Those Boots Need Polish

This morning’s writing tip of the day is brought to you by a run-and-gun military science fiction novel that could have used some more boot polish. Here is what one reviewer had to say about the book:

“The writer doesn’t really know what the story or the characters should really be. Instead it reads like a bunch of moderately disjointed story elements held together with spackle and duct tape. While it’s not the worst I’ve seen, it still had me wincing a couple too many times for me to keep going.

“Now if you’re not looking for an intense read there are still some interesting ideas lurking just under the surface so maybe your experience fairs better. But for me, this story really needed some more time to bake before being written because it’s too raw for my tastes.”

What do we take away from this? This book clearly was not ready for market. At least another edit was required for it to be ready for release. If its author is wise, he (name withheld to protect the guilty) will pull down the book and fix its faults, which are apparently not only in characterization but also in general plotting, A doesn’t naturally lead to B, etc.

Two ways to attack a poorly edited manuscript offer themselves here.

The author can sit down, write a carefully constructed bio of Johnny Hero, then review each scene to be sure that Johnny Hero and his supporting cast are all acting as might be expected under the circumstances. For example, is the timid girl or the selfish businessman really going to volunteer for what appears to be a suicide mission? And if one of them does, what’s her or his motivation? Maybe the timid girl wants to prove herself to the boy she secretly loves or the selfish businessman intends to flee at the first opportunity, leaving the others to die?

The other way to edit this draft is to carefully outline it. My guess is this author was a pantser. He went in without a clear idea where he wanted to go story-wise. He had gathered together some interesting story ideas and he just let them roll out, hoping all that running and gunning would cover up any inconsistencies/deviations in the plotting.

For anyone unfamiliar with what the reviewer means by story elements, they are: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution.

Review all of these carefully before releasing your novel onto the market. Make sure that space soldier is ready for battle.

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Show Her No Pity

Use Them and Lose Them, Ladies!

Women had it hard in Biblical times. Even an act of self-defense (or should I say other-self-defense) came with a hard punishment. An eye for an eye. If you’re a man. If you’re a lady, well, you might just lose a hand for getting a little too grabby.

In Deuteronomy 25:11 and 25:12, the punishment for grabbing a man’s junk is outlined.

11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts.

12 You shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

Grabbing a man’s junk for the hell of it. Bad form. Sure. But cutting a hand off for that seems, well, a bit much. Never mind losing a hand in defense of your man.

Just a guess here, but this may be a case of altered value systems. In the old, old days, a man’s junk was his life force. Hell (excuse the word), men in Biblical times used to swear oaths on their groin. Damaging a man’s pride was probably seen as depriving him of his manhood (in essence, killing him, for all intents and purposes). Any woman who did that was, so the theory goes, his murderer. Looking at it that way, the loss of a mere hand might be seen as lenient.

This begs the question: How did such a Biblical law ever come to pass? Was it common for a woman to manhandle her husband’s attacker or did one particularly flagrant offender bring this law into being? To that feisty lady, all I can say is–you go, girl!

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Shoot Your Novel

Writing a novel is rather like shooting a film. Only, unless you’ve teamed up with a fellow writer, you’re in charge of ALL the departments involved in the production.

Set Design. Where does your novel take place? If it’s set in New York City, for instance, you’ll need to decide, fairly early on (i.e., the drafting stage), how many different locations you’ll need. While it might be fun to visit all the major tourist attractions, you SHOULDN’T (really, you shouldn’t) eat up valuable screen (page) time, hopping from scenic spot to scenic spot, for the sheer fun of it. If Johnny Hero has no better reason for a visit to the Statue of Liberty than a photo opportunity, you should probably scratch it off the list. If, however, he’s taking a friend who’s recently emigrated from a country with an oppressive political regime, by all means, go to Lady Liberty.

Photography. A writer’s choice of words affects how the reader sees a particular object. Even an object as simple as an apple can be transformed by the eye of its beholder. A hungry orphan who lives upon musty oats and stale bread would cherish a fresh apple as a treasure, while a spoilt child who eats gobs of candy for dessert would probably scorn it as “garbage.”

Visual Effects. When we are writing any scene in which a heavy amount of action takes place, we need to consider how best to convey that scene. This includes literal camera angling. Like any director, we want to get as much bang for our proverbial buck as we can. While it might be tempting to string a series of explosions together (hell, it works for some directors–we’re looking at you, Michael Bay), visual effects are just as important in low action scenes as high ones. The key is emphasis. Johnny Hero reaches out to grasp the hand of the love of his life, catches it, and walks slowly into the fade out, still holding it. Happy ending.

Lastly, but most importantly, editing. This can be the worst part. I tuned into a commentary of Avengers: Endgame. The production team admitted to reviewing certain key scenes of that movie HUNDREDS of times to get them right. Sadly, this translates into MORE work for you, the writer. Agreed. But if this were EASY, we’d have a hell of a lot more competition.

