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

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

  1. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Oh, and Also?

    In which too much reminiscing stalls the story.

    "Joe saw Anne waiting on the corner, and immediately remembered the first time they'd met. She was eighteen then, just out of high school, walking her poodle in the wrong part of town. He was the gentleman who gave her a ride.

    Now she saw him and waved. He pulled over to the curb. She was wearing the same green cotton dress she'd worn when they went to the Caribbean. He would never forget that trip. The weather was perfect the first few days. Then the skies opened; but they'd amused themselves well enough!

    "Hi, Anne," he said, as she got into his Ford Fromage. "How was your day?"

    "I don't know," she shrugged, grinning. That was so like her. It was also like her mother, Joe remembered. He had known Anne's mother before he'd ever met Anne. In 1963, when he was only eight..."


    "Here everything reminds the point-of-view character of something else. It's like trying to leave the house with someone who keeps realizing they've left something inside. Then something else. Then something else. With this constant application of the brakes, the plot has no chance of ever getting where it's going."
  2. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    "The Padded Cell"

    The two biggest changes for authors in the 20th century are the fall of communism (which affected thrillers) and the cell phone, which can get you out of many a sticky situation.
    How to deal with the cell phone?

    Forgetting of Phone: "In the credibility arms race, this is the pointy stick. However, pointy sticks are not without their uses, and forgetting it is sometimes plausible--fire or flood wakes character, who rushes half sasleep from bed at 4:00 a.m. say. In such cases, overexplaining with a more sophisticated gambit could be less credible. The key is to show the character rushing precipitously from the the house long before the character needs the phone.

    Loss of Phone: Was your character dangling upside down from a helicopter at any point? If the closest your character comes to this scenario is traveling to work on the crosstown bus, readers might balk."

  3. icqfreak Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 7, 1999
    star 4
    In this day in age when cell phones really suck down a lot of battery power from being on constantly for texting, web surfing, games, etc, the idea of a person forgetting to charge their phone before a catastrophic event, or just having it low to begin with from using it all day is not that unlikely.
  4. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    A person could be absent minded and leave it on the bus, or elderly and not know how or refuse to use one. Battery power is a good way out, or out of credit or in an area with bad reception. These things have to be set up, like a student who constantly runs out of pre-paid credit and can't make calls.
  5. The2ndQuest Tri-Mod With a Mouth

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jan 27, 2000
    star 10
    If the person is under, say, 25 (or definitely under 18-22), from what I've seen at work, they're more casual with cell phones and tend to leave them laying around unattended more often, opening up many situations where they can be damaged, stolen or misplaced.

    This is particularly an issue with females, most often, since they more often tend to wear clothing/uniforms that don't have pockets to store the phones in, yet don't wish to limit their access to their phones by storing them in their bag in a locker or something.

    So, depending on the age focus and nature of the character's employment/environment, there are ways to plausibly take a cell phone out of the picture.
  6. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    A person could be absent minded and leave it on the bus, or elderly and not know how or refuse to use one.

    I think though, that in order to do the above, you'd need to set up the character beforehand.

    For a character -- especially a POV character -- to forget, not know how to use, or refuse a cell phone could seem very convenient if the moment the cell phone is needed is the first we hear of these character traits. Best that these sort of things are alluded to as indirectly as possible (so long as the point is conveyed).
  7. Penguinator RPF Modinator and Batmanager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    May 23, 2005
    star 6
    It's all dependent on the individual - I went to high school with folks who got a new phone every couple of months, not because they needed it but because they wanted the new thing; these folks were pretty cavalier about leaving stuff lying around, so it was only a matter of time before there were a few losses and broken phones.

  8. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Yeah, things like that need to be set up. I think this comes up in a later in the book...
  9. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    The book goes on...

    Destruction of Phone, by Villain

    "Because this act clearly springs from the villain's motivations, this is quite workable and similar to the time-honoured "Jim! They've cut the phone lines!" Note however, that the phone lines were never in the hero's pant pocket at the time of cutting, so the cell phone version requires more finesse."

    Swallowing of Phone, by Shark

    Where the shark is your character's antagonist, it might be finessed. Where the shark is randomly passing through the scene, note how close this is to "the shark ate my homework!" This holds true for any bear, zombie, or Dread Cthulhu who might have a similar taste for electronics.

