I told you the blue wave didn’t fizzle!

We don't think of it this way, because we forget that state boundaries don't have an objective reality, but the Senate is one big gerrymander. State boundaries are imaginary lines on the map just like congressional districts are. The difference is history.

We don’t think of it this way, because we forget that state boundaries don’t have an objective reality. They are imaginary lines on the map just like congressional districts are.

I know it’s been a lot of politics lately, but since most of my writing time is going to NaNoWriMo, blog posts will be short. And the kind of blog post where I share a couple of links and make a shot commentary don’t take much time. So, here we go:

Despite all the things stacked against the blue wave (gerrymandered congressional districts, voter suppression efforts, the non-democratic/non-proportional nature of the Senate), the not-Nazi party has won a lot: Democrats had a good showing on Election Day. It’s been even better for them since. A lot of the races were too close to call on election night, but eager newspeople were more than willing to call them anyway. As more votes are counted, some of those calls are proving to be wrong. As just one example that this isn’t something that should surprise us: six years ago Jeff Flake was elected to represent Arizona in the Senate. On election night in 2012 he led his opponent by nearly 6%, so everyone called it. By the time all of the votes were counting, his lead had shrunk to a teensy bit more that 2%—he still won, but it was a lot closer than it had appeared on election night.

This year, that same Senate seat was up with no incumbent. On election night, the Republican candidate led the Democratic condidate by a woefully thin margin of one-half of a percentage point. As more ballots have been counted, the lead shrank, just like Flake’s did six years ago (because late-coming ballots often lean heavily one way or another; in Arizona’s case, late-arriving ballots tend to be more Democratic). So now the Democrat leads by a bit more than one percent. That’s a smaller shift than what happened six years ago, but well within what should have been expected: ELECTION DRAMA: Democrat Takes Tiny Lead in Arizona Senate Count; Florida Senate & Governor Prepare For Recount.

Will the lead widen? Will it narrow? Will it narrow enough to throw things into a recount? Will it flip? We don’t know for certain until all the ballots are counted. And that’s true of many races. We’re all so eager, as voters, to know the answer right away, forgetting that ballot counting takes time. The results reported on election night are always just a sample.

That’s why two races in Florida are still up in the air. Things were too close to call: Florida Begins Vote Recounts in Senate and Governor’s Races.

It isn’t just a matter of which ballots come in later (because of military ballots being shipped in from overseas, or absentee ballots mailed on the last day, or states like mine where all voting is by mail and we’re allowed to mail or drop off our ballots at the very last moment). Nor is it just because of issues like that story about one county I included a link to on Saturday where an overadundance of gross incompetence delayed the beginning of counting (among other things). In very high population centers, the sheer volume of the number of ballots means that only a tiny fraction are counted by the end of election night. Instead of hundreds or maybe thousands more to be counted in the following days, it’s hundreds of thousands. So we have low-populations counties like one in the Florida panhandle which had counted all but 26 ballots by the end of election night, and then a place like King County in Washington where there were over a quarter of a million (250,000) uncounted ballots in hand the day after election day—and because mail-in ballots were still in the postal system, thousands more on their way.

We don’t get answers fast. The fact that the margins change as more ballots are counted doesn’t mean something fishy is going on. The election ain’t over until every vote is counted.

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100 years ago today, World War I, aka The War to End All Wars ended…

…and the President of the United States couldn’t be bothered to attend a ceremony at a cemetery full of American soldiers who died in that war because it was raining. The asshole flew all the way to Paris for the historic anniversary, but couldn’t leave his friggin’ room to go to a cemetery owned and maintained by the U.S. government where thousands of U.S. troops are burried!?! Trump Skips Visit To American Military Cemetery. And Justin Trudeau Shades Trump For Skipping WWI US Cemetary Visit Due To Rain

“It’s incredible that a president would travel to France for this significant anniversary — and then remain in his hotel room watching TV rather than pay in person his respects to the Americans who gave their lives in France for the victory gained 100 years ago tomorrow,”
—David Frum, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush

Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under President Barack Obama, said the excuse about the inclement weather did not stand up. “I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is always a rain option. Always.”

