Looney Lunes #143

Ain’t No Baby Ruth, Geniuses

HEALTH OFFICIALS: POOLS, DIARRHEA NOT GOOD MIX

Headline, Omaha (Nebraska) World Herald

I want to say “Well no shit duh…” but I won’t. I managed (was) the concession stand at a City Park run public olympic size pool complete with lo-hi dive one summer. Find me a better gig for a 19 year old male.

Trivia – Nebraska has the longest, straightest main street in the world. Sort of the way your intestine feels after a colonoscopy prep.

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Looney Lunes #142

First, find a bunch of storks…

“What is needed to make more babies in Portugal?”
-President of Portugal Anibal Antonio Cavaco Silva

Well, not having to come up with four names would be another good place to start. And then there’s the birds and bees stuff if the storks are a fail.

This guy was elected, by the way.

Looney Lunes #141 Twofer

Your Freudian Slip Is Showing

A story that appeared in Sunday’s Argus Observer contained an incorrect spelling of a name. Pastor Dick Bigelow was incorrectly identified as Dick Bigblow. The Argus Observer regrets the error.

correction notice, Argus Observer (Ontario, Canada)

Our HR director talks about the gender split & tits importance at O2. Read more at: O2 Twitter

tweet by telecommunications service provider O2

As if “gender split” wasn’t bad enough…

Writerly Concerns – That Show/Tell Thing Again

It was asked here by Anonymole (and all over everywhere) when to show and when to tell. I can’t answer that, directly, but I have a few ideas. First, and this is critical to making the show/tell judgment call, here is an excerpt from Charles Ardai’s Afterword for James M. Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress. (The book discovered, edited and published by Ardai.) This is lifted out of context but hits the nail on the head.

“It’s the inherent contradiction in any work of fiction, the one we all conveniently ignore each time we sit down to enjoy a novel: Can we believe what this narrator is telling us? Well, no, of course not – it’s all lies, it’s all made up, that’s what fiction is. But within the fiction, you say, if we imagine ourselves inhabitants of the characters’ world instead of our own, can we believe what we’re being told then…?”

Credibility. With any audience, we need to judge when they will keep their suspension of disbelief going and hang with us, and when they will pull up and say, “Whoa, now. Really?” Here are a few thoughts about show vs. tell.

Ease up on the Minutia – An editor once told me that we don’t need to take every step of every day with the characters. We need to see them in their environment and show them in conversation and interaction with other characters when it matters. Telling is often scene setting, or setting up an important conversation or event. Janie brushed her teeth, threw on her clothes, picked up a drive-through coffee and made it to X in twenty minutes. We don’t need to stand there with her while the toothbrush timer runs down, button her blouse or select shoes (unless we’re showing some character) we need to get her and her hurried state of mind to the next show by getting the basics told.

Ass-U-Me – We might understand something physical or conceptual and ass-u-me the readers do as well. If a doohickey has a name, and only the fifteen people you work with know what it is, either tell what it is (if it’s mandatory to the story), show the doohickey by character interaction, (M in Bond) or drop it. The way Hans Solo used sci-fi slang to sell the speed of his ship in the original Star Wars always drove me nuts. But he glossed over it, the people at the table bought it, so we let it go and ass-u-me whatever the hell he said, it meant fast and he was some kind of hot dog space jockey to pull it off. Great generic transplantable bar scene, though, in spite of the gratuitous techno-babble.

