Timing is Everything

Like the classic joke goes, "In comedy, timing is...



I'm reading the last in the Shadowmarch tetralogy by Tad Williams, SHADOWHEART. It's a less than stellar name and most people don't know that a four-book series is a tetralogy1, but Tad Williams is the reason I write fantasy--the reason2. So we're going to give him a pass on that.

I have to admit, though, between Williams and Martin, I'm starting to get worn out on epic fantasy. Their stories are the epitome of epic, but frankly, there are characters whose chapters are fundamental to the resolution of the entire thing and I could care less. There are just too many people. As I wade through this lofty tome, after having consumed the three before it, I find myself impatient for the end. I want that long-awaited climax and resolution of the various characters I've come to care about. And having to read through yet another chapter of a character I don't care about where content that I know well is repeated (and repeated) in internal dialogue is getting frustrating.

That is not so much the focus on today's writing, just an observance. Perhaps that's why my word counts have been shrinking. Not so much an intent to cowtow to the industry and its word limits, but the desire to tell a more compact and immediate tale. I will ponder this in the future and see if that's the case.

No, the focus of today's telling is timing. This is crucial in any work, and the more characters you introduce, the more difficult it can be to align character actions to further the plot but to remain consistent with the story's own chronology.

Specifically, there are two characters who will influence other characters who will influence other characters. They finally make their trip to Southmarch and I am enthused becomes here comes the domino that will set the whole chain a falling! Woo hoo! Here it comes.

...but it doesn't come. Now granted, this is an epic fantasy, so while characters A and B swim across the bay to the nearby island, the author can focus on characters C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J without losing any time in the total advancement of the story. It can maintain the preferred pacing of this rumbling epic without losing track of the domino that is about to set the chain falling.

But then Character E gets another chapter. And then Character H gets two more chapters. Too many things are happening. Why haven't we gone back to characters A and B?

Well, the obvious thing is that when next we see them they won't still be swimming across the bay. They will have done other, irrelevant things necessary for their trip but unnecessary for the enjoyment of the reader.

That doesn't happen. In fact, when we finally return to characters A and B, they are finishing their swim across the bay. This is offensive to anyone paying attention. Some stories may play loosely with the passage of time, but most don't. So unless you're slip-streaming back and forth, be mindful of your timeline. When characters begin moving at different speeds, the reader can see the hand of the author in the story. You're this giant distracting thing like a boom mic that falls into frame. You're holding onto the characters while their legs turn so you can have the plot play out how you want.

And that's a funny thing. While you're the author, when a reader invests, the story becomes theirs. They don't want to see your hands in their stories mucking everything up. You need to be invisible. You are the mirror in which your readers see your story. There may be glass and silver there, but all they see is themselves.


...is everything.

1 Instead of a tetralogy, people try to call it a quadrology.

2 I can tell you plenty of influences, but I know when the light bulb turned on. I was thirteen or so reading the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy and knew this is what I wanted to do. No hemming or hawing. Tad Williams showed me the path.

The Transition Story

Empire Strikes Back is my least favorite of the Star Wars trilogy1. This is heresy among accepted Star Wars fandom, but it is the way it is. You can rattle off the various elements of the movie that make it better than the others, a richer universe, more defined characters, a darker/grittier edge to it, and you'd be right. It has the basic fundamentals to be all the things the other movies aren't but is missing one thing: a story.

Oh, it has story. It has plot and adventure and action, but as an arc of introduction to conclusion goes, it's incredibly wanting. Now I had to suffer through a novel in college that showed how you can craft a story that doesn't have that kind of arc. But I don't participate in media to suffer. I want an inciting action. I want a climax. I want resolution. Empire Strikes Back is a bridge from Star Wars to Return of the Jedi. You couldn't reach the third story without the second movie, but they didn't offer any sense of accomplishment on its own.

The Two Towers? That's a movie that bridges Fellowship of the Ring to Return of the King but also stands as its own movie. Dislike the absence of the Rangers or the increase in self-depricating Gimli jokes or Legolas surfing down stairs on a shield, the movie begins, there is a big ass fight at Helm's Deep, and the movie resolves pointing to the third movie.

