writing

Another Monday, Post-Evisceration

Stomach is starting to heal from the hernia surgery. Turns out it’s painful for your guts to come out, and JUST AS PAINFUL to put them back in again. So, you know. Don’t do that.

Keep that shit on the inside, if you have the option.

Because I’ve been anchored to the couch for medicinal reasons, been watching a shitload of The Walking Dead, old episodes, and they just remind me how great season 1 and season 2 were. I know, everyone hates season 2, but on Netflix, in binge-form, it really works. It has some of the best character work in the series, and the Shane/Rick stuff is intense as hell. It’s funny because no matter how many tanks or evil baseball bats they give their new villains, none of them are as intimidating as Shane’s unhinged, slack-lipped murder stare. Jon Bernthal (Shane) was and is the absolute man. Probably the only actor on the show so far who could match Andrew Lincoln’s Rick in acting ability and gravitas.

Been trying to play Mass Effect: Andromeda too (with all my new couch time), and it just absolutely refuses to become good. Damn shame, considering how excellent the last trilogy was. Well, caveat – how good Mass Effect 2 and 3 were. Mass Effect 1 had a lot of the problems Mass Effect: Andromeda is having. The games work when they’re little episodes of Star Trek. The games fail when they try to present some wide-open boring landscape to putter around in in an under-powered space car.

Okay, those are all my thoughts for today.

Got some good writing in just now – Deadgirl 4 is finally starting to shape up into something I like. Easy realization that made it happen: Deadgirl 4 is not Star Wars. I kept trying to make it this big crazy epic story with all these characters and forgot that the series is about Lucy.

Now that I’m listening to her voice again it’s all rolling out.

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Deadgirl: Goneward Cover Reveal

Coming May 30th, 2017! Here’s the cover, by the hyper-talented artist Andrea Garcia.

deadgirl goneward cover.png

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Deadgirl: Goneward

Deadgirl 3 is officially on its way, and I cooked up a little promo poster:

Deadgirl Goneward Date

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Smile!

LucyClose

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The Asshole’s Guide to Editing: #4

Assholes Guide Banner

Previous Guides: #1#2, and #3.

Last time: Solin walked down a single street. No, seriously. Also he vaulted over a cow, I guess?

EXCERPT

The Morali land was large, but Solin was soon at his destination (passive – watch those “was”es). A copse of trees rose up in the middle of the plains, following the course of a wide stream that broke off of the Sabrienne river to the east. As he got closer he slowed down, both for fear of disturbing his friend and simple exhaustion. He slowed to a jog, and finally a brisk walk (unnecessary comma, the sequel), allowing his muscles to stretch out and his blood to slow down. (Okay. This is a common move I still have to try hard to keep out of my writing. So first I said “he slowed down.” Then, in the next sentence, I DESCRIBE what slowing down is. In case you don’t know. It’s partially my tendency to over-explain, and partially an artifact from the first draft. This kind of thing is okay in a first draft because it’s really just telling the story to yourself. Later drafts need to be leaner. Take out the tell “he slowed down” and leave a punchier remnant of the show, like “His run decayed into a jog, then a leisurely stroll.”) It felt good to be tired, properly exhausted. Solin didn’t fear toil; he was just terrible at it. (STAHP. We get it. We all get it.)

Solin moved into the shadows of the trees then (Delete “then.” Why is that even here?), great willows that stretched their wispy canopy over his head. In the center of the copse the stream passed (Yoda, is that you?), crystal clear waters from the Sabrienne, a river that traced back to the great mountains to the north (Second time you’ve described the course of a distant river for literally no reason at all – well, kinda. Spoiler alert, this river starts somewhere mystical, which is why I felt the need to mention it twice. It’s still ham-handed, though). The stream split there beneath the willows, and most of the water cut south and no doubt hit the sea at some point (“No doubt?” It does or it doesn’t. Pick one). But Rion’s father had dammed up a portion of the stream along (two words there, son) time ago, and created a little shimmering pond. Solin and Rion swam and played there in their younger days. Frayed lengths of rope still hung above the pond, aching to be swung on. (Great imagery trapped in a pretty good sentence, even with the preposition wonkiness. So far, the count of pretty good sentences is “2,” for those keeping track at home.)

But that was a while ago, and Rion used it for fishing now. He claimed that was the only reason he came down here, but Solin knew better. (Delete this and inject it into dialogue later. Have Solin bust Rion’s balls. “Waxing nostalgic?” “Not at all. Trout are jumping this time of year.” “Oh yeah? Is that what the sketch pad is for?” Or something. Bring it into the character’s actions, not pork-fingered exposition.) It was a place of memory, and reflection, and at dawn or dusk Solin always thought it had a magical look to it. The way the willow branches crept down and filtered the light into shining specks that danced across the water. (By the way, this is the REAL reason Solin likes getting up early. See how unnecessary all the times he hemmed and hawed about it earlier? All those can be cut completely).

Solin noticed a handful of trout hanging by hooks from the branch of a low-hanging willow. (“Hanging” is twice in this sentence. Fix.) A few extra spears were leaned up against the tree (“A few extra spears leaned against the tree.” Boom. Passivity gone. Watch those “was”es and “were”es, right?). A pair of boots sat just on the edge of the water.

Solin leaned against the willow and watched.

Rion ett Morali stood on the shallow bank of the pond. The biting cold water (This could go either way, but Solin doesn’t know that the water is biting cold. Sure, he could deduce, but it feels like perspective flopping. Cut it) lapped around his ankles, though it didn’t seem to be bothering him. His long brown hair fell in waves to his shoulders, and high above his head his arm was in an arc, aiming the spear in his hand toward the waters (Not horrible, but the wording is so clunky. It just needs a clean rewrite). His back was to Solin. He couldn’t see his face, but it was no doubt arranged in its perpetual look of peaceful concentration, with nary a wrinkled brow to give away his thoughts.