“As we sit here in the rain, thinking how uncomfortable we must be these minutes as our suits get wet and our hair gets wet and our shoes get wet, I think it’s all the more fitting that we remember on that day, in Dieppe, the rain wasn’t rain, it was bullets.”
—Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen #hesnotfittorepresenthisgreatcountry.”
—Nicholas Soames, a British member of parliament who is a grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill

But enough of that. This beautiful story, written last Memorial Day, tells about that American war cemetery in France, along with the program that paid for mothers and widows of the slain to travel there to pay their last respects in the years following the war: In an American Cemetery in France: Thoughts on Memorial Day.

Weekend Update 11/11/2018: The count goes on

Join the Resistance!

Join the Resistance!

I have errands to run and then do some gaming with friends later, so not a lot of time for creating a post. But there were a few interesting things that I saw in the news yesterday that if I’d seen them earlier (or if they’d been published earlier) might have made it into the Friday Five.

First up, this started as a twitter thread people were sharing. One woman who shared the tale of the disasters she and her husband witnessed when they volunteers as poll workers: Porter County’s 2018 Election Fiasco. The county disbanded its election board this year and put everything in the hands of the County Clerk’s office… and obviously they were not prepared. The post I’ve linked has more details than the twitter thread, as she added stuff when she converted it. It’s really an interesting look into just what a clanky and disorganized mechanism our voting system (not just this one county by any means!) is.

Another clunky thing: while millionaires and richer make up approximately 10% of the population of the country, more than half of Congresspeople are millionaires. And while a congress person’s salary is decent, there are some problems when someone who makes only $29 thousand dollars a year gets elected to Congress (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becomes youngest woman ever elected to Congress). She’s expected to head to Washington D.C. soon and start participating in orientation, hiring staff and such… but she doesn’t get her first pay check as a Congress person until February. And D.C. is famously very expensive to live in.Fox News Can’t Believe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won’t Sell Clothes She Doesn’t Own To Pay DC Rent. (The clothes thing is because Ocasio-Cortez did a little modeling a few years ago, and she wore some expensive clothes in a photo shoot. You know, clothes that were owned by the people paying for the advertising campaign the photos were for? Clothes the models wear long enough to be photographed in and are then taken back by the actual owners.

What pisses me off about this is the number of people who are Democrats and otherwise not clueless Fox News personalities who are also making fur of the fact that a woman who was working as a bartender in Brooklyn that the people of Brooklyn elected to represent them in Congress, isn’t secretly a millionaire or something. And people wonder why we keep winding up with slimy people as politicians…

And there are other weirdnesses. When, oh when will they start hiring actual designers to work on things like, say, ballots? Something Looks Weird In Broward County. Here’s What We Know About A Possible Florida Recount. As someone who has professionally designed user interfaces and documentation, as soon as I saw the picture of the ballot I realized immediately why 26,000 voters in one county skipped a race entirely: it looks like it is an example, and not an actual office to be filled in.

Finally, some good news for the future. I’m tempted to re-title this next story “Millenials Kill the Republican Party” but I realize that’s a bit of a stale joke, so I’ll still with their title< Trump celebrated the midterm results, but without millennials and women he could be headed for disaster in 2020. Despite all the gloom and doom predictions and the huge number of stories I saw over the last two years claiming that the polls can’t be believed because young voters respond to polls but then they don’t show up, or how Democrats were driving young voters away for reasons, young voters turned out in record numbers, and overwhelmingly they are rejecting what the Republicans in general and Trump in particular are selling.

There is a lot more fight ahead. One election swinging to just half of one branch of government isn’t going to solve anything. And if we don’t remain engaged and call our representatives and urge them not to vote for somethings, things will get much much worse. But there is hope!

