October 12, 2013

But What About…

Yeah, this is a day late.  Lots going on this week, so I thought I could make an exception…

Which, by coincidence, is what I wanted to blabber on about this week.

If you hang out with enough writers (or musicians, or filmmakers, or other artists), either online or in the real world, you’ve probably heard a story about someone who broke the rules and got away with it.  And Wakko didn’t just break the rules, mind you… he shattered them.  Every one of them.  They had to write new rules for him to break.  All those people who tell you do this, don’t do that—he ignored them all.  And that’s how he got where he is today, with his fame and fortune and living the life we all dream about

People like these tend to get sort of a mythology around them in their respective circles.  Which is kind of sad, because these folks—unintentionally or not—tend to make things a lot harder for the folks coming after them.  Once I buy into the idea of being the exception, my chances of success drop drastically.

Let me give you an example…

Most of you have probably heard of Cormac McCarthy.  He’s a brilliant writer who’s done some wonderful books like The Road and Blood Meridian, among others.  He’s also famous for using almost no punctuation, sometimes to the point that his books become difficult to read.  Seriously, you’d think the guy got beat up  by a pair of quotation marks every day after school when he was a kid.

Now, McCarthy decided a while ago that he wanted to write a screenplay.  But, being Cormac McCarthy, he didn’t bother to learn how to write one.  He just started throwing dialogue and settings down on the page in whatever format looked right to him.  And several accounts say the script was…well, a complete mess.  Naturally, though, when word got out that he’d written a script, Hollywood went nuts.  The script was grabbed, Ridley Scott directed, and it’s coming out in just a few weeks ( The Counselor).

Now, a lot of would-be screenwriters who believe in ignoring the rules saw this as validation.  How can anyone say formatting matters after a format-free script sells and becomes a major motion picture?  It’s undeniable proof that sort of thing just isn’t important.

Except, well… not exactly.

Cormac McCarthy’s been a legend for twenty years, and was still famous for twenty before that. He could’ve turned in a script written on a used paper plate and the bidding would’ve started at fifty thousand. His status as a novelist made him the exception to the rules of screenwriting. Just because he can do it doesn’t mean I can. Or you can.  Or she can.

Here’s the thing…

Exceptions to the rule tend to be rare.  Exceptionally rare, you could say. That’s why they’re the exception and not the rule.  McCarthy’s script was snatched up by Hollywood despite its poor formatting, but dozens of them are tossed aside every single day for that very reason.  Because that’s the rule.  Formatting does matter.

And it’s not just screenwriting.  For every person who sold the first draft of the first novel they wrote to the first publisher they showed it to, there are millions of people who did not.  Yes, E.L. James, Diablo Cody, J.L. Bourne, and a triple-handful of other writers started out by giving their work away for free and then spun that into successful, paying careers as writers.  And that sounds fantastic until you stop to consider there are over two billion people on the internet these days.  Even if only one percent of them are trying to make money by writing on a blog or website, that puts the odds of success somewhere in the neighborhood of  20,000 to 1 (about 0.0005 % if my math is right).  And that’s with a very generous estimate of how many successful writers have followed this path.

I can’t use an exception to the rule as a basis for how things should be done.  By it’s very nature, the exception is the freak chance, the aberrant behavior—it’s just not the way things work.  Think of the stories you’ve heard about people who survive falling out of airplanes or getting shot in the head.  They’re amazing and true and took almost no effort, yes, but they shouldn’t make anyone rethink using parachutes or gun safety.

If I want to succeed, the best thing I can do—whether I’m jumping out of a plane, getting shot at, or writing a story—is to follow the established rules.  The absolute worst thing I can do is scoff at those rules—rules like spelling, grammar, or wearing body armor—and  decide they don’t apply to me.  No matter how amazing my writing is, I need to follow the basic guidelines for my craft.

The reason I should follow them, before you ask, is because the person reading my work is expecting me to follow them.  The publishers, editors, and producers who see it before my chosen audience definitely will, and those readers or viewers will assume I’m going to, too.  They all have certain expectations they’ve built up, and these expectations all tend to fall in line with the rules.

Now, does that mean amazing, rule-bending things won’t happen or can’t be done?  Not at all.  My writing may be so spectacular that no one notices the abundant typos.  The basic idea could be so clever that nobody will pick up on the fact that all of my characters have about as much depth as a puddle on the kitchen floor.  Heck, the structure of my story could be so rock-hard the reader will forgive and forget those incredibly boring opening chapters.

