Category: writing

Plots that Annoy Me: Picaresque

I came to a realization last night while watching some Netflix. (Show of the moment? Money Heist, which I enjoy a lot of, but there are some aspects that bug me which will become clear as you read this post.) There’s a whole vein of storytelling that’s becoming more and more difficult for me to actually enjoy. I’m not saying I totally hate the trope and will never watch or read anything like it, but if a story’s going to pull it off, it’s going to take some very heavy lifting.

I’m talking about the picaresque. Actually just one slice of it, really. I have nothing against first person or realism or satire or criminal behavior by the protagonist. But the “series of events” bugs the living daylights out of me, especially when jammed together with the “little or no character development.”

This is one of the reasons I gave up on House so easily. It was a formula, and they were going to follow that formula again and again and again. This is clearly a successful pattern to follow, especially with serialized television. Matlock or Perry Mason, CSI or Law & Order, pick your poison. Back in the days of reruns, this was a perfect setup for a television show. Establish the characters, and have people come back week after week for the characters doing the same thing as last week, and it doesn’t really matter what happened last week. There’s a new mystery, and you solve that mystery.

For me to want to stick with something like that longer than an episode or two? It’s going to take some awesome storytelling. Some fantastic characters or some intriguing plots or a twist I haven’t seen.

I don’t mean to dismiss a whole swathe of pop culture. I really enjoy murder mysteries, and I’ve watched more than my fair share of Law & Order episodes. Sometimes they scratch an itch that just needs scratching. But what I really dislike is when a story pretends to be something else, but at its core, it’s just serialized fiction. When a story promises character development and sweeping plot developments, and it gives me layer on layer of the same. Me no likey.

What exacerbates the problem is when those series of adventures become too obvious. The skeleton of the plot seems to just unravel, and I no longer really care about who’s doing what, since nothing seems to matter. Some new adventure will always pop up. Money Heist has a favorite trick: point guns at people. It feels like every episode, somebody’s pointing a gun at somebody else. Often multiple people are pointing guns at each other at the same time. This is supposed to increase tension, but they’ve done it so often, the trick’s worn thin. Nobody ever actually gets shot. (Well, once or twice, but very rarely.) It’s just a thing the writers like to do to show just how serious things have gotten.

Not a fan.

In books, this all plays out more or less the same. The hero goes through a series of trials, but none of them really seem to matter. You don’t know what’s coming up next, and so they can’t really plan for anything. It begins to feel like they’re succeeding not because they’re particularly good at what they do, but that they’re lucky. Problems arise due to bad luck. They disappear due to good lucky. In the end, I just stop caring.

If it were up to me (and when I’m writing, it thankfully is), I would prefer stories that have stakes that matter. Where the audience and the protagonist are aware of the challenges they’re going to be facing. Sure, some of it’s up in the air, but they can at least think of a plan to overcome the odds. It can then turn out even worse than they’d planned, but they can then use the smarts and experiences they’ve experienced up to that point to throw a new, meaningful plan together and win the day. The past is connected to the present and the future in a tangible way, and the things we’ve read before feel like they pay off later on in the novel.

Am I asking too much?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

What I Forgot about Writing Groups

I’ve now had my second meeting of my new online writing group, and I can’t say enough about what a great experience it’s been. I thought I remembered the perks of being in a writing group, but that memory had gotten hazier than I’d realized over the years. What, exactly, has it done for me?

First of all, there’s the value of immediate feedback. Being able to hear from other authors about a specific bit of prose I’ve written highlights all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Some of this should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t. (Because I forgot, and because I’m dense.) Everyone has their own worldview, and it’s difficult to look outside that view, because it defines who you are. In many ways, you can’t know you’re missing something, because you don’t even know there’s an area you might be missing.

When you’re writing a novel, you get very involved with the plot and the characters. Sometimes you don’t even realize there’s a huge glaring error on the page, because you’ve been working with it so long you no longer see it as an error. Having someone else read it, notice it, and then having a group of people confirm it in one fell swoop is lovely.

I also gain a lot by reading other people’s writing with an eye focused on what I liked, what I didn’t like, and why. That’s different from how I read most fiction. I consume it instead of reading it critically. (Why? Because I don’t enjoy it as much when I’m reading with a critical eye. And I read for enjoyment, most of the time.) In the conversations that follow a critique, I get to see how many evaluations stacked up against other people’s. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong or right, or that they are, but it gives me multiple data points to evaluate things on. That’s helpful.

Some things are very specific helps. The book I’m workshopping right now is SILVERADO (codename for now), the YA steampunk alternate history fantasy that I’ve been tinkering with for quite some time. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the world works and how the magic system operates, but that’s not something I typically handle. Most of my writing has been urban fantasy, where so many of the details are the same as the regular world. Only the magic has changed. In this book, the magic has permeated the entire society, so I was trying to play that out, even though I’ve never done it before.

