Do Your Fight Scenes Need More Punch? How to Write Fight: Sentence Length

[Part One of a Three Part Series — Coming Up: Let the Reader Do the Heavy Lifting, and FINESSE: Making a Fight Experiential]

How to Write Fight isn’t a new topic.  Most of the topics I choose to write about aren’t new.  You can find articles about them in books and in blogs all over the internet, but writers new and old still ask the same questions.  Why is that?

It’s not for lack of access to the information, because we can all Google well enough for Google to take pity on us now and then.

Google Fight Search

However, how to write a fiction novel is a completely different story. (I’m so sorry. Q.Q)

Then what keeps us asking the same questions again and again?

Well, I’ve read more than a few articles on “how to write fight” so far, and while they all tend to have very nice observations from a reader standpoint, I feel like most of them lack a lot in the “how” department of “how to” for writers.

Avoid “generic settings”, “no casual conversations”, “general believabilty”.  These are all important points — I’m certainly not disagreeing with them–, but they are not the HOW of HOW TO.

So what is the how?

The first step is probably the step you all know the most:

1. Short Sentences

You know this one, but do you know the why of this one?

The passage of time.

Readers feel the passage of time with every word they read.  The longer it takes them to reach the end of a sentence or thought, the more time they feel has passed between the last action and the next.  So, when you have long purple prose describing things which are (no doubt) essential to the story, the reader feels more time has passed than if you give them a few simple passages about what exists.

For a fight, this means short, choppy, sharp sentences that convey the character of an action as much as the speed with which it happens.

 A little one fell.  Olem’s hammer fell harder.  The bodies piled up at his feet. 

A shield flew toward him in a screaming rage.  It splintered, exposing its master’s chest.  Also gone; a cavity where a man had been.

Two more screamed from behind.  The long hammer rose above his head to greet them in a heavy arc. 

One, two! 

Their screams joined the silence at his feet.

The blows weren’t accurate, but then, they didn’t need to be.  He lumbered through their ranks, breaking their force into hopeless shards.   

Not only does this read as a brutal fight, it reads as happening in mere instants.  One swing, another swing.  No time to process the violence left behind; just an impression.

Sentence length is directly proportionate to the perceived passage of time.

See its opposite, here:

A smaller fighter approached from the rabble.  His armor gleamed like new; likely little more than a boy, and a recruit at that.  It would be just like the count to recruit from the children of his county, conscripting them and doing little more than hand them a sword and a pat on the back before shoving them to the front line.

The boy had fought his way to the fore with barely a scratch on him, but balked at the size of the giant before him.  His eyes grew wide with terrible realization, but the hammer was already in motion.  He was dead before he hit the ground.  The hammer chased him down to splatter the contents of his helm across the already blood-soaked ground.

An older man, one with a shield — not likely the child’s father, given the cast of his features–, came screaming from the chaos to his right. 

Olem’s hammer met him half-way, colliding with the flimsy shield the man thought strong enough to protect him.  The shield shattered instantly (as likely did the man’s arms), exploding into fine splinters, which rained down upon the combatants in a dangerous mist. 

The shield had dissolved like tissue in a river, and the hammer continued, unabated.  It punched through the man’s chest, ignoring the elaborate cuirass now barely holding him together, and lobbed his startled shell to the side as Olem swung for another little soldier.

His body joined the growing heap at Olem’s feet to contribute the wet essence of his life to the river of death staining Hadron’s Field.

This certainly does say more, but do you feel the action has been moving at an active pace?  Or does this feel more like the ghostly ride-along during a slow-motion fight scene?

If it seems more like the latter than the former, it probably has a lot to do with the sentence length.  It’s not that all of that information is useless, or distracting; it’s that all that information slows down the pacing.  The perceived amount of time between each blow increases, so the reader has to literally suspend imagining the action to process the rest of the information being offered.

Use this to your advantage and decide what KIND of fight you want to depict:  Is it full of choppy, evocative action?  Or is it a little more informative and introspective?  A balance between the two can make truly dynamic fights.

Which brings us to:

2. Varied Sentence Length

Take a look  at that first example again.  One of the things that helps the action forward is the varied length of the sentences.  This is important to note, because it keeps the passage from feeling repetitive, or cadence-driven.  It can feel very monotonous if the paragraphs all have similar sentence lengths.

Let’s see Olem demonstrate, again.

Spears came at him from the side.  They danced and jabbed at the air.  Olem braced his hammer on the ground.  He reached out with a mighty fist; spears snapped like twigs in his hand.  He used the hafts to swing the men.  Screams joined screams above him.  They flew off into the fray.  Little pockets opened where they landed.

Arrows flew, but just bounced off. 

His armor was of no fancy make.  Not like their elaborate shells.  His was hardened bronto hide; hide was enough with his thick skin.  They couldn’t pierce him if they tried.

Here is the danger of “short, choppy sentences”.  When you pursue “short sentences” over everything else, you can create a scenario that feels like this.  Each sentence alone may not even be bad, or use bad imagery, but when you stack them all together it’s a sea of sameness.

Even when you mix it up with semi-colons; the literal sentence is long, but the pauses and breaks cause it to conform to the same pattern.

SUPER PRO TIP!

When in doubt, read your passages out loud.  Record you or someone else reading them if you still can’t hear where something might be off.  Hearing your voice played back, or hearing how someone else interprets the pauses, can reveal where you need to focus the most when you next edit that section.

Remember: Sentence length = perceived passage of time.  That’s all we’re talking about here when we say sentences should be short for fight scenes.  That doesn’t mean “make them all short”.  It means when you’re writing, and when you read them over, ask yourself how much time you feel has passed between each action.