(YUCK! Solin just described something he isn’t seeing just so he can describe the character to the audience. Also, don’t be so quick to description – you don’t need to fix your description in the mind of the audience right away. In fact, and this took me a LONG time to realize, you really don’t need to describe your characters at all.

I know that sounds weird, but bear with me. Your job as a writer is MUCH easier if you let the reader take over some responsibilities. Let’s say you have “Helen,” and Helen needs to be beautiful for the story to work. And I mean, NEEDS to be. The plot hinges on it.

You don’t have to go into crazy detail. Don’t describe her eyes, the upturn of her nose, the slender calves, whatever turns your key. Have other characters react to how beautiful she is – have men constantly hit on her, have woman envy her, have a photographer stop her in the street and ask if she’d like to do some modeling. Have her blow off all of these advances in a nonchalant way, letting us know she deals with this all the time.

That’s how you make Helen beautiful. The reader will then pick up on this and conjure a beautiful woman in their mind, and their beautiful woman is going to make the Helen of your tedious description look like a pig. Reading is interactive, if you let it be. Let it be.

Hypocrisy alert: You’ll find some in-depth descriptions of characters in my books, and I regret almost all of them. If a physical signifier is 100% important to the character – Morgan’s stunning beauty in Deadgirl, for instance – then include the stuff I talked about. If it doesn’t really matter, don’t put too much energy into a physical description. Let the reader fill it in, and they’ll never forget the character they conjured.

I’m still working on this because it’s a really hard habit to break, especially for us visual types. But remember, books aren’t a visual medium. Use the best tools at your disposable. Don’t try to hammer a nail in with a saw.)

Solin had tried to get him to play cards with some of the guys in town; Rion wasn’t much for games (Semi-colons again, you old dog, you!). He’d win a lot of money with that unreadable gaze, too. Solin moved forward a step, about to break the silence, when Rion lunged.

His arm moved in a blur; (Oh shitttt, makin’ it rain semi-colons) Solin could barely follow the path of the spear. Droplets of water flew through the air around Rion, and he gripped the submerged spear with both hands and tugged it out of the water. A monstrous trout squirmed on the tip of the spear, and Rion turned and whipped the spear above his head. The fish sailed through the air, and Solin jerked to just narrowly avoid its flight. (There are some repetition problems here I would fix. Air, water, spear, air, water, spear. Maybe just delete a lot of it).

“Want to hang that up for me?”

/EXCERPT

I’ve seen a lot, A LOT, worse. It’s not good, don’t get me wrong. To semi-quote one of my agents – “Look at every paragraph – can it be condensed into a sentence?” You’ll find it often can, especially if you tend to overexplain, overdescribe, and overwrite (like, for instance, me).

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about:

“Solin had tried to get him to play cards with some of the guys in town; Rion wasn’t much for games. He’d win a lot of money with that unreadable gaze, too. Solin moved forward a step, about to break the silence, when Rion lunged.”

Well, in all honesty I’d just delete everything but the last sentence and then perk it up bit: “Just as Solin opened his mouth to break the silence, Rion lunged.”

The stuff where I nearly break my back trying to not use the phrase “poker face” is unnecessary and should go. Rion will either seem stoic to the audience or he won’t – stop telling them who people are. If Rion is relatively quiet and strong in his actions, then we’ll get it. But don’t just unzip the sentiment and ram it home – romance the audience a little.

I’m still not convinced anything in this chapter shouldn’t be cut entirely. In fact, once we get to what I think the starting point should actually be, I’ll let you know. See you next week for I think some actual danger/conflict. I think.

My memory blocked out huge chunks of this book for safety reasons.

 

 

 

 

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A Selfless Reminder

Just a completely altruistic, non self-serving reminder that the sequel to a book I wrote is coming out in one month. Which I also wrote. I wrote both, is what I’m saying.

DG Date Banner2

Check out the first “Deadgirl”

And the new one, “Deadgirl: Ghostlight”

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The Asshole’s Guide To Editing: #3

Assholes Guide Banner

Previous Guides: #1 and #2.

Last time: Solin tried to help the blacksmith, taught an adjunct class on how to use a dolly in excruciating detail, broke some shit, and then ran down the street.

I took a week off because the Walking Dead finale broke my shit, but I’m back.

EXCERPT

A block or two later, his heart calmed, and he was sure Jayne wasn’t following. (“Heart calmed” is a nothing phrase – we’re here to evoke emotion. Even a cliché like “his heart stopped pounding” is at least evocative and descriptive. I’d also reorder this sentence – “His heart calmed a block or two later when he was sure Jayne wasn’t following.” Get rid of a few unnecessary commas and bring the action out front.

However, what I’d really do is reorder the sentence as above, getting the subject and verb out front, AND I’d give it more active language with an amusing voice – it was supposed to be a funny scene, after all.

So, something like this: “His heart found its old familiar rhythm three blocks later when he was sure Jayne wasn’t chasing him with a rake.”)

Still, he’d done enough harm to the populace for today. Time to go see ‘ole long face. (The voice is a MESS here. Thinking something like “he’d done enough harm to the populace” is something a robot or a snarky college professor might say. But then in the next sentence it’s “time to go see ‘ole long face.” Folksy language. Voice is important, and this neophyte writer didn’t spare one moment to even think about it).

Solin’s destination was on the edge of town (passive language alert), and so it allowed him to observe Bowen’s Rest in its waking moments. He was not a fan of being up so early, (passive language alert) but between bad dreams and insomnia, it was a time he was unfortunately familiar with. (Not sure why Solin can’t think in contractions – “He was not a fan” “it was a time.” He’s 17-years-old, loosen the collar a little).

