On Cliches, Gimmicks, and Cheap Writing Tricks

I don’t normally write about television shows or movies, mostly because I see everything years later after its initially premiered since we only use pay-to-play services like Netflix and Hulu. But this is only a review in part, mostly because a show got me thinking about common issues in writing.

I am a huge sucker for all things fantasy, sci-fi, or supernatural, so when I watched Hap and Leonard last year and loved it with a blazing passion, you could definitely color me surprised. The writing was clean, the characters were amazing, the story was part D.B. Cooper-style mystery, part tragic love story, part buddy movie, part clusterf*ck. The villains were insane (quite literally), and the entire thing was so compelling that I was instantly hooked. I think I ended up watching the whole first season in two days.

Needless to say, when Hap and Leonard season two came out, I was excited. I’d been waiting to see it for a little while, but it was… Not that good. Very different from the heart-pounding finale that I’d just re-watched a few days before in preparation.

I wanted to like this season… but unfortunately, it suffers from some really messy writing.

Most of it was one big, lagging blegh that had me begging for a twist that would reinvigorate my interest and throw me for a loop so I could stop predicting everything that was going to happen.

Every. Thing. That. Happened.

This got me thinking: the gimmicks and clichés they used in this season are common pitfalls that I’ve seen plenty of writers do. Was I surprised to find that I disliked the second season of this show almost as much as I liked the first? YES. And after watching it all, I narrowed it down to just a couple of reasons I think the new season didn’t hold water… or my attention, largely.

So, here are 5 writing mistakes (based on what I saw in Hap and Leonard season two!) that you should avoid:

1. Clichéd villains

On the topic of villains, season one of H&L had some amazing ones. These people were dynamic, they were interesting, they were flawed, and their motivations were unique (if not WTF). But season two threw these interesting characters away and replaced them instead with some cartoonish villains straight out of your Saturday morning line-up.

I expected more from these bad guys, but what the writers delivered was some Scooby-Doo-esque caricatures of down south good ol’ boys. The villains in this season had little real motivation or drive. Overall, the bad guys were weak, unmotivated, and boring. And there are few things worse to do to your story than to give someone a boring villain.

Your villain is a tremendously important part of your story. They should be able to drive the plot and force your characters to react. They have to put your good guys in a no-win situation where all bets are off and your characters have to make a decision. Good bad guys cannot be oafish, buffoonish caricatures of people, because you’re never going to take them seriously.

Think of a villain that really got your blood pumping. Why did they make you feel that way? Think about what their motivation was. Think about them as people first, and bad guys second. Give them desires of their own.
Don’t have them crunch beer cans in their hand to threaten the good guy.

Seriously. Don’t.

2. Making side characters one-dimensional

Ah, stereotypes, how we love you—said no one ever. For H&L being set in 1980s Texas, I knew there were bound to be some. In the first episode of season one, for example, our two heroes are kicked out of the rose fields because some cheaper migrant Mexican farmers took thur jerbs.

This stereotype, however minor, ends up becoming a major catalyst to propel the story, so it’s one that probably gets overlooked immediately. Hap and Leonard are clearly down on their luck, struggling to pay their bills, and doing hard manual labor out in the fields. Losing their meager means of employment makes them susceptible to an offer that they would not otherwise take, so it had a decent purpose.

Season two, however, went off the deep end. Given that this season is based around the disappearances of young black children, they attempted to address the racial environment at the time. The writers wanted to focus the tension between cops and the black neighborhood where this takes place, and they have the double task of showing a black detective trying to earn the respect of his white comrades. But for a show that wanted to address many topics of racial inequality, I was confused as to why they filled it with so many racial stereotypes.

Season one gave us deep emotional connections between the main characters. It told the sad story of what happened between Trudy and Hap, and Hap and Leonard’s tragic bond. One of the white characters even stands up against another white man calling Leonard a racial slur, getting more upset at it than Leonard himself. The characters were well-rounded, had their morals, beliefs, and lines in the sand. Season two… not so much. Perhaps it was the addition of so many new characters, but these people often ended up being pointless stereotypes that seem stretched into handy MacGuffins more than anything else.

And basically everyone is a racist. Everyone. Except Hap.

Several black female characters were often mouthy, gossipy, and prone to aggression. Many of the side character black men who got any screen time were drug-dealers, gang members, and on one occasion, murderers.

The beautiful leading lady, Florida, is introduced as an intelligent, well-to-do powerhouse attorney… who ends up a female love interest/MacGuffin. She never really helps her clients out and only actually goes to court one time, where despite her expertise, intelligence, and experience, she’s unable to get the judge to rule fairly… Yet Hap is able to easily strong-arm him to get the outcome she couldn’t.