    Failure of Signal or Battery


    The more baldly convenient to the author, the less chance of success."
  10. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    It's all dependent on the individual - I went to high school with folks who got a new phone every couple of months, not because they needed it but because they wanted the new thing; these folks were pretty cavalier about leaving stuff lying around, so it was only a matter of time before there were a few losses and broken phones.

    In RL it certainly is, absolutely. In fiction though, the rule tends to be a given character is assumed to be competent until shown that they are not: and they're often expected by the reader to be more competent then THEY would be in the same situation (naturally they think they WOULD be as competent, but observing or reading about a situation is much different than living it).

    It's a bit analogous to written versus actual speech -- speech in a novel is rarely broken or stuttering unless the character is Emperor Claudius. But in real life it's much more common. To write out how people actually talk you'd see a stutter or pause or interruptions or something at least twice a page or so, just as part of the natural ambience. Humans can speak like dialogue, but rarely in as long stretches.
  11. LexiLupin Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2011
    star 4
    A different sort of destruction of phone, by villain.

    (strong language warning)

    :D

  12. Havac Former Moderator

    Member Since:
    Sep 29, 2005
    star 7
    "I'm sorry for calling you an inanimate object. I was upset."
  13. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Usurpation of Technology by Demonic Possession, Teenage Hackers, or HAL-like intelligence

    "Great where genre appropriate, not otherwise recommended."

    Quirk of Character

    "A character might indeed refuse to own a cell phone because he subscribes to outer theories about cancer risks or wiretapping, but this works best when he is engaged in an enterprise (exposing radiation cover-ups, drug dealing) that lends itself to such theories. Do not have your heto, a Hollywood agent, announce airily that she can't stand the things."

    Setting the Novel in the Past

    "Ideal. When action is early twentieth century, however, caution dictates that the character should make a call on a period phone early in the novel. ("Operator! Get me Butterfield 8!" he said, his head dwarfed by the primitive mecharnism to drive the point home to younger readers, who may be under the vague impression that cell phones were invented by Galileo."

  14. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    ENDINGS

    And Jesus lived happily ever after

    "What if, espite your best efforts, your story begins with an exciting premise and gathers momentum through purposeful and surprising scenes? Don't worry--it's still possible to drive away editors by writing an implausible, irrelevant ending. Here are some of our favorites.

    [the book sets out the plot of a Dan Brown novel, and at the end, the hero and heroine are trapped by a Menace at the edge of a cliff, and rescued by a helicopter sent by the richest man in the world.]

    "The reader is invested in seeing the hero resolve his problems himself, and feels disappointed when he doesn't...It is as if the author had said, "Oh, I just realized my plot doesn't work, so I'm going to add something from outside of my plot, okay?"

    "This particular blunder is known as deus ex machina, which is French for "Are you ******* kidding me?"

  15. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    "And one ring to bind them!" said the old cowpoke

    When the author switches genres in midstream

    [The example starts with an excerpt from Bridget Jones' Diary (I'm guessing). Suddenly she discovers that one of her dates is a member of a lizard-man race who wants to take over the world.]

    The book suggests that if you are going to bring in "an otherworldly, fantastic, or science-fictional element, it's a very good idea not to wait until the last twenty pages"

    "While a revelatory moment at the end of a novel that causes the reader to think back and understand everything in a whole new light--oh, it was the *uncle* telling the story the whole time!--is a fine thing, you may NOT inform the reader after three hundred pages of a quotidian realism that the scrappy puppy the hero saved from the fire in Chapter Two is really a magic, mind-reading puppy from another planet, who has just been waiting for the right moment to reveal his superpowers and save the day.

    This type of ending is a special instance of deus ex machina, known as the folie adieu, which is French for "Are you FRICKING kidding me?"

