RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Fatuous, Trite Crap

Wanking – To pursue or perform something halfheartedly, improperly or without a clue in a middle of the road same ol’ shit manner. “Oh shit, that dude’s not really gonna not play Stairway to Heaven again, is he?” I managed a chain of 17 music stores and gave the staff at each location a chunk of brick shaped foam with “Wanker Brick” stenciled on it that they were free to throw at the Jump and Stairway people.

Here’s another one. I knew a guy in San Jose who could play any hot lick by any guitarist. He would string them together in a sales demo. Customers thought he was a God. The problem was, that’s all he could do. He couldn’t play in a band, never got a call back from an audition because all he could do was string phrases together that “sounded like” music. People used to ask me way back when, what is your problem with (the band) Kansas? I would say put it on and I’ll call out the trite rock phases strung together to create American Prairie Prog. That’s a whole other discussion, but the comparison stands.

None of the Dan Alatore school reads this so it’s okay for me to have an opinion that is personal only, and not put forward as fact, but I see a lot “Go, Tiger!” comments on his follower’s blogs where the content is no more than trite phrases, often illogically strung together to form short scenes. Usually of the ohmygoshangolly there’s a hole in the universe in my basement! (or my horse drawn coach, old well, farmhouse, castle, swimmimg pool etc.) If you want that, someone who does it with a very postmodernist and literate flair is here.

Otherwise, save the Nancy Drew time traveler to be amazed by the wonders of unfolding secrets in a dark basement. How does she know they are unfolding? Don’t ask me, it’s dark and she is immobile at the top of the stairs. Cosmic flashlight maybe? Eyes adjusting to the dark? Don’t mention that sort of thing thing, though, because in that universe it is perfectly acceptable to be illogical and whimsically day dreamy like a small town home schooled teenager without access to the internet or cable.

I recently saw someone make character struggle equations as they relate to Tolkien. Please. William Wallace Cook’s Plotto and Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations line all that out. Which brings me full circle to Fatuous, Trite Crap and Wanking.

Sure, there’s a formula. Holy moly look at Lester Dent, more copied and plagiarized and ripped off than any author since the 1930’s. He had a formula. There’s a formula for anything we want to write. The key is not to fill the pages with trite crap and borrowed phrases that “sound like” writing. Characters get into situations and things happen. Obstacle and conflict. We can do it Nancy Drew style, or we can just wank how we think we read what a successful or admirable author wrote, or we can try to write something that jumps off the page or tells the same old story in a good way. But we should make it about something, or someone, and not just wank our way through a formula or middle schooler’s day dream diary. We should write like we mean it. Even if it’s predictable (and it is) crap.


Published by

Phil Huston


14 thoughts on “RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Fatuous, Trite Crap”

  1. What does Jackson want? Yet, what does he need?
    What does THG need? It’s probably not what she wants.

    Those two, generally opposite, dynamics will drive your characters to do what they do. A series of smaller needs vs wants strung together culminating in a grand need (constantly attenuated by their wants) will be a story.

    What’s wrong with keeping such a tiny rule in the back of one’s mind — along with the thousand other tiny rules — eventually assimilating enough of them such that one day, one’s words just flow — guided by the body of understanding gathered along the way, including the simple needs/wants theory? It’s just a heuristic to tuck away and remember now-and-then to help build a story.

    And the Tolkien reference? That was pure fluff. Interesting fluff, though. The guys analysis holds water. What’s in a plot? Shit! If every story can be squared into a round plot hole and fit — then plot doesn’t really mean a thing — does it?

    But what Frodo wanted — to destroy the Ring, vs what he needed — Sam’s friendship, WAS the story. Or rather, what Same wanted — to help Frodo destroy the ring vs what he needed — Frodo to acknowledge him as the loyal friend that he was — WAS the story.

    All these little bits I jot down, they’re just theories. They’re me making sense of the process. A fraction of it sticks, stays with me as I continue to learn — and that’s my goal.

    You might think you can just, “sit down and let your characters tell their story,” but that’s a lie. There are hundreds of factors that go into excellent writing. Internalizing these factors is necessary so that /eventually/, sure, you can sit down and let your people speak through your words. But learning to do that takes years. And if me exploring certain theories or methods or techniques is how I come to grips with the arduous task of internalizing all of these nuanced skills, then, why should that bother you?