He welcomed it, grudgingly. It was a better alternative to the dreams, and the cold air filling his lungs seemed so vibrant and alive. Solin also liked the feeling that he was witnessing something that few people see (Except earlier you said the whole town wakes up early – the problem here is the writer is injecting his own thoughts into the character, whether they’re appropriate or not). Most wake up and the world is going on without them. So early in the morning, Solin felt strangely wise. As if all those who missed the sunrise were left out.

Maybe he did like being up early after all, and grumbled and complained for the sake of others. (This shit is infuriating. In the beginning of the chapter, he said he hated to wake up early. Then, just now, he liked it. Now, here, Solin offers a THIRD OPINION about his feelings about the morning. This is shameful, self-indulgent naval-gazing at its most embarrassing, and worst of all, it’s slapping the reader in the face and saying “I don’t care about your time.”) He shook his head. At that hour, with an angry blacksmith possibly on his heels, Solin wasn’t much for self-reflection. (ARE YOU SURE?! WANNA GO BACK AND READ THE LAST NINE PARAGRAPHS, YOU FUCK?!)

Ironic, considering where he was going and why. (There’s irony all over this sumbitch, but it’s not for that reason). He wondered if sourpuss would be awake. Of course he was awake. He was always awake. (So, everyone in town wakes up early again? Is this early-onset medieval fantasy Alzheimers?)

The cobbled street became dirt, and the buildings to either side blended into rolling farmland. (“…blended into rolling farmland” might be one of the few non-passive, non-forever-taking bits of economical writing in the whole book so far). To his left, on the east side of the road stood a field of golden corn. It looked ripe for the picking to Solin, but he admitted he wasn’t much for farming. That was another trade Solin had attempted, to little avail. He had apprenticed at that very farm. Farmer Yeven had watched him break two plows, a fence, and a mule before asking him politely to “try a different trade.” (This is actually pretty considerate of me to remind you again and again that Solin is a screw-up, because there is a very real chance you, the abused reader, fell asleep during an earlier passage and missed something.)

To his right, on the west side of the road, was grazing land, and a vast fleet of cows roamed across it (I think this sentence needs more commas). Solin was pretty sure a group of cows wasn’t called a fleet, but he didn’t really care either (and neither does the reader).

That land he knew quite well. It was his best friend’s, or his best friend’s father’s, though most in the town knew that Rion ett Morali, the son, pretty much ran the farm by himself. Rion tended the livestock, the small field of corn behind their house, and even dealt with the finances and sold the farms excess. He was well respected, for his hard work if not for the pity most felt for him about his father. (Way, way too overwritten. How about: “Everyone knew Rion ran the family farm, no matter whose name was on the deed” and delete the rest of this paragraph. Maybe the chapter. Potentially the book).

Solin vaulted the low wooden fence into the Morali farm, his boots crunching into the sparse grass (there’s some simultaneous action happening here – if his boots really must crunch, they should do it in their own sentence. This somehow implies his boots crunched the grass in mid-vault, which gravity doesn’t particularly care for). A cow just at the edge of the fence turned its head up toward him, (just “A cow at the edge of the fence turned its head,” no need for “up toward him.” We get that he’s spurring the action, cut the stage direction) and Solin patted the big animal on the forehead. Its large eyes blinked once, and it never stopped chewing. After a moment, it returned to its patch of grass. Solin shook his head and laughed, and wondered if he would have got the same reaction if he would have lit the cow on fire and jumped up and down screaming. Probably. (Some readers might get that this is a joke, but other readers would probably assume Solin is a weirdo or a psychopath. Maybe save animal mutilation jokes until we know the character a little better).

Far off to his right he could see a house, and barn with a silo beside it. (Unnecessary Comma should be the name of my band). Solin turned south, checked his belt, and took off running. (“Checked his belt?” Why include such needless detail? “Solin’s mind sent signals down his spine to his large muscle groups compelling them forward into what could be called a ‘run’ by modern scholars. This was much faster than a walk.”) It was a fine day for it, and the cool air flooding through his lungs brought a smile to his face. His legs pumped, his arms moved in tight lines beside his waist, and he threw his head back to feel the biting wind. (Oh, shit, I got ahead of myself. I really did describe what running is) Solin’s shaggy blond hair caught the wind, and he laughed again as he ran. A cow rose up before him and Solin leaped, catching the cows back with one hand and vaulting over it with all his momentum. He crashed into a roll on the other side, but came up running just as quickly. (He just jumped a cow. What is happening?)

He wondered if he could ever get Cow Jumping to take off as a sport. (Insert audience laughter)

/EXCERPT

Okay, so that was (pardon my Swiss-German) fucking brutal. We barely made it through 500 words of prose there, and literally nothing happened.

Things Solin thought about: 1) Morning time, 2) Working on a farm, 3) Lighting cows on fire

I’ll see you next week for – GOD WILLING – some actual narrative beats. Maybe. No promises.

Next: Read “The Asshole’s Guide to Editing” #4

 

 

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The Walking Dead Finale, Cliffhangers, and You

Yes, I know – you’re tired of reading “open letters” about the Walking Dead finale.

Trust me, the fans are tired of writing them. This ground is well-tread, and the game trail has been widened into a goddamn highway with repeated use. Yes, we’re pissed. Yes, we’re unsatisfied. Yes, we’re kind of hungry.

But the anger is real. I’m angry. The people who love this show are still angry. I was debating with myself how I would express my particular flavor of dissatisfaction, just to get the poison out of my system, and I’ve come to this:

Stop defending the finale as a cliffhanger. It wasn’t. Or it was, and cliffhangers don’t work. Or, maybe, we all disagree on what a cliffhanger actually is. From their interviews, showrunner Scott Gimple, producer/director/make-up god Greg Nicotero, and even non-offensive “Guy Smiley” Chris Hardwick have their take on “what a cliffhanger is,” and the audience has another.

