See, smell, hear

I love thinking, but most of these links are more tangible. How we see, smell, hear, and interact with the world around us. Or the world a forever ago. That one is pretty to look at too.

Yarnbombing!

Fantastically beautiful and cool projects. I’ve seen some of these in my city. I’ve never done one myself, but I have absolutely considered it.

Smell tourney

What smell would win in your world? I like the smell of thunderstorms and campfires a lot. Though enemy’s tears? Hm…I think maybe I haven’t smelled enough of those. Is that good or bad? What would win in your tournament of smells?

Nightmare Monster IRL

And it needed that weird-ass eye arrangement to see what it was doing at the end of its mouth proboscis. Once again, science has helped us understand the origins of nightmare fuel in evolutionary history.

I don’t think it is a monster. But it is super cool, and it is amazing that we still manage to continue to uncover new things about very…very old species.

From Nature

see, smell, hear ancient monsters

Cool and terrifying images

Australian Fairy Circles

Similar things in different areas, might have different reasons or similar ones. But the more fairy circles they can find and compare, the better. Off to google earth! (I would have sworn I saw about five since I read this article. Not really, but it is still very cool.)

Sleep tools

Each word or phrase is very different from the previous one. It might get you to imagine a pear, a lamp shade, a rock, fishing, trying on hats, skiing, whatever. This is meant to imitate and induce the first stage of sleep (“N1″), where your mind drifts from one “random” thing to another.

This is a fascinating tool. I’ve used it a few days and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I love that there is science behind it. Worth trying if you have trouble falling asleep.

Compiling Feedback

What now? I need to start compiling feedback.

Ok so I’ve gotten feedback and I’ve thanked the person (I really liked Elizabeth@Be There Dragons’s suggestion of a small thoughtful gift is a great one). Then I need to work on what to do with it.

Some feedback is better than others. If I’m going to be doing a full rewrite  the grammar and spelling are likely not that helpful. If someone doesn’t like the genre…then not much I can do about that. If someone doesn’t like strong female leads or magic or aliens or whatever, then I have learned that the book/short/flash wasn’t for them. But I’ve also learned that the piece doesn’t have a lot of cross over appeal.

Within a novel/la

I try to pinpoint things like if a character is called out multiple times throughout a novel (or novella) for being harsh, crabby, angry, etc. I want to step back and look at is that the perception I want of this character. If it just shows up once? Or only from one person it isn’t a theme, I can look at that one incident. What I want to see first is what are the things that are repeated. Anything that shows up more than once needs a lot of attention, it needs to be carefully considered and look for why is that showing up.

I have something in my To Edit queue where the major feedback was on the character’s attitude. Some people thought it was bitchy, others said cold, some aggressive, some thought she was kickass. This was a theme, this character fit a pattern and I sat down and looked at who was reading it (inside genre readers/outside genre readers/men/women/etc) and compared that to my target audience. I also thought about what the goal was for the reader to feel toward her.

My initial goal for her was that she be a bit…not ideal, kind of not really a person you’d want to be friends with. Which I achieved. Except that doesn’t really make for a good read. So I succeeded. YAY! But I failed. Ok time to dig back in and make changes. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work well, that’s ok. But, then I need to loop back and fix it.

This is a bit where iterative design strategy comes in, but hold that thought for now.

So I create a list of character changes that need to happen. Then I focus on plot, what was confusing, didn’t work, or needed expansion. In beta passes these are the things I want to know. If it is one person or one spot? I’m going to try to fix that one spot, or consider if that one person (out of many, one out of one wins, one out of many may not) makes sense. (Back to the person who hates magic and complains every time my character uses magic? I’m going to ignore that. The person who doesn’t like strong female leads? I’m going to try really hard to ignore that even when it continues to eat away at my brain like a horrible brain eating worm.)

Shorter or flash fiction

I treat this a little different because especially for flash fiction and sort of under 7K fiction I’m really looking to see if the tone works, if it feels like a whole story, does it work.

I want especially to see what things people are confused by and on the other side what lines they really like. In a short piece (and since I do audio for my short works) a line that reads well is worth a lot so I’m going to hang onto those.

