New shoes or old shoes? Make old shoe new.

I have a pair of dockers, which have rubber soles on them. They’re a brown leather.  Over the years, they’ve become worn. The brown color faded to a tan. The rubber sole has a crack and hole where my toe pad flexes.

However, I own a lot of leather and dyes and glues.

So I gave the upper a new dye job. It’s a warm brown, uniform in appearance. They look new.

I cut out leather to fit on the sole and dyed it black so if I’m sitting and you can see the bottom, it won’t be bright vegetable tan. I glued that on and now, no more holes.

The most annoying thing about them was these shoe laces I put in as replacements. They were 27″ long.  This was not adequately long to keep them properly tied. I went all out: 36″ shoe laces!

Total cost? About $5 for the shoe laces. I owned all the other stuff (though I paid for it a long time ago).  Call it maybe $3 in materials.

Funny thing about the rubber soles… see, when you sew a leather sole to the bottom of a shoe, you make a channel for the sewing so the threads don’t get worn down and stop functioning. I noted on the bottom of my shoes that they had molded into the rubber a fake channel with fake threads.  This is amusing. Will anyone but me notice? I doubt it.

The Hobbit violates so many good rules. Why are these characters in this book??

So, yesterday, my friend read chapter 13 of the Hobbit to my 8 year old.

Me: “Why are most of the dwarves in this book? They have no function. Oin and Gloin, for instance? Cut those dudes out. Keep Balin, Thorin, maybe Kili. Or Fili. The rest… don’t need them.”

Friend: “They’re ensemble.”

Me: “And Bombur. He’s the most useless dwarf of all, and is the source of just about every bad situation. Bombur should stay home.”

And on chapter 13:
“All the dwarves do is cry about everything. Every single situation, they’re a bunch of spineless cowards, and it’s Bilbo who has to run the show. What a bunch of whiny, horrible characters.”

Except the spider battle in Mirkwood, where the dwarves actually fought. Let’s look at the record, shall we?

Trolls: Useless. All get captured. Bailed out by Gandalf.
Goblins: Useless. All get captured. Bailed out by Gandalf.
Wargs & Goblins: Useless and stuck in tree. Bailed out by Giant Eagles.
Meeting Beorn: Useless. Actually a liability to getting hosted.
Crossing the river in Mirkwood: Mostly useless (one useful dwarf). The fat one falls in and has to be carried by everyone else.
Hunting in Mirkwood: Useless. They catch nothing and starve.
Scouting: Useless. Bilbo has to climb the tree.
Meeting the Elves: Useless, just tick off the elves each time.
Spiders: Useless, all get captured and have to be rescued by Bilbo. Some of them fight, but most of them are incapable.
Elves: Useless, all get captured and have to be rescued by Bilbo in the barrels.
Barrels: Useless, Bilbo has to release them all after rescuing them.
Lake-town: They are able to do something (finally) based on their reputation.
Searching for the entrance: Useless. Bilbo figures it out.
Scouting the dragon: Useless. Bilbo does the work.
Escaping from the dragon: Useless. Bilbo must rally them and forces them to go into the lair of Smaug. But what if the dragon is there? HELLO!? Isn’t that what you were planning on?

At no point do the Dwarves manage to be pro-active about anything. They are a sum-zero waste of resources and provide for the hobbit to arc, nothing more.

And Thorin is a lousy leader. He accomplishes nothing. Does he ever lead? At the very end, in the 4 chapters coming, he does lead, sorta, but his leadership is lousy and leads to more conflict. How convenient.

Pity that JRR didn’t have a writer’s group to give him good feedback. I’m sure Clive probably *did* give good feedback but JRR ignored it. That would have gotten rid of the extra dwarf baggage and tightened up the narrative some.

 

Holy Line Editor, Batman

I’m obsessive compulsive about reading.

See, I’ll get a new book, and throw it on my Kindle, and start reading. A few pages in, I’ve decided whether I want to continue in the book, and if it’s readable. If it’s readable and I want to continue but the author never bothered to get a line editor, I’m using the highlight feature.