But you know what?  Let’s say on page one of my manuscript I introduce school newspaper reporter Tomm Truth and Joanie Justice, and show them straggling with staph editor Barry O’Bama who doesn’t want them running a article about the poor campus seckurity.  After a paragraph or two of that my editor’s going to groan out loud.  I know when I was a script reader seeing stuff like that made me roll my eyes and add more rum to my glass.

Y’see, Timmy, the minute I see a bunch of clichés, misused words, poor grammar, and misspellings, I’ve rendered a judgment on that writer.  Possibly two or three, depending on how many things I see that look wrong.  And they may not be wrong for this story—each one may be carefully chosen to set up certain things for later on.  But on page one or two or three, they look wrong, and that’s how they’ll be interpreted and that’s going to color my view of the manuscript from here on.

If I assume I’m the exception, that I don’t need to follow certain rules, I’m setting an obstacle between me and the people who are going to pay me to keep writing.  Maybe even multiple obstacles.  They’re not insurmountable and they don’t guarantee failure.  But it does mean I’ve just limited my potential audience.  Some readers will toss a manuscript in that big pile on the left after seeing two or three things that look like mistakes.  Others will read ten or fifteen pages before setting it aside.  And if I can’t prove I am the exception before that happens, I’m going to get a lot of rejections.  My story may be loaded with promise, but if my initial foundation looks weak and poorly designed, why would anyone risk the time to see if the rest of it’s structurally sound?

So try to be the exception.  Just don’t automatically assume you are.  You need to earn it.

Next time… I want to talk about Guido.

Until then, go write.

August 15, 2013

Admissions Board

             This is going to be one of those posts that sounds a bit harsh at first, but hopefully you’ll stick through ‘till the end before posting those angry responses.  If you’re feeling a bit thin-skinned, maybe you should come back next week.
            Writing is tough.  It’s hard work.  I know this, because I do it for a living.  When someone tells me how easy and wonderful and fun writing is, I’m often tempted to point out that they’re probably doing something wrong.
            Instead, I bite my tongue and scribble notes for a ranty blog post or two.
            There was a point when I thought writing was easy and fun.  To be blunt, that was back when I wasn’t taking it seriously.  My plots were either contrived or derivative (some might say that hasn’t changed).  My characterization was weak and my motives were… well, whatever they needed to be at the moment to make that weak plot move along.  I rarely edited. 
            Perhaps most important of all… I thought I was a literary genius.  My stories didn’t just deserve Stokers and Hugos, mind you.  Once I got around to finishing them and sending them out, they were going to get Pulitzers and Nobels.
            Needless to say, my writing made huge leaps when I was able to admit a few things to myself.  I think that’s true of most people in most fields—if we can’t be honest about where we are, it’s hard to improve.
            That being said…
My writing sucks—This sounds harsh, yeah, but it needs to be.  Too many beginning writers just can’t get past the idea that something they wrote isn’t good.  I know I couldn’t.  It’s just against human nature to spend hours on something and then tell yourself you just wasted a bunch of time.  Why would I write something I couldn’t sell?  Obviously I wouldn’t, so my latest project must deserve a six-figure advance.
            The problem here is the learning curve.  None of us like to be the inexperienced rookie, but the fact is it’s where everyone starts.  Surgeons, chefs, pilots, astronomers, mechanics… and writers.  Oh, there are a few gifted amateurs out there, yeah—very, very few—but the vast majority of us have to work at something to get good at it. 
            You noticed I said “us,” right?  Lots of people think of Ex-Heroes as my first novel, but it wasn’t.  There was Lizard Men from the Center of the Earth (two versions), a God-awful sci-fi novel called A Piece of Eternity, some Star Wars and Doctor Who fan fic, a puberty-fuelled fantasy novel (which I haven’t admitted to in twenty years or so), The Werewolf Detective of Newbury Street, The Trinity, The Suffering Map, about half of a novel called Mouth… and thenEx-Heroes.  And I can tell you without question that most of those really sucked.  It doesn’t mean I didn’t try to sell some of them (we’ll get to that in a minute), but I couldn’t improve as a writer until I accepted that I needed to improve.
My first draft is going to suck—There was a point where I would fret over my writing.  I’d spend time laboring over individual words, each sentence, every paragraph.  I’d get halfway down the page and then go back to try to fix things.  It meant my productivity was slowed to a crawl because I kept worrying about what had happened in my story instead of what was going to happen.
            The freeing moment was when I realized my first draft was always going to suck, and that’s okay.  Everyone’s first draft sucks.  Everyone has to go back and rework stuff.  It’s the nature of the beast.  With those expectations gone, it became much easier for me to finish a first draft, which is essential if I ever wanted to get to a second draft, and a third draft, and maybe even a sale.
My writing needs editing.  Lots of editing—So, as I just mentioned, I’ve been doing this for a while.  Arguably thirty-five years.  Surely by now I’ve hit the point where my stuff rolls onto the page (or screen) pretty much ready to go, yes?  I mean, at this point I must qualify as a good writer and I don’t need to obsess so much over those beginner-things, right?
            Alas, no.  We all take the easy path now and then.  We all have things slip past us.  We all misjudge how some things are going to be read.  And I’m fortunate to have a circle of friends and a really good editor at my publisher who all call me out when I make these mistakes or just take the easy route when I’m capable of doing something better.
            Also, as I mentioned above, part of this is the ability to accept these notes and criticisms.  I’m not saying they’re all going to be right (and I’ve been given a few really idiotic notes over the years), but if my default position is that any criticism is wrong then my work is never going to improve past the first draft. 
            Which, as I also mentioned above, sucks.
My writing needs cuts—Sticking to the theme, if I believe my writing is perfect, it stands to reason all of it is perfect.  It’s not 90% perfect with those two odd blocks that should be cut.  When I first started to edit, one of my big problems was that everythingneeded to be there.  It was all part of the story.  Each subplot, every action detail and character moment, all of the in-jokes and clever references.
            The Suffering Map was where I first started to realize things need to be cut.  I’d overwritten—which is fine in a first draft as long as you admit it in later drafts.  I had too many characters, too much detail, subplots that had grown too big, character arcs that became too complex.  It took a while, but I made huge cuts to the book.  It had to be done.  Heck, with one of my more recent ones, 14, I needed to cut over 20,000 words.  That’s a hundred pages in standard manuscript format.  All cut.
My writing is going to be rejected –You know what I’ve got that most of you reading this will never have?  Rejection letters.  Actual paper letters that were mailed to me by editors.  I’ve got lots of them.  Heck, I’ve probably got a dozen from Marvel Comics alone.  And since then I’ve got them from magazines, big publishers, journals, magazines, ezines.
            But when that first one came from Jim Shooter at Marvel… I was crushed.  Devastated.  How could he not like my story?  It was a full page!  It was typed!  I even included a rendering of a cover suggestion in brilliant colored pencil.  It took me weeks—whole weeks, plural—to work up my courage to try again, and then he shot that one down, too.
            Granted, I was about eleven, and those stories were really awful.  But even good stuff gets rejected.  Heck, even with the list of credits I’ve got now, the last two short stories I sent out were rejected.  Editors and publishers are people too, and not everything is going to appeal to everyone.  I came to accept being rejected once I realized it wasn’t some personal attack (okay, once it was…), just a person who didn’t connect with my story for some reason.
            And, sometimes, because my stories sucked.
            If I can admit some of these things to myself, it can only make me a better, stronger writer.  It’s not a flaw or a weakness.  In fact, if I look at the above statements and immediately think “Well, yeah, but I don’t…,” it’s probably a good sign I’m in denial about some things.
            And that won’t get me anywhere.
            Next time, I’d like to say a few clever words about saying the word said.
            Until then, go write.
May 27, 2011 / 5 Comments

Artsy Character Stuff

A while back, on one of the message boards I frequent, someone accused me of being horribly biased against anything that’s “character driven” or lacks a plot. I didn’t feel the need to address it there, but it did get me thinking. Am I horribly biased?

On reflection, yes. Yes I am.
Keep in mind what bias means. It means someone has an automatic tendency to lean toward or away from something when it comes to judgment. If I have the choice of watching a sitcom or Doctor Who, my personal bias is to watch Doctor Who. If one dish is made with spinach and one with peas, I’ll probably choose the peas. It doesn’t mean Doctor Who beats any sitcom or peas are always better than spinach, but that’s the way I roll.
By the same token, if I have the choice between an overwritten character study where elegantly-defined protagonists do absolutely nothing and a tight story with good characters and an arc… well, I’ll go with option B every time.
So, yes, I’m biased. In fact, if you check the numbers, you’ll find most people are. We like compelling characters, but we also want to see things happen. Check out a list of bestselling books or films or plays. How many of them involve people sitting on their butts for long periods of time? That kind of stuff just doesn’t sell.
Now, keep in mind I’m not the only one saying this. People have been saying it for decades. Probably centuries. There’s a reason so much of Shakespeare’s populist crap survived and most people can’t even name three of his contemporaries. People want to be entertained. Silent film director Marshall Neilan humorously pointed out (about a hundred years ago) that there are two kinds of directors—the ones who make artistic movies and the ones whose movies make money.
Are being popular and making money the only yardsticks of success? Not by a long shot. But they’re the most common ones and the ones most folks go off. If I tell you I wrote a phenomenally successful book, the assumption is not that I made my mom proud, impressed my tenth grade English teacher, or really touched three dedicated readers. “Phenomenally successful” means the book sold a few million copies and I’m writing this next to my pool while Stana Katic rubs my shoulders.
That being said, there are a lot of real-world, character-driven stories that are just fantastic. They’re vastly outnumbered by the bad ones, no doubt about it, but saying all such movies are bad would be just as lazy as the folks who dismiss all genre work as pedestrian and simplistic. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is far more a slice-of-life story than it is a courtroom drama. The film (500) Days of Summer is closer to a character study than a romantic comedy.
And there are, believe it or not, genre books that go this way as well. James P. Hogan wrote a wonderful novel called Inherit the Stars which has almost no action in it at all. About three-fourths of the book is people sitting in offices and laboratories bouncing theories off each other about a body they’ve found on the Moon. Aliens are mentioned in it, but we only see a few skeletons because they’ve been dead for tens of thousands of years. It’s been one of my favorite books since high school.
So, if you want to write quiet little things that lean far more on character then action, here are three tips for making them something people still want to read.

1) Have compelling characters
Somewhere along the line a lot of people got it in their heads that the only way a character can be interesting is if they’re seriously messed up. This became the yardstick for “mature” fiction. By this standard, a good character’s an alcoholic, chain-smoking, spouse-beating, molested-as-a-child part-time convenience store worker with Asperger’s Syndrome. One film I saw had a pedophile as one of the main characters. No hyperbole, this was a confessed, done-prison-time pedophile, who wasn’t really sure if he was reformed or not. He was still thinking it over and debating if he’d done something wrong or not.
While such people probably has a great deal going on under the surface and give actors tons of meaty moments to emote, you do have to wonder how the audience is supposed to relate to these characters. Or how we’re supposed to like them. And why on God’s Earth would we root for such people? “Go, man, go!! You can get your groove back and molest three more children before the end of the film! I have faith in you!!”
If you’re going to make your story all about characters, make it about characters people will actually like. They don’t need to be perfect, by any means, but they also don’t have to be so flawed we wonder why they’re not in prison or an institution. Someone facing an uphill battle is great, but someone facing a sheer cliff is just pointless.

2)Have something happen
This is probably the biggest complaint I have with 99% of such stories and scripts I read. Nothing happens. The week this story covers is indistinguishable from the same week a few million other people have had. Heck, it’s indistinguishable from the same week these characters have had fifty-two times a year. There’s nothing special or noteworthy about it in any way.
Now, nobody has to steal the Declaration of Independence for a story to be interesting. They don’t need to rob a bank or fight off alien invaders or save the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis. But they need to do something. If the characters don’t have a reason to aim a little higher while we’re watching them, then we’re seeing static characters.
Ready for a horrific example? Think of Flashdance. Almost half the movie is Alex’s friends following their dreams and failing miserably. The ice skater who loses her balance and destroys her routine. The comedian whose mind goes blank and leaves him sweaty and panicked in front of an audience of hecklers. But the key thing is they’re at least making an attempt while the main character is too scared to even try. It’s a basic, simple situation we can all relate to, from one side or the other. They’re all doing something, even though none of them are succeeding.

3) Have an arc
Once you’ve got a compelling character and you’ve got something happening, you’ve got to have an arc. By its very nature, an arc implies we end somewhere else. Arcs that end in the same place are called circles, and there’s a reason you haven’t heard of well-structured character circles. You’ve heard of people running in circles, though, haven’t you? And it’s never a good thing…
The whole point of a story is to get from A to B. If there’s only going to be A, that’s just a plot point. Plot points can be fascinating, but they also tend to sit on the page if they’re all alone with nothing backing them up. Just as something needs to happen in the observed life of your character, something needs to change.
The previously mentioned (500) Days of Summer is about a guy falling for a girl, dating her, and then getting dumped by her. And he grows up a bit because of it. Inherit the Stars is about a group of scientists learning some revolutionary facts about the Earth and the solar system. He Was A Quiet Man is about the office loser who decides to shoot up his office but becomes a hero when someone else beats him to it and he shoots them instead.
And there you have it. Three simple tips to having a character-driven story that still makes audiences cheer. Because cheering audiences pay better.
Next time…
Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to rant about next time. Does anyone have a topic they’d like to see addressed? Some sticky issue or recurring problem they’ve been having? I’ll try my best to address them, if so.
If not, I’ll probably just find something else to be negative about.
Until then, go write.

