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October 21, 2011

A simple four-item formula for turning story into fiction
Posted by Teresa at 07:35 AM *

The execution may get complicated, but the basic maneuvers are simple:

1. Move and keep moving. Tell the story you want to tell without shilly-shallying around. Move your characters out onto the board, get them into interesting situations, and have them do big, consequential things as early as you can. Then, continue making situations interesting, and keep the big, consequential actions coming.

Note: Strong characters who assess, decide, and react quickly are especially good for holding the reader’s attention. Our eyes are naturally drawn to objects in motion.

2. Make it consequential. To the greatest extent possible, have later events be caused or motivated or shaped by earlier ones. Every causal or consequential link you can build into the story is a steel cable holding your narrative together. When you can’t find any way to link an event via consequence, see whether you can link it thematically to what has gone before.

3. Recycle your characters. Give preference to characters already used in earlier episodes, or to characters connected with them, when you’re peopling later events. Characters are made more interesting by being reused, and it increases the overall consequentiality of the story. One-time single-purpose characters are occasionally necessary, but they don’t support as much weight.

Cherish your good secondary characters. They’re infinitely useful.

4. See if you already have one. Whenever you need something new — prop, plot thread, setting, minor character — go back through the parts of the story you’ve already written and see whether you can find it there. It’s surprising how often the exact thing you need is already sitting there in plain sight.

And that’s the lot. Nos. 1 & 2 are slightly more important than nos. 3 & 4, but they’re all important. The more you can lard on the consequence and connection, the tighter your fiction will feel. It’s a much better way to create structure than by nailing some shopworn hugger-mugger plot onto the side. A story can be arbitrary when you first make it up, as long as it pleases you; but when you turn it into fiction, the arbitrariness has to go away, because it’s the great enemy of reader interest.

Which brings us to the invisible fifth item: cool stuff now, more cool stuff later, even cooler stuff at the end. You love the story because it’s yours, and because you know there’s cool stuff coming. However, the reader doesn’t know that, so lay on the cool stuff now. Don’t be stingy. You can always make more.

Comments on A simple four-item formula for turning story into fiction:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 08:52 AM:

In the novel I will probably never write, the protagonist is on a small ship approaching a harbour. Above the harbour he can see clearly a house on a hill. He knows that the house has some meaning for him, and he also knows that it is a navigational landmark used by local sailors and fisherfolk. That's all I've got. I know that, maybe, I will start writing it someday. Or perhaps not.

#2 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 09:35 AM:

I remember this lecture, Teresa. Seems like all the VP instructors are giving away their lectures for free these days. That's good, teachers can focus on more detailed subjects if their general advice becomes common knowledge.

#3 ::: Steve Kopka ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 09:45 AM:

Fantastic. I wonder if I can set up a script that will take me here first whenever I open Scrivener.

Thank you, Teresa.

#4 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 10:41 AM:

This would need remarkably little revision to be applicable to the programming class I'm taking. Especially #4.

#5 ::: David Barnett ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 11:22 AM:

I *think* I *might* have ticked all these boxes with my latest ms. I *think* so.

It did, however, take me eight full-length novel mss to get to this point...

Nice, succinct guide. Thank you.

#6 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 11:38 AM:

I like. I also am amused by how we read in school, at least more often than in real life, stories that break one or more of these rules.So, guess what new writers write?

And then I remember two things:
1) You have to know and be able to play by the rules before you know when to break them, and
2) having studied so much stuff, it's the different and surprising - the ones that break the rules, *and get away with it*, that are of most interest to experts.

Not necessarily, however, to people who don't have that grounding or expert knowledge.

I remember a discussion about a reading group of lawyers, who knew nothing about SF. So they decided that a good introduction would be the novel that won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Philip K. Dick award in the same year.

None of them finished Neuromancer.

A genre-savvy friend of this group then asked the world for ideas on good *introductory* SF. I can just imagine if my first entry into English Literature was Bleak House or The Waste Land.

Therefore, do it right, do it Teresa's way. If you're not going to do it Teresa's way, *know why you're breaking the rules*, and *be good enough to pull it off*.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 11:44 AM:

Remus, what you're remembering is that #1 is from Jim's lecture, and "cherish your secondary characters" is from my talk about cheap plot tricks. Other parts are new as of this year, or this morning.

Steve Kopka, would it work to print it out and thumbtack it to the wall?

Liza, that doesn't surprise me. It is, among other things, a set of techniques for getting rid of unnecessary reinvention.

#8 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 12:01 PM:

Those are good rules. I wish my creative-writing teacher in college had been aware of them. But then, he was pretty much a waste of oxygen in many regards, not just teaching ability.

#9 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 12:37 PM:

The infamous old Lester Dent Pulp Master Plot (designed for short fiction, of the "thriller"/"action" variety) has this much in common with these observations: Get started with a bang and keep moving. Dent wanted things kept as coloful and "exotic" as possible, of course, and this isn't an essential, but delay is all too often fatal, especially if it's just the writer spinning their wheels in the mud and not an actual effort to maintain suspense.

Constant Reader here does not enjoy wheel-spinning. You don't have to blow up Yankee Stadium or hijack the QEII to make me happy, but something should happen, sooner rather than later, and then more things should happen, and in the process neither my intelligence nor my willing suspesion of disbelief should be insulted.

#10 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 12:52 PM:

Fragano Ledgister@1:

That's all I've got.

To start with, that's all you need: a protagonist with destination. Keep throwing obstacles in his way to that house, alternating with new and human reasons for him to want to get there and you've got a novel. At least the first half of one. The second half should be about what happens when he gets to the house, and what that does to him.

One of my favorite anecdotes about writing:

The story goes that when Tom Robbins wrote the first line of Another Roadside Attraction: "The Magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami." That he had no idea who the magician was or why his underwear was important. He started with that one sentence and then wrote the next one to see what would happen next.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 12:54 PM:

I think this would make more sense to me with a quick definition of "story" and "fiction" as used in this lesson.

I mean, I see how this makes creates I want to read, but what's the distinction between the two terms?

#12 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 01:01 PM:

fidelio @ 9... Get started with a bang and keep moving

Or start with the bang then backtrack a bit to how you get to the bang then go past the bang. Case in point: "Iron Man"

That being said, one of the most action-packed movies I ever saw was "12 Angry Men".

#13 ::: Dan Dusk ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 01:02 PM:

I largely run my table-top RPGs the same way. I have more insight now as to why my players enjoy the games and regularly call me an evil bastard.

I've broken the rule of "reveal cool stuff early" very few times. The most memorable was when the group discovered that the legendary place they had been searching for years (game time/two years actual time) was where the campaign had started. They almost threw me outside in the snow that day.

Most of the time I don't do that because you never know when a campaign or gaming group will end and all that cool stuff that you created just went to waste.

#14 ::: Steve Kopka ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 01:04 PM:

Teresa, I work various places so a tattoo will probably be better. Better yet, I'll memorize it. I think it's time to displace the Litany Against Fear (which in turn displaced the Apostle's Creed at some point).

#15 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 01:41 PM:

Abi@11: I don't know what Teresa would say, but my take on it is that story is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but fiction is a made thing.

(Etymologically, at the proto-Indo-European level, it's related, among other things, to "dough", as something that is made or kneaded.)

#16 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 02:02 PM:

#3 (Which I've also seen referred to as "The Law of Conservation of Characters") can be dangerous if over-used. Many people complain about Jordan's re-use of secondary characters in The Wheel of Time, but at least he had a hand-wavey rationale handy in the ta'veren mechanism. When other authors over-use it, it can lead to "that's just too coincidental to believe" moments.

#17 ::: Tim Keating ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 02:45 PM:

@11, a story is a character in a setting with a problem, and the relating of how they overcome that problem.

Fiction is a story that is (mostly, at least) made up :-)

#18 ::: FaultyMemory ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 02:48 PM:

Fragano @1:

I cannot help but think that your novel which you will probably never write is your own personal house on a hill, which you can see from the harbour from which you sail.

#19 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 03:42 PM:

Get started with a bang and keep moving

The ghost of the recently-deceased king, the hero's father, crying out for vengence late at night on the castle battlements, will support a lot of exposition.

the group discovered that the legendary place they had been searching for years (game time/two years actual time) was where the campaign had started.

"True journey is return," Shevek would have explained.

#20 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 03:48 PM:

#2 reminds me of some advice Matt Stone and Trey Parker (of South Park) gave about story-writing: If you're summarizing the plot beats, and connecting them with "and then", re-write so that each of those ands is replaced by a therefore or a but.

#21 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 05:02 PM:

My impression is, in this instance, that:

Story is what happened; the series of events and connections and people that we think of beforehand if the creator, or afterward, if the reader. The stuff evoked when you say "The story of Cinderella" or "The Lord of the Rings".

Fiction is the particular way this is crafted into prose, the thing that makes that story book-shaped.

Of course, IANTNH.

Right now, this feels decidedly relevant, as I fight to turn a section of "One damn thing after another" into a bit more of "Great. All the chickens are coming home to roost." (Or what Avram cites @ 20.) Only now with added Point-of-view issues!

#22 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 05:04 PM:

"This movie has way too much plot getting in the way of the story!"
- critic Joe Bob Briggs

#23 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 05:47 PM:

This is...well, these points will be a sign for me upon my hand, and a memorial between my eyes. Also I'll print the text out and put it up over my computer (rather than rolling it up and putting it in a mezuzah, which would make it hard to read).

I thought plot was a literary convention and story was a force of nature. Now where did I hear that? Let's think.

#24 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 06:17 PM:

Fragano's opening image is the first half of the classic "Someone comes to town, someone leaves town."

If I were to use Fragano's fragment as inspiration for a writing exercise, I'd probably throw in a first complication by having the protagonist be a prisoner in chains.

#25 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 06:38 PM:

Debra Doyle at #15:
(Etymologically, at the proto-Indo-European level, it's related, among other things, to "dough", as something that is made or kneaded.)

"Or twisting it," said the rope maker.
"Or building it around a central thread" said the candle maker.
"Or making it not too bitter and not too sweet," said the candy maker.

[trying to reconstruct that passage from Thurber's The Great Quillow from memory here. It went on for a few more lines than this if I recall correctly.]

#26 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 06:38 PM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 24:

A prisoner in chains is good. Another option would be a penniless sailor with a history in the town. There are lots of people he doesn't want to see (family, friends, creditors) and some he has to (former friends, creditors). His situation relegate shim to one class, and one side of town, but his business is in another class, on the other side of town, where that house is located. Of course, we can combine the two (escaped prisoner posing as penniless sailor). And we have a proper opener. That's a good first chapter, if not two or three.

#27 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 06:41 PM:

Another option would be a penniless sailor with a history in the town.

Or a rich sailor posing as a penniless sailor.

#28 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 07:11 PM:

What I need to deal with is I go out on limbs by starting a plot without knowing how I am going to end it.

