An excerpt from my upcoming zombies-in-Vegas novel!

Hello there, my friends. I haven’t posted much of anything lately since I’ve been slaving away at the new book, which is Book 1 of my Reviva Las Vegas! trilogy, Dead Man’s Hand. My Patreon campaign (www.Patreon.com/SeanHoade) recently hit a milestone and I promised to release a bit of the first chapter if that happened, so here it be!

Coming very soon will be a bitter, angry post about the art of rewriting.

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It’s been 8 years since the zombocalypse.
Almost everything has changed, but one thing remains the same.
Chris Newman and his cards are ready to whip your ass.

In the first novel of the Reviva Las Vegas! trilogy,
one poker pro is just trying to make it through the day.

But somebody powerful wants a game with Chris,
and the stakes couldn’t be higher:
If he wins, he gets to stay within the gates of Dos Vegas,
a zombie-free gambling haven.

But if he loses …

In the excerpt below, Chris is in the process of recapping the new rules
of poker and life following the zombie apocalypse.

Rule Four: Never, ever go on tilt. 

Remember those old-school pinball machines that would sometimes get a ball jammed, and when you shook the machine or otherwise went crazy to get it dislodged, the display would light up with the message TILT until an attendant could come and reset it? TILT meant something had gone haywire and nothing good would happen until a reset occurred.

“Tilt” is a phrase that gamblers use to signify when Juan Valdez fucks, strangles, and then eats his donkey and wears its head around town for a hat, all because his big shipment of coffee … got fucked up, I don’t know, whatever bad thing happens to coffee shipments. It’s when a player with pocket Aces loses his shit after getting beat by some idiot’s 3-8 offsuit because the flop, turn, and river come down A-K-3-8-8 because some people never, ever fold and luck into these situations. They’re called fish, donks, and all manner of other unkind names, but they will have the “W” in their column that time and the poker Ph.D will not.

When you’ve got the absolute nuts on a hand, it’s a great time to start teasing fellow players, trying to make them angry and annoyed, do anything you can put them on tilt and off their game. Occasionally it’s a great idea to stay in a hand with shit cards (like that 3-8 off) on the slight chance that you can catch weird pairs or a straight and make your opponent lose his mind. The difference is that the fish just does this because that’s how a fish plays, not knowing a thing about pot odds or when to stay in a hand or fold—the poker pro is playing a completely different kind of game in addition to Hold’em. The poker pro knows that this will transform otherwise excellent players into gibbering, furious balls of impulsivity.

Tilt is what makes that pushed-to-the-limit cardsharp go all-in on every single hand until he loses everything, then go out and get drunk and land in jail for DUI as well as for trying to punch the arresting officer in her Kevlar-protected tits because the winning 3-8 fish was also a woman and GODDAMNIT WOMEN.

That’s “tilt.” It is invariably fatal, either to your poker game or in what passes these days for “real life.”

Example: Couple of years ago, I was compadres with a self-styled zombie hunter calling himself “Dildo ‘B.B.’ Baggins.” (Yes, a nickname within a pseudonym. I didn’t say he was any good at self-styling. And why not “D.D.”? You’ll find out soon.) If you’re old enough to remember reality TV, you’d remember his real name in two seconds from the sharpshooter show he hosted on ManTV, making straight women swoon and straight men rethink their orientation. He was absolutely the greatest shooter I ever saw. I witnessed that son of a motherless goat shoot more than a few wobbly shamblers right between their empty eyes. He did this, time and time again, from more than fifty feet away. While we were running the opposite direction. The guy was unflappable when it came to knocking down revenants like they were undead tin ducks at a county fair shooting gallery.

His other interest was pussy.

Dil said that the only reasons he bothered surviving were shooting zombies and getting laid. It was hard to argue with this viewpoint, or really find any fault with the chisel-featured Dildo (other than maybe his moniker, but whatever). I saw him as the most rock-solid, coolest cat ever to come down from Chillsville. Nothing threw this guy is what I’m trying to say, okay?

This was when I still, even after years of living in an undead world, might piss myself over seeing more than two zombies together at one time. So Dildo usually had the added distraction of me muttering in terror not too far from his ear while he was trying to cap the walkers, too. He had nerves of absolute steel, fibers which were cooled by blood composed entirely of iced vodka, and this was back when most cities had already fallen, with nine out of ten “people” you encountered to be mortuo homine ambulans , but out in the California mountains it was pretty clear. Hell, by the time we happened upon that camper settlement at Big Bear Lake, I hadn’t actually seen a free-range walker in more than a year and occasionally allowed myself to hope that humanity had somehow beaten back the undead, that somehow we had gone and won this World War Weird.

Then we’d stop to play cards or trade at some little encampment and learn that our species hadn’t won a damned thing. Solar-powered or hand-crank radios still picked up nothing but static. Tribe members looking to trade for supplies or just get information either came back with bad news or didn’t come back at all. If these little enclaves were lucky and their envoy did make it back, much of the time the poor bastard was stripped naked, relieved of any trading materials, and sometimes abused so viciously he walked sideways and dripped a trail of blood. (That might considered in itself an example of “bad news,” by the way.)

Anyway, young Dildo and I were kind of trading services in those days, with me playing cards and getting us food and whatnot and Dil providing us protection with his two holstered pistols, one slung rifle, one fully-stocked bandolier, and these velcro leg pack things stuffed full of ammo that made walking easier than a backpack full of ordnance would have. (Also, his backpack had juggling balls and porn and such in it already. Not all trading materials had to be what economist types used to call “intrinsically valuable.”)

Dil and my own bad self tracked through some forest roads—hard for zoms to notice you through the trees, and they don’t give a shit about deer—and ended up at Big Bear Lake, me looking for a game and him looking for a young lady upon whom he could express his appreciation of enthusiasm for life in general and the female form in particular. Mountain lake enclaves were always iffy—on the one hand, they were beautiful and offered relative shelter from zombies thanks to their “vacation getaway” isolation and those trees; but on the other, if some undead pals did somehow manage to stumble down the access road, you’d better be a fantastic climber or a damned good swimmer if you wanted to keep your “survivor” status, because it’s up the mountain or into the drink with you.

Undead danger notwithstanding, the RVs and little lake homes that comprised this particular encampment made for the perfect place for Dildo and me to while away a little bit of the end of the world. There was one young nubile thing walking around in lake de rigeur bikini top and cutoffs, with her shiny brown hair and slight tan making her look like she was at summer camp instead of waiting for ghouls to come and eat everyone she loved. However, she didn’t look quite old enough for me to do anything but gaze wistfully—I kept a strict over-18 policy that had served me well after countless poker tourneys, since only gambling-age and older were allowed to hang out at casinos anyway. But by not dipping my wick into minors—even though the legal niceties of statutory rape no longer applied in this lawless new world—I helped myself avoid awkwardness with any well-heeled parents I was trying to keep in a good mood so I could beat them senseless at an evening’s game. Since there were middle-aged men in a fifth-wheel RV who were starving for a challenge at the dining- slash -card table after playing for matchsticks with the same three people for years on end, getting laid was not high on my agenda that evening anyway.

