Mark Terry

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Today's Thought Question For Novelists

January 24, 2013
I'm editing a manuscript for a client (Yes, I do this and yes, I'd like to do more of it, hint, hint, hint).

It's pretty good, overall.

Is it publishable? Is it good enough for a publishing house publisher to ask to publish it? (Versus self-publishing, in which I think the answer to the question is Yes. It's good enough to appeal to readers. I'm not sure it's good enough to appeal to publishing house editors.)

Let's take that question to a more realistic extreme.

Imagine that you are the acquiring editor at a publishing house. Imagine that your job is to acquire, let's say, 12 novels a year, one each month. Imagine further that you are reading possibly 100 full manuscripts and 300 partial (a very low estimate) manuscripts.

Furthermore, not only is your job overall dependent on doing this in a way that makes money, the more the better, for the publishing house, but the more money it makes for the publishing house, the bigger a year-end bonus you will get if it does great.

Now ask yourself: Would I publish this manuscript?

And for grins and to make sure that we're all doing this in a meaningful way ... imagine that the manuscript you're reading reading is yours?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm Coming To Get Your Guns!

January 10, 2013

Ignore Feinstein! You have nothing to worry about from her! You need to worry about me! Yes, folks, all of you who have been posting these things on Facebook. I'm coming to take your guns away from you. Personally. All 100,000,000 households in the United States. I'm coming to each and every one of your houses and I'm demanding you give me your guns, all 200,000,000 to 300,000,000 of them. I'm going to take them and melt them down and make a giant monument of every person who has ever been killed by a gun.

And if you resist - and you'd better not! - I'm going to bring on my squadron of black attack helicopters and my ninja midget army. We will take your guns by force, by God! Hear me? I'm taking your guns away! All of them!

And before you get going on ... I'm taking your knives away, too. And your ball-peen hammers. And your baseball bats. Because I'm just getting ahead of your argument that we only try to regulate guns when they're used to kill people, but we don't regulate knives or ball-peen hammers or baseball bats.

Well, hell. Why stop there? Fists are used to kill people? People are strangled. So I'm taking away your hands, too.

Since my increasingly loopy father-in-law told us at Christmas that he wasn't going to church because Obama wasn't allowing guns there and someone was going to come in and shoot everybody, I'm going to close all churches. If we can't keep the guns out of the churches - because the 2nd amendment does guarantee us the right to a well-armed parishioner - then we'll have to just close all the churches.

What? You think I sound like a raving lunatic? That I don't make any sense?

Now you know how I feel when I see nonsense like the post above.

I'm not anti-gun. I can actually think about this issue in a rational way. Can you?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Game of Thrones - Point Of View

January 8, 2013
As I've been reading George RR Martin's GAME OF THRONES, I've had real cause to think about a story's point of view. I've written about POV often on this blog and devote a fair amount of time to it in my free booklet, On Writing, which can be downloaded for free here.

Although there are myriad POVs to choose from in fiction, the most common, and probably (in my opinion anyway) most effective, are:

-third-person, single POV. In other words, the story is told from the point of view of a single person, even though it is narrated in the third person.

-first-person, single POV. Popular in cozy mysteries and PI fiction, it has its limitations, but it's very intimate.

-third-person, multiple POV. Several characters share a POV scene or chapter. This is typically how I write my Derek Stillwater novels, although I usually structure things so that Derek's POV is in at least every other chapter, so it's clear he is the main character. The novellas - to-date, that would be DIRE STRAITS, but I'm working on GRAVEDIGGER, which will be out sometime in the first half of this year hopefully, and I use a third-person, single POV for them.

There are, of course, many other ways. Occasionally writers mix first-person and third-person with varying degrees of success. Rick Riordan's recent THE MARK OF ATHENA, had about 6 narrators. Each narrator got 2 chapters at a time. It worked, although part of the problem is if you like some characters more than others, the ones by characters you're less inclined to spend time with get to be a little bit of a chore.

And of course, there's the omniscient third-person, which has the reader wandering in and out of different character's heads and POVs seemingly at will. Mostly this way sucks and gets confusing, but I'm sure there are good examples of it somewhere. (None come to mind).

I'm a big believer in structure along these lines and in making life easier for the reader, so I'm biased. When you use multiple POVs, I really think you need to structure things.

Which brings me to GAME OF THRONES. Martin has 9 POV characters. Each one gets a chapter, in seemingly no particular order. It works quite well. There are basically 3 story lines. Each chapter is labeled whose POV it is, so it works. While we're in each chapter, it doesn't wander from that character's POV. We're not in Tyrion's head then drifting into Jon or Eddard or Catelyn or Arya's head. Thank God for that. [Let me think. In GOT the POV character's are: Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Cersei, Daenerys, Arya Stark, and Sansa Stark. There's also a prologue told from the POV of a guy named Gared. So technically 10, although Gared doesn't live past chapter one.]

