May 16, 2024 / 2 Comments

The Second Time Around

Look, a self-referential title!

Okay, this one’s more of a ramble about my writing philosophy. Maybe with a couple tips tossed in. I don’t know. I’m rambling.

I like stories. Surprise! Books. Movies. Comics. Television. I love seeing how narratives unfold. I love getting caught off guard by a phenomenal twist. Stories are great, and reading them is a fantastic experience.

And I like revisiting stories, too. When I was a kid there were comic stories I’d read again and again. I have favorite movies that I like rewatching, books I’ve picked up for a fourth or fifth time.

In fact, I’m a big believer that people should be able to enjoy a story a second time. I’d go so far as to say I think that’s a sign of a great story. People should be able to read a story twice and enjoy it both times.

They won’t enjoy it the same way, mind you. There’s a literary term for reading something the first time, experiencing it without foreknowledge aaaaannnnnd I can never remember what it is. A professor told it to me years ago and I’ve never been able to remember it. Point is, we only get one chance to enjoy something for the first time. One. That’s it. So when we read something for the second time, we’re getting a different experience. Seeing things through a new lens, so to speak.

The same way we, the writers, might not get into some of the really clever stuff until the second draft, I think the second read (or viewing, if you want to talk movies) is when the audience really gets to enjoy how I (the writer) put things together. They can still enjoy the story, yeah, but they can enjoy a lot of elements on a different level. Now that they know how things end, they get to see the clever set-ups for what they really were. They’ll realize where I nudged them to think X instead of Y. They’ll also be able to move at their own pace, really appreciate that clever bit of description, notice the little one-two-three parallel. Maybe some scenes will take on a whole new spin, maybe have a very different type of thrill, once we know from the start who Yakko really is.

So we can’t recapture that first time experience, but hopefully the second time is—in its own way—just as enjoyable.

I try very hard to write for the second read. I want you to read my stories and enjoy them, sure. But I want you to enjoy them the second time, too. I want you to see that everything lines up. How I pulled the wool over your eyes here and here. What this character was really saying there. And that holy crap, no, I never cheated on this—it always worked that way.

In fact, the second time through can be kind of a test. If I go through again and now it’s really clear things don’t line up or motivations don’t make a lot of sense… that might be a warning sign. It’s probably telling me I’ve got a problem with my structure or my characterization or maybe just… my plot. And I might want to take another look at that. Because I want this to be as good as it can be, right?

Now… bear with me for a moment.

As some of you know, I am very anti-spoiler. I’ve gone on long rants about it on different social media platforms. Chewed people out about them. Had a few folks block me when I pointed out their spoiler “tips” basically amounted to putting the blame on people who don’t want things spoiled for them.

There are some folks out there who say spoilers don’t matter. Some people don’t mind learning spoilers and other people who… well, there’s some folks seem to almost take a malicious glee in blasting out spoilers on social media or in articles or even in headlines. I mean, so what if you found out that Wakko dies before you saw the movie, or somebody told you Dot was actually Phoebe’s sister? If the story’s not any good without that big reveal, then it’s probably not a good story, is it?

But there’s a big misunderstanding going on here.

If I get a bunch of spoilers before I get to read the book (or see the movie), and the story’s still good, this just means the writer planned on a second read, like we’ve been talking about. It’s still a good story, yeah, but the spoilers have robbed you of the original story. That version I’d intended to be your first, going-in-cold experience. Because you only had one chance at that version and, whooosh, its gone. It’s gone without you even getting to actually read it. The second-read story’s good, too, yeah, but that’s just it—I’d intended it to be your second read. You missed out on half the experience. Payoffs are great, but so are the setups.

And if the story isn’t any good without those reveals and twists… well, yeah. It’s probably not a great story. We already talked about it. But now there’s no chance of enjoying it, because it was structured around the idea of someone just reading it once and, well, the spoilers killed that.