CATCHING FIRE is not a bad book. It's certainly not as good as THE HUNGER GAMES and by the end I'm more annoyed with Katniss as a character than the author probably wants me to be, but it's not a good book either. It's a bridge. Sure the climax and resolution exist. A climax and resolution technically exist in Empire Strikes Back as well. But they are of a degree that I don't think warrants a story of their own2.

I don't read a book just to get me to the next book. If a book exists only to propel me to the next book, it's not worth reading. It should have its own merit, it's own story, it's own essence. The entirety of CATCHING FIRE was a transition from the events of the first book to the events of the third book. The events of the second book only occur in two chapters. Really, at that point, you're looking at an epilogue of the first book and a prologue of the third book and bam, you have everything that's happened in the second.

Transition stories feel like the author has enough peanut butter for one sandwich but has four slices of bread, so (s)he just spreads it on as thinly has (s)he can. And when you pay full price for a book, you want all the peanut butter.

1 Yes, there is only a trilogy. That is all. Nothing else. Han shot first only.

2 The problem being, they were necessary to craft a trilogy, so the genuine failure is that they just weren't big enoug.

That was EPIC!

The fastest way to start a literary nerd fight? Say X fantasy book is/is not epic fantasy. Epic fantasy may be the poorest defined genre currently being published1. I think this is a result of the '80s/'90s where almost all fantasy published was epic fantasy. Epic fantasy was so pervasive within the genre that epic fantasy = fantasy. There wasn't a heaping of sword and sorcery or just plain old fashioned fantasy. Which leads to the confusion today of what counts as epic.

It would be nice to be able to say that the definition remains the same and it's just the education of the audience that is lacking, but nerd fights over genre boundaries always end up challenging the fundamental nature of epic's definition.

Epic used to be matter of scope. The threat was world-threatening and the journey was world-spanning. The stakes were the highest they could be ("evil power rises and destroys the world!!!!") and the hero would leave his modest beginnings to distant lands never dreamed of to return a changed person ("I was a prince this entire time and no one told me!"). Most often epic fantasy is said to be the genre that models itself after the Hero's Journey.

These are where the challenges come in. If the threat is to the microcosm of the protagonist's world, isn't that just as great as the entire world being threatened? And to travel across the breadth of that microcosm, isn't that the same as traveling across the entire world?

What gets me about these kinds of challenges is the imperativeness that such focused stories be quantified as epic fantasy. It's an innate desire of a fantasy author to be compared to the icons of the craft, those authors that inspired us to pick up a pen in our youths. And with the exception of Robert E. Howard, all those authors are epic fantasists. Tolkien, Goodkind, Jordan, Williams. All of them published tomes of work that devastated their worlds and enthralled ours.

If we don't write epic fantasy, how can we be as good (or better!) than they were? So everything we write has to be epic, even if that means we need a hammer to drive the peg into that hole.

I don't think it's the definition of epic that is in question, but our own psychological need to be compared to our heroes that fuels the epic argument. But there are some fuzzy lines. Someone suggested that Harry Potter was an epic fantasy. After I stopped my gut reaction of "nuh uh!"2, I began to question whether or not that was possible. Harry certainly has a Hero's Journey. He travels to new worlds, and Voldemort wants to destroy the entire world, wizard and muggle alike. But really, the distance Harry travels is very minimal. Not even the breadth of the British Isles. That lends itself to the epic nature of a microcosm adventure.

As I ponder that, I wonder, does it matter? It's easy to define the Lord of the Rings trilogy as epic. Memory, Sorry, and Thorn. A Song of Ice and Fire. There is no pondering there. Those are EPIC, in every measure of the genre. But can't there be just a regular fantasy genre? Lois McMaster Bujold's CURSE OF CHALLION I call fantasy instead of epic fantasy. It's good fantasy, but not world spanning or world threatening. The fact that it is not epic fantasy does not diminish the quality of the story.

So in the end, I don't have an absolute argument. I can certainly pick out the easy ones. But the middle gray area is open to discussion. In the end, I come down to "How much does it really matter?" Perhaps its just a matter of ego and not a matter of importance.

