Jerks be jerkin’, amirite? Academic edition

I love teaching fiction writing, but sometimes I’m glad that Dean [REDACTED] at a certain football-centric university that used to own its own slaves and Dean [ALSO REDACTED] at a certain public online nonprofit university soured me on doing it in an academic setting. Partially because of my anxiety issues and partially because I don’t take anything except imminent starvation especially seriously, living up to the expectations of a university doesn’t work so well for me. But although the weasely [REDACTED] smirked the entire time he was telling me he didn’t want me to teach for him anymore, at least he said something, even if it was only for his own oily amusement. The mysterious [ALSO REDACTED] asked me to be interviewed as a teaching and publishing success story for the campus magazine but not one week later said I was being removed from their teaching rosters and provided absolutely no explanation.

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A candid shot of my two favorite academic industry check-cashers hanging out together.

Anyway, I bring up these two wunderbar asshats because I took a look at my RateMyProfessors.com rating for that online university and was heartily amused. This seems to be the kind of reactions I provoke in both administrators and in students: Either complete elation or utter disgust. (I think that this is sometimes within the same people.) Anyway, have a look. The first two are my standard-issue student love, and then the third one — as usual, with nothing to support it (as the positive reviews did have) — seems, and this might just be me, not to be as positive at its predecessors.

Sean Hoade

  • School: That online university
  • Department: English
  • Number of ratings 3

4/5/14 ENG 531

Easiness … 2 … Helpfulness … 5 … Clarity … 5 … Rater Interest … 4

Most of the professors in the creative writing program are poor to mediocre, but Professor Sean is the very best. He goes the extra mile to teach the materials while being so much fun to work with. He is always accessible and actively involved in the course. His feedback is very helpful.

3/23/14 ENG 531

Easiness 2 … Helpfulness … 5 … Clarity … 5 … Rater Interest … 4 

Prof. Sean is the best instructor I’ve ever encountered at [that online university]. His fun-loving personality shines through in everything he does. He explains every assignment thoroughly, and he participates actively in all discussions. I highly recommend him, and I’m signed up for another course with him. I’m really looking forward to it.

2/27/14 ENG 531

Easiness … 5 … Helpfulness … 1 … Clarity … 1 … Rater Interest … 4

He is useless as an instructor.

Although perhaps, in a different context, I could be considered very useful.

 

Anyway, all of this is to say is that there’s no pleasing some people, so I’m just going to please myself and those who like writing and learning, not just … well, whatever the fuck the Deans and student above are into. I seriously don’t know what that could be.

 

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.

 

 

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Why You Need Conflict In Your Fiction, Part 2

I got a new supporter of my amazeballs Patreon campaign, and so, as promised, here is installment number deux about conflict in fiction! For more writing advice, won’t you please go to my campaign page and support my nine-novel marathon? When someone does, I will release my lesson on Indirection and Subtext — two techniques that make your fiction much more than just what is seen on the page. Image

ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOHOADE. Or maybe THE HOADENOTOAD. Or perhaps it’s, um … ah hell, do i really have to hypnotize you? Could you just go and support my project, please?

Conflict on the scene level: Resolutions that don’t help the protagonist

Last time, I discussed how the definition of a scene in dramatic fiction is that a character has a definite goal that s/he strives toward against some kind of external opposition. Somebody trying to keep their umbrella from inverting in a strong wind would fit this category, but a more telling example is something like a person trying to walk to work and a mysterious person keeps standing right in front of him, blocking the way. This creates conflict not only in the immediate sense, shown here: GOAL: Walk to work on time. CONFLICT: This person keeps standing in the way, obviously purposefully. RESOLUTION: ? I put an question mark there because there are several potential resolutions to this immediate conflict. One, the viewpoint character may just push through the person to get past him. And two, he could turn around and go the other way, not engaging the person. These are the two outcomes, really: Fight against the conflict, or avoid it by abandoning the original goal. As the Honorable Jack Bickham describes it in his very useful book, Scene and Structure, there are actually four possible resolutions to any scene’s conflict. Let’s go through them, shall we? (We shall.) Each has its own shorthand:

  • “Yes.” This means that the character just straight-out achieves the goal. A woman wants to buy a marble rye at the bakery. The conflict is that there is only one marble rye left and there are three people ahead of her. Fortunately for her, none of those people orders it and so she is able to purchase it. So the “yes” here is “yes, she achieves her goal.” This is the most boring of the four resolutions and should be avoided like the proverbial robot monster.

All he really wanted was love. Also a matching head would have been nice.

  • “No.” This is the other flat resolution which sometimes needs to be used, but only very sparingly because it–while slightly less boring than “yes”–is very flat and snoozeworthy. A woman goes into the bakery to get the marble rye, but one of the customers ahead of her buys the last one. Disappointed, the woman buys something else or just leaves. Zzzzzzz.
  • “Yes, BUT.” This is where your plotting gets interesting. In this resolution, the character does technically achieve the goal that was sought, but it comes with a price in addition to whatever what might have been expected. A woman goes into the bakery for a marble rye and is able to buy it, but then a person behind her in line who also wanted the marble rye starts screaming at her and steals the bread. Or let’s say a nebbish asks out the prom queen. His goal is obviously that she would agree to go on a date–and she does! Goal accomplished! Well, that’s the “yes” part. The “BUT” part is that her incredibly jealous ex-boyfriend is now planning to beat our heroic nerd to a pulp. Unintended consequences give resolutions zip and the worsening of the dramatic situation that really compelling fiction needs.
  • “No, AND FURTHERMORE.” This is the resolution that makes me giddy as a reader and a writer of fiction. In this, not only does the character fail to achieve the goal, but now s/he suffers from even seeking it in the first place. The nebbish asks out the prom queen, but she says no AND FURTHERMORE her ex-boyfriend wants to beat him up just for asking. A woman in the bakery not only doesn’t get the marble rye AND FURTHERMORE ends up buying a different kind of bread that the hostess of the party is violently allergic to. The Millennium Falcon‘s Han Solo doesn’t achieve the goal of delivering his passengers to Alderaan AND FURTHERMORE ends up getting sucked into the Death Star by a tractor beam. This ratchets up the stakes big-time in each of these situations, setting up new scenes with new goals … which then can also go horribly wrong whether the goal is technically achieved or not.

     

This cat knows what I’m talkin’ bout.

This all explains how to put conflict in your fiction through scene resolutions, but the title said “why.” Well?

Astute observation, me! Why you need this in your fiction is that very little than anyone could write about is inherently interesting. A bus crash is a terrible thing, but unless the writer portraying the scene shows some struggle, some conflict, it’s just informational. Description is wonderful, clever plays on words are delightful, but to get your auidence sucked in and kept reading, conflict at this level is absolutely essential FROM PAGE, PARAGRAPH, EVEN SENTENCE NUMBER ONE.

And the point of writing fiction is to have people read it and get a memorable, visceral experience out of it (whether that’s joy, vicarious dread, a good cathartic cry, or whatever). Still, we have but scratched the surface of conflict. Part 3 will be on Indirection and Subtext, which sounds all graduate-English-class difficult but is something we use and see every single day of our lives that we interact with anything or anyone in the outside world.

I will be posting Part 3 as soon as I get one new supporter for my glorious Patreon campaign to get these here nine novels written! Fantastic rewards — including all of the books, signed for you — await! It’s not expensive. Won’t you take a look? (As mentioned in my last blog post, the incentives have been made cooler even than what I mention in the video.

http://www.patreon.com/SeanHoade

Excelsior!
Sean

New k̶i̶c̶k̶b̶a̶c̶k̶s̶ rewards for supporting my 9-novel Patreon campaign!

Hi! Remember me, your friendly neighborhood Writer-Man?

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It’s a sedentary job, I admit.

After some time of soul-searching and also coin-between-the-couch-cushions searching, both of which came up empty, I bit the bullet this week and stopped begging my friends and other alleged innocents for support for my Patreon project, which is a way of funding the writing of these 9 remaining novels on my 10-novel contract. In fact, here’s me talking about it in my awesome “Lord C. Thulhu” gray top hat:

Convincing, no? Yes? I’m confused. But anyway, I have changed the milestone rewards to something actually to do with, y’know, the books. (I have kept the $1,500 one as getting a tattoo of whatever non-National-Socialist image my supporters choose.) Have a look at them below, won’t you?

$250 per novel

If we get to a total of $250 in pledges for each book, I will release Chapter One of Dead Man’s Hand (due out in 2015) immediately just to my supporters!

$500 per novel

If we get to a total of $500 in pledges for each book, I will release Chapter Two of Dead Man’s Hand immediately just to my supporters!

$750 per novel

If we get to a total of $750 in pledges for each book, I will immediately release (to my supporters) Chapter Three of Dead Man’s Hand plus the Prologue and Chapter One of my first novel in the World War Cthu series: The Fear. (This will be a year before the book is to be released in mid-2015.)

$1,000 per novel

If I get to a total of $1,000 in pledges for each book, I will donate to a library or literacy program or nursing home or other reading-based public entity of my supporters’ choosing copies of every one of my books — the three for Reviva Las Vegas!, the three for World War Cthu, the three for Apocalypse WOW, the standalone zombie novel Exactly What Happened, and all three of my earlier books: the thriller Ain’t That America, the literary historical novel Darwin’s Dreams, and the short story collection Inappropriate Behavior.

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“Dafuq is this? Where’s my ‘Humor In Uniform’?”

$1,500 per novel

What I’ll do at this ultimate milestone is ask each supporter (who wants to play) to send me a picture of ANY image (except swastikas and such) that they would like me to get. It will be about 2″ x 2″ and will be either on my upper arm or on one of my shoulder blades. Once I have all of the submissions, I’ll compile them all into one message and ask everybody to vote for one. Whichever image wins, I will get that tattoo. (If there is a tie, I will hold a runoff.) This is serious! I really appreciate your support!

 

Just look at that level of seriousness.

Each supporter just chips in $25 or $50, and that adds to the total so these awesome premiums are released. And as soon as I get to one more supporter at any level, I will post Part 2 of “Why You Need Conflict In Your Fiction.” It’s worth it!