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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rules of Writing II

2. Thou shalt know how it ends

This may seem obvious, but based on numerous books I have read, knowing the ending is something that far too few writers do before they initially set their metaphorical pen to paper.

There are three types of novelists. The first is the Outliner. These are highly organized writers who are able to carefully plan out how the book will proceed and more or less stick to their plan.  This is probably the ideal way to go about writing novels, but it's also extremely difficult if you are insufficiently organized.  Outliners tend to write books that are tightly plotted, idea-driven, complex, and formulaic. Due to the complexity and scope of A Throne of Bones, most people assume that I am an Outliner, but as it happens, I am not. JK Rowling is one example of an outliner and I suspect most writers of murder mystery series are based on the predictable sequence of events in many murder mysteries.

The second type of novelist is the Explorer.  Most authors are Explorers and not only don't have an outline to hand, they often have no idea what they're going to write about when they sit down and stare at the blank page. They tend to follow the story where it takes them rather than forcing the story into preconceived directions. Explorers tend to write books that start well and finish badly, (or vice-versa), that are character-driven, dialogue-heavy, and of varying quality from book to book. I am an Explorer; of all the various characters who died in ATOB, there were only two characters whose deaths were planned and one of them was dictated by the historical event upon which the situation was based.

The third type of novelist is the Autobiographer. This is the author who is the protagonist of his every book.  They are generally uninterested in anything that isn't themselves; if one looks closely enough, one can always see the image of the author underneath all of the major characters. If their lives or personalities are sufficiently interesting, Autobiographers may have one or two very good books in them, after which point they run out of material as their books are experience-driven rather than plot- or idea-driven. Jay McInerney is the foremost example of an Autobiographer; Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace are more recent examples.  I also suspect that McRapey is an Autobiographer, which explains why his novels are more akin to professional fan fiction than original fiction.

But regardless of what type of novelist you are, it is always vital to know exactly how the book ends.  When I started writing ATOB, I knew precisely three things: the prologue, the conflict between the general and his young tribune, and the long retreat north.  But because I knew the beginning and the end, I had the necessary anchor points to prevent the story from wandering aimlessly adrift.

In the absence of an outline, knowing the end helps pace the story and forces it to keep moving forward. This can be done well or it can be done poorly, but one way or another, it will be done.  We have all read authors who wait too long to begin the descent into the end and wind up accelerating the story and crashing the book in the last two or three chapters, but even these negative examples are better than books that simply seem to stop without any warning or reason.  Knowing the end won't only make the ending better, but it will help make everything in between the beginning and the end much more coherent.


Rules of Writing I: Thou shalt know thy world

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139 Comments:

Blogger Francis W. Porretto August 11, 2013 5:32 AM  

There's at least one more type of novelist, of which I am an example. This type creates his Marquee characters long before anything else, lives with them until he can "live in their skins," imagines a set of initial and boundary conditions within which they can act and interact, and then lets them write the story.

This denies me certainty about the details of the climax, though from the characters' principal motivations I can be reasonably confident of its general nature. It grants me something I need more: the sense of adventure within my fictional world. Georges Simenon, who used a similar approach, said it kept him interested in the book, which he said was far more important to him than any other aspect of the creative act.

I don't claim superiority for this approach, though it has served me well. It does have a drawback: my damned characters are forever pestering me for sequels!

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 5:51 AM  

That's merely an elaborate and romanticized description of an Explorer, Francis. I've heard other writers go on at length about how their characters write the story, how they just won't shut up, how they demand this or that.

Here's the thing: those characters don't exist. It's all just you and that is the framework you have created to allow you to explore your own imagination.

Blogger IM2L844 August 11, 2013 5:53 AM  

I prefer to read character driven novels. I can forgive a weak meandering plot if the characters are interesting enough. Bad endings, however, are unforgivable.

Anonymous Anonymous August 11, 2013 6:24 AM  

Sometimes things can conspire against you to change your ending and if you're prone to falling down too many rabbit holes, that can be a very good thing.

Blogger Bogey August 11, 2013 6:31 AM  

This is interesting and all but what we really want to know is, and this is important, what did you have for breakfast? You see, McRapey is better in-tune with his readers than you, because yesterday he did exactly that. And you know what he had? Cereal.

Anonymous Smokey August 11, 2013 6:33 AM  

I'm not really sure J.K. Rowling is a good example of an Outliner. Maybe for the first three or four books, but then she just went off the rails, and started making shit up as she went along, if not outright contradicting what she had established before, and making nonsensical retcons whenever she painted herself into a corner.

Bad endings, now those can kill a good story dead in no time. Case in point: Mass Effect. Even the Assassin's Creed series suffers from this to a major extent, although I don't think the plot of those games was ever that good to begin with.

Anonymous Anonymous August 11, 2013 6:46 AM  

Long ago, Dean Koontz wrote a short story that won some awards because it was quite brilliant. His ending really was unexpected because he killed the kids. He even killed the dog. I never read him again because he was willing to sacrifice all morality to achieve his brilliant ending and I lost all respect for him in an instant.

Anonymous scoobius dubious August 11, 2013 6:52 AM  

Well I suppose the requirements are perhaps different for genre fiction, but for literary fiction I'd say the most important thing in an ending is not what precisely happens, but the manner in which it is rendered.

Think of Ulysses, where technically the ending is just, Bloom finally goes home and falls asleep beside his wife, who lies awake thinking about his changed demeanor. It could have just ended, "Then Bloom fell asleep, but his wife stayed up for quite some time afterward, thinking, puzzled by his new behavior." Wouldn't have been much to impress. Instead we get a 40-page internal monologue and probably the most resounding final sentence in any English-language novel. Makes a difference.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 7:01 AM  

for literary fiction I'd say the most important thing in an ending is not what precisely happens, but the manner in which it is rendered.

For literary fiction, the ONLY thing that matters is the manner in which it is rendered. Plot, characters, and action are all irrelevant. Proust spends something like 40 pages on a guy lying in bed trying to find the right side of the pillow on which to sleep and everyone agrees it is a literary masterpiece.

(A friend of mine in the game industry once debated the very worst game idea. We agreed it would be an adaptation from Proust called "Remembrance of Things Past 3D: The Search for the Colder Side of the Pillow."

Different genres, different rules. This is why selling obvious romance as "science fiction" turns off so many science fiction readers. It's no different than selling chicken as beef.

Anonymous Holmwood August 11, 2013 7:45 AM  

First: thanks for this. It is genuinely valuable to those of us to aspire to write better than very badly.

Second, do you really think Scalzi had an interesting enough life to be an Autobiographer? Seriously? He is a competent writer (top 1% or so of humanity, not of writers), and an extremely gifted self-promoter. But his life story? No.

It seems dull as dishwater; indeed, I'd rather read your no doubt more interesting PoC lifestory... but I don't really want to read that either.

He's drawing from sources other than autobiography. Yes, derivative Heinlein, Roddenberry, etc. Sure.

As Smokey pointed out, Rowling went off the rails on Book 4. I've always thought it was a lack of editing.

The most extreme example; look at Patricia Cornwell's work (yes, no jokes about lesbian affairs with FBI spouses) when she switched editors.

I guess that would be a question worthy of posing:

Did you benefit from a good editor? If so, how?

-Holmwood

Anonymous TJIC August 11, 2013 7:47 AM  

VD: The second type of novelist is the Explorer.

Thank you for this term - I hate, hate, hate the phrase "panster", which is, I take it, short of "seat of the pants"-er. It's so juvenile and simultaneously so self-congratulatory "insider" that I loathe it.

I am, by nature, a planner in all things. I even planned my first novel fairly rigorously.

The problem I had was that while no plan survives contact with the enemy, it's especially true that no plan by a green, freshly minted second lieutenant without any NCOs to help him survives contact with...well, anything.

I've planned, re-planned, and re-re-planned as I've written, and while I'm quite happy with how things have ended up, I've quite convinced that there would have been 50% less blood, sweat, and tears if I knew then what I knew now.

Eh.

Onward.

Anonymous TJIC August 11, 2013 7:47 AM  

VD: "Remembrance of Things Past 3D: The Search for the Colder Side of the Pillow."

LOL.

Anonymous Weak August 11, 2013 7:51 AM  

Can we call an ending that happens abruptly with no warning or reason "pulling an Orson Scott Card"?

Blogger wrf3 August 11, 2013 7:52 AM  

... it is always vital to know exactly how the book ends.

Unless, of course, you're writing the screenplay for Casablanca which is possibly one of the greatest movies ever made.

But then, there's an exception to every rule.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 7:55 AM  

Second, do you really think Scalzi had an interesting enough life to be an Autobiographer? Seriously? He is a competent writer (top 1% or so of humanity, not of writers), and an extremely gifted self-promoter. But his life story? No.

You're missing the point. One is an Autobiographer by inclination. It has nothing to do with how interesting one's life has been. Dave Eggers's life was only interesting enough to sustain two-thirds of one novel. I think McRapey is a sufficiently clever Autobiographer to look outside his life for narrative ideas, into which he then inserts himself.

I haven't read enough of his books for my opinion to be decisive, but I have noticed that the narrative voice of his protagonist is always the same no matter who it is. And I have heard that this is still the case in his newer works. So we have Scalzi as Heinlein protagonist, Scalzi as Piper protagonist, and Scalzi as Star Trek character.

His works will likely always be derivative, no matter how much he tries to disguise his influences, because all he can really write about is himself.

Compare Whatever with VP, by way of example. I don't know if he actually posted about his breakfast or not, but if he did, that would be consistent with being an Autobiographer. Whereas I couldn't tell you what I'm going to post about five minutes before I start writing a post, except that it will probably not have anything directly to do with me or my life.

Anonymous Smokey August 11, 2013 7:59 AM  

[b]Second, do you really think Scalzi had an interesting enough life to be an Autobiographer? Seriously? He is a competent writer (top 1% or so of humanity, not of writers), and an extremely gifted self-promoter. But his life story? No.[/b]

I don't think Vox was saying that the Autobiographer necessarily draws from their own life to write fiction, just that the protagonist in their stories is frequently just a thinly-disguised version of the Autobiographer themselves.

Anonymous TJIC August 11, 2013 8:01 AM  

VD:



That's merely an elaborate and romanticized description of an Explorer, Francis. I've heard other writers go on at length about how their characters write the story, how they just won't shut up, how they demand this or that.

Here's the thing: those characters don't exist. It's all just you and that is the framework you have created to allow you to explore your own imagination.



Vox,

I used to take exactly your stance on this.

I took one writing class in college and the professor was what you'd
call an "explorer", working in the literary fiction area (of course -
he was an academic). I thought it was all precious nonsense to say that "character X demanded this", etc.

Later, after reading about mirror neurons, reading Pinker's The Language Instinct, reading Minksy's Society of Mind, etc. I've got a model of human consciousness that is not exactly like Minsky's, but is informed by it.

Yes, it's true that everything that ends up on the page starts in the grey matter between the author's ears, so you're absolutely right that "it's all just you".

That said, by the principal of charity, I want to give writers who, like Fran, say "the characters write the story" the benefit of the doubt, and this combined with current thinking on brain organization lead me to conclude that what Fran experiences (even if it's not what you or I experience) is true, and reflects fundamental truths about his consciousness and his experience.

I suggest the possibility that the subsystem in his brain that emulates other people (and in the brains of others who say things like "character X wanted Y") is working over time to model a fiction individual at a sub conscious level, and perhaps in a way that doesn't happen for me or you.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 11, 2013 8:07 AM  

**As Smokey pointed out, Rowling went off the rails on Book 4. I've always thought it was a lack of editing.**

I think Rowling bit off more than she could chew in that she came up with an idea for a fairly good universe, but couldn't come up with either good enough story ideas or competent enough characters to do that universe any justice. Plus, she's overly interested in making things 'cute' such that she will have the few competent characters constantly handed the 'idiot ball' in order to give the 'cute' incompetent characters a chance to save the day, which they generally do by means of Deus Ex Machina. Also, in the interests of being 'cute' nothing bad of a permanent nature ever happens to her incompetent 'cute' main characters. Only to the non-cute but competent ones.

Anonymous Anonymous August 11, 2013 8:13 AM  

"I couldn't tell you what I'm going to post about five minutes before I start writing a post, except that it will probably not have anything directly to do with me or my life.."

That's because the Hand of God is in them there words. I guess all that is required to be a good writer or a good woman is complete mental collapse. The alternative is to pursue something less painful, like simply slowly ripping out your own finger nails.

Reading some kinds of sci/fi that women write feels a bit like that to this reader. Dear Lord, free me from this book, I simply cannot watch this woman try to rip off her own fingernails for another second.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 8:24 AM  

I want to give writers who, like Fran, say "the characters write the story" the benefit of the doubt, and this combined with current thinking on brain organization lead me to conclude that what Fran experiences (even if it's not what you or I experience) is true, and reflects fundamental truths about his consciousness and his experience.

The reason I disagree is because I do follow my characters where they go. I just don't put a self-congratulatory spin on it and I view it as a logical process rather than a magical one. His experience doesn't change the fact that what he is doing is the same as every other Explorer.

Just as if he sat down and did his outlines from the perspective of each character rather than from the central narrative, he would be an outliner. Some authors love to create myths about the magic of the process, but as Glenn Frey commented in the documentary about The Eagles, the secret of song-writing is in the elbow grease. Most of the better writers simply work harder at their craft than the lesser writers, just as most of the better-selling authors work harder at selling books than most of those who don't sell as many.

Literary talent, it is true, remains a mystery. I don't have it. The OC does. But I don't buy into any of the airy-fairy mysticism that so many writers affect. I've seen how they work, I've seen the results, and there simply isn't any mystery there.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 8:25 AM  

Smokey, use <> not [] for HTML tags.

Anonymous Myrddin August 11, 2013 8:35 AM  

I know a guy who uses a rough 5-act structure, then writes as an explorer. So...
Act 1: Introduce everybody.
Act 2: Stuff goes wrong.
Act 3: Climax
Acr 4: Stuff gets Very wrong.
Act 5: Final Climax.

Having a rough idea of what happens in each pulls him forward despite exploring. Having a designated lesser climax in the center basically destroys the problem where a writer wanders aimlessly in the middle of the book (Robert Jordan anyone?)

Bruce Burns. Christian sci fi and fantasy on kindle. It's not ATOB or the Dresden Files, but it's fairly good stuff. I've talked to the dude, and that's how he works.

Anonymous Anonymous August 11, 2013 8:36 AM  

People who exist in this magical, mysterious, fairy-land, may indeed be able to write a good story, but they obviously should not be in charge of running any heavy equipment because they simply haven't got their wits about them. It's the difference between subjective and objective reality, I suppose.

Anonymous Mr. B.A.D. August 11, 2013 8:56 AM  

What would you say Stephen King is? I'm not a fan but I have read a handful of his books and seen a lot of movies based on his books and they all had the same effect on me: lots of interesting build up and then a stupid half-assed ending. The question is, does he plan the bad endings or fall into them in a panic to meet a deadline?

Anonymous Myrddin August 11, 2013 9:04 AM  

King is an explorer. Says so himself in his book on writing, which called On Writing . He compares writing to paleontology, where he digs up a story.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 9:19 AM  

I haven't read much Stephen King, but it is pretty obvious that he is an Explorer. His main talent is an ability to exploit the primal human emotion of fear by finding it in pedestrian places.

It's no wonder he has been very successful.

Anonymous Mr. B.A.D. August 11, 2013 9:31 AM  

Alexander Dumas was an explorer. He wrote The Count of Monte Cristo as a weekly serial, kinda like modern TV shows. But he had to have been exploring through an outline.

Anonymous jm August 11, 2013 9:57 AM  

I don't know if there isn't a little bit of the Autobiographer in JK Rowling. She sold the series to the reader as a "battle of good v. evil" but the theme of the final book ended up being that death takes everyone and one should accept it gracefully. That's not a bad theme, but it's totally incongruent with the story up to that point. I feel like I'm still waiting for her to finish the series, because the last book just didn't do it at all.

She began writing after her mother died, and in the final book she clearly sets up Dumbledore to be a God surrogate, using him as a punching bag for all of her frustrations and unanswered questions about why her mother had to get sick and die.

So I'd argue that the final installment was an Autobiographer book, while the previous six may have been Outliner books.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 10:11 AM  

More likely, she is simply be an inconsistent and incoherent Outliner. This would make sense in light of her incoherent rules of Quidditch. You can't determine the method by the results. She may well have outlined all of those things you found inconsistent with the previous themes.

Anonymous TJIC August 11, 2013 10:23 AM  

TJIC: I want to give writers who, like Fran, say "the characters write the story" the benefit of the doubt

VD: The reason I disagree is because I do follow my characters where they go. I just don't put a self-congratulatory spin on it

I think we may be in agreement; I don't disagree with your assertion that Fran was an Explorer like you. I merely think that his description of his own internal process is true. Subjective experience is fairly orthogonal to the objective taxonomy you highlighted.

... the secret of song-writing is in the elbow grease.

The secret of pretty much everything, I think, is elbow grease.

literary talent...I don't have it.

Same here - and there are lots of other areas where I have no particular talent: guitar comes hard to me, etc. There's a hell of a lot to be said, though, for putting in the hours, day after day after day.

Myrddin:
I know a guy who uses a rough 5-act structure, then writes as an explorer. So...
Act 1: Introduce everybody.
Act 2: Stuff goes wrong.
Act 3: Climax
Acr 4: Stuff gets Very wrong.
Act 5: Final Climax.


I've seen another model:

Act 1: Introduce everybody.
Act 2A: Stuff goes wrong; climax
Act 2B: Stuff gets VERY wrong; climax
Act 3: cleanup / resolution

but I think it boils down to the same thing.

I had just become a convert to the latter when I realized that my novel was far too long to fit into one book, and the two realizations dovetailed perfectly; I broke the book up thusly:

novel 1:

* Act 1: Introduce everybody.
* Act 2A: Stuff goes wrong; climax

novel 2:

* Act 2B: Stuff gets VERY wrong; climax
* Act 3: cleanup / resolution

yttik : People who exist in this magical, mysterious, fairy-land, may indeed be able to write a good story, but they obviously should not be in charge of running any heavy equipment because they simply haven't got their wits about them.

I'm a bit of an online friend of Fran's, and he's a really smart, down to earth guy. Physics PhD, runs an engineering team.

In theory your theory works, in practice, I disagree.

Myrddin: King is an explorer. Says so himself in his book on writing, which called On Writing .

This shows. A lot of his stuff is crap that meanders around. Some books, like The Running Man, end stupidly and in defiance of logic, because he couldn't think even one page ahead. I picked up From a Buick 8 once at a coffee shop and read it and I still have no idea how anyone considers that a novel, let alone a publishable one.

Anonymous AXCrom August 11, 2013 10:49 AM  

Dresden Files writer Jim Butcher posted about his writing structure, it's an interesting read for people who plan. Now that I understand his process, I see it constantly in his writing.

Harry discovers something, he takes action, something goes wrong, he makes another decision and it REALLY goes wrong. He then, usually as he's about to die, figures out a solution and saves himself/others. Afterwards he ruminates on what just happened, which leads him to the next situation.

Rinse and repeat. Dude makes a lot of money, and his books are entertaining.

Anonymous Orville August 11, 2013 10:58 AM  

I think McRapey is a sufficiently clever Autobiographer to look outside his life for narrative ideas, into which he then inserts himself.

So he's the Walter Mitty of writers.

I think what is key is to find the mode that fits you whether outliner or explorer. As an example, I like paintings by Monet and Van Gogh, but I absolutely love hyper realistic paintings that look like photographs. Plus in every other area of my life, I'm an outliner. You need a map to know where you're going so that you finally arrive, but that doesn't mean you can't some spontaneous and fun detours along the way. So there really is room for outliner and explorer in the same writer.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 11:05 AM  

I merely think that his description of his own internal process is true. Subjective experience is fairly orthogonal to the objective taxonomy you highlighted.

I'm quite happy to grant him that. Whatever works for you. I was merely pointing out that his process was not a fourth distinct type.

Anonymous Susan August 11, 2013 11:10 AM  

So, in your opinion Vox, would Agatha Christie fall into the Explorer category? Most times her plots are just fine, but my main complaint with her is that she is very stingy with the clues up until the wrap up of the novel. Your post makes me think that she doesn't have a clue where her book is going either.

I like to at least form an opinion as to who the 'bad guy' character is as I am reading, but she makes it very difficult sometimes.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 11:18 AM  

So, in your opinion Vox, would Agatha Christie fall into the Explorer category?

I always assumed she was an Outliner, but I don't actually know. I would be very surprised to learn she had no idea where her books were going. But it is possible. Some readers were very surprised to learn that I kept the entire ATOB plot in my head as I went along.

Anonymous Stickwick August 11, 2013 11:53 AM  

Thou shalt know how it ends

As with Rule #1, this explains the failure of my early writing. I had no idea what the ending would be when I started, so the result was a story that was interesting in the beginning but became meandering and disorganized. Sometimes it was so bad that I gave up entirely on finishing it.

Some authors love to create myths about the magic of the process, but as Glenn Frey commented in the documentary about The Eagles, the secret of song-writing is in the elbow grease. Most of the better writers simply work harder at their craft than the lesser writers, just as most of the better-selling authors work harder at selling books than most of those who don't sell as many.

These myths contributed to my sense that there was something elusively magical about the creative process, that it "just happened," and either you had the gift or you didn't. A few months ago, Flavorwire published hand-written notes by a few well-known authors, showing how they organized plot points, characters, etc. (including a massive spreadsheet constructed by Joseph Heller for Catch-22), and I was astonished to see that there's, you know, actual work involved in fiction writing. Like Frey's comments, this dispels the magical myth of the writing process.

This is all rather encouraging, as it means someone without the natural story-telling talent of, say, Tolkien or Heinlein can still, in principle, work at producing something halfway good.

Anonymous jack August 11, 2013 12:06 PM  

Thanks muchly; Have added this to my writing cd. Keep em coming!

Anonymous Susan August 11, 2013 12:33 PM  

VD @11:18

After reading here for so many years, it surprises me not that you would have the whole plot in your head for ATOB while writing.

You are a gamer after all.

I always appreciated Christie's skill in writing about poisons as her weapon of choice. She had a lot of knowledge about the subject from her volunteer work during the war.

Anonymous the bandit August 11, 2013 12:42 PM  

From the perspective of an Outliner, it can be a beneficial exercise to play with the other methods. I spent a number of years writing stories within an online role playing community and it taught me how to Explore. I've taken interesting characters and put them into new universes to see how they would react and how the setting would fundamentally alter them (sort of an Autobiographer exercise). Both of those gave me new skills for writing more creatively between plot points on my Outline.

I imagine it can be similarly beneficial for other natural dispositions, too. After all, what is knowing the ending other than having the barest minimum of an outline?

Blogger Celia Hayes August 11, 2013 1:16 PM  

I am pretty certain that I am kind of an Outliner, just because I write historical fiction, so there has to be some kind of congruence in my plots to the historical event/events that are either part of the plot or even just background. (I have a huge excel spread-sheet, broken out by month and years from 1820 to 1900, with ten or twelve columns for historical events in various places, and another five or six tracking characters, so I guess that counts as an outline.)
I usually have some kind of notion of what developments are supposed to happen - and how it will all end eventually - but within that framework, I just buckle down and look at a blank computer screen and think of a way to write the conversations and descriptions. Almost without fail, though - about three-quarters into the first draft, I have a sudden inspiration, which usually means going back and having to re-write just to set it all up. I usually know where I'm going ... but not the exact route I will take to get there.

Blogger JCclimber August 11, 2013 1:29 PM  

Phillip Jose Farmer: Definitely a autobiographer.

Fred Saberhagen: probably an outliner

Julian May: emphatically an outliner

Zelazny: accused of being an autobiographer, probably is one.

Tolkien: Outliner

David Drake: autobiographer/explorer

Heinlein: Explorer or autobiographer? hard to say...

Orson Scott Card: I'd guess Explorer, but hard to say here too

Blogger JCclimber August 11, 2013 1:41 PM  

Tolkien was not a natural story teller, in fact, his copious notes and strategic plotting have enabled his son and heirs to produce a considerable volume of work which has triple or quadruple his original published word count.
Tolkien was an outliner, but was also an explorer within that structure.

Perhaps the best writers are those that are able to successfully combine two of the 3 types and then put in the skull sweat and physical work needed to put it into a coherent and engaging story.

Anonymous Jill August 11, 2013 2:06 PM  

After reading Agatha Christie's autobiography years ago, I'm going to guess she was an explorer. She probably did know the end, but didn't always know how to get there. I like your point about Jay McInerney. This is why his first book was so groundbreaking and everything that came after was just depressing and derivative. Memoirs can be great fun when they're written by fascinating people, and I suppose, even fascinating people might only have one great story to tell.

I'm an explorer. But if I'm going to finish a book, I need to have a flash of plot structure, which means an initial catalyst, a climax, and a final scene. Everything in between is a matter of exploration. The exception to that is the short fiction I write on my blog. I never know what I'm going to write there before I sit down to write 1000 words. Not being even remotely spontaneous by character, I've allowed myself to be that way through writing.

Blogger Nate August 11, 2013 2:33 PM  

I know you keep insisting that GRRM knows his ending... but I don't buy it. Working off the War of Roses only takes you so far. There are no Others in the War of Roses.

Blogger Nate August 11, 2013 2:34 PM  

others... white walkers... whatever...

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 2:44 PM  

There are no Others in the War of Roses.

Wouldn't it be hilarious if the White Walkers turned out to be the French?

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 2:52 PM  

I don't know that I quite fit any of those patterns. Though I am often enough accused of being the third version, the accusers are by and large idiots. Idiots? Oh, yeah; not everyone with blue eyes is a stand in for me, though many - poor brown eyed, immature children that they are - assume that he is. None of them are, actually; everybody I write is a composite. Instead, I start with something that served me well as a commander: "Don't take notes; if you can't remember it without them it's not important enough to worry about or waste your time on."

Thus, the story usually comes to me on a long drive; a title, a beginning and ending, the major moral theme or themes, and a half dozen or a dozen waypoints. From there I write the major action. Then rewrite it. Then rewite it again. Then go through and add dialogue...and again...then color...then go through again and add some characterization...then read an author I like and go through again stealing liberally...then again for color...then don't forget to do the goddamned operations order for battle Z and make sure the SOB makes sense...then don't forget the log ammex. It takes up to 27 run throughs.

It works reasonably well for me, but has a serious downside. By the time I'm done, I am so sick of the thing I never want to see it again. Reading it further is torture. And yet one must, for the copyeditor and proofing the galleys for both hard and paperback.

One could argue, I suppose, that that first run through is a kind of elaborate outlining...but there's a lot more to it than an outline.

Blogger JCclimber August 11, 2013 2:57 PM  

Loved Watch on the Rhine, by the way.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 3:03 PM  

Thanks.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 3:11 PM  

I think that would qualify as an Outliner, Tom. The fact that you do considerably more than just sketching out an outline tends to make the case stronger rather than weaker.

Anonymous Jack Amok August 11, 2013 3:43 PM  

...of all the various characters who died in ATOB, there were only two characters whose deaths were planned one of them was dictated by the historical event upon which the situation was based.

The one dictated by history I know, but the second I'm curious about. I assume it was the only one that occurred (or seemed to occur at any rate) due to natural causes. Peacefully in bed, as it were.

And that brings up another point - it's quite obvious that you are not an Outliner, as there is a character prominent in the first part of the book that does an Ishmael and fades away.


You're missing the point. One is an Autobiographer by inclination. It has nothing to do with how interesting one's life has been.

I would put Patrick O'Brien into the Autobiographer category. Stephen Maturin was essentially an idealized version of the author, a man with an indistinct nationality involved in espionage. But POB had the ability to augment his own life experience with historical research. He absorbed the details of life as a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic Wars and retold it much as if he'd lived it.

Anyway, the three types are not completely exclusive. An author can combine techniques from all three styles, it's just that one will dominate.


So, in your opinion Vox, would Agatha Christie fall into the Explorer category?

I always assumed she was an Outliner, but I don't actually know. I would be very surprised to learn she had no idea where her books were going. But it is possible.


I read that her nephew claimed Agatha Christie's typical process was to write the entire novel except the last chapter, then re-read it and pick the least likely character to be the murderer. Then she would go back and make a few key revisions to make that result plausible before writing the final chapter.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 4:07 PM  

As I said, I can see the argument. But earlier on I did do outlines and they were a different process that generally did not involve going through the thing multiple times, such that editing for galleys, etc. became torture.

Anonymous The CronoLink August 11, 2013 5:12 PM  

Tolkien, an outliner? No way in hell!

Anonymous J August 11, 2013 5:14 PM  

Vance - probably an autobiographer.

A lot of his endings seem to wrap things up too quickly. The great big war for control of the Elder Isles at the end of the Lyonesse trilogy is over in under 20 pages.

Blogger Nate August 11, 2013 5:50 PM  

The most infuriating writing trend to me is what I call the Feed the Hamster method. The story is nothing but an excuse to drop allusion after allusion... symbol after symbol... the whole point being to keep the reader's imagination working overtime on what it could all mean and how it could possibly all go together... when in fact there is nothing there at all. The allusions are pointless and actually reflect nothing. The symbols aren't actually symbolic of anything.

A prime example of this kind of writing was Lost.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 6:09 PM  

Nate...well, literary fiction is for the most part pretentious junk.

Anonymous Beau August 11, 2013 6:32 PM  

Tom,

Which of your books would you recommend first for a reader?

Blogger Nate August 11, 2013 6:35 PM  

"Nate...well, literary fiction is for the most part pretentious junk."

Amen brother Tom. Amen.

Anonymous Greatheart August 11, 2013 6:39 PM  

It's interesting that you are talking about this subject at this time. I've been working on a story outline for about a month and I appreciate this and all other advise you give.

My question is: Is there an optimal number of chapters/pages that would make a book more appealing/readable? I want to give the reader enough to enjoy without being tedious.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 6:49 PM  

Depends on the reader, Beau. Almost all of my stuff that's called "science fiction" is more political and military commentary with some sci fi more or less electroplated on. There are politics, largely anti-prog politics, in everything I write.

For straight military the Countdown series isn't bad and M Day, in particular, is rather funny. For a look at where we're going as a planet, where we are now, and a conflict between the two, ADCP et seq might work for you. The collabs with Ringo aren't really collabs, so you might read those expecting something they're not. Still, they're reasonably decent.

Anonymous james August 11, 2013 6:52 PM  

Orson Scott Card is actually a big-time Outliner- he's mentioned that he uses very extensive graphs and whatnot, to the point where the novel is essentially summarized before he starts writing the first draft. He also needs to know the ending before he starts writing.

As for Scalzi, I'll grant that he did write Zoe's Tale- which has a teenage girl for a protagonist- and it wasn't horribly done. I mean it wasn't great, you could still see traces of John Perry in there, but it was distinctive enough.

However, seeing as he still brags about developing a semi-authentic teenage voice years after the book came out, it's safe to assume that it was a supreme effort on his part.

Anonymous VD August 11, 2013 7:07 PM  

As for Scalzi, I'll grant that he did write Zoe's Tale- which has a teenage girl for a protagonist- and it wasn't horribly done.

As I said, he is an Autobiographer.

Anonymous Beau August 11, 2013 7:32 PM  

For straight military the Countdown series isn't bad and M Day, in particular, is rather funny.

Thanks Tom, I'll start with The Liberators.

Anonymous Ciconia August 11, 2013 7:38 PM  

Nothing by Kratman is worth reading, period.

Anonymous Dr. Illusion August 11, 2013 7:41 PM  

Subtle burn there, Vox. Nicely done.

Blogger Bogey August 11, 2013 8:56 PM  

If you're a really good mystery writer I don't see how you could not outline.

Scalzi has been doing the autobiographical writing for two decades now, it's what he's geared towards. If done in moderation writing about your personal life can be interesting, but posting pictures of cats, your wife and kids, and your breakfast just gets tiresome. The only readers I think you end up with in the end are stalkers and aspergers or some degree of weirdo between.

Anonymous Beau August 11, 2013 9:04 PM  

Nothing by Kratman is worth reading, period.

I've heard, "Every word he writes is bad, and that includes "a", "an" and "the"."

Do you suppose, Ciconia, that the spaces between the letters are evil too?

Anonymous JP August 11, 2013 9:26 PM  

Nothing by Kratman is worth reading, period.

Everything by Kratman is awesomely awesome, period.

Every book pokes a finger in the eye of the despicable tranzis - and is hilarious and thought-provoking to boot.

And yes I make a point of buying his books and not buying McRapey's books not only because Kratman's books are so much better than McRapey's but also due to my feelings about their political views. Since McRapey has openly said he despises people like me, he shall not have a single penny of my money!

Anonymous JP August 11, 2013 9:27 PM  

Scalzi has been doing the autobiographical writing for two decades now,

Does ripping off other authors really count as "autobiographical"?

Anonymous Sensei August 11, 2013 10:02 PM  

Ah, thanks for this post, Vox. I am an explorer as well, but would benefit from a little more intentional outlining, at least in the overarching sense.

Any autobiographical bits are purely coincidental, although "write what you know" does come in at some point. I guess the difference is that while the characters could experience analogous situations to those an author has, it doesn't mean those characters are necessarily versions or interpretations of himself, yes?

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 10:36 PM  

Why Ciconia, thanks for the plug. But for liberals, frothing at the mouth, I'd actually have to make some effort to advertise myself.

Anonymous Ciconia August 11, 2013 10:54 PM  

Does ripping off other authors really count as "autobiographical"?

I don't know, does it count as exploring?