If it’s too sudden, add some color with a few more words.  If it’s too long, cut out some of that color to bring a sense of immediacy back.

That’s the balance of varied sentence length.

If you want a good formula, try: [Short].  [Short].  [Medium Long].  [Short].  [Long]. [Short].  [Short]

 

—-

Did you enjoy this post?  Do you disagree with anything discussed above?  Please join the conversation at http://www.frowzycafe.forumotion.com and let us know how you feel.

Tell ’em Cordy sent ya.😉

 

 

Leaden Skies

  

War came. Not as you would expect, on a fiery red horse, but from the Earth beneath us. War grew in the hollows we dug, and festered in the absences we left, waiting for release.

The media showed us pundits yowling about resource consumption — it wasn’t a question of “whether”, but “when”—, and no one could agree on what to do. They pointed at the weather preservers and sipped precious water from blank studio mugs. They waved at distant biospheres and greedily slopped down expensive off-world greens when the cameras looked away.  

But they didn’t talk about the mines.
It seemed like such a small thing then, when it started. Mines would close, dry as a bone, and new ones never opened. The jobless became the homeless, and, in time, the lifeless. A drain on government funding, some argued. Others were too busy dying in the streets to disagree. Favored sons and daughters rode the issue to office, where they lied about the silver.

Too soon they were raiding our hope chests — silver tableware, flatware, tea sets, jewelry, keepsakes, all gone to feed our collective need. It only delayed the inevitable, though. It wasn’t enough to keep catalytic converters in production, or water purifiers in working order.

That’s when we truly became cannibals. Not for flesh, but for resources. Anything and everything that could be scrapped to keep something else running was cannibalized to sate society, and whispers of war became national anthems when they decided someone else had more.

We gather at the county seat to hear the latest propaganda broadcasts on a radio cobbled together from leftovers and remnants; a Frankenstein’s monster of innovation. They speak equally of the bounty of our neighbors’ hoard, and the happiness of those who join the Reclamation to see it brought home.

Happiness.  

The happiness of the walking dead.  

Those proud few who join, never to see home again.

They say “such is the nature of war” from the comfort and security of their palatial bunkers. The rest of us mourn as we farm resources from fields of old technology, and sleep above-ground in fragile houses made of wood and ash.

When the bombs come, we will be the first to go. Then our Mary Shelley radios and Farnsworthian golems will sing to no one of the machinations of our leaders, or the bounty of our neighbors. They will stare at the leaden sky with reclaimed features fixed in place by warped fittings and ancient purpose.

And we will be gone, as if by design.

My great-grandmother thought we would kill the Earth with deforestation and global warming. In the end, though, it was never the planet we were killing; it was ourselves. The planet will limp along in our wake with more than enough microbial resources to start something new, but we will be forever gone.

I say none of this to my daughter as I tuck her into bed, though. For her, tomorrow is not set in stone.

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The Ravages of Time (and Egomaniacal Writers)

tardises

I still call myself a “Time Lord” (“Time Lady” when I’m being accurate with another fan), but I no longer call myself Whovian. And the period of time when I did call myself such was very small.

Mostly I blame Steven Moffat.

moffat

Pictured: The Face of Evil, collapsing under the weight of its own ego.

He wound us up with episodes like Silence in the Library, and Blink, which single-handedly (together) convinced us that his takeover as head writer would herald an age of darkness (in the good way), and Gothic horror.  You know, like that episode written by Neil Gaiman.

doctorswife2

The Doctor’s Something-Or-Other.  Wife.  That’s it.  (But which is what?!)

Instead, we got darkness (in the sad way), and a horrifying dismissal of all pre-established lore in the Whoverse, including things he, himself, established in the episodes he wrote under Russell T. Davies. And all of it executed in such a short-sighted infantile fashion — why, the first three seasons under his reign played out more like the convoluted fever dreams of a child-fan than an accomplished, professional writer. I actually accused him (though not to his face, because we’ve never met — and ONLY because we’ve never met) of using his own childhood fan fiction (complete with hand-decorated giant binder) as the basis for every episode he wrote.

Back Camera

And this is just what he wrote in third grade!  He really is a genius.

Every episode was an extreme; going from “How’s your tea?” to “WE’RE LITERALLY ALL DYING RIGHT THIS SECOND!” and back down to “What do you suppose you’ll wear for dinner?” by the end, you were either exhausted, or completely disengaged when the credits rolled. And, where before you could track the progress of tension through an entire season (with peaks and valleys for each episode), a Moffat season told you in the beginning what the Big Bad would be (or at least what to look out for), and then spent very little time laying actual groundwork for it. His energy went into packing a season’s-worth of excitement into a single episode. Every episode. And everything was wrapped up by the end in a tidy little ribbon. I’m sorry, Steven Moffat, but there are only so many times you can threaten me with the Doctor’s “super-for-reals-this-time-you-guys” death before I stop caring about it, or any danger you try to make me believe he’s in.

Seriously. You’ve proven he’s basically invulnerable and he’s never going to die, so it doesn’t matter what kind of danger he’s in. Yawnsville all the way.

Defeating the Silence

Because, honestly, it was never about whether or not he COULD die. It was about our emotional connection with him in the moment.

With Russel T. Davies and David Tenant we cared that enough damage to his body meant he wouldn’t be Ten anymore, because the Doctor spent so long being desperately afraid of it.  He dreaded this thing — this prophesied thing– so much, he fought as hard against its inevitability as he fought against anything threatening the universe. He went out of his way to put an end to it, to fight what he thought was it. Avoiding the “end of his song” consumed him. So when it finally came and it wasn’t even the apocalyptic scenario he’d spent so much time and energy fighting, we all cared.  Our stomachs plummeted with his when we all realized what it meant.