1 Other than literary fiction which focuses more on language and depth rather than any kind of genre hierarchy. I did not say literary was the poorest defined genre because a lot of genre books that publishers don't want to pigeonhole into that genre end up in literary rather than the appropriate genre in an attempt to widen the target market. As such, it is disqualified for cheating.

2 Can a YA story also be an epic fantasy story? YA is more a demographic than a true genre. Same with middle grade. It informs some choices that will be present in regard to swearing and sex and (supposedly) violence. But otherwise, YA is actually an adjective. YA fantasy, YA mystery, etc. There's no reason HP can't be YA epic fantasy. But then, you don't normally see epic fantasy tagged onto a modern fantasy setting. That usually lends itself to urban fantasy. Plenty of fodder for argument all around.

The Six Books of Harry Potter

Nathan Bransford invited readers to post comments about Harry Potter on their own blogs and link back in his, for which this post is created. Depending on how long you've been following me, you might have listened to the episode of the PodgeCast or even read the older post on my LiveJournal that covered the matter. Rather than digging through all that, I will repost here why I think the seventh book should be erased from the collective memory.


Molly Weasley vs. Bellatrix Lestrange


Like many of the previous novels in the series, HPDH lacked a firm editorial hand1. The 300-page trek through the woods was interminable. At least 100 pages could have been cut from that scene without detracting from the story.

The climax of HPHBP enumerates a number of rules for the final book. Harry is chasing after Snape and not having any success at all. Snape tells him that he'll never succeed without learning how to cast without speaking. More over, if Harry ever hopes to face Voldemort, he must first defeat Snape. Neither of these issues are addressed in book 7.

Never, not once ever, does Harry cast a spell without speaking in the seventh book. When it comes to the final conflict, it has no bearing whatsoever to the outcome.

Harry never faces Snape. Nagini kills Snape while Harry watches, so really, the whole ending of book 6 is negated.

WORSE, that negation also reduces Dumbledore's sacrifice. Why did he let Snape kill him? To protect the Elder Wand. Snape defeats Dumbledore and thus is the owner of the Elder Wand. Harry is supposed to defeat Snape so he can get the Elder Wand. The Elder Wand is one of three items that GIVE THE BOOK ITS NAME! That plotline is entirely disregarded.

Lupin and Tonks die so that Harry can be father to an orphan, bringing to a ridiculous conclusion to the character arcs of two of the most reasonable characters in the series up to that point. They throw their lives away to avoid responsibility2 and their deaths are a complete throw-away. It's not even a scene of the book.

Harry sends Ginny, the most badass combat wizard of the group, away at the end of the sixth book. And she stays away. What character is this? Certainly not the one that had grown into a strong-minded woman in the two previous books3.

And the clincher, JKR's comments following the publication of the book. No, not that Dumbledore was gay. Who gives a shit about that? No, she made two comments that just make me wonder how she managed to write such an amazing series in the first place as she seems completely out of touch with her own characters.

Blog post 1: JKR answers the questions of what happened to the characters after the end of the series. Harry and Ron become aurors and revolutionize the field. AYFKM?!?!? Neither of them are smart enough to be aurors much less to revolutionize the field. They lucked into potions class and would never have been able to last in any long-term capacity in that profession.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, she had created an arc she never resolved. Voldemort had tried to be the Dark Arts professor and failed. Following, the school never had another professor for more than a year. Being his opposite and given his proven track record at surviving the dark arts (and experience leading DA), Harry should have taken on the roll to break the curse. Ron could have taken his self-confidence and gone on to play professional Quidditch, which is the only activity he ever truly loves in the entire series.

Blog post 2: JKR says she crafted the ending specifically for Harry to represent Jesus in an effort to draw readers to Christ through her fiction. Hey, if that's what she wants to do, that's her choice. But to accomplish it, she derailed her own series and turned it in a direction where she could recreate Good Friday in a wizard combat zone. Never sacrifice your story for your message. A skillful author could use the former to deliver the latter.

Adendum 1: I also contend that Neville is more popular because of the movies than he is because of the book. JKR uses Dobby as the character that arrives with the timely answer (e.g., gillyweed). In the movies, they use Neville who is a lot cheaper than a CGI house elf. Not only did it work, it was BETTER than the books. It fit the character better and fleshed it out. The Neville of the books never got any real attention (other than being a practical joke) until HPOP, whereas the movies began his evolution one story earlier in HPGF. While he gets a great scene in the final book, I wonder how much attention he would have got if he hadn't grown so popular.