Just one person or many

When working on web design or elearning design and one person can’t get to the next screen that could be multiple things. It could be a technical issue, which we rarely have in writing, it is extremely rare that someone is unable to turn your page. So I almost never have to trouble shoot technical things like that. (Except last week when all the i’s disappeared from my comments.)

If one person has a problem with something it is worth considering, if more than one? It likely is a problem. If they can’t understand something? It isn’t understandable, I can do a better job of explaining it.

Iterate

I’m sure someone has written a book perfectly on the first pass. But I am super not that person! I am a fan of iterating. Some people write a first round and then throw it away and then go forward after that. I don’t always do that. But I’ve absolutely thrown things out. Sometimes it is better to take the lessons you learn and move forward.

Most of the time you can wrap those into the next version. A character too cold?  Find ways to warm them up. Reread the scene. What else needs to happen.

I often fix a bunch of things on a single pass, but having a plan makes a big difference in getting a good outcome.

You can’t iterate endlessly. At some point you have to put your penny down and go forth and try it.

BUT!…

I get this. A lot. Less than I used to, it happens a lot though. I read a piece of feedback and I get this gut reaction of …BUT!

I struggle, but I generally manage to set aside the explanation, or write it down (which is useful later). When someone is reading (or listening) to something I wrote I don’t get a chance to explain when they make a confused face.

Everything I want to tell them, everything they need to know has to be in front of them when they need it. Sometimes you don’t want to give it to them yet, so you have to compel them to keep reading.

You don’t get to argue with the reader, you don’t get to hold the book in front of them, you don’t get to tell them they have to do something.

That moment when I want to go “but!” is the moment I can learn the most from.

The Future Now

The world is a strange, wonderful, disturbing, and incredibly malleable place. Some random links I’ve run across about the future now. Some things that have a lot of potential, but potential can be for good or evil.

Bust Art Heist Bust

Cosmo Wenman, an artist who actually has done guerrilla 3D reproductions of classical art using high-quality digital photos, told Ars that he was immediately suspicious about the Nefertiti scan. Most likely, he said, the artists had been given a version of the Neues Museum’s own 3D scans, possibly by a museum worker or a third party who did the scans for the museum.

The ability to replicate incredible art, print it, interact with it, and have copies of it.

Self focusing glasses

The company initially hopes its technology can be useful for people with presbyopia, which is a very common inability to focus close up as people reach their 40s and older. Typically, this is solved by wearing glasses with progressive lenses, which have different degrees of focusing power in different areas.

We live in the future now.

Wolves and howls

Howling UK wolf

Howls from different parts of the world (a UK wolf from Wikipedia).

This is a story worth listening to. The howls are amazingly different. The Eastern European one they played didn’t sound anything like what I think of as a wolf howl. The Iberian was very different. They all are beautiful. I can absolutely see how you’d be able to identify them.

(I also love that Dr. Holly Root-Gutteridge was watching a horror movie when she went, hey, that’s an american wolf and it all went from there.)

Drugs and Morals

There seems to be a notion that our morals and ethics and what we believe is an innate part of who we are. Except it is incredibly changeable. From making the people more fair with lemons to using magnets to change your moral judgements. (These are both VERY simplistic explanations so please go read the details and remember nuance and further study is incredibly important.)

It can also be changed with (or by) drugs, and might be already altered by the ones you are already taking. There is so much potential for the future, but what do we do with it.

Oxytocin: Some new studies have seen sex-specific effects: oxytocin can promote self-interest in men but increase altruistic behavior in women.

Kate Rauner writes about robotics

Yup, sign me up for letting an AI drive me to a grocery store. (Well I can walk to mine, but yes, I would be absolutely on board with it.) I fully expect lots of flaws. But I think about people who can’t get around on their own now and giving them the freedom and ability to live on their own is a huge thing.

Scientists developing robots to lead people in high-rises to safety in case of a fire discovered people would follow the robot even when it made obviously dangerous and ridiculous errors. We seem all too ready to shift our brains into neutral and follow orders.