Why? I suppose it’s so I can scribble a note to the author later and say, “I read your book. Good job. Fix your typos.”  But maybe the author doesn’t WANT some random person on the street fixing their typos.

So I’ll ask. So far, everyone has said, “yeah, send me the typos.”  In a few cases, the author had purportedly already caught said typos and uploaded them but evil Amazon hadn’t updated the book it was selling to people.

Fah.  The thing is, if I’m making notes, it’s only because I care enough about the content that I want to help improve it.  Typos are the most vile sort of error.

The High Orbitals, and Accurate Rock Throwing

There is a presumption amongst many sci-fi writers that if you own the space over a planet, you own the planet.  The reasoning is something so simple, an 8 year old could figure it out, yet the people writing Star Wars kinda missed it.

See, kinetic objects of large size that are accelerated to high velocities are detrimental to planets. No need to build a giant planet-killing death star, no, you just need a big rock and something to push/pull it into place.

A nice dense object like a mile-wide piece of nickel would be all it takes to End Life As We Know It on whatever planet you hate enough to smash it. Once the Large Dense Object (LDO) smacks into the planet, bad things happen to the atmosphere, to the crust of the planet, and the poor folk who survive the initial mega-explosion.

Why spend billions of galactic credits on a huge planet killer when you could hire a tramp freighter to tug a large rock into a high speed smackdown? This proves that the Empire are Republicans: Massively wasteful “defense” spending.

So, yes, a nice mag-accelerator to throw projectiles is cool, but a ship with an engine and the ability to catapult a large rock is just as powerful, if not more so.

Jerry Pournelle used this in his book, “Footfall,” where an alien species drops a rock (the “foot” of the title) on Earth. It’s been done right in a few other books, as well.

So now we get to part two of rock throwing. Suppose you arrive at a planet and want to do some close space support for friendlies on the ground.  Cool.  It’s easy, right? Computers and stuff will figure that out.

Not so fast, Fredolf.  A lot of planets won’t have a magnetic pole system like Earth. Wait, did I say a lot? I meant to say no other planet has a magnetic pole system like Earth.  We get lovely things like the magnetosphere around Jupiter, or Saturn, which are these enormous teardrops of radiation that would cook you if you tried to fly through it without a whole lotta lead. So the ship arriving at planet x must either use existing maps and landmarks, or they need to start taking pictures and plotting using active sensors.  Pictures are passive, but your camera can only cover so much ground so fast to be accurate.  Then you have to sequence all those photographs with some sort of arbitrary grid system so everyone has a point of reference.  Once that is complete, you’re all ready to drop some rocks on enemy heads.

Except for one little detail.  See, the guys asking for close air support, they don’t want to die. And this is where the system ought to be subtle.  Remember above we said that the LDO must be a certain mass and velocity to obtain the right size explosion? Here’s where it gets tricky.  If you fire something too small at the planet, you won’t kill the bad guys. If you fire something too big, or too fast, it’ll roast friendlies, too.  So there’s that end of things.

And further, assuming you are using a visual reference system of cameras to hold your position -and- to figure out where the rock is going. Your guy on the ground has a map and he says to hit grid 14528, 93855 and he asks for a 100 meter explosion.  That’s doable, but it is completely dependent on your cameras and computers to be sure the ship is in the right place to throw a slug out of the correct size at the correct velocity.  Otherwise, poor Joe Infantry down there is going to get a heckuva surprise.

Also, remember that survey you did at the beginning? The one that you probably did on a widescan with lower detail so you could get it done quickly? That’s going to determine your grid accuracy, because down to a certain point, it’s just a pixel in your system and you cannot accurately drop your rocks in with a +/- error rate of, say, 5000 meters.

Of course, you can use radar, lidar, sonar in some locations to bolster or even be the first method of determining where you are and avoid the whole “sorry, can’t shoot, weather in the way” problem.  This is SCIENCE FICTION, man, figure out a way to fix that end of things. A little rain will never stop us!

