Posted by: kshayes513 | December 3, 2017

Waiting for The Last Jedi and Tracking Leia’s Story

General Leia Organa, The Force Awakens (photo: Disney/Lucasfilms)

The original Star Wars trilogy was a benchmark of my college years. After the overblown fiasco that was the prequel trilogy, I was thrilled when The Force Awakens brought back so much of what I loved in those first movies.

I love all of the new heroes of the younger generation, and I can’t wait to see their stories unfold. But the character I had waited for ever since I saw the very first stills from The Force Awakens, the character who holds me spellbound every moment she’s on screen, is Leia.

In 1977, Leia amazed me. In the middle of this macho adventure universe, she did all the things a princess and leading lady of the 70’s was not expected to do. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | March 5, 2017

6 Ways to Convince an Editor You’re Not a Professional

Note: Writer, editor and friend Melanie R Meadors just mentioned that she sent a rejection and the writer immediately blocked her on Facebook. Seems like a good day to repost this article from my K Stoddard Hayes blog, first posted October 7, 2012.

All of the following quotes are either real editorial correspondence I have received, or real questions from novice writers on various writing forums (details changed in some cases for anonymity).

I’ve written 17,000 words of a YA romance novel. How much more do I have to write for this genre?

If I tell you that a YA romance is 50,000 words, are you going to write exactly that many words then stop, even if you’re in the middle of a scene? Write and revise the story until you think it’s finished and as good as you can make it. Only then should you worry about which publishers accept novels in your genre, at the length you’ve written.

Here are 5 story ideas. Please tell me which one you like best so I can submit it to your anthology.

An idea is not a story. It’s just an idea, and 20 different writers will turn it into 20 different stories. I can’t tell whether I’m going to like your story on that idea until you write it and I read it.

I know you asked for a 2,000 word article, but I’ve given you 4,000 words because I have a lot of good material on this subject. I will bill you accordingly. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | February 12, 2017

Watching The Jungle Book and Writing Child Characters

Bagheera, Baloo, Mowgli and Raksha from 2016 Jungle Book

Mowgli the man-cub (Neel Sethi) and his animal family. (©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

I never liked Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book. Since I grew up reading Kipling’s stories, I felt the Disney version just borrowed the characters and the premise and dropped them into an entirely different, “Disneyfied” story, with juvenile cartoon comedy and a couple of catchy tunes.

So one of the great improvements I found in last year’s remake was director Jon Favreau’s commitment to draw as much from the books as he could. Those literary elements pull this version well away from the childish tone and characters of the animated movie, and also pull its storyline in some new directions.

The result is a stronger story, with a character-driven plot that creates more satisfying drama, humor and suspense. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | January 29, 2017

How Much Description Do You Need?


Note: This is a repost of “How Much Description is Enough” posted on K. Stoddard on 9-16-2012. I’m streamlining to a single blog on worldbuilding and writing, so I will be moving the few how-to posts from that site over to this blog.

There are two kinds of writers: those who describe too much, and those who don’t describe enough. I’m of the former variety, though I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) to curb my inclination to spout pages of beautiful descriptive prose instead of getting on with the story- which is, of course, the usual problem with long passages of beautiful, descriptive prose.

Yes, many excellent writers do flood their narratives with long descriptive passages, among them Tolkien, Bradbury, and Michael Chabon. Unless you’re one of them, pipe down and keep reading. (Besides, I know plenty of Tolkien fans who skim right past those long blocks of description, anyway.)

Description is especially tricky in speculative fiction. Read More…

The moment when spectacle turns to story in Star Wars. (image: Lucasfilms)

The moment when spectacle turns to story in Star Wars. (image: Lucasfilms)

When I was a college senior, my friends and I walked into a movie theater near campus and sat down and had our brains blown open by the first 3 minutes of Star Wars. I will never forget the impact of that genius opening: first, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, then, in silence, those now iconic words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” As a reader of fairy and folktales, those words alone were enough to arrest my attention. But next – you know what comes next  – the title card and John Williams’ triumphant opening chords over the long crawl sliding into the distance. Then finally, gloriously, the slow pan down the star field to a moon, another moon, and a planet’s vast limb filling the bottom of the screen. Then a small ship shoots overhead, pursued by a larger ship that keeps growing large and larger and impossibly larger – until it fills the screen. And the story begins.

Seeing those astonishing 3 minutes on a big screen is still unique in my movie-going experience, even after 40 years. Read More…

Samuel L Jackson Margot Robbie Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend of Tarzan

Williams, Jane and Tarzan try to figure out if the village they’re in is real or green screen. (All images: Warner Bros)

Assuming you like action adventure movies to begin with, whether or not you enjoy The Legend of Tarzan depends at least partly on how much history you want in your historical period adventures. Tarzan adventures are usually set in an entirely mythical Africa, so the advance detail about The Legend of Tarzan that intrigued me the most was that it is set during King Leopold of Belgium’s genocidal colonial occupation of the Congo. (If you want just one reason why Africans in particular and people of color in general really dislike European and American colonialism, look up the history of the Congo Free State some time. It will make you sick.) Even better, one of the main characters is a fictional version of a real black American historian, George Washington Williams, who went to Africa and Europe in the 1880’s specifically to expose the Belgian atrocities.

