May You Write Interesting Books 2

*Yes, I AM keeping holiday hours.  All the guys are home on vacation.  DEAL.*

I’m writing this as a series.  When it’s done I’ll compile it, clean it up and put it up for download in a few formats, for something like $3.99.  Might throw it on Amazon, too, if it looks worth it. Needless to say if you want to hit the donate button instead, and make a note on the paypal field
that it’s for May You Write Interesting Books, I’ll send you a copy when cleaned/compiled.  Oh, btw, I’ll also be taking suggestions for other seminars on writing.  I’ve considered doing something like a “self directed workshop” with suggested exercises you can do on your own or with your writing group.

It’s Dead Jim

So, you finally finished you magnum opus, with a thousand elephants, flawless world building, characters that are so real and raw that it makes your throat close up with unshed tears every time you think about it.  You have proofread it till the wax melts in your ears when you read the beginning paragraph.  You give it to your first readers (you do have first readers, right?  If not hit some random first readers on the head, drag them to your evil lair and subject them to your experiments.  A piranha tank helps. They learn right fast when it’s becoming good first readers or being skeletonized.  Just saying.)  You wait with baited *1 breath (we really need to talk about your three earthworms everything morning habit) and…

And they all come back and tell you “I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages, I kept falling asleep.”  Or worse, they don’t tell you anything.  There’s been an epidemic of sudden hair hygiene among your first readers, and shampoo consumption is through the roof; everyone’s aunt Minnie felt very sociable, suddenly; they all suffered mysterious medical ailments involving sleeping sickness.  Etc.

Now you’re sitting there, at the kitchen table, looking at all 1200 printed manuscript pages (yeah, this is autobiographical, deal) crying into your coffee and wondering if you’ll ever have what it takes to write with the big boys and girls and – this being science fiction – all the people who have to look in their pants every morning to figure out which one they are (notthatthereisanythingwrongwiththat, and let the one of you who is without oddness cast the first stone.)

Don’t worry about it.  We’ve all been there.  I’d be willing to bet you cash money that Shakespeare, at some point, knocked on Marlowe’s door and went “I read my first lines at the Mermaid last night and everyone fell asleep.  Oh, no, what do I do now?  Will I ever be a writer?  I mean, one who doesn’t put audiences to sleep?”  (To which Marlowe answered, “What you need is more boys and tobacco” but that’s besides the point.)

Sure you will.  Let’s get you fixed up.  First, stop crying into your coffee.  It makes it taste terrible.  Unless you’re drinking Folgers decaf, in which case anything might be an improvement.  Now, dry your tears and listen up.

If you’re putting your audiences to sleep that quickly, you are starting that book wrong.  Look, I’ve been there.  I occasionally still am.  This is bound to happen PARTICULARLY with well-researched/thought out books.  When you have an entire world in your head, particularly if it’s truly an original world that you can’t figure out from having read a thousand like books, you feel like you need to level set the character first.  To an extent this is true, of course.  To another – oh, bother – you’re overthinking it.

The “oh bother” above is that I just realized this post will be at least two posts.  Never mind.  Carry on.  Not your fault or your problem.

I’ve been where you are, and I’ve started books with fifty page infodumps.  Nowadays when I do that one or the other of the critique coven will hit me hard on the nose with the 2×4 with the rusty nails.

If you’re tempted to do this, consider the following:

1- How much does your reader need to know on page one?

Okay, so your entire world runs on “magic” that is actually the effect of an alien symbion, who melds with a certain type of person, and who can be fed via blood sacrifice (the alien, not the person.  Well, the person too, but my characters prefer their flesh cooked.) Over the years a religion, full of symbolism and ritual, with gods that are the equivalent of animal avatars has grown around this, and the entire social system revolves around it.  Then there’s the history and the mad king and… (Stop laughing.  That’s the pre-minoan fantasy.  Shut up now.)

Does your reader need to know all this in the first chapter?  It might seem to you like he does, because then you can tell the story without worrying about bringing the narrative to a stop to explain.  But if you do it right, you won’t anyway.  And if you start with the infodumpus, they’ll never get to the action.  REMEMBER that they don’t HAVE to read your book.  It’s supposed to be fun.  (If you can get a school to assign your book, that’s all up, of course.  Be as boring as you wish, then.)

All I needed to start that book was two of the main characters sacrificing a bull, the evocation of the supernatural “other” they both host, the reason they’re doing it (scrying.)  The rest gets explained along the way, or rather, explains itself.  Like, when the main character heals a dying prince with the help of his symbion.