Dildo, on the other hand, would take to bed any girl who had hit puberty—if she had actual tits or anything even approaching an hourglass shape, even if she was essentially still a stringbean, he was right there with his underwear model good looks and a libido hungrier than any ten zombies. So he zeroed in immediately on the bikini-and-cutoffs girl, who with her dimples had to have one of the  sweetest faces I’d ever seen, like something out of that old TV show Petticoat Junction . She was making out with Dil right there in the middle of the road before they said two words to each other. Darkness was falling but you could see their hands running up and down and around each other like they thought this might the last shot at sex with a hottie for both of them.

I was ensconced in the fifth-wheel RV already when two of the three gentleman with whom I was seated and about to pokerate craned their necks to gander at the pheromone-drenched sight outside. The girl’s name was Caroline, and her father was Mack, the third gentleman I sat with and the only one of us not watching. He shook his head ruefully as he looked up just in time to see my handsome-but-obviously-dog-horny friend get led by young Caroline into one of those little pop-up campers, no doubt headed right for the full-size bed that took up one entire side.

For a few seconds Mack stared into the encroaching gloom—the white pop-up wouldn’t be visible in a few more minutes—but his face was utterly blank, without the slightest sign of what was going on in his mind. (If that poker face was his actual poker face, I was in trouble.)

Finally, Mack removed his gaze from the window, returning to us with a sad shake of his head, and said to me, “Zombies changed that girl.”

Then he shrugged, motioned for me to hand over my plastic cards (which I did—he wouldn’t run far with that beefy frame jammed in between the bolted-down table and curved bench seat). Like an old Vegas hand, he riffle-shuffled the deck three times quick, burned a card off the top, and shot us each two cards face-down. He obviously knew his way around a deck of cards, which was a refreshing change from the half-wits I sometimes had to let deal, but it also put me on guard against bottom-dealing or other advantage shenanigans. Remember, folks: No gambler is too holy to cheat if he feels the need.

Zombies changed that girl. To me, the sentence lingered there like a noxious fart that only got worse the more you tried to wave it away. However, the two other middle-agers, both remaining chunky-style like Mack despite the deprivations others may have been suffering (which bode well for any food prizes I might collect), just peeked at their hole cards and waited for the flop.

So I said to Mack, equal parts anxious for Dil’s safety and trying to be polite, “The, um, zombies … ? They didn’t get to her, did they? Like, recently?” It wasn’t really a question so much as a request for reassurance. “She didn’t just take my friend back for a last romp as a human before she turns, did she? I’ve seen girls who are desperate to have an experience before they—”

Mack chuckled mirthlessly. “No, nothing like that. She’s no virgin, far from it. Your boy’s isn’t gonna get bit or anything, although he could’ve bought her dinner or shook my hand before he went back to tap her.”

At this the other two men, one with a big red beard and the other with salt-and-pepper hair that looked like it was cut using a bowl and a sharp rock, exchanged a look and a little laugh, probably less out of mirth and more out of politeness to their friend whose daughter was at that moment experiencing how appropriately Dildo had nicknamed himself. (Note to the post-zomboc reader: Back when manufacturing artificial penii was still a going concern, they didn’t bother making a lot of small ones.)

“I, uh … hell, man,” I said, and it didn’t sound half as coherent as it may seem written here. I lifted the corner of my plastic hole cards—everybody always wanted to use my beautiful once they were convinced they weren’t marked (which they weren’t)—and saw the suited K-Q. Quite the nice open—against three opponents, I already stood a 35 percent chance of winning the round. But I pushed my cards toward the center, even though I was in position and had those excellent cards. “I fold.”

All three of my new buddies looked distressed, then apologetic. “Hey, Chris, you don’t need to feel bad about Caroline,” Mack said, “she fucks absolutely everyone who comes through Great Bear Lake.”

“Or who lives here,” the red-bearded guy said.

“That, too,” Mack added, shooting Redbeard a look. “Not me, of course. Zombies or no zombies, I’m a father first.”

“Not a lot of men with hot daughters can say that,” the gray-haired guy said in a supportive tone, apparently unabashed about making lusty appraisals of Mack’s daughter or noting the fact that everybody for miles around had apparently sampled her wares, “not after the undead assholes ruined everything. Some men just gave up and started taking advantage any way they could, even of their own families. People got changed , even if they never got bit.”

“Yeah, that’s a fact,” Mack said to me. “Everybody changed, families changed, friends changed. And my little Caroline sure changed. Don’t feel like you got to make up for it.” He slid back the cards I had just folded. “She’s done every man come through here over the past three years after what happened to her in the lake. ”

That sat there like a sandbag, so I said, “What, um, was it that happened?”

“Fucking underwater zombies,” Redbeard muttered. “One year after the decide not tostay dead anymore,start pulling their shit, a teenage girl can’t even take a goddamn swim in her Daddy’s lake.”

Alarmed, I couldn’t help shooting a look out to the waterline, which was visible through the RV window behind Redbeard.

“Nah, don’t worry about them now, man,” Grayhair said. “We trawled the whole fucking thing with nets after. Threw back all the fish—they wouldn’t keep anyway, not without power—and did a backwoods trepanning on every goddamn soggy walker we dragged up.

“What happened was one tried to get Caroline—the fucker grabbed her ankle as she tried to pull herself up into the rowboat. By reflex and panic, since she was still half in the water and could feel it was a hand and not a fish mouth or drifting plant, she kicked out hard at whatever had clamped onto her ankle. She said that as soon as she kicked out blindly with the heel of her foot, she could still feel the rotten hand still gripping tight but the pulling stopped. She hauled herself into the dinghy and there it was around her ankle—a rotted hand attached to a rotted arm that wasn’t attached to anything anymore.”

“She kicked the zom so hard it ripped his stinking arm off,” Redbeard added with a chuckle, but the laugh died on his lips almost immediately. “We went down and ended that fucker’s suffering, but after that incident, Caroline never was right in the head again. Started drinking and acting … well, maybe a bit overly friendly to the men in our little camp here.”

“Overly friendly, huh? Like you weren’t the first in line to fuck her,” Mack spat out with a murderous stare at Redbeard, and everything froze. Was there going to be a throwdown right here before the first hand had even been played? Then Mack’s stern look broke into a smile and he laughed, which released nervous laughter from the rest of us at the table. “Hell, I’m just glad she’s still alive, that she’s got a way to cope with all this End of Days shit. Her mom …” he said, and choked a little.

The two other guys nodded somberly and gave Mack some manly bops in the arm and thoroughly masculine supportive claps on the shoulder. I took it that his wife—Caroline’s mother—had not found a way to cope with the 24/7 horror show of the zombocalypse and thus had taken it upon herself to check out early.

“I got my fishing,” he continued, “these guys have their vices like drinking and fucking their friends’ teenage daughters , but my wife lost her mind—I mean, her whole brain clocked out and never came back for another shift the first time she got cornered by the walking dead bodies of her vacation lake friends and had to bash in one of their heads from two feet away. That was in the first wave, three years ago. We had come up for a quick dip and cookout, just like a dozen other families. All of them are dead or undead or whatever now. Since that day I’ve never left Bear Lake except on supply runs. My wife, Caroline’s mom, she never ate or drank anything voluntarily again. We forced it on her as much as we could, but within a couple of months she was dead.”