Why Use a Cliffhanger?

Traditionally, a cliffhanger is used to keep interest going after a story or scene has (or would have) ended. I’m a writer by trade, and I can tell you that we’re encouraged to end every chapter on a cliffhanger. Introduce a new threat, change an allegiance, slap in a new complication, someone’s head falls off unexpectedly, etc.

Now, like any writing tool, it has its function, and a most appropriate time and place for its use. I don’t recommend ending EVERY chapter that way, no more than I would recommend ending every story with a boss fight. Sometimes the best way to introduce excitement for the next chapter is to make sure that THIS chapter tells a great story. Sometimes (editors, cover your ears), a satisfying conclusion makes an audience think to themselves: “Wait a minute, isn’t the story over? How is there a next chapter?”

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Season 1 ended with all of the story lines wrapped up and the Big Bad Evil Guy dead as fried chicken. I remember thinking: “Wait, what is Season 2 going to be about? Where the hell do they possibly have to go?” That didn’t turn me away as a audience member. That DREW ME IN. Because the first season told a complete and satisfying story, I used my cause-and-effect brain equipment to go “hey, do you think they’ll tell another complete and satisfying story in season 2? Oh sheeeet.”

And I watched it. And they did.

What is a Cliffhanger?

Here’s where language fails us, and I have to go off-book. My personal definition of a cliffhanger is “an incomplete story designed to manipulate the audience.” I’ve always held that belief, and I always will.

I would make a distinction, though, between a “sequel hook” and a “cliffhanger.” To me, a cliffhanger is garbage. A sequel hook, on the other hand, is a must in serialized storytelling. A sequel hook gives us a new twist or piece of conflict that HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arc that was set up the entire story. It opens a new road, it doesn’t drop a gate across the road we’re already on.

Gimple/Nicotero/Hardwick and Robert Kirkman have insisted that the end of the Season 6 finale was no different than the ends of other beloved works. They’ve made comparisons to “Empire Strikes Back,” the most recent season of Game of Thrones, and even the famous “Fire” cliffhanger from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

All I gotta say to that is: nope. Nope on fucking toast.

Your Examples Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad

Let’s start with “The Empire Strikes Back” comparison. First and most fore: the Empire Strikes Back doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It ends on a sequel hook. How can you tell? It’s easy, you just have to look at the story.

A complete story is a question, and an answer. That’s it. Here are the questions asked in the beginning/middle of “Empire Strikes Back,” and the answers that the movie gives us by the end.

Will Han, Leia, and Chewie escape the Empire after the disastrous Battle of Hoth? (No)
Will Luke Skywalker complete his training as a Jedi? (No)
Will Yoda and Obi-Wan be able to tame Luke’s more Anakin-like impulses? (No)
Will Vader be able to capture Luke Skywalker and bring him to his Emperor? (No)
Will Luke be able to face and defeat Vader? (Yes / No)
Is Lando really a dickhead? (No)

That’s it. Those are the questions that are set up and answered. Empire Strikes Back is a complete story, contrary to popular opinion. Are there twists and sequel hooks? Absolutely. But you can tell they’re sequel hooks and not cliffhangers because they ask NEW questions that the movie didn’t ask before. Here are the questions introduced at the END of Empire Strikes Back:

Is Vader really Luke’s father?
Can Han be rescued from Boba Fett / Jabba the Hutt?

Neither of those questions were asked in the beginning/middle of the story and simply not paid off.

If “Empire Strikes Back” was the Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, on the other hand, it would have gone a little differently. Season 6 has been setting up the Saviors most of the season, and what do the Saviors say at every SINGLE encounter? “We always kill one of you, to get our point across.” Our heroes are plucky enough to escape their first few encounters, but the audience knows what’s going down. That’s called foreshadowing, that’s called ASKING A QUESTION. It’s storytelling. By beating us over the head with “we always kill one of you,” they’ve let the audience know that one of the crew is getting whacked. It’s going to happen, no matter how much we dread it.

The season, of course, ended with us not knowing who got whacked.

The Empire Strikes Back, by Scott Gimple

To continue the comparison, that would be like if “Empire Strikes Back” had a scene early on where Luke is sitting alone and says, “I wish I knew more about my father.” Then, later on, an Imperial officer is talking to Vader, and Vader goes “I know who Luke’s father is. And that shit is going to be surprising.” And then, during their climactic duel, Vader leans in and says, “Luke. Your father is not who you think he is. Your father is really . . . “and then the sound cuts out, and we focus on Luke’s face. Then Luke bellows “NOOOOOOOO” and we cut to credits.

You can say, “Oh, well, the story is actually about whether or not Luke is happy with who his father is,” and then you could say, “Look, Luke is pissed, which means it’s bad. That’s a story.” You can say that, but you’d be wrong.

If that had happened, the movie would have asked a question, foreshadowed an answer, and then not finished the goddamn story. That would be a “cliffhanger,” which is manipulative and cheap. Would people havestill  gone to see “Return of the Jedi?” Sure. Would they be majestically pissed that they gave their time and money to go see a movie and then didn’t get a complete story? Bet your ass. Would “Empire” be the beloved film classic it is today? Take a guess.

If the producers of the Walking Dead wanted hashtag social media controversy, they would have had it if they’d finished the story. “Oh my God, Negan killed Charlie Maincharacter. How is Charlie’s wife/husband/brother going to handle this? Does that mean Charlie’s storyline with Jake Sidecharacter is over? Who’s going to fill the role? Do you think Charlie’s dad is going to commit suicide? Become a hardass? How is Rick going to take revenge and gain the respect of his people again? Is Rick a broken man after Charlie Maincharacter’s horrifying death?” You’d get “Remember Charlie” t-shirts and hashtags, and “Rick Will Remember That” memes, and “Official Charlie-Whacker” on the side of toy nerf bats. You’d get it all.