Friday Five (rockin’ the vote edition)

© 2018 Bill Bramhall/New York Daily News

It’s Friday! It is the second Friday in November, which means that it is National Novel Writing Month? I am spending as much of my free time as possible writing, trying to finish one of my novels. I did not get as much writing done this week, not least because I couldn’t stop checking the news Tuesday night until I was satisfied that the not-Nazi party had taken back the House of Representatives, and how a couple of our local votes went before I could stop obsessively checking the news Tuesday night.

I keep reminding myself that I spent most of my life assuming that never, in my lifetime, would queers have true equal rights, including the right to marry. The fact that with the pro-Nazi party is appointing so many federal judges the last two years and the next makes it very likely that what rights I currently have will be taken away. So I had planned to fight the rest of my life, anyway; on one level not much has changed. But if you are a person reading this who thinks I should lighten up on the politics, clearly YOUR rights aren’t under threat, so either educate yourself and join the resistance, or go away. I don’t want you reading my stuff if you aren’t will to help me fight for equal rights. That doesn’t make me the bad guy.

Anyway, enough about that. We scored a bunch of victories this week. So, welcome to the Friday Five: the top five (IMHO) good news stories of the week, five stories of the resistance, and five videos (plus my blog post and notable obituaries).

Good News:

LGBTQ Candidates Record Historic Midterm Wins In Rainbow Wave.

How Did Immigrants and Immigration Fare in the 2018 Elections?

Unresolved high-profile U.S. elections could be headed to recounts.

Putting the GOP’s House losses in context does Trump no favors.

Three red states vote to expand Medicaid during an election where health care was the top issue.

This Week in the Resistance:

Voter ‘Fraud’ and Trump Pal Kris Kobach Goes Down.

Voting machine shortage contributed to lines in Georgia election.

Democrats Have a Long Way to Go to Defeat Trump .

2018 election results: how voter suppression played a role.

Big Money, Quiet Power: A Look at the National Christian Foundation and How They Fund Hate.

In Memoriam:

Thousand Oaks shooting: These are the victims.

Thousand Oaks shooting: What we know about the victims.

Kitty O’Neil: Wonder Woman stuntwoman dies at 72.

Thiel: A hard man, Jack Patera, original Seahawks coach, led the good times.

Things I wrote:

Some things to remember.

You know what to do!

No, the blue wave did not fizzle, we knew the deck was stacked against us.

Just because I need to know that, doesn’t mean the reader does — or, adventures in back stories.

Videos!

Troye Sivan – Somebody To Love:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

KJ Apa Gets a Passionate Kiss from Rob Raco in the New ‘Riverdale’ Preview (blink and you miss it, but…):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Troye Sivan Releases Lyric Video for Haunting ‘Boy Erased’ Track ‘Revelation’:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Trump Mocks GOP Candidates Who Didn’t Embrace Him:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Democrats Take Back the House, Trump Fires Jeff Sessions – Monologue:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Just because I need to know that, doesn’t mean the reader does — or, adventures in back stories

“I rather think you should be writing.”

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As mentioned previously, I’m doing NaNoWriMo again, and so have less time for blogging than usual. I was bantering with a couple of friends last night on line while also trying to finish a scene, and something one friend said about her childhood made me think of an interesting detail to add to the history of one of the characters I was writing. The other friend asked why would I complicate the story with that new detail, and I had to explain that just because I add some more information to a character’s biography doesn’t mean it’s going to pop up in the story.

This reminded me of another conversation I was part of online elsewhere in which another NaNoWriMo participant commented that they had gotten bogged down because they reached a part of the tale where some characters needed to explain something that had happened off screen to other characters. Since NaNoWriMo is a first draft, experienced writers go into it knowing that a bunch of what we write isn’t going to remain in the final story. Sometimes we know that we’re just writing a scene to figure something out. Other times we don’t realize that all or most of a scene isn’t needed until much later, while we’re editing revising.