Plus, just because there’s something bad doesn’t excuse behaving the same way for everything. Just because spoilers don’t change anything for a bad story doesn’t mean they’re justified for a good one. Yeah, I had a bad burrito once, but that doesn’t mean I should say all Mexican food is awful.

Y’see, Timmy, we all inherently write for our stories to be read cold that first time. We expect people to consume the narrative in the order we planned out. To learn things when we want them to learn them. But if I’m doing this right, my readers should be able to enjoy my story a second time as well. Not in the same way, but still in a way that’ll hold their attention and give them a different little set of thrills.

So, try to plan on giving your audience a great second read.

And maybe let people enjoy the first one, while you’re at it.

Next time… wow, the end of the month’s coming up quick. And with it, another one of those milestone birthdays for me. So this is probably a good time to talk about regular exercise.

Until then, go write.

August 26, 2021 / 2 Comments

When I SAY You Can Know It

Despite the pandemic, there’s still been a lot of fantastic storytelling going on. Books. Movies. TV shows. Some of it’s been fun, some of it nostalgic, some of it… well, let’s be honest, some of it was greatly delayed because of said pandemic. Regardless there’s been a lot of enjoyable stuff.


As Uncle Ben taught us, with great storytelling comes great spoilers.

As I’m sure you know, spoilers are a matter of great contention. Is it my fault or your fault if I post spoilers to something and you see them? How much time has to pass before spoilers are acceptable? Does getting them really affect my enjoyment of the story? Do spoilers even matter?

I’ve talked about (and in some cases, argued about) all these before, here and on the wider internet. But it’s that last one I wanted to blather on about today. Specifically, a certain angle some folks take with it you may have seen. It goes something like this…

”If knowing a spoiler ruins your story… maybe your story’s not that good.”

This one always makes me grind my teeth. Partly because it’s kind of an inherently smug thing to say, but also because it shows a basic misunderstanding of storytelling. Which is why it’s doubly annoying when I see it from… well, storytellers.

So let’s talk about narrative structure for a few minutes.

I’ve talked about this before at length, so I won’t do too much here (hit that link if you want a lot more). For our immediate purposes, narrative structure’s the order I’ve decided my plot points and character elements need to follow. It’s the sequence I want my audience to receive information in so they’ll get a certain dramatic effect. Simply put, narrative structure is the way I’ve chosen to tell my story.

If I want to tell my story in a straight A-to-Z fashion, that’s my narrative choice. If I want to use a bunch of flashbacks, that’s also up to me as the storyteller. Heck, if I decide to go completely nonlinear and change timeframes every other page without any apparent rhyme or reason… I mean, that’s my call. I’m the one telling the story and I (hopefully) have solid reasons for why I’m telling it in this specific way.

But whichever way I do it—assuming I do have a reason and I’m not just skipping around wildly because I thought it’d be cool—I’ve made a specific choice for my audience to get this piece of information first, this one second, this one third, and so on and so forth up to my five hundred and fortieth piece of information.

Yes, all real novels contain exactly five hundred and forty elements. No more, no less, just as Plato said in his many treatise on storytelling.


Now, that order’s important because my narrative structure is one of the thing that defines my story. If I put them in a different order, it’s a different story. That makes sense, right? An example I’ve used before is The Sixth Sense. If you’ve never seen it before and somehow avoided hearing about it… well, first off, seriously, good for you. Go see it right now. Go! Now! I can’t believe you’ve made it this long. And I’m about to spoil it, so please don’t keep reading.

Did you go away?

Okay, spoiler-filled explanation…

The Sixth Sense is the skin-crawling story of child psychologist named Malcolm who’s trying to treat a little boy named Cole. Cole’s haunted by ghosts that only he can see, which leaves him constantly traumatized and in shock. Malcolm helps Cole realize the ghosts are, in their own way, equally scared and asking for help. And as Cole begins to understand that his powers are a gift, not a curse, Malcolm comes to realize that he’s a ghost—that he died over a year ago in an encounter we saw at the start of the movie.