Adendum 2: What would have been cool? In HPPS/HPSS (depending on your nationality), Ron is the knight and has to sacrifice himself for Harry to continue on to the end. If that had been paralleled in the final book, it would have been a stroke of genius.

1 After the series became popular, there became a standard format to any Harry Potter novel. Part 1: Main plot. Part 2: Awesome subplot. Part 3: Lame subplot.

Parts 2 and 3 always got equal attention and swelled the book well beyond an appropriate page count. Parts 3 from every novel could have been chopped with no loss to character or primary plot flow. It would have just chucked lameness that we all had to wade through like we were sewer workers or something.

2 I have yet to meet a (sane) mother who would sacrifice the life of her kid to be with her husband while he runs off to get himself killed.

3 In all their previous fights, Harry and Ron have required a third person to force them back together. When Ron returns with the sword, it should have been Ginny hauling him there with whatever cattle prod Ron needs that book. They abandoned their strongest weapon and the story abandons her too4.

4 I will admit to some bias, as she's my favorite character, but really. If you're going to war, you don't send the guy with the machine gun home because it's dangerous. Certainly the guy with the machine gun doesn't stay home once he's there.

The Obnoxiousness of Fantasy Characters

Fantasy characters are dicks. In fiction, in D&D adventures, anywhere "adventurer" is available as a life choice, people are dicks. You see it all the time. Main character meets Douchebag McAsshole and DMcA immediately starts talking down to him. I'm a wizard. I'm a barbarian. I don't bow before anyone. I don't show any semblance of etiquette that lets me function in a social environment. Blah blah blah.

With so many dangers in the world (waking gods, monsters, demagogues) and everyone seemingly armed to the teeth, how do these people not get left for dead on the side of the road?

Only in fantasy can "Hello" be answered with a recitation of all the reasons why DMcA is better than you and how you're not even worth the time he took reciting his better qualities, and then the two of you can go on a quest together. Together you go over to the tavern where DMcA insults the tavern keeper's food and beer and finds out he's the brother of the merchant DMcA threatened to kill if he didn't receive a 50% discount on some bauble he wanted to buy earlier that day. He gets the best food, drink, and women in the house and everyone steers clear of him because anyone that large of a douchebag must be powerful and could kill them all and DMcA can kill an entire tavern full of people without repercussions in fantasy because anyone that goes into law enforcement is a complete tool unless he's a hero in which case he's gone on a quest and unavailable to teach DMcA a fucking lesson.

Never once does the tavern keeper throw DMcA out, send a scullion for the cops, and join with the rest of the patrons to show DMcA what happens when one person is a dick to an entire town. Main character is then either tarred and feathered for having shared a drink with DMcA or gets to watch while DMcA is thrown down a well and collectively pissed on by a dozen men who have been drinking all night.

Because of this, I am incredibly sensitive about characters, specifically how they react to one another. I could speculate why so many characters are written this way, and I would touch on those points you would expect me to touch on (social deficiencies of the writer, attitude norming of the genre over the course of decades of DMcAs). This morning working on JH, I took Jehovah in a direction I never planned on taking him. At first I thought it was a mistake. It wasn't a "DOUCHE RAGE!" moment, but a tangential angle. I'm cautious to have characters get angry for much the same reason. The exaggerated Hulk reaction is a second-place finisher to the character as a dick thing.


If people lost their temper that often in real life, we'd all live in an episode of Buffy.

Losing time is usually representative of some kind of mental ailment, a la "Primal Fear" (Ed Norton, Richard Gere). But it can happen in great moments of stress, car accidents and the like. Today, Rae stated Jehovah's greatest fear (being abandoned again) and said she would do everything she could to make sure it happened.

Where do you go after that? In a setting where you kill a person for a pair of shoes, how does one remain calm? The obvious answer is one doesn't. But I didn't want a Hulk smash scene either. Jehovah needs Rae and any conclusion to such a situation would be dissatisfying to say the least. And in fact, given the POV of the story, I don't believe Jehovah would remember anything that happened.