Once you’ve pulled together that first draft, take a little time to review each aspect of your production. Are your sets well chosen? Could you move your characters from one location to another without them batting an eye? If so, you may want to rethink your location. You may be missing an opportunity to exploit setting in the narrative. A teenaged couple’s first sexual experience is going to be a lot different depending on whether they hook up in an abandoned cabin in the woods vs. a parent’s bedroom in the family home. Are you getting the most out of your props? Does the camera linger longer on the things that matter vs. the things that are just background? A new pair of shoes that cost the teenaged heroine her entire paycheck vs. a shirt that the heroine wears once in the story for about two (reader) minutes. Are the scenes that matter drawn out (that first kiss) and the scenes that don’t cut short (we really don’t need to see Johnny Hero floss)? Are those clever, but ultimately unnecessary scenes cut from the production to lessen the air time. Kill your darlings.

That’s a cut!

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Exciting New Product!

Udas Grun Exuxan

Exuxan Stackable Shelters

Mavic Set

Greetings Udas Exuxan

We are excited to introduce you to our latest product, Vinlorica (copyright protected).

Vinlorica is a nontoxic enamel preparation, created in our labs from our planet-famous cultivars, designed to preserve and protect pre-fab structures from elemental damage, aging, and intentional vandalism. This revolutionary protective coating not only adds YEARS to the life of any pre-fab structure, but also repels unwanted to insect pests, courtesy of a non-toxic additive (additional designer fee applies).

Best of all, Vinlorica not only retains its fresh-coat shine, but can be programmed to change color at the customer’s request (additional designer fee applies).

If you are interested in seeing a demonstration of our new product, I can send a company engineer to your office to apply a sample coat to one of your showroom models.

I understand that you intend to open your new community enclave in a reclaimed southern section of Mavic Set at the beginning of next month. If our product suits, I can easily have a special batch of Vinlorica prepared for you, which can be applied to all shelters in the new enclave, at a 25% discount, with a guaranteed 10% discount on all future orders.

Though we haven’t yet received approval from the Public Safety Oversight Committee, we are confident that by the beginning of next year, at the latest, we will have the sanction of the Corporation to market Vinlorica to manufacturers of cosmetics and comestibles.

Ordering now will put you ahead of our other customers in the production line, ensuring you priority in production runs. Beat the rush!

Dzo Zohvar Rapsid

Happy Garden Cultivars

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Lost in Transit

Udas Jillintor Uavoo

Public Safety Oversight Committee

Greetings Udas Uavoo

First of all, I would like to apologize on behalf of my company for this unfortunate accident, though, strictly speaking, our company was in no way responsible for it. The collapse of the overpass has since been ruled an Act of Nature by the Corporation.

Nonetheless, I want to assure you that none of the seed pods lost from our transport vehicle will germinate. To protect our products from loss or theft, a chemical–its formula protected by copyright–must be introduced to our cultivars before the seed pods will open. My engineers assure me that the recipe for this chemical, which I don’t hesitate to tell you contains certain restricted ingredients that can only be obtained from the Corp lab with the sanction of your office, cannot be reproduced outside our factory.

To put your mind still further at ease, all of our cultivar seed pods are designed to self-destruct, if they do not germinate within ten days of release. This insures product freshness, but also prevents our product from remaining long in the hands of unintended parties.

Please advise if you have any further questions.

Dzo Zohvar Rapsid

Happy Garden Cultivars

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The Ornamental That Wouldn’t

Udas Abrala Krayal

Krayal Housing Development

Mavic Set

Greetings Udas Krayal

As you know, our company prides itself on its 100% satisfaction guarantee. We were grieved to learn that you are not satisfied with the cultivar you purchased from us.

From your communication, it appears that your cultivar won’t adopt the form of a Tasan fauntail. That is, it won’t RETAIN that form, but continues to reshape itself into a Tasan whitewood. While rarely, cultivars do sometimes display idiosyncrasies. I won’t call it stubbornness, because a cultivar is incapable of developing what you might call a personality. Call it a predilection to certain forms. Obviously, your cultivar doesn’t wish to be a fauntail. And continuing to program it to take that shape will only frustrate you and annoy it.

Because we value your business, I am sending a company engineer to your office today to remove the cultivar. We will give you a new one, free of charge, which we hope you will find satisfactory. It assumes a quite lovely fauntail along with 50,000 other ornamentals that you might also enjoy. With your permission, we will sell your discard at discount to another business concern who is looking for a whitewood for their ornamental park.

Please confirm that this meets your approval.

Dzo Zohvar Rapsid

Happy Garden Cultivars

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Why Cads Finish Last

One of my biggest peeves with modern romance novels is the handsome cad who inevitably stumbles his way into them. He can act like a total backside, with or without regret, and still find someone head over heels in love (or lust) with you him.

I offer in example a recent time-travel romance, in which a college hard ass with a drug problem winds up in 1835. 1835 called to complain, by the way. He meets a girl who is at least part Native American. He proceeds, fairly rapidly, to make his shallow jerkiness evident. He manhandles the girl, makes crass jokes about her appearance (Pocahontas, really?), and attempts to kick her dog. Though she pulls a knife on him more than once, Sarah still can’t resist those smoldering eyes and that smoking hot ass.

Is the reading public really this shallow? I hope not!