What’s great, though, is that—like I said up above—if you watch the movie a second time (or if someone spoils the twist for you), it becomes a very different story. In fact, knowing the truth about Malcolm and the other ghosts, the story becomes less scary and much more tragic. Almost goofy at points. Now it’s a story about a kid and his ghost friends solving mysteries. It’s pretty much Paranorman.

That’s the key thing here—The Sixth Sense becomes a differentstory. Not the one Shyamalan intended for us to see. Definitely not the one he narratively structured. The audience learning the truth about Malcolm is intended to be element five hundred and nine, not element one that we knew before we even sat down. Knowing the big twist changes it into a different story.

So the whole “…maybe your story’s not that good” argument doesn’t make a lot of sense, because if I see a bunch of spoilers it means I haven’t seenyour story. I saw a different story that had all the same elements, but in a different order and thus with different dramatic weights. It had a completely different narrative structure. I got Paranorman, not The Sixth Sense. Not that there’s anything wrong with Paranorman (I love it) but… it’s not the initial experience Shyamalan was trying to create for us.

Now, there’s another, related point we can make here. By their nature, spoilers tend to be some kind of reveal. It’s a piece of unknown or unexpected information. Maybe it’s a cool twist. Maybe it’s the identity of the murderer. Maybe it’s just a little cameo/ crossover beat. And sometimes, once that information’s been revealed, we realize this story didn’t have much else going for it. Once we know who the murderer is, we realize it was our own desire to know the answer carrying us through the story, not really the story itself. The story’s not flawed, it’s just… well, also not that great in any way.

Or maybe the answer just wasn’t quite worth the build up. Maybe the murderer turns out to be… well, exactly who we thought it was. Or someone we absolutely never could have considered (“Chris? Who the hell is Chris?”). Maybe the big twist happens and it… doesn’t make a lot of sense? Maybe it doesn’t change anything or doesn’t mean anything (“Chris is actually Pat’s long lost cousin? Well who the hell is Pat?”). In these cases the story beat might land with some impact in the moment, but not so much after the fact.

And, yeah, these stories have problems. I mean, a twist by its very nature should sort of retroactively rewrite large swaths of my story. If it doesn’t do that… well, that means I screwed up. If my flashback doesn’t make linear sense within my story, then I’ve done something wrong. My reveals aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

But problems with something flawed doesn’t mean the principle is flawed. I can’t say narrative structure doesn’t matter because a couple stories have crappy narrative structure. That’s like saying all sushi is bad because I bought sushi at a gas station once and it made me sick. Or, y’know, that Sharknado5: Global Swarming has a dumb twist that doesn’t change anything, therefore I can give away a bunch of stuff from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

I mean, maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense…

Yes, a really good story will still work once you know the big reveal. That’s why there are books we like to re-read and movies we watch three or four times. The storytellers were very careful to make sure  their narrative would still work even when it was forced to switch tracks because we knew things. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t want us to see the original story they planned out.

I know in my own writing I love having a good twists and reveals. Things that’ll make people sit up and go “WhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAATTT???” or maybe even shriek a favorite curse word or two. And I try very, very hard to make sure my books hold up on a second reading, that you’ll catch the little clues and maybe even realize I left some things sitting out in plain sight for you to catch on your second or third read, so that other story is still a fun one for you.

(like page 115 of Paradox Bound, for example. I don’t think anyone’s caught that. Not many people, anyway)

But that’s not the story I want you to read first. There’s a reason I put these things on page one and not page fifty, those things on page one hundred and not on page one, and why I was slightly vague about that so it’d be right where it was supposed to be… but you wouldn’t register what it was until a second or third time through.  Because this is the effect I’m trying to create, not that.

And the awful thing about spoilers is they make sure someone can never read this story. It’s almost impossible to unlearn something, so that experience gets lost forever. They never get to read thisstory… only that one.

And that’s a shame.

Again, as I mentioned above, still many issues about spoilers past this one. But hopefully—for now, at least—we’ve put the “do they even matter” question to rest. And also the “maybe your story’s not that good” defense of them.