I've never read Scalzi but I'm sure it's better than Caliphate or A Desert Called Peace. But then again, I could write something better than Caliphate.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 11, 2013 11:03 PM  

Hey, Vox, is Ciconia actually Clamps and all of those other nom de shitbirds he used? If so, boy have I got a choice section of pretentious literary trash he used and overused.

Here it is; the weasel changed it but not before I copied it for the ages:

"The three of us holed up in an abandoned factory devoid of any life for the night

Icicles held captive beads of brilliant golden sunlight.

“Stay quiet,” I warned Ava. Her response was little more than a sullen glance. We were in a long hallway filled with junk and fallen chunks of the concrete roof. Icicles held captive beads of brilliant golden sunlight. ”"

Blogger Markku August 12, 2013 12:52 AM  

Tom: Yes, the icicle quote is the other one from Dimwit Dan that we like to poke fun at, for its purple prose.

But not as much as the greatest swordswoman in all of Carantania...

Anonymous Anonymous August 12, 2013 1:24 AM  

Ciconia wrote: **Nothing by Kratman is worth reading, period.**

This sounds like a statement written by someone with a mindset that will ensure that he never learns any facts with which he is not already familiar. When I read a book (or watch a movie) I try to keep in mind that however worthless I might find it, for whatever reason, the author at least found it sufficiently worthwhile to spend a lot of effort writing it. And there is generally something of value to learn, somewhere, in almost every book, even if it is nothing more than an example of what NOT to do. Even 'The Turner Diaries', which I found to be absolute crap, did have one sentence in them that made sense (although admittedly not in context).

Anonymous Anonymous August 12, 2013 1:31 AM  

Tom Kratman wrote: **Almost all of my stuff that's called "science fiction" is more political and military commentary with some sci fi more or less electroplated on. There are politics, largely anti-prog politics, in everything I write.**

I notice a lot of that in 'military sci-fi'. For instance, when the main antagonists are aliens, the aliens are generally physically (and mentally) pretty much an equivalent match for human beings. There isn't a whole lot of military sci-fi where the main alien enemies are the size of rats or elephants, or 10 times stronger or smarter than humans, or come from a highly exotic environment, like a gas giant planet or a neutron star.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 1:42 AM  

Well...some stories aren't particularly interesting prospects because humans just lose too quickly or win too easily. Ten times smarter? Forget it; even presupposing a writer ten times smarter - and that person will not exist - the war's over. Ten times stronger? Well...Ringo's Posleen are much stronger, much dumber, have higher tech, and are in much greater numbers. That's probably about as different as one could hope for. Moreover, given a really different environment, coming up with a reason to fight is a toughie. What the hell does the population of a gas giant have that we need and must take? What on the reverse?

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 1:44 AM  

It's not just that he used the expression, Markku; he was apparently so pleased with it he used it twice, in rapid succession. Man...I soooo wish I could write like that...hahahahahahahaha.

Larry Correia has more or less vowed to make it the equivalent of Eye of Argon for ridiculing at con purposes.

Anonymous Anonymous August 12, 2013 1:47 AM  

Tom Kratman wrote: **What the hell does the population of a gas giant have that we need and must take? What on the reverse?**

Well that's why you don't see 'military' sci fi with that sort of alien antagonist. Though you do see other sci-fi with it (such as Dragon's Egg, featuring aliens that lived on a neutron star.

Blogger Iowahine August 12, 2013 2:13 AM  

Dear Lord,

Please help me lose my way after my 4th novel (like JK Rowlings), so my husband can retire.

Amen.

Anonymous Anonymous August 12, 2013 2:48 AM  

Tom Kratman: I can envision a military sci-fi story (of sorts) involving aliens that are very different from or superior to human beings. But it would be a rather elaborate sort of story where the main fighting was actually between two different groups of superior aliens, and the humans in this case would either be ignored, avoided, eliminated, or used as a distraction (like a nest of wasps thrown in an enemy's face) before the aliens got back to the serious business of whatever they were fighting about between themselves. Whether or not the humans could get any concessions from one side or the other by agreeing to be used as a distraction is a different question.

Anonymous VryeDenker August 12, 2013 4:18 AM  

This is probably the perfect time to say that I was a bit pissed about how abruptly Summa Elvetica ended.

Blogger Markku August 12, 2013 5:23 AM  

Larry Correia has more or less vowed to make it the equivalent of Eye of Argon for ridiculing at con purposes.

Considering that his claim to fame is a DeviantArt page at which those pieces of literary magnificence reside, I suppose he'll be delirious with joy with finding himself suddenly famous.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:34 AM  

Nah. After being laughed at by Larry, self, and a couple of hundred others, the weasel changed that particular piece of literary wannabe garbage. Hence I would surmise he's embarrassed, though possibly not as much as he should be. Fortunately, I saved it and passed the save on to Larry.

Blogger Markku August 12, 2013 5:58 AM  

Tom: Just go read the complete stories, I double-dare you.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:24 AM  

I don't know if I'm tough enough for that, Markku; two icicles holding captive beads of golden sunlight tested me and vexed me greatly. Still...what the hell? If I die of excessive laughter, donate my corpse to the Society for the Advancement of Pretentious Literary Junk, Captive Golden Bead of Sunlight Division.

Anonymous TJIC August 12, 2013 8:13 AM  

@Tom Kratman: not everyone with blue eyes is a stand in for me

Two points:

1) Larry Correia has been accused of having his MHI hero be a Mary Sue. I think the accusation is a little unfair, but I find Larry's defense (either read it somewhere or heard him say it at a signing) to be charming and also hilarious: something along the lines of "my protagonist was a gun-carrying accountant from Idaho. That's not me at all; I am from North Dakota." Not sure if it's intended as a joke or not, but I like it.

2) The hero in my novels shares one or two traits with me (business owner), so I'm sure that eventually - if anyone reads my books - I'm going to be accused of Mary Sueing. I've got my rebuttal lined up: "No; the hero in my books is a successful business owner!" ;-)

Anonymous TJIC August 12, 2013 8:14 AM  

@Tom Kratman: Nate...well, literary fiction is for the most part pretentious junk.

T C Boyle has mad skillz, as the kids say.

But...yes.

If you haven't read A Reader's Manifesto

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-readers-manifesto/302270/

you should.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 8:55 AM  

I have read it: "Partridge black, small..." And, happily, I am getting to the chapter in Blank Slate that discusses the fraud of modern art and literary fiction.

The big difference between myself and Carrera is that I am mostly sane and he is mostly not. He has his reasons, of course. His family is also different, as mine is alive (see comment on reasons, above). I am also superstitious as hell, and so made his family different in some key particulars from mine, lest God decide to visit on me what I visited on him. Of course, those who insist on trumpeting mary sueism cannot be serious, for if they thought he and I were the same they'd be scared to death to annoy me in the slightest.

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 9:22 AM  

I don't think you're quite sane enough to judge your sanity.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 9:33 AM  

And your qualifications to judge? Puhleeze, Clampie, you're a low grade moron with pretensions.

