March 1st, 2006


opportunitygrrl, they're talking about you again

"One terrible day we got stuck in a sand dune... What we had to do was simulate on the ground the predicament we had gotten into on Mars... trying to find the optimal way to extract a robot from a sand dune on another planet. After two and a half weeks of experimentation, we found the optimal technique.

"Turns out the optimal technique is to put it in reverse and gun it."

- Steven Squyres, scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers Project, during his lecture "Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet," at Washington University in St. Louis on February 8.

On "On Writing the Breakout Novel"

I posted the note below in response to this post by elfs, in which he wondered aloud whether there's anyone out there writing who doesn't already know the things in Writing the Breakout Novel (e.g. the story has to be interesting, and that includes both the characters and the setting; the book has to be about something). This is something I've been thinking about for a while and I thought I'd repost it here for general consumption.

Well, I suspect that most writers do understand at some level that a story has to have all of those things. But when you're up to your elbows in sentences and there are adjectives and adverbs all over the floor, sometimes it's useful to have a nice bulleted list of larger goals that you should be careful not to forget. (I do like the checklists at the end of each chapter of that book... they're useful for evaluating a work in progress.)

I've also found that I've often needed to be told certain basics again and again and again before they really sink in. For example: "life needs to be hard for the character." I can read that in a book, and go "yes, of course." And then I'll hear it from another writer, and say "obviously." And then I'll see it in a comment on someone's LJ, and I'll say "naturally." And then one day I'll read it in a magazine article, when I'm also trying to figure out why the current work in progress is just lying there like a dead slug, and suddenly the light goes on and the chorus of angels sings out and I say "aha! life needs to be hard for the character!" And from that moment on I can move forward confidently on that point, while continuing to screw up someplace else.

Advice doesn't really click, it doesn't really work, until you hear it at the moment you are truly ready to hear it. Which means that there's value in being told the same basic things over and over and over again, because you never can tell when the stars will align. And sometimes you can even get that "aha!" moment twice for the same piece of advice.