Leonard himself, a gay man, ends up being put in a situation where he’s sexually assaulted by another gay man. Given the situation and the deep emotional moments of the first season, this could have been a real scene about Leonard’s own struggles with his sexuality/masculinity, or about consent, or vulnerability, as it had been in season one between him and his boyfriend. Instead, they took the easy route, portraying the other gay man as being overly sexed and aggressive while playing twangy country music over Leonard’s jittery escape to suggest that we should be laughing.

At sexual assault. Because he’s gay.

Even Detective Hanson was basically a stereotypical “Uncle Tom” figure, working for the white man and turning his back on his brothers. For his part, his struggle to maintain his racial identity as a police officer in a deeply racist town never really gets addressed, which was a shame and made his character very one-dimensional.

There are situations where stereotypes can come into play (RARELY), but your supporting characters should not be just empty, predictable, baseless stereotypes. Your secondary characters should have as much design behind them as your main character. If you give in to stereotypes, you’re not doing anyone any favors, least of all your writing. Make your characters—all of your characters—robust, dynamic, and unique.

3. Mistaking mystery for suspense

While season one of H&L had me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, season two stripped down the tension and replaced it with dumb-luck happenstance that guaranteed no matter how far off the reservation our characters went, they were going to end up going in the right direction. (Because ghosts?) Once that became apparent, the mystery they were trying to solve lost its oomph and the tension became forced.

Mystery and suspense seem to go hand in hand, but those who aren’t familiar with them can sometimes get confused or think that just because there’s mystery, there’s also going to be suspense.

Finding out that your favorite celebrity is pregnant and won’t say who the baby daddy is can be a mystery.

Finding out that she’s going to do a FB Live reveal in a week and it could be someone really, really inappropriate is suspense.

Just because there is mystery in your story, it doesn’t automatically mean there’s suspense; the two are not synonymous.

When you’re writing a mystery, remember to give your reader tense moments that genuinely threaten the characters’ cause. No one likes a boring, predictable plot.

4. Misdirected misdirection

Misdirects can be an intense and wonderful addition to your story. There’s nothing better than getting to that point in a book and gasping or having to pause for a moment or reread the last line in a brilliant plot twist that you didn’t see coming.

Misdirects have to, however, be: a) tantamount to the plot, and b) actually plausible.

There were a ton of misdirects in season two of H&L, but none of them were anything I could believe. These attempted misdirects weakened the plot and made the characters seem dumb on more than one occasion. If me, the TV-at-home viewer can figure out what’s happening and the characters can’t, it makes it feel like the writers expect the audience to not have many points in their Intelligence skill.

It’s also important to keep your misdirection to a minimum. Remember in Mission Impossible 2 how Tom Cruise’s character keeps taking off masks to reveal the truth behind various disguises? First time, gasp! Second time… okay…? And then after that it loses its effect because magic tricks aren’t as impressive if you see them over and over again.

5. Throwin’ continuity to the wind

There is nothing more infuriating than when you catch your characters or plot in a continuity error. I don’t even know how many forums and fan pages there are on the internet devoted to finding and revealing continuity errors in shows, movies, and books, but… it’s a lot.

This is so important in writing. Your reader/viewer/mom wants to feel like they’re really in the world you’ve created. Like they know and understand your characters and everything that drives them. If you break that for them, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Lots of shows end up doing this, but it happens in books a lot, too, which is why you should always know your characters and story.

In season two of Stranger Things, we’re introduced to Dustin’s pet turtle Yurtle when he finds a demodog. He takes Yurtle out of the aquarium, puts him down, and poof! Gone forever. This one issue stuck out so much to some viewers that we started #WheresYurtle on Twitter.

We’re still waiting for answers, people.

Likewise, in Hap and Leonard, Leonard keeps dogs on his property. The dogs play a significant role in the latter portion of the first season, and then in season two, the dogs… just disappear, never to be heard from again. There’s also the issue of a box filled with money that has literally never been mentioned in the entire second season, despite being imperative to the first. And season one was deep, gritty, and had black humor moments that were sparse and well-placed. Season two was filled with several poor attempts at humor that most often fell flat, ignoring the serious, dark tone of the first season entirely.

Nothing in your writing will distract and break your reader’s suspension of disbelief faster than having something out of place in a story. This could be your character’s actions, certain aspects of their appearance, or if elements of your story suddenly disappear or change drastically.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to keep track of your characters, their appearances, their wants, etc. You should also have a chart that lays out your story and plot points so you don’t forget and just wipe out something important in your world.

