“Tight storytelling” is a writing buzzword that I use a lot but have difficulty actually defining, so today I’m challenging myself to do so. A tight story, in my mind, is one that feels efficient – no time is wasted on sideplots or other developments that don’t directly serve the main storyline. This doesn’t necessarily mean a completely straight shot from beginning to end, but it definitely excludes the sprawling, twisting threads of most webcomics I can think of.
I have a confession: I haven’t actually read a lot of classic science fiction, and most of what I have read, I hated. Clarke’s too horny, Bradbury’s too racist, Dick’s too pessimistic, Orwell’s too reactionary. But one book in the “canon” actually stuck with me to this day because of its exploration of non-human intelligence: Asimov’s I, Robot.
There are interesting layers of meaning to the word “soft”. In one sense, it can mean comfortable, inviting, pleasant to touch. In another, it conveys instead looseness, a lack of structure, or a yielding quality. These connotations have an unspoken gendered quality to them – “soft” is code, in so many ways, for “feminine”, and whether something being soft is a good or bad thing betrays much about the speaker’s attitude towards femininity.
Nerds are frequently bad at naming things. Most of you probably know what “jumping the shark” means – the point at which an ongoing story starts to go downhill. If you haven’t heard of its counterpart “growing the beard” you’d be forgiven, because it’s honestly kind of a terrible name. Like so many fandom terms, it’s a reference to Star Trek; fans of TNG noticed an upturn in the quality of episodes around the time that Riker grew a beard in the second season. In addition to “growing the beard” bringing to mind a bizarre visual out of context, the beard in question isn’t even what caused the show to get better, making the entire thing kind of inexplicable (cue hatemail from beard enthusiasts). Maybe there are better options for how to refer to this phenomenon.
A common piece of advice creative types hear is “work every day.” That’s not always possible for everyone for various reasons, but generally pushing yourself to practice your craft as much as possible is indeed good advice, and some artists who take that philosophy to heart manage to be incredibly prolific. What the people giving that advice don’t always tell you is that most of that “work” is actually going to be garbage not fit to see the light of day, and that some of the things you work on won’t (and shouldn’t) ever be finished. And that’s okay.