Word limits: or how to learn to stop writing and love the full stop

 

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Every now and then I masochistically log onto Twitter to see what passes for civil discourse amongst the people trying to sell you stuff and those not quite racist enough to be booted to Gab. When I recently logged on, a couple of the authors I follow were updating their fans with their novel progress, or what was currently distracting them from writing.

What interested me about these updates was that several authors were talking about having to trim their draft by 50-65%. That’s right, authors who needed to hand in a 100,000 word manuscript to their publisher were having to trim 100-200,000 words from their novel.

Word limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, to the point that my editing usually involves added 15-20%. Yet these successful authors* are having to sit down with their editors to cull half their manuscript. And if we’re being honest, some successful authors** should have culled a lot more and saved their readers all that page skipping.

One of the good things that Twitter trains you to do, aside from teaching you that trolling people is perfectly okay, is how to express yourself succinctly in 140 280 characters. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:

I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no reason for me to support your statements. I would also question how rational your supposition is, because despite the lack of evidence, there is no reason to suspect that there is any industry conspiracy trying to deny Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson an Oscar for Best Actor.

Can be replaced with:

Lol, moron!

This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely, the reply to this can be shortened from:

Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have. I will admit, however, that the literature on this topic is currently inaccessible due to paywall restrictions, thus this unsourced blog post will have to suffice until such time as the academic publishing model is reformed.

Can be replaced with:

Well screw you and the horse you road up on.

The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The 140 280 character limit can help with this a lot.

In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.

* Maybe that is why they are successful authors and I’m still in that emerging author category. Perhaps it is time to write double the amount I need.

** Obviously not the authors I follow.

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How Greek Mythology Inspires Us

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Did you know that James Joyce’s Ulysses is a (relatively) modern tale inspired by Ancient Greek Mythology? Well, even if you did know that, this video has something for you.

Given this video series has focussed on literature and books made into movies more than popular fiction, I knew that one of my favourite genres wouldn’t get a mention. The vigilante hero/anti-hero traces its origins back to the Ancient Greek Myths as well. The most obvious versions are The Wanderer or Knight Errant which draw upon themes and ideas from heroes like Perseus. This early creation underpins later takes on the hero. And thus, Jack Reacher could be slaying gorgons and saving royals.

Interestingly, the Knight Errant is also prevalent in literature not influenced by Ancient Greek Mythology. So it is possible that convergent ideas are at work.

Ancient Greek Mythology has worked its way into modern pop culture so deeply that it would be an almost Sisyphean task to compile every way it’s manifested!

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part* series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis

*Eleven part series now.

Book vs movie: Pet Cemetary – What’s the Difference?

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It was inevitable that someone in Hollywood would try to reanimate the corpse of yet another classic film. So with the upcoming release of the remake of Pet Cemetary, what better time for CineFix to discuss the original book and movie in What’s the Difference?

Pet Cemetary is one of the many books lingering on my shelf in the TBR pile. While I have decided that this year will involve a concerted effort to make a dent in said pile*, it is unlikely I’ll get to read this novel anytime soon. If I’m completely honest, I want to read The Stand first.

What about the movie, I hear you ask. Back when I was a young lad – walking the obligatory 10 miles (whatever a mile is in real measurements) to school through 10 feet of snow (why would there be feet in snow?) after working 10 hours at the coal mine – Stephen King novels and movies were all the rage. Whether it was Needful Things, Carrie, Misery, Lawnmower Man, IT, or Children of the Corn, there always seemed to be someone bringing a Stephen King VHS** to watch. And after my hard lesson learnt with IT, I tried to avoid the obviously scary films – hence I have seen Lawnmower Man and most of Needful Things, but not Children of the Corn.

At this point, I probably sound like a wimp. It is odd that I generally don’t find horror novels that bad, and even movies with horror elements are fine. But movies whose goal is to creep you out or gross you out (think Saw franchise or Hostel) just aren’t for me, particularly the latter. It’s a little hard to be entertained by that sort of thing.