Feedback: editing and tracking

I’m just writing this as I go (so I don’t have a month’s worth of Feedback and Editing and UX posts all ready to go). I may have totally screwed up by not planning this all out, but I really just wrote the first post to get my own thoughts out and it turns out I have a lot more thoughts…So I have learned a thing. And next time I have a big thought thing I might plan it out better. Maybe. …

My editing checks

I have some things I always get wrong. I try to make sure before I send anything out I do a good solid edit pass of my own to really make sure I’m proud of what I’m sending out. Knowing my own weaknesses is a strength. (Yes Dunning-Kruger, I know you. I fear you, as I should.)

  • Undescribed characters (yes, I have characters you don’t even know the gender of, sometimes that’s intentional, sometimes I just haven’t done a good job of describing the character)
  • White rooms (I’m not quite as bad with this, but still not great)
  • It’s and Its (I’m horrible at this, I’m very slowly, painfully getting better, but I always do a CTRL+F on both it’s and its and check each instance to make sure I got it right)
  • My word list (I have a list of words that I …probably don’t want to use unless I’ve got a good reason for it, I CTRL+F all of these as well)
  • Read out loud (yup, I read all my stuff out loud before sending it along)

This is just what I try to always run down my checklist. I have other things on my checklist but these are always things I try to nail down before I send it off to live in someone else’s brain.

Tracking feedback

I’m the kind of person who makes spreadsheets to track all the things. So I have a feedback tracking spreadsheet. For the Critters site I mark down everyone I critique for, my thoughts of it in the form of a 1-5 word note (good, weird, eh, NEVER AGAIN, hilarious), if they responded.

I also color code them. Green means do all the critiques for this person! Either the actual thing was fun to read or incredibly good. Or…maybe more frequently, it was good and the person was gracious in response. I have had things I read that weren’t great, but the person responded to lengthy or intense feedback thoughtfully, those people get a green fast. People who respond by lashing out, being weird or demanding, or aggressive? They get red. (I have seen very little of this, it is mostly positive.)

I think it helps take some of the oh I think I remember this person out of the equation and helps me to feel like I’ve got a basis for those future decisions.

Up next?

I think I’ll write about what I do with the feedback and how I take it in and what I do with it after I’ve got it.

I still want to wrap in how I think about the feedback as a user experience test but I’m having a hard time putting that into words.

Outlines

I have no theme for today’s roundup of links. But I’m seriously excited about the Google Docs outlines thing. It is so nice. I

Writing Skills

Writing more is good. Whatever the words. Even “arse full of farts”. I’m all for fan fiction, writing back from a skeleton of something else, writing within another world (like for a tabletop game…not that I’d ever do that…). Write. Write. Write.

Though I do know someone who once copied the phone book, by hand…That kind of writing might not be super useful to developing writing skills. Though it does a great job of developing handwriting.

Flexible, electroluminescent skin

The first part of it is a little less than exciting visually, but keep watching, the end is mesmerizing.

The options for androids, cyborgs, and humans is incredible.

Perception and expertise

We don’t all see the same world. You and I can look at the exact same thing and see something radically different. Powerful, fascinating, worrisome. This also very much means that you shouldn’t assume just because someone else isn’t having the experience you are having that they are wrong. They have bring a different set of expertises and history to the situation.

Google Docs outlines

They now has baked in outlines. If you use the styles (Normal text/Heading 1/Heading 2) which of course you should because magic TOC and accessible, you now also get the amazing benefit of an outline automatically generated and navigable right from the left side of the screen. (Open it by going to Tools–>Document Outline (or CTRL+ALT+A). You can also navigate this way. So just click on the section you want to go to.

(This is a lot like the Navigation Pane in MS Word, though you can’t move the sections around.)

If you make all your parts H1s and chapters H2s and your scenes H3s and you can jump from spot to spot easily. I’m so excited about this. It’s about time but so nice.

SimpleOutline

Navigate scenes with the outline

PostOutline

A more complex outline (of this post!)

Feedback

I’ve been reading a lot about beta-readers, critiques, feedback, editing, and all the things that surround it. This post (well series of posts) is me working out my thoughts about feedback of all kinds. It’s going to start fairly traditional, but expect it to take a weird turn at some point in the second or maybe third post…(UX…dun…dun…dun)

I’ve read about writers who are scared of feedback, nervous about sending things out into the world, and protective of the things they’ve written.