Also-also, that Plato thing about halfway through was a joke. Please put that to rest too. In fact, forget it, just to be safe. Wipe it from your mental hard drive.

Next time…

I’ve got to be honest, I’m juggling four different projects right now and (at the moment) none of them have inspired a ranty blog post. So next week may just be some random cartoons or something unless any of you has a pressing question you’d like me to blather on about.

Until then… go write.

July 10, 2019 / 7 Comments

FAQ the XIIIth: Jason Takes Manhattan

Another six months have passed us by and I promised I’d update this when there’s some more news soooooooo….  Updates!
For those of you just joining our show (already in progress)…  One aspect of being an almost semi-famous author on social media is getting asked questions.  Which is overall fun and I enjoy hearing from folks.  But a lot of these questions come up frequently  You could even go so far as to say they’re… frequently asked questions. 
Sad truth is this can get exhausting—and a little frustrating—to answer the same questions again and again and again.  Between this blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… well, it adds up to a lot of people asking the same questions.  And that’s with some version of this FAQ pinned to the top of all my social media pages!

(And before you panic, person who asked a question yesterday, no, I’m not singling you out. You just did it this one time without thinking. You’re good) 
(I’m talking about that other guy.  You know who I mean. We’re all thinking it, I’m just the one saying it…)
Anyway… rather than get testy and frustrated ‘cause someone asked the same question I already answered twice this morning in the same thread, I’ll just scribble up answers to a dozen of the most common questions I get and pin them on a lot of my social media pages. Then when people ask me the same question again anyway, I can say “check out that FAQ pinned at the top of the page!”
Or maybe I won’t say anything, cause look—there’s an FAQ pinned right at the top of the page!

1) So, hey, when are we going to see something new?
Well hopefully a lot of you checked out Dead Moonback at Valentine’s Day. It’s my kinda fun and pulpy sci-fi horror story about zombies on the Moon and some other things.  It was exclusive with Audible and on August 14th it’ll be available as an ebook (with a little extra material) through most of your favorite booksellers.
Early next year (2020), will be Terminus.  Exact date still pending. And possibly the title but I think we’re all 83% sure this is going to be it. It’s a Threshold book, and the story of a more-or-less regular guy named Murdoch who’s trying to deal with his childhood sweetheart, Anne, coming back into his life. He also has to deal with her Family… which is technically his Family, too.  There’s a guy name Chase who’s, ironically, on the run from something.  And there’s also Seth, Doug, Barnabus, Katanga, and some other names you may recognize, as well.  It’s also going to be another Audible-exclusive (the final one). I’ll talk about that down below, if you care why.
I’m also talking with some folks about a sort of bonus-collector’s edition thing that may interest some of you.  More news on that as it firms up.
If all goes well, by the time you read this I’ve finallysat down to start writing a new standalone book I’ve been wanting to do for about two years now.  If everything goes perfect it might be out next year but… I guess we’ll see. And after that I might try something I’ve wanted to do for… wow, maybe a decade now?

And after that… who knows.

2) Wait, no paper version of Dead Moon?
Alas, not in the immediate future. There’s a couple of different reasons for it, and they involve a lot of business stuff I’d rather not get into at the moment. There’s  a chance it may still become available, but for the moment it’s just going to be ebook alongside the audio.  Sorry.

And I don’t know about Terminus yet, just to answer that one now. It’s still pretty far out.

3) Will there be another book set in the Threshold series?
… I just answered this question. 
This is what I was talking about!  You’re not even reading this, are you?  Come on!  I wrote all these out.  You could at least do more than just skim.

4) Okay, explain this whole “Threshold” thing you keep talking about?

