mercenaries, commanding elite prices for difficult jobs. Some of it was easy to see coming, but how they got there was enjoyable, and I really had a good time with this book.

My Worst Read of the Year:

The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler. Sometimes it’s hard to pick one for this. I don’t always read a book over the year that I consider bad, so sometimes I just need to pick one that was what I enjoyed least. That wasn’t the case this year. I can’t remember how this book got onto my list; it might have been a review I read somewhere. The main character, who is the narrator, is shallow, self-centered, and flat-out annoying. I rarely say this, but this not a book I recommend at all.

  • Upcoming Deadlines:

    • No dates present
  • Twitter

    • New post: Appropriation versus Appreciation
      about 2 days ago
    • My 5 Best Reads of the Year What were your top reads for 2015?
      about 1 week ago
    • #Art and #Fear – A Tumblr Story about Pots, Perfection, and Being Creative #writing
      about 1 week ago
    • New York Public #Library has some amazing digital images. Perfect inspiration for #writing .@NYPL
      about 1 week ago
    • Non-Video Saturday: An Interview with Tim Powers
      about 1 week ago
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Writing Resource Books

  • Copyright © 1996-2010 Unleaded - Fuel for Writers. All rights reserved.
    iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress