Pixel Scroll 4/4/16 Do Not Scroll Gentle Into That Vile Hive

(1) HEAD OF THE CLASS. From Variety: “’Doctor Who’ Spinoff ‘Class’ Taps Katherine Kelly to Lead Ensemble Cast”.

“Happy Valley” alum Katherine Kelly has been tapped to lead an ensemble of newcomers in the “Doctor Who” spinoff “Class.”

Kelly will play a teacher at Coal Hill School, an institution that has been part of the “Doctor Who” universe since its inception in 1963. Students will be played by newbies Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins and Vivian Oparah.

Filming on “Class” begins this week. There’s no word yet on a target premiere date for the BBC Three/BBC America series created by Patrick Ness. “Doctor Who” and “Class” exec producer Steven Moffat likened the series to a British version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

(2) ROLL CALL. Sci-Fi Storm completes the roster – “BBC announces the Class of Class”.

Joining Kelly as students at the school are Greg Austin (Mr. Selfridge), Fady Elsayed (My Brother the Devil), Sophie Hopkins (The Meeting Place) and newcomer Vivian Oparah.

With the focus on the young adult audience, each of the students is described as having “hidden secrets and desires. They are facing their own worst fears, navigating a life of friends, parents, school work, sex, sorrow — and possibly the end of existence.”

(3) TWO MINUTE WARNING. Tickets for next year’s Gallifrey One, the Doctor Who-themed convention in LA, go on sale April 16.

As we prepare for Gallifrey One 2017 ticket sales to start, please remember: tickets to Gallifrey One 2016 sold out in less than two minutes. We mention this because we want to emphasize very strongly that you should be prepared to be ready to purchase your tickets shortly before the time announced above….

2017 Ticket Prices

Prices for tickets to our 2017 Gallifrey One convention are as follows:

$95.00 Adult Full Weekend

$50.00 Teen Full Weekend (Ages 12-16)

$20.00 Child Full Weekend (Ages 3-11)

…Please note that we have elected to discontinue single-day tickets for 2017 in order to adequately support our entire attendee base with a complete weekend full of programming. All tickets will allow entry into the 2017 convention at any time throughout the weekend, and attendee badges can be picked up from Thursday afternoon through Sunday morning.

(4) SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALL RIGHT FOR FIGHTIN’. Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog covers Peter Dinklage’s appearance on Saturday Night Live.

There was the expected “GoT” parody (video above), which had Dinklage hosting an “HBO First Look” special on the upcoming sixth season. The gag here – other than Kate McKinnon‘s serviceable impression of Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) – was that there was a quite a bit of truth to Daenerys’s dragons being the show’s scene-stealers. As it turns out, the dragons’ camera-hogging is the result of Bobby Moynihan‘s obnoxious motion-capture actor.

Moynihan also showed up as the brains behind “GoT” – author George R.R. Martin – during Dinklage’s monologue.

NBC has video clips from the episode, including the Game of Thrones sneak peek.

(5) DRAFTING. Rachel Swirsky explores “The difference between draft 1 and draft 12ish of ‘Love Is Never Still’” with sample text and numerous bullet point comments.

I thought it might be interesting to look at a passage from my most recent story, “Love Is Never Still,” as it existed in the first and last drafts. By the time I actually publish a story, I’ve often forgotten what the first draft looked like exactly.

(6) RECOMMENDATION. Mark-kitteh wanted to point out Becky Chambers’ 2014 short story “Chrysalis” at Pornokitsch.  Make it so!

(7) PRE-TRIP REPORT. John Scalzi tells Whatever readers “What I’m Doing in Los Angeles Next Weekend”. He’s coming to LA for the LA Times’ Festival of Books, with other appearances on his schedule — one of the more out-of-the-ordinary is:

7 PM, Nerdmelt Showroom, 7522 Sunset Ave, Los Angeles: I’m one of the featured performers at The Objectively Hottest Authors On Earth LIVE!, which is being presented in association with the Festival of Books. During the show, hosted by artist and comedian Sara Benincasa, I, Maris Kreizman, Cecil Castellucci and Isaac Fitzgerald will be saying and/or doing funny things, and being interviewed by Sara. It’s going to be fantastic. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door, and if you want to show up, don’t wait — the room is, uh, not huge, as I understand it. I can’t say what anyone else has planned but I will be reading an recently-written funny piece that hasn’t been published anywhere yet (although I’ve read it in a couple of places and it killed), so the only place you’ll be able to enjoy it is live, and the only place I’m planning to read it live in the foreseeable future is here, at the Nerdmelt Showroom.


  • April 4, 1930 — American Rocket Society founded
  • April 4, 1975 — Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
  • April 4, 1983 — The space shuttle Challenger lifted off on its inaugural mission.


  • April 4, 1965 – Robert Downey Jr.

(10) THE MARGIN IS THE CUTTING EDGE. That seems to be Noah Berlatsky’s bottom line in his post, “Why Cutting-Edge Sci-Fi Is Often Penned By Marginalized Writers” at The Establishment. I wish he hadn’t spent half his wordage attacking somebody else’s paradigm, and just kept strengthening his case with more of the kind of enlightening analysis he provided about Delany and Le Guin.

“Great science fiction explores the philosophical possibilities of science’s impact on reality,” sci-fi writer James Wallace Harris declares at SF Signal. You take real science, you add brilliant philosophy, and you’ve got sci-fi. Right?

Actually, no. Harris’ article has been widely pilloried on social media because, in his tour of “cutting-edge science fiction,” he managed to make a list without citing a single piece of work by a woman or person of color. But what’s been less discussed is that his omissions are tied closely to the fact that his definition of cutting-edge science fiction is ludicrously limited.

(11) POC TOC. People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction, funded by a Kickstarter appeal, will be another special issue of Lightspeed, guest-edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim, in partnership with section editors Nisi Shawl, Berit Ellingsen, Grace Dillon, and Sunil Patel, who are assembling a lineup of fiction, essays, and nonfiction from people of color.

The list of original short stories and flash fiction has been announced in the latest backer project update.

Original Short Stories/Novelettes (edited by Nalo Hopkinson & Kristine Ong Muslim)

  • A Good Home — Karin Lowachee
  • Firebird — Isha Karki
  • Fifty Shades of Grays — Steven Barnes
  • Depot 256 — Lisa Allen-Agostini
  • Digital Medicine — Brian K. Hudson
  • The Red Thread — Sofia Samatar
  • Salto Mortal — Nick T. Chan
  • Omoshango — Dayo Ntwari
  • Wilson’s Singularity — Terence Taylor
  • As Long As It Takes to Make the World — Gabriela Santiago

Original Flash Fiction (edited by Berit Ellingsen)

  • Binaries — S.B. Divya
  • Other Metamorphoses — Fabio Fernandes
  •  An Offertory to Our Drowned Gods — Teresa Naval
  • Morning Cravings — Nin Harris
  • Breathe Deep, Breathe Free — Jennifer Marie Brissett
  • The Peacemaker — T.S. Bazelli
  • Chocolate Milkshake Number 314 — Caroline M. Yoachim
  • A Handful Of Dal — Naru Dames Sundar
  • Hiranyagarbha — Kevin Jared Hosein
  • Four And Twenty Blackbirds — JY Yang

The appeal also funded horror and fantasy special issues, for which submissions are now being taken.

  • POC Destroy Horror! will publish in October, as a special issue of Nightmare Magazine, from guest editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The submissions portal for the issue is now open, so if you’re a POC writer, and you’d like to write something, by all means please do so and submit your story! Submissions are open now and close May 15, 2016. Just visit submissions.johnjosephadams.com/poc-destroy-horror to read the guidelines and to submit.
  • POC Destroy Fantasy! will publish in December, as a special issue of Fantasy Magazine, from guest editor Daniel José Older. The submissions portal for the issue will be open May 1 – June 15. Visit submissions.johnjosephadams.com/poc-destroy-fantasy to read the guidelines.

(12) KEY TO CHARACTERIZATION. “Why Character Agency is So Important” by Jadah McCoy at Fantasy Book Critic.

What the frick frack does character “agency” really even mean in relation to the wonderful world of book writin’? Character agency is such an integral part of writing believable characters, and it’s something that many people don’t really notice at all when reading.

Chuck Wendig puts it eloquently by saying, “Character agency is…a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive.”

In other words, the story responds to the character’s actions, not the other way around. Too many times I’ve sat in bed screaming at a character for their stupidity, for their inability to control anything around them, including themselves. Too many times these characters have done the Incredibly Stupid Thing because only the Incredibly Stupid Thing would move the plot forward, and it’s only at the expense of that character’s credibility. Just because isn’t good enough.

When decisions are taken away from the character, they become merely a pawn in a contrived chess game—one where all the moves are already planned out, and no matter where the pawn goes, the results will end up the same.

Characters are living things, like you and I. They think, they speak, they love and hate, they have desires and ideas, and they rebel (and often I can’t even control mine, they just commandeer whatever attempted plot I had penned out).  They are three dimensional. They are people on paper, and people have reasons for what they choose to do. They have thought processes, which sometimes they care to share and sometimes they don’t (not even with their own author).

(13) SEQUELS. “They’re Coming Back” is the title of a TV commercial for Independence Day: Resurgence, coming to theaters June 24.

Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens’ advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction.


(14) REMAKES. While you’re waiting for the Independence Day sequel, you can practice throwing stones at mere remakes. CheatSheet pontificates on “8 of the Worst Sci-Fi Movie Remakes Ever”.

Since science fiction typically rely on special effects more than most other types of films, it would seem that older films in this genre would generally benefit from being updated with the latest moviemaking technologies. Unfortunately, it seems that in many cases any improvement that a remake offers in the area of special effects is canceled out by bad scripts or poor casting decisions. For this reason, there are many science fiction films that are several decades old, but still manage to hold up better than remakes that were made only a few years ago.

It’s a tough audience! #7 is Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake.

(15) FUTURE TECH. “The future if literature was to be believed” – an infographic from the Red Candy blog.

Literature has always been a vehicle for predictions about future technology, which turns out to become a reality. Who knows you might well see some of these items in the near future!

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Bonnie McDaniel, and Will R. for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peter J.]

129 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/4/16 Do Not Scroll Gentle Into That Vile Hive

  1. Re: Hap & Leonard. Having the author involved with t he series (and Joe was pretty much on the set every day) can lean to a very good adaptation. I saw him Joe recently in Scottsdale and he was very happy with t he series and is hoping there will be more.

  2. And Amazon (or its authorized representative) just dropped off copies of Dr. Who S9, The Expanse and The Force Awakens. I know how I’ll be spending the next several evenings …

    (And in case anyone’s curious, it looks like the complete Dr. Who S9 includes both Last Christmas and The Husbands of River Song. Which I wish I would’ve known before buying both of them individually.)

    And it’s not strictly SFnal, but today is Book Day for my high school classmate Hope Jahren’s book Lab Girl, which seems to be getting an awful lot of positive buzz.

  3. I do love when pre-ordered books appear like magic. So many times I’ve forgotten I’ve ordered them as 6+ months may have passed. The last weeks overnight loot:

    Shadow Rites by Faith Hunter. The latest in the Jane Yellowrock UF

    Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire a standalone

    Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen

    Replica by Shannon Mayer and Denise Grover Swank – I should read book 1 first. I enjoy Shannon Mayer who is one of the better and very professional indie UF authors out there. She may be hybrid now or occasionally publishing under Amazon imprints I’m not sure.

    When They Come Calling by Sarah Fleming Mountford This is a supernatural YA horror I backed on Kickstarter

    Women in Tech: Take Your Career to the Next Level by Tarah Wheeler Van Ylack – not SFF but figured I’d include it as its Geeky. She interviewed hackers, game designer Brianna Wu, among others. It also has a chapter on being an ally for men. Great book for SJWs. Again something I backed on Kickstarter

    Green Wild by Chrysoula Tzavelas book 2 in her Thrones of the Firstborn series.

  4. I have just finished Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Very good, but perhaps I won’t say too much until a few more people have read it. I picked it up while it was on a nice cheap pre-order, but it seems to have ended up at a rather premium price on release. I still can’t tell if that pre-order price was by accident or design.

    I’ve also been working on Monstrous Little Voices (hat tip Vasha) which is a linked set of five stories set in a fantastical Shakespearean world. The first two have been well worth reading, particularly Foz Meadows “Coral Bones” which weaves Miranda’s life after The Tempest into the fairy court of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think it’s a novelette (14,000-ish words) and it makes an early entry onto my longlist. I’m hoping the other 3 are as good.