A lot of that came from within. The Tenth Doctor wanted to remain the Tenth Doctor. It wasn’t the idea that the Doctor was dying and would never live again that made us cry so hard; it was the fact that he so desperately didn’t want to go, and that he had no choice. We mourned that Doctor, because we also knew it was inevitable and unstoppable, because we spent a season fighting his demons with him, and we saw it catch him anyway. He’d cheated regeneration once! But that window had well and truly passed.  There was no way out, and we all knew it.  We spent a whole episode saying goodbye to everyone he loved — everyone we loved — with him.
And then we all cried our hardest when the regeneration finally came.

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When Ten arrived, he taught us that the Doctor is always the Doctor, no matter which Doctor he happened to be at the time. But when he left, he taught us that the Doctor dies every time he’s born again.

All of this mattered, because they took the time to connect us to the moment, and that moment was telegraphed through time with the beating of two hearts heard as drums in the Master’s mind, and four innocent knocks on a simple radiation-proof glass door, specifically so that moment would punch us in the collective gut.

dw_4x18_the_end_of_time_2528pt_22529_0669

And it worked.

But, in the Moffat seasons I see episodes that establish an enemy as being the single worst thing to ever happen ( … to exposition). Because that’s how we learn how terrible they are. Not through reactions, or behavior, or casual mention in any moment before, but exclusively in the episode in which they’re meant to be a threat, and exclusively in the Doctor reciting a galactic Wikipedia entry about the threat.  All of time and space to pull from (all the 50+ years of history), and even if the enemy is brought in from the past, there’s a mountain of exposition to contextualize the encounter just for that episode, because it has no greater impact on the rest of the season more often than not.

That is, if it’s not one of the Big Three.

I see convoluted plots attempting to blow our minds with the level of their creativity, but it all means so little to me. It’s all so much “look at what I’ve built!” that I’ve mostly written it out of the lore in my head; it was too damn awful to acknowledge.

River Song

Pictured: As much context per moment as I felt from Moffat’s writing.

 

The final Matt Smith season saw improvement, and a lot of that came from the fact that Moffat was no longer the lead writing name on EVERY of the episodes. Other writers were allowed to take the lead for different episodes, and it got so much better.

Though for me, sadly, it did not improve enough.

For now, when I see promotional pictures, or even something as iconic and once-beloved an image as the TARDIS … I just scroll past. I want nothing to do with it.

The same three enemies recycled endlessly. Dalek, Cybermen, The Master. Dalek, Cybermen, The Master. Eventually, they’re all meaningless; the punchlines of jokes people stopped telling a long time ago.  We don’t believe you when you say they’re defeated.  It worked in the beginning, because we legitimately weren’t expecting them.  Now we know they’ll always be there, so there’s no point pretending they’re gone, even for a minute.

Everything about the show is meaningless for me, now. They don’t give me time or a reason to care about anyone or anything in that universe, anymore. And what reason they do provide, they give through exposition, informing me why I’m SUPPOSED to care, instead of giving me the opportunity to want to care.

I made myself watch the first Capaldi season, as I made myself sit through the terrible Matt Smith seasons (terrible for Moffat, not for Matt), but I finally had to give up.

There’s only so much that love of the Davies years can overcome, and I have gone well past that limit, already. I’ve been clinging to the love of something already gone, and the hope for something that can never be under this Moffat regime, and, as with any relationship with people who have grown too different, there eventually comes a day when you have to admit that what you loved and what you cling to are no longer the same, and it’s time to let it go.

I used to be a Whovian, and for Nine and Ten, I shall quietly remain a fan, but my love ends there. As, sadly, does any last trace of interest in the show.

 

—-

Adalind Monroe is a writer in the Pacific Northwest who is very sorry to end on such a sad, sad note, but it couldn’t be helped.  If you made it this far, she rewards you with a sleepy puppy sticking his tongue out.

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The Internet’s Terrible Twos

I think the internet is growing up.

I know what you’re thinking, but listen.

When I was younger — when most of us, in fact, were younger– the internet didn’t know what it was. WE didn’t know what it was. It was like “Here. Here is this thing I have. In fact, here is everything. I don’t know what to do with it, but I have it, and now so do you.”

We all found our little corners, and if we couldn’t find a corner we had the freedom to build one for ourselves.

It was a magical and lawless time, as I’ve said before.

Wild Wild AOL

Yeah, like that.

During this period, the internet was a thought form, an entity yet to be.  It was like the early days of Earth, before the primordial ooze glooped out its first amoebas.

Today, it is the first complex organism to not only discover dry land, but to discover it has the ability to walk on it without dying.

Primordial Mind Blown

Phil told him he would live, but Roger had to see it for himself.

Or, to put it a different (some might say “better”) way, it is a toddler discovering that the world exists, independent of itself, and that, despite this, people outside its immediate experience can still have the same thoughts and feelings it has, and this blows its fucking mind.

astonished-baby

OMG, YOU LIKE ELMO??

Are you really that surprised other people put your thoughts to words? Like, are you seriously having a “mind blown” moment? Do you know what words like “amazing” and “astonishing” even mean? You should, you have Google in you.

Google - Astonished

Yet every time you use them, you diminish their impact, because so often what you call “astonishing” and “amazing” is so obvious, matter-of-fact, everyday, and, frankly, common-sensical that I’m left wondering if the tumblr post you shared was actually amazing for you, or if you linked the wrong post and didn’t realize it.