“Threshold” is the overall, umbrella label for the shared universe I kinda-sorta inadvertently kicked off eight years ago when I wrote 14.  There are some books that are definitely part of an overall linear story, a “series” if you will, and some that just fall under the umbrella.  Every Marvel movie is part of the MCU, but not every Marvel movie is a direct sequel to TheAvengers.  Or if you prefer, lots of Stephen King books tie into the Dark Tower mythology, but they’re not all part of the Dark Tower series.  Does that make sense?
And, yes, this does make things a bit awkward, because I know the marketing folks are reeeeeaally pushing Threshold as a pure, straightforward series (Book One, Book Two, etc), even though I’ve said several times that it isn’t.  This may give some people false expectations for what some books will be about, and I apologize if that’s you.  I’m doing my best to make the books as great as they can be, and hopefully you won’t be too bothered that maybe you went in expecting Avengers: Endgame and you ended up getting Spider-Man: Far From Home.  Again, if that makes sense.
As a name, Threshold fits in a few different ways.  It’s part of a doorway, and doorways figure big into most of this series. It also refers to reaching a certain critical level—another recurring issue in these stories. And, finally, it’s also a reference to an old H.P. Lovecraft short story. Which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but I thought it was cool…

5) How does Dead Moon fit into the Threshold series?

As it happens, I wrote a whole book explaining this.  Check out #1 up above.
6) Why do you keep doing these “Audible exclusives” ?
Well, first off, I’ve only done two, and that’s counting Terminus coming out this fall.  Second, there’s a very solid argument to be made that the majority of my fanbase is audiobook listeners.  Odd, I know, but there it is.  Audible knows this, too, and because of this they made me an extremely generous offer for exclusive rights to Dead Moon and Terminus, meaning both of them would be audiobook only for the first six months they’re out.  As I mentioned above, for Dead Moon that exclusivity ends on August 14th. For Terminus, it should be next summer (I can’t say exactly because we don’t have a release date nailed down).
And, yeah, I know this makes some of you grind your teeth. I’m sorry if you’re not an audiobook listener and this leaves you out of the loop for a bit. My agent and I talked about it a lot, believe me (even with that generous offer).  Every other day on the phone for about six weeks.  In the end, I really wanted to tell these stories and this was the best way I’d get to do it. Again, I’m sorry if this puts you in a bad spot.

7) Is Ex-Isle the last Ex book?
Not absolutely 100% sure, but… yeah, it looks that way.

The truth is, every series has a limited life.  Very few people start on book three—they go back and start at book one.  So book one of a series always sells the best, not as many people show up for book two, even less show up for book three, and so on (I just learned that in comics they call this “standard attrition”).  It’s a near-constant downward slope heading for that red line where things aren’t profitable.  None of the Ex-Heroes books have ever lost the publisher money (thank you all for that), but the margin kept shrinking and things didn’t look great for book six as far as that red line’s concerned.

Again, not 100% sure, but we’re in the high 90s.  A number of things could make the series surge in popularity and get the publisher interested in putting out another book or two.  But for now, Ex-Tensionis going to stay on that back burner.  Sorry.
8) Have you considered a Kickstarter or a GoFund me to continue the Ex series?
I have and the answer’s no, sorry.  I love these books.  Hopefully you all know that.  St. George, Stealth, and the other folks at the Mount (and your love for them) got me where I am today.  I’m still amazed there are so many fans who feel so passionately about them.  I had tons of fun writing them.

But… the simple truth is, if there were enough people willing to pay for another book, the publisher would be willing to put out another book.  All the numbers say that’s just not the case. Sure, some folks might pay twice as much into a Kickstarter for one more book, but I think we can all agree experience says three or four times as many people wouldn’t pay anything.  There’s pretty much no way this works out. Again… that downward slope I mentioned in #7.
Plus, my schedule’s set up months in advance.  As I hinted at above, I already have a pretty good idea what projects I’m going to be working on until sometime in 2021 at this point.  Doing a crowdfunded project means I haveto plan on said crowdfunding succeeding and work it into my schedule… which then means a gaping hole in my schedule when it doesn’t succeed.

Again, sorry.