  5. 1) We call Torchwood “Stupid, Sexy Torchwood.” At most the new series should at most meet only half of that.

    5) TWELVE drafts? Well, that makes me geek much better about the current six drafts of my WiP. I confess I was getting my teeth a bit over a certain writer’s proclamation that three drafts is the maximum- including one for spelling and grammar.

    12) Agency is a major concern of mine, especially dealing with a character that is basically reactive and depressed. Especially since I was told in an earlier draft that a crucial decision on the part of my main character was stupid and made no sense. There drafts later my goal is that it makes sense for the character-even if it is still stupid in a ” But it worked for James Bond” sorry of way.

  6. Who had the comedy routine that describes a want ad for a superbike that includes the phrase “For Sale: Rode once – Saw God.”? Seems like a happier version of Hemingway’s tragedy in six words.

    Oddly, scooters seem to have taken around my neighborhood. You see these large football player types riding around on their faux-Vespas. Sometimes you see two of them sharing one scooter which is probably a glowing tribute to the Japanese engineers at Honda and Yamaha. Of course they don’t wear enough protective gear, but you figure they’re already living on borrowed time by playing football.

  7. Kobo dropped Cherryh’s latest in my box. I didn’t see that plot twist coming.

  8. @NickPheas: “It is hard to imagine anything much worse than Torchwood…”

    Okay, I’ll take that challenge. Plan Nine from Outer Cardiff: Robot Monster Picture Show.

    BTW, for Whovians who can’t make Gallifrey One (or who like to attend multiple WhoCons in a year), I personally recommend TimeGate, happening in Atlanta in late May. Headline guests this year include Paul McGann (8th Doctor), Terry Molloy (classic-series Davros), and Nicholas Briggs (voice of the new-series Daleks and Cybermen).

  9. Continue to get emails from MacII. I’m going to have to go through all of them to put together what my final ballot should have been as my final submit was a wipe out/dupe. At least I have a paper trail if they want one to show at what point each nomination had been made before being wiped out. LOL

    In other news tomorrow afternoon I go in for pre-op EKG, chest X-Ray, and possibly more blood work as the lab Friday may have missed some of the requested tests. They certainly did not send all the blood test the 3 doctors requested to the 4 doctors per my instructions. Trying to save time, money, and as little needle work as possible has the universe laughing at my needle phobia and anemia.

    More TBR pre-orders awaiting reading
    I have Monstrous Little Voices waiting anxiously TBR. I really enjoyed Foz Meadows Coral Bones when it came out and pre-ordered the full volume based on it and the authors associated with the project.

  10. There is a problem for me with CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner sequence; in Britain very few of her novels in that universe are available as ebooks. Haven’t a clue why; I have even done the Ask us so we can ask the publisher form on Amazon. Looks as if I am going to have to stick to the dead tree ones…


    Tasha, I’m wishing you all the best; fingers will be crossed, unless they are required to uncross, etc. etc. etc..

  11. Stevie, this is the first time I’ve gotten one that isn’t dead tree. (The next chance I have to hit a real bookstore isn’t for another two weeks.)

  12. There’s a new Commonweal book out from Graydon Saunders: “Safely You Deliver”. Available from Kobo and I think Google. (Not Amazon)

    There’s also a new Martha Wells Raksura book out: “The Edge of Worlds”. Available from Amazon and B&N.

  13. Well, I for one liked the much maligned first season of Torchwood and hated everything that came after. Though this new spin-off seems to be more along the lines of The Sarah Jane Adventures than Torchwood.

    And motorbike airbag vests are available in regular motorbike shops and have been for a while now.

    Regarding 12, I just ordered Jadah McCoy’s novel Artificial. Will report back when it’s arrived (Amazon Germany doesn’t have it in stock) and I’ve read it.

  14. bbz on April 5, 2016 at 11:20 am said: Aaagh! Not just a helmet but a full face plate helmet. I’ve met bikers with debris permanently embedded in their eyes.

    Full face helmets forever. Ever get hit by a Junebug at 100+ mph? Or a bumblebee? KaPOW! Then they sting you. Faceplate down, spring, summer or fall.