Either you have no idea how to use these words accurately, or, like a child first becoming aware that the world around them is more than a hologram of their own devising, you really are unbelievably astonished by someone describing with words what you, yourself, have thought.

Michael Cera

Is it?  But is it, though? Or does it make a normal amount of sense.

See, I’m baffled, because I thought we were all pretty well aware of the fact that, while we do live separate lives with our own individual perspectives, we are still experiencing the same events, more or less, and often that means we have similar thoughts. Most people — I should say, at this point, “grown ups” for the sake of the analogy– nod and agree when someone else says something they were thinking, or had previously thought.

“Yes, my thoughts exactly.”

But you. You, Baby Internet, you scream like Criss Angel just descended from the heavens and delivered you the puppy you saw at the adoption fair a week ago. (HOW DID HE FUCKING KNOW?!) You drop your jaw to the floor and a small nuclear explosion consumes everything in a three mile radius from the force and velocity with which you add the message to your social media post.

Introvert Problems

Internet. It’s only Michael Cera. We all know he’s awkward, sweetie. Shhh. Everyone wants the food they see on TV; it’s why advertising works.  Lots of people are socially awkward and introverted (which are not the same thing, but may go together); you are not alone, no matter how much you enjoy being so.  This isn’t quite Cave Johnson talking about combustible lemons, here; I really don’t think we need POTAToS levels of enthusiasm to show our agreement.

But this is a lesson you will learn in time, Internet. You finally have context for all the words and stories and images we flooded you with at your inception, and you can’t help but scream your wonder at the world around you.

I know.

I understand.

That’s why I want you to enjoy this while you can, because we’re going to get really sick of your shit when you hit puberty, and I can’t guarantee we won’t find a way to ground you.

—-

Adalind Monroe is a writer from the Pacific Northwest with a serious flea problem, right now.  You guys don’t even understand.  Combustible lemons are a serious option.

You can read some of her short stories linked in the nav menu above, but none of them have explosions.  Yet.

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Why Are There So Many Ellipses?!

What goes through a person’s mind while posting when they use a string of ellipses between phrases?

Are there pauses in the thoughts they have while typing? Are these the ellipses of contemplation? Does each dot represent a moment of time passing for the poster while they consider their next words? If we listen hard enough, can we hear the gears of thought clicking between each dot?

Is each addition an afterthought? The things we think to say after we read what we’ve said and determine it has not been enough.

Are they unsure they mean to end the thought at all?

Why are there so many ellipses?!

I have a lot of role playing experience (the nerdy kind, not the — oh, stop it, you!)  I lived through the early Golden Age of the lawless AOL chat room frontier, where twenty people in a room meant so much scroll you couldn’t read your own post, let alone the post of the person with whom you were playing. It was a time when you made character profiles on Angelfire, and 8-bit animated backgrounds meant you were on the cutting edge of free web design (even though you definitely weren’t). And from these experiences in chat rooms and IM’s, I know that people actually feel the passage of time, or the elongating of the pause, the more ellipses they use.  This is actually very natural, as a reader feels the passage of time — between speech, between actions– the more words they have to read. This is why action sequences use short sentences to move the action forward, and also why descriptive passages make us feel like an entire day could have passed between the last thing the main character has done, and the next thing we see them do. There aren’t enough pages in the world to facilitate the practice of “more ellipses = more time”, though.  And, grammatically speaking, more dots does not mean more time has passed since the speaker stopped speaking.

Officially, the ellipsis is used to indicate a pause, especially in the case of thought or speech.  They are also used to indicate a quote is part of a sentence which begins and/or ends before/after the section quoted ( i.e. “[…] more dots does not mean more time has passed […]”).

IMG_0521-0

“here i am………….. being a grammar nazi…………. #winning”

However, in both cases, three is the limit.  Unless you’re ending the sentence with ellipses, in which case also add a period.  Four dots, total.

But then there’s the shorthand world, the world of social media and “casual” speech, which either follows no rule of grammar, or follows some unique permutation of grammar excusing the lack of coherence, all of which is somehow protected under the “I’m just typing casually” umbrella.  (If you’re reading this in a tone which indicates I disapprove, you are very good at interpreting my style.  Gold star.)    Here I think we return to the world where “more dots = more time”, but sometimes I still don’t understand why.  Like, obviously I get that this is what is … sometimes (?) intended (?), but I guess I just don’t 100% believe that to be true.

I just don’t know why it’s done.
Why are you pausing so long?  Why did you not just end the sentence and start a new one?  Isn’t one dot less effort than twelve?  What does it all mean?!

—-

Adalind is a confused and deeply emotional writer suffering an existential crisis over the flagrant misuse of punctuation.  You can find some of her short stories linked above, and others floating around the internet like little literary orphans (none of them named Annie or Oliver).

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Stop Buying E.L. James a Yacht!

E.L. James (author of the Fifty Shades of Grey blight) is publishing a guide for writers, and it’s all our fault.

Can we just take a moment to sit down and think, though?  Cause I need a breather before I get into this.  And maybe a stiff drink.  (I said drink, cool it!)

It’s been four hours; do I need to call someone about this?

Personally, I feel sick to my stomach and I’m not sure I even recognize reality right now.  I look at my face in the mirror, and all I see is this disgusted look of bemusement, and I can’t get my eyebrows to stop doing that thing.

Why, Universe?  Why MORE Fifty Shades of Grey buzz?  Y U DO DIS??