#29 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 07:25 PM:

abi, #11: What I'm seeing is "story is what happens, fiction is how you tell it". Think about people you know who tell you stories about what's happened in their lives. Some of them do it well, others poorly. I'll bet the ones who do it well are unconsciously following at least Rule 1 here.

Several good examples of Rule 3 happen in the LOTR movies. In the book, Frodo is rescued at the ford by Glorfindel, who then disappears and is never seen again. Jackson ditched Glorfindel and used that part to beef up Arwen, who needed a stronger role. Similarly, he dropped Erkenbrand from the second movie and gave that part to Eomer, a major character (whereas Erkenbrand also disappears after his Big Scene in the book).

#30 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 08:30 PM:

abi[11] and Debra[15] —

This simple distinction between story and fiction seems like something I would have remembered seeing in McCormick's The Fiction Editor— and I know I would have drawn a fat yellow circle in highlighter around it when I had seen it. I don't have his book handy right now, but I'm pretty sure McCormick cycled around that formulation several times without actually alighting on it. I certainly haven't seen it laid out in so few words before. Where did you get it?

Also: my thanks to Teresa for posting this wonderful article, and further thanks to the both of you for your followups above. I suppose, too, that I should thank in advance all the rest of the commenters below, who will no doubt offer even more wonderful writing advice. When I finish my next unpublishable novel, perhaps— thanks to this article and the commentary— it will be better than the first one. No, not perhaps. I'm sure it will be better. (The first one wasn't bad, just not good enough to be a publishable first novel.)

#31 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 08:40 PM:

While I'm name-checking Thomas McCormick, I should mention again that the most valuable thing I learned from his book, The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, came from the passages where he disparages the usefulness of Theme and instead promotes thinking about Axiom.

So, here's my Twitter-length formulation of that distinction: "Stories are axioms. Fiction is all lemma and corollary." Your mileage may vary, of course.

#32 ::: David Barnett ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 08:48 PM:

Story tells us what happened. Fiction tells us why.

#33 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 09:02 PM:

How is the rule different for journalists and others who write stories that are not fiction?

#34 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 09:59 PM:

Journalism: get most important, interesting part of the story first, who what, where,when, why and how. Be factual, be concise, tell the story correctly. Do the best to tell the truth. Do not take sides and do not insert opinion unless you are writing an op-ed piece.

That was how I was taught. Nowadays journalists for the most part seem fawning to please their corporate masters to keep their jobs. So it is ... whatever. It burns me up that what was my favorite local news station reports on D-ng wt Strs. EEUW.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 10:39 PM:

Abi @11, the way I think of it when I'm on my own and not having to justify anything is that story is the thing you liked in the first place, and fiction is the tidied-up presentable version that speaks the Common Tongue, rather than your personal idiolect.

All literature is translation. All writing is navigation.

Doyle @15, 'bout like that.

Skwid @16, in that case we invoke the rule that says "Stop before it gets stupid." It's one of those parliamentary writing rules that has the power to trump all the others.

Serge Broom @22, I just told Patrick that belongs in the front page sidebar. Thank you. So many times I've wanted to say that ...

Xopher @23, I'm always here. Just ask. If we're not traveling, you might even come over. We could cook at each other.

Erik Nelson @25, don't we all just? I found out what mine was the day I said "I have a theory about that --," and Fred Haskell fell over laughing.

Erik Nelson again @28: That's how Keith Giffen writes. He finds out how the story ends by getting there.

J h woodyatt @30: So Tom McCormick's book works for you? That's good to know. He had a solid reputation as an editor, but by the workings of chance and the modern corporate entity, we mostly got to see him being Ruler of All, which is a rough gig for a born editor.

Erik Nelson again @33: I'm not sure the rule is different for journalists, except they have to fact-check their assertions of causality and consequence, and they're always in danger of having what they'd previously identified as a secondary character turn the whole story upside-down.

Paula Helm Murray @34: That always reminds me of George and Helen Papashvily's line about how when Americans aren't eating, they chew gum to fool themselves that they're eating something. Dncng wth th Strs is solid chicle throughout.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 10:54 PM:

Keith Kisser: That sounds like a good approach. If ever I were to write it.

Bruce Arthurs: That's true.

#37 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 01:06 AM:

I like #2-4, but I think mileage varies a lot on #1. Lots of great fiction is pretty thin on the big, consequential actions, and a scene that is perfectly static plot-wise can still be a small masterpiece in its own right. Something that puts me off about much contemporary fantasy is that there's *too much* action, and not enough space is left for voice, atmosphere, character, and setting. The 'start with a bang' approach loses me every time; drama isn't drama until you care about the people it's happening to. Also, strong characters may capture our attention more easily, but it's often the hesitant, reflective ones that are easier to empathize with.

(If it isn't clear, I'm not saying this rule is wrong, only that it depends on what you're trying to write; the house of fiction contains many mansions.)

#38 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 01:23 AM:

Thank you, Patrick, for the Instapaper particle.

Tom @ 37: This past summer, I read Marilynne Robinson's novel Home, and I read Lois McMaster Bujold's entire Vorkosigan saga. In the first, a daughter cares for her elderly father, and her brother comes to visit and stays for awhile. In the second — oh, my — what doesn't happen?! I adored them both.

#39 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 01:52 AM:

Another option would be a penniless sailor with a history in the town.

Or a rich sailor posing as a penniless sailor.

Or a young man from a foreign land, wanted by the law, who made his escape by becoming a sailor. (which could make the arrival come into the middle of the book, if you want to describe that journey).

#40 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 01:52 AM:

Tom @37--Lester Debt was talking about writing thrillers for the pulps, so you of course this isn't going to translate to all form of fiction exactly. I would not that a masterpiece of a scene that doesn't do much plotwise isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing as far as the story goes--it may be doing a lot of other work besides directly advancing the plot. However, it better be doing some heavy lifting relevant to the story, or instead of being a useful part of the story, it's simply a lovely vignette. Being a lovely vignette is not a literary crime, but when you get too many lovely vignettes loitering together in a piece of fiction, story tends to get crowded out, rather like a native plant being faced with something like kudzu.

#41 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 01:52 AM:

Tom @37--Lester Debt was talking about writing thrillers for the pulps, so you of course this isn't going to translate to all form of fiction exactly. I would not that a masterpiece of a scene that doesn't do much plotwise isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing as far as the story goes--it may be doing a lot of other work besides directly advancing the plot. However, it better be doing some heavy lifting relevant to the story, or instead of being a useful part of the story, it's simply a lovely vignette. Being a lovely vignette is not a literary crime, but when you get too many lovely vignettes loitering together in a piece of fiction, story tends to get crowded out, rather like a native plant being faced with something like kudzu.

#42 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 02:01 AM:

fidelio @ 41: I love "too many lovely vignettes loitering together in a piece of fiction".

#43 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 02:01 AM:

First of all. that was Lester Dent, and secondly, it's been so long since I double-posted--I was beginning to think I had learned the trick of holding my mouth just right when I hit "post". I don't suppose that extra one could get lost somehow...

#44 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 04:33 AM:

My take on Rule #1 is that, if the story is not that kind of story and hence can't or shouldn't be turned into that kind of fiction, then the objects in motion must be replaced by brightly-coloured threads winding off to delight the reader's eye and mind, and keep them in motion. It's just a different sort of dynamic, not the lack of any. It's also a special case of the all-important Rule of Cool.

Lee @ 29 on Rule #3: I'm a big Rule #3 sort of guy myself, up to the point where the reader notices more than a couple of plausible coincidences. On the other hand, part of setting that up right is having the right proportion of good one-shot characters also, whom one barely sees and would wish (or dread) to meet again, but is not in fact going to and is not really made to expect to. It's part of producing the expansive effect of a true Secondary World.

Now your example of Erkenbrand is nearly the perfect one, because for my money, Tolkien uses him exactly right in the book; whereas Jackson is also exactly right to roll him up into Eomer's part instead, in the much more concentrated effort of the film.

Teresa @ 35:

...story is the thing you liked in the first place, and fiction is the tidied-up presentable version that speaks the Common Tongue, rather than your personal idiolect.

That's a splendid way to distil it.

Tom @ 37: Very much coming from the same place: your summary is what impelled me to unpack why I felt that.

#45 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 04:59 AM:

Rule #1 is a funky one. Some very good books don't get their serious business going right away - like Robin Hobb's Assassin series. IIRC the protagonist does nothing of consequence but be an orphan for the first hundred pages or so, while we are dropped some clues to the fact that vast machineries are moving in the background but see none of it. The prose is also very plain-spoken.

The combination of these things led my partner, who was accustomed to her work as Megan Lindholm, to tune out. But I wound up loving those books, because the small start laid the groundwork for the serious business - I suppose they depended heavily on rules 3 and 4, people showing back up, secrets about known things turning up slowly.

But those are an edge case with me - I usually don't have the patience to sit with books that begin at the main character's childhood and grow them up slowly, unless they're narratives about that childhood. So I would agree there has to be something happening. It just seems that the scale of that something differs from book to book, and I'm not sure what rules it follows.

On the other hand, there's such a thing as too much action in the opening - I've run across books where everyone is running around so fast at the start that the whole thing blurs. Too much going on is like nothing going on; my brain registers it as insignificant and loses interest. Or, perhaps, the events happen so fast that I don't get to know the characters first and so I could care less that they are juggling fire while being pursued by the mustachioed villain. Etc. I think of that as the Hollywood action film problem, or "why I won't see major action pictures these days". My eyes glaze over. Last re-watch of some original Trek I gloried in the fact that they had fisticuffs! Fight scenes where you can actually tell who is where and doing what, rather than a series of fast cuts that watches like an incoherent, violent music video!

I've heard general rules for when and how to introduce characters to prevent that stuff - like, an average of one character for every fifteen pages. Which is counter to Lester Dent's "get them all out there as fast as possible", but he wasn't talking about longer form fiction, exactly.

I think fight scenes are rather like sex scenes - something has to be happening underneath it, or it's not worth showing.

Does anyone know who originally said, and I paraphrase, "If two characters are drinking tea, there should be poison in the tea"? - meaning not necessarily literal poison, but a cocked plot-gun of some sort inherent in the scene. I'm looking it up, but it's been repeated and paraphrased so many times and nobody seems to know who originally said it. It's an aphorism that I always keep near when writing/revising.

#46 ::: Brother Guy ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 05:57 AM:

Rule two has another meaning. (Intended or not?) "Consequential" also implies that the events matter, in a larger sense. There has to be a reason why they matter enough to me, the reader, that I turn the page.

Sometimes this gets misunderstood. (How many series start with our young heroes saving the entire universe in Book One, and then spend the rest of the endless series trying to figure out how to top their first mission...) I care more about the fate of an interesting character than I do about The Fate of the Universe --which, frankly, seems to have gotten along just fine without our heroes up to now.