    Helmet airbag though? Nuh uh. Because the human neck is surprisingly vulnerable in tension compared to compression. I’ll take the Hans device, thanks. The passive brace may not save your life in a crash, but at least it won’t kill you if it screws up. Airbags are known to do that occasionally.

  15. Cassy B: Cherryh’s written something new?

    Yup. The latest Foreigner book–Visitor. My copy just arrived today, too . . .

  16. 4) Space Pants will stay with me for awhile.

    Ah, pre-orders. *glances over at the latest Marie Brennan book* They seem to always arrive just when a stack of holds come in for me at the library.

  17. Meanwhile, my life has been better, but it could have been so much worse. Mr Dr Science had what they call “minimally invasive cardiac bypass surgery” using a DaVinci™ system, which is very much what you would want from early 21st-century medicine: no breaking the sternum, home from the hospital in 3 days (!), expected recovery in 2 weeks (!!!).

    The surgeon, who is one of the pioneers of this procedure, says that in 10 years doing “robotic surgery” he has never heard the word “Waldo” to describe what they do. So we told him about Heinlein’s story — because they indeed use waldos to do the surgery. With an extra fillip Heinlein didn’t think of: the signal is processed to smooth out the movements and remove tremors, etc.

  18. In some mild defense of Torchwood, I watched “Children of Earth” even before I’d watched any of the new Doctor episodes (I was skeptical, as a longtime classic Doctor Who fan—I watched about half of “The Ark in Space” with Tom Baker in the 1980s—long story, there was a girl involved—and immediately got hooked). Children of Earth blew me away. The rest of the series? Hit or miss, with enough good moments to make it worth watching. “Miracle Day” got bogged down in too many subplots, but I still enjoyed it. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more.

  19. Also (too late to edit), when I watched Children of Earth, I knew nothing about Jack Harkness or his team, but that wasn’t a problem. I was just happy for the occasional references to the Doctor.

  20. The Phantom, I’ll see your junebug and raise you 17-year cicadas. By the millions. They not only hurt (and can leave bruises) when you hit them at any speed above 30 MPH, but they can also form a slick layer of crushed bugs on the pavement… And they can be so noisy that pedestrians don’t hear your bike coming and step out in front of you….

  21. SFnal aspect of 17-yr cicadas: when they’re out (my experience is with Brood X) e.g. in Princeton, NJ., as you head into areas where they’re concentrated you hear a multi-harmonic sound that sounds basically like the mothership is landing. There’s a very high resonance that is frankly creepy — along with the insects EVERYWHERE.

  22. Recently read: “Black Wolves” by Kate Elliott. Both Mr Dr & I liked it quite a bit, and are looking forward to the next installment. For us, it succeeds better than e.g. Grace of Kings (and many other “who shall rule?” Game of Thrones-type stories) because all the POV characters are people we can sympathize with, even when they disagree with each other. No mustache-twirling.

    My major problem: the eagles, which are kind of … bicycle eagles? That is, feeding the eagles should be a *lot* more problematic and stressful for everybody, reeves and military and peasants and all, than it is shown. Creatures like that take one hell of a lot of feeding.

    The other problem I had is that domestic plants and animals are all familiar to us (rice, wheat, sheep, mangoes, etc.) but wild ones are not. I mean, wtf?

  23. West Texas doesn’t seem to have the periodic cicadas, but it does have at least two species of regular cicadas, one of which is the biggest leafhopper I ever saw (big enough to hurt when it flies into you when you’;re standing still). And also it has wasps that prey on them (B-52 wasps – they dig nest holes in the ground that are half an inch in diameter); you don’t want to mess with them, either. In summer when the cicadas are out, it’s very buzzy all day.

  24. I was telling someone the other day about a day in the 70s when we were driving near our house and the car was engulfed by a swarm of Monarch butterflies. It was like being inside a living cloud of bright, fluttering wings. I wasn’t driving, so I don’t recall whether we stopped or kept going. I hope, in retrospect, that we could have stopped safely and avoided running any over. It was a brilliant, beautiful, weird experience, and one I’d choose over June bugs at any velocity.

  25. @Doctor Science
    Glad the procedure went well. May Mr Doctor Science have a speedy and complete recovery and a long and healthy life.

  26. I keep losing the thread of every scroll conversation before I can manage to break out of lurking, but the character agency thing pisses me off enough to say something before everybody’s galloped past me.