Guess what? People were talking about Empire Strikes Back, I promise you that, and it told an absolutely complete and satisfying story.

Now, to the Game of Thrones comparison, real quick, I promise:

Game of Nopes

Here be spoilers for the last season finale of “Game of Thrones,” obviously.

Was Jon Snow’s scene a cliffhanger? No. Jon Snow’s story this whole season was “can he unite the wildlings and the Night’s Watch to fight the real threat. Can old prejudices be forgotten?” The answer, at least from the Night’s Watch, is a resounding “fuck no, Olly.” And Jon pays the price for his lack of vision. The season ends with him stabbed roughly one jillion times, lying dead in the snow. That ain’t a cliffhanger.

Was Dany’s scene a cliffhanger? No. Her story this whole season was “can she tame and rule her dragons, her man, and the city of Mereen?” No. Her dragon, while it saves her, takes her away and plops her in the middle of the boonies, all alone. Her man is a free spirit that she doesn’t control. And the City of Mereen is lost, at least to her ruling hand. Sure, she ends up in a precarious situation that we don’t know the end of (the Dothraki appearing and circling her), but that’s a sequel hook. It’s an unexpected new twist on the story. If the question of the season had been “will Dany control the Dothraki,” and the season ends with uncertainty on whether the Dothraki are going to hurt her, that would be crap. But that’s not what happened.

Was Stannis’s scene a cliffhanger? No. His god and priestess abandoned him, his army was crushed, and he died. No cliffhanger there.

Was Breanne’s scene a cliffhanger? No. She purposely abandoned her vow to save Sansa to fulfill the vow to kill Stannis. Which she did.

Arya’s scene? No. Because the question this season wasn’t “will Arya’s sight return?” The question was “Can she follow the rules of her new life, or does Arya still exist?” That’s a big fucking “yeah, she exists and her new masters are pissed.” Another complete story (with a sequel hook at the end, surprising and unannounced).

Cersei’s scene? No, she was defeated and humiliated by the Sparrows that she helped create. The question asked at the beginning – “Was empowering the Sparrows a good idea?” – was answered whole-heartedly in the finale.

Will Jaime bring his daughter back to King’s Landing? Nope.

Do you get what I’m saying? Those aren’t cliffhangers, which is why they’re good. A cliffhanger stops a scene in the middle, which is what “The Walking Dead” has been doing all season long. It’s sloppy, manipulative storytelling, and it deserves every ounce of anger it’s asborbed.

In Concussion

Viewer time is precious, and having no respect for it is inexcusable. Having fans is one of the greatest things in the world, and treating them badly is shameful. Replacing good storytelling with carnival barker nonsense is, not to put too eloquent of a point on it, bad and dumb.

Nobody finished the totally-complete Season 1 of Walking Dead and said, “Eh, story’s over, fuck this show.”

EVERYONE came back for Season 2.

You done forgot your roots, guys. And the fans are pissed. Take your lumps like men. Own it, apologize for it, admit it.

Remember: if you have to eat shit, best not to nibble.

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The Asshole’s Guide to Editing: #2

Assholes Guide Banner

Start at the beginning with the 1st Asshole’s Guide to Editing.

Last time: Solin woke up and left his house, which took 1,000 boring words.

EXCERPT

“Blacksmith!” Solin shouted. (Good thing Solin said this. I hadn’t mentioned this new character’s profession in at least one (1) seconds).

Jayne raised an eyebrow and leaned across his workbench, “Layabout!” (This is just a good opportunity to point at that “raising an eyebrow and leaning across a workbench” is not a dialogue tag. Turn that comma into a period).

Solin frowned.

“Don’t fret,” Jayne said, “Nothing personal. Sure could use a bit of help, though.”

(While we’re on dialogue attribution and formatting, apparently I didn’t know how to do it. This is an actual draft I sent to people, too, which is a real shame. “Don’t fret” is a sentence, so “Jayne said” ends with a period. The rest of his dialogue is a new sentence. The only reason to cram that comma in there is if the dialogue tag is breaking a sentence, as in, “We could go outside,” Mister Roboto said, “if we want to get eaten by giant space frogs.”)

Solin crossed the cold cobbles in a heartbeat. He stumbled in the predawn gloom (weird wording, like he’s tripping in a vat of physical gloom) and nearly cracked his head on Nathan Jayne’s anvil. The burly blacksmith (really?) caught him, righted him, and brushed imaginary dust off his shoulders.

“Thanks.”

Jayne waved it away and walked deeper into his shop. Horse shoes, hoes and rakes, and even a plow blade hung from the walls. Wooden beams crisscrossed just over his head, and Solin wondered how the place hadn’t caught fire yet. In the back, a black forge glowed with the first morning embers the big blacksmith must have stoked. The smell of metal oil and char filled the air.

(This would have been the first, ideal place to hint that Jayne is a blacksmith – Solin, our dull main character, is seeing something physical. Let the reader discover that, give them something to do other than roll their eyes. It’s not a big deal, obviously, but a book can be interactive if you let it be. Readers enjoy deducing things, give them a chance.)

“What do you need? I’ve never made anything before,” Solin said.

“Yeah,” Jayne laughed, “That’s still gonna be true tomorrow. Just help me haul these crates out to the front.”

He indicated two waist-high wooden crates, filled to the top and beyond with what had to be finished products. Tools and the like, work their owners would soon be picking up. (Oh lookie, this backbirth forgot what perspective the book is written in. You can see him/young-me almost going third-person omniscient here. How the hell does Solin know what’s in these crates or what they’re for?) Solin nodded, reached down, and pulled. Something popped in his shoulders, his back, and probably his head. Solin wondered if arms could grow back. The crate, undaunted, remained in place.