More pop culture references for the old folks.

Yeah, I’m running late. Very sorry. I hit the home stretch on the first draft of Ex-Patriots and I had to give my attention to that.

Check it out, though. The blog counter passed 10,000 hits. And it did it on a week I didn’t post anything.

Anyway, I haven’t prattled on about characters in a while, so I figure I’m due…

I may have mentioned once or twice before that characters are key to a successful story. Non-stop action with flat stereotypes can be diverting in a film for a little while, but in a book (and in a good movie) characters are your bedrock. If the reader doesn’t have someone they like, someone they can relate to, a story can be dead in the water by page five.

Now, there are three common ways people try to make their characters come to life and become real on the page. I say “try” because all three are based off a simple misunderstanding of why certain aspects of characters work. Let’s go over what they are, the problems with each one, and how you can work around it.

The first method is to describe these characters in amazing detail. The writer introduces us to Phoebe and tells us her hair color, eye color, height, and weight. Then come descriptions of her hairstyle, body type, the shape of her face, and possible tattoos (visible or not). There’s a list of her measurements and shoe size. In the next sentence we get the name of her lipstick, the name of her perfume, the designer for her jewelry, the designer for her shoes, and the style of her manicure. Phoebe gets described to us in such exacting detail there’s no way we can picture her any way except how the writer envisioned her.

The second way is for the writer to give pages of background on the character. We’ll get lengthy flashbacks to Phoebe’s first day of school, her first kiss, her first sophomore English class at Prestigious University. Sometimes she’ll start talking to friends, family, or complete strangers and tell them about the last time she baked cookies with her mom, the awkwardness of losing her virginity in the back of a pick-up truck, or the day she realized she wanted to be an Oscar-winning screenwriter. Sometimes these historical revelations won’t even be a flashback or dialogue, they’ll just be straight prose from the writer.

The barista gave Phoebe her double-whipped half-mocha latte with whipped cream, just the way she liked it, just the way she had it every day. He was a handsome man, and part of her wanted to ask him out. He wore plaid flannel shirts a lot, though. It was a silly thing, she knew, but plaid flannel always made her mind go back to her grandfather’s heart attack. He’d always worn plaid, too, and he’d been wearing it the day she and mom were visiting and he grabbed at his chest and made that awful noise. Young Phoebe had been so determined not to look at his pain-stricken face she’d just stared at the plaid shirt. So for now the barista would just have to stay behind the counter.

The third way, thankfully, is the least common, but it happens enough I feel the need to mention it. Real people have irrational quirks, sometimes do nonsensical things, and often go against their own best interests. Sometimes we even up and die in awful, unexpected ways (statistics say most people do at least once in their life). It’s the way we’re all wired. We’ve all seen people do things like this. We’ve all done things like this.

The logic here is if the writer has the characters act illogically, they’re acting more real. If Phoebe is a bundle of odd behaviors, then she has to be believable. It’s almost a challenge to the reader. Since real people do this, how can anyone say Phoebe isn’t real if she’s doing it? Heck, if Phoebe randomly gets hit by a car in the last few pages, that’s so much like life it almost counts as art, doesn’t it…?

Now, here’s why these three methods usually don’t work. I won’t say they never work, but if you’re the gambling type you should consider the odds here.

The problem with using tons of details to describe your character is it breaks the flow of your story. Events come to a screeching halt while the writer has this infodump. If you look back up there, I bet you started skimming just while reading that list of potential descriptions, didn’t you? If a list of general examples can’t hold your attention, what’s going to happen when it’s a list of specifics two or three times long?

The other catch to this is that a lot of the time readers form their own mental images of what a character looks like. For example, if you look over the past few paragraphs you’ll see I haven’t actually described Phoebe at all, but you’ve probably got some mental image of her when I use the name, don’t you? If you know what this character looks like with no description, then two pages of description is just pointless excess.