Everyone sat at the little table, looking at the backs of their two cards, nobody speaking or moving. Through the window behind me I could hear the pop-up squeaking in rhythm.

To be honest, I have been present at even less fun poker tables.

But shit .

“So you can where Caroline got it from, the losing her mind thing. Like her mom when she had to kill her book club friends, after Caroline got grabbed in the lake she just said fuck the world and then proceeded to do exactly that,” Mack finished, and looked at each of us in turn.

“Can I ask a question?” I asked, a question.

Mack nodded in a way not unlike a cat sniffing its own fresh feces.

“How is she not pregnant? Or, like, sexually infected?” See, I was unable not to think about what teenagers did when they realized the zombies’ march was not going to stop and we were all going to die, or worse. I had seen so many in LA want to go out in a blaze of glory and so put on their headphones, cranked up something suitably metal, and went surfing on their skateboards into the biggest undead cluster of rotting teeth and jagged nails they could find. Might as well get eaten while I can still choose it myself , maybe they thought. And maybe sweet Caroline thought I might as well get every fucking flavor of VD I can and get knocked up before I die horribly anyway or go nuts like Mom. Why not?

I could almost hear her despair. It was beyond me to contradict her. At least she was bringing happiness to the men she took to bed, right? But after registering what I had just asked, first Mack started shaking with laughter, and then Redbeard and Grayhair caught the giggles, all three of them laughing hard, eyes squeezed shut and streaming tears of hilarity, in a matter of seconds.

“What?” I said, smiling despite myself, despite the horror. “Why are you—”

 She’s hotter with the clap than a Gold Rush whore!” Mack managed to squeeze out between titanic guffaws. “These guys’ll tell ya—they’ve been oozing and itching and boiling for years—they got to go in the lake to try get some relief! Ha ha! Ha ha HA! HA! Oh Jesus, HAHAHAHA!”

Ooh, ouch, did that take the wind out of their sails. The men who had fucked young Caroline tried to force out a couple of more laughs, but I but they had both visibly paled and shared a miserable glance. They both, as subtly as possible, were scratching themselves, something I hadn’t noticed earlier but would have to see if I could use as a tell if we ever actually, you know, started playing poker . Mack wasn’t lying about the venereal diseases ravaging his daughter, then, and now he was having the greatest revenge paroxysm in the history of bitterness as he watched two of her lovers’ faces fall.

My own eyes grew wide as I turned in my chair and looked out at the little camper where Typhoid Caroline had just taken the resolutely horny B.B. Dildo for his Big Bear Lake roll in the hay. It was only a couple of minutes, I thought, so maybe they were still on foreplay? Did 17-year-old girls even require foreplay? Either way, Dildo had joked with me long before that the “B.B.” in his moniker stood for “bareback.”

Oh, no. I had to get over there and stop him before he—

 Haw haw ha ha ha! ” Mack’s butcher-block face turned purple as he laughed and cried and tried to breathe and also kept looking at his poor infected friends who had fucked his 14-year-old darling daughter again and again as she grew into a woman. “And pregnant? No, sir—she hasn’t had a period in two years, how’s she gonna get pregnant with all that sickness in her lady parts!

The proud papa practically screamed this last part and had to slap the table to control his laughter and try to coax at least a little bit of oxygen into his lungs.

“Okay, Mack, why don’t we play some cards, huh? We get the … the, um … joke …”

Grayhair trailed off as he noticed that the beefy RV owner who’d been laughing so hard wasn’t laughing anymore—but his face wasn’t getting any less purple and his eyes were bulging in exactly the way you hope your own never will.

“Aw, fuck!” Redbeard said, and tried to skootch around the little built-in RV kitchen table to get out and over to his friend. “He’s having a goddamn heart attack!”

I don’t know what Red was trying to do, but as soon as he tugged on Mack’s arm to get him up from the table and maybe onto the floor for CPR or something, Mack stopped struggling against his own asphyxiation, cocked his head up at his standing friend and then at his sitting friend, and let out one final, awful, brutal “HAAAA! ” At the end of that horrible sound, vomit mixed with black bile mixed with arterial blood projected all the way across the table and full into Grayhair’s shocked face, and Mack’s face smashed down onto the laminate. You could see the man was stone-cold dead even before the black blood started pooling in his ears.

The two men jumped around the kitchenette screaming “Oh, fuck! Oh, FUCK!” again and again while I hit the RV’s door running to get down to the little pop-up camper where Dildo and Caroline hopefully hadn’t yet gotten 100% busy.

I banged on the little metal half-door and the curtain almost instantly parted, Dildo sticking his sweaty red face ( oh, fuck ) out to look at me.

“What the hell’s going on in there?” Dil said with his usual casual amusement. “You hand them the all-time bad beat or what?”

Did you guys do it? ”

Dil laughed and I could hear Caroline do the same. “Well, we didn’t come in here to do jigsaw puzzles.”

“But did you already? Did you fuck?”

Now Dil could see the fear on my face and dropped his smile. “Well, yeah, man. You get the easy one out of the way and then—”

“Let me in,” I said. “Pop the latch.”

I saw Dil look back at his camper partner and she said, “We can all party, baby.” He sort of smiled at that and let the curtain drop, then crawled over and opened the door for me to come inside.

“Dude, what is up with you?” he said with a little grin, a thin camping blanket around his waist. “You usually don’t go for the younger hotties.”

“Did you use a condom?”

“Me? B.B.? Man, don’t you remember what that means? Besides, there’s not exactly a CVS on every—”

Did you use a fucking condom?

His grin was gone. “No, I did not, Mister Sexual Hygiene.”

“Flick on the light in there,” I said, motioning toward the half of the pop-up with the bed in it. It was twilight outside but damned dark inside the camper.

“No!” Caroline squealed.

“What in the hell is going on?” Dildo whined in perfect confusion. He pulled the switch on the solar-battery LED lamp and motioned me to come into the “bedroom.” Caroline swathed herself in a second camping blanket now, shy for maybe the first time since the zombies took her mother and then her sanity three years earlier.

I wasn’t proud of myself or happy, but Dil needed to know what we had just … well, gotten himself into. “Look at her cooch,” I said. “Take off the blanket and look at her cooch.”

“Dude, we just fucked for like ten minutes—I don’t think Caroline is a guy, okay? It’s dark, not—”

“Do it. Do it now.”

Caroline started panicking as Dil turned to her and started to remove the only thing hiding her genitals. “Hey, no, that’s not cool! Stay away from me! You don’t get to—stop!

He swept the blanket off of her naked body and saw just what I was afraid of but expecting—a raw, pustule-mottled, angry red delta around and inside her entire pubic area and into the folds of her vagina.

“You said those were piercings!” Dil shouted, betrayal in his voice. “ What the fuck do you have? WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TO ME?!? ”

Still obviously freaked but suddenly also defiant, Caroline jutted out her dimpled face at my friend and said icily, “You got what you wanted, I got what Iwanted.”