So there’s some of the things that can screw up the whole “we have the high orbitals” device.  So what? If you have no boots on the ground, yeah, you have nothing to lose pitching rocks at the planet, but if you have any stake at all, you’ll want more precision and it’ll take quite some time for a new ship to index the planet and prepare a right and proper targeting grid system.

There’s further problems which are that even if you have the best cameras in the universe and they can see the scrotum on a flea from high orbitals, you still have to know where to aim that camera to see stuff to shoot at.  You don’t just indiscriminately pitch rocks at a planet… unless you’re the Empire. And then you just build a death star (used once, awesome condition, good for destroying planets at great expense. Needs some sort of cover over the exhaust port to prevent that 1 in a million shot by a farmer’s kid.

The Cogsmith’s Daughter

I’m reading Kate Colby’s Cogsmith’s Daughter, and it’s well-done, but there’s a bit of worldbuilding that is niggling at me. See, it’s steampunk mixed with a sort of post-apocalyptic scene, where a bunch of survivors of a great flood are living in the desert around a huge ship.

So far, so good.

In fact, you should buy it and read it if it’s remotely down your aisle of stuff you like. Kate writes well and I have yet to encounter an out-of-place comma or tyop. So my compliments to her, or her editor, or both, on turning out a splendid product.

The protagonist, a likeable character named Aya, is part of a plot to gain revenge on the king. I can tell you that, because that’s in the book blurb, so I’m not posting spoilers here.

Part of that is she gets a lot of new clothes made for her.

That’s where the thing is breaking for me. See, silk normally comes from silk worms, right? You just don’t usually have bolts of it lying about.  Maybe they have some storerooms full of cloth. However, eventually the silk and cotton and velvet is going to wear out or you run out of it.  Cloth degenerates, just sitting about. For instance, see this article about temperature, light, humidity influencing the deterioration of fabric, especially heat. Metal in heat (such a ships in the middle of deserts) would be quite hot inside, and the higher the temp, the faster the deterioration of cloth.

So, yeah. Unless you have fields of cotton (and there’s no reason to believe they have this, though there are farms, but it’s not a commodity mentioned) and an industry around spinning and dyeing and weaving, after a few hundred years, no more cotton.  Same deal with linen (made from flax which grows in super wet conditions). Same deal with silk. That leaves you with wool.  I do believe there are sheep in the story, which means there’s mutton and wool. Maybe there’s goats, too.  Now, wool is a fantastic type of cloth for making stuff, but it doesn’t evoke the luxury of silk or velvet. I do see that they make wool velvet– see here for a nice-looking 40s coat of wool velvet— and I suppose that may be the velvet we’re hearing about in the book.

Anyway, there it is. That’s the part that’s bugging me. You’re saying, “Seriously, logistics, Matt? That’s the part you’re taking away from the book? Who cares??!” I know, it’s stupid.  OTOH, it’s also a steampunk genre, which is fantasy/sci fi that can’t make up its mind which one it is anyways, and the rest of it is a fancy bit of worldbuilding that I like. I can see Kate carefully setting up the conflicts and I’m pretty sure that the thing isn’t going to go the way the protagonist thinks it’s going to go.  I’m still cheering for her.  41% of the way through, and it’s a good read, except for my logistics nitpicking.

There’s probably a 12 step group for such a problem, though I’m not sure I’m going to join it. Good news: I just googled it and there is definitely no 12 step program for nitpicking. There probably should be…

Who writes combat well?

It’s something of an art form. I’m not sure I grasp it well, but I try. Some things I note about combat are that it’s difficult to parse out things and do them at the same time. For instance, it’s hard to do a contact report (SALUTE) while you’re firing to suppress the enemy. Also, while aimed fire is desired, most of the time you’re doing area fire. The enemy usually doesn’t cooperate by standing still or remaining outside of cover unless it’s WWI.