9) Do you make more money if I buy your books in a certain format?
I know this sounds like an easy question, but there’s about a dozen conditionals to any answer I give.  Figure a huge chunk of each contract is just all the different terms and conditions for when and if and how people get paid.

For example… format matters, sure, but so does whereyou bought the book.  And when you bought it.  And how many people bought it before you. And if it was on sale. And who was holding the sale.  And all of this changes in every contract.  What’s true for, say, The Fold may not be true for Paradox Bound.
TL;DR—just buy the format you like.
10) Do you have any plans to attend ########-Con?
To be honest, last year was such a mad jumble with working on books and going to cons and moving that… well, I didn’t make a hell of a lot of plans for this year. At the moment, the only thing on my schedule for the rest of the year is SDCC next week.  Absolutely nothing else.

I am cautiously hoping next year will get me to a couple cons across the country. Maybe ECCC, Phoenix, DragonCon, and possibly Denver or NYCC.  I’d love to do something out in New England.  If any of these sound good to you, or you want to see me at your local con, please let them know.  Yeah, them, not me.  I’m willing to go almost anywhere I’m invited, but if I’m not invited… well, there’s just not much I can do.  So, email them, tweet them, post on their Instagram account.  Reach out and let your voice be heard.

And keep in mind, too, that most cons finalize their guest list at least four or five months in advance, so if your local con’s in three weeks… the odds are not in our favor.  Sorry.

11) When are you going to make a movie/ TV series/ cartoon/ graphic novel/video game of your books?
Okay, there’s a misunderstanding of how Hollywoodworks in this sort of question.  When you see a film adaptation or TV series, it means the studio went to the writer, not the other way around.  I mean, if it was just about writers saying “hey, make this into a movie,” wouldn’t most books be adapted by now?  Everybody’d be doing it.

Alas, I have zero say in whether or not SyFy wants to do an Ex-Heroesseries or Lifetime does a Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe movie.  They look for things that have piqued a certain level of interest, and so far these stories of mine haven’t quite scraped that threshold. 

No, me (or you) writing the screenplay won’t make a difference, unless your name happens to be Shane Black, James Gunn, or David Koepp—and even then it’s not a sure thing.  Because in case you forgot…

12) Didn’t you have a series deal?
Yeah, in theory.  I struck a deal a few years back with Team Downey, the production company of that guy we all know from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  Turned out he’s a fan of 14and he wanted to do something with it.

Alas, there are no sure things when it comes to Hollywood. It’s a big game of if.  If a pilot gets greenlit, if it gets shot, if it turns out okay, if the assorted executives like it, if it gets picked up.  And a lot of these ifs are happening on a time limit.  In the end… time just ran out. Which all kinda goes with what I said up above in #11.  Robert Downey, Jr. had signed on as an executive producer and that still wasn’t enough to get the show made. But I get to say he liked one of my books.

And who knows what could happen in the future.