“What you wanted? You wanted to infect me with … all that? ” he shrieked, pointing at her pestilent, pustulent pussy, and when Caroline let out a bitter laugh—looking a lot like her father in that moment, actually—Dildo hauled back and unloaded a punch to the face that bloodied her nose and instantly knocked her unconscious as she fell back onto the bed against the window screen of the pop-up. He looked like he wanted to do more, but I got an arm around him and held him back before he could do something I’d really regret. We stepped outside into the forest darkness. He had let go of the blanket and stood there naked and fuming.

“Dil, she’s sick, her mind’s gone, it’s not her fault—”

 NOT HER FAULT? Dude, I live to fuck! Now I’m gonna have pus dripping out of my dick, I won’t even be able to get it up—if it doesn’t just turn black and fall off— fuck! I … I just …” He slowed mid-rant and then stopped, fixing me with a look that burrowed right into my soul, and said. “Wait, how did you know she was all VD’ed?”

Oh, hell. “It came up while we were playing poker, that’s all.”

Dil shot a look up at the RV, in which Redbeard and Grayhair were still stomping around and shouting, still trying to process that their pal just literally died laughing at their misfortune in a world without antibiotics or soothing ointments. (Goddamn lack of CVS again.)

“They knew?” he said to me with all the energy gone from his voice. Then he turned toward the RV and his rage resurfaced. “They knew. They knew! Motherfuckers knew she was a bag of disease , set me up to get my dick rotted off. Thought it was funny!

“Man, listen, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t—”

“Not you , Chris. You tried to save me. They thought it was funny.” He stood stock-still for a few seconds, acid in his stare at the two men pacing inside the RV, alternately shouting at each other and embracing in manful support.

Then he ducked back into the pop-up, pulled out his trusty Winchester Model 70 rifle, and marched barefoot (and still bareback) to the fifth-wheel, swung open the door, and unloaded four impossibly loud and concussive shots, I assumed two (double-tapping?) for each man. Then, sprayed with blood, my zombocalypse compadre stepped out of the vehicle, tramped down its three metal steps and then over to me, where I was still standing by the pop-up, utterly shocked and still. He stood maybe five feet from me, the LED from the camper behind me illuminating his face. He stared at me, maybe contemplating all that had just happened.

Then he said, “Fuck this,” swung the barrel of the Winchester under his chin and blew out the top of his own head. As brains, bone, and blood misted down onto me, his body remained standing for a couple of seconds and then collapsed to the ground in a heap of meat and gristle.

So, yeah … that’s “tilt.”

Try to avoid it.

Back to Puttin’ It Out There

Link

Writerz,

This is a profane and brilliant piece of writing advice! If you’re a writer, you want to follow this Chuck Wendig and his “terribleminds” blog. The source for this story is http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/08/09/25-ways-to-make-exposition-your-bitch/.

Read it and absorb every word. It will improve your fiction immensely.

Hoade

25 WAYS TO MAKE EXPOSITION YOUR BITCH

Fact: when executed poorly, exposition is a boat anchor tied to the story’s balls. It drags everything down. The plot cannot move. The plot grows fat and dies. Crows eat its eyes. Possums breed in dead bowels.

Fact: exposition remains necessary to convey information in storytelling.

Fact: exposition must be handled by a deft touch for it not to bog down your narrative ball-sack.

Fact: pterodactyls are really quite cool.

Okay, that last one maybe isn’t relevant, but it remains fact just the same. All I’m trying to say is, you want to write a story, you’re going to have to deal with exposition in some form, and this list is about that. I present to you, 25 ways to twist exposition to your will, turning it into a dancing gimp that will serve you…

…and serve the audience.

1. THE MEANING OF SHOW, DON’T TELL

Like most easily-digestible protein-nuggets of writing advice, Show-Don’t-Tell is one that ends up confusing. After all, what we do is called storytelling, and then in the next breath we’re chided for telling and not showing. And yet, the advice remains true just the same. Exposition is often the biggest customer in terms of telling-above-showing, and it reeks of amateur hour karaoke. Here’s an example: consider the difference of you telling me “John is an assassin,” and you showing me the act of John stalking and killing a dude on the job. The former is dull: a narrative name-tag, a Facebook profile. The latter is engaging: action and example. This is the key to exposition always, always, always: stop telling, start showing.

2. GET IN LATE, GET OUT EARLY

Leave yourself no room for exposition. Start the story as late into the plot as you can; extract yourself at first opportunity. You can’t eat ice cream that ain’t in the freezer. And by “ice cream” I mean “dead stripper.”

3. IMAGINE THE AUDIENCE IS SITTING THERE, STARING AT YOU

Everybody tells stories, and everybody’s had that moment where they start to lose the audience sitting in front of them. “C’mon,” they’ll say, making some kind of impatient gesture because, uhh, hello, the season finale of The Bachelor is on? You greedy asshole? God forbid you don’t get your reality TV fix, you mongrels. … uhh, sorry. Point is, when that happens you gotta ramp it up. You gotta get to the point. Imagine when writing your story — script, novel, short fiction, whatever — that the audience is sitting there, making that gesture. Even better: imagine them slapping billy clubs against their open palms. In other words: cut the shit and hurry it up. A guy’s got things to do. Like bury that “ice cream” in the Mojave desert.

4. BINGE AND PURGE

Fuck it. Write a zero draft with as much exposition as you can fit in your fool mouth. Vomit forth great globs of word sauce ’til it hardens. On subsequent drafts, chop and whittle any exposition to a toothpick point.

5. LOCK UP THE BACKSTORY IN ITS OWN PLEXIGLASS ENCLOSURE

Open up a separate document from script or manuscript. Lock it away in its own cage. When parts need to come out and play, let them. Gas the rest with a nerve agent. Cover it with dirt.

6. LEARN TO SPOT EXPOSITORY FOL-DE-ROL

You can’t cure exposition unless you know how to spot it. Learn what it is. Learn to mark its footprints, its scat-tracks. Two characters talking about shit they should already know? One character descending into a bizarre, out-of-place soliloquy? Giant cinder block paragraphs that fall from the sky and crush the audience beneath them? Identify exposition where it lives, fucks, and eats. Then prepare the orbital laser.

7. FOLD EXPOSITION INTO ACTION, LIKE INGREDIENTS INTO DELICATE BATTER

Dramatic action is — a-duh — action infused with drama, like vodka infused with elderberries and/or the screams of my enemies. As action unfolds, it reveals data you want the audience to have. Instead of putting forth a scene where characters plan a heist, get right to the heist — the heist reveals the plan. That’s not to say you can’t make a heist-planning scene evocative and with its own dramatic action and tension, but only serves to show that action needn’t be — and perhaps shouldn’t be — separate from exposition.

8. I WOULD LISTEN TO THAT GUY READ THE PHONE BOOK

Listen, if you have to institute exposition to convey critical information, then you at least should do it with style, putting it in a voice that is not only readable, but compelling. I would read a fucking diner menu were it written by a writer with a great voice (say, Joe Lansdale) — so, if you’re going to take time out to foist information upon a reader’s head, then at least make it snappy.

