Photography

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Important Tips & Tricks

Focus on the rule of thirds:

The rule of thirds 2

The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

Source: https://digital-photography-school.com/rule-of-thirds/

Use angles: Take 10 extra seconds before you shoot to think about the best perspective for your subject. Move around a little and find an angle that looks more interesting that straight-on.

Shoot through: Shoot your subject through a group of people, some foliage, or dangle something in front of the lens. Give the photo a little more depth and complexity.

Think opposite: If everybody is taking photos from the same spot at the same angle, try something different. Shoot the subject from the other side, from up close, upside down, at a weird angle, etc.

Find the light: Lighting is super important, so take some extra time to find the best light for your shot. Don’t settle. If the light isn’t good enough, consider coming back at a time when it is, or try to add your own. And never forget about golden hour.

Writing Fiction

A “mainstream” short story can be about anything: a mood, a character, a setting, even a flashy writing style. A genre (SF or fantasy) short story is about an idea. The fictional elements (character, plot, setting, etc) are only there to dramatize the idea. Here are the rules for the SF (or Fantasy) short story:

1. Keep it short . It can and should be read in one sitting. That’s the first rule.

2. The novel’s timeline is folded into the reader’s real time. The short story is itself a real-time event. That gives the form a certain “Hey, you!” authority, like a fire or an arrest. Use that authority.

3. The SF reader is a gamer who brings a problem-solving intelligence to the story. This is the SF writer’s one great advantage. Use it.

4. The more extraordinary the idea, the more ordinary the language. Experimental writing is for quotidian events. James Joyce and Virginia Woolf understood this. 

5. Keep your timeline simple. Flashbacks are out of place in a short story.

6. Never write in present tense. It makes events less, not more, immediate. Past tense IS present tense.

7. No dialect. Jargon is OK but only if doesn’t have to be explained.

8. One world only. Dreams are out of place in a short story. 

9. Fantasies are out of place in Fantasy.

10. The stranger the idea, the realer the world must seem to be.

11. A few objects make a world, the fewer the better. William Gibson’s good at this. It’s called art direction.

12. No info dumps. The short story IS an info-dump.

13. The short story is the controlled release of information. Let the reader know from the first line who is in control.

14. Be stingy. Generosity is out of place in the short story.

15. Don’t be chatty. The novelist makes friends with the reader. The SF reader is both accomplice and adversary but never friend. Think of it as a contest in which he is pleased only if he loses.

16. Genre is a matrix of expectations. They are yours to grant, deny or delay, but you must know what they are. Don’t be writing SF if you haven’t read it.

17. One idea is enough for a story. Two is more than enough. Three is too many.

18. One POV is enough. Two is more than enough. Three is too many.

19. Watch your POV and keep it consistent. Be strict. If you relax, your reader will too.

20. The main character should be a little stupid. This flatters the reader.

21. One character should never tell another character the story. Conrad could do this but you can’t.

22. If you have more than one character, make them work at cross purposes. You can kill one if you like.

23.Too many little impediments make a story seem jiggly. One or two big ones are better.

24. A short story should cover a day or two at most. A week is stretching it.

25. One setting is best. Movement is not action.

26. Action is overrated anyway.

27. Every character has a history, but most don’t belong in the story. This is Hemingway’s rule.

28. Know who is telling the story, and why. This can be the hard part.

29. Even a story without a narrator has a narrator.

30. Polish. Short stories are like poems in that they may be read more than once. A really good short story will be read several times. Beware.

31. Polish. Your readers should fear you, a little.

32. Use your characters to release the information. This is what they’re for. Try not to have them read it in newspapers.

33. Make their dialogue do double or triple duty. Small talk in SF is like carbonation in wine. It detracts. 

34. Humor is OK but only if it seems offhand. Never pause for a laugh.

35. No funny names, please.

36. No magic carpets or Once Upon a Times. A fable is not a short story. A joke is not a short story.

37. No wizards or dragons. They will make your short story seem like a part of a longer, less interesting piece. 

38. Don’t meander or digress. You can pretend to meander for misdirection. See below.

39. Misdirection is interesting. SF readers like puzzles. 

40. Fights are only interesting in real life. They are boring in stories.

41. Novels are made out of characters and events. Short stories are made out of words alone. They are all surface. Polish.

42. Plot is important only in time travel stories. They must have a paradox. This limits their range severely.

43. Symmetry is more important than plot. A short story must make a pleasing shape, and close with a click.

44. Sex is out of place in a short story, unless it has already happened or will happen after the story is over. See 40, fighting, above.

