Meta Monday: Scoring Stories

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SPN 12.10: I’ll watch this one over and over!

Despite the ongoing political drama, I found lots of things to be happy about this past week. Gaga killed it at the Super Bowl—and I loved the Schuyler Sisters too. And, even though I’m not a fan of either team, that was an exciting second half!

Supernatural gave us an episode that felt like an apology to Destiel fans: “We’re sorry for refusing to make this ship canon. No, we’re not going to fix that—but here’s a whole hour of Dean and Cas acting like an old married couple.” (One person on my Twitter feed said she wished she could tattoo the entire episode to her forehead. I share that sentiment.)

I even ran a game for my RPG group—and it didn’t completely suck. Mostly, but not completely. So maybe I’m improving as a DM.

And then there was the short story contest over at LegendFire. That was a positive experience too. I’m very happy with my story, and grateful for all the excellent critiques I received. My only issue—well, it’s not really an issue, because I don’t think it’s something that should be fixed. Hmm. Let’s call it a difficulty. Yes. My only difficulty was the scoring.

The way the contest works, every contestant must critique and score a given number of entries. There’s a technical score (from 1-10), an artistic score (again from 1-10), and then up to 2 bonus points for prompt use. Once you take the average of the technical and artistic scores and add the bonus points, you’ll end up with a total between 1  and 12.

I’m fine with critiquing other stories. I talk about what worked for me and didn’t work for me as far as character, plot and pacing go. I look at SPAG issues and word choice and transitions and such. But I freeze when it comes to scoring.

I hate scoring. I especially hate scoring stories that just aren’t my thing. How do you grade something when you know you’re not the target audience? And even if the story is my thing, I still hate scoring it.

Assigning actual numbers to the technical and artistic prowess of a story seems too . . . I don’t know. Too analytical, I guess. Or maybe too arrogant, in my case. The critiques seem like just my opinion. But once I write down a score, I feel like I’m saying, “This is an accurate reflection of the objective worth of your story.”

But of course it’s no such thing. My scoring is just as subjective as my critiques. Sigh.

How do you handle scoring stories or novels—whether for a contest or a Goodreads review? What criteria do you use? How do you feel about the whole issue of scoring? Does it stress you out too, or do you enjoy grading? Let me know in the comments!

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Tarot Tuesday: Seven of Swords

7-of-swords-ryder-waite-smith

Rider-Waite-Smith

I’ll admit it: this is one of my favorite cards. I can’t help it—there’s such a joyous bit of mischief to this thief. I love the way he sneaks off with five of seven swords, holding them with an alarming combination of grace and carelessness. (Don’t let those blades slip!)

Because this is the suit of Swords, we’re dealing with the mind and the intellect—and this thief, I think, prefers to fight with those weapons rather than go all out for blood. Besides, disarming an enemy through theft is one way to win a battle.

Remember the sword fight between Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet? In some stagings, Mercutio is out to distract Tybalt from his anger with Romeo. He fights with the man in a playful way instead of in deadly earnest, and almost succeeds in disarming him with his charm and wit before Romeo, with the best of intentions, interferes and causes Tybalt’s sword to slip.

The 1968 film goes with this interpretation to some extent, as you can see in the scene below. Although in this version it’s questionable if Mercutio really needed to distract Tybalt in the first place. But he just couldn’t help himself.

Come to think of it, getting carried away with his own wit and charm and grace may be a shortcoming of the thief in this card. I’m back to that careless way he’s holding the swords. Is that really necessary?

And now I’m thinking of thief extraordinaire Neal Caffery from White Collar, who was also known to get carried away with his exceptional talents. Huh. Even Walt Disney’s Robin Hood (you remember—the cartoon fox) tried to steal too much from Prince John and almost went down because of it.

I’m sure you can think of lots of other witty, fictional thieves. It’s a trope. A fun trope. Which may be why I like this card so much. But there are two other reasons it ranks among my favorites.

The first is a religious reason. As a, um, Vaishnava Jew, I’m fascinated by the fact that the name Hari, another name for Vishnu, can be translated as thief—as in God stealing our hearts. In that sense, there’s a bit of the Divine shining through this card.

The second is a more writerly perspective. There’s nothing new under the sun as far as stories go—we’ve all heard that, right? I buy it. We’re all retelling and remixing and reimagining the same stories that have been with us for a long, long time. This thief is well aware of that. And those swords he’s stealing represent ideas—age old ideas that he’ll mix up and twist around until he comes up with just the right tale.