Weather, battles, travel and digressions – If the weather matters, or turns into an antagonist/protagonist, get into it if you must. Otherwise, conditions if they matter told. Think of the intros to Dragnet. Do we really need to know it was a hot and muggy/wet and cold day in Los Angeles when it never really mattered to the ensuing story?
Battles and fight scenes are an either/or. Jim kicked Bob’s ass. Told. Extended blow by blow of Jim kicking Bob’s ass. Shown. Make the call. Do we need to see it, or is it enough to know it happened?
If a journey matters, show it. If not, tell it. Think Huck Finn on the River. “Me and this black dude named Jim, we got up to all sorts of stuff. The End.” No way. How about the Bible? Woops, Jesus is 12. Man, that went by fast. And now he’s 30 something! But those are the story markers. Why waste time on The Messiah helping Joe build furniture and go to Messiah school? TV and all genres of fiction (okay, leave Eco out) do this all the time. Example – “Springtime was cold and muddy in Colorado, which made Texas look pretty good. By early summer a gambler in Galveston had taken his horse and saddle, newspapering didn’t appeal to him, so he thought he’d try doctoring for a spell.” Now we could watch “him” lose the horse and saddle in the poker game, that would be fun, or it needs to come out in a backstory/catch up convo with a bartender or a “saloon girl nurse” so we get the character’s side of it, not ours, but we don’t need to ride across Texas with him if it’s just a ride and campfire trip. And the audience has been primed to accept those things. Ever see or read about a cowboy getting off his horse for a potty break?
Digressions, into characters’ minds or daydreams or god forbid lengthy postmodernism authors and their mindset and philosophy and opinions and preaching ad nauseum. Or endless architecture, seasonal weather, travelogue and set decorating ramblings. Moby Dick and whaling how-to. That is all us  telling and we often need an outside opinion to point it out and defend it or let it go. In Cain’s book mentioned above his digressions into weather and architecture got cut as they did nothing for the story and weren’t in sync with his style. But – in another genre, another style? Judgment call.

Bottom line for show/tell is what happens to characters that we can dispense with and what do we need to show. Test – can you sell it without selling the story short.

Some authors can’t. Every gadget, every garden, the smell of leather and horse and…I prefer people to things, and if properly done we don’t need owners’ manuals for things in stories. Look how easily we accepted Warp Speed or salt shakers as stun guns or scanning wands in Star Trek. There are those who would invent a language for aliens. Roddenberry did not. Nor did he explain his dystopia. It was Bonanza in space. Dress the set, get to the people. Tell, show. This a classic chapter/scene set up since forever. Where are we, and…Action.

Which brings me to: why don’t a lot of (burgeoning) writers like dialog? Ask yourself that. Don’t like people? Aren’t comfortable talking? Can’t hear them in your head? Don’t know how the conversation should go? While you’re at it, ask yourself this: do you buy the leap you’re asking your readers to take by being so uninvolved with your characters? (telling). I faced this in Affable. I wanted Jackson out of the dump he’d landed in for several reasons. How? One line, two? Whatever, is it believable? “Oh my, Jackson is suddenly wearing a tux vest and ponytail playing in a piano bar off the strip and is also the houseboy for the I Felta Thi sorority of upscale hookers. Because they liked him.”

What? Why? How? In a movie it could have been some quick cut soft focus double exposure layers, girls at the dive, Jackson playing, laughing, girls hustling the talent guy, girls at the gas station, BAM. I didn’t have that luxury, nor did I buy it at two or four lines. A chance to reinforce Vegas without a travelogue, put up some strong, independent female characters (important for tone), lots of visual language, some foreshadowing. I could have gone over the top with damp carpet smells, told more scene setting, more sideline character development, bumped my word count, but why? Or simply told the whole thing. Divergence should have a purpose. Credibility and putting Jackson in a position for what’s next. For what’s next to be credible we needed to see it. I needed to see it. I couldn’t have told Savannah as vehicle and persona or Jackson’s improved caste half as well as showing it.

In the next chapter of THG3 I gloss over something that an erotic writer would have been all over for a couple of pages. So what’s important varies by genre. Regardless, credibility and stylistic consistency are the show vs. tell litmus tests. I got that straight from the editor’s mouth.

Looney Lunes #140

This Explains Everything

HALF OF U.S. HIGH SCHOOLS
REQUIRE SOME STUDY
FOR GRADUATION
headline – Los Angeles Times

I’m not taking sides, but that right there explains the current political situation

Random and Rambling NVDT – King Arthur Syndrome, Vitriol, Hate and Factionalization

I think a healthy difference of opinion is a good thing. However, in the last week I have become personally aware of the internet phenomenon that has sparked the culture of factionalization. A real-world version of the nightly news and the speculating talking heads on CNN. Disagree, call someone out for their position and you don’t get reason, you get hate. Personalized, vitriolic, stereotype equivalent of bigotry hate. I don’t disagree with what you say or insinuate or believe, I hate you hate. How you look, what you do, what you wear, what color or age or demographic you are, everything about you. Everything that is you down to your nasty DNA. I fucking hate all of everything that is you. And by the way, everything you are or have ever done or will ever do is shit, your momma’s ugly and so are you, you have to roll in steak sauce to get a kiss from the fucking dog you pathetic miserable excuse for a human being. Asshole. “Fuckwit.”

Wow. Thanks!

No reasoned response. The same old laundry list of how wrong the original premise was, spiced up with some maybe I should find a way to drive over and beat your ass you sorry excuse for a human being who questions me.

All for asking a direct or rhetorical question?

In another post I mentioned a set-to with an internet “editor”. I read his commentary throughout a short story I submitted to a “contest” ($20 entrance fee and editing advice). Some of the advice was sound. My response to a lot of it was “Are you even reading this?” Something I mentioned in an email. Nothing profane. No name calling. I asked if he’d bothered to read the story before he dusted off his editor hat and started commenting. You know, so for the $20 I got an idea of how it read. He blew up, told me I was denigrating the entire process, insulting his integrity and furthermore I was an asshole. I mentioned that one only needed to read his outline of commentary to see that he didn’t get it from word one. He might have been able to offer constructive criticism if he’d read through it and then gotten after it. By God, I was an even bigger asshole then, and jacked out of the contest I would have been a runner up in. Here’s a screen shot of what I sent him along with my questioning of his methodology. Hello? If you’re gonna bluff and bluster for money at least be good enough at it not to blatantly tip your hand. Plus, he missed the hints at intimacy all along the way by writing clever observations like “they sure touch a lot” completely clueless as to where it was heading.

Why didn’t you read the story, earn your $20 and comment on what it was, not what your editor hat waded through? Oops, sorry, I’m a asshole for asking. Or even expecting you do to do what you offered to do for the money. I’m glad this reactionary business hasn’t gotten to plumbers or the pizza place. Yet. The “expert” geezers at the hardware and DIY box store places are getting there.

I can hear Chicago’s updated for the 2k-teens.

“Does anybody know what time it is?”

No, you stupid fuckwad, nobody has time for your pathetic bullshit questions and if they did they’d tell you nobody cares. About time or your ugly ass or the horse you rode in on or your momma or your ugly baby or your ugly dog – Wait, that started to drift off into country. Add a line about your beat to shit truck you sorry drunk unemployed loser with a bad hat and broken razor and it’s a crossover smash.

Jesus. A friend of mine who uses Facebook to do no more than advertise his blues band, led by a fantastic guitarist and long-time band member of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, told me “Don’t have an opinion on the internet, about anything, unless you want more vitriol spewed in your direction than you can imagine.”

Well, yeah, I can imagine. Now.

Being me, I look for commonality in behavior patterns. What both of these “authors” have in common, reading a couple of free pages of their work, is a workmanlike craftsmanship of patently unoriginal sameness. Adverbs and useless dialog tags and throwaway action tags that define nothing about a character but take up writerly residence indside a formula. They could swap names on the covers and no one would know. Same behaviors, obviously editors from the school of bland, the same “stuff” on the pages. And hair trigger anger fed vitriolic personal abuse if anyone happens to notice.

When, exactly, did it become illegal to have an opinion and be answered with hate? When did reasoned response turn into front and center insult driven hate? When did riots become an answer? When did “asshole” become an answer?