45. Surprises are good, but only if they appear to be planned.

46. Try to put something interesting on every page. This is Gene Wolfe’ s rule. 

47. Telling can be better than showing. It all depends on who’s doing the telling.

48. Racial and sexual stereotypes are (still) default SF. Avoiding them takes more than reversals.

49. Space breaks regulate timeline. They make a story look modern but also conventional.

50. Go easy on character descriptions. Nobody cares what your characters look like. They only need to be able to tell them apart.

51. Repetition is good for symmetry but must be used carefully, like Tabasco.

52. Never write about a writer. It makes you seem needy.

53. Leave stuff out. It’s what’s left out that puts what’s left in to work. 

54. Withhold as much information as possible for as long as possible. When the reader knows everything, the story is over.

55. After you finish your story, go back and cut your first paragraph. Now it is finished.

56. Imagine a reader both sympathetic and cruel. Pretend you are that reader when you edit. 

57. Read your story aloud. It must run under a half an hour. This is about 4000 words. Anything longer than this and people start to fidget.

58. Don’t do voices. A dry, academic reading style is best unless you are John Crowley or Gahan Wilson.

59. Ignore these rules at your peril.

60. Peril is the SF short story writer’s accomplice, adversary, and friend.






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Even the greats get Writer’s Block. But when you’re Theodore Sturgeon, you can get some advice directly from Robert A. Heinlein.  Read…


Science fiction is the literature of big ideas — so coming up with an amazing story idea often feels like the biggest stumbling block in the way of your dreams of authorship. Unfortunately, most of us can’t just  have Robert A. Heinlein mail us $100 and a couple dozen brilliant ideas. So what do you do?


The trick is not just to come up with a great idea, but a great idea that lives in your mind and leads to characters and situations that inspire you. So here are 10 pretty decent ways to generate your own amazing story ideas.


And it really is true that ideas are dime a dozen in science fiction. Take the idea of “first contact with an alien race.” There are a million possible variations of that idea alone: They come to us. We go to them. They’re super-advanced. They’re not using anything we’d recognize as technology. They communicate using only colors. They think emoticons are our language, and all the other stuff is just punctuation. They’re giant. They’re tiny. They’re invading. They’re well-intentioned, but troublesome. And so on.


The hard part is finding an idea that sticks in your head and starts to grow weird angles and curves. In a sense, it’s not about finding a good idea — so much as finding a good idea for you, personally. So here are some tips, that may or may not be helpful:

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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1. Look at the big unanswered questions


Like, why haven’t we heard from other intelligent civilizations yet? And what’ll happen at the end of the universe? Why is gravity such a weak force? And so on. The bigger and more insoluble the question, the less likely it is your answer will be disproved next week. Once you come up with your own weird explanation for a big cosmic riddle, then you can work backwards from that to create a story around it — and the hard part is probably keeping your story big and audacious, but also finding a way to make it small and personal without resorting to “learning the truth about the cosmological constant also helped me realize something about my daddy issues.” Everybody loves a big, audacious idea-driven story, as long as it’s well done and emotional.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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2. Imagine a new scientific or technological discovery — and then imagine it ruining your life


It’s easy enough to imagine a brand new scientific breakthrough. It’s even easy enough to think about some of the obvious consequences, if we suddenly develop radical life-extension or a “learn while you sleep” process that works. But try to imagine how a brand new science could wreck your life — how it could make your life, personally, a living hell. And then try to turn that into a story about a fictional character. (Bonus points if the way that the new invention ruins your life isn’t a super obvious way, and is instead something kind of weird and personal.) It’s always more interesting to see people struggling with new technology than to watch them just do the happy “yay new technology” dance.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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3. Take your biggest fear about the future and take it to an extreme


This is sort of on a related tip, except that it’s taking your personal fears and blowing them up. Do you worry you’ll be alone and unloved when you’re older? Or that your career will tank, and you’ll be one of those people who used to have a decent job and now works at Round Table Pizza? (No offense to people who currently work at Round Table Pizza, but whenever I walk past one I notice the staff look utterly demoralized. Maybe it’s the weird Arthurian/Italian mixed metaphor.) Take your fear about your personal future and make it huge and global, if not cosmic. Use that fear as a way into a story about something going terribly wrong with the world in general. (Or make it still a personal disaster, but more science fictional — think Robert Silverberg’s  Dying Inside, about a telepath slowly losing his abilities.) Your final story doesn’t even need to be depressing, or about the exact fear you started with. But that visceral dread can lead you to something personal but universal, which is what it’s all about.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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4. Instead of speculating about science, try sociology or philosophy or theology

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As Arthur C. Clarke would tell us, science fiction has the ability to get really cosmic and massive in its explorations of the big questions. Who are we, where do we come from, who created us, and so on. Why does time run in only one direction? Why is there only one technological species on this planet? Is it ever possible for there to be empty space, or is space a thing? What makes someone a good person? As we’ve covered recently,  a lot of philosophers are moving into territory formerly occupied by physics, because physics is dealing with the big existential questions. So you, too, can leave behind “hard” science and get into the big questions about meaning — and the result might actually be purer science fiction than if you just stuck to the actual science questions.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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5. Think of an act you would never approve of, then imagine a sympathetic character doing that act