I’ve been upset for a while, as many of you may know, about everything even tangentially related to Fifty Shades (including, but not limited to, the loss of the phrase “it’s all just shades of grey”), but just I can’t live in the negative space necessary to be the kind of upset Fifty Shades deserves. I actually have to step away from the topic entirely to de-stress and forget, for a minute, that Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more copies than the entire Harry Potter series, that E.L. James is now considered one of the highest paid authors in the world, and that she’s about to publish a guide to help other writers be [sarcasm] as talented and successful as she is[/sarcasm].

My mind is reeling from that last statement.

First I experienced Disbelief.  “Oh my god,” I said to my little dog, who was fast asleep, and also didn’t care, “E.L. James thinks she has valid advice to give.  Which, of course she does, because she’s the Messiah of Writing, now.  Have you not seen her bank money?”

Following the Stages of Grief, I experienced the briefest flare of Anger.  “This is going to ruin writing (and therefore, all life,) forever,” I thought, with no trace of hyperbole.

Then I skipped on to Acceptance, because ain’t no one got time for this, and thought “I have to share this,” because suffering is more bearable when shared.

But . . . how?

How do I share this with the people I know?  Even if they don’t think Fifty Shades is Abuse, they can at least see the objectively terrible prose for what it is.  How do I share this without feeding the negativity spiral and have us all chanting Satanic spells in the hopes one of them puts an end to this, the Darkest Timeline?

 

My Darkest Timeline survival kit.

And then I remembered the only line of thought that allowed me to fall asleep the last time I was so upset by the series; change the conversation.

Instead of calling Time of Death on quality in literature as we know it, we need stop bad literature from winning.

Now, our first instinct in this situation is to be appalled at the very notion that a writer with as little appreciable talent as James could even begin to instruct other writers in the craft.  This is considered a native instinct, up there with “fight or flight” and knowing it’s only a matter of time before Justin Bieber becomes his own religion.

 

Clearly, this has already happened.

 This serves two purposes: 1) To prove you have a brain, and 2) that it’s still working.

Working brain intact, we are right to be appalled by this news, because new, impressionable writers may look at James’ success and think “Writing sounded hard when I talked to those masochists typing on finger nubs and drinking way too much coffee.  To hell with that noise!”, and the next thing you know the stuff the internet was ashamed to show you becomes the next best sellers on all the shelves, because E.L. James is to literature what “reality” is to TV.

At least, that’s the fear.

This is, of course, ridiculous, because as long as there are writers with passion, there will be quality in literature.  The bigger (and by far, scarier) question lurking within that fear, though, is “After this, will quality writing even matter?”

I say “Yes.  But only if you make it matter.”

If you want to see quality published, you have to put effort into quality writing.  No brainer, right?

But here’s a problem.  The majority of writers seeking publication face a real uphill battle far beyond applying every trick, tip, and hard-won skill they ever paid a workshop to learn; writers are looking to craft the best, most engaging story they can manage without killing themselves (please), but publishers are looking for something they can sell.  If the two happen to coincide, so much the better, but what the writer pours into their craft often isn’t what the publisher is looking for when they turn the first page.

And that’s all before E.L. James publishes the lazy self-help version of a writer’s guide. (It has blank lined pages at the end for writers to “set down their own ideas, or ‘inner goddess'”, as all good lazy self-help books do, not because fluffing out pages, but because people interested in writing never keep paper or, say, computers around to facilitate “setting down” their ideas, so it’s really considerate of James to make sure space is provided for them, and not lazy at all.)

But, it’s not like writers have been unaware just how screwed over they are when they plight their troth with an established publisher — those authors who are successful were at least somewhat aware of the flaming hoops they’d be forced to hump in order to see their manuscript polished and shipped to bookshelves across the . . . well, county, probably — country if the publisher thought they could push it.

  
SPOILER ALERT: Publishers haven’t softened over the years.

If anything, they’ve figured out how to squeeze even more money out of every venture with the least amount of effort or risk on their part.  The writer does all the writing, and most of their own marketing, and almost all of their own promotion and public event managing until the publisher feels they’re enough of a safe bet to offer more.  If the author is really, really good at this, and makes enough money for the publisher, the author might catch some breaks for the future, and even see a cozy profit themselves.  I’m not saying they could live comfortably off that profit, but they could celebrate with a reasonably priced meal out on the town, and an off-brand bottle of champagne, if they used a coupon.

And I’m not pulling this out of my ass, either.  Search for articles around the internet designed to help writers, and once you get past the craft itself, it’s all about how to promote yourself.  Building a solid audience before you approach a publisher, for instance, illustrates to the publisher that you have the ability to market yourself (one less thing they have to worry about, then), and increases the odds your book will sell if they publish it. [relevant links attached – find them*]  That makes you a safer bet than an unknown author with no following and no internet presence.

Being an author isn’t glamorous.  Authors like J.K. Rowling are the exceptions to this publishing house sideshow, not the rule, and it’s still not without monumental effort that they succeeded.  But, her success is the fairytale we tell ourselves when we’re wallowing in writer’s block and too much mescal.  Rowling is the bedtime story we whisper before falling asleep, because picturing ourselves doing a talkshow circuit to give the breathless public insight into the mysteries of our process makes it easier to keep plugging away at the keyboard to just finish the damn manuscript.

I know, I know.  All of this sounds really depressing, which is probably because it is really depressing.

That was the conversation.  This is why we’re changing it.

Until recent years, it was both difficult and not terribly profitable to self publish — even if you did it, it could actually cost you a lot, and you were unlikely to reach much of an audience — but, thanks to glory of the internet, now it’s as easy as hitting the upload button and spamming every community you’ve ever joined until someone reads it. (It’s like success . . . .)  You could also go through outfits like Smashwords and Amazon, and get yourself free ISBN numbers, or take a more hands-on approach to make physical copies through CreateSpace, and similar, to distribute yourself.  (Pros and cons are a completely separate topic.  Stop it.)  The point is, it’s not a choice between printing in your basement, or bending over for the Rod of Publishment, anymore.
 