It is true that sometimes you need to give the reader information to understand a character’s motives and relationships. The trick is to do it without a lot of exposition. One of my favorite instances of giving the viewer such back story happened in the pilot episode of Teen Wolf the series. There’s a lot of bad story telling (contradictions, nonsensical villain plots, queer-baiting by the metric tonne, et cetera) that happened in that series, but sometimes they got things right. In that first episode, the two teen best friends, Stiles and Scott, are trying to figure out what bit Scott the night before, and whether it has anything to do with the mysterious body found be authorities the previous day. They are in the woods and are confronted by a slightly older, very gruff man who tells them they are trespassing and to go away. As they leave, Stiles whispers to Scott, “Don’t you remember who that is? It’s Derek Hale, he was a couple years ahead of in school? His entire family died in a fire several years back.”

It’s a whole lot of backstory, packed into a couple of sentences that set up a number of more mysteries and reveals that come up over the rest of the season. And having Stiles be the one who says it helps you learn a bit more about his personality traits that become important later: he notices things, he obsessively researches things, and no matter how many times his father, the Sheriff, tells him not to snoop, his curiosity just can’t be restrained.

Anyway, I’ve written about this topic a few times. But rather than paraphrase, I’m just going to quote one of the shorter posts on that topic from some years ago:

Too much back story

In order to write a character’s dialog correctly, I have to have a good image in my head of who he or she is. That doesn’t mean I need to know eye color and hair length and how they dress, necessarily—I’m using image metaphorically. I mean that part of the process of giving a character a personality is imagining their life and how they got to be who they are now.

This is for everyone, even walk-on characters who may have only one or two lines of dialog out of an entire novel. I’m not one of those authors who has to write all of that down before I can use the character. Walk-ons usually just pop up when I need them. I’ve put my protagonist in jail, let’s say, and I’d planned who his cellmate would be before I got to the scene, but I hadn’t thought much about any other prisoners. As I start writing the scene between the protagonist and his cellmate, the other prisoners just chimed in at appropriate parts. While I don’t know the names of any of them, I have a small sketch in my mind of each one’s personality and a bit of his or her history, too. It just blossomed as soon as I needed someone to make a humorous interjection.

That’s just the walk-ons. Supporting characters that are planned as parts of subplots have quite a bit more than that, while the main characters have even more.

Most of the backstory remains in my head and my notes. My stories tend to be character- and dialog- driven, so usually the only details about a character’s background that come up are the ones that would normally occur in conversation:

“You always have to be smarter than everyone else, don’t you?”

“There was a time when you found that endearing.”

“I grew up!”

Even without any description or names, reading that dialog tells you that these two have known each other a long time, that they used to be close (perhaps even romanticaly involved), and now they are less friendly. I may never reveal more about the past experiences between these two characters, but I know how they met, how long they were close, how they spent their time together, and how they had their falling out.

Usually I’m pretty good about not letting the backstory over shadow the current action. But not always. Especially if I get some characters together in a scene who are very talkative. The dialog can go on and on for a while, if I let them.

During re-write I always find some scenes like this, filled with a lot of interesting banter, but that I need to trim. When reading the scenes aloud, even just by myself, I can tell when they’re going on too long. Fortunately, usually it only takes a little pruning to punch up the scene and get things moving.

But sometimes that backstory includes information the reader needs, and it isn’t always clear until I get a reader’s perspective that some details I thought could be inferred weren’t obivous.

I have a couple of supporting characters I’m working with right now whose scenes I was trimming the last couple of nights. They’re both intresting characters. I’ve gotten feedback indicating readers like them. (Even though in the current novel they don’t have any scenes together, one of them had a short story of his own published a few years ago, and the other happened to be a supporting chracter in it.) But they’re only supporting characters in this tale, and the parts they have to play in the current story aren’t big enough to justify all that information.

Even though I saved the removed dialog elsewhere, it still hurts to trim it.

But when it’s too much, it has to go!

No, the blue wave did not fizzle, we knew the deck was stacked against us

How to steal and election. Gerrymander. Remember this fucking graphic you goddamn computer.

