Writing Excuses 9.29: Part Two of Two, Critiquing Sixth of the Dusk
Key Points: Hollywood formula calls for hero achieves goal, defeats antagonist, and reconciles with relationship character as close together as possible. In this story, they need to happen closer together. Make sure there is enough foreshadowing for reveals. Don’t bury your hints. Make sure that exposition is motivated, don’t let your hero babble without a reason. And a reaction! Give the reader enough explanations or examples. Make sure the reader knows that the POV character is thinking. Be careful of consistency. Just because something is cool or awesome — if you don’t use it, lose it.
[Brandon] Okay. This is Brandon from the future, cutting into this episode to say, “Yes, indeed, the Writing Excuses anthology is available. It’s called Shadows Beneath. We have it in a gorgeous hardcover as well as in e-book forms on all of your favorite e-book platforms. If you buy the hardcover, we send you the e-book for free. So if you haven’t read the story we’re doing this week, you’ll want to stop right now, pick up a copy of the anthology, read through that story so that then you can follow along with this critique session and see what professional writers have to say about a story going from first draft to last draft.”
[Mary] This episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by Audible. Visit audiblepodcast.com/excuse to start your free trial membership.
[Mary] Season nine, episode 29.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, critiquing Brandon’s story, part two.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And I guess we weren’t smart enough last time.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] All right. We are, if you missed last week, we are critiquing my story, Sixth of the Dusk, which you can find linked in the liner notes or go to Amazon or go to your favorite place to get books and get my e-book and read it. Particularly, read the unedited version, because they’ll both be included, unedited and supercool edited where they’ve fixed all my problems. You can read that. You can listen to us critiquing the story as we would with my critique group. Then you can go back and read what I’ve changed. Hopefully that will be very helpful to you as writers. So we are in the middle of it. We already did good things and some of the major problems last week. So I’m going to open the floor to any other major issues that the story has that you noticed.
[Howard] I’m going to take my turn first.
[Dan] [groan] Oh, fine.
[Howard] Because… Shut up.
[Howard] The reason I want to do this is because you, fair listener, have heard a lot of our podcasts, probably, if you are listening to this. You’re probably familiar with the cast we did with Lou Anders about the Hollywood formula. [6-18 http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/49969.html] One of the things that I think failed with this ending is that while I could feel the presence of the various emotional threads, those various pieces, they didn’t all hit close enough together. I think that’s a good way to sum up what Mary said last week, is that we weren’t… I mean, all of these things kind of needed to happen, but they needed to happen closer. Outside the Hollywood formula, the two biggest problems I had is that I wanted clues, I wanted foreshadowing with regard to Dusk, a little bit earlier. I mean, that was a neat reveal. I like that, but when by the end of the story we realized that he’s kind of mulling over his name as a foretelling, I thought maybe he should have been mulling over his name as a foretelling earlier. Maybe that’s the discontent that he’s feeling, that Mary suggested. The second issue is that I think we were almost halfway through the story before we mentioned that they had made contact with people from the stars. That needed to drop a little bit sooner.
[Dan] That needed to at least be hinted at earlier. I didn’t mind the revelation coming where it does…
[Howard] Oh, the revelation was awesome, but…
[Dan] But I was not prepared for it.
[Mary] Ditto that.
[Brandon] That’s actually on page 2, but…
[Mary] It’s on page 2?
[Brandon] It is on page 2.
[Dan] Well, obviously none of us saw it.
[Howard] Is it really on page 2? I’m flipping to page 2…
[Dan] And if you feel the need to defend your story, that means it’s wrong. Okay, here’s my thing. This is actually, even more so than the ending, this is what… This was my biggest problem with this story.
[Mary] Where is that on page 2?
[Mary] That is so not on page 2.
[Brandon] Search for ones above.
[Mary] Oh, please.
[Brandon] Okay, go ahead.
[Dan] Okay. Sixth gives away so much information for no reason that I could discern. He focuses so heavily on the fact that he doesn’t like talking, that this woman talks too much, and then he just cannot stop himself from spilling every secret he knows. He doesn’t get anything out of it. He’s not trying to get anything from her. It felt very weird to me, like he was just… The plot engine would take over and he’s like we need to know another secret now, so he’s just going to tell us.
[Mary] Yeah. I had some issues with that. I wasn’t… I felt like a lot of his motivation for why he was telling her, that people already know this and it’s going to come out… I felt like usually there was motivation behind that, that I could accept it, but there were a couple of places where I’m like, “Why are you telling her this?”