Pictured: Please don’t search for “rod” and “punishment” in the same keyword string.

 

We have options; we shouldn’t be afraid to use them.

If the publishers don’t want to take the risk on good prose, and you’re expected to do your own promotion, anyway, why not check out the indie scene?

But there is a second component to all of this; the reading public.  If everyone today loved War and Peace, E.L. James would have been sacrificed before Justin Bieber on the day of his birth, and writers would be rewarded for investing the time, effort, patience, and bouts of screaming insanity it takes to do what we do.  But we are not fortunate enough to live in that reality.

There is something we can do about it, though: Starve the publishers of the kind of public grateful for a series of books as thematically complex as a holiday dinner at Honey Boo-Boo’s. (Logan, shut up.)
 

Pictured: Character Development

 

The only reason publishers can get away with printing books barely edited to prevent copyright infringement is because people keep buying them.  I know you probably don’t personally know three-hundred-million people whom you can convince to not buy something, but that shouldn’t stop you from talking to those you do know.  I mean, it’s probably too late for all those grown-ups you know, all approaching thirty for the last twenty years, and watching their bodies slow down to die, but the young people can still be reached.  Teach kids to appreciate complexity, critical thinking and facing new challenges, and you’re going to have a generation of readers who aren’t looking for a book so simplistic in its execution it’s actually easier to read by repeatedly slamming it against your head.

I know this isn’t a perfect world — not everyone is going to automatically leap for Nietzsche and Dostoyevski (holy butts, I spelled both of those correctly on the first try!)–, but it’s only this far gone because we let it happen.

So, here’s the conversation: If you don’t like the idea of new writers giving in to the inner idiot we all have screaming obscenities at us, keep being better.  Stop buying idiot books written by idiots.  Discourage others from buying idiot books written by idiots.  You know how idiots get published?  The idiot public makes it profitable for idiot publishers (same thing?) to support bad prose, because it will sell better than a complex story written well by an author who cares.

—-
Adalind Monroe is a writer from a depressingly sunny part of Southern Oregon,  and hasn’t eaten since breakfast, so she’s really, really hungry now.
*I didn’t find them.😦 I was too hungry.  I have failed you.

[seppuku][/seppuku]

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Introverts are the Deepest, Most Socially Awkward, Anxiety-Riddled Geniuses You Know

It's a metaphor.  I'm not explaining it.

This is a metaphor. I’m not explaining it.

I hate Buzzfeed, because I keep getting suckered into looking at their “articles”, which inevitably have some title that makes it sound relevant to my life, but they’re terrible and almost never applicable.  In an unrelated matter, the title of this post is a lie.

Sorry.

Example of Buzzfeed’s Please Stop Thinking You Contribute to Society, gif-laden attempts at listicling, I give you this little gem.  I know people who consider themselves introverts who identify with a strange majority of these Things, and some of them maybe don’t hit me as hard because I get a lot of my alone time, but others are just like “Are you sure that’s not just social anxiety and being shy?”  Because being an introvert doesn’t make you socially awkward and uncomfortable with people, and it doesn’t make you hate interacting.  It can make it harder to sustain interaction over long periods, and large groups can drain us faster, but being introverted isn’t what makes someone hate groups and the people who comprise them.  Those groups misunderstanding and placing a lot of expectation and pressure on an introvert to be more like them can result in an introvert hating people, but it’s not introversion itself that is to blame.

Looking at something like “pretending to text during awkward alone moments at parties”, I don’t see introversion here.  I see discomfort from social anxiety.  As an introvert, I can say there are times I really enjoy being at a party and feeling totally isolated.  It’s like a magic bubble, where people and conversations swirl all around me, but none of them require my energy to maintain.  I can just drift and watch.  Feeling awkward when alone at a party is feeling like there’s some expectation of you to participate, and if you don’t participate, by golly you’d better have a good reason for it!  That’s not a symptom of introversion, that’s a symptom of social anxiety.

So too with “shopping alone”‘s added text, “Because shopping with friends is SO stressful. (They make you more inclined to buy things you don’t need; you’re always worried about who’s bored and who’s having fun; you have to try on everything in front of them.)”  Fixating on who’s bored and who’s having fun, or the pressure to buy and try things on is not a symptom of introversion.  Feeling drained, exhausted, and withdrawn while shopping with friends because it contributes to feeling overexposed is more symptomatic of introversion, and you may feel more susceptible to your anxieties, but that anxiety comes from something that isn’t, itself, introversion.

Now, things like “when you can email or IM a company for customer service instead of calling”, “recharging after a long stretch of socializing”, “writing (because it’s so much easier for you to process your thoughts by writing them down than by speaking them)”, and “cherishing your small group of close friends, as opposed to trying to maintain a huge circle of acquaintances”, these are things that run pretty universally throughout the introvert community (we don’t get together often if it requires leaving the house), and I can much more easily say they’re the result of the introversion, and not more likely some other problem.

For some introverts, it can feel like they really do hate people and socializing (and they’re all thinking silent, but very angry thoughts at me for saying they don’t), and being in public, or at parties, or out shopping is a genuine source of anxiety, because they know the people involved will only want to make them interact in ways that cause them to lose the most energy and take them furthest from their comfort zones, but the anxiety isn’t the introversion.  The anxiety is the reaction you have to the way others treat you through their lack of understanding or care for things you can’t really control.  Do I therefore think the people who experience these moments aren’t true introverts?  No, of course not, because you can be an introvert and still have high social anxiety, or be an introvert who is also very shy, or be an introvert with heaps of OCD, but proclaiming to the world that feeling socially awkward and worried about what people are thinking of you is part of being an introvert is like claiming that touching a light switch exactly thirty-two times every time you leave or enter a room is part of it as well, just because you’re an introvert who happens to have OCD.  If you feel these things, you may b an introvert who happens to suffer from social anxiety.

There are enough bite-sized articles disseminating misinformation about introversion as it is — since apparently it’s single-handedly responsible for all deep thought in the universe*–; don’t help it along by confusing social anxiety/shyness with being an introvert.  They can go hand in hand, but one is not the other, and they aren’t a package deal.  The terms introvert and extrovert really only refer to how you get your energy, or how you recharge when drained.  Extroverts recharge by being in group settings, and pull from those around them.  Introverts recharge by being alone, or with very little interaction from others.  So, while that list may have some things introverts (and, honestly, pretty much everyone else on the planet) like, some of the specifics assume traits that are completely inconsistent with the actual meaning of Introvert.

Here’s a thing for your short attention span, Internet.

Next Time: How to Apply Common Sense to Every Day Situations

Next Time: How to Apply Common Sense to Everyday Situations

If you want some less-than-bite-sized articles that actually do address introversion intelligently, and positively, here are a few I’ve found.  If you only read one article about introversion today (this blog doesn’t count), make it the first link; you won’t be sorry (assuming you want an understanding of what introversion and extroversion actually mean, and not some validation that you’re a deep, intelligent person, with thoughts far beyond the comprehension of more shallow, “extroverted” commoners, because if that’s what you’re looking for you, you can just walk off the tallest cliff right now).

The Introvert Fetish – Cyborgology

Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?  What It Means for Your Career – Fast Company

The Internet’s Love Affair with Introverts – Slate

Are Introverts Smarter Than Extroverts? – Huffington Post

Oh, and this guy’s a dick.  Introverts are In! – Bob Goldman, Townhall Finance

*”Do you have a penchant for philosophical conversations and a love of thought-provoking books and movies? If so, you’re a textbook introvert.” —

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Ben Affleck is Batman, and Your Angst is the Worst.

There are only so many ways you can hear or read “You know, I feel very strongly that Ben Affleck is the wrong choice for the new Batman movie, chief among the reasons being the fact that I believe he is very untalented and will not do the role justice.” When that opinion is phrased in any variation of “OMG, BEN AFFLECK AS BATMAN IS THE WORST! /WRIST!” it makes it that much harder not to want to set you on fire and 300 kick you into a pit of spikes.

I get we’re all pretty sure Ben Affleck is going to murder the role, and everyone who wants to emphasize giving him a chance will cite our previous uncertainty about Heath Leger giving way to more support and appreciation than not, but the internet and social media are so magical that within an hour of the announcement, it became old news. All news is old news on the internet, as anyone who has come across a funny picture on reddit three hours before it appears on FB will leap to tell you as condescendingly as possible, but this becomes extra true when it involves negative opinions about anything. These negative opinions quickly devolve from “This displeases me” into a group tantrum contest where I can only assume the winner is the person who manages to sound the most personally victimized by the decisions made by people who don’t know them, regarding the fate of things they love, or vaguely enjoy on occasion, but in a really specific way that will be completely destroyed forever by whatever just happened.

So, from this point forward, you’re whining. You’re a whiny, obnoxious, self-centered child-being who can’t let go of something over which you have no control, but which somehow dictates the rest of your entire life and ability to enjoy anything ever again. At least, that’s the impression I get from how vocal you are about the travesty that is, I guess, hiring Ben Affleck for anything, but especially letting him dress up as Batman.

But, you know, I guess it is WAY more important to have a fit over Ben Affleck and Batman than it is to be socially aware of literally anything else happening on this planet. No, you go ahead. The world’s problems will wait till you’re done.

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Journey to the Dark Crystal: A Writer’s Tale – Chapter 1

The internet is fairly buzzing with the news that the Jim Henson company and an imprint of Random House are looking for a new writer to pen the next book in the Dark Crystal legacy.  I may have seen the Author Quest page the day it was posted, I may have not, but it wasn’t long after starting that it was shuffled my way via Facebook.  My heart flipped a little with the excitement of what could be done, and sank with the emptiness where a story could have sat, but didn’t yet exist.  The truth is, I had fan fiction ideas for Labyrinth before I was tempted by any other material.  Maybe it was David Bowie dancing in tight pants, or the dialogue between Sarah and the four guards in the (buh-buh-buh-BUM!) Certain Death riddle (OooOooOooo!), but it resonated with me in away I could cling to more easily, I think.  However, as much as I consciously thought I loved Labyrinth more, Dark Crystal had already taken up a deeper residence in my psyche, biasing me toward the unlimited possibilities of that hazy realm between fantasy and sci fi it so effortlessly embodied.

One of the things I remember the most from my childhood and watching Dark Crystal was the Gelfling Wall of Destiny.  There was so much timelessness buried in the carvings, this knowledge that a thousand years ago the wall had been carved by hands that knew the written word, by minds that understood the importance of recording history, it impressed on me the weight of ages and the fathomless passage of time marked occasionally by moments preserved in stone and prophecy.  A monument against time and the transience of memory, a glimpse into the minds of the ancestors and a promise of what was to come, the Wall of Destiny was the single most important aspect of the Dark Crystal to me, and became the seed of everything I’ve poured into Eleasia, Prince of Darkness, and nearly every other project I’ve held most dear.

When I was old enough to really analyze what Jim Henson and Brian Froud had done with their team to develop Dark Crystal, I realized I wasn’t merely watching a good movie, I was experiencing everything behind the movie.  To be specific, I could feel the influence of that special brand of fantastical sci-fi that was held over from the 1970’s; I felt the implied history of an ageless world with more whispered of off screen than could be expressed on; and, most recently, I felt the the sense of compulsory motion behind the actions of both the urRu and the Skeksis, which intrigued me most of all.

The opulent costumes of the Skeksis spoke of an almost vulgar level of flamboyance, each trying to outdo the others, but the faded lace and frayed hems spoke of a passage of time so great that all the posturing became a matter of course, happening by rote, not passion.  They had the same arguments, the same shifting alliances repeating over and over as their pool of comrades dwindled to eight, and the dull-edged blade of madness crept into the isolation of their reality.

The urRu do not appear exempt from this decay, though their activities do seem more benign, as they made their sand paintings with an air of meditative repetition rather than guided intent, and tracked the movements of the stars, and recorded their thoughts in the fabric of their coats.

For both, life is an imitation of living, a compulsory existence of movement and action punctuated occasionally by moments of lucidity.  They have spent so much time in their separate forms that the urRu and Skeksis have essentially reached a state of entropy, where memory of their origins and the why behind their actions has decayed to a point of equilibrium against the necessity to continue acting, because anything less would be to die, and I think enough of an urSkek spark remained to keep them clinging to routine so they could one day be made whole again.

I don’t have a plot just yet, and tonight I begin the adventure of The World of Dark Crystal, but I can tell you what will guide my hand throughout the writing process; paying homage to a man who never let the limitations of what others thought could be done define what he knew was possible.  I write this for you, Jim.  Thank you for never being anything other than who you were.  You are, and always will be, my greatest hero.

I was too young when I fell in love with the Dark Crystal to have a life established enough on any course to have it changed when I was exposed to his work, so I can’t say he changed my life.  What he did impart, or rather, what I took from his work, was the essence of what would help me define the shape I would want my life to take.  Without his vision and passion available to me at the time, I don’t believe I’d be where I am today, passionate about my art, dedicated to writing more than a well-told sequence of events, and reading up every extent Dark Crystal book I could get my hands on to deepen my affinity for the vividly painted and desperately ancient world of Thra.

Yes, I am throwing my hat in the ring for the Dark Crystal’s Author Quest, and I encourage all of you to do the same, because without our adoration of this work it could not continue surviving and thriving thirty years later, and I firmly believe the world in which we let the Dark Crystal die is a hollow word of less wonder, magic, and beauty than our own.

I’m terrible about chronicling progress on anything, but this is one of those projects that sings deep inside me, like an urSkek song of surpassing beauty, sorrow, longing, and joy in need of expressing, but not entirely native to my senses, and if I can help anyone else discover the unique and earnest wonder of The Dark Crystal, and of Thra, and of Aughra, of the intrepid Gelfling, the tragic Skeksis, and the lonely urRu through my own exploration and self-discovery, then it will be all the more worthwhile in the end.  With any luck, and maybe a little less procrastination, I’ll keep you apprised of the journey I take as I become a part of the world of The Dark Crystal, and the magic of Thra.

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The Teapot

The kids didn’t come ’round anymore. No one really came ’round anymore.

The teapot looked out from the china cabinet at an empty dining room, the table and chairs long since covered in sheets to protect against the dust. Wan, yellow light occasionally spilled from between the drapes hung across the windows to the back porch. It remembered warm summer days and tea with the children, their laughter echoing through its steaming interior, dampened only slightly by the tea cozy She would wrap around it. Those were the happy days.

All too soon it seemed its adventures beyond the china cupboard became rare and infrequent, only seeing the occasional tea cup when the nurses served Her in the cool shadows of the bedroom. Eventually, even the nurses stopped bringing it out, even to keep it free of dust and ready for Her need.

The lights went out, and the furniture was shrouded. The nurses left, and the house become still.

Then the lights came back, but She was not with them. People, people it had never seen milled about the house, touching chairs, moving paintings, and rummaging through drawers. The teapot was taken from the cupboard and turned every which-way. So many hands, so many faces.

Finally, a warm pair of hands, hands it knew had touched a life-time, held it close. These hands felt right. They weren’t Her hands, but they were like Her hands.

She spoke to a man and gave him something. The teapot wore newspaper as it had worn the cozy She had knit for it before. Nestled in its newspaper bed, it dreamed. It dreamed of new children, new laughter to hold in its belly on summer afternoons. It dreamed of new teas, teas it had never before brewed. It dreamed of a new kitchen and a new Her to whom it could belong and serve faithfully.

It dreamed. And when it woke, it was upon a new shelf, with new cups and chinaware. Light poured in through open windows with sheer, airy curtains spread wide to welcome it in. It woke to the feeling of home, and a new sense of purpose.

She looked at it, and it looked at Her, and She smiled.

It was home.

—–

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]

Came across a Tweet from TheWritePractice.com — I guess it’s a month old, but I only noticed that after writing my story.  The concept is still solid and fun, so I decided to go ahead and post it, since they’re the ones who Tweeted the page again.  Anyway, it was a fifteen minute challenge to write a story from the perspective of an inanimate object.  As soon as I thought “teapot watching life from a kitchen” I had the story.

I wrote it and edited it in the fifteen minute allotted time, and once my alarm went off I made no additional changes, so this is the result of the warm-up as is.  I hope you enjoyed it.

– Adalind Monroe

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