Just remember, your story is going to need details, believable people and plots, and continuity that would make any hardcore fan weep with delight. Because the last thing you want to do is leave your audience confused, angry, and waiting to find out where the f*ck that turtle went for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

Photo: Getty

 

 

Capitalization: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

One of the most common misconceptions that I run across in writing is when to capitalize things, and when they should stay lowercase. This is honestly a big issue, and can take your manuscript from potentially looking professional to seemingly amateurish in a heartbeat. It can be the difference between an agent or publishing house thinking that you know what you’re doing, or thinking that you started writing a week ago.

Proper capitalization in your writing is important for several reasons.

  • There are already pretty firm rules in place about this subject, so expressing ignorance of it means that you might also lack ignorance of other conventional writing rules.
  • If you Capitalize random words, It can make your Reader’s Voice messed up. Try reading This without doing a Weird version of Internal Puberty voice Changing in your Head. Can’t Do it, Can ya?
  • Capitalization is often used for emphasis or importance, but this is really, really, not the best use for it. It’s called “vanity capitalization,” and editors literally hate it. Capitalization should be kept to proper nouns (people’s names, place names, etc.), the first word in a sentence, and of course, proper titles.

One of the biggest no-no’s I’ve seen is confusing capitalization of honorifics. For some people, this can be a very difficult subject to broach, as there are many rules regarding the use of honorifics, and some of them are confusing.

What are honorifics? Honorifics are essentially “titles” that you give to people. Think sir, ma’am, mister, doctor, etc. For those of you writing medieval fiction, there are also the titles of royalty and lords. This can all get a bit confusing when you’re trying to figure out what needs to be capitalized, and what needs to be lowercase. So let’s start with some clarification!

When a title should or should not be capitalized:

First things first, NEVER capitalize “the” unless it’s the first word of your sentence or it’s the first word of your book/movie/art title.

“I saw The Secret Life of Pets the other day.” vs. “This is The Book of Shadows.” The second one is wrong. It will make your editor/agent/reader/publisher cringe. Don’t do it!

Sir & ma’am: Are only capitalized when they are the first word in a sentence.*

Correct:

Sir, I’ve got some bad news…”/ “But what were you hoping to hear, ma’am?”

Incorrect:

“I’ve got some bad news, Sir.” / “But what were you hoping to hear, Ma’am?”

* The only time this would be different is if you are introducing someone who’s been knighted, like Sir Elton John, or Sir Patrick Stewart. These are now titles that include the proper noun that makes them capitalized.

“Oh my goodness, it’s Sir Patrick Stewart! May I have your autograph, sir?”

“Eh, what do you know, mister?” vs. “That’s Mister Ford.”

“Can I ask you a question, miss?” vs. “I’m telling Miss Davis!”

Familial use

“But Mom said I could go.” vs. “That’s my mom.”

“Didn’t you ask your father?” vs. “Yes! And Father said I could go.”

“I’m going to see my uncle.” vs. “I’m going to see Uncle Robert.”

US political titles

“President” is a title frequently used in writing as a means of addressing the president. It also holds the first spot for one of the single most incorrectly capitalized terms I’ve ever seen. (And that’s not hyperbole, either.) You’ll notice in this paragraph that “president” is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence.

(The following samples in this section are all correct.)

That’s because it’s not a proper noun on its own and therefore should not be capitalized unless before a name or if that’s someone’s actual name.

“But sir, the president is on her way now.” / “Tomorrow, President Adams will be speaking in the courtyard.”

The same goes for other political titles, like senator, congressman/woman, ambassador, vice president or chairperson, etc.*

“This is Robert Davies, the senator from Montana.” / “Excuse me, Senator Davies?”

“I’d like to introduce you to Congressman/woman Jones.” / “The congressman/woman isn’t available right now.”

*If your character is being addressed by a honorary title that includes the words “madame” or “mister,” etc. before it, then it is capitalized.

“Would Madame Ambassador follow me this way, please?” and “Mr./Mister Secretary, a word, if you can.” / “Please, Vice President Craig, listen to reason!” and “The vice president cannot take part in the meeting at this time.”

Titles of profession

Doctor, professor, officer, detective… these are all commonly capitalized when they should actually be lowercase. The only time these titles should be capitalized is when a proper noun follows them.

However, there are some grammar places that capitalize titles like “doctor” when they’re addressing the person by that title, though I personally do not follow these rules unless it’s a nickname, like calling your doctor “Doc.”