Every romance writer needs to know one thing about romance–and one thing only. You don’t have to convince your characters they are in love. You have to convince your readers that your characters are CAPABLE of loving each other. No self-respecting woman would ever love a man who mistreats her, makes derogatory cracks at her expense, or attempts to hurt an animal she loves.

Johnny College needs to prove he’s worthy, before we, the readers, learn that Sarah is growing fond of him. And you, the writer, can’t do that by simply tacking in the obligatory “rescue” scene. Johnny College has to do more than simply reach out a hand to the heroine (or hero) in a time of need. He needs to be there for her (or him) time and time again. Johnny College needs to exhibit desirable traits that will last long after his looks fade.

Let’s face it. people. Hot asses and handsome faces inevitably sag. Only loving hearts are for forever!

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Poor Plotting: When Tragedy Becomes Comedy

I was reading a gay romance this past week that went to pieces in the final act because of poor plotting.

The main characters–would-be lovers–let’s call them Tom and Harry–were hosting the grand opening of a vintage toy shop, where not one but two villains conveniently showed up, the first, exposing Harry’s manwhore past, which ought to have been pretty obvious to everyone at that point, since Harry never ceased talking about it, and the second, exposing Harry’s criminal past, which made him appear untrustworthy to Tom. All ends well, of course, somehow without Harry in the least understanding why Tom might not want a man who throws himself at anyone who’ll have him and sees no problem with petty theft, provided its petty and unsuccessful. But never mind that.

The point I’m trying to make here is an author risks making a joke of his characters when he arranges matters too cleverly like this. The manwhore expose could–and should–have come up earlier in the story, providing a much-needed injection of drama in the rather dull middle (all stories can be rather dull in the middle, if you let them be). The evil security guard could have easily carried the scene at the party, revealing to everyone (but especially to Tom) that he was letting a crook run his business. It would have been devastating, instead of just Scene Two in a ridiculous farce.

I offer one final example of the Two Villains Two Many plot danger. Johnny Hero is about to marry Susie Darling. At their engagement party, Johnny’s supposed ex-girlfriend shows up, sporting an engagement ring on her finger. She claims she is engaged to Johnny and pregnant with his child. All is over for Johnny and Susie. Or at least at a point where it might be.

Let’s recast the scene. Johnny Hero is about to marry Susie Darling. At their engagement party, THREE of Johnny’s supposed ex-lovers show up, two lovely ladies and his former roommate from college, a friend with considerable benefits. All three have engagement rings they claim Johnny has given to them. The chaos can be well imagined, but this is no longer a tragedy. It’s too absurd for readers to do anything but laugh.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather

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Tired Tropes: Showmance

Today, I’m going to talk about the most tiresome of tiresome tropes, the showmance.

Johnny Hot Ass, CEO of Money-to-Burn Industries, or Duke Grab-a-Lot-of-It, Heir to an ungodly fortune, are looking for a girl to play the role of fake wife/significant other. They may or may not want to have sex with her, but a “relationship” is utterly, completely out of the question. So they say. But by the end of the book, TRUE LOVE trumps what began as purely selfish interest. They all live happily ever after.

A great reader of Victorian romance, I find it strange that today’s audiences can enjoy books like these. What these arrangements amount to is a kind of high-class prostitution–think Pretty Woman with a period piece budget. The girl getting, if not cold hard cash, at least some benefit from it other than the BENEFIT that sometimes comes with it.That the characters realize their shallowness in time to save something out of this wreck of virtue is hardly reward enough for having to spend any time with them. It’s like enduring sloppy kisses and cheek pinches from a stinky old aunt merely for the sake of the dollar she gives you for candy on her way out the door.

These stories are in bad taste, surely. But what’s worse, utterly impossible to believe. How many times, in real life, has a mercenary showmance turned into a genuine romance?

I can think of one such showmance than ended on a far sadder note. At the age of 37, England’s Queen Mary I married the far younger Prince Phillip of Spain. A politically advantageous marriage, contracted in the best interest of the parties and the countries they represented. It didn’t take long, however, for poor Mary to fall in love with her handsome husband. Sadly, he didn’t return her affections and soon found means to absent himself from her court. Probably to avoid the unpleasant necessity of performing his husbandly duty. Mary believed herself pregnant and showed symptoms of being so. But no child was born of this loveless marriage. And death mercifully dissolved it sometime later.

Though it grieves me to admit it, I don’t think showmances are going away any time soon, even if they lack credibility, because today’s readers have made their peace with marrying those you don’t love for the sake of plenty of hot sex, the sooner, the better. The older style of courtship–getting to know the man before you FUCK him–just ain’t going to cut it. Sorry!

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Small-Part Actors

In my last blog post, I talked about supporting characters and their ability to add much needed color to your stories.

Think of the lovable or not-so-loveable sidekicks from your favorites novels or films? Why do they stand out for you? What makes them memorable?

One of the best small-part actors is the ill-used dog in the Grinch who Stole Christmas. Like any loyal canine, he loves his master and sticks steadfastly at his side, even when the wicked Grinch is at his worst. Imagine the movie without the mutt. Not nearly so good, is it? Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather

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