I’ve been chewing on Chapter 9, in which there’s a fight in a dark building in a hallway between four people with automatic weapons and heavy combat armor.  I wanted to show the little bits and pieces that comprise the fireteam communications between the two marines, the situation reports upstairs to the squad leader plus his orders back down, and put that all in the context of an intense firefight happening at less than 10 meters in a hallway.  It’s only 2 pages of stuff, the rest is the context before/after of the chapter.

Now, my wife insists that most combat scenes in movies are throwaway because it’s impossible to properly track what’s going on, and thus they’re a waste of time. Maybe she’s right. How does this following scene track? Are you able to follow what’s happening, or are there points where the narrative is too slim? I try to assume the reader is smarter than me and will get things from context and understand the scene, but I know that things that are clear in my mind aren’t necessarily so when I write them.

Here’s the chapter:

text break

Sergeant Ihejirika’s armor loomed in the doorway. His weapon was up. “Bring anyone with you? Or is the back trail safe? We’ll need to evac upstairs, grab your suit,” he pointed at a hallway, “in the cafeteria, suit up, ready to go in two millis. Father O’Hara, it’s been a pleasure staying at your orphanage and I regret that there may be consequences of our stay which we did not anticipate.”

“I know,” said O’Hara.

Yuen rushed down the hall past Anaru, Radawski, and the two navy guys, overshot the cafeteria and doubled back to find her suit positioned for access. Bendtsen stood next to the armor, and about twenty children ranging in age from infants to teens sat behind makeshift table barricades. Several nuns circulated around, and sister Mary Angela greeted Yuen as if nothing were amiss.

“I heard about the death of your officer and the woman. So sad,” said sister Mary. “Are you all right? Do you need food? Water?”

“No, thank you,” Yuen said. She listened to the squad net as Ihejirika gave the orders for Nguyen-Nguyen’s squad to occupy the storage building on twenty-five.

“I need to lose weight,” Nguyen said over the net. “This stairway is pretty tight, but you can just barely make it through. You’ll need finesse.”

Yuen stepped into her suit, this time using Bendtsen for balance, and commenced suiting up. Sweat, cleaner, and oil replaced the smell of children, food, and incense.

“Authorized user: Anasia Yuen, LCPL, ISM,” blinked the display.

“Worked this time? Stablum had to reboot three times, and he’s got a check system warning recommending he turn in his suit immediately to the nearest certified naval engineer to perform major fixes.” Said Bendtsen over a PTP network.

“Like that’s going to happen. Yeah, I’ve got residual damage from the fire last night, but mostly at 95%. I’ve got some major maintenance that needs doing, but it’s not like there’s a naval engineer for a few billion light years who can do it, or that we have parts.” Yuen said, completing all her system checks and picking up her two rifles. She slung one and held the other ready in her hands.

“Maybe we can pick up replacements.” Bendtsen said. “Isn’t this the home of Chieftain Combat Systems?”

Yuen laughed. “I forgot that. It’s not a bad idea, but how are you going to get requisition forms from Naval Logistics signed?”

“Miss?” came a voice from a boy, about eight years old.

“Yes?” Yuen said, opening her helmet.

“All squad, prep for evac in a milli, pull back from positions on my mark,” radioed Ihejirika. A countdown timer popped up on each helmet screen with 144 seconds. A milliday was 144 seconds, an easy and natural number for people to remember. It had been thus for millennia.

“Miss, did you come from here?” the boy asked. The children around him tittered.

“Hold on,” Yuen said. “One and two copy evac on timer,” she said over the net. Then, to the boy, she said, “What’s your name?”

“Anton.” The boy said.

“I’m Anasia.” She said. She held out her armored hand. “Shake, Anton.”

He enthusiastically grabbed her glove and shook.

“Yes, Anton, I’m from here. I grew up here, in the girl’s ward, down the hall. And I joined the Imperial Space Marines.”

“Are you in trouble?” Anton said.

“Who told you that?”