Part of the psychological mechanism to make that transition involves:

2 – How much do you need to control what your reader sees?  Oh, sure, you know, you have a picture in your head, and you want the reader to see the same picture, but is it NEEDED?  Does it matter, if it involves nothing in the plot, if your character is a ravishing blonde or a plucky brunette?  Yeah, most of us feel the need to make sure that AT LEAST our readers see our main character properly, but is it NEEDED?

My friend Becky (Rebecca Lickiss) in her excellent Eccentric Circles  never describes the POV character.  This doesn’t in any way detract from enjoyment of the book.  Daphne de Maurier never NAMES the POV character of Rebecca – this is still one of my favorite books.

But if you feel a need to describe your character, do it.  Just do it quickly then jump out of the way (I do so) but consider, seriously consider how much description do you need?

Do the readers need to know the kitchen floor is linoleum (unless you’re setting the scene in a particular time) or will “the yellow floor” do?

If you’re like me, you like to form a picture in the reader’s mind, but does that picture need to be the exact same as in yours?

In this beta readers (UNTRAINED ones – remember the piranhas) are often a bane, because they think their job is to find something wrong, and therefore keep coming across things “you never explained.”  These are things no reader in their right mind would need explained or even notice are missing.  The mind just fills out the details missing.  BUT the beta reader looking for something to say in order to sound useful and intelligent will tell you things like “In the lifeboat bay, you never say what color the lifeboats are!”  Or “You don’t say how the lifeboat opens” or even “you don’t explain why it’s cheap to have these, but they can’t be more sophisticated.”  ALL of these were betas on DST when I was so young and stupid (conditions that often occur concurrently) that I TOOK them.  The result was twenty pages of bloat per ten pages of the existing Darkship Thieves, and a book that could kill people with boredom.  Before I sold it (thirteen years later!) I removed all that crap and went back to first version, then applied what I had learned since.

Be very careful on “do the readers need to know this?” or “Am I the boss of the readers?”  Remember, your purpose is to entertain.  If in their mind your deformed redheaded dwarf is a seven foot Adonis with black hair, perhaps they need that to stay with the book?  Mention it once, but don’t insist every reader remember it.  UNLESS it’s essential to the plot.  (As is in the one case I’m thinking of.)

Okay.  More tomorrow.  For now, meditate on what your reader REALLY needs to know.  And remember you’re not allowed to give quizzes.  Also, stock up on piranhas.

*1 this word intentionally misspelled because the author finds it funny.  Stay your criticism of the writer’s spelling.  Feel free to let loose with your criticism of the author’s sense of humor.  Be aware that you answer WILL be “thp.”

32 thoughts on “May You Write Interesting Books 2

  1. Fabulous! Where do I order piranhas?? Silly me, I thought *giving* *birth* to first readers was a brilliant idea. Now they’re both in college (18 and 21) and I don’t think even piranhas would get them to read my stuff. *And* I’ve invested so much time and energy in them that they know I wouldn’t *actually* damage them permanently.

    Can’t wait for the next installment!

  2. A useful exercise:

    Page down until you get to the first real action. Yes, right there — where Sir Fred realizes he’s outmatched and turns and runs from the mutant flesh-eating chihuahuas, with Mad Lady Gwendolyn’s demented laughter ringing in his ears over the yapping.

    Got it? OK, go back to the beginning of that paragraph. If the paragraph before it is dialogue, go to the beginning of that one. Put the cursor there.

    Now: Hold down CTRL and SHIFT. Press HOME.

    DON’T LOOK AT THE SCREEN! Press DEL.

    Press ENTER twice, and re-type CHAPTER ONE. Press ENTER twice more.

    Now, at your option, you may add NOT MORE THAN TEN WORDS to the first two paragraphs, to add the absolute minimum necessary orientation.

    See? Looks better, doesn’t it? The technical term for that is “in media res“, which is Latin, as if you cared. It isn’t always the perfect way to begin a book, but when all else fails it’s a handy fallback that almost always works.

    Regards,
    Ric

    1. No, no, not delete! Press “cut,” open a new file, and paste it all in there! Much less traumatic (and therefore more likely to get done) and you get to mine it for scraps of description or that one absolutely brilliant quip that can go somewhere else.

      Last book I finished, I had at least 3 false-starts to chapters that I wound up sticking in the scrap-file, then mining for dialogue I wanted. The bath-house confession of love got moved to a rooftop, but the sentiment was still there, y’know?