[Dan] If that’s his motivation, I think it would need to be accompanied by his reaction. Not just an acceptance, but some form of guilt or betrayal or whatever. That was there a little bit, but not enough to sell it.
[Mary] Also, I think if that had been present in the beginning, when I was talking about needing some form of him being satisfied with life… If he was doing some of that in the beginning, before he even meets her, that… Maybe there’s some form of… If they’ve got steam, they’ve got probably newspapers or something that… Some article’s been published and he’s like, “People are starting to talk about stuff that has traditionally been kept between us…”
[Dan] Wait a minute.
[Mary] Also, ones above is not until page 22.
[Brandon] Okay. Maybe I was just…
[Howard] I could not find it on page 2.
[Dan] So the seeds are there…
[Howard] 22 of 75.
[Dan] That’s like page 2. For a shorter story.
[Mary] It’s got 2 twos in it.
[Howard] Of seven.
[Dan] The seeds are there for him to have this kind of letting-go-of-the-past aspect. We’re planting early on that he’s wearing kind of more modern clothes, he has a compass, he has the little scuba mask that he talks about. But he completely accepts that whereas… I don’t know what I’m… Brandon knows what I mean at this point.
[Howard] Brandon, what does Dan mean?
[Brandon] Dan means that he doesn’t like the story.
[Brandon] He’s talking about the… Well, I tried to avoid talking too much, but he’s talking about the idea that he’s accepting all of these, but is there any regret? Any… Is there any sense of loss? I mean, he’s just moving along with it, and is that a wasted opportunity or not?
[Mary] I completely agree with that. I think if you can give us hints of that in the beginning, that that will inform a lot of the decisions that he makes later.
[Dan] The other thing that I wanted to say, the other seed that is being sown there is that he, by bringing in mainland birds, has already started to corrupt the island. That was never brought up and never addressed.
[Mary] That’s true.
[Dan] It could, if that’s a direction you decide to go, solve some of this problem, that he’s already party to the corruption of the island.
[Mary] I thought that you dealt with that a little bit when he was all “Oh, let’s kill all of the nightmaws.” I thought the bird he had… That Sak was a mainland bird that had blown off course, that he just got lucky with that one. But you’re right, he is bringing chicks in now because he’s saying there will be more of these. Good point. That may be one of those things where he is not aware of the ecosystem issues that he is going to cause by doing that. That’s something she could bring up, and have him make those connections.
[Howard] That is a nice piece of symmetry. The groundwork is already laid for that. Where he is worried about change, he recognizes himself as an agent of change, his name means he is an agent of change. But he does not recognize the extent of the change that would occur if he does what he wants. Whereas she is… I mean, she is definitely an agent of change. She’s there as part of changing things, but her mission is to change things while at the same time protecting them in a way that hasn’t occurred to him. There’s a neat symmetry there. That’s the sort of thing which, Brandon, you do a great job with in the other stuff of yours that I’ve read where you’ve had a chance to tighten up the prose. These are the things that just naturally flow out as you’re tightening up these words and you realize, “Oh, I need to use this word here and then this word again here,” and the reader grabs that symmetry without you’re having to throw down a whole paragraph that says, “And this is what he believed…”
[Brandon] All right, let’s stop there…
[Howard] That’s one of the reasons why I spend so much time drilling down on my prose so early in the project is because my editor is an idiot.
[Brandon] Let’s stop for our book of the week. Howard, you have our book of the week.
[Howard] Oh, yes. Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland. This is the sequel, second book in a trilogy or maybe there’s going to be four, I don’t know how many of these Diana’s going to do. It is a zombie book in which a zombie is the protagonist. I am a big fan of… Big fan of tropes being turned on their heads, and Diana Rowland does a great job of this. The zombie is a lot of fun. She’s a girl who doesn’t want to be dead, but is dead, but isn’t dead, and sometimes can have superpowers if she eats your brains, but she really doesn’t want to eat your brains. She’s awesome.
[Brandon] That sounds really fun.
[Howard] It is really, really cool. And she works, as a result of a little bit of finagling, she works for the coroner. So she’s got ready access to superpowers.
[Brandon] She does have brains. Well, if you want to listen to Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, you can go to audiblepodcast.com/excuse, start a 30 day free trial, get a free copy of the book and support the podcast all at the same time.