13) So, is there anything we can do to help?
Well, buying books is always a good step. Hollywood likes to see big sales numbers and interest.  If you want to see something—anything—on the air, talk about it a lot on social media.  Write reviews on websites.  Producers/ directors/ actors all hear about this stuff the same way you do.  If #ParadoxBoundor #DeadMoon start trending on Twitter tomorrow, there’ll probably be a film deal within a week.
(true fact—an easy way to help do this?  Don’t buy books from Amazon.  Write reviews there, sure, absolutely, but Amazon gets iffy with sales figures, so they don’t get included in a lot of bestsellers lists.  Yeah, a purchase from your local bookstore might cost a buck or three more, but it’s a purchase Hollywoodis more likely to notice)
(Plus, now you’re one of those cool people supporting local businesses. So be cool.)
14) Why don’t you like people talking about your books?
To be honest, I’m still thrilled people talk about anything I wrote. Seriously.  What I can’t stand are spoilers. That’s why I avoid those questions and/or comments in interviews, ignore them on Twitter, and why I try to delete any posts that reveal information from the back half of a book (yep, that’s probably what happened to your post).  And not just my stories!  You shouldn’t mess up other stories, either. Movies, TV—if you enjoyed it, try to give other people a chance to enjoy it the same way. I still haven’t watched the last season of Game of Thrones or Doctor Who, dammit!
15) Will you read my story and tell me what you think?
Part of this is a time issue.  If I say yes to some folks, in the spirit of fairness I have to say yes to everyone. Now I’m spending all my time reading and doing critiques instead of writing.  I don’t want sound mercenary, but… writing is how I pay my mortgage.  So when someone asks me to read stuff, they’re asking me to give up a few hours of work. Plus, I do have this ranty writing blog sitting right, y’know, here with over a decade of advice and tips.
It’s also a legal thing.  Some folks are lawsuit-crazy, and the bad ones ruin it for everyone else. Say Wakko gives me a piece of fanfic to read where he has Harry and Eli showing up at a certain post-apocalyptic film studio.  A few years from now, I decide to do a big crossover book.  And then Wakko sues me for stealing his ideas.  
Yeah, I know that sounds stupid, but seriously, I’ve been subpoenaed and deposed over a case with less behind it than that.  This is why I’m verrrry leery when I get a long message along the lines of “You know what you should really do next with the people from 14…”  It’s why some writers respond with smackdowns or even legal action when they get sent stuff like this.  

So, the long answer is also… no.  And if you send stuff without asking, I’ll delete it unread, just like spam mail. Sorry.

16) What’s up with–wait, sixteen? You said top twelve.  Wasn’t this supposed to be over by now?
Jeeeeez, do you have any idea how often I get that question…?

It’s bonus material.  You got the deluxe BluRay version.  Just be happy about it.

17) What’s up with your Facebook page?

Man.  Facebook.  What a mess, huh?
Simple truth is, Facebook’s made it pretty much pointless to have a fan page.  They’ve tweaked their algorithms so my posts there have gone from 70-85% engagement to barely scraping 15-20% most of the time. Why? Well, so I’ll pay to reach people who’ve already said they want to see my posts. 
And yeah, sure–it’s their site.  They can do whatever they want with it and run it the way they like.  And yeah they absolutely deserve to make money off it.  I’m a progressive, but I still believe in (regulated) capitalism.
But then that brings us to all Facebook’s little side ventures.  Which all seem to boil down to the buying and selling of… well, us, at the core.  As many folks have pointed out, Facebook’s real product is us.  Their real customers are the people buying as much about us as they possibly can.  Maybe I’m old fashioned, but when someone talks casually about buying and selling people… it makes me uncomfortable.

So I’ve scaled way, way back on Facebook.  Personally and professionally.  I have no plans to change this in the near future. Sorry.

18) What about Twitter or Instagram?

I’m @PeterClines on Twitter.  Fair warning–as some of you may have figured out, I’m progressive and I’m a bit more political there.  On Saturdays I also drink a lot and live-tweet bad B-movies so…  don’t say you didn’t know what you were getting into
Instagram (also @PeterClines) is probably the geekiest of  my social medias.  How is that possible, you ask?  Well, there’s little toy soldiers, LEGO, classic toys.  And cats.  Can’t have an Instagram account without cats. Sometimes these things mix.
Yeah, I know Instagram’s also owned by Facebook, but (for the moment) they’re not being quite so reprehensible over there.  So (also for the moment) I’ll still be there.

And I think that should answer about 90% of your questions, yes…?