“Just warming up?” Jayne asked.

“Nope,” Solin said, “I think that weighs more than my house.”

“First lesson, blondie,” Jayne said, and grabbed a dolly from the wall. He leaned down, tilted the crate, and jammed the hand truck in the gap. The crate came down on top of it, and the wheels creaked. Jayne’s fingers, already dirty, Solin noticed, (unnecessary, obviously Solin is the one doing the noticing, it’s his perspective) wrapped around the handles on the top.

“Tools, right,” Solin said, “I’m getting it, I’m getting it. Put the weight on wheels, not on your spine.”

“Not totally hopeless,” Jayne grunted.

He tilted the dolly and backed out of the narrow passage. Solin pulled another hand truck off the wall and dropped its front metal plate just at the edge of the box. He mimed cracking his knuckles, set his hands on the lip of the crate, and tugged. Leaned back. Shook. Jumped up and down. The crate, bolted to the ground, he was sure, did not move. Didn’t even blink at the assault, actually, a fact Solin found even more frustrating. (This isn’t super-egregious, but it’s an opportunity to be better – don’t tell us Solin is frustrated, like you’re the ring-side announcer. If we’re seeing him trying his hardest to move this crate and its achieving bupkis, we can guess he’s frustrated. Or have him kick the thing. Don’t just vomit the feeling on the reader.)

“Jayne! Jayne I-“

A voice floated back to Solin, cutting him off, “Grab a lever. A pull bar. Right there. On the wall.”

Solin found the described instrument, a long black metal bar with a crook in it. (You can just say crowbar, Solin isn’t an alien). He hefted it, pretended to swing it at the blacksmith’s distant head, and bent down. The tip of the bar fit right under the box, and he shoved his weight down on the bar (delete “on the bar,” redundant and repetitive). A strip of wood at the bottom of the crate broke off and soared through the air.

“Hmm.”

“What?” Jayne shouted back.

“Nothing.”

Solin tried again, kicking the tip of the pry bar even further under the box. He crooked the bar, and with only a little creaking this time, the crate rose an inch off the ground. The problem, he realized, was lack of hands now. He stared at the hand truck, willing it to glide under the gap he’d manufactured. But he discovered it didn’t respond to pretend magical abilities. A foresight by its creator, he decided.

Solin hooked the dolly with his foot and pulled. It moved awkwardly, top-heavily, but he nudged it into place. He dropped the box onto the metal lip of the dolly. So far, not bad.

(Okay, let’s take a step back from the nitty gritty and look at the scene – why is this scene happening at all? Why are we infecting some poor reader’s mind with this? At best it’s flirting with being amusing, and SHOWING that Solin is a fuck-up rather than telling us. It’s a good idea in theory, but this scene is never-ending. There are like four paragraphs dedicated to the mechanics of using a dolly – this is self-indulgent fluff of the highest order. Just have him try to lift the crate, knock it over, done. We don’t need a resplendent ode to dolly-usage.)

Solin stood up and got the hand truck fully in place. Underestimating the power of wheels and leverage, Solin yanked back on the top of the dolly’s handle. Also, he didn’t hold the front of the crate in place. Solin turned a dolly into a catapult. The crate of tools bucked up, made half a rotation on one corner, and crashed to the floor on its side. (I’m so relieved you described the exact rotation and orientation or else I wouldn’t be able to understand how a crate could fall over. You’ve saved us all from confusion, thank you.) A hundred tools Solin didn’t recognize crested in a wave (“crested in a wave” is at least redundant, if not outright moronic, which it might be) and rattle-ring-jangled across the floor with surprising power. (Actually not a criticism, I think “rattle-ring-jangled” is kind of a perfect way to describe that noise. Kudos for doing at least one thing right.)

Nathan Jayne walked back into the shop, his face a brand new shade of red. Solin would have been amazed by the sight, that is, if he wasn’t too busy being horribly mortified. (Literally two sentences spent on describing a red face. Two.)

“I’m so sorry.”

“Nnn,” Jayne said. Or he might have said. It was the closest approximation of the grunt bubbling out of his lips. (Brevity, assface: “Nnn,” Jayne tried to say).

“I didn’t think…,” Solin said, the guilty dolly still gripped in one hand, “…that. Wow. Look at all those tools.” (The punctuation makes me want to die. Just use dashes to represent the choppy interrupt, or better yet, just use a comma and let the reader figure out the pacing).

“Get. Out.”

“Wait, I can help,” Solin said.

He crouched to pick up a hand saw. A rake was trapped under it, and when he pulled, it spun and cracked its wooden handle into Jayne’s shin. (The rake has a wooden handle? That IS odd, I’m glad you took time to describe that). The blacksmith howled and dropped to one knee to cradle his shin. Unfortunately, his knee landed on the claw-side of an old hammer. Jayne buckled and fell backwards, his back smacking hard into the stone floor. (“Fell backwards” onto “his back.” “Fell backwards” onto “his back.” “FELL BACKWARDS” onto “HIS BACK.” I’ll cut you).

He stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, his face surprisingly calm.

Solin watched him in horror, too afraid to talk.

“Solin,” Jayne whispered.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Solin.”

“Yes sir?”

“There is a back door, Solin. Take it, quickly. If you try to pass by me when you leave, I don’t think I could restrain myself.” (I get the joke, I guess, but this line of dialogue is long and not punchy and certainly doesn’t sound like its being spoken by someone who just fell down and hurt themselves pretty badly).

“Sir-“

“Back door!”