Yes, yes, more excuses as to why I haven’t read or watched something. Don’t worry, plenty of horror in my TBR pile. Stay tuned.

*I’ve managed to read one from the pile and added two more to it this month. That counts as progress, right?

**VHS, that’s right. I am truly that old.

Super Wings – Too Serious

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The latest craze in our house is Super Wings with the various character catchphrases having entered my own lexicon. Super Wings is a children’s toy advertisement TV show following the adventures of the red delivery jet imaginatively named Jett. The various sentient planes on the show have the ability to transform into robots and I’m left with some very important questions.

Jett is the series protagonist. Every episode he is dispatched to another location far across the planet to deliver a package. Yes, just one package. Anywhere on the planet. By jet plane.

How does this package delivery company manage to stay financially afloat!?!

I’ve crunched the numbers on a single 3,500km adventure and just the cost of fuel would be ~$3,000. That’s an expensive package. But Jett is modelled off of an F-16 Falcon which has a range of ~4,000km, yet routinely does deliveries of twice that distance. Not only would Jett have to stop over for fuel or do an aerial refill, neither of which have been shown to occur in the show, but those package delivery costs would also further sky-rocket.

This company’s package delivery economic model can’t work. Either the packages, which are often small items like badminton racquets, are freighted with super expensive delivery fees to only extremely wealthy clients, or the company runs at a massive loss. Now, we already know from the list of clients that many of the package recipients are not wealthy. One adventure sees Jett deliver a sled to a Moroccan villager, and whilst Moroccan’s aren’t living in the poorest African nation their average take-home pay is half that of an average Aussie. This leaves us with a company that has to be running at a loss.

But does it? They have to pay for that fuel somehow. Jett’s employment must be worth something. As a sentient transforming plane surely Jett must have economic needs to be met. Jett might be internationally famous, but I doubt that keeps a roof over his head and whatever equivalent of clothes on his back there is for an anthropomorphic plane – paint maybe?

That leads me to conclude that the package delivery company must be operating with an ulterior motive. It can’t be drug smuggling, even their profit margins couldn’t cover the ridiculous costs involved. Or maybe not. Maybe Jett and his deliveries are a cover for the smuggling operations that other delivery planes are involved with. Jett might be the publicity-friendly face covering for a much darker trade. Maybe sentient planes delight in trafficking human slaves around the world. If so, they already have the police in their pocket.

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There is another possible explanation for the company’s motives and it relates to Jett’s adventures.

Without fail, every delivery that Jett performs he manages to instigate a series of unfortunate events. You have to wonder if Jett is a magnet for Murphy’s Law*, is some sort of Clouseau-esque character, or an agent of mayhem. Regardless, these events require Jett to call on his friends, the eponymous Super Wings, to help clean up his mess.

Several of these Super Wings friends appear to work at or are based out of the same facility as Jett. It is unclear why a package delivery service would have such broad-ranging staff – police, rescue, passenger, a WW1 biplane. It is also unclear why they are always so readily on-call to help. Are they just waiting for Jett’s latest mishap? But the biggest question is how they manage to fund the involvement of all of these extra staff for every delivery adventure. I’ve already covered how expensive just the fuel would be, but a minimum of two staff per delivery, one staff member unable to perform their primary role whilst helping out Jett, and the extensive travel time to far-reaching parts of the planet, and we start to see a mounting cost that has to be footed by someone.**

But what if these unfortunate events and resultant adventures for Jett and the Super Wings are a deliberate act? What if Jett and his package delivery employers are secretly working toward nefarious ends? They could, in fact, be trying to drive socio-political instability in far-flung places around the world. The only question that would then remain is if Jett is a knowing participant in this nefarious plot or if he is merely a pawn in a dastardly game of epic proportions.

Hopefully, all of these questions will be answered as the Super Wings series unfolds.

*For anyone lucky enough to be unfamiliar with it, Murphy’s Law states: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

**Perhaps the aftermath of every episode is the delivery of an invoice for extra associated costs. Maybe that is how the package delivery service makes its money. Lure people in with a super cheap luxury personalised service and then charge for all of the added expenses incurred when Jett’s mayhem inevitably occurs.

