Sunday 25 September 2016

Elevator Pitch

I came across an informative blog on creating an "elevator pitch" for one's book.  A logline, a tagline. To generally create a short and pithy description so one does not appear a total schmuck when the question is innocently posed "What's your book about?"

My attempt:

A woman stumbles through the dimensional bubble to stand on an alternate Earth facing her alternate twin self.  Together, these sisters born of different worlds gallop into a wild odyssey of adventures across a prairie full of perils in a desperate race to stop a war.


Spoiler outrage is a lie

“Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the galaxy and it is in order that this situation should not be in any way exacerbated that the following facts will now be revealed in advanced: The planet in question, is, in fact, Magrathea. The deadly nuclear missile attack shortly to be launched by an ancient automatic defence system will merely result in the bruising of somebody’s upper arm, and the untimely creation and sudden demise of a bowl of petunias and an innocent sperm whale. In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved no revelation will yet be made concerning whose upper arm has been bruised. This fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since it is of no significance whatsoever. “

and soon afterwards:

“It is, of course, more or less at this point that one of our heroes sustains a slight bruise to the upper arm. This should be emphasised because, as has already been revealed, they escape otherwise completely unharmed, and the deadly nuclear missiles do not eventually hit the ship. Our heroes’ safety is absolutely assured.”

Those quoted passages are courtesy of the legendary radio play, “HItchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.  When I first heard these satirical quips about preventing stress by results ahead of time, I was vastly amused.  Years later, I realize Adams is, essentially, reporting the stark truth.  

And it baffles me.

A major point of etiquette across the internet maintains that the most unforgivable breach of etiquette imaginable is for reviewers or discussions to reveal Spoilers.  That is such a lie.  It is my observation that the teeming masses crave having the plot laid out for them ahead of time.  They go into convulsions if they don’t know whodunnit ahead of time.

Evidence Exhibit #1:  Movie trailers routinely lay out the basic outline of the plot.  Not all, by any means, but too many reveal too much.  If it is a movie I’m definitely going to watch, I’ve taken to closing my eyes to avoid having the story ruined.  (I used to plug my ears with my fingers, but modern cinema audio volumes cannot be stopped with mere fingers).  And yet, official and anecdotal polls show most people insist on having the trailer preview the story for them.

Baffling and insane.

Evidence Exhibit #2:  Television once did this all the time.  “Scenes from tonight’s episode”, followed by a rapid montage of the show I was sitting down to watch.  Again, like with movie trailers, I learned to close my eyes or not bother to watch the episode.  They don’t do that any more.  I suspect the practice stopped only because they realized those few seconds spent on teaser scenes could be better employed with dancing rabbits selling toilet paper.

Evidence Exhibit #3:  The absurd practice of Time Jumbling.  The writing practice of putting events out of sequence.  To start the plot with events and commotion until the first pause in the narrative when we're told “13 hours earlier”, “Ten years ago…” or some time measurement.  The consumer is then pulled to this previous period.  It’s not a brief flashback of memory.  The main story now commences.

Television has an especially egregious track record in this.  We sit down to watch our favourite show  only to be bombarded with our hero dodging flame thrower blasts while trying to defuse a bomb.  And then…”earlier the same week…”  We have to watch the hero go blithely about his/her affairs, all the while knowing the sunshine and lollipops of their day will go into flaming ruin.

In TV’s case, I understand it is their fumble-witted attempt to hook the viewer to stay tuned thru the first of many repetitions of the dancing rabbits and toilet paper.  I’d have to see some convincing statistics to prove this annoying practice works, but I’ll give them a grudging pass for now.  I do imagine keeping the ADHD eyeballs of the world on this particular show is a nerve-racking task.

Books.  I cannot forgive authors who do this.  I cannot understand readers who lavish praise on the books written in Time Jumble.  Occasionally it is done in the television style, with a quick chapter of action to (hopefully) get the reader hooked and the proceed with the “dull stuff”.  Too often in my life I’ve read Time Jumbles that are substantial and not an action appetizer.  It is rather jarring to suddenly be thrust back into the protagonist’s past and stay there.  And it sucks the juice out of the entire book.  It becomes limp and nearly lifeless. Any attempt at suspense as we wander thru their past is gone.  Will he die in this teenage car crash??  No.  We were introduced to him as a middle-aged man.  Will he ever win the heart of his lifelong love??  Yes.  He and what I now realize is the woman in question were together in the future segment.  Will be indicted and imprisoned??  Maybe for awhile, but he wasn’t in jail, nor seemed a fugitive, in the future segment.

So, I maintain that readers don’t give a squeaky fart about the plot being spoiled.  They are only interested in how the writer painted a word portrait of characters or described the war-torn wasteland.  I can only assume the sequence of events leading up to these descriptions are a bottom priority in their literary enjoyment.

Me, I want those dazzling word descriptions and clever characterizations, but I want a strong plot to carry it all along.  Telling me straight away that nobody gets hurt except for a bruise on their arm is just stupid.

I await some kind of explanation.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Hobbit Day song

I just learned that September 22 is "Hobbit Day".

This composition erupted out of my fingertips.  

(To the tune of "Rockin' Robin") 

He hops in the Shire all day long,
Eating seven meals and singin’ his song.
All the mangy creatures on Middle Earth
Overlook the hobbits and can’t see their worth.

Hoppin’ hobbit (chew chew, chewedly chew)
Hoppin’ hobbit (chew chew, chewedly chew)
Oh, hoppin’ hobbit you really gonna quest tonight.

He don’t wear boots, doesn’t give them a chance,
Only bare feet let you really dance
He loves to party and bless my soul,
He’ll host an army in his hobbit hole.

Hoppin’ hobbit (chew chew, chewedly chew)
Hoppin’ hobbit (chew chew, chewedly chew)
Oh, hoppin’ hobbit you really gonna quest tonight.

Call for a dwarf and holler for a ranger,
Bad things are bringin’ a bucket of danger.
Whoop for a wizard, give an elf a shout
Pass the ring to the hobbit and let’s head out.

Hoppin’ hobbit (chew chew, chewedly chew)
Hoppin’ hobbit (chew chew, chewedly chew)
Oh, hoppin’ hobbit you really gonna quest tonight.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

The Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold
Peter Clines
2015 - Crown Publishing

I almost didn’t read this.  I have a collection of new books waiting to be read.  Whenever I scanned the list for a likely candidate, I skipped this one.  A couple of months ago, the rubbish work of an author named “Cline” left such a stench in my brain, the similarity in names put me off “Clines”

Fortunately, I overrode such irrational decision making and gave “The Fold” a try.

It’s GOOD.  I can’t say it’s “great”, but it more than held my interest. 

Clines’ writing is dynamic and full of pep.  The story moves right along with lively characters.  The hero, “Mike”, is very accessible despite his remarkable (but still human) abilities.  Rather than simply presenting a protagonist with a Holmesian level mind, Clines skillfully, and plausibly, rationalizes that Mike has been downplaying his mental acuity since childhood in the name of Having A Normal Life.  As a result, we ease comfortably into the shoes of this chap who is hanging off the end of the human abilities bell curve.   The secondary supporting cast are all well-constructed and fun.

The story.  How to describe this without spoiling anything?  From luck, native ingenuity and/or years of reading science fiction, I deduced the Big Plot Twist very quickly.  Only by reading dozens of online reviews will I maybe discover if I’m “special” or if many folks saw the Twist coming.  I ain’t gonna do that.  

The thing is, even as more clues were dropped and the mystery intensified, I kept enjoying myself.  Even when the crescendo reveal took place and I was 100% correct that “the butler did it”, I kept right on reading without pause or any feeling of disappointment.  Plenty going on.

The book won’t give you much to chew and reflect upon.  It’s a grand sci-fi adventure, but I can’t claim it to be “deep”.  Maybe I’m biased towards enjoying it.  That’s rather the way my own writing trends.

The downsides?  

There’s this sloppy, juvenile trend in modern writing to fill the narrative with pop culture geek references.  Some authors (the aforementioned Cline without an “s” for one) hurl this sludge by the shovelful.  Peter Clines keeps running and splashing thru that mud puddle, but he possesses the skill or awareness to then explain the reference.  Also, the references come from characters who are established as pop culture geeks, so it is legitimate, if increasingly tiresome, that they keep making these references.  

Thru 88% of the book, we stay firmly rooted in Mike’s point-of-view.  Thus, the three times Clines yanks us to another character’s view, the effect is a jarring, major speed bump in the prose. 

In summation, if you’re in the mood for some energetic sci-fi fun, I can recommend “The Fold”.  I’m going to see what else Mr. Clines has written…