#47 ::: Brother Guy ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 06:21 AM:

Following up on Lisa@4, these rules also describe doing and presenting science.

In particular, rules three and four -- “Recycle you characters” and “see if you already have one” -- in science means not introducing new hypotheses when you can actually use what you already have to hand. We call that Occam’s razor… in Bertrand Russell’s formulation, “Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.”

#48 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 07:21 AM:

There's a short story, Will O' The Mill by Robert Louis Stevenson, whose main character is pointedly someone who doesn't go on adventures and doesn't fall in love. It seems like RLS was trying to write a story that went against expectations, that doesn't follow standard plot or use standard story devices.

I'm not sure if it works as a story, or even as a literary experiment. It seems like every time the protagonist is about to do something interesting, he backs away from it. Time after time, I found myself expecting -- knowing -- what would happen next. And then it doesn't.

There are some lovely passages in the story. But I found the effect overall to be frustrating and disturbing. This may have been Stevenson's intent. I would have thought my reaction would have been to throw it against a wall, but I've actually found myself going back to re-read it several times. But I'm still not sure if it's a good story, or even if it's a story at all in the usual sense.

#49 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 08:54 AM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 48... every time the protagonist is about to do something interesting, he backs away from it

This reminds me that Thurber hated Danny Kaye's "Walter Mitty" because Mitty winds up in a real adventure. Didn't bother me because I like Danny Kaye. Besides, the audience would have felt cheated. Anyway, we do get Mitty daydreaming and we get Mitty's daydreaming version having its own daydreaming.

#50 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 11:30 AM:

A. J. Luxton @45--The main business may be starting later, but what we see happening early in the first of the Assassin books matters for the whole of the story. It's not just there so the author can demonstrate her chops at scene-setting and world-building. The things going on have consequences and effects--perhaps not the immediate, happening on the next page sort--but the sort that make up the steel cable Teresa talks about in item 2.

#51 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 11:38 AM:

Brother Guy @46. This.

Also, to refer to Serge's mention of Walter Mitty, there is action there: the conflict that arises from his inner life coming into contact with the world he really lives in. There's not much in the way of plot in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but there's a great deal of story there, in demonstration (I think) of Gray Woodland's point @44.

#52 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 11:58 AM:

fidelio @ 51... There's not much in the way of plot in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but there's a great deal of story there

When 1957's "3:10 to Yuma" was remade 50 years later, my opinion was that the remake added plenty to the plot, but very little to the story.

#53 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 12:29 PM:

Amusingly enough these are roughly the exact same advices I'd give to first time Masters for tabletop role playing games when I used to play in local clubs.

#54 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 12:39 PM:

Serge 252--Yes. The plot there doesn't need to be complicated; it's all about the story, and the simpler you keep the plot the more you pay attention to how that story is told. I was interested in seeing the remake, in the same way I'd have been interested in seeing, say, Daniel Day-Lewis* in The Iceman Comethto see how he compared to Jason Robard's take on Hickey; Crowe and Bale were good choices for those roles. Nothing needed to be changed around, just drop them into that hotel room and let 'em go.

*If only.

#55 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 03:13 PM:

fidelio @40 - Lester De[n]t was talking about writing thrillers for the pulps - yes, fair point. But I do think the 'start with a bang' advice often gets overextended into other genres where it doesn't comfortably belong. I've often heard variations on the injunction 'Your very first sentence should grab the reader's attention', which I think is a misguided way of putting it. As a reader I don't like being grabbed, I like being seduced.

#56 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 04:15 PM:

I think, when we're exposed to murders at the beginning of every episode of Law & Order or CSI, it takes more than a whiz-bang opening to make a situation Interesting. Anyone can make up a murder or an explosion. A young girl in a small desert town spying on an AA meeting, listening to the story of a guy whose dog got bitten in the scrotum by a rattlesnake? That's interesting right away because I haven't seen it before and wouldn't have made it up myself. I want to see the author's authority and confidence, and I want to see something I haven't seen before; that's enough to get me to hang around a good long while.

The author who starts with "And then the flaming space pigs fell through the bathroom window!" is, as often as not, an author who doesn't have confidence in their own ability to keep someone's attention -- and it shows.

#57 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 04:25 PM:

Emily (56): Now I want to read the story about the flaming space pigs falling through the bathroom window. ;)

Do you suppose it's the Swine Trek?

#58 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 05:21 PM:

Tom @55--I agree that "grab" has unfortunate overtones to it; "catch their eye" might be better. It's hard to seduce someone if they haven't noticed you, whether what slows them down long enough for you to make the effort is your charming smile, your subtle wit, or some other enticement. But that enticement has to be there to catch the reader's notice, and once you have it, you have to move with it--whether it's into something with all the grace and artistry of a waltz in the manner of Fred Astaire, or a Busby Berkeley routine for fifty dancers, with added pyrotechnics and camera crane shots.

Most of what happens in the original 3:10 to Yuma is pretty subtle, but at the same time, you can't look away. There's a reason The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is still being read, plot or no plot; Thurber hooks you fast, and it's hard to leave Mr. Mitty alone there with his inner life.

#59 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 05:22 PM:

Tom @ 55: part of the problem is that the "Grab people with the first sentence" is good advice. But it doesn't mean what people think it means. The oft-quoted first line of Pride and Prejudice, for instance, catches attention, and is memorable enough to have been cited and parodied. But it doesn't involve racing off into the plot at breakneck pace. It involves presenting an opinion - not even, quite, a problem - whose implications and applications will resonate through the rest of the story.

The other part is that in its "Start with a bang" incarnation, the advice was first put forward mostly in regard to *short stories*, and has been applied to novels without consideration. There *is* a limited am mount of time to engage the reader, even with a novel, but it tends to be more like a paragraph, or a page.

The main and in fact only thing a first line shouldn't be is sufficiently boring that nobody wants to read the next one.

It's like the majority of tv shows I've stuck around to watch. The first episode isn't, ever, the *best*. It's good enough to convince me to watch one more. Then one more. There does seem to be a tipping point past which you have to have a stellar episode and/or one with a major arc plot point (I'd guess between 5-8 episodes these days -- and that this is true of arcless shows as well as those with an ongoing story), but before that, there's room to make episodes that are good enough.

#60 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 05:23 PM:

fidelio @ 50 - Yes; I suppose overall those books rely a lot more on the later rules than the first rule. That's why I find them an interesting example of an outlier on rule 1, and it causes me to wonder in a larger sense what the outer parameters of rule 1 are; what constitutes enough of a bang to start with and what else does it depend on?

Bruce Arthurs @ 48: In terms of rule-violators I've found myself thinking of Lev Grossman's The Magicians - less WRT the rules in this post but rather in connection with Lester Dent's. Specifically "Get the hero almost buried in his troubles... The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn." part. In general, I'd agree that following this rule makes a strong book.

Yet it's pretty easy to point to protagonists who've done boneheaded things, got in trouble and were extricated by the better sense of other people, sometimes at great cost to their allies. I suppose that in such cases this is best framed as a larger plot question, that of "how the protagonist is going to grow as a person and get over their tendency to act selfishly".

And it also ties into one of the things from Michael Moorcock's bit on how to write a book in three days:

"There's always a sidekick to make the responses the hero isn't allowed to make: to get frightened; to add a lighter note; to offset the hero's morbid speeches, and so on. ... The hero has to supply the narrative dynamic, and therefore can't have any common-sense. Any one of us in those circumstances would say, 'What? Dragons? Demons? You've got to be joking!' The hero has to be driven, and when people are driven, common sense disappears. You don't want your reader to make common sense objections, you want them to go with the drive; but you've got to have somebody around who'll act as a sort of chorus."
#61 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 05:30 PM:

Lenora Rose @ 59: The main and in fact only thing a first line shouldn't be is sufficiently boring that nobody wants to read the next one.

Well said, and I think that quite nicely addressed the first point I was bringing up in my simultaneous comment.

#62 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 06:42 PM:

A.J. Luxton, #45: That sounds to me like Chekhov's Rule: "If you see a gun on the wall in Act I, it should be fired by the end of Act III."

Brother Guy, #46: Something related to that was the big problem with the TV series Seven Days, which had an interesting premise -- a working time machine which could only send someone back exactly 7 days, and which would sooner or later irrevocably stop working. So obviously, it was only to be used in cases of Extreme Emergency That Would Destroy The World... but then, when you saw one of those happening every week, after not very long the suspension of belief grew rather thin. How did we survive at all before the device? Not surprisingly, the series didn't last long.

Tom, #55: Diane Duane does a good job of seducing the reader. The first sentence of her book Dark Mirror: "There are some parts of space where even the human heart, eternally optimistic, finds it hard to feel welcome." That's not necessarily an attention-grabber, but it definitely sets the scene; you know where you are, and you trust that something is going to happen there.

#63 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 06:53 PM:

[Lengthy unpleasant rant about Moorcock deleted here, prior to posting. Catch me at a con sometime and put in your quarter and I'll tell you all about it. Suffice it to say I'm not going to take writing advice from him, because I aspire to a higher quality level than I think he achieves.]

I think the key is that you have a certain amount of reader-attention time to set your hook. You probably have a little more time to set the hook with a novel than with a short story. There are different things to bait it with; the famous Austen line states a general rule, with humor, that promises a) a specific instance of the subject under discussion, and b) more humor. The reader goes on with pleasant anticipation.

I try to write the sort of story I like to read (except that every now and then I write horror, and then have nightmares), and my favorite hookbait is the "wait, what?" kind: the opening that keeps me reading because I want to know how the seeming impossibilities will be resolved. Another way is to say enough up front about a character and situation that the reader wants to know more. One story of mine started with

Liana's life had already taught her that, when awakening in pain and confusion, it was often better if she didn't open her eyes right away.
...the hope being, of course, that you'll care about this young person, wonder what kind of life could have taught her that, and why she's awakening in pain and confusion. (Hey, I said hope.)

You can even, for a certain type of reader of whom I am very much one, bait your hook with eccentric syntax. Does anyone claim that the following opening didn't bait its hook well?

to wound the autumnal city.
It goes on being weird like that for a while, too. If you're like me, it makes you wonder why, and you keep going. I have to remember that most people aren't like me, at least in that way. (And of course I would have kept reading that book anyway, because the cover copy gave me reason to think there were queers in it, and I was a horny 17-year-old gayboy.)

The other thing is that so far I have no idea whether any of my bait works at all, for anyone not already bound to me by affection. If I ever get to the point where some of my stories are selling, I'll look at which ones are and which ones aren't, and have some kind of baseline!

#64 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 07:20 PM:

Xopher @63 -- one of my favorite hooks is Silverlock's "If I had cared to live, I would have died." Embodies that paradox thingy rather nicely, I think.

#65 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 07:48 PM:

Tom @ 37: "Lots of great fiction is pretty thin on the big, consequential actions, and a scene that is perfectly static plot-wise can still be a small masterpiece in its own right."