The reason I bring this up in this context, is that it is my understanding that somewhere down the line, possibly Martin's A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, he's got 31 POV characters.

As much as I'm enjoying GOT, I confess to more than a little bit of trepidation about reading a book with that many POV characters. Granted, his books are massive, 300,000 to 500,000 words, but ... 31 POV characters? How does the writer keep them straight, let alone the reader?


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Sex & Nudity

January 2, 2013
Yesterday I finished watching the first season of GAME OF THRONES. I'm also reading the book. Okay, for the few of you who aren't familiar with this, it is basically the first giant book in a massively long fantasy series written by George R.R. Martin. It involves a hell of a lot of political intrigue in a medieval setting, where there is more or less a battle for the throne of the seven kingdoms. The first book, Game of Thrones, and the first season of the HBO series, focuses on the Stark family, which rules the northern territory of the 7 kingdoms. Ned Stark, basically the governor, is asked by his friend King Robert Baratheon, to become the Hand of the Kingdom (primary advisor) after the previous Hand dies. Ned doesn't want to. He's happy enough staying out of palace politics and minding his own cold and snowy kingdom and making sure the Wall stays intact, which keeps the Others and other magical evil things away from the rest of the kingdom. But he goes and man, the shit does fly.

Anyway, if the TV series is noted for anything besides terrific acting, it's probably known for a lot of sex, an enormous amount of nudity, and pretty graphic violence.

Let me just add that I'm not really particularly offended by any of it in general, but I wanted to point out something about the sex and nudity in the TV show versus the books, because I think it highlights something fairly important to writers. That has to do with choices.

But first, if you haven't seen the show, right from the first episode we have people having sex (primarily, er, doggie style), with full frontal nudity for women. It's an equal opportunity show, actually, with a fair amount of full frontal nudity for men, as well as lesbian sex, at least inferred gay male sex, and references to pedophilia, as well as a kid of about 6 or 7 or 8 breastfeeding with his mother.

Is it gratuitous? I didn't think so at first, then I began to wonder. I'm going to give two examples.

Example 1. Daenerys Targaryen, in the book, is 13 years old, although somewhat older in the TV series. She has been essentially sold by her brother to the local horse lord in exchange for use of the horse lord's army. (This does not go well for anybody, by the way). Being young and inexperienced and naive, among other things, in the TV show we get to see her wedding night with more fairly brutal doggie sex. Anyway, a little later on, she asks one of her handmaidens, who used to work in a brothel, while being bathed by her, how to please a man. The handmaiden demonstrates on Dany, and Dany appears to enjoy this. As, I might point out, did I, and most men watching the show, I would guess. We later see Dany seducing her husband, and it turns into a love affair. (Which like most such things in this book, ends rather badly).

Okay. All well and good. It's important to the plot to some extent. So when I read that section in the book, it's, well, really not there. Dany is being prepared by her handmaidens, and she asks the one to stay after dismissing the others. And what we have is basically a sentence saying something along the lines of, "They stayed up the entire night talking." And then at the end of the chapter, a page or two later, we have her seducing Khol Drogo, her husband.

Example 2. In this scene, we get Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, who is The Keeper of the Coin to the king (i.e., treasurer), counselor, brothel owner, and just about as trustworthy as a nest full of angry scorpions. In this scene (which I haven't come to in the book yet), Petyr is at one of his brothels in his office, while two naked women appear to be having sex. Which he interrupts to complain that they can't even fake it well, then tells them how to do it better, which they then do, while he talks, and talks, and talks.

Now. Here's an interesting thing. Besides the fact the show is on HBO, so it can get away with higher levels of sex and nudity, I believe the scriptwriters and directors, et al., made a choice. They sexed the damn thing up.

That's fine. What I find interesting about the second example, in particular, is, whether it's in the book or not, what Petyr is saying during this period is exposition. Expositional material is deadly dull on screen, often very challenging to actors unless you're a big fan of Shakespearean soliloquies. It seemed to me that what the writers and directors chose to do in this scene was to have a lesbian sex scene going on simultaneously while Petyr provides a bunch of expository material. Weighing in at around 300,000 words, Game of Thrones has plenty of expository material. Often it's handled deftly - the writing on the TV series is quite good - and, after all, even stripping the 300,000 words down to bare bones, the series is something like 10 or 12 hours long.

I did have reason to wonder, though, with that density of material to draw from, why they always chose to utilize the sex and nudity part (aside from the obvious - ratings). The show has taken some hits for its treatment of women and the feeling that the nudity is often gratuitous (it is, but then again, so is at least some of the violence).

So yes, there's audience expectations behind some of those choices. But from a scriptwriting/directing POV, I think one of the things they've chosen to do is to use nudity and sex scenes as a way to distract from expository material. After all, if you just have two characters talking about backstory, readers/viewers get distracted. Have them discussing it while naked and having sex, or one person talking while the other person is getting naked (happens a lot, too), then the viewer is going to keep viewing, rather than wandering out to get another bottle of beer.