Thursday, February 28, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Here’s a paragraph from a book I’m currently reading:

“Martinez had been standing under somber skies for what seemed hours. He wore parade mourning dress, with cape and brocade and epaulets and jackboots, and a tall black leather shako atop his head. Service colors were reversed in mourning garb, so instead of green tunic and trousers with silver buttons and braid, the tunic and trousers were the white of mourning, with green collar, cuffs, braid buttons, and brocade. The cape was white and lined with green, and weighted at the corners to preserve its line.”

The next paragraph is much the same. And this is on page 150 of the book. This is well after you might expect some exciting things to be happening. You would have been disappointed.  I ‘almost’ put the book down after reading this paragraph. I read it to Lana and we had a moment of head shaking over it.

My first thoughts upon reading this paragraph were:

1. Who the **** cares?  :  Not me.

2. What does this have to do with the storyline? : Nothing

3. Does it have anything to do with character building?  :  Nothing. By this time the character is established.

4. Does it have anything to do with world building?  : Perhaps a tiny bit but we already know by page 150 what a stuffy and pretentious world this is anyway.

5. Is this deliberate padding because the writer wanted this to be a trilogy (it is) and needed to increase the word count? : Because there’s quite a bit of this sort of thing throughout the book, I’m certain of it.

Had this been the only such slow paragraph in the book I wouldn’t really have been bothered. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. But this was just one of the more egregious examples. I actually like description, but I like it to ‘go’ somewhere. I like it to at least have an impact on world building.

I will probably come off sounding sexist, but had I read this paragraph cold, without any context, I would have suspected it was written by a woman. It was not. (I can only wish the book had been written by Leigh Brackett or C. L. Moore; we wouldn’t be 1 page into it without some heavy duty coolness, much less 150 pages.)  In fact, the male writer who created it is one I’ve read before and enjoyed. That’s why I’m still with the book. And, there is some good stuff in the book. I like the characters. The writing is perfectly professional. From what the back cover blurb said and what I’ve read so far in the book, I’m curious about what’s going to happen when the shit hits the fan, so to speak.  But man, let it hit the fan a little earlier.

In fact, I think I’m gonna type that up and hang it over my desk.  “Let the shit hit the fan early and often.” What do you think?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Massive Quantities!

Massive quantities of grading struck last night and this morning. (23 term papers and 32 essays.) You might say I'm having a gradepocalypse, and will certainly be digging out for a while. We also have faculty interviews today and Monday. That means I won't be able to visit blogs much for the next few days, probably until at least Monday or Tuesday. I will keep you all in mind, however.

In the meantime, the exceptional Ty Johnston,  over at life on the written page has reviewed the first two of my Fiction Techniques series of ebooks. And he said nice things!  I hope you'll get a chance to check it out. And have a look at Ty's own offerings of both print and ebooks. He's got a range of items listed HERE.  I've mostly read his fantasy stuff, which is excellent.

Take care.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I'm pretty irritated at myself these past couple of weeks. I was off three work days for Mardi Gras and wrote virtually nothing. I wasted that weekend as well, and part of the next weekend. I wasted this evening playing some video games and watching meaningless TV. I talked to my writing class today about "making progress" every day, but I've been doing the absolute minimum of progress most days when I could have been doing more.  And on Thursday I get 23 papers to grade from my writing class and there won't be 'any' writing time for me for at least a few days. I've come up with plenty of excuses even when I had time, though. I keep telling myself that I needed some rest after a tough 2012, but the excuses are beginning to sound a little hollow to me.

Time to put up or shut up, I'd say.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Story Time versus Real Time

Although we have objective ways of measuring time with clocks, the human experience of time is very subjective. We’ve all had days where the minutes drag on endlessly, and we’ve had the experience of getting home on Friday and thinking of the great weekend ahead of us and then suddenly realizing it’s somehow gotten to be Sunday night and we have to go to work again.

I’ve been thinking that, in fiction, all time is subjective. I’ve been thinking that the passage of time in written work is indicated by the amount of prose assigned to an event. A battle scene is not fought in “real” time; it’s fought in story time. And story time is relative to the length of the tale. In a short story of 1000 words, a 200 word battle scene is a longgg time.  In a novel of a 100,000 words, a 2000 word battle is pretty short.