This is because doctor is both a profession as well as a title, and if you’re addressing someone as “doctor,” you’re calling them by their profession. It’s the same thing as saying “teacher” or “mailman.” None of these professional titles are typically capitalized unless adjoined to a proper name, like below.

“I’ve got a bad cold, doctor.” vs. “I’ve got a bad cold, Doctor Strauss.”

“I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, professor.” vs. “I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, Professor Adams.”

“That’s an order, captain!” vs. “That’s an order, Captain Walsh.”

“Over here, officer!” vs. “Over here, Officer Waterson!”

“Let’s get started, detective.” vs. “Let’s get started, Detective Peters.”

“But the teacher said we can’t.” vs. “But Teacher told me we can!” –You’ll note here that “teacher” is capitalized. That’s because it’s being used in place of a name of one specific person, and can be treated as a proper noun. If someone calls their teacher “Teacher” in place of her name, it can be treated as a proper noun of sorts.

Pet names

Nope. No capitalizing pet names. Nicknames, yes. Pet names? No.

“How are you doing, honey?” vs. “How are you doing, Nicky?”

Religious terms

There are too many to address, so I will leave a helpful link here.

Medieval titles/royal titles

One of the biggest problems I run across in fantasy is the improper use of titles. Basically they follow the same rules as the titles of profession, with a few exceptions, which will be addressed below. For the most part, when using a title like king, queen, prince, princess, duke, duchess, etc., do NOT capitalize unless it’s a direct address that includes their name.

“Introducing Queen Tabatha Shaw.” vs. “Introducing the queen, Tabatha Shaw.”

“That horse is the king’s!” vs. “That horse belongs to King Michael!”

“Protect the king!” vs. “Protect King Michael!”

“This is the duchess, Sarah Milford.” vs. “This is Duchess Sarah Milford.”

“Ah, Princess Anne, you’re looking lovely today.” vs. “Ah, princess, you’re looking lovely today.”

“No, my prince, the hunt has been canceled.” vs. “No, Prince Eric, the hunt has been canceled.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Edward.” vs. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

(“My lord” and “my lady” are only ever capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. Consider them the same as sir or ma’am.)

Medieval title exceptions

“What will you have me do, sire?” (Like sir, this word is not capitalized unless it’s the first of a sentence.)

“Today we’re going to the Lord Mayor’s joust!” (Lord Mayor is a capitalized term. However, if you were to say, “We’re going to the mayor’s joust,” it would be lowercase. “We’re going to Mayor Johnson’s joust.”)

His Grace Duke Edward Gibbs.” vs. “How do you do, your grace?”

“But Your Majesty, we must adjourn.” vs. “But majesty, I must protest…”

“Oh, Your Excellency, of course!” vs. “Oh, of course, excellency.

“Yes, Your Highness, we will have it done right away.” vs. “No, highness, we didn’t.”

These cover a few common (and easy to confuse) terms that should either be capitalized or lowercased given their use in the sentence.

And remember, when in doubt, find out if there is a name after the title or honorific, and choose accordingly.

Photo: weheartit

Think You Couldn’t Possibly Lose Your Amazon Publishing Account? Think Again.

VERY Important information about authors on Kindle Unlimited through Amazon

The Active Voice

There’s this indie author I know a little bit from the Kboards.com forum. Her name is Pauline Creeden, and she’s an ordinary midlister, like so many of us. I remember PMing her some time ago and gushing about how particularly beautiful one of her book covers is — the one for Chronicles of Steele: Raven.collection Here, I’ll include an image. Gorgeous, eh?

Anyway, today I tuned in to Kboards and noticed that Pauline had started a thread. It contained what’s surely the worst news possible for an indie author: Amazon had closed her publishing account. All her ebooks had been taken off sale. Permanently. Here’s the email she got from Amazon:

We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate…

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Just. One. Book.

Help them out!

Throwing Chanclas

Just. One. Book.

I live in a town of 1200 people in the Northern Sierra Nevada –where it meets the Cascade Range near Mt. Lassen National Park and about two hours drive northwest of Reno, NV.  Two hundred of that population is students. Over the years as the population dwindled after mines closed, then mills–nothing except tourism and retirement have emerged as ‘industries.’ Many businesses have closed down and with it many things we take for granted—like libraries.

The local junior/senior high school has not been able to purchase new books since the 90s. Some of the “check outs” for old books are in the 1980s. There are no books by people of color in the library. Hardly any books by women are in the few book cases except your standard Austen and Lee. It’s an uninviting place. There hasn’t been a librarian for nearly a decade. And volunteers weren’t allowed. The…

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Talk that Talk (the Way Your Reader Likes it!)

