Sequels Pt. 1

You know what’s the worst? Sequels and trilogies. I’m so sick of them. I remember a time when you could pick up a book at the library, read it, and finish it. As in, the story was over when you ran out of pages. Now EVERYTHING is a series. And you don’t even get a resolution worth diddly.

This book is such a beat-down I couldn't even try

Such a beat-down I didn’t even try sequels “Medium Women” or “Venti Women”

Here’s a scenario I frequently: I’m reading a book and really enjoying it. But a sense of dread is building: I’m three quarters done. And I don’t think I’m close to the end. There’s no way the author could create a satisfying conclusion in the last quarter. I only just met the love interest, like, three chapters ago. Now I’m fifty pages from the end. Forty. Oh, shit, I’m holding the last pages in my fingers and my thumb is practically touching my index finger. There’s nothing leftandIwantaresolutionand

Coming soon: the thrilling filler book in the trilogy!

Damn it! Come ON. All you had to do was shoot the badguy in the face and everyone could have had a happy ending. Except for the badguy.

Look, I liked your characters enough to read ONE book. The law of diminishing returns says that the longer you draw this out, the more the author becomes the antagonist.

This comes down to audience expectations and what publishers want.

Sellingout.jpg

Nice cash grab, Tolkein. Way to sell out.

Audiences right now expect for there to be a Harry Potter and the Next Class Year. Hunger Games established in YA dystopian novels the could-have-been-one-book-but-ok-let’s-deal-with-the-whole-systemic-problem trilogy model, I think.

Don’t get me wrong. There were already series out there. I grew up on wanting the next Animorph book or Nancy Drew or whatever. But no one read The Hardy Boys and the Secret of the Old Mill, got the end, and thought “I can’t wait to find out if Tom Hardy and his brother Tanya Harding survive in the next book!”

If Tolstroy wrote today, there'd be War and Peace 2: Dawn of Rising Unrest and War and P3ace

If Tolstroy wrote today, there’d be War and Peace 2: Dawn of Rising Unrest and War and P3ace

So I’m forced to ask at the end of a lengthy post: what happened to concision, people? Must I skim through a middle book that amounts to little more than “Screw Flanders” repeated over and over?

All that said, I’d love to have the royalties from a trilogy. Do as I say, not as I do, people.

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Social awkwardness – good for everyone

I don’t really understand people who don’t have some tiny piece of social awkwardness. Some little piece of them that constantly worries that they’re inconveniencing someone else by merely existing.

These people are often assholes. I present the following case study: The soda fountain/convenience bartop.

Pictured: Coke products and anxiety

Pictured: Coke products and anxiety

A normal person moves to the soda fountain, fizzes up, and moves on, aware that there might be – no, definitely IS – a person waiting to use the machine. Even if the place is deserted, they will fill their beverage and move on, just in case.

But then there’s the person that fills. and stares into the cup to watch the bubbles recede, then top it off again.

“Ok,” I say to myself, as the person standing to one side, waiting patiently. “It was especially foamy. If they don’t give it a second, they’ll walk away with only half a glass of Fresca.”

This person waits, tops off. Then F&%*ING takes a sip! Right there at the soda fountain! And then gets another refill. With me clearly nearby, probably dying of thirst. I could have just stepped out of the Mojave, weak from dehydration! This person doesn’t know.

Some people are more prone to this complete lack of humanity than others. Their lack of soda fountain etiquette befuddles me. Is it a lack of situational awareness? Problems with peripheral vision or even total blindness is no excuse. You just assume you’re getting in someone else’s way if you’re normal.

The third person just wants a napkin, for crying out loud

The third person just wants a napkin, for crying out loud

It’s the same mentality of the indivual that stands in line for 10 mintes with the menu in full view, gets to the front of the line, and stares at the selections as though they’ve only just presented themselves.

“Hm, maybe I’ll try the, um… hm… Does the number three have pickles on it?”

Yes, Brenda, it says so right there! On the menu the rest of us have read cover to cover while we waited.

The best kind of people in the world are not the well-adjusted. The best kind or teeming with agoraphobia and awkwardness so crippling that society continues. The worst kind is Brenda.