“Mr. Tubesteak told us that we needed to hide for a while, because there were bad people coming…because of you.”

“Private Tubesteak is right. You need to hide after we leave so no one gets hurt.” Yuen eyed Bendtsen. Mr. Tubesteak? His eyes twinkled. “Now I need to go, but maybe we’ll see each other again,” she said. “Keep your head down and protect your friends here, Anton.”

“Let’s go, P-… Yuen.” Bendtsen said. “Bye, you guys. Stay safe. Stay down after we leave.”

A few of the kids waved with abandon, and some called his name and said goodbye.

Yuen closed her helmet and moved into the hallway. It was time to earn her pay. When did I stop earning it? The problem is that the pay might accrue every moment of time, but it’s so little that it means I work for less than the guy selling Kafe’ down the street.

Mister Tubesteak, you were pretty cozy with the kids back there,” she said on the PTP net.

Bentsen said, “Uh, I like kids. They’re good kids, Yuen. I hope the ACP doesn’t mess this place up because we were here.”

“First level pull up to second level storeroom,” Ihejirika said on the radio. “Anaru, Radawski, carry the suit.”

The power in the orphanage failed at that moment. The rooms and hallways went dark.

Yuen faced the main door and brought her gun up.

“Nine to squad, power cut, prep for possible breach.”

“One copies, we’re pulling back from the main hallway lower level. Bendy, move back to the stairs.” Yuen said. She moved into a doorway midway down the hall and crouched, her rifle still aimed at the door.

“Moving.” Bendtsen said on the fireteam net. The stairs were at the opposite end of the hallway from the main entrance, through a doorway on the side of the hall.

“Weapons free, watch for civilians. One and Two, you are to fall back to the storeroom second level for evac through the passage,” Ihejirika said on the squad net.

“Copy weapons free and fallback for evac,” Yuen responded. Via her external speakers, she said, “Everyone stay down in the cafeteria.”

“We’re okay, we’re okay—” someone yelled from the cafeteria, probably Mary Angela. Her words were lost in an explosion as the front entrance burst inward. A bulky figure in powered armor peeled through the front door and to his left, followed immediately by another person in heavy armor who peeled to the right. Both their rifles were up and firing down the hall. Yuen’s rifle spat slugs into the first invader, and her suit registered bullet hits from the two invaders. The room at the entryway gave both invaders room for cover on either side of the hall, and they crouched and leaned around the corners to fire at the two marines.

“Two to Nine, Contact! Front door—” a burst of firing, “level one, two HCA, we are engaged!” Bendtsen said.

“Breaking contact, Bendtsen cover! Fall back to the stairway and move up.” Yuen said. Some systems were flashing red on her suit.

“Set, covering!” Bendtsen fired on the two corners behind which the the invaders sought cover. Neither invader seemed injured by Yuen and Bendtsen’s fire.

“Moving!” Yuen responded, moving backwards and staying to one side of the hallway. Bendtsen continued to fire down the open side of the hallway to suppress the two HCA suits.

At least they can’t hit the second level with HCA suits… unless they are marine-trained.

Yuen took cover in a hallway closer to the stairs at the end of the hall, and Bendtsen indicated reloading.

“Covering!” Yuen said. She fired on single shot, well-aimed shots clipping and going through the corners where the two enemy HCA suits were covering, presumably also reloading. “Nine, one, sitrep, we are falling back to the stairway with covering fire, at the stairway now and ready for evac from this building in less than a quarter-cent. “

“Up! Covering!” Bendtsen yelled.

“Nine copies.”

“Moving!” Yuen said, reloading as she backed up to the stairway. Bendtsen fired more shots as she passed him, then stepped back up the stairs to follow.

“Alpha one and two are on the second level, moving to storeroom.” Yuen said on the squad net. “Bendtsen cover, I’m falling back.”

“Copy.” Bendtsen finished reloading and aimed his rifle. “What was that?! None of my shots seem to have affected them.”