January 11, 2018 / 1 Comment

What They Know

            There’s an empathy issue I see crop up a fair amount of time, and I ran into it a few times back in my film days, too.  I just hit a big patch of it recently, and it was while I was working on a pitch/outline that also kind of skirted around it.  So I figured it was worth talking about a bit here.
            That big patch I mentioned was a werewolf anthology I read (some monster names may have been changed to protect the innocent).  One of the things that amazed me was how many of the stories had a “big twist” which turned out to be—ready for it?—this is a werewolf story!  Some of these were pretty good… but I still ended up twiddling my fingers once it became apparent where things were heading and I had to wait for the narrative to get there.
            Now, granted, in this particular case a fair share of the blame for that falls on the editor.  Why would I accept a story for my anthology that’s undercut by… well, the very nature of the anthology?  That just seems like a bad idea.
            But why submit such a story, either? Shouldn’t I, the writer, immediately realize that anyone who picks up the anthology is already going to be clued in to my big reveal?  And shouldn’t I be aware of the failings that creates in my story?
            Either way you look at it, nobody’s thinking about what the readers are going to know when they sit down with this story.
            Simple truth is, what my audience knows affects what kind of story I can tell.  It’s going to affect my structure. Maybe even my genre.
            No, seriously.  Imagine trying to write a mystery story where we all know who the murderer is from the very start.  Before we even pick up the book.  If I try to tell that story in a normal mystery format with normal mystery tropes, it’s going to collapse really fast.  The whole structure of mysteries is based around the audience not knowing certain things, so if they already know them… well, that’s going to be a tough sell.
            Remember that pitch/ outline I mentioned?  It’s loosely inspired by an old ‘50s sci-fi movie.  But one of the big issues is that the “science” that drives most of the story in that movie is just awful.  Oh, it might’ve been borderline acceptable back in the day, but these days my niece could poke a dozen holes in.  And she’s a high school freshman. In Texas!
            That’s how weak the science is.
            So if I want to tell that story now, I’ll need to change a lot of things.  Those rationales and explanations just won’t hold with modern readers because they know better.  It’ll kill their suspension of disbelief almost immediately and they’ll give up on my story before they get to chapter five.
            And I don’t write big chapters.
            As I mentioned above, both of these examples deal with an empathy issue.  I have to be aware of what my audience knows.  What’s common knowledge, what’s obvious, and what sort of thing they’re already aware of.  And I need to understand how that knowledge is going to affect the reception and dramatic structure of my story.  Something they already know can’t be a surprise, and something they know is wrong can’t support a string of plot points.
            Please note an important difference here. Wrong doesn’t mean not real.  I can propose tons of alternate histories or secret societies or fringe science breakthroughs. I’d love to give you guidelines for making up planets or technologies or imaginary animals.  But the simple truth is… it’s an empathy thing.  Every thread in every story is going to be unique and different in how I present it and how you receive it.
            Semi-related—this is also why spoilers suck so much.  They literally change the story I’m telling (or reading) because they change what the reader knows. 
            For example…
            I’m going to spoil The Sixth Sense, so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading now and go watch it. No, seriously, go.  The whole point of this is how knowing things can mess up how you receive a story, so if you keep reading you’ll never be able to watch The Sixth Sense the way you’re supposed to.  NEVER.  If you’ve somehow managed to avoid it until now, I don’t want to be the one to take it away from you, so stop reading.
            Okay, now that those folks are gone…
            That big reveal at the end of The Sixth Sense is a jaw-dropping moment when we hit it for the first time.   But if we go in already knowing Bruce Willis has been dead all along, this is a very different story.  It’s almost an afterschool special.  “The Boy and his Phantom Psychologist,” Thursday at four on ABC.
            More to the point, that ending doesn’t have the dramatic weight it would without that knowledge. And it never can.  We can’t unlearn things, much as we’d like to.
            Once something’s been spoiled… that’s it.  No takebacks.  No mulligans.
            I’ll even toss this out.  The ending of The Sixth Sense was such a powerful moment that it got copied many times–often by people who didn’t really understand it.  But this often-copied ending still ended up out there.  It became common.  And because it was common knowledge, so to speak, it changed how writers can tell that sort of story.  These days, most readers know to look for that sort of twist.  And they’ll pick up on the subtlest of clues or hints.  And I need to be aware of that if I want to tell one of those stories—that people will almost be expecting it.
            Because if I don’t, I should know I’m about to make some clumsy mistakes.
            Next time, I want to talk about some more basics.
            Until then… go write.