    Surprise endings have to take place in which surprises can occur. If it involves ghosts, prep the ground earlier in the story.
  16. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    The Underpants Gnomes

    Where crucial steps are omitted

    In an early episode of "South Park", missing underpants led to the discovery of the Underpants Gnomes, who reveled to the boys their not completely though out business plan:

    1. Collect underpants;
    2. ????
    3. Profit!

    "Sometimes a writer knows where she wants to end up but can see no plausible way to get from A to Q. Instead, she announces "Q"! in a confident tone, often following up with some vague comments about "ong conversations had led to this," or "fevered negotiations had ben required, and somehow all issues were finally revolved," or, worst of all, "It was as if John had somehow turned into a different man." If John somehow turns into a different man and we do not witness that transformation, the editor considering your novel will somehow turn into an editor considering a different novel."
  17. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Goodbye, Cruel Reader!

    Where an inconvenient character is conveniently disposed of

    "The primary sin here is lousy plotting. Seeing no way of getting the protagonist out of a thorny plot problem she has created, the author decies to kill whomever stands in his way. She is essentially doing the wetwork for the hero, so he cna walk away squeaky clean. This, however, is suicide not only for the villain but for the book deal."

  18. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    The Manchurian Parallax of the Thetan Consipiracy Enigma

    "You see, the hotal lobbies were all in bed with the Commissioner," Herr Schlock explained, keeping the barrel of the .69 Crosspatch trained on Mary's face. "Whose real name is Joseph Mengele--ring a bell? he escaped to Paraguay after the fall of Berlin, got radical plastic surgery, and began life again as Josephine Womengele. She/he had a brief career as a courtesan in the highest echelons of Washington society that more than prepared him/her to seduce your silly boyfriend, Bruce. It was all part of a long-forgotten fail-safe plan to assassinate Presdient Dukakis, should he have gotten elected. when Bruce inadvertently used that specific combination of coins in the laundromat, it activated the plan and brought to the attention of Mengele, and so Bruce ended up in bed with the Commissioner, too, in his own way."

    Schlock laughed in his German accent as Mary struggled to add up all this new information. Schlock added, "Of course, this may be hard for you to digest after the operation removing your memories that our Canadian enemies put you through, but I can explain all that in the submarine on our way to bomb Winnipeg."

    "But that's crazy!" Mary protested. "Up until now the only clue we've had was a frozen leg of mutton!"

    "Some books end with a long explanation of the mysteries in the plot that is more complex and elaborate than the novel that led to it. This problem is most common in thrillers, but even in romance novels, the hero's cold behaviour is sometimes accounted for by a summarized subplot that spans four generations and three wars.

    Please make the surprising explanation for a mystery simple enough that it does not substitute pure confusion for amazement. Also try beginning the explanation earlier in the book, revealing odd bits and pieces of the mystery as the plot proceeds.

    Alternatively, consider writing the novel described in the explanation instead."
  19. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    This is a usual feature of made for tv movies. Has anyone seen Countdown to Chaos or Category 6: Day of Destruction?
  20. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    No, but old scifi movies are like this, too.
  21. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Now with 20 per cent More Homily!

    Where the author tells us what he's just spent 300 pages telling us.

    "Sometimes, instead of a prologue that presents all the philosophical point the author will attempt to make, we are given at the end of a book a long monologue that 3explains to us all the philosophical points he has just attempted to make. Needless to say, we know. We were standing right there."
  22. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Ann Rand? I am looking at you!
  23. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Part II, Characterization

    "How can people hate me," Tonio wondered, "when I'm buff, rich, and have every album Dylan ever made, on vinyl?"

    "Perhaops, after all your efforts to sabotage the plot, you think your novel might still be a little compelling. Your next best bet is to populate it with boring, unbelievable, and unpleasant characters. So who lives in Unpublished Novelville?"

    They have no characters at all.

    Their names are Rain Weste (with a cat named Proudtail Pussy Weste), or Lavish Rivers, or Dirk Tool. The book then goes into how to make them uninteresting.

  24. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Character Essentials

    "Joe had a really interesting personality"

    "One of the simpler taks the author faces is saying what Joe looks like. In the hands of the dedicated unpublished author, even this becomes a chance to founder."

    1. The Man of Average Height

    (Where characters are described in generic terms)

    "Joe was a medium-sized man with bronw hair and brown eyes."

    "Alan wore a white shirt and blue jeans on his tall frame."

    "Melinda had a nice body and a pretty face."
  25. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 19, 2007
    star 6
    And at the other end of the spectrum, we have those stories in which characters and their clothing are described in painful detail. Repeatedly.