9. TALK IT OUT, YOU NATTERING CHATTERKITTIES

Chatterkitty almost sounds like an Indian curry dish, doesn’t it? “I’ll take two samosas, and one vegetable chatterkitty. Medium spice, please.” Anyway, point is, characters can reveal backstory through dialogue — but it has to be done right. Like I said, two characters sharing data they should already know is a clear sign, as are long-winded monologues. An info-dump is still a steaming pile whether it comes from your ass or the mouth of a character. Characters shouldn’t ever give up great heaps of information — they should resist it. Revelation should be done with tension; a villain doesn’t want to give up his plan but must under torture.

10. THE WORLD REVEALS ITS OWN BACKSTORY

A war-torn city. A shattered hill-top. A modern megalopolis. A garden protected by angels. The details of setting show the wounds and scars of history. Environment reveals exposition.

11. ARTIFACTS AS ARTIFICE

Further, the world offers up artifacts — newspapers, blogs, e-mails, epitaphs, relics, holo-discs, etc. — that convey expository detail. Characters can find these and learn them at the same time as the audience.

12. THE AUDIENCE IS ON A “NEED-TO-KNOW” BASIS

Whenever you encounter the urge to info-dump, pause. Take a deep breath. Then ask: what does the audience need to know? Like, what information here is so bloody critical that without it the story loses its way, like an old person in a shopping mall? Separate “need” from “want” — I don’t care what details you want the audience to have. Determine only what is required to move forward. Everything else gets the knife.

13. OUT WITH THE INFO-DUMP, IN WITH THE INFO-BULLET

Limit exposition to between one and three sentences per page. And lean sentences, too — don’t think you can get away with an overturned bucket of commas and dependent clauses poured over your word count. I can smell your chicanery the way a shark smells baby-farts. (Isn’t that what they smell? I might be getting that wrong. Wait, it’s blood? Blood? Are you sure? I think it’s baby-farts. I’ve heard it both ways.)

14. TANTRIC STORYTELLING (OR, “NNNGGH, THINK ABOUT BASEBALL”)

Sting taught us all about Tantric sex, wherein you contain your orgasm in some kind of lust-caked mental hell-prison until you release it eight hours later, amplifying your delight. I am afraid of doing this as I fear it will send a hardened shiv of semen into my cerebral cortex. Regardless, it’s a good lesson for using exposition in storytelling: resist it as long as you can. You think, “Ohh, the audience really needs details right here,” but stave off that inclination. Do not pop your narrative cookies. Contain the exposition and reveal it late in the game until it can be restrained no longer.

15. WRITUS INTERRUPTUS, (OR, “NARRATIVE BLUE-BALLS”)

Another way to sex up your man(uscript): use exposition to break tension. You’re amping up the suspense, you’re ratcheting action, it’s all escalation escalation escalation, and then — wham. You pull back from the action, and give a pause with a scene of exposition. Not so much where it overwhelms and frustrates, but enough where it creates that sense of narrative blue balls where you sharpen the audience’s need.

16. EXPOSITION AS THE ANSWER TO A QUESTION

Exposition can serve as explanation. It’s all in the arrangement. If you present a question in the reader’s mind — “How exactly did Doctor Super-Claw lose his eye? And why does Satrap Fuck-Fang the Splendid want to kill him? Shit, there’s gotta be a good story there.” Indeed. Make them want the exposition so that, when you give it, it answers questions they already possess.

17. THE CHARACTER AS EXPOSITION-HUNGRY DETAIL-JUNKIE

If the character needs the exposition for her arc and the plot to move forward, then the audience needs it — and thereby, it becomes more rewarding. Just assume the character is like the Space Sphere from Portal 2. The character needs the tricksy backstory, precious. We needs it. It’s also good if the character risks something to get at these details, thus revealing how critical it is and how it has earned a place in the narrative. “I had to fight my way through an infinity of ninjas to get you this information, sir.”

18. EXPOSITION AS STORY WITHIN A STORY

Frame exposition not merely as details, not purely as data, but as a story. A micro-story within the larger narrative that abides by all those same rules: beginning, middle, end, tension, conflict, character.

19. THE FLASHBACK FLASHBANG

Exposition doesn’t need to be dry and dull as a saltine cracker in a dead lizard’s vagina — turn backstory into a scene by invoking the Ancient Pagan Law of Flashback. Fuck having the character recite details as if off a menu. Force her to relive it in flashback form. Don’t talk about the moment when she was thrown out of an air-lock by her mad Space King father. Time travel to that moment. Let us all see it as it happens.

20. TIME-TRAVEL BACK IN TIME, AND KILL THE EXPOSITORY HITLER

Another form of time travel — go back into your own story and rip out the need for exposition. Originally it’s all like, “Way back in the year of Fourteen-Splangly-Doo, in the Year of Dog’s Butler, the Dolphin Council of Krang suffered a cataclysmic failure to rule when they couldn’t agree on blippity-bloppity-snood…” Hell with that. Gut that history. If you need it, bring it to the foreground. Have it be happening right now. That way, it’s active, it’s present, and characters are discovering it at roughly the same rate as the audience.

21. PROVE YOUR MOTHERFUCKING THESIS

Exposition is easier to swallow when it has a declarative purpose: in effect, a thesis sentence. Opening a page of text or some dialogue with, “The city hasn’t been the same since the unicorns took over,” gives you the opportunity to describe what that means. The audience is prepared to receive that information and, thus, the exposition fulfills the promise of its premise. Bonus points: violent conquistador unicorns.

22. CRACK OPEN THE CHARACTER’S HEAD

Like I’ve said before, the character is the vehicle for the story. They’re our way through; we ride them as monkeys on their backs. (Or, if you’ve read ZOO CITY, like Sloth on the back of Zinzi December.) What the character knows, we can know, too — and so you as the narrator are free to crack open the character’s skull like a coconut, allowing the audience access to the fragrant water within. The character’s perspective on information is still expository, but it’s tinted and warped through the lens of their experience, which means the exposition does double-duty. It both grants us details we need and also offers us a longer look at the character.

23. SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS

A nice, trippy, totally fucked-up way of revealing backstory is through usage of dreams and visions. I did this in BLACKBIRDS and it was a fun way for me to convey creepy exposition without blurting it out like a kid high on the sugar from 14 bowls of Fruity Pebbles. Fun to write and, ideally, fun to read.

24. EXPOSITION AS MULTI-TOOL

Again, if you have to have to have to use exposition, make sure it sings for its supper and does more than just convey raw data. Let it communicate character, convey theme, move the plot forward (and backward), engage description, utilize compelling language, establish mood, and so on. The more work it does, the more it earns its place in your story.

25. DO AWAY WITH IT ENTIRELY

Go back through your work and find all the backstory, highlight all the info-dumps, and kill ‘em. Just fucking murder it. Let stuff just hang out without any explanation — you’d be surprised how much of it will fly. Look to film in particular to see how many details are never explained and, further, how little that matters. That scene in DIE HARD where the two Aryan brothers are racing against each other to cut through… I dunno, “phone pipes?” I don’t know what they fuck they’re even doing there. Or why it’s a race. When you saw the first STAR WARS, did the film stop and explain what the hell the Clone Wars were? No! (And if only it had stayed that way.) Most of the things you think need to be explained don’t. They just don’t. So, fuck exposition right in its ear. If you go back through a subsequent draft and say, “Okay, I need a little something-something here,” fine, consult the rest of this list and see how you can make it your bitch.

