Category Archives: General rants.

Ruddy Dreadful

saw this a little while ago and grimaced.

My problem?

At the moment, people are just writing stuff, fast and loose, that other people can read and enjoy. These writers might even revel in the idea of being called ‘New Pulp’ but pretty soon it will be a whole thing. You know, one of those things where people tell you what something is without letting you make up your mind for yourself. You know… a thing.

It rapidly moves from being descriptive “wow look at what these guys are writing” to prescriptive “you can’t write sentences like that, that’s not new-pulp enough”.

To which the only rational answer is, “sod off”.

Writers won’t be doing this, because writers like to experiment and play (though some might like to be the big fish in a little pond and will grasp this newly defined genre with a grateful death-grip — but they won’t be the good ones. They’ll be the one-good-novel-on-infinite-repeat ones). The general readers won’t be doing this, because readers just want to read good stories well told. No, the fans-from-hell will be doing this. The ones that populate every genre forum they can find trying to define an art-form along strict illogical lines.

So what’s the problem? Just ignore the muppets, right?

I wish it was that simple, because what happens is that some journalists and some (the ones that don’t think for themselves …you know, most of them) literary critics, hear of this thing, this new thing, and they leap on it. It saves them having to actually read stuff that wasn’t written by some dead middle-class person before the end of the Boer War. You know the sort, I call them ‘Perkinses‘.

And then this definition becomes a sneer, a twisted lip, a guilty secret to hide under plain white wrappers.

And then novice writers think this is how you write and churn out tones of derivative crap that buries the good stuff.

And then readers move on to the next big thing, and miss the gems for half-a-century. Only discovering them when the author is dead and buried, which is no flaming use to anyone.

Oh I know, ‘Ruddy Dreadfuls’ yeah, that’s the next wave, look out for the ‘Ruddy Dreadful’ wave. It’s acoming. Forget New Pulp, that’s so last month, jump on the ‘Ruddy Dreadful’ bandwagon.

“Come on spring-heel, we have a reefer-mad dragon to save.”

 

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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PK’s Jaundiced Futurism: On Enhanced E-books Alternate Endings

Enhanced e-books will be a boon for non-fiction. Video, interactive diagrams, the ability to update in the light of new information or research. The possibilities are endless.

Fiction…umm…not so much.

I can see hypertext novels coming back into fashion, though they will have to do away with those bloody irritating links — not very conducive to immersion having every character name and artefact highlighted. I can see illustrations becoming prevalent, though there is a point beyond which the novel becomes a graphic novel. I can even see interactive databases for the more extreme world-building; think of Tolkien’s appendices as a searchable database.

All that I can see being useful for storytelling.

But I’ve read a few posts recently, on blogs and writing news aggregation sites, where high muckity-mucks in the publishing industry also mention ‘Alternate Endings’ as an enhancement.

Why? How does betraying the story count as an enhancement?

There are essentially three forms of storytelling now current in our culture. Interactive games, the media (films, television, graphic novels, radio, audio books) and text (novels, shorts, twitter, blog-stories, and so on. There are slight differences in distribution, but the medium is still text-based).

In games, alternate endings are a great idea. The player is the protagonist in the game, he or she is the one making decisions about how they play, so it’s not a bad idea to make those playing decisions affect how the game ends.

Play the game through, shooting everything with the biggest gun you can get. Not a bad way to play a game for the first time: while you work out how the game engines work. Play it through again, but being kinder to the game environment and to all those realistically detailed creatures you can kill. Some people claim to play Grand Theft Auto while going out of their way to avoid running down the virtual pedestrians the game designers place all over the virtual streets. I have no idea why you would do that, it isn’t supposed to be a simulation of driving in the city, but some people are just strange.

Between those two extremes, there are a multitude of possible choices that the player can make and each choice could affect the ending of the game. All good. All useful. All enhancing the experience and making you want to play the game again. If only to collect all the endings in the same way you used to collect gold rings when playing Sonic the Hedgehog. Obsessive, yes, but games can make you a tad obsessive — that’s part of their appeal.

In the media, mostly films it must be said, alternate endings are sometimes DVD extras. Twenty-Eight Days Later is the one that immediately springs to mind. No spoilers, for those who have not seen it, but I preferred the bleaker ending. I remember watching the film and feeling cheated by the ending they actually used. It felt forced. Please note this is before I even knew the alternate ending existed; once I found that on the DVD, I was even more irritated by the Hollywood ending they chose.

But, and this is important, films (and I suspect TV) are created in the editing suite. They are not created during principal photography. The actual filming simply gives the director options when the film is finally cut together. So much so, that many fine movie actors deliberately avoid giving the same performance in every take. They ‘wilfully’ (as Ian McKellen said about Ian Holm — when making Lord of the Rings) vary what they do to give the director options in the cut.

This is where the alternate endings that end up on DVDs come from. From this exact same process. The director may film more than one ending, because they don’t know how the story is going to play out, they don’t know if the pacing will work, they don’t know if the producers will accept a bleak ending, they don’t know until they have made the film. And since the ending is filmed and done and dusted, well you may as well stick it on the DVD as an extra. That’s a no-brainer.

In text — well novels really, yeah…look, I know these publishing execs have a great deal of experience and are, obviously, very smart people, but…um…have they any idea about how a novel actually works?

Just in case they need a heads-up, I’ll explain.

This is how a novel works. Every scene, every scrap of dialogue, every piece of action, every bit of fore-shadowing, every character interaction, every bit of weather, every setting, every damn thing that survives the editing process and ends up in the finished novel does service to the plot and make the ending of the story emotionally satisfying to the reader. That is a novelist’s duty. We don’t always manage it, but that is our aim.

Alternate endings will destroy what we have tried to create. They will make whole sections of dialogue nonsensical or irrelevant. They will make action scenes seem trite and unrealistic (because if we need alternate endings we can’t kill off characters that need to be killed off because we need them for the alternate ending). They will make foreshadowing a series of red-herrings that are never explained. They will make character interactions bland and boring (because everything will have to be left open to allow for different endings). Even the weather may have to be moderated so there are no extremes just to help keep the ending open. And of course settings will have to be rendered either very sketchily indeed or in so much detail that every single possible interaction between the character and the environment is possible.

Most importantly of all, we will be breaking our trust with the reader. Clever is not the same as honest. A writer seeks honesty, honesty to the prose, to the plot, to the characters. We seek to show the truth through the prism of our own understanding. Readers know this, that is why they read books instead of watching a film or playing a game.

Alternate endings are clever, even philosophical profound. Hmmm. Would they be nihilistic, existential, or solipsistic? I suppose that would depend on the author.

I’m not saying that a genius writer at the top of their game could not write a novel where the different endings actually enhance the story, where they alter the way it is read, where they change the way the reader understands the world. But I seriously doubt there will be many novelists of that calibre alive at any one time.

So, publishers, please, for the sake of the art-form I love, and the craft I have learned, and for my own sanity, stop talking about alternate bloody endings for novels.

Unless of course, you want to write the damn thing yourself.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Filed under General rants., Jaundiced Futurism

Century or decade? Who knows?

This habit of using the **00s to refer to an entire century is really quite irritating.

It’s a good idea for your prose to be clear. The story may be ambiguous, the narrator may be unreliable, but the readers should not be scratching their heads about what the sentences actually mean.

1800s (for instance) could refer to a single decade (1800 -1809) or the entire 19th century. I have to look at context to figure it out. And these days writers sometimes don’t even supply the context.

I know it must be hard to remember that 18** happened in the 19th century (I’ve fallen foul of this myself. It can be embarrassing) but that is no excuse for sloppy ambiguous writing that leaves the readers scratching their heads.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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Filed under General rants., Style and Voice

The Difference between Planners and Pantsers is:

Not that pantsers are somehow organic and spontaneous while outliners are staid and rigid.

No, the difference is that Planners can leave the plan. They are able to just busk away from their outline whenever they need to.

Pantsers (and I can only really speak for myself here) can’t do that. We take the plan as The Plan and have to follow it. Therefore we don’t plan and hence we don’t have to follow it.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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Filed under General rants., Pantsing and Planning