I feel that "consequence" and "bigness" have to be defined within the context of the particular story: it doesn't refer to spacefights! kablooey! or political machinations! dastardly! It refers to those things that have to, absolutely must, come between the beginning and the end.* Those may be empire-toppling machinations, or they may be paragraphs describing the way the city looks in the fall.

I read #1 as a warning against (what I think of as) epicycles: those little detours that may be clever and exciting and masterly, but ultimately deliver you back to the exact point you started at. It may be fun, but it's just filler. Stories arc! They do not circle.

* cf. "They’d have been interesting scenes. But they didn’t matter, and he’s telling us what matters. Nothing here is just scenery. He left out the shipwreck, so you can rely on it that he didn’t tell us about the time Kvothe got drunk with his friends just for fun.... But they’re not part of this story, they’re not essential, so they’re not here. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. People who complain about books being too long and self-indulgent and not edited? Notice this lack of inessential detail and admire."

#66 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 08:34 PM:

Feeding in from abi @11, Lee @29

A distinction which might be worth exploring - the differences between "history", "story" and "fiction".

LOTR-the-books is story-as-history - characters appear out of nowhere, have their scene, and then vanish, just like historical figures can and do.

LOTR-the-movies is story-as-fiction - the secondary cast is cut down in some places, built up in others (for example, the Uruk leader Aragorn has the big fight with at the end of Movie 1 is basically there in order to help build up Aragorn's character-as-action-hero side of things - give a glimpse of what we'd otherwise not be seeing until movie 2 or 3) and all of them have their places and their roles. Nobody has just one job.

History is the tower of pieces before the Jenga game starts.

Fiction is the tower of pieces just before the final one is pulled out.

Story is the process of finding out which pieces are going to cause the tower to collapse through their removal.

(And a lot of my personal fiction writing style for longer pieces appears to consist of creating the Jenga tower so that I can go back and edit it down to about half its original size to get a coherent story at the other end.)

#67 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2011, 11:41 PM:

A.J. Luxton mentions The Magicians at # 60.

I have had a lot of fun reading Lev Grossman's The Magicians, it's a rich book, but on a bad day parts of it drag on a bit. There are times when I couldn't put it down and times when I wouldn't bother to pick it up again for a while.

He reminds me of a cross between Douglas Coupland and Philip Jose Farmer. I find that the flaws that The Magicians has, at its worst, are precisely the same flaws that Farmer has all the time. It's a case of, anything can happen in the invented world, so you get into a parade of infinite spaces and disposable characters that kind of make the reader say "so what?". It can be a bit self-monty-hallish.

And, at times, the main character seems to be a passenger, rather than the captain, of his own destiny, making it impossible to apply the rule that the hero extricates himself by his own skill.

#68 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 12:44 AM:

Tom, #64: I've mentioned my all-time favorite opening sentence before, but it bears repeating:

"This year the Ribieros' daffodils seeded early, and they seeded cockroaches."

I defy anyone not to be curious about what happens next in that story!

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 02:09 AM:

Paula Helm Murray @ 34:

Nowadays journalists for the most part seem fawning to please their corporate masters to keep their jobs.

Those aren't journalists, they're stenographers.

#70 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 02:27 AM:

I have always thought that, whatever his other faults, Ken Follett is really good at opening sentences.

"The small boys came early to the hanging" and "The last camel died at noon" are both grabby and well-suited to their respective novels.

#71 ::: bryan rasmussen ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 06:20 AM:

I tend to use these point in my longer making light comments.

#72 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 11:06 AM:

heresiarch: #65: Another thing I like about the Thirteen Orphans series is that relationships get equal time with the action. People's relationships with their fathers is a recurrent theme, and those relationships matter to the story and the plot, even being tied into the Grand Finale.

Lee #68: Indeed, Mirabile is a work of many strengths. (Including, again, relationships!)

#73 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 11:57 AM:

I can see very clearly the problems this formula is intended to prevent. I can also see very clearly the complementary problems it causes. I don't want slow soggy stories, but I also don't want stories that start with a purposeless bang and whizz past all the interesting stuff in the interests of action.

The trouble with writing rules, all writing rules, is that following them will make standard average kinds stories better. That's what they're designed for. They'll lift the not-good-enough into the good-enough. But following them will also stifle the genuinely unusual kind of story. They won't make the good-enough into the really good.

The Dispossessed starts "There was a wall" Move and keep moving would have thrown that out with the bathwater.

#74 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 12:07 PM:

To which one might add: there is a danger that when rules of this kind become widely known, people will stop responding to the kind of effective writing the rules are designed to promote, and instead start checking to see if it keeps the rules. 'You introduced a new character in chapter 73! Don't you know that's not allowed?'

#75 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 12:08 PM:

Starting with a bang... That's pretty much what the latest adaptation of "Jane Eyre" did.

#76 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 12:09 PM:

History adds up to lousy storytelling.

#77 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 01:03 PM:

My favorite explanation of how rules and originality play off of each other comes from Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style:

One question, nevertheless, has been often in my mind. When all right-thinking human beings are struggling to remember that other men and women are free to be different, and free to become more different still, how can one honestly write a rulebook? What reason and authority exist for these commandments, suggestions and instructions? Surely typographers, like others, ought to be at liberty to follow or to blaze the trails they choose.
Typography thrives as a shared concern – and there are no paths at all where there are no shared desires and directions. A typographer determined to forge new routes must move, like other solitary travellers, through uninhabited country and against the grain of the land, crossing common thoroughfares in the silence before dawn. The subject of this book is not typographic solitude, but the old, well-travelled roads at the core of the tradition; paths that each of us is free to follow or not, and to enter or leave when we choose – if only we know the paths are there and have a sense of where they lead. That freedom is denied us if the tradition is concealed or left for dead. Originality is everywhere, but much originality is blocked if the way back to earlier discoveries is cut or overgrown.
If you use this book as a guide, by all means leave the road when you wish. That is precisely the use of a road: to reach individually chosen points of departure. By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.

Substitute any artform you like for "typography."

#78 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 01:07 PM:


People who feel the need to rules-lawyer fiction instead of enjoying it should just go find something else to read.

(I'm having a bad attitude day. Usual disclaimers apply.)

#79 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Neal Stephenson's REAMDE is a recent and very big book that seems to follow these rules very closely (well, you might have to stretch the no-shilly-shallying rule a bit if you're not a fan of his digressions on stuff such as how flight plans are filed. And there's a certain amount of setup to be done first, but once things do start moving they never stop moving, with mad things continuing to happen for what we're prepared to accept are logical reasons to a cast of characters who get mucked around with in a remarkable array of ways).

There are lots of guns in the book, and almost as many Chekhov guns; places and people that have an undue amount of fuss made about them, so you know they've been planted so as to go Bang! in a predetermined order towards the end, like a well-planned firework display. It's very entertaining but I felt there was barely an idea in it. Hmm, ideas... makes me wonder what one or two SF-specific axioms to do with the curation of ideas you could add to these four...

#80 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 01:48 PM:

Jo Walton@73: 'The Dispossessed starts "There was a wall"'

It's been way too long since I've read that one, and I've forgotten what happens or what was going on, but my instinctive reaction to that sentence was to expect it to be followed by "Something didn't like it."

#81 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Bill Stewart@80: War and Peace begins with something rather less memorable:

"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist--I really believe he is Antichrist--I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you--sit down and tell me all the news."

I've seen this quoted as a prime example of a terrible first sentence or paragraph to a great book. Looking at it again, it seems almost SFnal to me—a classic datadump.

I went through a period of being very fond of loose baggy monsters of books, and it strikes me that the vast toiling class of hack novelists who turned out Victorian triple-deckers must have internalized a set of rules rather different from these ones (keep slowing the action down!)

#82 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 02:27 PM:

Bill Stewart #80: I think that would have been a Pratchett starter!

#83 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 03:39 PM:

Paul Krugman weighs in on style by explaining his own.

One thing that helps, I’ve found, is to give the writing a bit of a forward rush, with a kind of sprung or syncopated rhythm, which often involves sentences that are deliberately off center.

#84 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 04:27 PM:

I love writing advice, because there's so much good advice out there that there's almost always some piece that will precisely fix the problem at hand that any given writer is struggling with.

I hate writing advice, because it's far too easy to turn it into a game of Follow The Rules, and find that all the feedback from other authors is one of finding the appropriate rules to quote at someone.

So in the end, I suppose, I like writing advice quite a lot for how often it's useful, but I try very hard to never take it too seriously. Because the latter turns into something like...oh, say this version that I saw: a lot of earnest, unpublished young writers sitting around and saying that they can't believe anyone actually published/liked/reads the Harry Potter series, because haven't they seen how many adverbs are used there? Adverbs in dialogue, even! And everyone knows that Good Writing almost never uses adverbs, and certainly never with dialogue!

#85 ::: TW ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 04:29 PM:

What's funny is though Teresa calls them formulas it didn't take long for people to start using the term rules. Very telling especially the effort to show successful broke the rules examples. Why do so many default to a perception of there being an absolute authority over art?
Flashbacks to high school and the "there are no rules in art only conventions and techniques" debate.

#86 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 04:34 PM:

TW @85: I think any set of guidelines, formulas, or advice phrased as "Do X", without a lot of hedging, is likely to be taken as Rules by some people, whether intended that way or not. (Heck, I've seen rules that were expressed with hedging and "does not always apply" excerpted and presented as Rules by fans in other contexts.)

An awful lot of school is spent trying to drill Rules into people's heads for all forms of writing, be it "Capitalize the first word of every sentence" or "Write your essay in five paragraphs where your thesis is the last sentence of the first paragraph," and it can take a while to start appreciating Options and Guidelines afterward.

#87 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 04:51 PM:

Fade Manley@86: I remember some of the advice in How To Write A Novel by John Braine. One nugget, delivered in typical no-nonsense bluff stage Yorkshireman style, is that a novel must have at least 20 chapters. I suppose he gave this advice, which one hopes anyone reading the book would recognise as daft, simply to force the prospective author to divide his or her work into manageable chunks—an arbitrary prescription but possibly a useful one for the beginner.

#88 ::: Deborah Roggie ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 05:12 PM:

I see the set less as rules than as recipes.

And a good cook will master a recipe, and through working with it, understand how it works and why; then start tinkering with it out of curiosity, to test the possibilities. In this way the dish evolves into something uniquely one's own.

#89 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 07:41 PM:

As a rule, one should strive not to be formulaic.

#90 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 08:22 PM:

You mean as part of the formula to avoid being ruled? *throws the goat and makes other heavy-metal gestures and sounds too distasteful for polite company*

#91 ::: Yatima ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 10:41 PM:

Or a young man from a foreign land, wanted by the law, who made his escape by becoming a sailor.

Lymond is back?

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 11:12 PM:

Hide your wives and daughters, if so. And your silver.