Because if exposition is on the menu, then by god, you better know how to serve it right and make it tasty.

* * *

Want another booze-soaked, profanity-laden shotgun blast of dubious writing advice?

Try: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY

$4.99 at Amazon (US)Amazon (UK)B&NPDF

And: 250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING

$0.99 at Amazon (US)Amazon (UK)B&NPDF

How should you show emails and texts in prose fiction?

My shiny and bright fiction coaching student asked me:

I have a question about formatting dialogue. Specifically, how do you format text messages, phone calls, emails, and things that are not actually speaking conversations?

Great question! Phone calls are handled just like regular dialogue, except that at the beginning of the scene or conversation you must make it clear that they are talking ON THE PHONE and not face-to-face. Then, I recommend using only bare dialogue or attribution for the person who is on the other end of the line from the viewpoint character. Thus:

The phone rang. I stared at it through three more rings, then sighed and picked it up. “Why are you bothering me?” I barked into the receiver. [This line is sufficient to establish that it’s a phone call to follow.]

“Fedora Shaeffer?” the weasel voice croaked. “You still break legs?” [This is just attribution, with a bit of description of the callers’ voice, all valid.]

“Just my own. I told you not to call me, Mugsy,” I said, fussing with my Zippo with the dirty wick. [This is visual and tactile description, so we know it’s our viewpoint character.]

“I’m desperate, man. My blackjack system didn’t work.” [Bare dialogue, but we know who’s talking.]

“Imagine that.” [Ditto, but if there’s any doubt, just put in an “I said” or “he said” attribution.]

He sobbed. The son of a bitch actually started crying. It made me feel polluted.

“You gotta help me! Everybody knows Johnny Schmeckel offers the best protection in town!” [Note how the new paragraph — which is created EVERY time the speaker changes in a conversation, even if the “speaker” is just the main character’s thought or action — helps us keep track of who is speaking. Also the emotion and content make it clear that Mugsy is the desperate person speaking. Use every tool you can to let the reader glide smoothly through dialogue, not having to back up to figure out who is whom.]

“I don’t gotta help nobody,” I barked, and hung up on the sap. Then I said quietly to no one in particular, “Not even myself.”

So that’s a phone call, with the hard part being that you don’t allow the viewpoint character any information s/he can’t pick up from the conversation itself. No cheating! 🙂

Text messages can be handled a couple of ways, but again, you want to maximize clarity as to who is texting and who is reading for each 140 characters. (This also works for Twitter tweets and other single-line written communication. One way is by setting the message off by its own line, no quotation marks, centered (or at least indented). Unless you are “typesetting” the actual product that a reader will see, don’t use a different font. It just looks amateurish and like you don’t understand how fiction submissions work. (However, bold or italic might be a good way to make the lines “pop,” but only if you are offsetting the lines — DON’T make them bold or italic for in-line representation AND surround them within quotation marks. Pick one or the other to show a written communication is being represented, but always emphasize it somehow.)

Another way is just by quoting it within the line. But remember, as with spoken dialogue, you must ALWAYS make new paragraphs for new texters. Let’s see how each of these works:

OFFSET LINES

Mugsy must’ve found a cell phone in the gutter, because now he was texting me. My iPhone knockoff bleeped and read:

My roulette system failed. I forgot about the green zeroes. HELP!

 

I shook my head. Mugsy was always so hopeful and always so goddamned stupid. Maybe those were the same. I flicked my fingers over the virtual keyboard:

I recommend you throw yourself off a bridge. Don’t give the goons the satisfaction of killing you.

I waited a few seconds, staring at my phone to see if could use emoticons to represent crying and pissing himself. Then a new message popped up:

Fine, Fedora. Then I’m going to roll over on you.

I deleted the conversation, closed the app, and turned off the phone. This was escalating just as I had hoped.

Nota bene: Please notice that if you’re doing it this way, you start a new paragraph for a switch in speaker, but you still put the text on the next line. Indent paragraphs normally OR indent at the beginning of a conversation and then put the texts mid-sentence if you like. (Of course, you can and probably will mix these techniques.) Thusly:

[indent] I must not have shut the phone off right, because twenty seconds later I could feel a vibration in my pants, and not the good kind. I pulled out my phone and saw

[offset] I was just kidding. LOL! For God’s sake, please help me!

 

[no indent] which I didn’t find compelling. If you want help from me, don’t screw my woman and give her the clap. Either one is a deal-breaker, but together? Eat shit and die. I didn’t text him back.

The other way to represent one-line or other very short messages is by putting them in you line like a regular quotation OR do them without quotation marks and put the lines in italic. DON’T DO ATTRIBUTION with “said.” Use verbs that remind the reader that it is being typed out on a screen or keyboard. Keep who is speaking clear by starting new paragraphs for new speakers. Like so:

I wasn’t going to help Mugsy even if it meant I had to skip town, so I texted back Let me know where to send your funeral spray.

A couple of seconds passed before I got a beep and You are a cold man, Fedora Shaeffer.

I tapped out Cold men don’t get burned and hit send.

 

Emails should be handled exactly like letters. There’s lots of references online for how to format letters, so do it like one of those. HOWEVER, unless the date and time or other ancillary info that we get with emails are somehow important to the story, leave off the headers. Maybe a “To:” and “From:” line to get it started, but not all the other letter salad we get with things. This is because in a few years, such header info and such will look impossibly dated. You want your book to be an evergreen. Here’s a quick example of how to do it IF the header information is important:

To: Fedora Shaeffer

From: Mugsy Tootsalot

Date: February 30, 2014 02:14:33 PST

Subject: You are mean

Watch your back. Maybe ice can catch fire.

Mugsy Tootsalot

http://www.mugsyisdead.org

(723) 327-7372

Twitter: @MugsyT

Facebook: ClarenceSchmidt

Tumblr: SchmeckelVictim902

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Crime does pay, if you can make money at it.” — Henry David Thoreau

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As you can see, that is a LOT of verbiage for one line of content. It slows everything down too much, especially considering that we as email recipients rarely even bother to read sig lines and such. If you do want to show all of this, however, do it ONCE at the beginning and then that’s it. Here’s the response to the above message, which was printed as shown above:

I would put a couple of lines between each email unless you’re going full epistolary novel. Then we have Mugsy write back:

To: Fedora Schaeffer
From: Mugsy Tootsalot
Subject: You are mean.

That doesn’t even make sense. Leave me alone or I’ll make your face wish you did.

F.S.

 

I would put a couple of lines between each email unless you’re going full epistolary novel. Then we have Mugsy write back:

To: Fedora Schaeffer
From: Mugsy Tootsalot

If I go down, I’m taking you with me.

And that’s it. See how it gets simpler, leaving out unnecessary header information. If it’s important to the story at what date or time each message was sent, then include them. But just do what’s necessary and pare it down as much as possible. Of course, these are single-line emails for the purpose of illustration, but longer messages work the same exact way.

 

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about “textspeak” or emoticons in your representations of e-correspondence. Well, here ya go: Use it sparingly and only in order to reveal something about the character or their emotional state. To wit:

You want to show clear-headedness and formality: “If Schmeckel doesn’t waste you, I will do it myself.”