Today, Inklings, we’re talking about talking.

Naturalizing your dialogue, to be specific.

Every writer has their own unique voice when they’re writing, because every person has their own dialect, inflections, voice patterns, and even vocabulary or colloquialisms. This is part of what makes language so diverse and gratifying to play with. You can use a variety of letters and sounds, and even make up your own!

But despite this, many writers struggle when it comes to making their characters speak, and if you have this problem, trust me, you are not alone. Dialogue between imaginary characters is hard, dude.

There are books upon books and blogs and lessons and classes and conferences about creating awesome dialogue, but there is a much, much simpler method of amping your character’s convos up to enjoyable levels.

1. Listen to conversations around you.

Go to your local coffee shop, grocery store, park. Sit for a while and hear how people speak. Pay attention to how they phrase things, or what inflection they use. Are they guilty of “up talk” or “vocal fry?” Do they over use the word “like” or “uhm” or “you know” because they are struggling to piece their words together? Do they have a tic, like beginning every sentence with “Okay, so…”, or just jump in and talksofastyoucan’tevencatchup? Believe it or not, these are all things you can incorporate (within reason) in your own writing. To make dialogue in writing believable, you have to know speaking in real life. You have to understand speech patterns—but this isn’t as hard as it sounds.

As human beings, we are actually significantly gifted at picking up body language and tone in speech, and now, it’s your great difficulty to translate that innate knowledge into your book.

2. USE. CONTRACTIONS.

As I’ve stated many times before, one of the easiest ways to make your language flow is an extraordinarily simple one. When you’re talking to a family member, do you say everything so prim and proper that you could be an extra in Pride and Prejudice? Chances are, no, no you don’t. Everyone has their “professional” voice and their “relaxed” voice. Professional you might be more precise, but chances are you won’t be able to cut those syllables with a chisel, right? Relaxed voice is how you normally speak, when you’re alone or with comfortable acquaintances. Putting a sense of “relaxed” voice in dialogue is a fantastic way of making your reader “say” it in their own version of relaxed voice, which makes it flow smooth like butta, baby. And the best way to do this? Use contractions.

“Do not take that bag out of the closet! If I have to look for it, I will end up late to practice!”

“Jer, we are going to the store. Is there anything you will need me to pick up?”

“I cannot forget to put all of the laundry in the dryer when I get home.”

“But Barbara, there is nothing you can do. He told you he does not want any help.”

Or

“Don’t take my gym bag out of the closet! If I’m late to practice because it’s missing, I’ll be pissed!”

“Jer, we’re going shopping. You need anythin’?”

“Aww, crap! I gotta remember to switch the laundry over when I get back.”

“Barb, you can’t do anything. He said he doesn’t want help.”

Write how people speak, not how a narrator would dictate a sentence.

3. Read EVERYTHING aloud. ALL OF IT.

Go and read a portion of a book out loud. Doesn’t have to be dialogue or even your own work; just pick something and go. Did you find yourself sliding over the pronunciation of certain letters in favor of your relaxed voice? Like saying ‘don’ instead of don’t? Do you perhaps soften your “r” to the point where ya sound Bostonian? Did you read it fast, or slow? Did it jive with your internal voice, or did you find yourself pausing and rereading portions so you could reassess the tone? Reading written words aloud will strengthen your understanding of dialogue and language in general. Pay attention to your own accent. Are you from the south? Did you know that southern accents have different dialects depending on where you live? Midwestern tones can seem southern, but have subtle differences, and west coast people sound completely different from northerners and southerners altogether? A Bostonian accent is drastically different than one in New York, and both are distinguishable from New Jersey or New England.

Hearing words out loud from different regions can really help you develop a style of writing conversations that will give everyone an individual voice. If you want your characters to pop, give them different “vocal” affectations. Learn to recognize and incorporate different accents, dialects, and parts of speech in your dialogue to give your character, well… character.

4. Use slang and colorful (not necessarily vulgar) language.

My siblings and I grew up in northern Florida surrounded by country folk and surfer dudes, but my mother is from New York, so we picked up a lot of slang from her that wasn’t common in that area. I ended up pronouncing forest as “fah-rest” or orange as “ah-renge”, and we abbreviated “shut up” so that it became a single word (“shaddup!”) and we called unidentified bits of paper or fluff on the floor “schnibbles.” At the same time, I was developing a touch of a lazy drawl, and getting a bit too relaxed around g’s, if you know what I’m sayin’. I was comfortable with “surfer talk”—which is its own thing entirely. I found out that I would specify tacos at Taco Bell the southern way of “the 89 cent” ones—yes, children, tacos did used to be that cheap. We don’t lie when we say the 90s were a wonderful time—or when telling someone to leave “something” alone, I would often jam the words together to pronounce it as “Lea’ that alone.” I fought against using “ain’t,” although I will admit that it has slipped in conversation at least twice. Language is fun! Use various methods to make yours enticing.

