New year's resolutions, kinda

I’m not much of a slave to the idea of resolutions. They’re usually too vague and ill-defined to be of any real value and they’re mostly forgotten about by the time Easter rolls around. But there’s nothing bad about thinking about things you might like to change and late last year a few ideas popped into my head at just the right sort of time for them to be co-opted into the first blog post of 2019. So here we are!

Reading challenge

I’ve already put this one into practice at the very back end of last year and let me tell you, it’s cheered me greatly. So if you don’t know, there’s a website out there called Goodreads where you can track the books you’re reading, give ratings and reviews – a bit like imdb. Authors also have a presence on there; in fact, yours truly is officially a Goodreads author! Why don’t you buy the books and give them a review? It’s really easy and supports a small press. Check out Publications for details.

Anyway, enough of that shameless plug. One of the other things it recommends doing s a reading challenge: you set the number of books to read in that year. A couple of years ago I set my challenge at 50, as I wasn’t exactly sure how many books a year I actually read, never having tracked it before. Well I got through at 52 or 53 with no problem, so last year I set it to 60 – 5 a month, doable certainly. But I found during 2018 that it was making me hate reading, that I was always thinking about the ext book to add to the challenge, and I might avoid books because they were long and might set me back too much. I shouldn’t be choosing which book to read based on the time it will take me to read for completing an arbitrary challenge. I should choose to read them because I want to!

So the resolution, which I enacted during December last year, is to never do a reading challenge again. It’s not for me. It can work for other people and helps to encourage people to read more, but it just made me miserable and not enjoy reading. And I love books! I don’t want to lose that reading mojo. This was especially compounded by having to read a heck of a lot in my day jobs – legal articles, lengthy reports about drones, proofreading dissertations and so on – which made reading fiction much more of a chore than a relaxing activity. Reading for fun isn’t an obligation! But it felt that way under the stoopid challenge.

I still track which books I’m reading on Goodreads, rating each one when I’m done as having ratings, reviews, and opinions is helpful to the wider writing community – I know I’m looking forward to seeing my own 1-star reviews roll in in the future!

Bad tropes

During the process of writing the fifth draft (almost finished!) I was talking with my brother-in-law for his perspective on some character and plot points as a soldier. During the conversation, before even getting directly to a specific point, I realised what a lazy and potentially harmful trope I had written. I brought it up and we both agreed that it was not so good and I vowed to immediately change it. It’s hard work changing it though as it’s a major plot point towards the end of the book, getting its hooks into much of the denouement of that narrative strand. Without giving too much away, it involved a soldier going a bit Full Metal Jacket because of PTSD – i.e. I wrote this shitty, insulting trope as a shorthand for drama, coming as I am from a civilian perspective. I needed something dramatic to happen at that point so I defaulted to something easy and rubbish that demonises people with legitimate trauma. And all along I had a ready-made villain to step into the dramatic breach, so switching out characters itself is not the hard part. My traumatised character will still have PTSD, but I’m now writing her in a sympathetic and realistic light. A very well-timed conversation in the scary pub round the corner from my house has really assisted my book!

The resolution is to be much more thoughtful about my writing where it concerns tropes. Yeah, this sounds a bit vague… but still, I’m sticking by it. During editing I will examine my writing for any potentially bad tropes – “bad” referring to harmful or just boring, overused, uninteresting etc. Tropes serve a purpose, but bad tropes can die. They shall (hopefully) have no place in my writing.

Good tropes

This is one I’m going to cover more fully with a specific example in a future post. It’s linked to the above one but slightly different so it gets its own section. Basically in the attempt to undo bad tropes I want to write good ones. As you probably know I write about androids and AI and robots, and there are a lot of tropes out there in those types of stories. The Pinocchio robot is the one that annoys me the most currently and is one I am attempting to subvert. I want my AIs to be happy as they are and not feel the need to become human. Not that stories of robots wanting to be human are bad necessarily, I just think it’s time for some different stories. The trope has had its day. And I’ll try to do this on any other tropes that I can, but that’s the only one that’s occupying brain space at the moment.

So, bring on 2019 basically!