I mentioned in the last book review that the author’s novella was a blessed relief from some epic wordiness. I have two indie books on my Kindle that are good stories. Well, one might be three good stories.
STFU #1 – This is a grimy, well painted modern noir where I had to give up after a couple of chapters and tours around the characters’ heads reached graduate level school of redundancy school. I get it already. After the second or third tour of the head time gallery chapters following on the heels of a meaningless ‘how to set up a web-site’ minutiae chapter written solely for ramping up a co-protagonist’s anxiety? We know she’s uptight and out of options from 30 pages ago. I don’t care anymore. Where’d the conspiracy story this is setting up go? STFU already. It’s a great setup, well described, we understand the characters after they meet in chapter one. If the characters were only making scale, they’d still bankrupt the entire production. Put their asses to work. Ephemeral Noir doesn’t require extra words on the same subject.
STFU #2 – This one is War and Peace, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything and baseball all go to lunch, meet a bunch of their friends who talk over each other and can’t figure out how to get home. There are three good stories in this book. One of them, sans all the peripheral crap, would be funny as a rom-com caper without the gold watch and baseball. As the gold watch component and baseball would be a great rom-com caper sans the background noise. As it is, nothing is central to the story except a season of baseball games full of authorial direction, and as many adverb laden tags as a Nancy Drew. I think because this book is the author’s baby, he wanted nothing left to chance so we’re never participating, simply waiting to be told what just happened and what’s next. I discussed this reading effort, without name, with a friend of mine and described the story line as resembling a clothesline, complete with a ton of loosely related shit hanging off it. All they have in common is being in the same load of laundry.
The author gets off some good humorous licks and some outright funny direct and indirect puns, but sadly, like the socks you really need, they’re buried in the laundry basket. I’m almost finished with this one and I want to like it, but I’m not sure which book of the three will win. As a cheat, I read the last page –
Last note on STFU – detail. Both specific to scene and specific to era. Some is good. An editor told me, “Unless you are operating in a specific costume drama time frame, drop the time capsule bullshit.” What she meant by that is what something costs and how to build a website and how to fix a lawnmower is all outdated by the time you run spell check. A contract for stealing your life savings is no more than that, and it’s all us readers need. Think about this. If you changed a few things, like mode of transportation, most classic entertainment lit would stand up today. Jim kicks Bill. Detective Foonblat made a call. We don’t need what rev iOS the phone has, or even if it was a cell phone. Readers will put a phone in his hand. Didn’t you? How simple is that? I could change the names and a few scene details and publish Gatsby by another name tomorrow because it’s a freaking story, not a head time playground or someplace to dump useless specific information. So get the funk out and tell the damn story.
Running Stop Signs – It’s over when it’s over. Does no one read, or study chapter endings? Or scene endings? I ask because regardless of style or wardrobe construction certain things (metafiction and postmodernists may stop here) are gifts to the reader. If the scene changes, let us know. The *** works, double space, anything except the sudden jolt. WTF? We were just in the bar and now it’s raining at Jane’s house a week later? Huh? When a scene stops, stop. And let us know.
I don’t know about you, but I want to turn the page to see what they get up to next, I don’t want the last bit tied up with a bow and told what I just read and what’s about to happen. Here’s a rule I learned. The last couple of lines I want to write? I don’t. Or I whack them and see how it reads. Regardless of what you write, study the best as that’s the bar to hit. I know it’s a painful buzzkill for “damn mom, I just want to write,” but whack that shit. Readers don’t need it, authors don’t need to write it. I want the flavor of the book I just read to hang with me.
What I’m talking about is, for lack of a better word, “portending”. Author tells reader what to expect. Often found in conversational cozy type tales, it is acceptable, almost a bonding experience in first person, but I still don’t see the point. I take a line from Laura Levine’s Death by Pantyhose – Nothing, I thought, could possibly go wrong on such a spectacular day. I’m sure the gods had a hearty chuckle over that one.
I’m a Laura Levine fan, but did we need that telegraphing last line to keep reading? No. I’d have turned the page without it. And been more involved than with it.
Here’s some other recently encountered classics. From Jim Thompson’s Texas by the Tail – “And then they all had a drink together. Or maybe two, who knows…” That’s pure author. Could have ended more satisfactorily with an edit of the last line of dialogue preceding it. A good mid-century Noir killed by cliché.
I’m going to drop attribution for a few of the next ones, for the author’s sake because it’s not my intention to embarrass anyone. “You live and learn, and boy have I learned.” That is the last line in a final scene that cheats the intensity of the book. Several lines from the last scene could have been added to its predecessor for added emotional impact, done.
… she had groped for her cell phone. (female) recorded a short message on (male’s) phone, “You are the luckiest man in the world.” And he was.
Not only was this exchange prefaced with a hundred words of He thought and She thought author direction and miscellaneous peripheral action getting to it that could have been reduced to one good line, and since by now we know what’s up between these two when it’s not being buried in separate story lines, “You are the luckiest man in the world,” says it all.
Stop when it ends. Here’s the story to this point. Make me turn the page or end the book. But stop all the portending and telegraphing and telling me how I should feel and how everybody else feels because outside of a few chatty styles it’s a reader loser. Let me see the characters, not the author. Think about it – Oh, you’re telling me things are going to get shitty? Well, I can wait for that instead of turning the page to find out. Oh, turn the page and discover this book is going to repeat like the coda of “Hey Jude” or “Message in a Bottle” for fucking ever? I must read a contract, build a website, learn about Gulf Coast flora or stamp collecting to get through this? Never mind. Jim broke the gun down. Bill collects stamps in his spare time and seeks out stamp shops when he travels. Hank’s girlfriend says she loves him in dialogue.
Even Jane Austen used the page turn convention of hang time. It’s not difficult, just stop. Don’t ‘splain, don’t speculate for us, don’t tell us what we just read and its import. Show us the story. Anything else is an insult. To the reader and the work.
Jim, crouched over the glass shards, chanced a look through the splintered window frame. “Whataya think they’re up to out there?”
“Dunno,” Bill shoved shells in his pistol, spun the cylinder. “But they’re gonna have to come up with somethin’ new. We done run outta glass for ’em to break.”
Harper sat, fingers crossed and watched the ball sail end over end through the uprights with no time on the game clock. He hunched over, pounded his fists on his knees. “Yesssssss.” He knocked the coffee table over. “Yes yes yes.” Somewhere his phone beeped a voice mail alert. He scrambled through pizza crusts and Shiner cans, found it. Jackie? Holy shit, Jackie! He punched the screen, held the phone to his ear. “You, Mr. Harper Crosschambers, are the luckiest man in the world.”
The End of Part 1/ Chapter 3/ Scene 7 / Book
How difficult is any of that? All we gotta do is STFU.