Food & Fiction: Memorable Meals in Literature

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This month’s It’s Lit! covers everyone’s favourite topic: food.

If it isn’t your favourite topic, just give yourself 48 hours without it and see if that changes your mind.

I’ve always found food scenes in books to fall into two categories: needless exposition, or important showing (Oliver Twist is a great example of this). While the video discusses the latter, it is all too common that the former is what we read most.

While I was watching the video I was reminded of something I read last year. The discussion of bread in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, particularly around the hard bread that needed to be soaked, was something that Karl Marx wrote about in Das Kapital. The hard bread was actually due to deliberate contamination to make cheap bread that workers could afford, knowing full well that it was bad for them to eat, and the employers knowing full well that the workers couldn’t afford to eat properly (keeping them hungry so they would work).

A great way to remind us future people of how society used to run.*

Food varies wildly from place to place and from culture to culture; since humans are such sensory creatures, using words to evoke the experience of eating is an excellent way to bring a text to life.

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis.

*Let’s be honest, society would quite happily go back to those conditions, and in some areas of the world, it still is operating in that way.

Death of the Author

The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author… or so says Roland Bathes in his essay Death of the Author. Are we talking about literally killing authors? No, this is figurative (like most uses of literally). Can Death of the Author include killing the author? Sure, but get a good lawyer first.

Let’s let Lindsay Ellis (and John Green) explain:

My take on Death of the Author is somewhat complicated. I think there is relevant information that the author has that doesn’t make it into the story (think Elvish languages from Tolkien*), but I also think that quite often if it isn’t in the story it doesn’t really exist. I think that stories are really up to the readers to interpret, as viewpoints and interpretations will change over time**, but that doesn’t mean readers always interpret correctly.

This is a hedged way of saying that Death of the Author is probably too simple a way of thinking about how stories should be interpreted. At least, that’s my interpretation of it.

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Source: Mimi and Eunice

*Let’s not get into how “relevant” I think those languages are, or a lot of that world-building from authors in general is.

**You may remember book reviews here where I’ve discussed how older books haven’t aged well due to changing societal standards. Sexism and racism are obvious changes that have happened in the last 50 years which make formerly acceptable, even progressive, moments in a story seem backward and unacceptable now.

Another thing that can occur is changes to society changes interpretations. E.g. The Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy can be summed up as an old song made references to things that we are no longer familiar with, so our interpretation changes. This makes Death of the Author a truly bad thing for any artwork that is “consumed” outside of the social and temporal setting it was made within.

Book vs Movie: Hellboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s instalment of What’s the difference? from CineFix looks at Mike Mignola’s graphic novel and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Hellboy: movie or comic. Yes, I know, how dare you not love Del Toro’s amazing artistic vision! I’ve watched both Hellboy movies multiple times and have not loved them (and despite liking the Blade trilogy, Blade 2 isn’t my favourite – but Pan’s Labyrinth was fantastic). The comics I probably didn’t give them a fair chance, as I tried reading one omnibus after not enjoying the first film.

Anyway, the point I wanted to highlight from the video was something I think too many adaptations fail to do. When you are talking about a series of comics or books, there is often some prevailing themes, motifs, and imagery to them that may be less noticeable in any one edition, but taken as a whole it is important.

Because movies are often only drawing on one book at a time, or drawing on one run (or story arc) of a comic, important aspects may be lost. An example would be the Tim Burton or the Adam West takes on Batman versus the Christopher Nolan version. The latter drew upon more of the Batman comics than the earlier adaptations (not that either of those adaptations was bad*).

So while this doesn’t necessarily result in a direct adaptation, it does result in an adaptation that is faithful to the source material in the elements that matter.

*I’m pretending that the Joel Schumacher adaptations don’t exist. Akiva Goldsman is probably more to blame, given he has a long track record of making everything he is attached to that bit worse.