Things adults are supposed to know, but I don’t

Everyone has blind spots in their education. One of my favorite things to ask someone is “What’s the thing you’re embarrassed to admit you learned way too late?”

I read quite a bit, and always have. So there were many words I knew on paper, but never heard aloud.

For example, I’d seen lots of books talk about hors d’oeuvres. But I’d only ever been to parties with finger foods or appetizers or even “Or Derves.” I figured someday, when I was and adult, I’d go to a fancy party that had as I assumed it was pronounced “whores doo-vers.”

"Care for an a-pair-of-teef?" "No thanks, I'll just have some tap-ahs"

“Care for an a-pair-of-teef?”
“No thanks, I’ll just have some tap-ahs”

Other things were pretty similar. I thought Armageddon was pronounced “ar-MAG-uh-don”, which is actually the most bad-ass of the dinosaurs. A coworker still ardently pronounces it “epi-tome” and ,without any sense of irony, will not bend in her pronunciation of “com-promise.”

I believed the Allies fought a coalition of Not-sees and Naz-eyes in World War II. It just never occured to me that I only heard about the Not-sees verbally and only read about Naz-eyes. Like they were an offshoot organization from Lord of the Ring’s Naz-ghuls.

Robo-hitler was the worst of the Naz-eyes

Robo-hitler was the worst of the Naz-eyes

Fortunately, all these misconceptions were corrected last week, so I’m caught up.

I’m ashamed to admit that I still struggle with analog clocks. I see people glance at them and tell me the time. To me, it’s a friggin’ math problem. “Uh, ok. Which hand is the bigger one? Ok. And now the little hand is pointed at three, which means fifteen minutes. Processing…. it’s eleventy-twelve o’clock. Ish. Definitely.”

You see a clock, I see the opening credits of Doctor Who.

You see a clock, I see the opening credits of Doctor Who.

I would have fewer problems if I only used sundials or just counted each second from the last time I saw a digital clock. When someone asks the time and my only resource is an analog clock, I have a tiny panic attack. I cover this by mocking them for not having perfect chronological awareness:

“You don’t know what time it is? With the clock right there, where both of us can see it and immediately discern its meaning? Like normal, clock-literate people? Why, the state of kids today that they don’t know what time — it’s noon. I just got it.”

Terrifying things

I was thinking about writing something in the horror genre. Not being a horror-writer, I first decided to catalog the things I see in movies that I find spooky.

Eight year old japanese girls with hair hanging in their faces.

This is a whole genre of movies. It originated in Japan (I assume), but quickly swam overseas like some sort of giant, firebreathing, train-smashing lizard.

Creepy, sure. But I bet she's just playing Candy Crush under there.

Creepy, sure. But I bet she’s just playing Candy Crush under there.

The creepy prepubescent demon child can be seen in The Ring, The Ring 2 (I assume), The Grudge, and on a strange technicality, most Zooey Deschanel movies.

Cots.

Like, the economy, there’s-no-cheaper-form-of-modern-bedding-without-sleeping-directly-on-a-porcupine  hospital kind. Observe:

It conforms to your back and everlasting soul.

It conforms to your back and everlasting soul.

I know you think I picked the most horrific hospital bed Google Image Search could find. But you’re wrong. Several of the top hits also had restraints.

There is no way to walk into a room with one of these beds and not say, “Some baaaaad juju happened in here. Probably experiments. And not the delicious kind where you insert your Cheetos inside the sandwich to see what happens.”

The class you forgot you were in.

I am not a student. I have not been a student in a LONG time. But the most terrifying nightmares I have, to this day, involve some class I forgot I’m enrolled in.

“How in the hell could I forget I enrolled in this class? And the final is today? And I have to take it while in a hospital cot?”

old

“The class is in quantum germanic literature? How did I sign up for that? I’m a kinesiology major!”

I will be a geriatric someday, and will STILL wake up befuddled and panicky. I’ll be sure that I’m late for class and I have a ton of catch-up to do.

Someday I’ll write a story that involves all of these things. It will be the most terrifying thing ever, ever.

In defense of a happy ending

I have never loved an unhappy ending. In my youth, stories had dragons and princesses and everyone at the end of the story was better off than they began. That’s not how life works, outside of books. But that was the point.