How about you? What kind of character or story does this card represent to you? How do you interpret it? As always, if the card inspires a meta or poem or story of your own, please leave a link in the comments!

Okay, we’ll need a card for next week: The Six of Coins.

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Meta Monday: Thank You, My Activist Friends

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Misha Collins protesting the Refugee Ban (I stole the pic from his twitter account.)

I don’t talk a lot about politics here, but I don’t hide the fact that I’m a progressive Democrat; one who’s now very much #NoBanNoWall. But I’ve never been much of an activist.

A lot of my friends are serious activists, though. (And, yes. So is my chosen Overlord, Misha Collins.😉) These friends are influencing me for the better, helping me get my feet wet with phone calls, emails and letters to my representatives. Encouraging me to make my first donation to the ACLU. (Done!) I’ve attended two political activism gatherings now. Heck, I might even work my way up to a march.

But I will probably never match these friends in activism. And while I intend to keep supporting causes like the ACLU as I can, my regular, itty-bitty donations will remain with RandomActs.org and my own community synagogue. But I deeply admire these activist friends of mine—and I just wanted to say that out loud. (Er, write that out loud?)

So here’s to you, my friends! Thank you for standing up for the progressive values we share. Much love and gratitude!

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Tarot Tuesday: The Ace of Cups

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Rider-Waite-Smith

A heavenly hand is offering us a cup that runneth over. Not with wine, though. Shouldn’t it be wine?

It’s clearly a communion cup, such as you would find in a liturgical Christian church. Look at the dove—which, for Christians, represents the Holy Spirit—hovering above it with a communion wafer. And the communion cup holds the wine that will (depending on how high or low the church in question is) either become the blood of Christ or a powerful symbol of it.

But instead of wine we have water. And, all right, it’s the Tarot. The suit of cups represents water here, which in turn represents our emotions and intuition. So of course it should be water, right?

But I see a cup like that every Shabbat: Jews use it for Kiddush—the blessing over wine. So again, the association is with wine, not water.

Why am I fixating on the lack of wine? It’s not the alcohol. Both communion cups and kiddush cups sometimes substitute grape juice. Besides, this cup offers life-giving water in abundance. Surely I should be satisfied?

All right, then. I’m moving on from the wine (or grape juice) versus water question. Instead, I’ll focus on the wealth of imagery in this card.

A kiddush cup. A communion cup—maybe even the holy grail itself? We see lots of grail imagery as the suit of cups progresses. Five streams of water overflowing, pouring down. Does each stream represent one of the five senses? Or one of the five books of the Torah?

In either case, these streams suggest a process that religious philosophers call emanationism. According to this viewpoint, everything that exists is an overflow from the unimaginably full and rich and creative One. This idea is popular in both neo-Platonism and in the Kabbalah, so it shows up quite a bit in the Tarot.

But there’s still more going on here. The droplets of water that also seem to be emanating from the cup? Those are in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod, the first letter of the four that make up the name of God: the Yod Heh Vav Heh. (The Divine Presence, it seems, can be found in every drop of water.)

And then there are the lotus flowers in the lake beneath the cup. Whenever I see them, I finally reconcile myself to the fact that this card, despite all the communion imagery, is devoted to water and not wine. That lake needs to be fed by water, not wine. And so does the lotus flower.

The lotus is a potent symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism—in the former, it’s often associated with Lord Vishnu. (And since I’m a Vaishnava at heart, that makes them irresistible to me.) The flower thrives in mud, floating peacefully on top. So it retains its purity, even in the midst of what might look like trouble.

As humans, we can choose to be like that: we can be ugly with each other, or we can float above the mud-slinging and the hate, just like the lotus. Whichever we choose, though, we’re still nourished by the life-giving water all around us.

How do you see this card? If you’re a writer, does it suggest any particular sort of character to you? Or perhaps a lesson one of your characters needs to learn?

I haven’t thought of this card much in relation to writing. I think I’m too busy trying to absorb its lessons for myself! But maybe it’s time for me to explore those lessons through stories.

Okay, we need a card for next week: ooh, the Seven of Swords. Possibly my all time favorite card as far as writing goes!

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Meta Monday: Deadline Ahead!

img_20170123_174501594The clock is ticking. I have a short story for a contest due tonight on the LegendFire forums. I may or may not make the deadline. And I’m curious, in a detached sort of way, to see if I do.