Solin spun on his heel and bolted for the aforementioned door. It slammed open (On its own, you passive-language using wanker?), and a hinge twisted and cracked (ON ITS OWN? What magical phantom is creating these effects?) and gave the door a maniacal tilt. (I guess Solin has super-strength now? Don’t worry, this doesn’t get touched on ever again. Also “and gave the door” is implying that the maniacal tilt was created in addition to the hinge twisting and cracking. There’s no easy fix without having it rewritten entirely, hopefully by a human with at least a thin slice of brains.) Solin looked back into the shop, his hand over his mouth. Jayne’s head still pointed skyward, but he had clearly heard the sound.

“I’m so-“

“Out!”

Solin ran down the street.

/EXCERPT

Overall this is an improvement from last week, where Solin’s most exciting moment was dropping a book on the ground and then picking it up again. The passage also gets a few points for effort, because this young author, still in his salad days, at least TRIED to “show not tell” us that Solin is a lovable screwup.

However, it becomes more obvious as the book progresses that the entire town knows how much of a human disaster area he is, so Jayne conveniently forgetting he’s a screw up so the readers can see he’s a screw up is lazy and contrived. Realistically, Solin should have OFFERED to help – thus establishing him as a good kid – and Jayne should have warned him away with horror in his eyes. That establishes the information WAY FASTER without any ham-handed dialogue or contrived long-ass scenes about proper dolly usage.

Anyway, come back next week for the continuing adventures of “Solin’s Barely Notable Morning Walk.” Maybe he’ll go to the bathroom at some point, or even, oh the excitement, think about stuff.

Next: Read “The Asshole’s Guide to Editing #3.”

Last Week’s “Asshole’s Guide to Editing.”

 

 

 

Categories: The Asshole's Guide to Editing, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Asshole’s Guide to Editing: #1

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For HashtagThrowbackThursday, I thought it might be fun to go through my first, unpublished, piece-of-shit fantasy novel one chunk at a time. I wrote it when I was 19, but that’s really no excuse. I’ve since improved, thank God, with published books like this one and this one. 

At first I just wanted to share my editing-snark with someone who isn’t me, but I realized that this ungodly manuscript might actually be of some use as a teaching tool. Better than sitting in a drawer, I suppose.

Let’s dive right in, folks. The red ink represents my current thoughts and feelings, and the black ink represents a bad novel.

If this is remotely interesting to you, I might make this a weekly feature. Let’s do dis.

EXCERPT

 

Fools and Lyres

Chapter 1

            Solin didn’t like dying. It was a foul way to wake up.

(Jesus, man. Starting your book with your main character waking up from a dream? Painful Cliché #1. Don’t do this. The only good thing about this is that Past-Bobby – Aged 19 – spared the reader from actually being exposed to a tedious dream that had no bearing on the plot.

Also, the writing is just bad. Your first line needs to be clever, memorable, brutal, or poetic. This one tries to be all of them and fails miserably. Also, you couldn’t keep passive language out of the first paragraph? Yuck).

His eyes, fuzzy with sleep, strained to decipher the dark, hulking shapes around him. (Not a terrible line. Maybe start the book here, if you must start it with a dream, which you absolutely should not do). He wasn’t on some distant, broken plain. He wasn’t an old, grizzled knight. (Old and grizzled paint the same feeling, delete one). And he wasn’t impaled, through and through, by black metal.

(Okay, well, kind of spared them from the dream. Don’t give Bobby-19 too much credit, this is like a 5th draft. I’m pretty sure I originally did force the whole dream on the reader. Luckily, even a young, beardless me discarded it as useless.

 Ooo, dream of dying as symbol for change? Painful Cliché #2). 

Solin was in his room. A small room, in a small house, in a small town.

(The hero of the fantasy story is from a small town? Holy shit! Bring me more fascinating originalities, you pile of wet hair. Painful Cliché #3. Also notice the passive language, “Solin was in his room.” There’s a lot more of this coming, coming right for our faces).

He sat up slowly, his back and neck protesting the movement. Keepsakes from a night spent thrashing and twisting. Seventeen isn’t really a popular age for chronic back fatigue, he thought.

(This is just confusing. I start by SHOWING the reader something, a good start: He’s got an achey back and neck. Okay, this is an old character, or one who’s seen a lot of miles . . . wait, he’s 17?

 I try to hang a lampshade on that bare bulb by actually mentioning his age, but it just ends up being two contradictory sentences that don’t illuminate anything. I would just delete that whole thing).

When he adjusted to the dim light in his room, he swung his legs out of bed. An old book, perched on his lap, sailed and cracked into the wall with the movement. He whispered a curse and untangled himself from his sheets to retrieve the thing. Sleep had claimed him like a ravenous predator the night before, and he forgotten the book he’d been reading.

(Problem: I keep describing him waking up. I’ve basically rephrased it like four times already, for some reason).

His fingers closed over the rough fabric of its cover. He plopped back on the bed and turned it in his hands. (Ah Christ, we’re back in the bed again. You paid for the whole seat, Dear Reader, BUT YOU ONLY NEED THE EDGE). The book was dark green with white lettering that said ‘Sir Vayrun Trak and the Birth of a Nation.” As a boy he’d memorized it. (So the main character is super boring, okay, got it). But that was a long time ago. (Not if you’re 17, dipstick). He was told that he was too old for such things. Heroes and tales of magic were childish things. (Same sentence, twice in a row).

He smiled with nostalgic glee as he opened it and rifled through to try to find and mark where he’d left off. (Awful run-on sentence that is terrible and bad. Also, he “smiled with…glee”? As opposed to, what, smiling with rage?). It didn’t take him long; he knew the book backwards and forwards. (You said this already, but kudos on trying to use a semi-colon. I guess that’s something).