Nowadays, it seems the most popular books in genre fiction are either “grimdark” or gritty re-imaginings. The more the reader likes a character, the more likely the author is to behead said character, break their will, or kill their little sisters. Sometimes in that order.

"Sad clown" seems redundant

“Sad clown” seems redundant

 

I was prompted to think on this when I was directed to Chuck Wendig’s blueprint for a story.  Notably the final bullet point in the 13 steps (10-12 provided for some context):

10. WAIT, IS THAT A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?

11. IT IS BUT IT’S A VELOCIRAPTOR WITH A FLASHLIGHT IN ITS MOUTH

12. WAIT AN IDEA

13. I HAVE BEATEN THE VELOCIRAPTOR AND NOW I HAVE A FLASHLIGHT AND MY PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED IN PART BUT NOT TOO NEATLY BECAUSE TIDY, PAT ENDINGS MAKE STORY JESUS ANGRY, SO ANGRY THAT STORY JESUS GIVES EVERYONE MOUTH HERPES

I’m not saying he’s wrong. What irks me is that he IS right.

"Funny story: the script called for me to say 'Yes.' I took it a different direction

“Funny story: the script called for me to say ‘Yes.’ I took it a different direction”

I hate that it’s considered poor storytelling to tie things with a bow. I loathe that there must be heartache or sorrow or death in one’s story lest it be considered frivolous or candy-coated.

It irks me that Lev Grossman is lauded for his Magician series, which I’ve described as “Narnia by way of Hogwarts, but with self-despising manic depressives.” I am dismayed that an otherwise great Batman film must end with him becoming reviled by Gotham for a really stupid reason. And every hero on AMC/HBO must be an antihero.

It’s exhausting to read a book that is lovely, thrilling, and filled with characters with whom I connect, but must be constantly wary of how the author is going to darken the last chapter to avoid the wrath of Story Jesus.

Step 13 illustrated

Step 13 illustrated

It’s the age of antiheroes. The Joss Whedon era, in which I can watch an entire movie just guessing which character is going to die. The old writer standby “Kill your darlings, recently re-popularized by Kipling/King/Rowling, has been taken to heart.

So here’s to the story wherein the badguy gets what’s coming to him, the girl gets the guy, and no one steps on the puppy.

Correct Punctuation

After you’ve been writing for some time, the type of editing you seek changes.

Early on, I was eager to recieve any help I could get fixing typos and minor grammatical errors. After a while you begin to know your own mistakes. At that point you want to say to critiquers, “I know there’s supposed to be a period at the end of that sentence. Can you tell me what you think of the major plot in this scene, please? Microsoft Word could have told me I misspelled ‘receive’ up there.”

But there are some things Word won’t catch. So here are some errors I still make or forget about.


 

Skip the end quote.

If a character continues to speak, uninterrupted, in a new paragraph, don’t close quotes at the end of the first paragraph.

Wrong:

Blake said, “It’s true. I murdered the duchess.” 

“But in my defense, she was being totally ratchet.” The murderer sniffled.

Right:

Blake said, “That’s a lie! I would never smuggle turnips!

“But I am a mad mango miscreant.”

Bonus tip: ‘ratchet’ is, by the standards of dumb things kids say, not bad. Calling someone “Cray” instead of “Crazy” just sounds stu and laiz.


 

This is probably just me, but one must be careful with ellipses. Far too often I see an author use the ol’ three-dots when a character is interrupted.

“I couldn’t have stolen the cookies from the cookie jar,” said Edward. “I was busy with…”

“It must have been you,” interrupted Bella.

The problem above is that ellipses indicate Edward’s statement trailed off. So Bella was just interrupting the silence that followed. Use a hyphen if you want to indicate interruption.

Oh, and don’t overuse ellipses. When YOU read it, they sound like dramatic pauses. The audience just sees a scene with lots of strange, awkward silences in the dialogue. Unless your scene is depicting any of my dates. The ellipses correctly capture that awkwardness.


I am shit with commas. I do my best to avoid sentences that require them. Seek advice elsewhere.


 

Narrative Voice in Point of View (POV)

Point of view is a heckofa difficult issue for writers, novice and expert.