Taken just as a period adventure and an addition to the Tarzan mythos, Legend is far more entertaining than I expected it to be (admittedly, my expectations were not especially high). Alexander Skarsgard is taciturn and intense as the resocialized “ape man,” and his co-stars hold their own: Margot Robbie’s strong-willed Jane, working almost successfully against her character’s inevitable damseling; Christoph Waltz’s creepily ambitious mastermind of the Congo exploitation; and Samuel L Jackson playing Williams as his most popular screen persona, by turns smartass, kickass, and deeply humane. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | July 6, 2016

Destroying Outdated Female Stereotypes in SF

While following a Facebook thread on women in Hollywood, I came across this excellent post on the blog Black Girl Nerds. In it, guest blogger Jahkotta Lewis talks about the evolution of women in screen SF and gives a great list of her favorite badass SF females. Here’s a taste:

I grew up watching television in the 80s, an era that portrayed women on the big screen as damsels in distress, sexy vamps, or alpha bitches that needed a good screw to chill them out. Women weren’t showcased for their brains, but were glorified for their bodies or their ability to elevate their male counterparts to stardom… Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | August 2, 2015

YA or not YA: a matter of themes

HP6D-06331r (L-r) ALAN RICKMAN as Professor Severus Snape, EMMA WATSON as Hermione Granger, RUPERT GRINT as Ron Weasley, DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter and MAGGIE SMITH as Professor Minerva McGonagall in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

My version of ideal character balance: Lots more Snape and McGonagall, lots less teen angst

YA bores me. There. I’ve said it.

It didn’t always bore me. And I wish I’d read more of it when I was younger, because YA science fiction and fantasy includes a lot of stories I would have enjoyed if I had come across them when I was in my 20s.

I know a lot of people who read and love YA throughout their lives, and many who write it. But for me, an adult of near grandmother age, it’s rare to find YA that even starts to engage my full attention. (Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching novels and Le Guin’s Annals of the Western Shore series are the only new YA books in many years that have achieved that.) I like individual teenagers, but I don’t want to spend all my time in teenage society listening to teenage problems from a teenage point of view.

When I realized this, I also realized why I had become bored with worlds and story arcs I’ve been working in for a long time. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | May 16, 2015

“Ghost Noir:” Favorite New Writer Daniel José Older

Daniel Jose Older's Half Resurrection Blues is from Penguin

Daniel Jose Older’s Half Resurrection Blues is from Penguin

Is “ghost noir” a genre? Apparently it is, and if that’s what Daniel José Older writes, I love it.

I’ve met Daniel and heard him speak twice at Boston area cons in recent years, and I’m happy to say I own autographed copies of both his books of original fiction. I’m even happier to hear he’s got another novel coming out. Gawker has just published an interview with him.

This little excerpt about his approach to creating the world and the characters is probably at least half of why I like his stories so much.

“The concept of an “inbetweener” reads very similarly to the concept of a double-consciousness, like a two worlds lived and perceived experience of people of color. Is that something that you were going for?”

“Oh, absolutely. I was really interested in talking about the experiential level of it and the emotional level of it, more so than trying to create a construct where the living people equal the whites or and the dead people are people of color or vice-versa. That’s not interesting to me, because that’s a very facile way of approaching a larger analogy. More so, I was thinking about my own experience of being half white and half Latino, and sometimes passing for white—being a very light-skinned Latino—but being very aware of what those things mean in moving through my life in the city and my vocation.”

Cultures rubbing against each other – whether its 2 cultures within a story, or the culture of the characters rubbing against the culture of the reader – to me, that’s the most fascinating aspect of worldbuilding.

Who’s your favorite writer for creating cultures that rub against each other in believable ways?


The headline on Kate Elliot’s recent post is “Writing Women Characters as Human Beings.” Since I’ve never wondered how to write women characters, I started to read as a curiosity – what answer will she give to what has always seemed to me a rather ignorant question?

I realize, though, that for many men who are novice writers, it is a legitimate question. And that is thanks to a global culture which almost universally portrays women as some other kind of being than men, and less than men in almost every way. In media storytelling, we now have statistical studies showing that women appear far less often than men, and that when they appear, they are nearly always defined by a relationship to a man – sister, mother, lover, wife, co-worker or sidekick. And that’s when they’re more than just background, object of sexual desire or MacGuffin.

Elliot starts from those limited stereotypical roles and shows how the confused apprentice writer might start thinking about female characters to break out of the stereotypes. But this essay goes way beyond writing female characters. Read More…

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