#93 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 11:16 PM:

Jo Walton @73, in one sense, you're right about The Dispossessed. But looked at another way: within the first few pages, the protagonist has departed on a spaceship, after being threatened by an angry mob. That looks like "move and keep moving" compared to how another writer might've done it, giving you Shevek's background and motivations first.

I figure every classroom discussion of artistic rules should start off "When you know what you're doing, you'll know when to break these rules."

#94 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 11:38 PM:

I have a serious amount of illness going on, so this is less coherent than usual.

"Somebody wanted but so" is the way some of the reading classes have taught plot. I like that.

A lot of people talk about openings in terms of hooking the reader, and I think that leads to people writing gimmicky, joke-style openings. I don't begin a story, however long, with the intention of putting it down unless it hooks me. I intend to read it until it makes me put it down. 'Hooking the reader' isn't exactly 'not making the reader put it down' but I'd rather it be framed that way. It still applies to slush and other high-volume reading-- those just have lower thresholds for making me put them down.

#95 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 12:13 AM:

Jo Walton @ 73: In The Dispossessed the very first thing we learn about Shevek is that he is leaving Anarres with a homicidal mob in pursuit, about a page after the wall - the boundary of the spaceport - is established. The wall might not move but there's a lot of people moving relative to it. Outside of a few flashbacks, I don't recall that Shevek stops moving much before he returns home at the end of the book.

#96 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 12:38 AM:

I think I approach writing as an editor does—and to be clear, I mean a visual editor, not a text editor. The general rule in visual editing is enter as late as you can and leave as early as you can.

Actually, that's the particular advice the Phantom Editor gave when enumerating the problems with Star Wars Part I, but I think it counts.

Does this mean everyone should write like that? Oh hell no. I have a fondness for Victor Hugo, king of digressions, and Les Miserables starts off with an entire section on the background of a single-shot character. And he made it work. Most abridgments take that section out entirely and kill the feel.

The problem with the visual editor style of writing is that it's hard to hit lengths. I just feel that if I can tell it in less, then I should...

#97 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 01:26 AM:

There's a particular type of hook that's become popular with writers (especially dramatic TV series writers) in the last few years: open on frantic action peaking to a cliffhanger situation, then put up a big sign saying "72 Hours Earlier" and flashback to the beginning of the story. I started disliking this technique about the third time I came across it, and thus didn't discover the pleasures of reading Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels for several years because the use of it in the first book made me abandon the series until my curiosity was aroused by a jacket blurb on one of the later novels I saw on the Portland Library's shelves.

Point being that some hooks work well with some readers and not so well with others, and the same is true of writing techniques in general. There is no one set of formulas which will work well with all readers; the best you can do is find a class of readers who accept some set of formulas and write for them. And if you find as a writer than you want to modify the formulas you use, you must either entice your existing audience to your new techniques, or find a new audience.

#98 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 01:38 AM:

Bruce Cohen @97 -- I think you'd hate the Giles Yeoman novels of Martin Woodhouse, then. Me, I like the "let's go back and see how the hell these characters got into this situation" approach to a thriller when it's quite well done. These are among my favorite technology fiction (contrasting with science fiction) novels.

#99 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 01:56 AM:

The one thing I would add to #3 and 4, in case it might otherwise be overlooked, is that you have a license to write backwards, or sideways, or inside out, if you need to. So if you realize that you need to fire a gun in Act III, go back and hang it on the wall in Act I. (Which is one of the ways most fiction writing differs from game mastering IMO, although as several people have observed they have much in common -- a GM can't revise what has already happened, or only with great difficulty.)

Of course this becomes harder if you are publishing in pieces.

#100 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 04:04 AM:

NaNoWriMo looms--write 50,000 words in the month of November--and I think I have something lined up that I can write. It will be a rollicking 1930s-style space opera, trying to catch the sort of writing that might come out of the world my previous NaNoWriMo efforts are set in.

Yes, I have a copy of Triplanetary on my Kindle.

The Clio Marsden equivalent is going to have an engineering degree, and will probably ask pointed questions of Gray Roger about experimental protocols and how he is going to arrange a double-blind study.

#101 ::: [false flattery deleted] ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 05:24 AM:

[spewed forth from]

#102 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 06:22 AM:

Madeline, just double checking - are you spam?

#103 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 08:54 AM:

Paul Duncanson #95: In fact, Shevek seems both deeply rooted (in his identity as an Anarresti) and rootless (in that he never seems to have a fixed abode).

#104 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 08:58 AM:

Meanwhile Attenborough's "Gandhi" begins with his being assassinated then it jumps back a few decades.

#105 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 09:33 AM:

On the subject of keeping the story moving (in verse, yet), folks might enjoy The Chainsaw of Correction on Elizabeth Moon's LJ.

#106 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 09:41 AM:

Bruce Cohen, I think of that as, "I have a point, I promise!" from Legally Blonde. If the writer thinks the only thing keeping me reading is the promise of mayhem in two hundred pages-- or worse, three, because I've read short stories that start that way-- then there is something kind of wrong. It works if you can establish one thing during the pre-story mayhem, then it turns out to mean something completely different, but it's hard to do that without making it trivial-- the second Locke Lamora novel did that and I felt let down.

#107 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 09:43 AM:

shadowsong, that looks like a type of form-submit spam (i.e. completely out of context, overwriting stuff) I've seen a lot of on wikis lately — a generic "this was useful content" message, often with misspacing.

#108 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 10:48 AM:


Bruce -- Damages, a television series I like very much, does that. However, despite liking other aspects of the series, I haven't liked that one -- found myself pondering at some length whether or not this ploy helped or hindered. Perhaps more to the point, did it help in a positive way to push interest in the story at all? I don't see it adding anything in this case -- except a negative: found my annoyance with it increasing as time went on.

Now that Damages has gone to satellite, I probably won't be seeing the latest season(s), since my watching is all on dvd or streaming.

Love, C.

#109 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 11:22 AM:

Bruce Cohen StM @97 on frantic action peaking to a cliffhanger situation, then put up a big sign saying "72 Hours Earlier" and flashback to the beginning of the story.

Old comics love this, with the cover being Superman getting married, Batman robbing a bank, or Wonder Woman turned into a gorilla (NOT an imaginary story! NOT a dream!) and then take us back to the start of the story inside.

I note that action films like to start with an action sequence. Apart from providing some momentum to tide us over the talky bit that explains whats going on, it's also a promise - "This exciting piece of gunplay/car chase/explosion is the status quo; this is what our hero* does before we put them under the pressure our story will bring to bear - imagine what the finale is going to be like!".

Often an initial action sequence isn't supported by the plot. In fact some of my favourite action films don't. In other cases we get a badly shoehorned in fight, or the "72 hours earlier" thing.

* Or in some cases villain. "This is how evil and/or cool our villain is at the start - he's going to be completely badass by the end."

#110 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 11:40 AM:

Hm. I should dig out my box of Idea Seeds. (Intersting, vaguely evocative things I run across, but don't have an immediate use for.)

Probably good idea to start a box for Cool Stuff, too.

#111 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 11:52 AM:

Argh. I always feel the itch to write, when NaNoWriMo rolls around. Teresa's list above really exacerbates the urge. But I'm tangled in the velvet clutches of several sculptures right now. ::whine:: So many media, so little time....

#112 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Brother Guy @46: (How many series start with our young heroes saving the entire universe in Book One, and then spend the rest of the endless series trying to figure out how to top their first mission...)

Peter O'Toole, on the Charlie Rose Show (I think) related advice given to him on developing a stage performance over a long run: "Don't broaden; deepen."

I loved the Stargate series, but they had this problem. First it's save this planet! Then, save these planets! And on down through the seasons, until they've managed to suck in the whole freakin' Universe.*

Contrast this with the Vorkosigan series, which starts out with good character-driven space opera spanning a few planets, and continues on, quite satisfactorily, at that same scale for books and books and blessed books, getting more compelling with every turn.


* Although I'll have to say, they often did okay with the Cool Stuff.

#113 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 01:34 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @63: Liana's life had already taught her that, when awakening in pain and confusion, it was often better if she didn't open her eyes right away.

Hm. I hang up on the "life had already taught her." Succumbing to the copy-editing impulse, I'd shorten that to:

Liana awoke to pain and confusion. Experience suggested she wait before opening her eyes.
#114 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 01:45 PM:

Jacque @ 112:
I loved NuWho, but hasn't it followed basically the same pattern? Seems like the series finales went something like "save the Earth," "save the Earth," "save the Earth," "save the universe," "save all of space and time," "save all of space and time."

I can't imagine what could happen next, and I love Moffat's plotting and the direction he's taken the show, but sometimes I wish for more shows where the Doctor would stumble into smaller (but still important) problems and solve them with things like diamonds and a lighthouse.

#115 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 01:47 PM:

Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" has an interesting structure... First we got the big flashy kicking of Nazi butts during D-Day. Then we get on with the real story - saving one single person.

#116 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 02:25 PM:

Bill Stewart @80: my instinctive reaction to that sentence was to expect it to be followed by "Something didn't like it."

"There was a wall" implies that at some point there wasn't a wall, and that the wall was built either to keep something in, or something out. What's being kept where and why? What happened to motivate the builder to build the wall?

#117 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 02:53 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) @97: Point being that some hooks work well with some readers and not so well with others,

And that story-hooks are like hypodermic needles: each one should be used only once.

#118 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 02:59 PM:

Fragano 103: Shevek seems both deeply rooted (in his identity as an Anarresti) and rootless (in that he never seems to have a fixed abode).

I would submit that not having a fixed abode is very highly Odonian, because it avoids an undue attachment (indeed a nearly propertarian relationship) to a particular bit of housing.

Jacque 113: With all love and respect, I'm very glad you're not my editor! Note: editor, not copyeditor; if I understand the role correctly, a copyeditor doesn't get to make that kind of change. And if an editor hated my style THAT much s/he'd probably just reject it instead of hatcheting it like that.

#119 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 03:04 PM:

Serge Broom @104: Meanwhile Attenborough's "Gandhi" begins with his being assassinated then it jumps back a few decades.

I think the chief point of failure on Bruce's "big sign" is not so much the efficacy of the flashback as a narrative technique as it is on the efficacy of the "big sign." My response as a viewer is: "Guys, this is an old storytellers technique. I think I can cope with not being told what it is."

Though a counter-example might be when I showed my friend Brian the first episode of Stargate Universe, he was thoroughly confused, and we had to pause it fifteen minutes in so I could unpack it for him. But I liked being made to work a little bit to figure out what was going on.

Which maybe is a way of repeating Bruce's point that different styles work for different folks.

#120 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 04:12 PM:

Jacque @ 119... My own point is that the structure can work quite well and give a whole story an ominous feeling, but that it'll become a formula if the tool is overused.

#121 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 05:24 PM:

It doesn't have to be mayhem, but something interesting has to happen. Furthermore, if by "move and keep moving" I'd meant "blow something up in the opening sentence," I'd have said so.

Too many journeyman novels start with the literary equivalent of dawdling around on the front porch, in the mistaken belief that this will somehow acquaint you with the neighborhood. You'll learn a lot more about it if someone accidentally sets their yard on fire, and you'll care about it more if some larger cause or action gets underway. A neighbor with a gift for conversation and old gossip to retail can also work, but for most writers is harder to pull off.

I like Michener just fine.

Raymond Chandler's advice about having a man with a gun come through the door doesn't work all that well for writers who've never had comparable experiences.

Loud chaotic action followed by a flashback is just another case of exposition before you care about it. The difference is that it's in motion, which helps a bit.

Jo, The Dispossessed sets out as firmly and surehandedly with that wall as Tolkien sets out with his hobbit-hole. Also, as Avram pointed out, he's chased onto a spaceship by homicidal mob within the first few pages.

Also, and more to the point, there's nothing in my original entry that you don't already know in your bones.

#122 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 05:26 PM:

"Stop before it gets stupid" still applies.

#123 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 05:41 PM:

Here's case of an intro-idea gone wrong: The first Valdemar novel, Arrows Of the Queen.* She's starting off a new fantasy series, and you'd expect the book to begin with some indication of what the world is about. In fact, the text begins with a brief view -- a couple of paragraphs -- of the protagonist reading a book... followed by three pages of, not even the book, but the girl's own fantasy sequence! (Some would say that this does indeed give a sense of what that world is about... ;-) ) I found that quite jarring. On consideration, it's a big fat violation of "show, don't tell". Also, the Cool Stuff is being shoved in long before it's been made meaningful by context.

*The book as a whole is interesting to a critic's eye, because it was Lackey's first published book, and you can very much "see the seams" throughout.

#124 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 06:06 PM:

David Harmon @123: I suppose I shouldn't admit this but that intro you're depreciating worked perfectly for me -- but I'm prone to inject myself into fantasy realms I enjoy, whether they be written or on film.

I was really glad that Talia left the Holderkin, even if she didn't get her imagined triumphant return...but then the first few chapters of the first Harry Potter book had me chanting at Rowling: "Get him out of there!"

#125 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 06:17 PM:

Lori Coulson #124: Well, non gustibus disputandum. As I said, it does thematically match the world -- as I've said before, the central conceit of Velgarth* is "what if the gods actually cared enough to get involved?"

* IIRC, the world's name appears only in prologues in the entire series.

#126 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 06:47 PM:

Jacque #112 - I'm sure the Tenchi Muyo anime serie had that problem, but because the fans enjoyed the comedy side of things too much - so protagonist awakens to his true powers in episode 6 and saves the day, only for another 3 or 5 or whatever more episodes to go where nothing is anywhere near as exciting, just mildly amusing.

Simply because the story burst into my head, I've started a kind of series of short stories in the life of someone in the Office of the King's Magician in the 1870's onwards, as he works his way up the hierarchy. Without really thinking about it I find myself putting in asides mentioning future things which may or may not appear in other stories, comments about the wider society and characters that I know will be re-introduced at a later point, as our hero meets newer and bigger challenges.

#127 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 07:28 PM:

David, #123: Personally, I thought the immersion in Talia's private world worked pretty well, especially since right about then Things Start Happening, and she doesn't understand what they mean, and so we get to learn right along with her.

OTOH, Lackey is also the author I use to illustrate the difference between good writing and good storytelling. Even though the writing sometimes makes me flinch, the story keeps me turning pages time after time. Note: this does not work unless I actually like the characters and the world; there are some of her series, and even a few excursions in the Valdemar series, that leave me flat. But the best of her stuff I re-read over and over again with great enjoyment.

Lori, #124: And that opening is exactly why I've never been able to read Harry Potter -- it squicks me so badly that I just can't force myself to read it, though I've made several attempts. Also, from having watched the movies, I know that he ends up back there over and over again, even after he's supposedly gotten out and is safe (well, safe from them, anyhow!) at Hogwarts.

#128 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 08:00 PM:

Lee #127: I dunno, maybe I'm just being a grumpy old man. "Dang it, ya oughtn't start a fantasy with a nested fantasy! How's a reader to know what's real to the story?" ;-)

#129 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2011, 09:19 PM:

I describe it as the book grabbing me. If it does it on the first page, it's a buy!now!

#130 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 01:58 AM:

Constance @ 108:

I think it works in Damages because each time they show the present time scene they show just a little more before the flashback, and add some information or a twist that changes your view of the previous information. So the present time scenes are both action and a part of the exposition, which is a neat trick.

We've got the most recent season of the show on DVR and have only watched the first 3 episodes because it's really hard to get in the mood: that's such a dark and violent show (the torture scenes in this season may yet be a sticking point). And if there's only so much darkness we can take per unit time period, some of it has to be dedicated to Breaking Bad which IMO is rapidly becoming the best dramatic series of the last 3 or 4 years (and likely the next 3 or 4 as well).

#131 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 02:09 AM:

Neil W @ 109:

I note that action films like to start with an action sequence.

And the <minor action> bridge <major action> structure of just about all of George Lucas' films (including the Indiana Jones movies) was developed to allow that. It doesn't require a lot of exposition before the action, or a flashback to artificially install the exposition after part of the action, because the minor action acts as introduction to the characters, and the bridge can hold the exposition for the major action. From the structural, plot development, and movement-maintenance viewpoints, I think this structure is superior to the "Now stop and go back 3 days for exposition before continuing" technique.

#132 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 02:15 AM:

Jacque @ 117:

And that story-hooks are like hypodermic needles: each one should be used only once.

And that a precise dosage of a carefully chosen medication should be administered from any hook. Shorter me: "Don't use a blunt instrument."

Serge @ 120:

For me, seeing it only a few times is enough to make it seem overused. And it's become highly overused in series television in the last couple of years; I'm sure I see it at least 3 or 4 times a week.

#133 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 02:45 AM:

Bruce @132

This is one of those times when quoting Miyamato Musashi seems more apt than usual: "Every stroke should be a cutting stroke". But a book isn't a sword-fight (and neither is running a business). Still, it embodies the idea that everything in the story should have a purpose.

#134 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 03:02 AM:

Good a place as any to post this: 42 Essential 3rd Act Twists.

#135 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 05:26 AM:

TNH @ 121 said:

Too many journeyman novels start with the literary equivalent of dawdling around on the front porch, in the mistaken belief that this will somehow acquaint you with the neighborhood. You'll learn a lot more about it if someone accidentally sets their yard on fire(...)

Aha! That's the piece I was trawling for. Peripheral motion appropriate to the scene setting which reveals details but may or may not eject enormous amounts of plot onto the reader's head. Thanks.

(/me carves on obelisk in head "set the neighbor's yard on fire." Makes mental note to never let law enforcement officials see my list of writing-aphorisms-in-brief, as this is now carved just next to "put poison in the tea.")

#136 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 10:54 AM:

Lee @127, I understand, the only thing that makes Harry's visits "home" barely bearable for me, is that after the first book Harry actually starts to get some of his own back.

The Dursleys are afraid of him, and while Harry doesn't become a bully, he does get some zingers in. I must admit, I was very glad to see the back of them in the last book.

#137 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 11:00 AM:

A.J. @135: And aha to you! Your summary of Teresa's advice neatly clarifies a question I had about it, namely, "How do I reconcile this with the sternly instilled writing-workshop lesson that in order to show things going wrong, a story must first establish what 'normal' is?"

#138 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 11:16 AM:

David Harmon @128: I've lost count of the books I've bounced off of -- you're certainly entitled not to like Arrows.

Being a filker, the added attraction is that the books have their own songs...

#139 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 12:21 PM:

Bruce Cohen @132: it's become highly overused in series television in the last couple of years; I'm sure I see it at least 3 or 4 times a week.

I love Flashpoint; it's become one of my favorite series. But this structure is built into the show's formula. I've gotten to the point where I automatically scroll forward past the opening scenes.

#140 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 12:33 PM:

Sort of a contrapuntal technique that I really enjoy is conflict implied offhandedly.

The Equalizer used this to great effect, as when McCall is arguing with Control, and makes unexplained reference to, say, "Cuba," which comment makes Control flinch.

It's a structure that tickles the same itche as Xopher's hookbait of the "wait, what?" kind, which is also one of my favorites.

#141 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 12:43 PM:

"itche"—that would be the French spelling. ::sigh:: I did preview....

#142 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 02:50 PM:

Bruce C. @ #130:

What I did approve of in terms of the two different time lines in Damages's seasons, is that the present - or is it the future? is lighted and shot different, than the past -- or is it the present? timeline.

I like the camera work and editing very much on this series. Also the audio I.D. -- "There won't be anything left when I'm through with you ...."

Breaking Bad didn't work for me. Why that it is, cannot say. Maybe having lived in Albuquerque for so long?

The series I'm liking most, now that Treme is writing season 3, are Sons of Anarchy, clumsy as it is often, The Good Wife as slick as it (can you think of two series more different than these two?) and Justified, as over the top as it is with local 'character' in the the Elmore Leonard manner (I'm in the minority of readers who don't care for Leonard -- as with Hemingway I hold him responsible for so much of what is wrong with our writing for books and the screen! my opinion - my opinion - my opinion! not word of goddessa!) I also liked The Glades in spite of moving so fast, and White Collar, despite being funded by the FBI, for it is the most escapist and authentically action comedy of manners there is! Neal Cassidy's eyes! Burke's sneakyness! The dog! The apartment, most of all Mozzie! and love letter to fantasy Manhattan!

Love, C.

Love, C.

#143 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 06:14 PM:

#114 johnofjack: It has been said rather explicitly that Season 6 of NuWho is an attempt to get away from the idea that the Doctor has to raise the stakes every time and do something Bigger! and More! Impressive! In other words, they had an entire season designed to make it so the Doctor has to lay low.

They may or may not follow up on that. But they've said that's the idea.

Evil Rob pointed out that a lot of people are upset that next year's season is going to start in the fall. Atmospheric reasons aside, there's a very good point to not going next summer, and it has to do with the words London in 2012.

*smacks forehead*

He also suggests this may be the reason there was so little newly composed music for season 6. One can hope. (And if they don't use "Song of Freedom" somewhere in the opening or closing ceremonies, they're idiots.)

#144 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 09:28 PM:

Lori Coulson #138: Oh, I like the book well enough, it's just that beginning I find offputting. (Three pages of italics, oy!)

#145 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 11:08 PM:

Constance @ 142:

I only lived in Albuquerque for one summer a long time ago, so I guess I'm not as attached to it. But the thing that keeps me coming back to Breaking Bad more than anything else is that they never pull their punches, or try to paper over the consequences of the characters' acts. This is a show that's all about digging holes without the ability to stop.

As for the others you mention, I will not voluntarily miss an episode of Treme, The Good Wife, or White Collar (that last because the writers have had the good sense to recognize that Mozzie is the star of the show), and I like The Glades because of the chemistry between the main characters.

There are a couple of other shows I don't miss: Castle, because, Nathan Fillion!, and seriously good development of all the characters, and some very funny in-jokes1, and Ringer, which has taken a neat premise that most shows would have been able to milk for an entire season, and stuck a new and interesting twist on it with each episode.

Det. Beckett: You speak Mandarin? Semester abroad?
Castle: Nah, a TV show I used to love.

#146 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 11:56 PM:

@145 -- Bruce

You too love Mozzie! I love you for you surely are a person of discernment and acumen!

I love everything about this series, except the romantic interests whose names I can't ever remember much less keep straight as they are all botoxed up the wazzo.

I adore the wardrobes for The Good Wife, particularly those worn by Baranski's Diane Lockhart. Rose's in Damages are also wonderful. Neal's ditto in White Collar -- he certainly outshines the romantic interests in that department as well as every other area.

Wardrobe for Sons of Anarchy -- hah! And they won't even photograph the female characters to appear anything but haggard, even the young ones.


Love, c.

#147 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2011, 12:34 AM:

Talk about reusing characters . . . a seemingly throw-away character from Season Two of Breaking Bad was brought back to play a crucial role this season. Ding-ding!

A brutal, awful, absolutely brilliant show.

#148 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2011, 12:42 AM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) @ 145:

"...or try to paper over the consequences of the characters' acts."

I read the last word as "cats" and immediately envisioned a wee gnome with a roll of decorative paper and a glue bucket covering up the corner of the couch where said cats had done their latest bout of claw-sharpening...

#149 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2011, 08:34 AM:

Bruce Cohen @#145:

Alexis: OK, what's that costume?
Castle: Space cowboy.
Alexis: Didn't you wear that, like, five years ago?
Castle: I like it!

Have you seen the picture from a recent con of the actress who plays Alexis dressed as Mal?

#150 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2011, 12:12 PM:

Xopher #118: You're right, after all "you can't have things".

#151 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2011, 07:07 PM:

Carrie S. @149:

No I hadn't seen it, but the magic of google knows no bounds: the first two hits on the search "the actress who plays Alexis dressed as Mal" pointed to it. Cute picture, and I, too, wish we had one of Fillion's reaction.

Syd @ 148:

And I in turn read your comment as saying the gnome was papering over the cats, and I hoped the gnome survived.

#152 ::: Zed Lopez ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2011, 01:18 PM:

The Science of Discworld refers to "lies-to-children" -- explanations for things that are known to be not really completely true. They're useful didactic tools to get a little closer to the truth. They're often more than good enough to serve in many contexts. But there's territitory where they'll collapse and show themselves for the lies they always were, and you'll need at least a more sophisticated lie-to-children to navigate this territory.

I think of all writing advice as lies-to-children. Valuable for understanding specific points, useful in many situations, sometimes just the thing you need, but all of it having limits to its application. But that there are places where they break doesn't mean there aren't a lot of places where they work.

#153 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2011, 08:55 AM:

This is not such a good start, I think, though the style is supposed to be somewhat antique. It's what I have in mind for NaNoWriMo this year.

Rocket Girls of the Solarian Patrol

Arabella Montoya, delicately fending off the advances of a passenger, could feel the faint, reassuring, vibrations of the drive blasts in the soles of her feet, transmitted through the sternly practical spacer's boots she wore, and pushing the Joe Hill at ever-increasing velocity towards the red planet Mars. Not for her the heeled shoes of a dandy or a gold-digger. He was a civet cat, almost old enough to be her father, and inclined to corpulence. Even had he been more attractive, he was married, and Arabella had scruples about such things. And, besides, she was a professional, and a union member in good standing. And it irritated her that he was seeming not to see her rank badges and qualification pins. There was no respect apparent in his eyes.

She would rather be rebuilding a burnt-out driver than dealing with this man. He might be a wizard of the business world, but she rather doubted that he had earned his position, as she had. She doubted that he would have the basic integrity to graduate from Songmark, even if he had not been disqualified in other ways. He acted out of privilege, and there was something she sensed that disgusted her, but she smiled, and played the officer of a great liner, pleasant to a valuable passenger.

Many decks below her feet, in the engineering section, a figure in the Chief Engineer's space armour stood by the Main Air Plant, but it was not the Chief Engineer. Oh, the height and build were similar, else the space armour would have been unwearable. But instead of the bear, polar with a slight touch of the tiger from a distant ancestor, the occupant of that bipedal behemoth of bullet-proofed steel and alloy was a cat, anonymously domestic and amply fed. He grinned as he watched the drill, held by its magnetic clamps, work its way into the main air duct. With the steady rumble of the air flow, and the scream of the drill, he heard nothing as a slim, almost boyish, vulpine figure stepped out of the shadows behind him, placed the muzzle of her Spandau against the back of his neck—rather, against the armour that covered the back of his neck—and squeezed the trigger.

He can can only have been surprised by what hit him as the yawning barrel of the Spandau blasted the needle-thin tungsten-carballoy penetrator into the armour. It was designed to penetrate, and put the full force of the column of expanding gas in the barrel into no more than a tenth of the cross-section of an ordinary round. The propellant, a hellish combination of stabilised dioxygen-diflouride, aluminium, and polynitroatomate, took the barrel to the limits of its elastic strength, and such was the unimaginable velocity of the projectile that both needle-dart and armour acted more like liquids than respectable solid matter. The armour dimpled slightly and the imposter's head started to move forward, but that was due more to the muzzle-blast. A jet of unbearably hot plasma entered the base of the helmet, needle and armour vapourised by the collision and followed by the hot, corrosive, gasses from the barrel of the pistol. Whether the prospective pirate had the chance to sense their arrival, none can say, for the hypersonic stream punched through skull and brain faster even than the speed of thought. And the near impenetrable visor, taking the impact from the inside, snapped the hinge pins and almost slowly, clattered to the deck.

The vixen reached past the corpse, slowly crumpling against the resistance of the armour's joints, and switched off the drill.

#154 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2011, 05:44 PM:

Antonia T. Tiger @ 153:

Cool, that reads like Triplanetary or Spacehounds of IPC. Keep it up, please.

#155 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 08:27 AM:

Antonia Tiger @164: Seconding Bruce Cohen here!

#156 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 09:02 AM:

Bruce, Ginger, it is, alas, only a pale imitation of the clear-quill donut sugar supplied by the genuine "Doc" Smith. I shall refrain from flooding this blog with the whole nine yards, whatever the nine yards might be, but I shall try to remember to keep the Fluorosphere aware of progress, and well-provided with yummy samples.

#157 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 11:01 AM:

All of which reminds me of a question that's been bugging me for a week or so: I'm writing a thing in which my protagonist, introduced under name X, is operating under another name Y, and there are conversations in which that cover name Y is used, as in "Y, what's our approach?". What about the speech narration? Is it "X said," and "Z turned to X," or "Y said," and "Z turned to Y"? Or is everyone, readers and writer alike, going to get some form of mental whiplash?

#158 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 11:15 AM:

joann #157: I've seen it done both ways; Some points to consider: (1) how closely you're focusing on the protagonist (over-the-shoulder? thoughts? clearly you're not doing first-person, which would make it trivial), and (2) how immersed he is in the disguise. Is he noted as "getting into the mindset"? Are there others present who know him as other than the cover identity? For that matter, how important is this aliased role to the book as a whole -- brief digression, or major component?

#159 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 11:20 AM:

joann@157, David Harmon@158: this has reminded me how much it bugs me when a dialogue goes on for several lines with insufficient indication of who's speaking. I shouldn't have to keep track of whether I'm on an odd or even line to identify the speaker!

#160 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 12:09 PM:

joann, purely my opinion, but: if they're just different names, just pick one and go with it. If it's an actual cover identity, refer to the character by the identity s/he is operating at the moment.

#161 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 12:12 PM:

David Harmon #158:

The other main viewpoint character knows her real identity, but he's got a fake, too, and they aren't supposed ever to have met before this point. They've agreed to call each other by their cover names even when alone.

After several chapters of setup (including a couple other false names), this is the main part of the story.

#162 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2011, 12:15 PM:

steve wab #159:

My personal rule of thumb is after four switches, you've probably lost track, or are just about to, and so it's time to insert some narrative jewelry, in that paragraph, if not the one previous.

#163 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2011, 06:21 AM:

joann @ 157 - I was recently reading through Iain Banks' "Consider Phlebas" where just this same situation occurs. The way Banks deals with it is by having the character's "said" and "thought" and "did" all in his usual name while the other characters simply call him as the person he's disguised as. It comes out very clear.

Similarly in LeGuin's Earthsea series, where no one lets on about their true name, referring to the main character in-head by his name really doesn't cause confusion.

On the other hand, I've also seen characters actually change name - as in, their sense of internal identity changed, and so the name by which the author was referring to them changed accordingly. So, if they're slipping thoroughly "into character" as their cover identities - becoming the face, like in Donnie Brasco - I'd use those names; otherwise I'd stick to their real names.

#164 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2011, 10:11 AM:

joann #161: if this is going on for the whole story, then you could certainly do it either way, as long as you're consistent. If you find yourself switching too often between thinking-as-self, and speaking-as-cover, you might need to stock up on lampshades. ;-) Seriously, you'll need to occasionally remind the reader which names refer to the same person. That can be done subtly, though -- it helps if the character has occasion to worry about being discovered.

#165 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2011, 11:51 AM:

A.J.Luxton #163:

This all makes sense. I think the Banks treatment is indeed the best.

I was discussing this with DH yesterday at lunch, and he pointed out that as someone who has enough trouble keeping a bunch of characters straight (he's currently reading Ian MacDonald's The Dervish House with its five or six different but entangled plot threads and just about suffering head implosion), never mind those books with giant family trees in the front, or Russian novels where everyone appears to have a least three names, keeping it simple would be good. It occurred to me that perhaps, since I've already got a setup for the two undercovers to be known by a title of respect (foreign version of "Sir" and "Miss"), I can just have them referred to in dialogue as that and by real name in narration.

As usual, as in software, talking about stuff helps clear it up.

#166 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2011, 01:23 PM:

Antonia T Tiger @ 153: I'll tell the cockeyed world as how that hit the spot! More, please - soon - and I don't mean perchance!

joann @ 165, A J Luxton @ 163: Yes, that's what would work for me.

I have a slight case of the reverse of your DH's mindset: I like the sort of yarn in which prominent characters pile up names and epithets that illuminate themselves, their context, and their culture. I have to forcibly restrain myself at times from putting a considerable overdose of that kind of thing into my own stories, wherever the backgrounds do anything whatever to encourage it!

(Current protagonist: born Katherine Clementine Audrey Clotilda Garcastle-Honeywoolf de Hautdesert, called at various times and places Katherine of Alland, the Golden Margravine, the Golden Wolf in the Grey Morning, Golden Kate, Killer-Kate, Kate Fireguard, Dame Audrey, the Grey Wolf in the Red Gloaming...)

Yeah. Guilty.

#167 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2011, 02:55 AM:

I am greatly encouraged by the praise which has already been heaped upon my unworthy head.

But I keep hoping that I shall be able to write something that doesn't depend on the reader being familiar with the original style.

#168 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2011, 11:19 AM:

Grey #166:

I would *so* read that, but no way I'd be inclined to imitate it. (I think *I'd* suffer head implosion after losing track entirely of what I'd written.)

#169 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2011, 06:23 PM:

2300 words today...

Not a bad start.

#170 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2011, 03:23 PM:

And just over 3000 words today. It is definitely a good start

#171 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2011, 12:38 PM:

I am at 6700 words now, and pausing to think about how I shall take a sidestep in chapter 3. I'm well ahead on quota, not many words to meet the daily target, but I'd like to get at least a thousand words this evening. And a good night's sleep, but that's a different problem.

#172 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2011, 08:31 PM:

Expanding on what I said earlier with starting a plot without knowing how I am going to end it; the hard part is I do not know how many entities I need to create in order to resolve the entities I have already created, it's kind of like being lost in the woods without knowing how big the woods are.
And yet I am feeling a need to finish the story in a satisfying way.

#173 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 03:13 AM:

Boing-Boing has a short excerpt from a nice long interview with William Gibson - talks a lot about his writing process and what was going on in his life at the time, and about how he got dragged into publishing his work.

Also, though it really would have worked better on some past threads, there's a blog post by Ursula Vernon on why she likes working with traditional publishers for most of her work instead of self-publishing.

#174 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 10:55 AM:

Just hit 10k words.

Potentially 12k by the end of the day, but I doubt it. This next session is a bit tricky. On the other hand, I have more in-story reasons for a zero-G latex-clad lesbian sex scene than seems usual for such things. And I could leave the details up to the reader's imagination.

(How do you keep the gel in an acceleration tank out of your fur?)

#175 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 02:29 PM:

Antonia T. Tiger (174): I don't have an actual answer, but I nominate this

How do you keep the gel in an acceleration tank out of your fur?

for Awesome Sentence of the Week.

#176 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 02:40 PM:

Fur full of acceleration gel sounds like an excuse for a shower scene.

Although, after going through the ordeal of washing my dog at one of those self-service places with the benefit of gravity, "zero gravity furry shower scene" doesn't sound especially appealing.

#177 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 02:53 PM:

Well, in my fiction the gel tanks were for people who stayed there all the time (they were part of the operation of the ship, not passengers), but it had the property of suppressing hair growth (a cleanliness measure). So I guess I don't have much to offer if you're using gel tanks for passengers.

You COULD have it volatilize rapidly in air, like hand sanitizer.

#178 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 06:59 PM:

If the gel is flavored, you could lick it out of your fur. Or if several people came out of the tanks at the same time they could lick it out of each other's fur. How about General Tso's Acceleration Gel?

#179 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 11:54 PM:

The people who use the jet dryers, which are like the really powerful hand dryers you get sometimes, swear that they get almost everything out and onto the walls and then you get to have that wonderful first shower, which finishes off the last sticky bits. It's like me washing my hair after a few days. The people who take an hour in the sun lamps to dry it out say that brushing out the light residue is like peeling glue off fingers, only you also get to be brushed. People who like to be alone after stress tend to go for a blow-dry and a shower; people who like company and contact tend to go for a brief bake and social grooming.

#180 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2011, 07:46 PM:

actually fuel that volatilizes into the air would be very dangerous, and burn very weirdly in zero gravity. (Fire as we know it depends on gravity for convection. What would fire do in zero g?)

#181 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2011, 08:44 PM:

Not if it's made of pure air, with all the gases in normal air proportions, and a little water. It's a gel because of [TECH].

If you object to that, then I hope you're leaving FTL out of your stories too!

#182 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2011, 02:21 AM:

I wasn't visualising that sort of gel, Xopher.

Meanwhile, it appears that the bad guys have contact with something from outside the Sol system, and there has been a sudden collision....

(Hat-tip to "Doc" Smith for the idea a character can write off Einstein with one observation.)

Alice had managed to reach half-way to the main power lever by the time of the collision, knowing that with the drives shut down it would be nearly a minute before the drivers could flare into life, knowing the futility of that sudden Sol-wards burst of acceleration because it would be far too late. And, because she knew it was futile, her hand halted.

"What the fuck!" breathed Arabella. "I don't have an exact figure, but what sort of ship can leap maybe five million kilometres in a couple of seconds?"

"Nothing Tellurian, that's for sure," said Alice. "You must have got the range wrong, that's faster than light." She blinked. "We can't see, with that there, but the approach would look like it was running backwards." She grinned. "An observer, off to the side but in our frame of reference, would see that hulking brute, slap bang against our hull, and an image speeding away. That sounds like time travel, doesn't it, but they say that's what faster-than-light always has to be."

"They say a lot of things," said Arabella. "But that happened, and any explanation that says it couldn't have happened has to be wrong."

Alice groaned. "New mathematics..."

"Look on the bright side. Maybe we have a way to get home a bit faster."

"Yeah, and these guys are working with Humbert and his pals. You expect a ride?"

Arabella said nothing for what seemed a long time. Then, "Just think of the prize money, if we can live to spend it."

At that moment, something happened, so fast that they could neither sense nor measure it. For an instant Queenie jerked sideways, as though attached to the pirate by a cosmic rubber band. The motion was nothing like as sudden as the approach of the ship, and if they had time to think about it, that might have been the clue that they needed. They were in their acceleration tanks, or the jerk would have killed them. They were secured in place, so their bodies were not smashed against unyielding steel. But there are limits. Their brains, soft and flabby and so easy to tear and shred, slammed against the inside their skulls, and all there was was blackness.

#183 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2011, 08:23 AM:

I made my daily quota pretty easily this morning, and surged past 15,000 words. The new keyboard for my netbook is reliable, but the keytop labeling is incredibly fragile: I can see myself getting a white marker pen.

#184 ::: Antonia T, Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2011, 04:35 PM:

Something went right today. 4500 words...

And, OK, I have five rather frazzled women escaping a pirate base, four of them are engineers, and they're trapped in a fully-equipped machine ship. So the first thing they've done is weld the door shut...

#185 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2011, 08:03 AM:

Antonia T. Tiger: Congratulations on a classically pulptastic pace! That's way beyond even my Get-This-Out-Of-My-Head-Now rugged-and-ragged first-draft speed.

And to #167: perhaps this is part of the road there, for you? I'm thinking of my own experience, here. My regular storytelling styles, virtues, and faults don't look much like anybody else's in particular - but a lot of the good stuff I've worked into them over the years has got there via my pastiching works that I like a big lot, and haven't been able to get enough of otherwise.

#186 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2011, 09:56 AM:

And, OK, I have five rather frazzled women escaping a pirate base, four of them are engineers, and they're trapped in a fully-equipped machine ship. So the first thing they've done is weld the door shut...

The pirates, not fans of The A-Team or Iron Man or the lay of Volund, obviously decide to wait them out. "They'll come out when they're hungry. It's not like they're going to build a suit of armour with wings and arm it with a cabbage firing bazooka."

#187 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2011, 03:25 PM:

Neil, #186: "They'll come out when they're hungry. It's not like they're going to build a suit of armour with wings and arm it with a cabbage firing bazooka."

Wanna bet? :-)

#188 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2011, 04:41 PM:

Okay. There goes my *fourth* outline into the round file.

Why do I write these things again? The story generation function in my head never pays any attention to them, and the characters populating my imagination all just snicker at me and say behind my back when they think I'm ignoring them, "There he goes again. You'd think he'd have learned by now that he needs to get to know us better before he sends us off on some damned idiotic plot."

Such annoying characters... I'll show them.

#189 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2011, 05:50 PM:

j h woodyatt @ 188:

I think there's a Law of Fictional Characters that's very similar to the Harvard Law of Experimental Animals: "A carefully bred experimental animal raised and trained according to standard protocols, will, when presented with a well-designed experimental situation, do whatever it damn well wants to."

#190 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 10:42 AM:

I have not taken the NaNo shilling, but I still have words to report! After NINE DAYS without power, my WIP in the cloud and on a flash drive with no paper printout handy and only 30 minutes of keyboard time a day at the library, so NO WORDS, when the power came back on last night I finished it up! It is but fanfic, but of deep emotional necessity to me, and now that it's done (bar a few technical points I have to look up) I can go back to watching that show in emotional tranquility, a thing its writers had left me without. (Curse you, dearest actor, for asking to be let out of your contract early for a pilot that wasn't picked up. I wanted you right where you were.)

I did a bit of self-indulgent infodumping -- apparently the original character I introduced, despite having a background in economics, has nearly as strong a Thing for knights both fictional and real as I do, and it worked with the theme, I swear -- at least a first reader tells me it comes across as sweet.

But words! I has them! I do not think I will NaNo this year, especially with the first seven days away from my keyboard, but I DO think I'm going to keep writing.

#191 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 11:40 AM:

Rikibeth @190: It is but fanfic, but of deep emotional necessity to me

That's probably the best description of my motive for writing I've ever seen. Rr. Like waving a steaming bowl of soup under my nose when I'm hungry.

Well, not right now, anyway.


#192 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 07:22 PM:

If you started firing your cabbage bazooka, that would be cabbotage.

#193 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 07:50 PM:

8 days, 24000 words...

There's something about this 1930s pulp fiction style which runs away with you.

Incidentally, the pirates have a supply of freshly canned Tellurian food. And the heroines have noticed. There are batch numbers on the labels.

If have have a gunfight at a pineapple canning plant, could it be a cannery row?

#194 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 08:10 PM:

Oh dear, oh dear. 8 days, 2500 words, very impressed with Antonia T. Tiger. Perhaps it wasn't wise to attempt NaNo while copyediting a book, teaching 2 composition classes, and managing a fluctuating stable of multi-language translation projects.

I'm very pleased with this 2500 words, though. One ill-advised sexual act and one untimely death so far!

#195 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 10:05 PM:

I'm very pleased with this 2500 words, though. One ill-advised sexual act and one untimely death so far!

Sounds like the real-world consequences (for production of only 2500 words!) make writing a losing proposition for you.

OH! You meant...

...never mind.

#196 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 11:07 PM:

I've managed to wriggle out from under the Fat Dog* and start working on a superhero role playing game adventure I'd begun earlier in the year. Adding a paragraph here and there feels like immense progress.

*Relative of the Black Dog, the Fat Dog lies on top of your creativity and immobilizes it. Also, he has gas.

#197 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 08:57 AM:

Stefan Jones @196, Snort. I know the Fat Dog entirely too well.

#198 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 10:45 AM:

Xopher, it really depends who's doing the dying, doesn't it?

#199 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 10:55 AM:

The Fog Dog, whose gas fogs up your brain.

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