1st person:

The first project I really threw my weight behind was 1st-person-perspective. And am I glad it was. When writing narration, I didn’t have to worry about inadvertantly adding individualization as long as it was the lead’s color. What do I mean?

In telling the story of Goldilocks, it’s wrong to write,

“And then the dumb b**** just climbs straight into a bear’s bed after eating its food. Geez, what an idiot.”

This fairy tail narrator is adding his own views. It can take away from the pure story  (sometimes). However, if the story is told from the Woodsman’s point of view, it makes sense for the narration to sound exasperated.

And yes, I know the Woodsman is from a different story.

3rd Person Limited Omniscience (One Character):

Now you’re outside the head of the main character, but your narrative voice is still influenced by her. Say your lead is named Josephine and she’s a typical american midwestern teenager.

Josephine was so angry she couldn’t help but slam her locker shut. And there was Tara on the other side of the little door, smiling that perfect, s***-eating grin. But she was wearing that gorgeous green empress-cut top Jo loved loved so much.

Did you see how, even though the narrator wasn’t Josephine herself, it colored the prose? For example, all empress-cut tops are ugly, no matter who they’re on. But Josephine likes them, and therefore it’s “gorgeous.”

Also notice that Josephine is “angry,” but Tara is wearing a s***-eating grin. If Tara was the protagonist, it would be written differently.

“Tara wore her friendliest smile and the green top she knew Josephine loved. It might not be enough today, though. Josephine slammed her locker door, and she scowled with her whole body.”

aStatements like “she was angry” can only be written if you’re in that character’s head. Otherwise, they scowl. We can infer their mood from body language.

3rd Person Limited Omniscience (With Multiple Lead Characters):

Ugh. The most popular example of what I’m talking about here is George R. R. Martin. Every chapter begins with a character’s name so we know where we are and who we’re supposed to be paying attention to.

This is pretty common with, say, two characters. I see it all the time in thrillers (1 goodguy, 1 badguy) or romances (1 guy, 1 girl – in most cases) It’s a little harder to write because your voice changes from POV to POV. One character may know more about what’s really going on.

Some mistakes to avoid here: Don’t introduce a second voice halfway through your story. There’s nothing more jarring to a reader than suddenly entering the head of a new character when you’ve attached yourself to another for so long. I remember reading a book where the main character died unexpectedly, leaving us to follow around his protege for the rest of the story. It was meant to be a twist but was just kind of irritating.

Remember the video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? After following the beloved character Snake in the prologue, you started a new level with Snake in a mask. Then, BAM! he took off the mask and you spent the rest of the game following around a wannabe Snake named Raiden. Fans were upset.

If you add more characters, you are forced to divest your narration of almost all voice. Like George R. R. Martin’s beloved clusterfuck complex tale of millions of characters generally being miserable assholes complex. If you end one chapter in the voice of a mother holding her dying child and begin another chapter in the head of a torturer, your audience gets whiplash. It can be done, but is for an advanced, talented writer like Mr. Martin.

3rd Person Total Omniscience:

This one may be the hardest. It’s hard for the reader to connect with any one person’s view, and therefore harder to get invested in the story.

Read This: Author Patricia C. Wrede

This post will probably be the first in a series maybe.

When talking about a beloved author, it’s not uncommon to chastise others for not having read that author’s whole bibliography. I won’t do that. I know there are too many books out there for you to have read all of them.

But really missing out if you haven’t.

Patricia C. Wrede is, by grand margins, one of my favorite authors of all time. It began with my mother reading me Dealing with Dragons. It took classic castles and dragon and enchanted forest books and made them wonderful and hilarious.

I LOVE her characters. The Raven Ring is a study in making you fall in love with characters within a short span of time.

Wrede does something else with her stories that seems so lacking sometimes. Her books are so damn fun. I could pin down the whys and hows right here… but that’s actually what this blog is often about. So, just know that her stories created the joy in me.

Exactly the way aspiring writers like us want to.

The Mary Sue

A Mary Sue character, for those unfamiliar, is an idealized character in a story. It’s often a stand-in for who the author wishes himself/herself to to be. And importantly, real consequences don’t really apply to them.