Writers dedicate story time to those things they find interesting, or at least to those things they think readers will find interesting. I personally enjoy reading battle and action scenes, and I tend to lavish a pretty fair amount of prose on those in my tales. On the other hand, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a character go shopping for clothes. I’ve seen works where story time has been spent on that activity.

In thinking about books I’ve read recently, mostly noir/crime novels, I can tell you that most story time has been dedicated to violence and sex. The violence often involved some kind of criminal behavior, of course, but mostly the writers dwelt on violence in defense of self or of innocents. The sex time was primarily spent in people trying to get it, and much less in actually having it.

Two other things that writers spent story time on were eating/drinking, and driving. The eating and drinking generally involved rich, delicious foods and fine wines or liquors. There was a clear sense of pleasure about these acts of consumption, and some of the descriptions were tied into sexual aspects of the story. The driving was often associated with the violent aspects, but there was at least some time spent on the aesthetic qualities of automobiles. I found that interesting and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent much time on this topic in my stories either, although somewhat more than with shopping.

One thing that almost no story time was spent on was bathroom activities, other than a character or two throwing up. No time was spent urinating or defecating. I’d have to say that most of my stories follow suite.

What about you? If you write, what do you spend most of your story time on?  And as a reader, what do the authors you read spend their story time on?  I’m curious.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mardi Gras and The Walking Dead

Google Reader is acting up this morning. It first showed me 223 posts from friends, but as I looked these were almost all ones I'd seen before. As soon as it gets straightened out I'll get around to visiting blogs. In the meantime, I thought I'd put up my own post for today.

Monday, February 11. This is the day before Mardi Gras down here and I'm off work through Wednesday. I'm certainly glad to be off, but I'm not a fan of Mardi Gras. I don't particularly like crowds and parades. I'd much rather stay home and get in some rest and reading. It sure was nice not to have to get up at a quarter to  six this morning.

I wasted most of the weekend. Watched a lot of The Walking Dead marathon before the new episode aired last night. I'm a big fan of the show and Lana has become a fan was well. She has even started reading the graphic novels that spawned the show and she brought me the first three volumes home from the library. I enjoyed them and the basic idea is indeed the same, but there are differences in characters that are a bit disconcerting at times. There's no Darrell or Merle in the graphic novels and I do like those characters quite a bit.

Today, I'm going to get back into the writing and see if I can make progress on Wraith of Talera. I was so busy at the end of last week at school that I got nothing done on the book so it's been almost five days. Let's hope I'm not too rusty.

Enjoy your day!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Strange Fires

I feel like I'm skirting the edge of Twilight Zone territory. On Wednesday evening, a truck caught fire on the Causeway bridge and then managed to end up in the water. I didn't see it, as I had--fortunately--passed through a couple of hours before the event. I heard a lot about it though. When divers got to the submerged truck there was no one inside and so far I haven't heard anything else about it.

Although strange, it's not unheard of for such a thing to happen. That doesn't evoke Twilight Zone music.  BUT, Thursday morning, while I was going across the Causeway Bridge to work, I spotted a column of black smoke rising from the bridge ahead of me. Traffic soon came to a stop and we waited about 45 minutes before we could proceed. As I passed the sight of the accident I saw a burned vehicle pulled off to the side.

That's two vehicle fires in two days on the Causeway. A little weird.

Transport yourself to Friday morning. I'm on my way to work. I get off the Causeway Bridge safely and turn down Airline Highway toward work. I see smoke rising up ahead, but off the road, and as I pass an area along the train tracks I see a car on fire. There's no one around it but the engine is blazing pretty good.

Three car fires in three days!  Two that I witnessed personally and all three along routes that I take to work! The Twilight Zone music is ringing in my head right now. I guarantee you.

As I was telling my friend, Lisa about it, she looked at me strangely and said she'd seen a car fire this week as well, as she was going to Baton Rouge. She thinks it was Monday but wasn't absolutely sure, and the car on fire had been involved in a crash.