      1. Beth, exactly right! I have snippets of scenes labeled with key words or phrases that tell me what’s in them. Sometimes you can use the ideas or even dialog in different works entirely.

      2. Nah. What you’ll end up with is a disk littered with files, each with a great wodge of soporific strong enough to need a prescription. My own is strong circumstantial evidence in support.

        Rule: If it was good, it will be better when you write it again — practice doesn’t make perfect in all cases, but it virtually always means improvement. Tell the truth, now. How much did you really save by recycling that scene instead of writing it new? And how many continuity-checking passes did it take to get rid of the soap dish on the chimney, the loofahs on the roof-tiles, and other immersion-wrecking incongruities?

        Rule: The surest sign that it needs to go is… that you can’t bear to part with it. Nuke it. The next version will be better.

        Regards,
        Ric

        1. I believe, Ric, you’re missing the point. At least when *I* do it, I don’t “copy paste” — I have the original to use as a reminder of something when I write it fresh in the new setting.

          Think of it as a sketch book. And artist will have sketches of birds, of hands, of eyes … things that might be needed in a later composition that will be *redone* — but I have the sketches as reminders of the original idea.

          I have descriptions of characters, bits of dialogue, literal sketches of floor plans of buildings, space ships, or maps of cities (you don’t want to know about the 1 block to four inches map(s) I have of Manhattan in 1886 — takes, IIRC, 18 of them to cover the entire island, and they’re four feet x four feet).

          I’m not going to jettison things that will be useful later because a “disc is cluttered”???? I file them in folders, I can put my hands on them in an instant. “Cluttered disc”? That sounds more Freudinly anal than being an actual problem 😉

          1. Lin
            While I keep stuff to “remind me of the feel” or rekindle the idea, I don’t really keep fragments to insert/key into stuff. Ric is right that those always fit ODDLY.

            As a passing note, Ric has sold more copies of his first novel than I have of any four of mine until DST, and having read his book (Am re-reading it now) there are reasons, so… er… I tend to listen to Mr. Locke (sir.)

            1. I don’t keep stuff to “insert” — thought that’s exactly what I said when I said, “I don’t “copy paste””? Or wasn’t I clear enough?

              I just don’t throw out everything thinking “oh, I can write that better later” — I keep it to remind me *to* write it later 🙂 I don’t copy it word for word — I build on the original idea.

              OTOH, everybody writes their own way 🙂

              1. Lin,
                I didn’t think you inserted. I was just warning that there needs to be DISCIPLINE to not follow what you have. For instance, for years I had an opening for DST with her being called for a “medical exam”. I wrote five versions ALL with that opening, before I looked at it and questioned that first decision. The dead hand of the past can bind you more than you think. If you’re rewriting something anew, it’s best to go from fuzzy memory. Your memory tends to save the BEST parts. IF on the other hand you have a cold and are reading your old crap (well, mine is) and come across something that makes you go “ooh. I know how to do this now” that’s different. On the other hand, note this doesn’t apply to research, wroldbuilding notes, etc. Those you should save, because if you do four series, by the time the rotation comes around again, you WILL NOT remember even the plot of your book.

        2. Ric,
          I save stuff I couldn’t quite pull off — but not for reinserting. It’s just years later, re-reading stuff I was trying to do, I go “Oh, duh” and can write the story anew. But, yes, once it’s sparked, I put it in the drawer and write afresh.

          1. Yeah, I do too, and for much the same reason. Even while I’m working, it can be handy to look at the cutting-room-floor stuff to get ideas from, and quite often there are bits of worldbuilding (timelines, especially) that turn out to be useful. As you say, though, those bits never quite fit the puzzle that’s being put together.

            But what we were talking about is interesting books, and most especially interesting openings. I, and I think a lot of people, spend a lot of time at the first figuring out the worldbuilding, and I’ve been known to type in up to 10K words explaining things to myself. It’s deadly. For one thing, it wanders all over the place. For another, it’s highly unlikely to have anything whatever to do with the actual story. Most importantly, for the reader it’s dead boring. Even David Weber, High Grand Dragon of the Mass Infodump Society, doesn’t start a book — or even a chapter — with one. Vance, yes, but Vance is a special case — if you don’t get two “aha!”s and one giggle out of every twenty words or so of a Vance opening, it’s because you don’t know enough about Shakespeare, obscure Turkic dialects, particle physics, and/or the duties of the Second Engineer aboard a tramp steamer circa 1952. I get about 10% of the allusions, and it’s enough for enjoyment. No way in Hell I could write one — and not many people can.