After Sir Vayrun was knighted, but before he rode off to bailiff the Kings Council. He vaguely remembered, before he’d drifted off, reading the part where Vayrun saves Princess Alair from the pack of wild marauders.

(God, even the story-in-the-story is cliché and dumb).

“’Turn back,’” Solin quoted, “’Flee or I will release you from this mortal burden.’”

A fist thumped his wall from the other side.

“Sorry mom,” he said.

The wall thumped again, a softer, forget-about-it sound.

(Probably the first time this book woke the hell up. You can see I was trying to create an amusing juxtaposition, contrasting his self-serious and nerdy dramatic reading with the “sorry, mom.” It almost works).

Time to go, Solin decided. She had a lot of work to do with Fair Day tomorrow, (the small town is having a festival? I bet something unexpected and violent won’t happen to kick the story off! Painful Cliché #4) he knew, and she didn’t need him rooting around the house and ruining her last moments of sleep. Solin found his place, shut the book, and slid it back under his bed. It ended its brief journey and nestled against ten more books just like it.

(Eh? Get it? Do you GET IT?! HE READS A LOT DO YOU GET IT?!!!)

Solin threw on his clothes. They were of fine quality, if simple. His mother, a seamstress, made all of his clothes. And most of the rest of the town’s, too, now that he thought about it. It came from being the only professional seamstress within a hundred miles. (You basically communicated “she’s a seamstress” four different times in three sentences. Cut it.)

He remembered the awful week he’d tried to help her around her shop. Needless to say, she hadn’t passed her gift onto her son. Solin had actually sewn his hand into a pair of pants once. It shouldn’t have been possible, according to his mother.

(Almost funny, but it’s like, move the fuck on already. Solin has now spent like ten minutes of precious reader time sitting in bed thinking about his life. If you really want to communicate that Solin is a screw up, do it in dialogue with his mother. Maybe she brings this anecdote up in response to something. Don’t just dump it out of a sack like it’s a rat you caught for supper).

Solin finished his dressing and left the house (Jesus, finally) as quietly as he could, which entailed knocking out both a lamp and a serving tray.

His house was near the middle of town. His mother was well-off, being the only seamstress in Bowen’s Rest, and their house reflected it. (WE GET IT SHE’S A SUCCESSFUL SEAMSTRESS FUCKING SHIT) It had two bedrooms, quality but humble (!!!), and was the only home Solin had ever known. It was his mother’s and father’s before he came into the world, and Solin wondered if his children might someday live here too. Not that Solin wanted children anytime soon. Or a wife. A girl might be nice though.

(This inner monologue is about as enticing as following the comptroller of Fort Wayne, Indiana on twitter).

His eyes wandered the streets as he went. Already a number of the town dwellers were awake; Bowen’s Rest had no shortage of good, strong workers. (Sumbitch, keep up those semi-colons, good on you). Nathan Jayne, the blacksmith, was already stoking his forge as Solin passed by, though his hammer strokes would not ring through the town for another hour.

(Hold on. Hold the fuck on. I have to break this sentence down, because it is the perfect example of terrible writing.

 “Nathan Jayne, the blacksmith, was already stoking his forge as Solin passed by – “

 Okay. If Nathan Jayne is STOKING HIS FORGE, I think we can guess he’s the blacksmith. There’s not a lot of forge-stoking in, say, needlepoint. Cut that piece of ham-handed exposition and move on. Trust the reader a little.

 Nathan was after all a smart man who knew that waking the town so early was possibly very dangerous. (You can see another problem with this book – the voice and tone is all over the damn place. Hell even the perspective is in question.

“Nathan was after all a smart man – “

Did we switch to an omniscient, old-man type narrator? Is this story supposed to be cheeky? A children’s book? What’s happening?

“ – who knew that waking the town so early was possibly very dangerous.”

Okay, ignoring the back-to-back adverbs and passive language – actually, no, fuck that. Let’s not ignore that.

First off, don’t use fucking “very.” Ever. Don’t ever use the word “very” because it’s very, very fucking lazy. You might be thinking of an exception in your head right now, but it’s wrong. Don’t use “very.”

Let’s move to “possibly.” Adverb, so it’s already bad. Why are adverbs bad? Because they’re evidence that you’re not confident, and that you’re hedging your bets.

For instance, the sentence above is saying “Waking the town so early was possibly very dangerous.” Okay, we’re engaged in hyperbole that is trying to be funny. It isn’t, but that’s not really the problem. The problem is that it doesn’t commit. Saying that “waking someone up is a dangerous proposition” is amusing because it’s hyperbole. The person likes sleeping, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually cut your Achilles tendon if you wake them up. Saying “it’s possibly dangerous” to wake someone up is a nothing-sentence. “Possibly dangerous?” You can’t even commit to your own joke? Just say it’s dangerous. Go big. And give us examples, like the Achilles tendon thing above.

The big sin here is the phrase “possibly very.” Whuff, what a stinker. Those two words placed next to each other is a greater crime than the Trail of Tears.

What you’re seeing is unconfident writing at its finest/shittiest.)

Not everyone in town was so productive so early, and like anyone who works hard, enjoyed sleep above most worldly things. Solin waved to Nathan, who raised a burly hand in greeting before sliding his leather apron on.

(There are some subject-verb agreement problems here, but I don’t want to get into grammar stuff too much. This paragraph is bad because it’s more nonsense filler written by someone who didn’t know how to write.

Every thought that popped in my brain went on the page, which is a common mistake for beginners.

Not every thought is gold. Not every book is good. Especially not this one.)

/EXCERPT

Come back next week and we’ll keep trying to slog through this shitheap together! If God is good, it’ll at least be educational.

Next Article: “The Asshole’s Guide to Editing: Part #2”

 

 

Categories: Diary, The Asshole's Guide to Editing, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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