Forget it, I didn’t ask. But I do understand the psychology of factionalization. It’s all about anger and hate as first responders to a question someone might not want to answer. A response modeled by the leaders of the world. King of the Rhetorical Hill via the language of hate and obfuscation. All coming to an inbox or on a blog comment near you.

These episodes should teach me NOT to ask someone if the ongoing almost two-year infatuation with their personal heartbreak saga is real depression, or are they simply milking the crybaby routine in hopes of attracting a wider audience to promote book of similar content. Or are they half-assed con artists or the real deal because the evidence points to…Phil, you asshole! Okay. Maybe I’ll learn better. Not.

I do not ask these things lightly or facetiously. Preying on the susceptible is an unfortunate truth. Like continuing to beat an emotional horse that has long since left the barn for attention or performing at a minimal level for someone’s real money thrown at their dreams raises questions. At least in my mind. What if I was thin skinned and dreamy eyed and spent my baby’s formula money on the entry fee? Sadly, that’s the people they’re looking for. There’s one born every minute, right? The machinations of the capitalistic dream.

I was in the music biz for years. On the product end someone wise once held up a guitar and asked a room full of salesmen, “What are we selling?”

“Guitars!”

“No. We’re selling dreams. And that, my friends, comes with the caveat of responsibility.” He also said, possibly the most succinct thing I ever heard in a business meeting, applicable to everything –

“Don’t confuse the pieces with the game.”

Victims of abuse, rape, any sort of criminal violence, chemical imbalances, I get those as being hard to get around and depression triggers. Not everyone gets raped, beaten into a coma, their vagina filled with lighter fluid and set on fire. That is depressing on any number of levels. So to all the internet I’m so depressed marketers, gauge your level of “should give thanks” over “depression” against something truly sinister. It’s like lactose intolerance, all this marketed personal “depression.” There are places in the world where a thimble full of milk would be a godsend, not a “no thanks, intolerance” wave off.

Down to it, I think if they talk hate loud enough non-stop over you as their only weapon, words become meaningless. We have come to a gazillion meaningless new books on Amazon a day and a gazillion meaningless videos on YouTube a day and a gazillion meaningless hate filled discussions a day all stored on servers with mammoth environmental footprints. Toxicity finds a home creating a toxic wasteland. The meaningless archive. I am reminded of the Krell.

There’s a book in that somewhere. 1984 plus meaningless hate. Forbidden Planet of Cheesy Insults? Any volunteers?

Oh yeah, the King Arthur Syndrome. Ask a question, get an insult. I think these guys were prophetic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSo0duY7-9s

 

 

 

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #12

Precision

I like the sound of that word. What it represents. Not all words are like that. How does precision, a very direct and precise word apply to something like writing that can appear from the outside to be playing Legos with words? Choices. We have thousands of word choices. Every character, every scene, every dialogue. Nuance words. BAM words. Words that economize, words that billow out and take up space. Words that define, words that obfuscate, words that lead. Making the choices, that’s the hardest part. Because I can throw down draft as it runs through my head and get close. But then? The work starts.

First, I’ll abuse myself. In THG 3.7 a good deal of word time was spent on describing the flat. I had a reason, a couple of choices, made one that will still work once pared down. The reasoning was “see it through the character.” She lives there, not me. I got busted for that by an editor once. Here it is –

Deanna issued a sleepy snuffle sob, rolled out of a fetal position on her bed, hit the floor on all fours. She dropped her forehead into the shades-of-pink shag carpet in her bedroom, felt a small, cool, bony hand between her shoulder blades.

“Gramma Cora? How long have you –”

The editorial comment was “Why do we have to feel this through Deanna? Why not direct action?”

Consider this. A big shot editor bought into my characters early on, not far from here, and instead of reading the first 20 pages and sending me a quote she read it all. This is a touchy-feely scene. I intentionally put the experience through the character. Now, a professional someone, who bought into it for the very reason of investment in the character wants to hit the equation button and suggest destroying intimacy with the character. Huh? Based on what? A Rule? Something more precise? Precision is how we sculpt our characters and our work, not a formula.