Four car fires in a week!  To heck with Twilight Zone music. My Spidey sense is tingling.

Monday, February 04, 2013

When One Random Moment Becomes Critical

Everything was going the Ravens’ way until the lights went out in the Super Bowl.  When the lights came back on, the 49ers came back with a vengeance.  Ultimately, the Ravens won, but it got awfully tight there for a while. I’ve seen such things happen many times in other games. I’ve never quite understood it and wish I did.  To be cliché, something “sparks” a team at a critical moment and they come alive. I’d use fresher language if I understood the underlying factors that cause the change.  It seems to me that what happens is that the team suddenly begins to “believe” in themselves.  But why that should happen just because some lights went out for a while is beyond me.

I started wondering if this kind of random happening can spark critical moments elsewhere in our lives. I thought of one, perhaps.  By all logical considerations, the change to a new year on a calendar is a completely arbitrary event.  Yet, many people treat the beginning of a new year as a new “start.”  I’ve known people to jump start careers, reengage in their marriages, change their lifestyles, and do many other things because they decide that “this day” or “this moment” is going to be the critical one.  Nothing changes in the physical world; everything changes in the emotional one.

Of course, many times people try to make such changes with good intentions but fail. This just makes the whole process more mysterious. Why do some succeed and others don’t?  Why do we succeed sometimes but not others?  I have to believe it is a largely an emotional phenomena, but surely there are behavioral elements to it. I wonder what they are?  If I could only figure them out I’m sure I could make a lot of money

What do you think?

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Closing the Loop

Fiction gives the illusion of reality without literally depicting reality. A simple example of this is seen in dialogue. Real dialogue is much more open ended than story dialogue. In a story, good dialogue makes it “sound” like real people are speaking, but the dialogue carries weight and information that is not often seen in actual dialogue between real people.

Unlike real life, fictional stories and movies are self contained entities and pretty much every major aspect of said story needs to be self-referential to the story itself. For example, most of you are probably familiar with the statement that, if you show a gun in the first act, then that gun should be used by the third act.  Fortunately, this is not the case in the real world. A correlate of the “gun” rule in fiction is that the gun used in the third act should not be revealed only in the third act. It should be part of “setting the stage” for the third act.

The “gun” rule extends to other aspects of a story as well, particularly to characters. In the best storytelling, I believe, all the important characters in a book or movie should appear within the first half dozen or so scenes. I’d go so far as to consider it something of a cheat to introduce a new character halfway through or later that plays a major role in how the story ends. This happens in real life all the time, of course, but fiction and real life are not the same thing. If one must introduce a brand new character halfway through a book or movie, then I believe it becomes extremely important to tie that new character to someone who was introduced earlier. That helps, at least, although it doesn’t completely fix the problem.

All of these thoughts coalesced in my head this morning after watching the movie L o o p e r last night with Lana. If you haven’t seen it, you might not want to read further because I’m not sure if I can keep from giving away some spoilers.

There was some good stuff in L o o p e r, including some pretty good acting jobs, especially by this little kid actor who was awesome. It had some interesting ideas, but there were some huge plot holes that really took away from my enjoyment of the movie. It also had a violation of the “gun law,” which troubled me just as much as the plot holes. 

A number of characters are introduced early in the movie, and the viewer begins to make some judgments about them. As the plot unfolds, the viewer, this viewer anyway, begins to seek within the existing characters for the connections that will play out in the movie’s finale.  Then, halfway through the movie, two new characters are introduced, almost literally from left field. These characters have no relationship initially to ‘any’ character introduced before, but the whole ending of the movie revolves around them. The original characters come in contact with the new characters and the movie proceeds from there.  To me, the “gun,” the new characters, was introduced far too late to play fairly with the viewer and it left me feeling dissatisfied.

By its very nature, fiction manipulates the reader or viewer, but because of that the writer has to bend over backward to play as fairly as possible. Only in such a way will the reader or viewer feel as if they were part of the fun instead of being yanked around by a chain.

If you saw the movie, did this aspect of it bother you at all? Do you find violations of the “gun law” troubling?  I’d love to know.