“Fifteen millimeter isn’t what it used to be,” Yuen said, bringing her rifle up from the storeroom door and covering the stairway. “Covering!”

“Falling back,” Bendtsen said. He hustled down the hallway to the storeroom door and moved past Yuen.

“Get in the stairwell, move, I’ll hold this as the tail,” Yuen said.

“Copy.”

Weapons fire sounded from the floor below, and screams.

“They’re killing them!” Bendtsen said.

“Fall back, private.” Yuen said. Bendtsen hesitated, then moved into the hidden stairwell. Yuen noted an unarmed civilian in her suit’s threat display, a green figure in the storeroom. Father O’Hara.

“This is goodbye, O’Hara.” Yuen said. “They’ll probably shoot you if you aren’t careful.”

“I’m ready,” Father O’Hara said. “I think they already killed my flock, my kids.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Yuen said. “That wasn’t us.”

“Top of the stairs, Yuen, waiting for you,” Sergeant Ihejirika said on the squad net.

“You brought them here. I forgive you.” O’Hara said. “Here’s the key for the truck. Better get moving so I can close this hidden door. Lock the top. If you need to come back, you know the combination. You won’t ever come back. Find your friend, find that place that cloned you, and find your sister/mother. God bless you.”

Yuen slipped up into the narrow stairway, and O’Hara closed the hidden door.

“Let’s move, people, we need to find transport and repairs, bravo pull from the second floor down the first floor.” Ihejirika ordered.

“Bravo copy, coming to first floor.”

“Hope you have a plan, Sergeant,” Yuen muttered.

“I do. We take the truck.” Ihejirika said.

New York Ruined Pizza

Sure, you can call this subjective. You might say, “that’s just your opinion.” And you’d be right, if it were indeed not backed by cold, hard, truth.

New York has ruined pizza.

Yes, the style of pizza called New York crust, with the crunchy thin crust that’s like eating a tasteless, cardboard flavored water cracker with perfectly good tomato and cheese wasted on top of it, that’s what I’m talking about.

Look, you can say whatever you want about thin crust, but that will never change the fact that it’s like eating a large, nasty saucer of Papier-mâché. Why would you ruin an eating experience like that? Next, you NY Pizza lovers will start to claim that undercooked pasta is good to eat, too. Yum! Sheets of durum wheat that will break your teeth! Yes! This is what we’ve been missing all this time.

No. Undercooked pasta is, at least, fixable by boiling it another few minutes. And then you gotta test it, or it’ll go to the dark side of pasta, scoto! Overcooked! Fit for feeding to the cats and nothing else. Al Dente. Just like pizza needs a statutory thickness or it’ll be too thin.

Just say no to skinny pizza crust. It is an abomination.

Say, can you write this book for me? How to gain me and others as a lifelong fan

I was musing about the fact that I’ve read some books that were pretty good. I liked the characters, liked the story line, but something just was off about things and it made the book… okay.

If you’re an author, you’re thinking, “I don’t want my book to be just okay. I want it to be great! Catcher in the Rye! To Kill a Mockingbird! I WANT TO BE GREAT!” Because OKAY just sucks.

I’m there with you. I want you to be great, too. But let’s sit down for a second and talk about your weaknesses, as I see ’em. I’m speaking from the heart here, as a reader of the fine goods you are purveying.

First, the little stuff. Your typos are killin’ me. When you publish a book, there should be no typos. That’s your standard. 100%. No typos. I’m obsessive about typos, and I’ll highlight as I go. It bothers me that much. If you have an editor, make sure she gets all those suckers. If you think that typos are okay, then please don’t publish your book.

Homophones. No, it’s not slang for a gay man calling your cell, it’s two words spelled differently but sound the same. I make these errors too. Again, your editor should nail these, every one. I think, if you’re typing 10,000 words a day, you’re probably going to have a moment when your brain says “too” and you type “two.” Just make sure it’s edited later to omit them, get the right words.