I’ve read from the professionallier people that you have to get lots of betas, you have to take in everything, you have to pay all your betas, you have to do 2 or 5 or 7 rounds of feedback, or that you have to [insert thing I read once here x 74].

I have absolutely zero authority, and zero whatever it takes …this is what I think!

Feedback is important

What is feedback? From who? What kind? How do I get it? What kind? What do I do with it? How do I respond to it? How do I use it? Oh god oh god it is all awful I should just delete the whole thing! (STOP!)

You may already know the answers to all of these questions. I didn’t. I still don’t. I guess we all have to struggle with our own things, but hopefully someone else is helped by me flailing in my continued quest to sort out the answers to these questions.

Getting feedback

I have tried a lot of stuff. So this is sort of the ways I’ve gotten feedback, not really what I do with it, or even so much what kind, how I respond, how I use it. I’ll get to all that later.

Critters.org

I am a member over at Critters.org which is a site where you submit your own pieces, and other people critique it. You have to critique about three pieces for every piece of your own that gets critiques. The feedback varies greatly. Sometimes it is awesome and detailed and helps pinpoint exactly the problem. Sometimes it is…not great. It isn’t quite anonymous but you don’t know the people, you might get to know them a little after doing a bunch of critiques or getting a bunch, but the turn over seems fairly high, so there will always be people who know nothing about you giving feedback.

The anonymous aspect of it is interesting, people are generally quite polite, but people aren’t afraid to say that something doesn’t work for them, that they hate characters, arcs, etc.

There are also some other aspects of this that make it more or less useful. It is always weird to get people who don’t read flash fiction critiquing flash fiction and saying they wanted like pages and pages more background. It is odd to get things from people who hate that genre or type of work reading it and then saying how they didn’t like the thing that fits the genre. There seems to clearly be a sweet spot of length that works best.

I know there are other sites like Critters that do similar kinds of exchange things. I just haven’t used them.

Friends and family

I have a couple of family members who read inside my genre and a couple friends who do as well. Personally, I’m very nervous about sharing my work so it took me a long time to get to the point of sharing things with them. (I have a friend who bugged me for years before I let her read anything.) I generally have them read a fairly close to final version and some of the picky ones come back with grammar things (which I love, comma fail).

I do have one extremely picky and brutally blunt friend who I will ask to read early things, because I know he’ll say things I don’t really want to hear. He never feels bad (at least he doesn’t seem to!) about saying that something sucks, or needs a rework, or even isn’t working at all.

Most friends and family you’d share things with should like you, and want to be nice to you. This is great, and can be a good way to sort out ideas early on, get a boost that you should keep working, and the like.

Novel swaps from NaNoWriMo

I’ve done this a couple times. Or tried would be a better way to say this. I’ve signed up and read a lot of books for other people and sent critiques, feedback, reviews, whatever you want to call it.

Sometimes this works well. I’ve met people who are wonderful are excited to give feedback and are glad to hear what you have to say. Sometimes people don’t ever respond past the first, here’s my novel now read it.

Personally, I’ve found that sending a sample of the first chapter or two back to the person and then asking them if that is the level/type/kind of feedback is what you are looking for helps. It helps identify the people who never respond again. It helps make sure I’m looking at the things the authors wants looked at. It helps make sure we are on the right page. And personally, if they say thank you? It helps me feel better about spending a lot of time on a read and feedback.

Paying

You can pay for beta-readers and all levels of editors, copy editing, proof-reading, etc. I know some people think this is absolutely vile and disgusting, but whatever. I don’t pay beta readers. I do try to:

  • Show my extreme gratitude with specific and thoughtful thanks
  • If they are also a writer offer to give them feedback/beta-read for them (and then make sure that I do a detailed and thoughtful job and a quick turn around)
  • If they are a local (friends and family basically) and not a writer, buy them dinner
  • Help with other things, if appropriate (I have NonWriterly skills…most of my skills maybe…)

On the other side when I do give feedback to people I want to be thanked, to know my contribution was valuable and useful. I want reciprocation (most of the time).