5. If it doesn’t need it, DON’T MAKE THEM TALK.

Sometimes, the best things are left unsaid, right? Well, occasionally. In dialogue, “a picture is worth 1000 words” takes on extra meaning. If you can show us what’s going on without your characters talking us through it, then do it. When you’re writing a screenplay, dialogue is a precious commodity. You seriously have to consider what words are going on that page because you are so limited with page space. Some of my favorite parts of a movie are where the characters say absolutely nothing because the action speaks so well for them. If your character is talking when they really should be quiet, remove it. See how well silence can direct a scene for you.

Pixar actually does a fantastic job nixing dialogue in favor of showing action—think of the beginning of the movie Up, or actually don’t, because I do not need to cry right now. How about a film like Wall-E, instead? The action carried so well that they were able to forego dialogue in HUGE portions of the film, and one of the sweetest moments ever is when Wall-E first meets Eve:

Now imagine if he had been giving her verbose, expository dialogue about how he’d been fulfilling his mission to box all the trash on Earth.

When in doubt, go without!

 

photo: SFStation

3 Cliches (That Completely Lose Your Reader)

The Top 3 Clichés that Make Me Close a Book

By Kelly Kobayashi

1. The Love Triangle

How many times have you yourself been in a Love Triangle? How many times has anyone you’ve ever known? I’m sure I’m blowing your mind when I tell you honestly that neither is true from my own experience. Have I known girls who broke up with one guy because they found themselves attracted to someone new? Definitely. Have I known guys who stayed silent and sat on their feelings until they sorted out which girl of two to approach? Of course.

But I’ve never personally known anyone just so darn alluring that multiple people crushed on them (and made their passionate feelings known) at once. I’ve never found myself so confused by my own feelings as to selfishly string anyone along. I’ve never known any boy, girl, man, or woman so stupid as to not know the difference between “I find this person hot” and “I care for this person’s story, their happiness, opinions, feelings, and overall well being.” Lust and Love are not hard to separate, even for teenagers. Shocking, I know.

So, even more offensive to me than the predictability, pointlessness, and utter failure at creating tension, is that the Love Triangle is just unrealistic. It’s lazy. And it’s actually pretty insulting, especially to YA readers. We know who we would pick, so why is the protagonist such a shallow, cruel, weak dimwit?

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Don’t care. *slams book shut*

2. The Misunderstanding That Could Be Solved With a Single Conversation

Usually goes something like this: Girl sees Boyfriend walking beside another girl across the street. (They are not even holding hands.) Next day, Girl freezes Boyfriend out. No texts, no calls, no explanation.

Girl, I don’t have time for you and your faux drama. Boyfriend is really better off without you if that’s the way you’re going to act.

Or how about this: Male Lead of high fantasy novel finds out his Female Lead is stuck in an unwanted-but-arranged marriage, which—due to obvious factors such as time period, societal norms, and family politics—is completely understandable, but he still accuses Female Lead of betrayal, cowardice, and gold-digging.

Um, Author, you set up this world. You designed it as a medieval realm. You created gender parameters around the Female Lead. You made arranged marriages an accepted practice. Why is your Male Lead throwing 2016 shade?

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Nope. *slams book shut*

3. The Misdirected Insta-Thirst for Revenge

Ugh. This one I really just can’t take seriously. And it’s the crux of far too many crime thrillers and graphic novels. This one plays out: Villain murders Mentor, Love Interest, or Family Member, then leaves scene. Best friend enters scene. Hero walks in, merely sees Best Friend standing over the body (wearing a look of horror), and vows REVENGE! upon them.

Call me nitpicky, but I’m pretty sure I would want to… you know, ask questions, investigate, and FIND THE REAL VILLAIN who is not my OBVIOUSLY-A-GOOD-GUY Best Friend?! I would at least ask Best Friend what happened. Did they see anyone? Did they just get there like I did? Have they already called for an ambulance?

If the Hero’s friendship is so tissue-paper-thin that he can believe Best Friend capable of murder, I don’t care if he realizes the truth later. Best Friend should run in the opposite direction from this idiot’s brand of loyalty and consideration.