Adverbs. One adverb every so often is alright, I guess. If you have them in every paragraph, I urge you to do away with them. Weasily little words like “mostly” and “horribly” and “surprisingly” do not a great manuscript make. It’s the writer’s equivalent of having your heels up in dressage (which you will never, ever see in professional dressage. Never). Maybe it makes you comfortable. I don’t know why you need the bloody things so much, but it’s about 1000 extra words your manuscript didn’t need. Does the adverb help the book? (I was going to put “actually” in there, then laughed at myself.)

Passive everything. Use active voice. Passive is for characters who speak that way, and that’s it.

Infodump. I am now going to type at you for a couple pages about the politics of my universe, just so you know who is what. First, we’ll talk about the wizards’ guild, and then about the nature of magic, and then we’ll talk about Piotr the Pensive, who is king of the wizards, and then we’ll talk… well, I’ll type about the nature of the wizards and the elves, and nary a conversation or goal oriented scene will you read for… oh, I say about 5,000 words.

Please don’t do this. Write the bloody scene like this:

  1. Goal
  2. Conflict
  3. Disaster
  1. Reaction
  2. Dilemma
  3. Decision

Now, do you see anywhere in that list something that says “infodump at the reader”?

So it’s not:

  1. Conversation
  2. Infodump
  3. Nothing happens

Excise those evil chapters from your book. If it isn’t knowable by the characters then you ought to figure out a way to work it in without making my fiction reading into M.C. Bishop’s “Roman Military Equipment,” or a thinly disguised polemic on why you, the writer, hate republicans. Not that Bishop’s book is bad. It’s amazing. But it’s not fiction.

Got some favorite verbs or words? We all do. Got one or two that you like to use a lot? I remember reading one author’s books and one thing that I wish his editors would break him of is all his characters do eye-rolls. 17 times a book!  You can do a word frequency check on your Word manuscript to discover how often you use certain words. You can also ask your beta readers to note any that occur too frequently. Sure, there’s words that you will use a lot, like “said.” That’s fine. Dialogue tags mean that you’re using dialogue, which is a nice way to move your plot along. I’m talking more about words like, say, “obfuscated.” If I use that more than once in my manuscript, it sticks out, because it’s an unusual word. I’m saying, be creative in your word use. There’s thesauri in abundance and perhaps there’s another word you could use instead of that one.

And… that brings me to deep POV. If you’re using that, instead of the fascia of shallow POV, it’s going to break you of a lot of habits, such as passive voice and adverb use. Deep POV demands more discipline than just blarbing your manuscript onto the page. There, you craft each moment in the scene, and let your reader experience it with the character. Taste it. Touch it. See it, smell it, hear it. Ah, there we are in the scene with the protagonist, looking over his shoulder, smelling the mouldering forest floor, feeling the oppressive warmth of the mid-day sun through the pine needles, feeling a cool breeze and the feeling of nettles on our leg. Oh dear. Nettles?! Find some Dock Leaf!

Okay, you’re avante garde and you eschew the 3 act play. Your book has five acts, because you’re just that smart and you know how to transcend the form.

Um… no. You don’t. Look, just do the three acts in your first hundred books, and then you can go to something more crazy and go all James Joyce moo cow on us. Until then, don’t make your structure suffer. There’s SO MUCH WRITTEN on how to write a screenplay. 120 pages, put this event here, that event there, boom, your story is done and everyone will love it. Oh, but you decided to put the climax at the beginning to surprise the reader ( and then bore the living daylights out of her from that point on). Structure is the biggest reason your book is dull or flat. You didn’t give the readers the same boring format. Act I: Character in normal world. Hints of something coming. BOOM! Door of NO RETURN to act II. Act II, the character is in it now and stuff happens to build up to DOOR OF NO RETURN to ACT III. CLIMAX! Denouement. And then write your sequel. That’s simplifying it, but some books I read don’t do this at all. Sometimes, I think the writer just lucked out and got it right, other times it might look contrived, but if that structure isn’t there then the book will be like Kansas. FLAT.