            Yeah, sure, cut and paste it into another file. There’ll be bits — names, timelines, magic and/or tech explanations, and the like that will be useful in future, but not in that form. Extract those bits and turn them into a concordance, with chapter references, and they’ll help a lot in keeping things straight. Even there, you may well be better off referring to your memory than to that file; it’s easier to slide in short references that way, because that’s what’s in your head. The text itself? [Ctrl][Shift]+[Home] [Delete]

            Regards,
            Ric

            1. And, to add to that — all writing rules are made to be broken in interesting ways. If you can write a Vance-style opening, stuffing two references to non-European languages and/or myths and one to the current state of string theory, and make it flow, go for it. I’m in awe.

              Regards,
              Ric

            2. This is why I’m rewriting my future history. I’m trying to keep. I’m trying to keep it loosely relevant to all space operas. But I already have at least two time lines with a break point around fifty years from now. BOTH discover the same things but at different times, systems of governance quite different, etc.

              And yeah, I do that too, Ric, though normally I write the “what happened to this world?” in the preliminary materials. Perhaps it’s training. I don’t even try to put it in the novel anymore. It goes in my working outline. once I have all the background down, I can decide what fits.

        3. How much did I keep? All of the dialog I wanted, and the final emotional turning point. I didn’t write over the scene, sheesh. The whole pacing of the new chapter would’ve been thrown off. So no continuity-passes necessary. I had two files open at the same time, and was rewriting the scene from the beginning of the chapter. When I got to the emotional crux-point, I grabbed the bits that still fit — dialog and emotional description, maybe a little physical description — and dropped them into place, massaging as necessary right then. (I embrace my inner editor. Editing is always easier than writing, so combining them helps.)

          As for files? Why should I care if I have a scrap-file of dead ends or sub-plot scenes that were bogging the main plot down? Storage is cheap. The key thing is to lower the bar to moving cruft out of the way. If it’s not lost, if it’s right there where you can lay hands on it if you need a giggle (…why would she agree to meet him after she just got away from him?? No wonder that was a dead-end!), or decide that you were second-guessing yourself too much and really do need some of that information… It’s much easier to get it out of the way. And that’s the goal: to get the cruft out of the way.

          Rewriting from scratch when I don’t have to sucks and is one of the surest ways to make me really grouchy. Like, I was clicking “reply” just now, and my poor overburdened browser crashed and lost it all. *froth froth froth argh!* I’d rather trawl through a cut chapter for the color of the hero’s mother’s eyes than make it up again, and I’ll go nuts trying to find it in the existing manuscript if I didn’t save it.

          1. Everybody works differently, as you mention elsewhere. My remarks are mainly aimed at newbies, in which ranks I include myself, despite the kind words of Our Proprietor. For newbies, snippets can be a peculiar sort of block.

            You’ve heard of the “million words” concept. It isn’t literally true, of course; there’s no magic number. It is, however, perfectly true that writing is something you have to teach yourself — and the way to do that is to write. As with anyone first starting out in any field, your first product won’t be of high quality. You need plenty of practice before the good stuff starts flowing. Instruction helps. Example helps. But in the end, it’s stringing words together and seeing the result that does the job.

            Yeah, rewriting from scratch sucks. It’s work, and not just in the fingers-hitting-keys sense; it’s mental labor, the most troublesome kind. And the snippets exist. They’re there, right there on the disk. They don’t have to be rewritten. The lazy part of the brain says, “Just put it back. Or do the minimum so’s it will fit, then put it back.” The snippets may even be good, just wrong for the work in progress, and that makes it worse, not better, because the temptation to put them back is stronger. The work doesn’t progress.

            Better to nuke ’em, so the temptation isn’t there. As you get better, the number of snippets declines and the character changes — they’re more nearly things that are out of order, including things that go with something else you’re working on or will tackle later, than things that don’t belong at all. Even there, though, you’re likely to be fooling yourself, and you’re ‘way better off to embrace the concept of “sunk cost” and go ahead and rewrite than to sit, stalled, because you’ve pooped out a jewel — and it’s chocking the wheels.