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I can’t even. *slams book closed*

 

Feat. Photo: mensxp

Yangon, Myanmar

This week’s short story comes to us anonymously! Below is the review of the untitled piece, as well as some suggestions for how to make it even better. Any suggestions or questions can be put in the comments section below.

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One of the very first things you want your reader to do is be intrigued. You have to really pull someone in within the first few paragraphs so that they have a reason to keep reading. That means you’re going to need to give your reader one of two things: Action, or mystery.

Action and mystery are great openers; they will pull your reader in. But it will do absolutely nothing if there isn’t anything interesting for us to find out. If your character is going through a series of nonsensical  movements (to your reader, at least), and we don’t know why, that’s not mystery, it’s just confusion.

You have a beautiful set up here: “Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangnon, largely unknown to western eyes.” But that isn’t followed through with anything. It immediately gets dismissed by the next sentence. “How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.”

How to strengthen your opening? Remove the weak area.

How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.  We set off into the night time of Yangon.

“Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve.  In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.”

Already this is building a world for me. I can imagine it, I can smell the mangoes, I can see the people. That’s great! That will pull your reader in. Where are they going? What are they doing in this tropical paradise? I want to know more!

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Notes 2. In the paragraph following the beautifully described world, you have your character somewhat frantically going to find directions. This pulled me out of the story. Apart from showing their state of mind, and letting us know that there’s somewhere they need to be, which could be summarized neatly in a few sentences at the start of the following paragraph, this particular paragraph doesn’t do anything for your reader. In a short story, you’ll have less time to pull your reader in. This paragraph could easily be shortened and joined with the following one, or removed and summarized in fewer sentences.

Screenshot 2016-03-28 18.17.54.pngNotes 3. You definitely want to specify to your readers about anything related to temperature. Given that we Americans can’t figure out degrees in Celsius to save our hides, we instinctually fall back on the Fahrenheit degree base, and twenty-four degrees in Fahrenheit does not a pleasant bike ride make! If your readers might be from various parts of the English-speaking world, make sure to specify things like this just so they don’t have to double take to figure out what you mean.

Notes 4. For British/UK English, the standard is to keep the ‘s’ at the end. (Towards/backwards) This is simply a matter of where you intend for your main audience to be. Again, if this is elsewhere in the English-speaking world outside of America, this would probably stay in. To publish in America, however, the ‘s’ would be taken out (toward/backward). Small differences, but they can add up. The same can be said with any s to z changes. In America: organize, realize, recognize, etc. Outside of America: organise, realise, recognise. And of course we Americans also remove the ‘u’ from words like colour.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story!  You got a lot of detail and description in for such a small amount of pages. You definitely have a strength in creating a vivid landscape. I could see the story. I could picture what was going on. Your imagery was beautiful and strong, and really pushed me through it. There was a great flow to the way you described everything. There is a little to be corrected as far a pace goes, like with the part that stalled me, but overall, it was a fun read.

I wanted to mention, as well, that after having read this story, that I have no idea what your character looks like, if they’re male or female, or even what they’re wearing. I kind of argued with myself about even mentioning it, because I honestly can’t tell if I like it more without the protagonist having an identity. It did nag at me a little, but then, it’s my job to notice things like that.

Thanks so much, Anonymous Inkling, for letting me read and critique your short story! I will be sending along the rest of my critiques later on. For those of you who want to read the full piece, you can find it here:

Yangon, Myanmar

Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve. In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.

I dance alongside my companions hopping over gaping holes in the unlit pavement, rapidly chatting while casting around for scarce landmarks.  We continue past juice stalls where petite, raven haired women feed sticks of sugarcane into the jaws of ancient industrial mangles, solid, glossy, dark green monsters, next to them, tailors are bent over elegant Singer sewing machines. I scribble down hieroglyphic directions, TL elephant temple, TR rickshaws, alleyway straight arrow, TL… or would that be R in reverse? Too late, we cross the main road and run over a tiny footbridge.

We hop onto a narrow path of gangplanks past a parade of dark, wooden, open fronted shop houses.  The cavern-like interiors are entirely exposed. Rooms are lit with bare, single light bulbs and piled high with dusty stock and family belongings. On high shelves. tiny spirit houses adorned with orange and pink temple garlands glow against the dark wood. The smell of incense wafts out. The locals end their day over the evening meal at simple wooden tables and straight-backed chairs, hypnotized by the ubiquitous TV. We stride purposefully past, unable to resist glancing sideways to peer into their lives laid bare, one eye on the gangplank.  One family space after another is surreptitiously examined as the inhabitants simultaneously look up into our strange European and North African faces. Warm smiles and nods are exchanged in a mutual understanding of reciprocal curiosity.  We turn the corner and enter the restaurant.

