i’m reading some things

First, here’s a quote about research for writers (or anybody):

“I don’t use the internet much, because having looked up things about myself I know how much of it is rubbish.”

— Louis de Berniรจres

(That’s in memory of my mother, a one-time librarian.   ๐Ÿ™‚ )

 
Anyway, apparently it’s “weird 1970s time,” because this is what I’m reading right now:

1) The Eye in the Pyramid by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (the first book in the Illuminatus Trilogy). I read these books once before, when I was in college, over several days when I was sick with a high fever and unable to sleep. My memory of it is, to say the least, fuzzy. If I start to get sick again, I’m going to stop reading immediately.

2) The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock (the first book of the Cornelius Quartet). I began it once. I’m fairly sure, but I’ve never finished it, as far as I can remember. I’ve always found Moorcock better to read about than to actually read.

But what the hell. It seems to go with the other two.

3) Sacred Locomotive Flies by Richard A. Lupoff. Difficult to describe. The most lighthearted of the three. Also the shortest, by a wide margin. The only one I really remember and the one I’m most likely to finish this time around. Also, the one that doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page.

4) Oh, and Mockingbird. This is the one that’s a modern comic book as opposed to freaky 1970s novel. The one with a dry and somewhat absurd wit. The ones where the individual issues fit together like a puzzle box — where, if you pay attention, you can keep track of where the Corgi dogs all came from and why Bobbi (Mockingbird) can explode Ping-Pong balls with her mind, though even so it’s hard to track how much Chardonnay Bobbi drinks — mostly because she keeps changing how much she’ll admit to.

I particularly appreciated the AV Club article I link to above, since in reading the actual book, I had missed the final page, with the yoga poses.

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hey, some videos!ย 

I was struck by two recent Comma Queen videos at the New Yorker site.

The first one is interesting because Ms. Norris emphasizes a different aspect of danglers (dangling participles) than the New York Times style guide does.

The New Yorker rule is that the participal phrase has to modify the subject of the sentence (Ms. Norris gives examples). The rule at the Times is that a modifying phrase at the beginning of a sentence had to be followed immediately by the thing being modified. This is shown in this example from the (late, lamented) After Deadline blog:

A former House member who served as trade representative and budget director under President George W. Bush, his efforts at bipartisanship help him at home.

–This appositive phrase is a dangler. It should be in apposition with โ€œhe,โ€ not with โ€œhis efforts.โ€

 
This video talks about whether we should use “who” or “that” when referring to an animal. The “who vs that” rule for people is one of my favorites, so I wanted to check this out.

The end of the video is the best part, though.

 
On another subject, whenever a new superhero movie comes out, people complain (with complete justification) about how the superhero movie world is so boy-centric. But there are five superhero movies centered around a woman, and now there’s going to be a sixth.

I can hardly wait. ๐Ÿ™‚

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seven lines challenge

A few weeks ago, Maggie over at Maggie Madly Writing tagged me with the Seven Lines Challenge. It’s taken a while (obviously) for me to figure out what to post, but here it is.

You’re supposed to “go to page 7 of your WiP, count down 7 lines, share 7 lines or sentences, and then tag 7 other writers.”

Well, pages and lines are sort of hard to figure when you write in various scraps of text files for the web, but I did the best I could.

This is from a story which is definitely not called “Providence” (but that’s what I’ve been calling it in private ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

 
There was a pause, and then most of the others went outside after Stephanie — perhaps having calculated that they would still be under the overhang and protected from at least some of the rain.

The bus, the only one parked on that side of the station building, was silent and dark, and there was no sign of Stephanie.

For some reason, Anita went around to the far side of the bus, and something about her reaction made the others follow.

There, obviously getting soaked to the skin, Stephanie was clinging to the side of the bus, her hands gripping a lip above the windows, and her feet supported, at least somewhat, by some decorative grooves in the metal.

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always leave them wanting more (answers)

A couple of posts ago, I talked about how All questions donโ€™t have to be answered.

This can be tricky to carry off, and I definitely don’t have all the answers. But, in thinking about it since I wrote the post, I’ve had a few thoughts that might be useful.

First off, I am leaving out the question of serial fiction, where there is always the possibility that questions which aren’t answered today may be answered tomorrow (and that will only take you so far anyway).

So, here’s two thoughts:

Insert the question into the story.

I’ve done this twice (at least), where the question is asked in the text and a decision is made not to answer it.

(This can end up as “lampshading,” of course, where you deliberately point out a hole in your plot, rather than trying to hide it, thereby — if successful — getting points for humor and self-awareness. I love this concept, mostly because of the scene in the last Avengers movie where Hawkeye says, “The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes any sense.” Well, yeah. But I’m talking about something different — something that is more satisfying in the long run.)

Here are two examples of what I’m talking about;

1) In A Sane Woman, there’s a character named Nicky. We — the readers — know that’s not her real name, and we know she’s attached herself to our main characters for reasons of her own (which are never revealed). In the big “gather the suspects” scene at the end. when the detective reveals all the secrets, one of the characters demands that Nicky reveal who she is and why she’s there.

Sarah, who is Nicky’s lover, puts her hand over Nicky’s mouth and says simply, “Not necessary.”

That’s all she says, but the question is dropped. This is because — in the eyes of the other characters and (I hope) the readers — Sarah has the authority to dismiss the question. She has taken Nicky into her heart and her bed, so she is taking the biggest risk. If she’s okay with not knowing…

2) Then there’s the Golden. The Golden have appeared in three of my stories, and I have never explained them. They are, quite possibly, aliens, but maybe they’re something else. I haven’t said, and I’m pretty sure I won’t. Nobody has complained, and some readers have said they’re a real high point in my writing.

I think of them as my Tom Bombadil. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Of course, one reason I may not explain them is that I have no idea. With “Nicky,” I know everything about her — her real name, her family, her goals, her motivations, and so on. With the Golden, no clue.)

My model for this sort of thing has always been a character from the TV show Twin Peaks (Nadine Hurley), who at one point got hit on the head and lost her memory — and gained superhuman strength. Her strength was never explained, but Twin Peaks obviously had only a tenuous connection to the real world to begin with, so it was fine.

Plus it was fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

 
There is no answer, but there is a point

Another way to do it is to make the lack of resolution the point. This makes me think of two movies: Clouds of Sils Maria and Limbo. The former has a major plot element which is never explained. The latter has, in conventional trends, no ending at all — it just stops.

As I wrote about in my review, I think that was the point — but there was certainly a lot of conversation (and quite a bit of grumbling) when people were leaving the theater. You can also look at Lost Highway, or Blow-up, or Mulholland Drive (though I have theories about two of those films…).

So, yes, we do keep coming back to David Lynch.

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story moments that have given me pleasure recently

Just a couple of quick things, while I work on my extremely non-definitive post about how to not tell readers things (as discussed in the comments to my last post).

1) It pleases me so much that the nerdy guy who refuses, with a gun to his head, to launch the evil helicarriers in the second Captain America movie is the same nerdy guy — or at least he’s played by the same actor (Aaron Himelstein) — who we see piloting the rescue helicarrier in Age of Ultron. This is one of my favorite things in Ultron (though admittedly that isn’t saying much).

2) Howard the Duck. In recent issues of his comic book, Howard has been trying to be a noir-type private detective, which is proving to be challenging because of his lack of customer service skills, his dubious detective skills, and the fact that he’s a duck. But in a recent issue, amid all the superhero (and alien and dinosaur) adventures in his life, he’s finally reunited with his long-time human best friend Beverly Switzler.

And then, after all that, Howard arrives back at his office to meet his newest client: Lea Thompson. The actress who played Beverly Switzler in the notorious box office bomb, Howard the Duck.

So, yes, that Lea Thompson. As it says on the cover of the current issue, “yeah we barely believe it either.”

That’s the sort of thing you can do when your book has already been canceled anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

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storytelling lessons of the hateful eight

Characters don’t have to be likable.

The eight are indeed hateful. Even with Major Warren, who is positioned as the “hero” (sort of), Tarantino makes sure we know some pretty evil stuff about him — end not just Han Solo-type scoundrel stuff, either.

O. B., the stagecoach driver — and not one of the eight — seems okay, but we learn almost nothing about him, and his (at least relative) niceness doesn’t help him much.

But so what?

Shakespeare didn’t worry about whether his characters were likable (at least as far as I can tell). For a more recent example, see Chinatown. That’s a great movie, and everybody in it is awful.

 
All questions don’t have to be answered.

Is Chris Mannix really the new sheriff of Red Rock? Are there really fifteen more members of the gang? Did the death Major Warren describes really take place? Did it take place in the way he describes?

You can theorize, and come up with some estimates of probability, but you don’t know for sure.

In trying to figure out the answers to the questions above, you can try to rely on following who knows what, and when, but Tarantino explicitly informs us that the characters are having conversations that we’re not privy to. Which makes it even more challenging. And fun.

 
Don’t break a rule partway.

One key to breaking rules is to break them right out in the open. If you try to break them sneakily, you will get caught.

In the classic Western Stagecoach, John Ford had to set up a few shots of the stagecoach that broke the “360 degree rule” (see below). When people pointed this out, Ford became, to say the least, testy (even more testy than usual, I mean).

In the early parts of this movie, Tarantino shows the stagecoach going from left to right in one scene, and then going the other way in the next. He does this more than once — just so you can tell that he’s doing it deliberately.

So much for the rules that they teach in film school. ๐Ÿ™‚

 
The 360 degree rule: As I understand it, in portraying three-dimensional action on a flat screen, you have to allow for the viewer’s perception. For example, you’re going to film an actor going through a doorway, going outside. You’re going to show him both inside and outside the house. For the shot inside the house, you set the camera on the actor’s right, so that he’s moving across the frame from left to right.

In that case, you have to set up the camera for the outside shot in the same position, in the actor’s right. If you set up the second shot on the actor’s left, the audience’s perception will be that the actor is now going on the opposite direction (right to left).

Some people try to extend this rule to cover all sorts of other on-screen movement, like a stagecoach racing across Monument Valley, but, as Tarantino shows us very deliberately, it doesn’t apply that broadly.

(Orson Welles used to tell about the first day he heard about this rule, when he was making his first movie. He was so stunned that he shut down production for the rest of that day so could go home and think about the implications of this. Coming from a background as a stage (and radio) director, it had never occurred to him.)

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