Or a little bit of emotion: “You better hope S finds you first”

Or a lot of emotion, pressing time, or other stresses: “if s doesnt get you i will”

But if you have two adults in a tense conversation, DON’T do this: ima kill u >:'( It’s just distracting and ridiculous.

In general, unless you have a specific point you’re trying to make about a texting character, don’t use but one “shorthand” element per text. (e.g., If you use “U” for “you,” then don’t do “OMG” or other acronyms, unless you’re trying to show that this person is a vacant texthead. Even then, don’t overdo it.) Remember, we’re all thrilled with texting right now, but in 10 years it could be as outdated as going into great detail about how answering machine messages were represented when they were new. ALWAYS THINK EVERGREEN!

Have fun with experimenting with this. Maybe try translating some of your actual texts or Facebook chats into a fiction setting. Let me know if you want more on this, or on anything else in prose fiction mechanics!

What does ‘fiction coaching’ look like?

“Heyyyyy, nice jorb on da symbolism dere!”

If you’re curious about what my “fiction coaching” looks like (which can also include screenplays), below is what a report may look like from me. Please note that this is IN ADDITION to one-on-one communication and the annotations made on the work under discussion. My remarks may seem awfully bold, but this writer and I had a working relationship already, so there was no need to pussyfoot around things. I make sure to always take the writer’s feelings into consideration — I’m more of a Dr. Doug Ross than a House, M.D.

He made groundbreaking advances in clitoral massage.

I just did some in-depth coverage of a client’s screenplay. S/he has the look and feel of screenplays down and has obviously read many of them. However, outside of the visual feel, I can tell that few lessons have been learned from this client reading them. WHICH IS FINE! S/he wrote a draft and hired me to help whip it into shape. So after my initial detailed commentary on the PDF of this screenplay, I wrote the following note to the author to help get him or her ready for rewrite time.

Message to my author client

Okay, I’ve gone over the script and made extensive notes. I don’t think I should go any further until you do some rewriting, because your next draft is going to be quite different from this one.
Here is what you should focus on in a rewrite:
  • Develop every scene into something longer and with a definite beginning, middle, and end. The character has a goal in that scene; he faces opposition in that scene; he either wins or loses in that scene. Don’t worry about making the script “too long” — you are several drafts away from having to worry about what it will look like in its end form.
  • Put every action on its own separate line. Time your action and dialogue to be about one minute of screen time per page. You can write a 300-minute movie right now and then edit it down to normal feature length.
rotk
Or not.
  • Just go into detail and parse out your action according to how long you want it to take on the screen. Do this with the entire script.

NOTE THAT I AM EMPHASIZING THIS: Don’t worry at this point about the length of your entire script. Let it be as long as it needs to in order to have every scene — EVERY SCENE  — have a goal, opposition, and resolution. Have we ever talked about the four kinds of resolutions? If not, see the end of this message — it will change your life as a dramatic writer.

 

  • Make all of your dialogue — ALL OF IT — indirect and interesting. Have no character just agree with another. Make people at odds with each other, maybe trying to one-up each other and make the other feel stupid or look bad. Maybe just trying to make themselves look smart or otherwise good. No dialogue should be exactly what a character means like “That sounds good” or “I have to go now” or anything like that. Dialogue is EVERYTHING when it comes to character. (Well, actions, too. But you get me.)
Does this all make sense? My fee covers my going over your rewrites, too, so get down to work and just expand, expand, expand, and assume no line of dialogue or action is interesting unless you MAKE it interesting.

Okay, maybe some situations are automatically interesting.

The conception of what a “scene” is that I’m going to share here is more or less lifted from Jack Bickham’s indispensible book on plotting, Scene and Structure. What I am providing here is my own take on it and my own examples, but that book goes into amazing and wonderfully helpful detail on the “scene and sequel” plotting technique.

What is a “scene”?

Unfortunately, a lot of new writers—and a lot of experienced writers going purely on intuition—think the definition of a scene is “something that happens in a story.” While this is trivially true, it doesn’t help at all with designing and writing scenes. No, a “scene” for our purposes here is defined as: Statement of goal, conflict against achieving goal, and resolution of conflict. That’s it; that’s what a scene is. Lacking even one of these three elements, and you got some stuff happening (maybe), but it ain’t a scene. Let’s look at the different elements of a scene, in order:

Statement of goal

Every scene—and I mean EVERY scene—must start with a declaration by the central character of that scene (not always the protagonist; for example, in James Bond movies where the villain is talking to his henchmen, the villain is the central character; that is, the one with the goal in that scene) of his or her GOAL.

Let me repeat, for clarity: EVERY scene. And note that the scene doesn’t begin with a goal as such, although the character does have a goal—it begins with the implicit or explicit STATEMENT of that goal. Here are some examples:

  • Indiana Jones walks into Marion’s bar in Nepal. Within thirty seconds he tells her (and us) that he’s there for her father’s medallion.
  • Darth Vader strolls on the Rebel cruiser and starts choking folks and cracking skulls, wanting to know where the stolen Death Star plans are.

“Not until … you say … the … magic … word …”

  • In Whale Rider, young  Paikea wants to honor her grandfather with her speech at school.

In the first two examples, the goal-seeking character states explicitly what it is he wants (the medallion, the Death Star plans); in the last, the goal-seeking character SHOWS implicitly what she wants by looking into the audience for her beloved but disapproving grandfather. We know that whatever she is going to do, she’s doing it to gain his respect and lost love.

Every scene, with goals from “I want to make love to you” to “Let’s scalp us some Nazis” and anything and everything in between, starts with an explicit or implicit statement of a goal. The audience either already knows what the goal is from a previous scene (a group trying to scale Everest is probably still trying to scale it the next time we see them, although the PARTICULAR goal of the next scene might involve a different obstacle for them to overcome), or the character just says what the new goal is to another character (“I’ve got to get that promotion!”) or the character SHOWS his desire for this new goal (comes out of the hotel in the rain, searches desperately for a taxi—fairly obvious what the goal is). One super-nice thing about writing fiction is that we can always, ALWAYS have the character (if he or she is the viewpoint character in that scene) just THINK what the goal is. (Man, I need that promotion.)

This cat knows what I’m talkin ’bout.

But the character in question must always know what the goal is. It can’t be a secret from the character, even if what she THINKS is her goal is quite different from what we think it is or should be.

Conflict

Drama isn’t drama if there isn’t conflict. If the character’s stated goal is “I need my pencil for the meeting” and then finds it immediately, picks it up off the desk, and walks off with it, there’s no drama because there was no conflict between the statement of the goal and the resolution. There MUST be conflict, in EVERY scene. Make sure every scene has conflict keeping the goal-seeking character from realizing his or her goal.

Resolution

This is where things get fun. In order to keep tension rising, you must constantly take the protagonist further and further away from his goal. And even if she achieves something that apparently brings her closer to the goal, it must turn out quickly that it puts the character is a new situation which is, in fact, further from her ultimate story goal! And here’s how you do it: by tailoring the resolutions you devise to the conflicts in scenes.

Some are simpler than others.