So he doesn't. Rae launches her attack on Louisiana Avenue and he comes back to his senses on Maryland Avenue, alone and totally confused how he got there.

This is a risky move. At this point in the novel Jehovah has killed nine people and there will be more to come. This could be the last trick to make him appear a sociopath instead of an empathetic main character. My gut instinct was to backpeddle. Just don't have Rae say what she said and his reaction becomes unnecessary. But given their own relationship and the truths Rae revealed to him, this was the appropriate result. And the more I think about it, the more I think Jehovah's reaction is appropriate as well. The trick is that it's balanced with his experiences up above on the platform, something that won't be coming for awhile. I gotta keep the reader reading to get to that point and he balances himself out.

So in the end, this is a good but tough decision. And even if the reader decides that Jehovah is too much of a killer, at least he's not a Douchebag McAsshole. I really hate that character.

NaNoing My Problem

When I finish revising a novel, I feel like the train from the climax of Back to the Future 3. Doc Brown threw in those special logs and now I'm going twice as fast as a normal train. Reall, that works for when I finish the novel the first time and when I revise it again after beta reading. Each version is relevant to the color in the movie: first draft = green, second draft = yellow, third draft = red. Then I travel through time or fall into a gorge.

And since traveling through time doesn't work as a metaphor, when it's all done, I fall into a gorge. I'm just going and going and going and I don't want to give up any momentum. I try to switch to a different novel, either something I was already working on or something new. The problem is, each novel has it's own voice. I can't maintain that momentum and switch between mss. I need to slow down. But I can't slow down. There's a chemically infused log that is sending me speeding down the track.

I never want to take off, but I always have to. With the completion of TSS's second draft, I had the good fortune of being sick. So even though I wanted to keep writing (and have 38k of JH to go to), I had to take a few days off. Only a few. Monday arrived and I trying to keep some of that momentum going for this wip. It did not go well. I had trouble capturing the voice and had reservations of the quality of the story over all. It feels a bit thin. There's no complexity or depth. It's just a "go here do this, go there do that" story. It reminds me a lot of THE BLACK COMPANY in that way.

So I pondered this on the way home Tuesday night after producing only a few hundred words. I fell into the gorge and didn't realize it. Now I need to climb back up so I can get back on the tracks. But do I stop and try to wash my pants, or do I just soldier on? Yesterday morning I decided to take the NaNoWriMo way out. I ignored any quality concerns I had for the chapter and just pushed through to the end. Sometimes you just have to say, "I'll have to fix this in revision." This risk is that the quality is so bad as to derail the proper direction of the story. You'll just have to come back later and redo it and then redo everything you wrote after. It's a gamble, and not one that always pays off.

Elizabeth Poole and I have differing opinions on NaNoWriMo. She enjoys it. I do not. I accet that she finds a fun community there, but I do not participate in the community and do not want to lend myself to the activity just to explore the community. I think writing without any concern for quality is bad writing. I think 50,000 words counts as a novel in one or two genres. I think not enough effort is made to explain to participants that what they produce during NaNo is not something that should be sent to agents without revision and review. But most of all, it's that first part. No, I do not go back and revise until the entire manuscript is complete, but I do make a concerted effort to write the best possible first draft. To write with complete abandon is to shit diarrhea on the page. It makes a mess, it stinks, and isn't good for anyone but the flies.

I'd rather see someone write 25,000 first-draft quality pages than 50,000 NaNoWriMo quality pages.

So chapter 15 of JH is shit. Hopefully it's not so runny that it was a waste of time. I'm on chapter 16 now, and that's what I needed.

Have Fun Storming the Castle

Current, non-syndicated television runs in 30 or 60 minute time slots. Of those slots, the actual program will run 20-22 minutes or 42-44 minutes respectively. Its this constraint that allows a writer--if he or she so wishes to apply herself--to know the plot, the outcome, and the bad guy (if you're watching one of the myriad procedural dramas currently on television) long before the show reaches the reveal. Often, you can know all of it within the first few minutes.