The Hard-Boiled school cuts to the chase. That is not an imperative, even inside the genre, because they can hit the detail switch when needed. Even then, the good ones do it so well you are sold on a character, a situation, a scene – with great economy and precision language. In THG 3.10 I tried that, just for grins, by describing a musical instrument without using any musical vernacular. And three characters with indirect descriptions or third-party information/observation.

On occasion a short string of precise language evokes exactly what you need. Watch a master do that very thing –

They came down to the marina dock in John Tuckerman’s big blue Chrysler Imperial. John Tuckerman was a sort of unofficial assistant to Hub Lawless. He didn’t seem to hold any particular office in any of Hub’s many corporations and partnerships. But he always seemed to be around, laughing, making jokes, making sure of air reservations, hotel reservations, dockage space, hanger space, and so on. They brought two young women aboard. Half the ages of Hub and Tuckerman. Tight pants and airline carry-ons. Perfume and giggles. *

We know what’s going on. We know about both men and their guests and a setup for some future action. From some very precise language. Lawless from Tuckerman’s job description (indirect). Not Jill and Jane and who they are. Perfume and giggles (direct). Later you could split them up that way, if you needed to talk to them. ‘Lieutenant Rogers took the tall, walking perfume counter and I sat down with her partner, a short redheaded professional giggler.’ Regardless. All you need is all you need when you need it.

Song lyrics can do that. Everybody’s heard this one – “A singer in a smoky room. The smell of wine and cheap perfume.”** BAM. There. Whether you’ve been there or seen it a thousand times on TV, you’re there. Precise and economical. Dylan got a Nobel Prize. Often picturesque, not always economical or precise, always a storyteller. “Tangled Up in Blue” is as easily a condition as it is a song title.

Precision language makes short work of what might be considered mundane or difficult tasks. Elmore Leonard (and Steinbeck) suggest not spending too much time describing characters. Particularly main characters. They should belong to the reader. But precision language for bit players, the nemesis, the sideshow, makes loading them into the work much easier because you don’t have to spend time getting to know them and making them work. Or even, as I have witnessed in a number of works, not bothering to give them names. Because, in a group scene, names will kill you. And overload your dialogue tags quota. If, in a scene with four or six or more people, you impose on the reader to remember six or seven names you dug up on a random name generator or researched the meaning of, it’s all gone. The reader walks, all your hard work naming someone who will get shot or eaten or carried off by a Phoenix anyway is wasted. If there are characters the reader has spent time with, use those names, and the interlopers get descriptions. Precision. It’s easier to visualize for the author AND the reader without remembering a name. I did that here, just to see. The scene is action that gets a main character off the mud and back in the game without “all hell broke loose and Mick got away.” Because what the hell kind of cop-out is that, and why read something that doesn’t take you for a ride? Boots and Boxers, Plaid Pants and Red Converses don’t need names at the point of BAM. Bottom line – Authors and readers don’t need a meet and greet on everybody involved.

I suggested in a comment elsewhere that a quick introduction scene was the perfect place to drop character nuggets without overkill. Short, tall, hairy, mercenary. Think harder, direct descriptive words as well. Mousey, fraudulent, a new favorite “shit speck,” deliberate, pensive, fawning, a rednosed walking Kleenex ad, a lip balm addict with an effected limp… uh-oh, muse attack – a contrived, prissy, arrogant and morally bankrupt man full of nothing but a theatrical impression of himself and the faintest whisper of soul. BAM. I liked that one.

Homework. Go find a character you spent too much time, or not enough time on, and give them no more than three, short and precise language lines. No adverb-ly fluff. Direct and precise. Nail them down and move on. While I go fix Deanna meets her flat.

 

*  Excerpted from The Empty Copper Sea © 1978 by John D. MacDonald Publishing Inc.

**  “Don’t Stop Believin’” Perry-Cain-Schon © 1981 Weed High Nightmare Music