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I was really angry seeing news sites refer to the the blue wave as just a ripple or having fizzled. Listen, for more than 20 years a majority of Americans have voted for a Democrat to represent them in Congress, yet in most of those elections the majority went to Republicans. It’s called gerrymandering, and it’s a mathematical fact. The deck is stacked very badly against those of us who think that queer people have a right to exist in society, that all people deserve health care, that the uber-rich aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, and so on. And while there are ways that we can undo gerrymandering of the House of Representatives, fixing the Senate is a lot harder.

Democrats will control the House. And that means that there will finally be some Congressional hearings into the corruption and worse that the Executive branch has been committing under Cadet Bonespur. There isn’t much we can do about the destruction of the Judicial branch that is being perpetrated during the next two years, but the thing those of us who care about equal rights and, oh, the future of the planet have to focus on is that we finally have a way to put some brakes on the fascist uprising. It’s a long term fight. We lost big two years ago. We call ourselves the Resistance because the bad guys have already taken over. This is an important step in the fight to take back the country, but we lost in 2016.

There was a bunch of other good news last night. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Key West elected Teri Johnston, Florida’s first openly lesbian mayor
  • New York elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress
  • Colorado elected Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor in the US
  • Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim woman (alongside Rashida Tlaib) elected to Congress
  • Massachusetts elected Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman elected to Congress in Massachusetts
  • Kansas elected Sharice Davids, an openly gay ex-MMA fighter and one of the first Native American women (alongside Deb Haaland) elected to Congress
  • Michigan elected Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American (and first Muslim woman, alongside Ilhan Omar) elected to Congress
  • Kentucky elected Nima Kulkarni, the first Indian-American elected to Kentucky House of Representatives
  • New Mexico elected Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women (alongside Sharice Davids) elected to Congress
  • Flemington, New Jersey elected Betsy Driver, the first openly intersex mayor of a city in the U.S.
  • Indiana election J.D. Ford the first openly gay Indiana state legislature, defeating a long-time Republican incumbent in the process
  • Kansas elected pro-gay-rights legislator Laura Kelly over pro-Trump and pro-voter suppression Republican
  • Florida passed a constitutional amendment granting voting rights to about 1 million felons who have served their time
  • Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment repealing a white supremacist policy regarding jury convictions
  • Massachusetts voters soundly rejected a measure to strip away non-discrimination protections from transgender people

And election night isn’t the ending. Alexandra Erin put it very well on twitter earlier this week:

Let me be ridiculously clear about something: I am not counting on the Democrats, as a national organization, to fix anything.

Our country is on fire. We need them, but they are not the firefighters. We are.

They’re the water.

We are the firefighters. We can’t check out. This midterm wasn’t a fire and forget situation. We have to stay engaged. We have to call our congresspeople and demand that they stick to the guns, that they oppose Trump on everything. This is just one battle in the long war to take our country back. We can do it, but we have to keep fighting!

Some things to remember

And finally:

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Friday Five (you have to vote edition)

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It’s Friday! It is the first Friday in November, which means that it is National Novel Writing Month? I am spending as much of my free time as possible writing, trying to finish one of my novels.

Last weekend I posted about the mad bomber than ran off to Geek Girl Con and only learned about the mass shooting at a synagoge when I checked news later on my phone. I… I am still so angry about that. I’m not Jewish, okay, but dang it, I’m a human being and you shouldn’t have to be a member of a community to be infuriated when people murder members of that community while literally shouting things that the alleged president of the United States has said. Please scroll down and read about the eleven people who were murdered last weekend in my In Memoriam section. And please, if you can, donate to a cause that fights hatred. Even more, if you haven’t already voted, please, please, please vote. Vote for candidates who will crack down on hate crimes. Vote to take our country back from the Nazis and white supremacists who currently control the White House and both houses of Congress. This isn’t the last chance to stop the evil, this is rather the first chance to fight back at the ballot box against the evil that already controls the nation. Vote!

Welcome to the Friday Five: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week and five videos (plus my blog post and notable obituaries).