After much engrossing conversation, suddenly it’s 9:40 p.m. I say goodbye and head out. Round the corner back along the gangplank, more smiles and nods. Across the main road, TL into the alleyway back onto the half built street. This is all right, I can do this. Did I see that yellow sign on the way? Never mind. Into the next street. Was it left? Hang on, find a streetlamp, still got fifteen minutes, it’s not that far.  Check the map. What’s this street called?  It’ll look familiar in a bit. No, it doesn’t. Definitely not.  Ask that street vendor over there. He gently takes the map from my hands and very slowly turns to his light. Oh no. I hop from one foot to another desperately trying not to be impolite. This street? This way? Yes?  Twelve minutes. Right, I’ll get there. Just dance around people and traffic a bit faster.  Okay, this is it. Go. Got to get there, don’t want to keep them waiting, once in a lifetime experience. Why didn’t I leave earlier?  Getting closer now, it’s round this next corner and up past the Swiss Embassy. Just need to jog a bit now. I wonder if that’s where that car’s going? Probably.  Yes, there’s the sign, Bike Rides, Yangon. It’s 9:59 p.m.

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The bikes are allocated; they’re good quality mountain bikes.  We twist and circle around each other in the courtyard testing the feel of the brakes and changing up and down the gears. The group is a mix of thirty-seven friendly expats, independent travelers and regular cyclists, German, Dutch, American, Canadian and Burmese.  The leader is a fifty-something affable Australian expat with a confident, funny Burmese wife.  He’s straight up as you’d expect, and mildly curious.

We file out of the gate, and I’m ecstatic. We’re cycling around the capital of Burma in the middle of the night, not due back until 1:00 a.m. We circle onto the main road and soon start to pick up speed and file onto a highway, fluorescent marshalls slot in along the line.  As we settle down we’re a fluttering constellation of lights against an inky sky. The line moves into a steady pace and some of the regulars draw alongside for deceptively casual conversation while keeping an eye out for potholes and street dogs. At twenty-four degrees Celsius it’s just cool enough to ride and the breeze is welcome.

We file down city streets, past night markets of smoky food stalls and endless pavement banquets.  Before the intersection, we’re told it’s the left fork in case of separation.  Accelerating across the lights as one, we swoop leftwards disappearing into the blackness like a shoal.  We pick up a swift pace along blissfully traffic free roads.

Everyone is warmed up and tuned in and we spread out as confidence grows. The tarmac is undulating in places, and it’s largely dark, so you need to be a confident rider. This is no tourist trundle. We spool down a long section and past the ornate white palace of the City Hall and toward some of the more decrepit colonial buildings at the waterfront. They’re poorly lit, so I’m straining to see much. The Customs House has been renovated, and the Strand Hotel that entertained Rudyard Kipling is imposing and impressive. The high court is a little like St. Pancras station in London. I make a mental note to read Orwell’s Burmese Days.  We pass the port authority and come into the central area.

I’ve teamed up with a Canadian who peels away from the line. I follow instantly and we head towards the 2,500-year-old Sule Pagoda, in the middle of what is now a huge roundabout.  Its endless golden spire punctures the dark velvet sky. The white dome is encircled by grotto-like shrines, their interiors brightly lit in citrus limes and lemons. It’s a fairy tale, fairground sight. We swoop onto the curve and spin around the outside, stealing glimpses at the golden Buddha’s heads surrounded by multi-colored sunbursts of flashing neon lights.  We sprint round a second time, faster, leaning into the road, laughing with glee and exhilaration at this fantastical, surreal merry-go-round, and race off to catch the others.

The group is on the road out of the city now and we begin a gentle climb, I start to feel my thigh muscles burn. It’s about 11: 30 p.m. The pace slows a little, but is still good as we reach the flat and start the long home stretch. Soon the leaders stop and the line concertinas into a tight group. We climb off the bikes to stretch our legs and gulp down some much needed water.

People chat and examine each others’ bikes. As my heart rate and breathing slows I look up at the night sky and feel the tranquility and eeriness of a strange city at rest. The quiet chatter of the other riders floats through the darkness. Then for no reason at all, I turn round. There, in the middle of an enormous jet black sky, gently glowing like a huge mythical, golden palace is the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar. It stands on a hill and at 325 feet, dominates the Yangon skyline. It contains the oldest Buddhist Stupa in the world. I’m rooted to the spot. I look at my watch, it’s past midnight. I feel giddy with awe and surprise.

 

Photo: A Link And Travel Tour