I haven’t been ignoring this deadline. I’ve been steadily working on the story. But it’s not ready for showtime yet. And I don’t know that I can whip it into shape on time.

Yet I’m not stressing out. I’m not pecking furiously at my keyboard. What the heck happened to me?

Usually a deadline inspires me to write hard and edit hard and do it all double quick. Not tonight. Not these past two weeks.  I’ve got serious work in front of me and I’m glad to tackle it, but if the story’s not in good shape by midnight . . . well, I can let the contest go.

This lack of panic is a new thing. I wish I could say it’s my reward for meditating more often—but I think it’s more about the fact that I’m worn out from a new position at work with longer, more demanding hours. My body is lagging, so my brain can’t bother to get as frantic over a deadline as it usually does. And therefore said deadline has lost its power to motivate me.

How about you? Do deadlines inspire you or terrify you? Do you write your best stuff under pressure, or does the pressure kill your Muse? At the end of the day, does a deadline help you or hurt you? Does it depend on the project?

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Tarot Tuesday: Four of Swords

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Ryder-Waite-Smith

I forgot to pull a card last week. And when I went to pull one today, I stopped myself. One card was already on my mind, and since we haven’t looked at it yet, I decided to go with it: the Four of Swords.

Looks morbid, doesn’t it? But this is not a death card. The fours of any Minor Arcana suit (Wands, Cups, Swords or Pentacles) represent stability. Sometimes, as here, that implies a lack of vigorous activity, but death is not the only alternative.

On the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the number four is associated with the sephirah (or emanation) called Chesed. Chesed is the Hebrew word for mercy and loving-kindness. Maybe that accounts for why this card feels restful and somehow rejuvenating to me, but not deadly.

When I see this card, I don’t picture myself as the dead knight who presumably lies in the sarcophagus. Instead, I imagine walking into a peaceful, calm mausoleum, dedicated to someone who fought the good fight; perhaps with a literal sword, but perhaps not. In the Tarot, Swords represent the element of air, which in turn represents our thoughts and wits and, well, our minds. So perhaps this is a man who learned to calm and train his thoughts; someone who learned how to avoid getting carried away with them.

So I don’t think of this as a creepy, scary and airless mausoleum. No,to me it’s intended for respectful visitors. And when I visualize myself there, I also visualize myself breathing slowly, praying softly and quieting my own hyper-active thoughts.

(And that’s the sort of character I associate with this card too, when I’m writing. Someone who’s seeking that rest. Someone who needs to stop a crazy train of thoughts before that train crashes!)

What does this card suggest to you? Do you find it morbid or creepy, or does it suggest rest and rejuvenation? Or something else entirely? And what do you make of the stained glass window? It has a Christian look to it, certainly, but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly which religious figure is represented. Perhaps it’s purposely left vague?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. And, as always, if this card inspires a meta, poem, story or work of art, please leave a link. And now for next week’s card: the Ace of Cups.

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Meta Monday: Hand-Wavy Plot Reasons?

screenshot-2017-01-16-19-19-04I once read a White Collar fanfic that started something like, “For hand-wavy plot reasons, Neal Caffery has been turned into a cat.” And that’s all the explanation we got—apparently the author couldn’t be bothered to create a cursed object, evil sorcerer or angered fairy. But the story that followed was equally adorable and hilarious, so I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

That fanfic snapped back into my mind while I watched the season four finale of Sherlock. And then I read the reviews. Some seriously brutal reviews! Like this one. (Read at you’re own risk—it’s full of spoilers.)

And, okay. This thoughtful review is right on target: The Final Problem was a convoluted, inconsistent episode full of plot holes. And yet . . . I loved it. It’s easily one of my favorites. Yes, the brutal review is justified. But throughout Sherlock, I’ve felt as if the show came with an unspoken disclosure: “For hand-wavy plot reasons, we’ll somehow get our main characters into such and such a situation.”

I’m fine with that. In the end, I watch Sherlock for those two main characters, John and Sherlock himself, plus Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and Molly. So hand-waving them into high-pressure situations that will test their friendships, or their integrity, or their view of themselves, or their ingenuity will rivet me to the screen.

Would the episode be even better with a tight plot? Absolutely. But as long as the characters get their chance to dazzle and surprise me, I can let that plot slide.

Am I alone in this? If a plot is mired with inconsistencies, or gets too convoluted to follow, will you give up on a show or book? Will characters be enough to keep you watching or reading? What say you?

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