Following Bickham, there are FOUR kinds of resolutions: YesNo; Yes, But; and No, and Furthermore. Yes and No are obvious resolutions, used best at the very end of a story when you don’t want any more rising tension or action. They’re boring resolutions. Avoid them as much as possible.

Yes, But

The “Yes, But” resolution is MUCH more interesting, and it’s my favorite. What happens in a “Yes, But” resolution is that technically, the goal-seeking character achieves the goal he was after. He gets the promotion! She can stay in the country! She’s finally pregnant like she’s been trying to do for months! This “Yes” part is great on the surface of it, but then the “But” comes in: He gets the promotion, BUT now he must work with his hated rival; She can stay in the country, BUT only if she enters into a sham marriage; She’s finally pregnant, BUT it is with an evil alien spawn.

The only response to these in real life is “Yay! Wait, SHIT. Screw that.”

But in the world of dramatic storytelling, the show must go on and characters must continue to strive to meet their story goals so they can fulfill their inner goals. Becoming Vice-President of Expense Accounts will mean he is finally more successful in business than was his overbearing, disapproving father, so he HAS to make it work with his hated rival. Staying in the country is the only way to become a citizen, obviously, so even though she’s committed to honesty, she must enter into this sham marriage. And okay, the baby is an evil alien spawn, but only HALF, right? It’s still her baby, something she’s always wanted, so she HAS to go through with the pregnancy.

To use the above examples:

  • Yes, Marion gives Indy the medallion, BUT now she’s coming with him as her partner because her bar got burned down.
  • Yes, Darth Vader figures out where the Death Star plans are, BUT they’re inside an escape pod shot onto the planet below.
  • Yes, Paikea honors her grandfather with a speech, BUT he didn’t bother to show up to hear it.

Thanks for nothing, asshole.

Do you see how much more interesting dramatically these Yes, But resolutions are than a simple Yes would be?

No, and Furthermore

The No, and Furthermore resolution is excellent when you just want to get your character into the worst shape as fast as you can. It’s fun!

Here, not only does the goal-seeking character NOT achieve the goal, but then he is actually punished for even seeking it: No, you can’t have that promotion, and furthermore, you’re fired just for asking! No, you can’t stay in the country, and furthermore, instead of having to leave this year, you have to leave TONIGHT! No, you’re not pregnant, and furthermore, now your husband’s leaving you for having sex with an evil alien in the first place!

Not that anyone could blame you.

This is VERY effective for ratcheting up the story tension, because now your character has an automatic new goal: S/he must try to extricate himself or herself from the mess that’s been created by trying to seek the original goal! A driver’s goal is to get out of a ticket. The conflict is, of course, the ticket-writing cop, so the driver wraps his license in a $50 bill. The resolution (in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo) is NO, you can’t get out of the ticket, and FURTHERMORE, now you have to shoot the cop in order not to be arrested for attempted bribery! (There are LOTS of fantastic No, and Furthermore resolutions in the movie Fargo.)

Much like the “No, and furthermore” used when discussing the actual city of Fargo.

Think of some of your favorite scenes in movies and novels and try to identify the stated goal, conflict, and resolution. It’s a fun exercise that will give you an entirely new perspective on dramatic scenes.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them! Also, feel free to contact me about fiction and screenwriting coaching.

 

A sugar-coated turd is still a turd.

dec-2012-golden-poopThe below article, which was published in The Independent Publishing Magazine recently, is an innocent-looking, apparently informative and helpful piece BUT HERE BE TYGERS. I read it with growing concern until my fears were found to be on track: This John Hunt Publishing reveals right at the end that it charges an average of US$1,600 for any books they decide won’t sell well enough to pass some unspecified floor of sales.

John Hunt hisself says that “self-publishing” isn’t a real thing because authors must somehow reimburse their publishing houses for printing, marketing, &c. To which I say: DUH. OF COURSE THEY DO. But legitimate companies in the self-publishing biz make their money back — and then make profit — from BOOKS BEING SOLD. John Hunt Publishing wants it both ways, and that is a definite ripoff of independent authors.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NEVER pay for publication of your book. There are add-ons every self-pub house offers such as help with cover design, typesetting, and other skill-requiring aspects of book production. A modest fee for those makes sense, since in a traditional house this would be deducted from the allover advance-and-royalties offer made on the book in the first place.

But never, NEVER pay a nickel for a publisher to take on your book. That way lies madness, bitterness, and great regret. There is a plethora of self-pub houses who WANT to get your book and make money on it through it being sold to readers — go with them. For realsies.

So read the article below so you can have disdain for it and know what NOT to do.

Alternative Publishing and Self-Publishing | John Hunt.

harumph anew at them.

H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & Cthulhucon or BUST!

Hey, cats and kittens, is it I, your Faithful Correspondent, coming to you from the wilds of Las Vegas, where this morning I walked down Fremont Street shortly after dawn and, verily, you could smell the regret in the air. Also Valtrex.

That, however, is neither here nor there. (Well, I guess it’s there, but anyway.) What is here and now is the invitation I received to be a guest and speaker at the amazing and fantastical H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon in Portland, OR from April 11-13! See, that’s my mug on their page. Who are some other guests? Oh, nobody, just like MIKE DAVIS of the Lovecraft eZine and one of the greatest Lovecraft scholars in existence, S.T. JOSHI!

(click on the image to read it, then keep reading after the image … IF YOU DARE)

ImageI’m extremely psyched about this, of course, as I would have gladly paid to frickin’ ATTEND this Con, let alone be taking part in it as a panel guest, fictioneer (I’ll be reading from Deadtown Abbey), and just all-around Lovecraft nut. But wait! There’s more. I will be staying with my friend from youth who like is still my friend here in chronological adulthood, Greg Pius! He lives in Portland, which is apparently awesome. I’ll report back on my findings there.

Now how much would you pay? Don’t answer yet — there’s even more!

… except I can’t announce it yet. However, by the beginning of next week I shall ROCK YOUR WORLD with the most incredible news EVAR. If you told my 10-year-old self that this would happen when I was 45, I would have said, “FORTY-FIVE?!? Too bad I won’t be able to appreciate it being a SENIOR CITIZEN!” (I was a bit of a shit back then, as now.)

No, seriously, I have been working toward this moment for 35 years. Stay tuned, my friends.

Editing ain’t always pretty

Have yerself a looksee at this here:

Image

Those are the pages from the book proof of the upcoming 2nd edition of Ain’t That America, which was originally published in 2000. It’s had errors in it (my own, but still) that have irked me for years. Anyway, the greatest editrix in the world (who also is my wife, but is a professional book editor) went through this proof with her amazing Pen of Wonder™ and gave me a lot to think about and work on.

I finally got to enter the corrections today, but to do so we had to rip it apart or else I’d have to edit with one hand and hold the book with the other. This did allow me the extremely satisfying step of tossing the finished pages onto the couch behind my chair (watching football at the same time, obviously, because FOOTBALL), and at the end was the pile you see in the picture above. It not only makes a fun mess, but you can also roll around in it, Scrooge McDuck style, and dream that it’s royalty cash. Mmmmm …

The new edition of Ain’t That America should be in my hot little hands in less than two weeks. And yours not long after that, should you want to read my comic thriller!