In a similar vein, a writer can add in a hundred pages of biographical facts and anecdotes and it’s still not going to make a character seem real. More likely, the story’s going to suffer from the same expositional infodump I mentioned above, and it’s going to come to a crashing halt again. The problem is relevance. While there’s no question these past events shaped Phoebe’s life and the person she is today, the reader’s going to wonder what do they have to do with this story. No matter how good a particular element is, if it doesn’t relate to the story the writer’s telling it’s just bulk filler.

The other problem here is no matter how much raw data you pour out on the page, there’s always more which isn’t out there. There are shaping events we forgot or didn’t want to mention. There are people we probably never realized how influential they were to our lives.

Consider Angelina Jolie or Barack Obama. Here are two people who’ve had their entire lives put under a microscope and studied by the whole world. And the whole world’s continuing to study them today. Thing is, though, there’s still tons of stuff we don’t know about both of them. Common sense tells you that. I’m not talking about that birth certificate nonsense or any of that. I mean simple things. No matter how much you know about someone–about anyone–there’s always more you don’t know.

(Yes, I needed a picture of something to break up the wall of text, so we’ve got Tomb Raider. There it is.)

The problem with the third method, randomness, is that fiction is held to a higher standard than real life. Nonsensical, illogical, unbelievable things happen in real life all the time, but life isn’t scripted. When I pick up a book, I know John or Jane Doe is the writer behind it. There is no randomness, because every word on the page was deliberately chosen. And that means any apparent randomness has to be serving the purposes of the story. Because if it’s not, well… why is it there?

So, with all that being said, is there any way to make these three methods work?

If not, this hasn’t been terribly informative, has it? Hardly worth the two-week wait. I should probably come up with something…

Okay, the big trick to all of these, as I mentioned above, is relevance. Like adjectives or adverbs, if character elements aren’t serving a purpose they shouldn’t be there. Strip away all the noise and clutter and just give the reader what they need.

For example…

Let me tell you an ugly secret. Phoebe lives in a fleabag apartment infested with rats and roaches, always buys her bread from the day-old rack, and eats peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day of the week. She always has immaculate hair and designer clothes, though, especially on the weekends. I’ve just told you something about her, haven’t I? More than just the words on the page, too. You’ve got a sense of who Phoebe is and where her priorities are. Maybe even a mental image of her. All in just a hair over three lines.

See, I don’t need a lot of details, just the right details. Did I need to tell you about Phoebe’s anklet or her lipstick or how tall she is for that little character sketch to work? I just need to pick the right details to create the image and imply the person I wanted you to see.

Here’s another example for you. When I was just a ten year old kid I used to walk a mile-long paper route in the snow seven days a week, usually four or five months out of the year. No, seriously, I did. I grew up in Maine– of course it snowed a good chunk of the time.

What does this have to do with what I’m getting at?


However, once a week I would also walk almost three miles down into York Beach to Garfield’s Newsstand. Wednesday was the day new comics came in, so from about age eight on I would trudge down there– rain, sleet or snow– and work through the wire racks looking for new issues of Spider-Man, ROM, Star Wars, Hulk, and more. If it was really cold and I needed more time to warm up, I’d go through the tiny section of genre paperbacks in the back of the store. That’s how I first came to know John Carter of Mars and the old Han Solo novels. And it wasn’t too long before I was copying all of these tales on one level or another.

Y’see, Timmy, the backstory of me delivering newspapers is crap. I’m also not going to waste time retelling the story of my dog Flip and my dislike of ketchup. None of them have anything to do with anything here.

The second story, though, shows some of those first seeds of me becoming a writer. It’s relevant to me as the person behind the ranty blog, so it’s especially worth mentioning in this little rant. If you’re going to add in stories about a character’s past, they should somehow relate to what’s going on in the “now” of your story. Or your blog post.

The randomness issue is the easiest one to deal with. It’s okay for seemingly random things to happen in a story–key word seemingly. At the end of the day, the writer is in charge and the events in this story are happening for a reason which benefits this story. I can tell you, from a narrative point of view, why Duke Perkins dies at the beginning of Under the Dome, why the unnamed comedian’s wife dies in The Killing Joke, and why Ben Kenobi dies in Star Wars. All of these are seemingly random events… but they’re not random, are they? Each one drives the plot and character development in a certain way and in a specific direction. That’s the kind of “randomness” which should be in a story– the kind that serves the writer’s purpose.

So make your characters. But really make them real.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. Wow, this year has flown by. I think I may put a name to something I’m thankful for.

Until then, go write.