Stories of the Week:

A World Leader Forcefully Condemned Anti-Semitism and Neo-Nazism Yesterday. It Wasn’t Trump.

The Ingenuity and Beauty of Creative Parchment Repair in Medieval Books.

We Did the Math Wrong: That’s why on High Holidays services there are armed guards pacing back and forth in front of every temple I’ve ever gone to.

London Library today unveils 26 books that are almost certainly the original copies that Bram Stoker used to help research his enduring classic. Not copies: the actual physical books of which he scribbled notes in the margins.

The US has an HIV epidemic – and its victims are gay black men.

In Memoriam:

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: Portraits of the 11 victims.

Who Is Danye Jones? Ferguson Activist Says Her Son Was Lynched To Death.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 10/27/2018: No one should be surprised….

Once again, time to start your word processing engines!

Looking forward to/hoping for some trick or treaters….

You should be writing — whether you join us in NaNoWriMo or not!

Videos!

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? | Official Trailer [HD] :

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

François Sagat / Igor Dewe – Trust Me (contains NSFW language):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Carly Rae Jepsen – Party For One:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Jake Shears Has Slept With a Lot of People:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Rufus Wainwright – Sword of Damocles (Official Music Video):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

You should be writing — whether you join us in NaNoWriMo or not!

Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, and Mark Ruffalo pointing at the camera and saying "You should be writing."

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It’s the first of November, which means that it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! NaNoWriMo is a lot of fun. I frequently recommend it precisely because the point is to just keep writing and not worry about being perfect. That worry often paralyzes people, preventing them from writing. Oh, they type out a few words, maybe a few sentences, but then they stare and delete and write something else. It is easy to fall into the trap of rewriting and revising a story (or a single scene) again and again because it isn’t perfect.

I’ve discussed this topic many times both on my various blogs, on convention panels, and in personal conversations. The person thinks they can’t write because the idea they have isn’t perfect, or they aren’t being creative/original enough, and so forth. One very specific form of this issue I’ve heard many times goes something like this: “I’ve read about how plotting and so forth works, and when I’m analyzing a book or show or something I can often see where the tale went wrong, but I’m not able to apply that skill to writing something new.”

At which point I usually launch into my rant about how writing is not the inverse of literary criticism?

What do I mean by inverse? Well, let’s first consult the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language. The relevant definition is: “ Of two operations, relations, etc.: such that the starting point or antecedent of the one is the result or conclusion of the other, and vice versa; (of one such operation, relation, etc.) opposite in nature or effect (to the other).” So, for instance, untying a shoelace is the inverse of tying it, while tying the shoelace is likewise the inverse of untying, right?

So, what do I mean when I say that literary criticism isn’t the inverse of writing? I mean that if one imagined the process of analyzing and deconstructing a story as a series of tasks, performing those tasks in reverse doesn’t produce a story. And when you compare your ability to find flaws in a story as being a necessary skill to creating a story, you are misunderstanding the creative process. Also, knowing how to perform literary deconstruction doesn’t guarantee that one understands stories—it means one understands paradigms that some authorities have proclaimed about stories.

Another way to understand it is to think about music: literary criticism and the like can be looked at as similar to understanding the mathematical equations that describe sound waves. Understanding those equations doesn’t mean you can think up a catchy tune. Which doesn’t mean that studying music theory might not improve your music making, but it doesn’t guarantee you will make compelling, or even mildly interesting music.

So, for instance, when a story teller begins working on a story, they don’t make lists of the metaphors they intend to use. Likewise, we don’t usually think about what the theme of the tale is and so on. I, personally, virtually never know what any of my metaphors are in a story unless someone points them out to me.

Everyone’s process is different. Most of my stories begin as a question, and the process of writing is how I try to find the answer to that question, and to the subsequent questions I uncover while working on the first.

Analysis is very useful during the editing and revising. Studying some of the things we can quantify about how stories work isn’t a waste of time. But don’t focus on that. Certainly not when you’re at the first draft stage.

Or, as Gandalf observed: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

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