Saturday, February 20, 2010

Second Drafts

Last March, I did a post on final drafts, which you are welcome to read here: for the sake of naming, I am going to say that post applies to everything from the fourth draft to the final draft. Not that these are hard and fast, carved in stone or anything. I'm speaking generally and of my own work. Your results . . .

Today I want to talk about second drafts, because I happen to be working on one currently. You've got your first draft in your hand, and Hemingway said the first draft of anything is shit, so you've got your shit in your hand and strangely the first things you do don't involve any actual writing.

Step One: The first thing you do is read your shit. And it's going to be an ugly mess, just get over it and step away from the red pen. You can add notes as thoughts come to you, but don't you dare cut out a thing yet, even stuff you know is wrong. I'll talk about first drafts another time, just know that they're closer to afterbirth than babies.

Step Two: The next thing you do, and I think this is one of the most important things you do in the whole process of writing a story, is you figure out what the hell your story is about. Here's where you say, "Dude, I figured that out in the first draft, remember? There was the guy with the vegetable bomb and the lady stopped him by throwing his own mother at him and then they all drove off in race cars. I got that down!"

No. What you've got is the plot, which is what happens. We're not after what happens here, we're after what it's about. It's along the lines of one of those many literary terms I hate to use: Theme. You say, "Stuff your theme, you pretentious assbag. I've got plot and that will do." Plot will get you a story, yes, but theme will help get you resonance, that bit that's going to make people remember your story well after they're done reading it. Characterization has a lot to do with this as well. Enough of this, let's get to it.

Your scenes might not even be in the best order but by now you've got a rough idea of beginning middle and end. Even if you decide to change it up later, you've got something now. It's time to ask yourself questions. I often write them down and write down the answers as well. Questions such as:

What is this guy really after?
What is driving that lady? What makes her throw an innocent Mom?
What is this story really about?

And you might come up with answers like this:

The guy's angry about what his strict adherence to the rules has gotten him in life: mundanity, hopelessness. He's not going to eat his vegetables anymore. He's going to eat jars and jars full of jelly and he's going to turn his vegetables into explosive devices. That'll shake things up!

The lady has had a life full of stupid guys and their immature bullshit and she blames their mothers and maybe fears that she herself could be a mother like that, and gets even angrier at mothers. And their stupid sons.

The story is about this gulf between the anger of men and the anger of women, the rules they've decided on imposing upon themselves and how those rules are ravaging their lives and everyone else's.

Bear in mind that you don't have to stay up all night tearing out your hair over this. There are no right answers, there are only decisions. And yes, you're ready to make them now. Your subconscious mind has been working on this thing since you first got the idea for the spray of carrots and bursting zucchini. What if these decisions aren't the right ones? It ain't brain surgery, fix them in the next draft. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

Step Three: Now what? You look at your story again, keeping in mind what it's really about. Now you can keep the stuff that supports your new vision, cut out what doesn't and bend little bits and pieces to help support the overall structure. An example of bending: Once you've decided, yes, this is going to be a tale of psychological torture, you may want to alter the word "zany" on page three to make it read "insane." You may want to change the frog which the protagonist runs over into a raccoon because it will make the story that much heavier. All these little bits and pieces add up to an integrated whole and you can't even approach this whole until you've done step two. Finally, you might get an idea of what scenes you have to add to bring it all together.

Step Four: Write the damned thing.

"But . . ."

But what?

"But, my race cars!"

I'm sorry. The race cars will have to go. Make a separate file for your scraps and throw that scene in there so you'll never lose it and now you can forget about it. Write your second draft in a different file and keep your first if you're so attached to it. Believe me, you'll want to deny its existence some day when your kids find it in the attic trunk or you're running for public office.

Links To Nice Things

I really should be sleeping right now. I might even post again right after this one.

Welcome to new followers, Wagnerian, Phil and John! The army grows. Wag, you're gonna be pissed, but I didn't even see you sneak in there.

John, that is to say, Follower 14 John, and I were involved in The latest Mind Meld on SF Signal the other day: Which off the air science fiction show deserves a remake? What changes would you make to update it? You can read ours and other answers here:

Thinking about that reminded me that I forgot to link to a guest spot I did on SF Signal last month on R.E.B.E.L.S. So go read that here:

This week in Sofa-stuff there's an audio version of what I wrote here in my last post, but more importantly, there's an audio version of Paolo Bacigalupi's Nebula-nominated story, The Gambler. This was the first Bacigalupi story I read that didn't make me want to slash my wrists. I don't want you to think I don't like his stuff, because I love it. It's just a bit, shall we say, like an abyss of despair? (I'm very happy that his novel, The Windup Girl is nominated for Best Novel. Awesome book. Go read.)

Aural Delights No 121 Paolo Bacigalupi

Guest Editorial: The Hugo’s and Podcasts by Amy H Sturgis

Main Fiction: The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi

Fact Article: A Hugo For StarShipSofa by Matt Sanborn Smith

Narrator: Geoff Michelli

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Hugo For StarShipSofa

Because of a rewording of the rules, The StarShipSofa podcast could be eligible for nomination for the Best Fanzine Hugo. Wait. Could be? The truth is, we can't know for sure until we get in somebody's face and force the issue by actually scoring nominations from lots and lots of people. You happen to be one of lots and lots of people. Info on how to nominate is right here:



You didn't know it until you got to the end of this sentence, but StarShipSofa is your favorite podcast. You think it's because the Sofa has given you content from many of the greatest writers in speculative fiction: Moorcock, Gaiman, Wolfe, Haldeman, Shepard, Brin, Sellar, Kosmatka, Bacigalupi, Chiang, Jesus, I can't even name them all here. (Author's Note: In that last sentence "Jesus" was an exclamation, not a speculative fiction writer who has been featured on the StarShipSofa. Though he has starred in a couple of the stories.)

You think it's because the podcast has the best stable of narrators in the podosphere, hands down, so many, in fact, the Sofanauts Awards ballot could be fifteen names long in the Best Narrator category and still not have room for all the fantastic ones. You think it's because those folks have read so many award-nominated and award-winning stories. You think maybe I'm going to say it's because you haven't had to pay a flippin' cent to get all of that plus interviews, essays, reviews, poetry, science news, beautiful art and probably a couple of other things too.

You'd be wrong.

Well, okay, maybe you'd be partly right.

But one of the things I love about the Sofa is that it's a podcast of the fans, by the fans and for the fans. It's like all those Little Rascals films where the gang puts on a show for the other kids in the neighborhood and let's face it, for themselves. That's what the sofanauts do every week. Aside from Tony and those generous authors, every single person involved started out as a fan of the show before pitching in to lend a hand. The Sofa's like a kick-ass pirate ship that picks up eager crewmembers in every port. Want to join in? You can. Just offer up your talent and you're in the show. It's an awesome party that we throw ourselves every week.

You're happy just listening but want to meet and chat with the folks who put together the show? Head to the forums. We're like an enormous Mormon family who takes in strays and orphans by the hundreds. We're there to cheer each other's successes and commiserate during the low points. How many babies have we had since the show started? We support each other's projects, enjoy each other's work and many of us have become penpals and co-twits outside of the show as well.

Tony's that awesome big brother who got his license first and drives motorcycles. Diane is my beloved sister. Fred is the eccentric uncle we keep in the attic. Larry's the creepy cousin who keeps to the basement. Where the bodies are.

Amy, Grant, J.J., Skeet, Josh, Alllie, Church and The Assassin. You're all at the picnic. Skelly, Judy, Dee, Kate, Christie, Elke, Steve and all of you who are shaking your fists at me because I didn't mention you by name, you're there too. One of the greatest programs out there comes together from all over the globe every single week because of nothing but love. And whether you're a contributor or listener, you're a part of that. If that's not a fanzine, there's no such thing as a fanzine. If the Sofa never wins an award it will still have achieved something unique in all of science fiction history: It will have been our home.

But let's win an award anyway.

Please tell all your speculative fiction friends, cronies and neighbors. Spread the word! Tweet about it (And hit me up on twitter @upwithgravity so we can link up and spread the love together). Link to this post or these other nifty posts below and let me know if you've written one yourself, so I can add it here. Tell us your own stories about what the show has meant to you. Finally, think of all that the StarShipSofa podcast has given you and vote your gut.

Let's give a Hugo to ourselves.



Jason Sanford:


Jonathan Strahan:

Aliette de Bodard:

Jim DeVona:

Mur Lafferty:

Cheryl Morgan:

The English Assassin: Lots-O'-Links here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Didn't Mean To!

I accidentally wrote story 121 yesterday. It's a piece of twitfic called Friday. It came to me over the kitchen sink and I jotted it down and sent it off it a hurry, realizing midway that it was story 121. I hadn't meant to write anything so short as part of the 52 in 2010, but I did, so there you go.

My friend, blog-follower and fellow Sofanaut Larry Santoro has a new website pimping his most excellent narrative skills. Take a look: and if you need anything read, or know someone who does, Larry's the guy to do it. He's fantastic.

This isn't ready yet, but it looks cool:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Okay, I can't hold it in any longer. I love this video. It's total lip-synching goodness, of course, but it's a great song and the band and the audience really sell it, especially drummer Clem Burke. You can feel the energy. Gotta dig the fashions of a bygone era, the sunglasses, the goofy dancing guys and most of all, Debbie Harry (Duh!). Love her hair, dress and general sweatiness. Quick poll for this video, Debbie Harry: a) Total Hottie? or b) Skank? My vote's for Totally Hot Skank.

(Quick note for those who want to throw stones at the sexist bastard: I believe that women and men are equal as human beings, should be equal under the law and that Debbie Harry is a Totally Hot Skank in this video.)

Podcasts And Goals

Episode 2 of the Cossmass Infinities podcast is live and waiting for you to consume it. I haven't listened yet, but it's waiting in line on my iPod. The Strange Affair of the Martian Engine by Joshua Reynolds can be found here: Good title! Cossmass Infinities, as you might recall, are the fine people who did an audio version of my Teddy Bear story last month. Subscribe if you haven't already.


I've got about twenty-three slots filled right now for my 52 in 2010 goal. Right now I'm mining old ideas that have been lounging around on my hard drive for years and not pulling their own weight. I don't know about you other writers out there, but I've got literally hundreds of ideas sitting on my computer at any given time. Many of them are crap, but there are stories that can be coaxed out of some of them. I'm going through my old Wordperfect files, converting them through Zamzar. It's a bit of a hassle, but it's free and it gets the job done. If I could find my Wordperfect disc which is hiding somewhere under the many piles of stuff in my home, I'd pop it in and run it right now, because I love Wordperfect. If any of you know how I could convert my Pages files (from Apple's iWork suite) on the cheap to Word documents or even .rtf, I'd appreciate it if you would share the knowledge.

I think I'll come up with more than fifty-two potential stories in case some of them become unworkable. Also, I'm going to need lots of ideas for next year and the years to come, because if I'm going to reach The One-Thousand by fifty, I'm going to have to average over one-hundred stories a year after this year. Holy crap!

Anyway, I'm going to be coming up with lots of new ideas as well as refurbishing old ones. The best way I've found to come up with story ideas is to write flash-fiction stories of about 250 words. If an idea isn't workable as a proper short story, you haven't wasted much time with it. If it is, you just expand it. Some of my favorite stories grew this way. Try it.


The latest StarShipSofa features Tony's new monthly interview segment, this time with Lucius Shepard.

Aural Delights No 119 John W Campbell Jr vs Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Editorial: StarShipSofa Interrogation by Tony C Smith

SF Weekly News: Tony C Smith

Main Fiction: The Last Evolution by John W Campbell Jr

StarShipSofa Interrogation: Lucius Shepard

Main Fiction: Knotwork by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Narrators: J.J. Campanella Christie Yant