Yeah, I’m trying to sympathize with your protagonist. He has to save the world! But I don’t care enough about the character to want him to save the world. Give me a reason to like your protagonist, beyond the fact that he’s a Mary/Marty Sue and you the author are so awesome. Oh, and burden your character with some negatives. Everyone has negatives, so why is your character the exception? Boring boring boring. Flat. I want your character to have some awful flaw. GIVE HER LEPROSY. Chop off a leg. Gouge out an eye. And then assign some awful negative trait.

Then arc that character.

And yanno? You can arc everyone. I dare you. Don’t let the rest of your cast just sit around. Make them arc, too. Make them realize their wants and needs and that what they thought was true was truly wrong and make them arc. Make your villain arc. Arc arc arc! I want this so bad. No arc, flat book. Multiple arcs, awesome book.

Your stakes suck. Yes. There needs to be some life and death, give and take, and I need to believe it. MAKE ME THINK YOU’RE GOING TO PULL THE PLUG ON THE PROTAGONIST AT ANY MOMENT. MAKE ME BELIEVE IT.  It oughta be like talking to a Mafia guy: “You know, it would be tragic if a 747 were to fall out of the sky and crush your protagonist, if you get my meaning.”  If you can’t do that, go back and figure it out. If I’m not convinced, then you’re not doing a good job for your readers and you should reconsider what you’re writing. Life. And. Death. Like the whole “Who am I going to the prom with?” question. That’s life and death. And who wins the oscars. That’s life or death. Er, no, not the oscars thing. Every once in a while, drop a piano on some beloved supporting character so that I know that you, the author, mean business and the protagonist might just be next, because you’re a rattle snake in a ten-gallon hat kind of mean. Someone somewhere said, “kill your darlings” but I don’t think they meant to destroy your supporting cast. I say, “get them, too.”

Stakes vs. Tension. You need tension to keep the thing taut and the reader on the edge of his seat. Sometimes, I’m readin’ something, and the stakes are awesomely (unnecessary adverb) high. Ripley, save the girl from the alien queen in the basement and escape the atmosphere plant in the next four minutes before the whole place goes up in a mushroom cloud. And the tension is there. Why? Because the stakes are high (life and death) but also because she’s going into this place where the aliens will jump you AT ANY TIME and they have acid for blood and there’s a stupid alarm blaring “you have three minutes to reach minimum safe distance” and freakin’ H.R. GIGER covered the walls with this crazy stuff and the whole thing is done so that you absolutely are on the edge of your seat. Stupid Ridley Scott made us go deep into the lair of the bad queen to get Newt, he didn’t let us just get out of that easy. The tension on that was fantastic!

So make me wish for a seatbelt. Make me desire peace and stability. Give me tension. Give me high stakes.

The next time you put keyboard to screen, write this book. Write the great book. I will give you my undying fealty by buying all your books, reading them, and posting five star reviews that say “this author understands structure, character, and will not disappoint you like the last five.” That’s the biggest gift I can give you.

 

Super Structure. And I bought note cards and pens.

I’ve read Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story by James Scott Bell.

This tied together character arc in a huge way for me. Bell has another book called “write your book from the middle” which has the same essence as I understand it, though I haven’t read that book. The idea of super structure is that the plot adheres to a 3 act structure. And within the three acts, certain things happen at certain points. Thus, the point where the character questions his self and whether to go on hits the 50% mark. He calls this the mirror/mirror moment.

A year ago when I was researching good plot, I found something that was along the same lines, only it was describing a screen play. In it, they said something along the same lines as Bell’s book, except they didn’t have the character arc ensconced in it in such a clear way. Write the character right, and then the rest of your plot is mere child’s play. It will fall in place around the character’s arc, that whole Lie the Character Believes but won’t by the end of the book, the thing that bonds us emotionally to the work so closely and meaningfully.

In the meantime, I bought index cards and pens. I’ll give this a go. Those of you I mocked for using notecards, don’t mock me.😀