writing

What Am I Up To?

So, what have I been up to lately? This:

What I’m Reading

Image result for dark tower

I just plowed through the entire Dark Tower series by Stephen King for the second time, and I have some shocking and terrible news for you: it’s still incredible. I first started reading the series when I was around 15 years old, and was forced to wait painfully for the last four books to come out. 

Being able to read them all back-to-back provided a slightly different experience. But, overall, yeah. I think it’s still my favorite book series of all time. It’s so epic and surreal and strange, with a truly unique world (well, worlds) that feel 100% real. Even the weirder meta elements in the last few books work really well for me. 

Now I’m reading Republic of Thieves, the third and final book in the “Gentlemen Bastards” series from Scott Lynch. The first two books were perfect fantasy heist stories, and the third is shaping up to provide the same high-tension atmosphere. 

What I’m Watching

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 My wife has hooked me into the Worst Chefs in America show. While I’m normally pretty resistant to reality television’s enervating rays, I am myself a not-great cook who’s trying to do better, so I derive some combination of schadenfreude and actual inspiration from the show. 

I also just recently re-watched the IT remake for the first time since I first peeped it in the theaters. I felt about the same way I did the first time: the kid actors are great (especially Beverly, Eddie, and Bill), the childhood shenanigans are done well, but the movie just lacks all subtlety. I appreciate Bill Skarsgard’s intensity, his ability to morph his face into truly unreal shapes without the aid of CGI: but at the end of the day this Pennywise just isn’t as scary.

It’s not really Skarsgard’s fault, he’s bringing all of his considerable might to the part. It’s more that the script and the filmmakers just abandoned all subtlety: every Pennywise encounter just ends with him going “BOOGAH BOOGAH BOOGAH” and running at the kid and then letting them get away so the plot can continue. 

What I’m Playing

Image result for resident evil revelations 2

A combination of Civilization VI on my PC and Resident Evil: Revelations 2 on the Switch. 

I’ve played A LOT of both franchises in the past, and these newest iterations are both excellent additions to their august lineages. 

Civ VI has a great cartoony style that adds a lot of personality to the proceedings, and it seems to create a bit more dimension in how you build out your cities with the new “districts” system. In general, a lot of things just seem to have more options, like the multiple “cassus belli” for war that impart different warmonger penalities based off different circumstances. 

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is also shockingly great. Resident Evil has always had an uneven history of quality, but since around 5 the arrow has been trending in a downward direction. Revelations 1 brought the series back to its simpler, less-actiony roots (at least, for a while), and Revelations 2 seems to be pushing that even further. Ammo is less plentiful, enemies are more deadly, and the game stresses looking, running, and using the environment above just hosing enemies with bullets. 

Revelations 2 also has an interesting hook where you play as two characters in different time periods in the same area, separated by about 6 months. Each character (old favorites Barry and Claire, respectively) come with a kind of AI sidekick that can be switched to on the fly, who is less badass in a fight but come with their own unique exploration skills. 

It creates a really cool strategy dimension the series never really had, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. 

What I’m Writing

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Deadgirl: Daybreak, actually!

I had a bit of a stall the past few weeks: writers are broken piles of ambition and sloth, and it creates a strange environment for consistent work. 

BUT, I’ve recently had a story breakthrough and worked out some stuff and am back on track. I’ve also pretty much embraced that the book is going to have a nightmarish page count and that’s just something I’m going to have to accept. Trying to keep it lean is going to involve more massive structural changes and maybe I don’t want to. Not out of laziness (though, potentially), but more because I actually like the current story structure and maybe length isn’t all that important (title of your sex tape). 

But, it means more Lucy and Morgan and Zack, so I’m hoping fans won’t mind. And more mendicants and more mythology about the Grey and more scenes for side characters and oh god what have I done. 

That’s it for this week! Thanks for stopping by!

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Why “Deadgirl: Daybreak” is Delayed

Because I suck.

END OF BLOGPOST

A gif of a penguin falling down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, But Seriously Why is “Deadgirl: Daybreak” Delayed?

At the end of “Deadgirl: Goneward,” which is also the last book, there’s a little tag saying “Deadgirl: Daybreak” will drop in Spring 2018. As you may or may not be aware, it’s Spring 2018. And as you also may or may not be aware, you don’t own “Deadgirl: Daybreak” because it’s not possible to own it. Why? Well, mostly because I failed.

I failed to finish the book on time. I failed to figure out the story. I’ve written and re-written and re-re-written about four times now – throwing away about 50k each time and starting over from scratch.

The fact is, Deadgirl is insanely important to me. The first book in the series was my first published book. This last book will be the first time I’ve ever finished a series. This convergence of import is, unfortunately, taking its toll on me.

I owe you, all six of my fans, the last Deadgirl book. I owe it to Lucy, too, and Morgan and Zack and all the rest. But, I owe you a good book, too. I owe you an end to the series that I can be proud of, and that you can feel closes the loop on the story and the characters in a satisfying way.

The first attempt had Lucy basically riding shotgun to Morgan’s story and doing nothing interesting herself. The second attempt had Lucy spending most of the book as a useless rag lamenting the death that occurred at the end of “Goneward.” The third attempt became an action movie.

The current version I’m working on, is, I believe, the truest version.

Excuses, Excuses

I can claim other reasons for not finishing the book, and they’re not all unbelievable – this October we birthed a second child, and it turns out parenting a toddler and a newborn is literally one of the hardest enterprises fools can undertake. I’ve had day-job issues, mental health issues, therapy and anti-depressants. All of these reasons are perfectly functional for the delay of the book, but the fact is, they’re not the real reasons.

I could have finished “Deadgirl: Daybreak” by now. I had the time. I have the word count, several times over.

But I don’t have the words. I promise you I’m looking for them, and when I find them you’ll be the first to know.

My hope is to finish and release “Deadgirl: Daybreak” by Fall 2018.

Lucy means the world to me, and she won’t be left sitting on a beach, watching the grey waves roll and the sky darken and her memory crumble to cold, grey sand.

 

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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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