Blogger Lawrence August 12, 2013 9:44 AM  

I'm not sure where my style falls in this list. My preference has always been world building. Only later, after I have sufficiently developed the setting, do I get around to the actual plot. My characters are necessary and logical extrapolations from that base.

For example, I am working on a story set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of the landmass has been rendered uninhabitable for a variety of reasons. Remaining military units are nuclear-powered naval vessels, many of which have turned to piracy and warlordism. So I ask myself what sort of characters a scenario like this might produce, and began developing them accordingly. The plot follows the attitudes of the characters, and the sort of conflicts I could envision them getting into.

Anonymous VD August 12, 2013 10:51 AM  

Hey, Vox, is Ciconia actually Clamps and all of those other nom de shitbirds he used?

Yes, precisely. He is the author of the immortal line. "So, what are your names, wayfarers?" Which is absolutely hysterical and serves as a punchline if you read the very long paragraph of self-introductory rambling that precedes it.

Blogger Markku August 12, 2013 11:27 AM  

We seem to have a new standout author. Except this guy doesn't merely stand out, he transcends.

Blogger Markku August 12, 2013 11:32 AM  

What, you say you haven't ever read him? Him, the greatest pensman in all of Catatonia?

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 3:13 PM  

I've read Caliphate and I've read the Spacebattles thread on A Desert Called Peace. I think I'm more than qualified to judge your works. Baen, it seems, is only one step above self-published.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 12, 2013 3:50 PM  

Tom Kratman: you wrote **Of course, those who insist on trumpeting mary sueism cannot be serious, for if they thought he and I were the same they'd be scared to death to annoy me in the slightest.**

Depends. Some authors make a 'Mary Sue' character who is either a highly idealized or a highly 'demonic' version of themselves. Or who exemplifies a particular aspect of themselves, but in a much greater degree.

As for the question of 'sanity', that's to a large degree dependent on who's doing the defining, and what sort of environment / society you happen to be in. I suppose by a lot of standards I'm probably not all that sane, among other things I have a rare personality type, Complex post traumatic stress disorder and (probably) Aspbergers. But if I'm the only person out of a group of 15 'sane' people who is able to adequately provide myself with food, sleeping arrangements, and proper clothing on a trip to the wilderness, then your typical 'sane' person today is completely non-functional in any sort of environment except a highly convenient 21st century America.

Anonymous VD August 12, 2013 3:52 PM  

Oh, Larry has a total Mary Sue going in Monster Hunter. But he appears to have largely gotten over it in Grimnoire.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 3:54 PM  

An unabashed hitpiece qualifies you? What a moron.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 3:56 PM  

If you've not read the Carreraverse, Ann, let it suffice to say he is not a nice man.

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 4:31 PM  

Neither are you.

it's not about what you've done, it's about what you'd do if you had the chance.

(and said unabashed hitpiece has excerpts from the novel. And, oh, yeah, I actually read Caliphate. Funny how you ignore that.)

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 12, 2013 4:38 PM  

Tom Kratman wrote: **If you've not read the Carreraverse, Ann, let it suffice to say he is not a nice man.**

heh. I have a character I sometimes write in Harry Potter RPG's who is 'not a nice man'. He's a smuggler who used to kill muggles (non-magical humans like you and me) and gut them for their body parts to use as potions ingredients, until he was taken in hand and put on a very short leash of sorts by his more ethical (and far more magically powerful) partner (my admittedly very mary-suish character, though he's based more on Hugh Jackman than myself). Still not a nice man, though, has terrible manners and is fond of breaking people's bones with a club he carries around.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 4:39 PM  

No, sweetie, I remember that you claimed to have read Caliphate, then got so many details wrong...because you were confused with some other book...and because you're a moron. Think back. Think back HARD. Think back to saying that some kids who'd never before held a firearm, let alone fired one, and missed a fucking rabbit, a small moving target, were therefore of the Imperial Stormtroopers school of Marksmanship...or that a huge airship was missed, when said airship was hit. In short, you're an idiot.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 12, 2013 4:43 PM  

Ciconia wrote: **Neither are you.

it's not about what you've done, it's about what you'd do if you had the chance.**

Yeah, right. You know, that's an utterly idiotic statement to make to Kratman without evidence. My own 'not nice' character is based to a large degree on someone I used to know, who was an extremely masculine, dominant, and aggressive homosexual to the point that I would have never guessed he was gay, if someone hadn't told me one day that the man who often helped him with his route, who I had thought was just his renter (he lived in a duplex) was actually his long-term gay partner.

But gee, I guess because I wrote a character like that, it's all about what I 'would do' if I got the chance, like pulling out my non-existent d*** and having gay sex with another gay man. Never mind that I'm actually a heterosexual woman in real life, you have magic powers that let you know all about what I 'would do'.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 4:48 PM  

Remember this one, bubula? http://seekingnewearth.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/caliphate/?replytocom=709#respond

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 5:00 PM  

My recap of Caliphate was accurate.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:03 PM  

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:03 PM  

How old are you, Chlamydia?

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 5:12 PM  

I still want to know this: Do you know anything about Stormtroopers? Have you even done a search for Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy? Did you click the laconic button because the main page was too difficult for you?

(also, "he lay quivering like the product of a Jell-O mold." Not "like Jello," but "like the product of a jell-o mold." What the hell is that?)

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 5:15 PM  

Slightly over 10,000 days. Old enough to not throw around stuff like "LOL" or "HAHAHAHAHA" in my posts.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:18 PM  

As I believe I mentioned to you, bubula, the difference between the product of a jello mold and simple jello is that the former has a more definitive and recognizable shape. This shouldn't be hard to understand, to anyone grounded in reality rather than (very poorly done) literary stylistic fantasy. I can understand how that might confuse you, since it took no part in captive, frozen beads of golden sunlight.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:20 PM  

But not old enough or experienced enough not to write things like:

"The three of us holed up in an abandoned factory devoid of any life for the night

Icicles held captive beads of brilliant golden sunlight.

“Stay quiet,” I warned Ava. Her response was little more than a sullen glance. We were in a long hallway filled with junk and fallen chunks of the concrete roof. Icicles held captive beads of brilliant golden sunlight. ”"

Question: was life going to come back during the day?

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:21 PM  

Was it only for the night that it was devoid of life?

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 5:36 PM  

And yet they'd both quiver in the same way. Funny how that is. Besides, maybe you should be using molded jello rather the product of a jello mold. But what do I know? I didn't write a novel where they're reading an Muslamic alphabet book in English in a Germany that's part of an Arabic-speaking Islamic caliphate that no doubt has no diplomatic relations with any English-speaking countries.

And here's this sentence. The Super Dictionary has better prose than this. "That without it, the pact, the dhimma, we are in a state of war, of holy war, of jihad with you and yours." Also, your attempts at Arab place names are cringeworthy.

(Also, I think you read A Reader's Manifesto too many times. Have any examples of good writing?)