Why does the timing make a difference? Because of the other rules. You cannot have a reveal with something that hasn't already been introduced in the episode. The doorman can't have killed the young starlet if he hasn't already had some speaking lines. The audience is given the chance to figure it out. And since we write for a living, that means we balance all the other demands of story in our heads, pacing, motivation, the twist, etc.

One would think that being able to figure out a television show so early in the program would defeat the fun. And if a show is done poorly, it absolutely does. But, I am not a book snob. I like television and movies and theatre. I like visual storytelling as much as (more than?) written storytelling. I don't just have a creative writing degree. I have a playwriting degree as well.

The reason this comes to mind at the moment is because I just finished watching the season 3 opener for "Castle." Like so many of its audience, I came to the show for Nathan Fillion being nothing short of a "Firefly" fanatic. The chemistry between all the leads is what brings me back, the witty yet warm voice the show has crafted for itself. The first fifteen seconds of the season opener made me shout GOO! when it cut to black. Of course, I already knew the twist and knowing the twist made me know the whodunnit when introduced. But who cares? When a show can make you shout GOO! it's worth watching, even if you already know what's going to happen.

I keep a list of recommendations on my website that includes TV shows I watch (or did watch when they were on, *sniff* I miss you Firefly *sniff*...okay, I didn't see that until it was on DVD, which is good because I got to watch it in order). I've been debating updating that list to make it more current.

Last season's offering of NCIS was dismal, the worst of the series run, and I don't know if I can bring myself to go back. I'll give it a shot with the season opener, but I'm not holding my breath (forgive me, Gibbs).

Chuck is luring me back with season 4 even though I skipped season 3.

With Numb3rs gone (it never recovered from constantly losing the female lead other than Navi Rawat [helllooooo nurse!]) and most of the other network fare looking lame or contrived (despite the various geek-themed shows which I suspect will come off condescending, though I admit to not having watched any of them).

I have increased my cable viewing now that they're streaming or releasing on DVD. Stargate: Universe has hooked me hard where I was never interested in the previous two series.

Psych continues to please, though I wonder if it peaked in season 3.

Eureka is a pleasant new discovery, but I've burned through the first three seasons and now have to wait. *pout*

I had been watching Leverage, but they used the "jealous triangle" early in season 3 and I hate that plot line.

So, this is a healthy list, more TV than I've watched since I first returned to the small screen (I had given it up for four years but the ad for Numb3rs and the discovery of NCIS season 2 pulled me back in). My wife and I usually watch an episode to destress at the end of the day. Neither of us want television to consume our evenings from activities we find more rewarding.

But for all that, and for knowing the stories usually as soon as they start, these shows have established a voice or present their characters in such a way that I want to keep coming back regardless.

How about you? When you're not reading or writing, what kind of stories do you fill your time with?

(Anyone that mentions reality TV gets slapped. We're talking storycraft here, people!)

(As a note, I've decided to separate reality TV like any show with the name Jersey in it from the post-modern gameshow. I really enjoy the skill that goes into competitions like "So You Think You Can Dance." If the hosts and the judges weren't so obnoxious, I might watch.)

Wash Your Pants

My wife is inspired. This means: I don't have to cook dinner (yay!), it will most likely be delicious (yay!), you get another post (yay!).

Elizabeth Poole and I often discuss our differing writing styles. She's a plotter. I'm a pantser. Once I get a solid grip on the plot and the characters, I can often project what the forthcoming chapters will be (generally not more than 8 ahead, but I once went as far as 14). Even then, I'll often add chapters that I hadn't realized I needed as a matter of pacing or extra details that are necessary to keep the plot/character developments believable. I don't sit down and make an outline.

    Chapter 1, Jehovah gets boots from the charity drop box. Chapter 2, Jehovah talks to Sid in the hallway. Chapter 3, Old Hobbe interrogates Jehovah to make sure he wasn't joy killing. etc.

I have reached a spot in this particular wip (this particular wip being JEHOVAH'S HITLIST) where I need to take my pants off for a bit. Jehovah has finally received his hitlist (hence the name, obviously). He has five people to kill. I have always known he was going to kill five people and I always knew one of them would be a woman up above. Other than that, I knew absolutely nothing about that list. I didn't define that list until chapter five. For the first four chapters of the manuscript, the names were "xxx, xxx, xxx, xxx, and xxx." I'm not making that up.