CONSEQUENCES

Writers and critics alike tend to look down upon the Mary Sue, and for good reasons. The MS is all about wish fulfillment. Who doesn’t want to imagine themselves as The One, that person that’s special? The unique fella who discovers he’s actually a lost prince, or has a secret superpower?

Sue. Mary Sue.

Sue. Mary Sue.

Hell, I’m no different.

Any day now I expect an attractive young person to approach me and say, “This Starbucks was actually built as a test to see who could idle their time in the most ineffective manner possible. You’ve passed that test, and are therefore the Last Starfighter And Supreme Makeout Artist.”

So is wish fulfillment inherently bad? Well, no, not when it’s done right. For example, Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived. “The Boy Who Lived”… they practically nickname him “The Mary Sue.” But they’re wonderful, beloved books.

Contrarily, why does the ancient, beautiful vampire desire the bland Mary Sue? Just ’cause. It’s inexplicable and there’s no ‘cost,’ for lack of a better word.

Why is Harry Potter different? Because his parents died. And magic. And it’s as much a curse as a blessing. And REASONS. Hell, Harry even asks “Why me?” and gets unpleasant answers all the time.

Picture: Neo

Picture: Neo

Harry’s still a Mary Sue, but a darned good one in a darned good series.

RELATABILITY

The other complaint is that the character isn’t relatable. I have less of a problem with this, mostly for reasons you can find here and here. Often, people who say they want “relatable” really mean they want to read reflections of their own flaws and the conflicts they face. Pain, more often than not.

Personally, I’d rather read about the Mary Sue. But moving on…

OUT OF CONTROL CHALLENGES

There’s another problem with the Mary Sue. One for the author, rather than the audience. The problem of out-of-control ramping goals.

With each successive… success, the writer has to find a new challenge for our walking deus ex machina. “Well, he saved the city by discovering he could fly at the end of the last book. What power does he need to suddenly have at the end of this book to make it fun?” And the challenge has to be bigger and bigger with every story.

Example: I LOVE the Mass Effect games. The story is about the very first human to join an elite space police-force.

Next up: Balancing the checkbook!

Next up: Balancing the checkbook!

In the first game you have to save the citadel, the galatic hub of civilations. By the last game, you’re tasked with saving the entire galaxy.

Now there’s talk of a sequel.

About what, exactly? Saving the galaxy again? The universe? You blew your load a little early, Bioware.

Personally, I love me a good Mary Sue story. But unless you’ve considered the consequences, your story is going to be considered fluff by some people.

Give your protagonist consequences, some relatable characteristics, and if you’re planning on continuing the adventure, don’t write yourself in a corner.

 

Make Your Hero a Bastard

This isn’t so much a post about improving your writing as much as something to think about. It’s about your good guy and how he fights.

The instinct for many of us is to put our hero in the white hat. He prefers a stand-up fight. He’s fair, giving the antagonist a chance. That’s what makes him the hero and it’s what the audience loves about him, right?

Turns out, not so much.

It may be obvious to some, but audiences today in particular like the antihero. Hence the popularity of characters like Artemis Fowl, the Dragon in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, semi-reluctant-hero Wolverine, and any former-cop-who-plays-too-loose-with-the-rules.

Funny thing is, we love when our heroes fight dirty.

Author Lee Child often has his character Jack Reacher describe himself in simple terms. He’s big. Really big. Like six-five and built like a truck. Not the smartest guy, but very well trained as an investigator and fighter. And big.

Uh, close enough?

Uh, close enough?

He runs into a lot of badguys. And when he does, he doesn’t give them a fair fight. If he knows a fight is going to happen before the other guy does, he ends it. It’s pretty awesome.

There’s nothing wrong with below-the-belt blows when the guy getting tagged is a pedophile terrorist woman-abusing Nazi.

When the badguy tosses sand in our heroine’s eyes, it’s a dirty trick. And it makes it better when the heroine wins by remembering how sensei made her train in a blindfold.

But when she tosses sand in the badguy’s eyes and eviscerates the antagonist right in the middle of his pompous ‘I-have-you-now’ speech?

Oooo…. that just kicks ass.