            Regards,
            Ric

            1. YES. BEGINNERS, LISTEN TO RIC. HECK, anyone who isn’t a plotter by nature, LISTEN TO RIC.
              I once spent four years working on a novel in “snippets” because I’d read that’s how one did it. (I was young. Stupid comes with the territory.) At the end I had something like 800k words. It resembled a novel like tiny, irregular scraps of fabric on a sewing room floor resemble a quilt. And it couldn’t be assembled, even as a crazy quilt. It’s a dreadful temptation. If you’re going to write in snippets, for the love of heaven, write a clear and extensive outline first. AND THEN make sure the snippet you’re writing fits in it and at a precise place. Otherwise you’ll waste years and might destroy interest in that work, if not in writing altogether. Or worse, you’ll train yourself in habits of self indulgence, where writing HAS to be fun and cozy and it’s where you go to play. (Enjoying your work is great. But all work has parts you won’t want to do. Even in my last book, there were chapters where it was like pulling my heart through my nose with a hook. In those days, it’s really hard to write, and knowing it’s work, and the discipline of working is needed to get it done. Also, the inability to run away to a more pleasant “snippet.” If you’re doing this for yourself, as a hobby, and you never intend to make a living of it, snippets are fun, or can be. BUT if you’re intending on being a professional… break the habit now or control it with strong outlining.)

              I know people who CAN do it. Write part of chapter two, jump ahead to chapter twenty, come back to three. BUT the only people I know who do that successfully are people who start from the plot-out. And even then, you REALLY have to have an instinctive grasp of plot and an amazing amount of self discipline. And I mean amazing. This is the woman who has forced herself often to write 6 books in a year while sick, tired and hopeless. And I couldn’t do this snippet thing.

              I follow chapters in order. Do I put in “something goes here”? Very rarely. Usually ONLY if I need to look up something in an historical (I dreamed I was looking at one of my printed books and it said “something goes here” in the beginning of a chapter) or if I’m too exhausted to write the action scene then.

              Part of this is that I’m a putter-inner. I.e. I tend to think the book needs a lot more than it does. I’m getting better, but my books used to have a “deleted scenes” file three times the size of the book. For someone like me snippets is a form of insane self-indulgence. I know a lot of writers do this to plot a character “write a scene from his childhood.” BUT I don’t need that. The character I get fully formed. That means “write a scene from his childhood” becomes a playground. PARTICULARLY if I love the character, I’ll find myself writing an endless succession of “nice dinner with the inlaws” “reading books by the fire” all sorts of “reward scenes” for characters I like, which have NOTHING to do with the book and no place in it. I could do it. I could enjoy it. I could do it for years and years and be very happy.

              In the end, what I have to ask myself when I’m tempted (and of course I’m sometimes tempted. a) I’m human. b) when I’m sick but feel I need to write, I have snippets set in a world I’ll never publish which I play in.) and particularly if I already indulged for a week, I have to ask: Do I want to live in this daydream and be warm and safe and soothed? Or do I want to make my dreams so compelling others want to share them? You can only have one or the other. The choice is ENTIRELY yours.

          2. Beth
            All of us hate rewriting from scratch. But you reach a point you’ll find you want to do it. Depends on how old the stuff is. What you have here is more the revision process of a finished/in progress novel. What you describe is perfectly normal.
            What I — and I think Ric — are talking about is more when you wrote it and it didn’t work. Depending on how much time has passed — for one of my books which I am going to redo it’s been 19 years — chances are that a clean start will make it way better. Because you’ve hopefully written over thirty books in that time, and have learned. This is a craft. I give you what I can in teaching, but ultimately? You learn by doing.

            1. Oh, yeah, if we’re talking about an entirely-finished and “needs to be razed and rebuilt” thing, yeah, the snippets aren’t likely to be useful. (Or maybe they will be. It depends on the snippets. Or on how much I want a good giggle.) Really, a good thing there might be to shove the stuff off into a file and not look at it. That’s roughly what I did when chopping the front chapter off of the big ol’ duology, and after a bit of mourning, the story’s the better for it and the bits I actually wanted to keep found new homes with different words, in different areas.

              I just know that if I were going to Lose Something Forever… I’d never do it. I could never do it. It would be DESTROYING WORDS. It would be like tearing pages out of a library book! It goes against every instinct I possess. It’s book-burning! It’s eeeeeeevil! I’d never finish anything that went bad, because I’d be unable to make that chop.

              Cut the dead-weight, paste into new file, save, and never look back? Oh, sure, that’s easy. Gets easier each time, too — “aw, heck, I have to throw away a few thousand words? and a kind of interesting flashback memory? eh, whatever; I’ll keep this bit and the rest goes in the scrap-pile.”

              1. Then clearly you have both the self-discipline and the analytical skills necessary to do it that way, Beth. Me, I have in common with Sam Vimes a dispensation from the Low King: I’m allowed to destroy what has been written, and I do it with abandon. (And if you don’t realize that anybody’s advice is what works for that person, you shouldn’t be listening to advice at all.)

