Amph How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes: The Cheerleader

Discussion in 'Archive: The Amphitheatre' started by Nevermind, Jul 3, 2011.

  1. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Drizz't will forever be the bane of 3.5 DMs. Everyone wants to be a Chaotic Good drow ranger with two scimitars. :oops:
  2. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Next: "And By the Way, I'm an Expert Marksman"

    "Where the pay-off is not set up."

    "If your hero is going to save the day through some very specialized skill late in the book, it is best to introduce that skill early on and make it a part of your character's life...no matter how you do it, it cannot come as a complete surprise when it is revealed to the reader in the second to last chapter that Earl the lumberjack was once the ballroom dance champion of the Upper Peninsula."
  3. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    A variant of this is what a read a forensics book call "The Instant Athlete". Where a chain-smoking, coffee-drinking, doughnut-eating average cop is able to chase after a suspect for ten blocks on foot.

    No, not unless you omit his sterotypical cop habits and make him into running or something.
  4. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    Sort of an extreme example of "Oh, I forgot I needed/did that".

    The author has to pay explicit attention to what is going on in his story at all times. A writer can sometimes be like a reader themselves -- skim over sections, not think about the in-between sections, wanting to get to the good part.

    Trouble is, the author knows what the next good part is while the reader does not. At any point along the way a reader will be paying more attention to a section than an author may be. So, said author has to be consistent, and on their guard in the world they build.

    In this example, if you have a character required to do something extraordinary, yeah: you have to set that up. You can't just re-arrange your world based on your next plot requirement. This is why stories can often get more difficult the longer they go on: reality has it's... own way of self-regulating what's possible. A world of fiction does not.

    But there's more subtle examples of this. What about ordinary things that a character should not be able to do, due to disability or whathaveyou? Or, more common, a character commits an act that they have no particular motive for, or even goes AGAINST the motivation that's been set up previously? You know, like the literal "Jump the Shark" moment on Happy Days? If your character was, for instance, set up as being afraid of water, why has he decided to steal that boat when there were plenty of alternatives available?
  5. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    What about Ron Weasley being suddenly able to speak Parseltongue in HP7? :p
  6. Mar17swgirl Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 26, 2000
    star 7
    Well, in the book at least Ron only repeated what he had heard Harry say, and he had to try several times to get it right - in the film it was instantaneous. :p
  7. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    I just don't buy that one.
  8. Mar17swgirl Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 26, 2000
    star 7
    I agree that it was a bit too convenient. There's bound to be some sort of "recording" spell, so Ron would just need to record Harry saying "open" in Parseltongue, then play it back at the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.

    ...or something. :p
  9. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    No, we only saw the time he succeeded.


    And in the book they were gone quite a while.
  10. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    I never thought it was a learned language; you either have the ability or you don't. It is supposedly the sign of a Dark Wizard, for instance.
  11. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    No, it's a language that if you have it you understand it insitinctively. I see no reason why one should not be able to acquire it the old fashioned way. Particularly with one word.
  12. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Next: Rose-Coloured Half-Full Glasses

    "Do not reassure your reader that everything is going to turn out all right. Sometimes even a sense of confidence in the hero can be a tip-off that a happy ending is a foregone conclusion. The hero is better off considering the odds to be almost impossible--but resolving to try, even if it means losing his life."

    A related problem is:

    Where the setup deflates the pay-off

    "Where there is a plan [to prevail] things cannot go according to it. If they do, the plan becomes a spoiler, the action becomes dull and predictable, and the reader's plan to finish your book is what gets derailed."
  13. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    Sounds sensible -- that's a new one to me, though.
  14. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Yeah, you either have an unspoken plan that goes well (or doesn't go well but seems to), or a spoken plan that backfires in some way. The former is along the lines of "exactly what I aimed at", for instance.

    Douglas Adams, of course, completely violates this rule in a very spectatular way in Hitchhiker's. He says that even though the ship is being attacked by atomic missiles, the survival of the crew is assured and only maintain suspense is not revealing whose upper arm is bruised.
  15. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    The Rule is: You can violate *some* of these rules, or even *all* of them if you are sufficiently talented. Most of us aren't.

    "Why Your Job Is Harder Than God's."

    "But that really happened to my friend!

    In real life, no matter how unlikely something is--the deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes on the same date in 1616, or one man being hit by lightening five times--if it really happens, we do not question that it *would* happen. Out credulity is not strained to the breaking-point, causing us to stop participating in the world, and go looking for another one that is more convincing. Thus, God can work with the most mind-bending coincidences, far-fetched plot devices, and perverse dramatic ironies, never giving a moment's though to whether or not his audience will buy it. You do not have that luxury.

    When a writer proposes and unlikely event, we buy if or not based on whether the writer has managed to create a world in which the event is interrelated with everything around it, so it appears to the reader something that might naturally happen. Unlikely strokes of good fortune do not appear from nowhere; we arrive at the discovery of the briefcase of cash with some inkling of the chain of events that led to it being in the hotel closet. What might appear to the characters as amazing good luck should for the reader have a certain feeling of inevitability. We are made to understand that a character behaved in a particular way because of the person she is; she does not suddenly break character to do the one thing that is most convenient for the author.

    Strokes of good luck and mind-boggling coincidences can be used *when that is what your novel is about." A character whose problems are miraculously resolved when he finds a duffel bag filled with unmarked currency will be received by the reader very differently than a character whose problems *begin* when he finds the money.

    So, in a good novel, the writer strives for a balance of likelihood and continguency, the more unlikely event, the more deeply rooted and widely integrated it should be into the chapters that came before it. Above all, the writer does not assume that an event in his novel is believable simply because "it really happened to this guy I know!"
  16. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    I think that's because we like novels to be predictable and understandable, unlike life which is anything but.
  17. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    I don't think that's exactly what they mean. Certain things *are* believable, and others are not. And it depends upon the writer's skill on whether you buy in or not.
  18. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Yeah, but Zaz you have to admit we like books to make sense even if it's in the the context of themselves and nothing else. We like endings and like to anticipate things according to narrative rules as life isn't like that.

    Aristorle said so in Poetics.
  19. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Well, except in fantasy books.
  20. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Sometimes especially in fantasy books. A book needs to obey it's own logic, even if it's made-up logic.
  21. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Plenty of them don't, though.
  22. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Yeah, and that's when you have a good editor.

    Or dedicated fans. :D
  23. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Sometimes dedicated fans spend their time glossing over your mistakes.
  24. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    I guess it's just sort of taking in the suspense of disbelief for your story and making sure your audience never reacts with the internal thought of: "yeeeeeah, that never happened".

    It doesn't make it better if such a thing really HAS happened: if there's like this one historical precedent for it, it's not going to save you unless EVERYONE knows of it. Writing of an atomic explosion would have been playing a lot more with suspension of disbelief in 1939 than it would have in 1950. But writing of laptop computers would have remained just as in the realm of 'science fantasy' at that time.

    And that's tagging events or developments that entered public awareness. Things like people dying conveniently on the same day -- Shakepeare's mentioned, but I always think of Jefferson and Adams -- are apt to be forgotten 50 years after it happens to most people, so its likelihood it slips back into the ether of disbelief. As time goes on, information is lost from public consciousness even as more is added.
  25. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Nobody would write Adams and Jefferson dying on the same day.

    We're on hiatus in this thread, because the book had to go back to the library; I have reserved it again, but it will take awhile.

    That'll give me the opportunity to get back to the (shudder) "Twilight" Chapter-by-Chapter thread.