One of my writing group members, however, writes epic fantasies. Fantasies that very much deal in sprawling worlds and magic systems. So to have him be able to look at how I’m introducing my world and magic system and give some pointers is invaluable. (Pro tip: I was introducing it all too fast.)

That same concept applies to tons of other things. My viewpoint character this time is a girl. I am not a girl. Someone in my writing group is. Do you think it might help to have a female perspective? (Duh.) I’ve never lived in San Francisco, where my book begins. Someone in my group has. Again: helpful.

And beyond all of that, just the experience of talking to other writers again is wonderful. Hearing how they deal with different challenges. Hearing what the word on the street is about different genres and agents and target audiences.

All. Helpful.

Worth some time out of my schedule? Undoubtedly. Here’s hoping it continues for months and years to come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Back in the Writing Group Saddle Again

I’ve been in a number of writing groups over the years. For a long time, it was the main way I made myself feel like a writer. Eventually, my hectic schedule managed to elbow writing group out of my life, and it’s been about four and a half years since that happened. In the intervening time, I haven’t really found a good mechanism for getting feedback on a regular basis. When I was out in Utah in January, I was talking to some authorly friends about it, and I decided to give it another whirl.

The current plan is to meet via Google Hangouts (or something like it) once a week. There will be 4-5 of us total, and submissions are capped at 5,000 words each. That means each week I’ll have up to 20,000 words to read and critique, which will certainly be an added item on my To Do list, but in return, I’ll get 5,000 words of my writing critiqued. Yay for that.

Better yet, the plan is to have our meetings during the day. Lunchtime here on the east coast. One of the biggest drawbacks of my last online writing group was that we typically didn’t start our meetings until around 9pm my time. (As I remember? I could be wrong on the exact start time . . .) We had members from Utah to Maine, and so it had to be late enough for people to get home from work in Utah and get kids squared away before we began. With this new writing group, we still span the country, but a good number of the members (all but me? not sure on that one) are full time writers. And if there’s one thing full time writers have going for them, it’s flexibility of schedule. So they’re all able to meet in the morning in Utah/Idaho, so that we can meet at lunch for me.

How am I going to carve out time to do this? Well, I already spend time each weekday jogging in place. (Yes, I’m still doing that.) I’ve actually been known to mute myself during phone conferences so that I can jog in place during them as well. Usually I’ll watch movies, tv shows, or Magic: The Gathering videos while I jog and eat my lunch. On Wednesdays I’ll just jog and offer writing critiques. In other words, my hope is that all I’ll be “giving up” for this is the time I’ll spend reading the submissions. And since I’ll count that toward my yearly goal of a book per week, even that won’t really be giving up time. The whole endeavor shouldn’t make an impact on my overall busy level.

In theory.

But even if it does, in practice I think it’s worth it. My approach to writing right now is to write a first draft of a novel and then shelve it for 6 months, at which point I drag it out, reread it, and give it a second draft. The only person’s input I typically receive on it is my own. From there, I send it off to my agent, and we bounce it back and forth for a while. My hope is that with some good critiques from a writing group, this will show a marked improvement in the process. Plus, writing is often a solitary process. It’s good to be able to hear from other writers. Double plus, I’m already a fan of two of the writers in my group, meaning I read their stuff anyway, and I really respect their skill level. (Even if one of them already admitted that they liked Parasite. I’m trying not to hold that against them . . .)

All-in-all, I’m pretty excited for the new adventure. Wish me luck!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Green Eggs and Trump

For the past while, I’ve been toying with a Green Eggs and Ham approach to the election this year. Why? Because I’m easily amused, I suppose. And going on the assumption that some of you are easily amused as well, I now present to you:

Green Eggs and Trump

I’m a Chump. I’m a Chump. Chump for Trump.

That Chump-for-Trump! That Chump-for-Trump!

I do not like that Chump-for-Trump!

Would you like to stump for Trump?

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that horse’s rump.

Would you like his trades or wall?

I would not like his trades or wall.

I would not like that man at all.

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that pimple bump.

Should he stay inside the House?

He has such a lovely spouse.

I do not like him in the House.

Who cares about his lovely spouse?

I do not like his trades or wall.

I do not like that man at all.

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that racist lump.

Would you like him, for the Court?

Our judicial last resort!

Not for the Court. No last resort.

Not in the House. Not for his spouse.

I would not like his trades or wall.

I would not like that man at all.

I would not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that rotten grump.

Would you? Could you? For some cash?

Democrats will make us crash!