    I really resent fiats that we can only write about people who are strong, capable, and situated in such a way as to make everything happen around them. I also resent the idea that only the individual human character can drive a story.

    I do have a dog in this race: I’m committed to writing about characters who are not strong, not heroes, and whose story can only resolve by being woven into the stories of others–including other entities that are not characters at all in the conventional way of looking at things. And every time I read something like that I goddamned well despair for a few minutes.

  27. Moar Lady Trent! Kermit flail.

    I am apparently the only person (save Mr. Cowan) who liked all of Torchwood. The last series did have too much of everything*, but it was still watchable.

    Glad to hear Mr. Dr. Science could have the smaller-scale surgery.

    When I was a kid, we once had two straight days of millions of butterflies migrating through. Painted Lady, I think. It was magical, just clouds of wings overhead.

    *Except Capt. Jack, because you can never have too much Capt. Jack in Torchwood.

  28. @Lucy Kemnitzer: “I really resent fiats that we can only write about people who are strong, capable, and situated in such a way as to make everything happen around them.”

    One of the things I dislike about this language is that the phrase “strong character” can mean two very different things, and it’s hard to distinguish between them.

    Imagine two pieces of artwork. One is a six-year-old’s sketch of Spider-man. The other is an Old Master’s rendition of a famine victim. Peter Parker has several kinds of power; he’s physically strong, he’s brilliant, and he’s got a solid moral compass… but in this sketch, the depiction is weak. I mean, the kid’s six – he colors outside the lines, he has no sense of proportion and perspective… the sketch isn’t convincing. The second, well, just the reverse. Amazing depiction, but the character in the painting is weak. You might not think he’s capable of hurting an ant, but by God he could step right out of that frame into the real world.

    The push for character agency is about the latter, not the former. Certainly it’s possible for a character to be strong in both senses – check out Alex Ross’s superhero artwork – but you can definitely have one without the other. Consider… I forget the character’s name, but do you remember the guy in the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies who’s absolutely terrified of almost everything? He finally runs into the mummy, and pulls a cross out from under his shirt to pray. It doesn’t do any good, and he pulls out another icon to pray to the god of a different religion. That doesn’t work, so he tries another, and another, and finally he pulls out Jewish memorabilia that the mummy recognizes. That guy was strongly drawn, with plenty of agency, but he’s not a “strong character” in the heroic sense. He’s just realistic.

    Real people are fallible. They make mistakes, they act on incomplete information, they allow emotions and bad logic to steer them astray. Good intentions lead them to catastrophically bad decisions, as do moments of weakness. They get depressed, they suffer from low self-esteem, they experience transcendent joy, and they discover new things about themselves. Sometimes, one of those new things is that they’re tougher than they thought they were… just as sometimes, it’s that trying to be strong and independent has led them into making really awful decisions.

    If a character never does any of that, how realistic – and how human – can they be?

    I’m committed to writing about characters who are not strong, not heroes, and whose story can only resolve by being woven into the stories of others–including other entities that are not characters at all in the conventional way of looking at things.

    I’m curious about your non-character entities, but as for the rest… I don’t see how character agency acts against any of that. Remember the Mummy guy I mentioned earlier? Strongly written, bucketfuls of agency, weak-willed coward. He’s not a Strong Person, but he’s a Strong Character because he’s making his own (maybe bad) decisions rather than doing nonsensical things because the script demands it.

    You can have strong characterization without making everybody a badass. It’s a matter of breathing enough life into them that they’re real enough to screw up.

  29. Lots of people think of “agency” as only the big, spectacular parts of agency–being able to make large, wide choices, even (especially) to affect the course of cities or nations. Maybe because those are the most obvious forms of agency. Maybe because SF&F stories are often actiony adventure stories, often about the rise and fall of governments or societies and so the characters we’re going to follow will be pivotal in those events, and mostly have that sort of agency.

    But agency also consists in small things, in endurance, in small acts of kindness or protest, that sometimes have large follow-on effects but sometimes only (only!) affect one or two people. But, you know, a story can be about one or two people and still be a good and very interesting story.

    The common view of large and wide, obvious agency essentially implies that only certain sorts of people, in certain sorts of positions in life, are worthy of stories. That anyone else is uninteresting and “just a victim.” It also means that if a writer gives us a story about a character whose agency is subtler and smaller in scope, a certain number of readers will complain that the character “has no agency” because that character’s agency is invisible to them.

    This is why the “a character has to have agency” thing makes me grind my teeth. In my personal list of irritating writing advice it is second only to “show don’t tell,” another supposed rule of writing that most of the folks promulgating it don’t actually fully understand and so they go around pushing this really limited and limiting idea of what a story is or can be.

    Oh, and passive voice. For Mithras’ sake, learn what passive voice actually is before you uncap that red pen. (Once you’ve got that down we can talk about the actual good and useful applications of passive voice.)

  30. @Ann Leckie

    I think the reason that those bits of advice get repeated so much is because they address problems that a lot of new writers have. Not because they are the be all and end all of writing. If you are good enough to write successful stories about flotsam on the sea of fate in the passive voice then you are pass the point of needing much advice.

  31. “But agency also consists in small things, in endurance, in small acts of kindness or protest, that sometimes have large follow-on effects but sometimes only (only!) affect one or two people.”

    Beautifully said, and it puts me in mind of the closing line of Cloud Atlas, which I just finished reading after years of bouncing off the first couple chapters:

    “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

    Sonmi and Breq are both beautiful examples of agency surviving severe limitations, nearly invisible, which of course is reality for many humans. They’re great antidotes to a world that only seems able to imagine agency in terms of saving the entire universe.

  32. @magewolf

    I think the reason that those bits of advice get repeated so much is because they address problems that a lot of new writers have. Not because they are the be all and end all of writing. If you are good enough to write successful stories about flotsam on the sea of fate in the passive voice then you are pass the point of needing much advice.

    I think that’s true–but I also think it’s not the best way to approach the problem. For one thing, it’s never articulated that way–it’s never given as “this is what you do as a beginner” but in universal terms: “Characters must have agency.” “Don’t use passive voice.”

    And I don’t think that you learn to do difficult things by not trying the difficult things. I mean, in, say, skiing or figure skating you start very simply, but it’s with the aim of building up to the more difficult (and, not incidentally, dangerous) things. But in writing? “Well, when you’re Joyce you can do that.” Except who ever thinks they’re Joyce? Did Joyce get to be Joyce by sticking to the safe lanes? And it’s not like you’re going to go to the hospital if you mess up second person. You might as well go for it, when you’re writing.

    I think new writers are far, far better served by being told exactly what the hazards are in using particular techniques, rather than being told to avoid them–and told to avoid them in terms that makes them seem not like advanced things they’re not ready for, but things that are Against the Rules.

  33. Ann Leckie, Rev Bob: I do agree with you–that’s why I write about who I write about, and the things I write about. But the article linked here, like so many pieces on this matter, specifically goes out of its way to say that only the one kind of agency is story-productive.

    Rev Bob: I mostly mean entities like the landscape itself. I used to sometimes say the landscape was a character but that doesn’t sit well with me these days.

  34. @Will R.

    I think that “big agency” such as control of ones fate and “small agency” meaning not being a bundle of events to move the plot along given a name get combined a lot when they mean very different things.

    @ Ann Leckie

    I think it is more like perspective in art. You need to understand it to know when and how to break it. So you need to understand why telling instead of showing can weaken a work to know if you want to do it anyway. “Big agency” as I mentioned above just comes down to what kind of story you want to write but “small agency” is needed for almost any kind of story. Second person and the passive voice are style questions so again come down to what you want to write. Overuse of the passive voice can hurt the flow of a story for some(sometimes a lot of) readers. And lots of people, including myself, have an instinctive dislike of second person.

    It really come down to a series of questions as you write, I think. Does this scene need to be written out or just described in a line or two? Does this character have a reason for doing or not doing something, apart from because it needed to happen that way? Does this use of the passive voice hurt or help the focus of the scene? Is writing this in the second person important enough to piss off a lot of my readers?

    As to why this advice keeps being repeated in a simple form? Because they are important things for new writers to be aware of and the long form turns into a book about writing instead of advice.

  35. @Ann Leckie I think new writers are far, far better served by being told exactly what the hazards are in using particular techniques, rather than being told to avoid them–and told to avoid them in terms that makes them seem not like advanced things they’re not ready for, but things that are Against the Rules.

    I’m with you on this.

    @Magewolf to why this advice keeps being repeated in a simple form? Because they are important things for new writers to be aware of and the long form turns into a book about writing instead of advice.

    Except you just did it in a couple of paragraphs. So yes it takes more than one line but it doesn’t take a book. Many blog posts I see rant on and on about this stuff because so many writers with numerous books under their belt still don’t know beyond the basic rule because that’s mostly what’s taught. I’m all for don’t break it until you understand it but then mentors and paid writing retreats/groups/conventions need to teach it. The many books I have on writing advice, recommended or written by big names in the business, don’t teach when and how to break the rules – they reiterate don’t do this.

  36. @ Lucy Kemnitzer

    I’m committed to writing about characters who are not strong, not heroes, and whose story can only resolve by being woven into the stories of others

    I was thinking about this a lot last night as I was filling out the BayCon programming questionnaire, where it seemed like every panel about female characters had the words “kick-ass” or “bad-ass” in it. (I fumed a lot, but went ahead an ticked a few of the boxes with the hope of subverting the discussion should I end up on the panel — hey, last year at Westercon we ended up with an entire panel full of people whose intent was to subvert that trope and it was a very lively hour!)

    I also thought about this a lot when drafting up the outline for my next book (which is now going to be increasingly on my mind, having gotten the current one to the beta-reader stage). The protagonist is a teenage girl from a working class background, who just got dismissed from her position in service with no hope of appeal. And of further relevance, within the context of the Alpennian setting, she has no magical talent to speak of.

    From the viewpoint of big, broad-brush actions and events, she has no power, no agency, and no particular dog in the fight. She’s something of an “everywoman” who will be a lens for viewing the action of the story. But where she does have agency is in her ability to support other seemingly-powerless people in their own goals and dreams, which will have a wider ripple effect. I suspect it will be a hard trick to carry off, but it’s the one that’s most true to her character.

  37. @Ann Leckie: While you’re here on File 770, I want to declare: I am your Fifth Biggest Fan!

    On Writing Rules: Maybe if one restates “Show Don’t Tell” to “For Important Things, Show,” you get a bit closer to something that makes sense. And maybe acknowledge that “showing” and “telling” are fuzzy categories with porous borders. And that you’re probably Showing even when you don’t realize you are, and that will often undermine your Telling. (Fred Clark talks about this a lot in his hilarious and scathing read-throughs of the Left Behind books, where for example we’re constantly told that one protagonist is the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time but we’re constantly shown that he is lazy, timid, corruptible and has a terrible nose for news.)

    Earlier this year I was in a one-off writing workshop where the teacher informed me that there is a rule that one must never begin a piece of fiction with a gerund. It was a participle, but I mix those up myself. Anyway, he said it was a rule. I went looking for corroboration afterward out of curiosity, and while I didn’t find it, his sincerity on the matter was beyond question.

  38. Jim Henley– You mean like “Running through the fields on her last breath, Zlata didn’t notice the fairy had fallen behind to confront the water horse?” That couldn’t be the first sentence of a piece of fiction? Humph. sort of at odds with that other tiresome dictat that one must always start in the middle of things.

    Don’t get me started on Show Don’t Tell. It’s all telling, when you get down to it: the distinction is really between telling what’s going on and telling facts about it.

    Heather, that character sounds like she will be my favorite Alpennian, which counts for something.

    Also, when I mentioned landscape as a non-character entity that moves a story, I forgot to mention collective entities–groups, societies, zeitgeists, and so on, which are all over many stories and mostly never get noticed by readers even when they’re explicitly among the main actors.

  39. @magewolf Much does seem to come down to how one hears that advice.

    A Borrowed Man was interesting in this regard. Its narrator is denied many of the trappings of agency both in action and in voice, and the result is a very strange book that I’m still glad I read. I heard about another book written by a wounded British soldier that’s told entirely from the POV of inanimate objects. I can’t tell you whether it was successful, but it’s sure an interesting thought. It was his first book, and the interviewer specifically noted that no one would advise someone to start out that way, and the writer basically said, It was what came to me.

    I guess I’m with the “try it” crowd. There are more than enough John McClanes to cover us. (I get that you’re talking more in terms of small-A agency, but this is what I tend to hear in the advice, accurate as it may be for commercial purposes.)

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