We all imagine ourselves doing terrible things, all the time. Depending on how repressed you are, it may come as a shock when the image of yourself stabbing your coworker in the face pops into your head. But either way, it’s human nature to imagine yourself doing things so terrible, they make you do a whole-body cringe/shudder. So try picking one of those actions, and imagine the protagonist of a story performing it — then try to think of how your protagonist could do that terrible thing, and still be sympathetic. (Even if this unspeakable act doesn’t remain in the story, it may be a way in to the character.) Maybe there’s some science fictional reason why your main character has to stab people in the face — maybe it’s even a heroic act, in some way. The point is only partly to come up with a clever explanation — it’s also to find your own hot buttons and jab at them as hard as you can. What about yourself freaks you out? Explore that.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

  

6. Why can’t you just go and get what you want, in real life?


Chances are, there are goals you can’t achieve, in reality. Unless you’re rich and famous and fulfilled, in which case please send me money. You can’t just walk out of your boring job and wander down the street until you find Kevin Feige and say, “Please make me the director of a new Hulk movie starring Mark Ruffalo.” You can’t just wander up to that incredibly good looking person on the subway and ask him or her out. At least, most of us can’t. You, personally, have goals that you cannot achieve, that are not fictional. Now imagine a scenario where you could have all of those things — and what could possibly go wrong with that.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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7. Get into a fight with a famous science fiction author


Not literally. Do not go punching Vernor Vinge in the face and then claim I told you to do that. But sure, get into a fight with Vernor Vinge with your stories. Find something about how Vinge depicted cyberspace everting in  Rainbows End, and write a story that shows how you think he should have done it. Don’t like how Max Barry depicted cybernetic enhancements in  Machine Man? Stick it to Max Barry by writing your own take on the subject. A lot of how science fiction has advanced, as a field, is authors trying to one-up each other and responding to each other’s takes on the same basic ideas. Even if you don’t prove everybody else wrong, you might get a really great story out of it. (Again, do not actually get into a fight with anybody.)

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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8. State the obvious

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The world is full of obvious facts that everybody tries to pretend aren’t real. We all sort of know that we’re reading and writing this stuff on computers that were made by people who were working in unimaginably horrible conditions. There may be people alive today, who will live to see  the end of the fossil fuel era. The icecaps are melting faster than a lot of people expected. And so on. There are things that we all sort of know, but we don’t really grasp them because they’re too huge and unthinkable. Fiction is really excellent for getting people to confront these sorts of realities that are too insane for us to assimilate. And science fiction, in particular, has a lot of ways to talk about uncomfortable, weird facts without getting preachy or sledgehammery, by changing the setting or scale. You can make people identify with someone who’s smack in the middle of future water wars, and drive home the likelihood of water shortages without ever lecturing.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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9. Come up with five  non-obvious consequences of a technological or scientific breakthrough, and focus on one of them


This is sort of similar to the “ruining your life” thing — but it doesn’t have to be about your life, in particular, being ruined. Science fiction authors are usually pretty good at wargaming-out the possible ramifications of a new piece of technology. If people had brain implants that let them understand any human language, would we travel more? Would there be more international trade? Less war? (More war, because people would know when they were being insulted?) But sometimes the most interesting consequence is the one you’d never think of in a million years. Spend an hour or two thinking of all the possible ripple effects from a new miracle technology — and then pick one of the  least obvious to build your story around.

 10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas

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10. Think about something you  used to believe, and then imagine what if it was true


We all have beliefs we’ve discarded over the years. Everything from “Santa Claus is real” to “authority figures are always right” to “Alan Greenspan is infallible” to “Classical physics explains everything in the universe.” Pick a belief you used to hold, that’s been disproven by events or that you’ve outgrown for some reason. It could be a scientific belief, or a religious one, or a philosophy you used to adhere to — and try to imagine a universe where that belief is provably true. Or else, a character who believes the thing you used to believe yourself. Take all of the energy of your former belief, plus the distance that comes from your change of heart, and try to create a story around that. Sometimes, recalling a former state of mind can be the easiest way to create a compelling mindspace for a character — and possibly a whole piece of world-building.

Magazine images via  Toyranch,  McClaverty,  Dan Century,  Modern Fred,  Mickey the Pixel and  Ussatule on Flickr.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

― Gary Provost

 

“In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates. And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
For example: “Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast. Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
For example: “Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
Versus:
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
(…)
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.”

— Chuck Palahnuik