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:38 PM  

You know, Chlamydia, I really have no anger toward you. What I have, instead, is a vast sense of pity. I am trying to read through your turgid...really, it's execrable, prose and...well, it's sad. No, I don't mean merely that the prose is sad, though it is. I mean that it's sad that you think you can write when all the evidence, produced by yourself, all self-incriminatorily, is that you haven't clue one. No skill. No talent. No sense of what crafting a story requires. And a style that's so self conscious, so overdone, so wasteful and inefficient, so frankly putrid...well...sorry, boy, but you're pathetic. If you, perchance, have a real job, and maybe your own place to live rather than sponging off mommie in you 10000th day, keep that job.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:44 PM  

No, they don't quiver quite the same way. One retains a recognizable shape, the other does not since it never had one. If you had two brain cells to rub together, neither of them held hostage by the icicles holding that sunlight overnight, you would get that through your impenetrably dense skull.

Ah, and there's another thing you lack, the ability to distinguish conversation from description. The passage you quote is someone talking. That's what the quote marks indicate. You know, what people do when they're not contemplating captive beads of golden sunlight, held hostage overnight, or factories that are devoid of life for the night but will have a traffic jam in the morning? The purpose of _conversation_, and the way to do it, is to write the way people speak, or at least the speaking character does.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:48 PM  

Markku, I am afraid the greatest pensman in all of Catatonia is proving too much for me. Or at least his opus magnum is. Jesus Christ, do you mean to say someone actually got through all that rot?

Anonymous VD August 12, 2013 5:51 PM  

I do enjoy the way a never-will-be like the Greatest Pensman in All Carantania keeps insisting he's a better writer than no less than three established and reasonably popular novelists... despite the fact that we've all read his masterpiece.

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 5:52 PM  

Jello, whether molded or not, is a solid, or rather a colloidal gel (liquid dispersed through a solid medium), which means it has a definite shape.

No, it's not someone talking, there is an out of place quotation mark and I have no idea where it came from.

And there's nothing wrong with "held captive beads of brilliant golden sunlight" so find something else to pick apart ad nauseam.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 5:58 PM  

You're really too stupid to get it through your head, aren't you? A, say, bowl of jello has no particular distinguishing marks, no face, no eyes, no limbs. A fish shaped jello mold, however, will produce something with something like all of those. When the former quivers, it never looks like anything. When the latter does it still retains the broad shape of a fish, a living thing.

There is when you use it twice, as you did. It's also just silly; pretentious bullshit, even when used but the once, that adds nothing at all to the story.

I thought you said you read the book, dipshit. It IS conversation, from the tax gatherer to Petra's father. Page 23 of the paperback version. Silly fuck.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:02 PM  

I haven't reads it, Vox. I've been _trying_ to read the trash but, frankly, it's more painful than I can readily deal with. I think I'd rather do Ranger School again and that would be, at my age, a death sentence.

I used to see something like that sometimes when practicing law, a foolish defendant would try to defend himself, and do so so badly it was excruciating to watch. I'd generally either leave the courtroom or tell the judge, "Your Honor, stop the torture. I will defend this miscreant for free rather than endure another ignorant phrase."

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 6:03 PM  

That was obviously a mistake. It was only meant to be used once but I think I copied the latest revision in wrong or copy-pasted the line and didn't delete it afterwards, and nothing more.

The line about the dhimma was terrible and unnatural no matter what it was.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:03 PM  

read it, rather

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:07 PM  

It was wretched even the once. You're too talentless to see that, I know. See comment above on what a pathetic, worthless hack you are, and how sorry I feel for you over it.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:10 PM  

For this, for example: "The machine raised his twin porcelain blades, and brought them down in a cross on a group of nearby soldiers, who died firing ineffectively into the etheric shield. Blood soaked the ground, staining the once pristine snow crimson. Some of it splashed on me from a decapitated man next to me. I felt ill. Just more horrors thrust upon me," you should be put to death for linguistic matricide.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:13 PM  

And it's music time. Ana wun..ana two:

(Tune: Frosty the snowman)

Yama the Space Fish
Liked to think that he could write.
So he wrote of icicles holding light
Even though it was dark night.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 6:21 PM  

Yama the Space Blight,
Never knew gramatic laws;
How to form a sentence or place a clause,
So his readers could understand.

Stupid, pretentious, silly and flawed
O look at Yama wri-ite
Overly turgid, horribly structured
With luck they'll not see the light.

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 6:41 PM  

Do you have any examples of good prose?

(If you've been published, there's hope for anyone)

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 7:04 PM  

I said I had pity for you. I did not say I intended to help you in any way, shape, or form.

Anonymous Ciconia August 12, 2013 7:09 PM  

Oh, you wouldn't be helping me in any way. I'm just curious as to just what you find good.

And if you think you're good, you are really quite deluded.

Anonymous Beau August 12, 2013 7:16 PM  

And if you think you're good, you are really quite deluded.

Yeah, he's good. Just finished The Liberators.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 7:32 PM  

Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore and get M Day. I shit you not, M Day is _funny_....for most of it.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 12, 2013 7:55 PM  

What? That _you_, the greatest penman in all of Catatonia, might approve of. Good Lord, I _hope_ I've never written anything like that.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 13, 2013 6:49 AM  

Hey, Markku, you referred to Clampie-Ciconia-Chlamydia as "Dimwit Dan." Is that, perchance, one Dan Goodman?

Blogger Markku August 13, 2013 6:53 AM  

No, his very first name here (or at least, the first that we identified as that particular person) was Dan Picaro. Spacebunny came up with "Dimwit Dan".

Blogger Tom Kratman August 13, 2013 8:21 AM  

Ah. Thanks.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 13, 2013 12:42 PM  

Tom Kratman wrote: **I think I'd rather do Ranger School again and that would be, at my age, a death sentence.**

Depends. How tough is ranger school? I have heard of some pretty darn healthy old people. Bill Haast (owner of the Miami Serpentarium until he died last year) was vaulting over 4 foot tall walls when he was 94. Healthiest damned 94 year old I ever heard of, apparently he had absolutely nothing wrong with him except losing some of his fingers to repeated snake bites.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 13, 2013 3:43 PM  

Very tough. When I went through, 32 years ago, it was somewhat harder than today but it is still very tough. As in you probably wouldn't believe it.

Blogger Unknown August 18, 2013 2:07 PM  

"Ten times smarter? Forget it; even presupposing a writer ten times smarter - and that person will not exist - the war's over."

E.E. Smith got around that problem -- and around the problem of "how do you have a war between humans and extremely non-humanoid aliens" by having (in his Lensman series) a cosmic war in which *both* sides were led by superintelligent, non-humanoid aliens (Eddore vs. Arisia), and in which much of the fighting was done by less powerful proxies on each side. Of course, he also had the Arisians selectively breed humans who would become as tough as Eddore ... over thousands of years.

--Erich Schwarz

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