Side note! I use xxx as a quick-search indicator for something that needs to be referenced, corrected, or added. I use qqq as a marker so I can find that mark (usually the point I stopped writing when an appendix or later chapters that I just had to write make the end of the manuscript not the point of writing).

So I finally have my five names, and I know what they all do and why they are relevant to the progression of the story. This is a good thing. I pantsed my way there. Now it's time for Jehovah to find and kill them and I have to stop.

I could pants this. I could. It's not that difficult. I've pantsed three novels so far as well as the first ten chapters of this novel. The trick is, even when you pants your novel, a plotted outline can come in handy. I'm about to hunt and kill five characters. Without any forethought, I may simply repeat the chase five times (which is boring). Or I may not throw in any speedbumps (which is boring). I need to know where these people are, how Jehovah is going to find out where they are, how that pursuit is going to be different for each person, and I need to know how finding that person leads him to the next on the list.

I could pants it all, but it's harder to create the spiderweb of how these people are interconnected and how Jehovah's progressing assassinations unravels that web by the seat of your pants than it is to stop and draw some lines.

So if you're like me and plotting doesn't do you much good, don't abandon the tool all together. You can usually see a handful of chapters into your book anyway. A mid-manuscript outline can give your first draft some refined quality and save you a headache on your revisions.

(Now, the question is, can I take my own advice. I began brainstorming on Rori Schapp today and came up with a bunch of cool setting stuff on Pennsylvania Avenue, the fallen government of the Nation, the absence of Philadelphia Park, and the creation of the DMZ [dead-man's zone]. When you get exciting ideas like that, it's hard not to just sit down and start cranking them out. But eventually Jehovah is going to kill Rori Schapp and I need to know how he's going to pursue Mary Maryland or I'm just back in the same bucket I'm in now.)

Straight Lines

I'm hanging out at Midas while my windows are fixed so my car can pass inspection. I'm posting from my phone, so please pardon the typos. The Pre has a small keyboard and I have fat thumbs.

I tried to begin revision on THE TRIAD SOCIETY today, but I felt compelled to continue with JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. The story is ripe and needs picking. Regardless, I'm still thinking on TTS, trying to find all my errors. Something I knew I was doing as I went (something I hate), I was writing in a straight line. Adventure stories are often like that. A happens, B happens, C happens, the end. Done poorly, you get a movie like Jurrasic Park 3 where one dangerous situation follows the next but never overlaps or spreads out. The entire movie keeps a predictable tempo. Done well and you get Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is similarly linear, but who cares! We're having fun.

TTS falls somewhere in the middle. I have been writing adventure stories so far. I actually prefer intrigue, bit that's much easier to write in a series of D&D adventures, I've found, than in a novel. I really need to get back to that kind of writing. It didn't work in TTS and it's not right for JH (which is definitely an adventure story). I'm hoping to bust oit the intrigue in a major way in THE RED SOCK SOCIETY, but that story's a ways off yet.

Sometimes (like JP3), an adventure is too linear. It eliminates the sense of risk. It suggests that the character's decisions have no impact because he's being swept along with the wave of the plot. The way to break this up is to zigzag, to bend the line without completely turning away from your stort. I call them speedbumps, the interference that happens when going from A to B.

Now it's just as easy to overuse speedbumps. If something always goes wrong along the way, the pattern becomes obvious and the reader questions the protagonist's decision-making process. If things keep going wrong, why do you keep doing what you're doing? We only accept that from Malcolm Feynolds.

For example, in the current ms, Otwald goes home, climbs into his window, meets Princess Klara, chats, climbs out, and sees his father. Too straight. It's like a video game where he went to a quest giver. Quest givers are for video games. Keep them out of your novels.

The obvious speedbump is the guards. A princess is unguarded. That's a bad speedbump. What self-respecting guard wouldn't check on the princess? And what princess would send them away because some stranger just climbed into her window. Hello cliche. Nice to see you again. Instead, don't have the window go into her room. Have the entry elsewhere. Maybe split up what he learns when he sees his father, a little here, a little there. You get to reinforce the setting by showing what life is like there (guards, servants, tc) while avoiding the drive-thru quest giving