                Elsethread they’re discussing boring or distracting flashbacks. Those come from your method being applied by those without the self-discipline to do it that way. J. Random Writer produces a Weberian summary of the worldbuilding, right down to the specification of the screws that secure the FTL controls to the panel (#10-32 x 3/4″ oval Phillips head, chromed, with upholstery washers for trim). Looking at it three days later, he realizes that it’s suitable for use by meth cookers as a sleep aid, and cuts and saves it. Later on, he decides he needs to refer to previous events in a flashback — and looks at the saved wodge of text, says “Hmm. Good. I don’t have to do that over,” and inserts it in toto, then makes cosmetic changes…

                Take it from somebody with eight acres to manage: You’re better off not establishing scrap piles. They grow up in briars and hackberry sprigs, and attract rodents. Off to the recycle with it!

                Regards,
                Ric

              2. This may sound silly, but every day I save a new copy of the file. So I have like 365 copies of this novel that I’ve been working on for a year…

                Came in handy when a reader questioned a word choice. I was able to backtrack to when I added the word. I know why I added the word. But I think I misspelled it, because when I looked it up, it doesn’t make any sense. So I replaced it with something more easily understood (I was trying for mood, and if readers don’t understand the word, it isn’t going to impart mood).

                With storage being so cheap, this system works for me. Back in the bad old days, using 360K floppy drives, it would have been insane.

                Wayne

  3. Yanno… There’s no law says that the story needs to be told in a specific order. You can dive in, do the media res stuff, then pull back with a “earlier that morning” after the slam-bang opener.

    1. I actually hate in media res -> flashback. Either get on with the action and I’ll pick it up as I go along, or start with the flashback. If the flashback is so boring that you can’t start with it, I’m not going to be any less bored just because it’s chapter 2 instead of chapter 1.

      1. No you don’t. You only think you do. Heinlein did a beautiful in media res circular structure — at the end of the book you’re about where you began, then you finish — in Starship Troopers. For my own clumsier effort, go here http://baen.com/library/authors.asp, (It’s FREE, hence “free library” There’s a suggested donation, but it’s FREE) click on my name, download Crawling in your favorite format, read Thirst. The entire story IS a flashback, and no one has ever complained. people hate flashbacks like they hate first person. WE ALL HATE STUFF DONE WRONG.

        There are excellent reasons not to put the flash back at beginning. Say your main character was raped once (oh, cliche, but this is just an example) which affects her behavior. Start with the rape and you’ll get labelled “erotica” or worse, while start with the action and give us the flash back (in bits and pieces if needed) later in the story and you’re fine. I had this mutatis mutandi with a character whose relevant waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back experience was at fifteen, when she got a prophecy from a fairgrounds soothsayer. NOT important for the story (truly) until it’s going well enough, but my agent subscribed to the “No flashbacks, must be at the beginning” theory. Well, unfortunately that’s ALL editors saw. 15 = young adult, even though the novel had rape, madness and possession and started in fact when the character was 21. I kept getting rejections that said “this is lovely, but we don’t do YA. So, drop that rule. Actually drop all rules. They’re ALL breakable if you know how to break them.

        1. I suppose I’m still traumatized by a book that had a chapter or two in Present Day, then went in for chapters upon chapters of extended flashback, which might’ve been interesting enough, except for already knowing THIS WILL END BADLY DUN DUN DUN. The book got put down mid-flashback and has never been picked up.

          If the flashback is not boring, and does not go for chapters upon chapters… Well, that’s one thing! Heck, a framing mini-scene can work nicely with ghost story gimmicks, come to think of it.

          I still think that if a flashback is considered “too boring” to start with, then it’s not gonna get more interesting if it’s Chapter Two. 🙂

            1. Well, present-day-for-the-fantasy-world-in-question. But once I’m starting to get invested in the Guy With Tragic Past And Drinking Issue… I don’t want to spend chapters with his younger, more cheerful self, knowing that Something Dire Will Happen, y’know? It doesn’t make tension for me. It makes me depressed. I don’t read books to be depressed.

  4. Sarah,

    One of my all time faves is Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op, the nameless little fat man who loves catching crooks. He is such a fascinating character, you follow him through novels and short stories, never once learning his name. You also never get a good description of him, besides somewhat short and dumpy. Oh yeah, and he smokes Fatimas. I’ll never forget that detail.

    What a writer. What an incredible writer.

    Wayne

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