[Brandon] All right. Well, let’s continue to it. Continue to thrash my story everyone. What are your medium level problems? Just things that occurred to you that may not require big revision but that bothered you.
[Mary] This is a tiny thing. It’s actually just an order of information flow. When… It’s on page 7, when you introduce the Sak, the aviar usually waited until they’d landed before bestowing her blessing. I’m like, “The corpse is a vision?” Because I wasn’t completely clear, and then why is that a blessing, why is the vision of the corpse a blessing? You answer it like two sentences later. But because it’s… The two sentences are “the black feathered bird just watched the waves” and “Sixth continued…” You’re right, that is hard to say. “Sixth continued his work.” I…
[Howard] We have an audiobook problem here.
[Mary] I thought you were done and I wasn’t going to get the answer, so I was confused. I really think that it’s just moving the “The body he saw…” Just moving that little section somewhere so there’s not quite the tiny buffer between would have fixed that for me. It’s a small thing.
[Brandon] Got it.
[Howard] Medium level-ish thing for me was the mechanic of… I guess it’s a mixture of things. The mechanic of the foretelling. We never get at any point a vision from Sak that tells us something that then comes true. So I mean, yes, he’s been very careful and he’s survived all of this time as a result of stuff from Sak. But I’ve never seen Sak do something or tell him something and then see that actual thing actually happen. Which I know wouldn’t work because he’s… We’re only getting his corpses.
[Mary] But what we do see is Sak give the warning and him look closer. It’s like “Oh, yes, in fact…”
[Howard] Oh, yes, there’s a thing there.
[Dan] With the vines coming out of the trees.
[Howard] See, that’s why I’m saying it’s a medium level problem. If I could see one of those prophecies come true, I would be much more satisfied in the bird’s ability. The other thing that was a little weird is the concatenation of his corpse everywhere, which…
[Dan] Was awesome.
[Howard] No, I liked it. It was powerful. It was awesome. But to my mind, it was never explained. I didn’t understand why.
[Dan] I was bothered as well by the fact that we never find out what this mapping machine is or what it’s going to do to the island. But I was not super bothered by it. I don’t know if I would have even brought it up at Howard not mentioned it.
[Dan] Because it’s a hole in the story, but it feels like it’s an excusable hole in the story because that’s not what the story’s focusing on.
[Mary] I was okay with that. Where I had a problem was that… Was the… Because I thought, “Well, why would mapping machinery do that? That doesn’t make any sense?” But then when Sixth says, “Hey, I think it’s because this is a trap, and it’s not actually mapping machinery. It’s designed to cause this destruction.” Then…
[Howard] I like that reveal a lot. That was cool.
[Mary] I did too. But what… Where my problem lay was that I didn’t see his logical steps to get to that. Because we’re in his POV and we didn’t see him putting those pieces together. We just saw him say, “And here, let me give you this piece of exposition.”
[Dan] Yes. That exposition came out of nowhere. If he arrives there by the same process as you just did, that would solve two whole different problems for me at the same time. Here’s another problem that may be didn’t bug anybody else. But the gun that she has. I couldn’t figure out why it was a harpoon gun. To the point, that was weird enough to me that I thought, “Oh, it’s going to be important later that it’s a harpoon gun.” And it is, because you can’t tie a flower bulb onto a bullet and so therefore it had to be a harpoon. That, as far as I could see, was the only reason for it to be a harpoon.
[Howard] The other…
[Dan] I’m cool with other cultures having other kinds of guns, but this was never used in a way that would make a harpoon more valuable than a bullet.
[Howard] They had the deep maw… Whatever the deep creature things that they were up against sometimes. If you’re going to shoot something like that, you do need a heavier projectile than a bullet because a bullet won’t go very far in the water. But she tried shooting at one and missed, so it didn’t work.
[Dan] I never got the sense that this was an underwater weapon.
[Mary] Well, she does say that it was specifically something that they had for the shadow and she grabbed it when she was fleeing. But that maybe needs to be brought out a little more.
[Mary] Along these lines, since we’re talking about shadow and night maw and all of these things, oddly, instead of a shark toothed club. I was like, “They have sharks on this world?” I don’t know why that bothered me. Because it wouldn’t have bothered me if… Birds didn’t bother me, horses wouldn’t have bothered me, but for some reason, shark toothed when we have all of these other cool flora and fauna that are clearly indigenous to the world… For some reason I’m like, “Why would anyone import sharks?” I can understand importing birds, but why would anyone import sharks?
[Dan] On a related note, but this is actually a good thing that I thought was a neat little minor touch is you described the shadows, the big monsters, and you never actually say that they look like kraken or Cthulhus or whatever. But that’s what I imagined in my head. But he has literally no idea how to describe it, or maybe it was the girl. Then in like the next sentence, they talk about octopi. I’m like, “Well, if they know what an octopi is and they still don’t know how to describe what I assumed was a Kraken, it must be even weirder than I thought it was.” I thought that was really neat.
[Howard] I just assumed it was like a really big shark.
[Mary] I was just like, “It’s just something bad.”
[Dan] You guys just don’t like to imagine tentacles as much as I do.
[Mary] Yeah, I have…
[Howard] Oh, that’s not where I went.
[Mary] All right. Small… This is again in that medium level. This was one of the places where I was like… Where I did feel like there was an inconsistency. If you had been another trapper, I would have killed you directly rather than leaving you to revenge yourself upon me. But I thought that they didn’t kill each other directly. Then I was like, “Well, is that because she’s at the safe camp?” But… Because there was an allusion to the only time that they fought was in the safe camp.
[Dan] Not an allusion, but a direct reference. We don’t hurt each other, we let the island kill each other. We just help it.
[Mary] So it was very close to this, so I was confused. So either cut or clarify. Let’s see, what else did I have?
[Brandon] Wow. You’re only there? You’ve got lots more to go.
[Mary] Oh, yes I do.
[Dan] The little meekers were awesome.
[Mary] Loved the meekers.
[Dan] But I was sad that they didn’t show up later.
[Howard] [inaudible – more. Need more meekers.]
[Dan] Because when he needs to end up… Essentially I imagined him assaulting this enemy fortress. I thought he was going to rouse his little band of nasty little bitey mice, and instead, he just scared some panthers into the woods and then we cut… Jump cut.
[Mary] Yeah. It is… There are a lot of things in here that were really cool that I love and think you could cut to make this a tighter story. The meekers represent one of those because you’re not using them. So use it or lose it. I have no idea where you would insert them. But since you write long… This is something that you could cut in short…
[Brandon] Originally, they were actually going to kill her. Just offhandedly because his paranoia was too…
[Mary] I’m glad you didn’t go there.
[Brandon] But I decided when I got there that that was the wrong emotional beat for this, so… That’s why they were put there. But…
[Mary] You can cut them now and use them for something else, because they’re great. Except I will say that one thing that they do, if you are emphasizing this theme of him disrupting island ecology. They do… It is him interfering with the way things naturally work in the island.
[Howard] Other thing they do is they help reinforce the idea that there is telepathy happening in nature everywhere. It’s a broader sort of effect.
[Mary] Yes. One of the ways you could have been used is that maybe she was not the only person who escaped and that she had a companion that was killed by the meekers.
[Mary] So, getting back to something that Dan had said earlier about… That he just seemed to be spouting information. The point where he says coming here was obviously a disaster. But the rest of the story he’s so annoyed with her saying all of these obvious things. So the fact that he’s actually using the word obviously…
[Dan] That was a minor thing, but it stood out to me as well.
[Mary] Yeah, I guess it’s minor but…
[Dan] Well, not so… Not just the word choice, but how verbose he became in those two sentences. Very wordy.
[Mary] This is actually something I should have mentioned in the cool stuff. There’s a point where he’s been using her name for a while, and he gets angry at her. For two paragraphs, he only refers to her as the woman. Which was a really nice way of showing… He was like, “She is not a person to me.” Is anyone else going to talk? The reason I keep jumping…
[Brandon] We actually are probably out of time, so I’m going to let you send me the rest of those.
[Mary] That sounds great.
[Brandon] Because the whole point of this was so that you guys can hear what a writing group is like for us. Hopefully that will help you. Again, if you haven’t seen the story, I don’t know how helpful this will be to you. But hopefully the whole process of this, with us brainstorming it, us writing it, and then us polishing it will help you as writers to kind of see how this is going. So next week, we’re going to do Mary’s story. The same thing for her story. So we will include links to how you can get her story. Hopefully, you’ll be able to read it ahead of time, then we will come back and we will brainstorm it… Or workshop it. We already did the brainstorming.
[Brandon] Your writing prompt this week…
[Mary] Is to have a man who plays the musical saw, and find more than one use for the saw in the story.
[Brandon] There you go. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.