    The totem is tall. Instead of pissing on it, grab a chisel and help carve it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is some lopsided relativism in that. The problem I have is with compartmentalization. If post it notes and memes would get Beethoven’s symphony in Cm written, I’m all for it. I find it a flawed process, that’s all. What I would suggest to someone who can write lines and lines of code to get to a point but can’t handle dialog driven prose is to immediately cease looking for the triggers and the devices. Those are all out there by the thousands. Hashed and rehashed.
      Hear this -As long as the beast is caged it is toothless.
      Instead of a piece of this and that buy or obtain by other means, open and use some things like The Lie That Tells a Truth and Revising Prose instead of justifying fumbling through whatever WIP is on your mind with “Win one for the gipper” shit taped to your monitor. Learn the skill and you’ll quit looking for it like the magic you insist does not exist. In your gig you compose, edit, correct and move forward. It’s exactly the same only without constraints to what you compose. Editing and correction are the same. Learn how. It’s not impossible or the process of years, simply put the routine at your fingertips and apply it to what is on your page. But you have to have the whole equation, not some freaking Go get em Tiger that adjusts your mindset. Once you have demythologized the concept and are free to projectile create we’ll get back to that letting characters tell their own story. As for Jackson, what he wanted was to be cool and what he needed, like his mom said, was an ass kicking. Which you would have known if you could handle more than five lines of dialog over 200 pages of rambunctious narrative. Greystoke comes to mind. Visceral, non verbal, solo. Which is cool, but the craft is all the same and all the memes and mom’s commas in the world won’t get the beast out of the cage. That’s your job. No one needs to learn to write. Writers need to learn to let go and then how to fix their mess.
      It’s the wankers who refuse one or both of those disciplines that drive me crazy. It’s okay to write or emulate crap, not okay NOT to have the discipline (lazy) to learn how to fix it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Much of this disconnect may rise from the fact that, in real life, I’m not a talker. Taciturn, perhaps even morose to a fault. Just as YOU are Jackson, I am many of my characters too. And I just don’t converse much. So, neither do they.
        When I do it’s rarely about what most folks prolly talk about: never about people and their everyday lives and their environment. Rarely about current events. Most often, its existential, societal, epidemiological, “out-there” concepts. Shit like that doesn’t transfer well to storytelling.


      2. You need to read some fablios, myth, the bible. Many a “grand” concept has been brought to its knees by Aesop and B’rer Rabbit, Chaucer, Socrates and even lowly Pooh. I read a book, probably someone’s grad thesis, The Tao of Pooh. Now if a guy can use the citizens of the Hundred Acre Wood to explain eastern religious concepts to westerners…Richard Bach blows it wide open with a biplane pilot who might just be the savior in Illusions. Get what’s in your head out, even if it takes a baby Tarzan flying solo. Hookers grappling with existentialism, Bad guys who love to cook, real estate agents debating right and wrong in their heads. Complete global fuck up incoming. What nobody wants is you as a character muttering to yourself. If that’s your piece of the pie read more Robert Louis Stevenson, or call me Ishmael (but save us the preaching and how to). Man against the universe. Han Solo, Don Quixote, Tarzan, Mad Max. Did you ever see A Boy and His Dog? Read the script/plot summary, it’s one of yours. Like a how to of boy against the dystopia. Learn to put two and two on the page and then whack them back to 2.5 and carry on. There are no excuses or magic incantations or go get ’em tiger routines. Just plodding along, putting it down. Somebody asked John Wayne about his walk, how did he walk like that? Well, I put one foot in front of the other.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Egads! That’s me you’re talking about there! Thanks for that. You rock!

    Love this post, and as always, everything you say here. I know a few of those Stairway to Heaven people…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might go there, but you write with what can only be called a postmodern take on American Noir, not fatuous MOR. We’re talking the difference between adult Nancy Drew and Hemingway meets David Foster Wallace here. Your way is excellent. The Carolyn Keene way is…well, the other


      1. Well, thank you! Speaking of Nancy Drew, this morning i reread, (it went fast,) The Hidden Window Mystery. I have a fondness for Nancy Drew, mainly because they’re some of the first mysteries i read. But geez! Nancy sure did a lot ‘surreptitiously’, ‘hurriedly’ or ‘sneakily.’ And Nancy and her ‘titian colored’ hair, and absolutely everything she wore. Eye roll.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Definitely for kids. But i was feeling a little nostalgic. Back to grownup books. I just started The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I am way bogged down in James Lee Burke. He sold a lot of books, but I feel like I’m being dragged through New Orleans by a zealot tour guide telling a crime story while we wait for the crosswalk GO light before the tour starts up again.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’ve read a couple of his, but from the Montana series, not the New Orleans one. I’ve also read a couple of suspense novels by Burke’s daughter Alafair, which i liked better.


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