I would not, could not, for some cash.

You may like him, you will see.

Only he can contain Xi!

He cannot, will not, contain Xi.

Not for some cash! You let me be.

I do not like him, for the Court.

I do not like his golf resort.

I do not like him in the House.

I do not think about his spouse.

I do not like his trades or wall.

I do not like that man at all.

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that garbage dump.

The corps! The corps! The corps! The corps!

Could you, would you, for the corps?

Not for the corps! Not for XI!

Not for cash, Chump! Let me be!

I would not, could not, for the Court.

He will not be my last resort.

I will not like him in the House.

I will not like his trades or wall.

I will not like him in the fall.

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that moral slump.

Say! For health care? For good health care!

Would you, could you, for health care?

I would not, could not, for health care.

Would you, could you, for a war?

I would not, could not, for a war.

Not for health care. Not for the corps.

Not for some cash. Not against Xi.

I do not like him, Chump, you see.

Not in the House. Not for the court.

Not for his spouse. No last resort.

I will not like his trades or wall.

I do not like that man at all!

You do not want to stump for Trump?

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

Could you, would you, for the oil?

I would not, could not for the oil!

WIll you wear this hat tinfoil?

I will not wear that hat tinfoil.

I will not, will not, for the oil.

I will not like him for a war.

Not for health care! Not against Xi!

Not for some cash! You let me be!

I do not like him, for the Court.

He cannot be our last resort.

I will not like him in the House.

I do not think about his spouse.

I do not like his trades or wall.

I do not like that man at all!

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I do not like that Forrest Gump.

You do not like him. So you say.

Try him! Try him! And you may.

Try him and you may, I say.

Chump! If you let me be,

I will try him. You will see.

[Three seconds later]

Nope.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Joe Biden or Buttigieg

Either one I won’t begrudge.

Michael Bloomberg has my vote.

Warren is an antidote.

Tulsi Gabbard, Thomas Steyer:

Better than a garbage fire!

Klobuchar or Bernie Sanders

Vote for both! They would be grander.

I would vote for my friend, Daniel.

I’d elect a Cocker Spaniel!

I will not wear that hat tinfoil.

I will not, will not, for the oil.

I will not like him for a war.

Not for health care! Not against Xi!

Not for some cash! You let me be!

I do not like him, for the Court.

He cannot be our last resort.

I will not like him in the House.

I do not think about his spouse.

I do not like his trades or wall.

I do not like that man at all!

I do not like him, Chump-for-Trump.

I’ll never vote for Donald Trump.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

New Book Deal Announced: MURDER CASTLE Heading Your Way!

If you were following me on Facebook or Twitter over the weekend, you already know the big news: while I was offline in Utah, the news broke about a new book deal for yours truly. This would be one of those things I’ve wanted to tell you about for the last while that I couldn’t. I first got news of the offer right before I went out Trick or Treating with my kids on Halloween. That’s a long time to sit on something before I get to share it with others.

So what does this deal actually mean? For one thing, there’s the obvious: MURDER CASTLE will be out in bookstores, ready for you to read in summer 2021. I began writing the first draft of the book in October 2016, so that’s five years from the first words to being in print. What’s it about? Etta’s sister runs away to Chicago in the 1890s, intent on seeing the Chicago world’s fair, even though it’s half a continent away. Everything seems wonderful at first. She sends Etta a series of letters describing the fair, her new job as a maid, and even a man she’s met. And then the letters stop. Convinced something has happened to her, Etta runs away herself, intent on going to Chicago and discovering the truth. But the truth turns out to be much more sinister than she ever imagined . . .

It’s based on the real life story of HH Holmes, America’s first serial killer, though I take considerable license with the plot. It was a very different book for me to write, and I had a lot of fun in the process. It’s got some pretty gruesome scenes in it, but nothing too awful. (That I can remember . . . it’s been a while since I read it . . .) Definitely YA and not Middle Grade, however.

You’ll notice the deal is for two books. That means MURDER CASTLE will be the first, and then I’m on contract for a second, as yet to be determined novel. My hope is that will be one I’ve already written, as I’ve got several primed and ready to go, but I’ll have to submit those to my editor and see what she thinks of them before I know what will happen there.

I haven’t seen my first edits on the book yet, and I’ve never worked with this new editor before, so I have no idea how much revising I’m going to have in front of me. Could be a lot, could be a little. That will derail current writing projects, but that’s a problem I’m more than ready and eager to deal with. 🙂

Of course, I’ve learned over the years never to take anything for granted. You celebrate the victories as they come along and roll with the punches when they pop up. For now, it’s a happy day in Bryceville. I can’t wait to share the book with you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

%d bloggers like this: