Monday, April 29, 2019

Do Writers Lie?

“Writers lie.”  — Chuck/God, SUPERNATURAL

Warning:  Spoilers for SUPERNATURAL’S “Moriah.”

In the Season 14 season finale of SUPERNATURAL, God aka Chuck the writer of SUPERNATURAL novels, comments that writers lie which proves not only to be one of many meta moments that this show is prone to but also foreshadows a total shift in God/Chuck’s personality from likable silliness and kindness to total dick.

Do writers lie?  I’ve been thinking about that over the last few days.  

I’ve pulled up some of my old articles which consider the point.

Fiction isn’t a lie; it’s the truth in parable form.  In the Bible, Jesus and the Old Testament prophets explained eternal verities by the use of stories.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a perfect example.  Is its message any less valuable because the Samaritan was a fictional character created by Jesus?
Fiction writers are telling the truth through their fiction.  They create the world as they see it and offer their own beliefs.  That belief may be as simple as "everyone has a true love and with courage and compromise can win that love."  Or it can be much more complex.

Is a novel any less valuable than the true-life story found in Reader's Digest which illustrates the same point?  I don't think so.  The only difference is the medium used to express that belief.

So, no, fiction isn’t a lie if the story is true to both the writer’s beliefs and the world within the story’s events.  

How about lying in the creation and depiction of a character?

Sometimes, in a series, a character will change from evil to good, or good to evil, but that change must be foreshadowed in earlier choices and decisions.  Bart the Bad may be up to no good through the early novels, but the reader should see that he chooses not to ambush the hero because a child is nearby.  This not only adds moral complexity to Bart, but also makes his move toward the light more believable.  

In the same way, a good guy's pragmatic or selfish choices will foreshadow the coming darkness.  

SUPERNATURAL’S writers use “writers lie” to justify Chuck’s complete shift in personality in one scene. There has been no foreshadowing of this up until this episode.  

This show has been perfectly capable of showing a character’s growth.  Take Rowena, as a recent example. She went from selfish evil to someone trying to do good to make up for what she's done. The change started with her son’s death and built to the point we believe she's changed in the last two seasons. 

“Surprise, I'm a manipulative dick” in one scene just doesn't work. 

So, do writers lie?  No, good writers don’t lie.  They build a world and characters from their own beliefs and worldbuilding so everything is true.

Bad writers who use sloppy or lazy writing to justify false behavior or world changes lie all the time.  

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Emo Dump of Horror

The heroine is grumpy.  Her cab driver is paying too much attention to the weird birthmark on her wrist although anyone who has seen it does the same thing so she should be used to it.  She is grumpy about this for several pages.  She gets out of the cab and spends several more pages thinking about how miserable the hot weather is, and how stinky her arm pits are now becoming.  

After finally paying attention to her location, an office building, she acknowledges to herself how stressed she is with little specifics for several more pages, then how she dreads seeing Mark for several more pages.  

She really misses her dead mom for about five pages.  Then she walks into the building.  Then another eight pages of minor info dump backstory about how her mom worked here, and how she really, really misses her mom.  Mark, Mom’s boss, shows up and apologizes that she must deal with being at her mom’s place of business.  She weeps on his chest for another bunch of pages.  We are now a long chapter into the book and nothing of real importance has happened.

But we know that the heroine who is supposed to be a kickass heroine in this urban fantasy is an emotional mess about bloody everything from the weather to her mom’s death. We also know that the writer doesn’t know spit about pacing and how to intersperse emotion with action.  

Readers, at this point, are stuck in the emo dump of horror where everything is too, too much to deal with.   

At this realization, most readers will decide that they don’t care to spend hours of their lives with this mopey, poorly written mess, and they won’t go forward with the book.

Sadly, this opening is from a book I just tossed after the first chapter, and it’s the third one with an opening emo dump in the last few weeks.  

And, yes, I know losing your mom is hard.  I’ve been through it, and I sympathize, but dumping loss across many opening pages like so much emotional sludge is poor writing.  It’s the equivalent for the reader of being forced to read a hormonal teen’s diary about how horrible and dramatic her life is.  A mother’s death and stinky armpits have the same level of drama.

Emotion, like information, needs to be given in little bits and pieces, particularly at the beginning of the story.  It also should be inferred by what the character does.  That heroine could have felt a tightness in her chest as she entered the building, straightened her spine, and forced herself forward.  The mother’s boss could have mentioned the mother’s death, and the heroine could have lost it for a few minutes.  All this is shown in action, not by a long inner monologue about being really, really sad.  It also makes the heroine appear strong despite her pain, and the reader would have sympathized instead of wishing that the drama queen heroine get a grip and move the story forward.

We want our readers to connect with our main character, sympathize with her, and admire her a little in that opening scene.  We don’t want them to take one look at a weeping drama queen and run far, far away.  

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Book Bible

I found the book bible for my first novel last week, and it reminded me of how handy one is to have.

A book bible is a paper or digital file that contains all the information collected before, during, and after the book is written.  

Most mentions of a book bible come from authors writing a series, but one is great for a standalone novel.

In POWER’s book bible, I had drawings of the layout of the hero’s house complete with all the secret hallways, trapdoors, etc.  The compass points were used so I wouldn’t have someone in a bedroom watching the setting sun when the bedroom faced east.  The outside of the house and grounds had their own map.

The horses two characters ride at the beginning have their descriptions and names listed.

Because the main character has a cousin and a brother involved in the plot, I did a family tree.  

Research sources were listed with Dewey decimal numbers and the library or the personal bookshelf where they were.  (This was pre-Internet.)  For later books, I created a file specific to the book in my browser's bookmarks.

I did drawings and descriptions of some of the magical memorabilia in the house, and I listed magical tricks I could use in various scenes.  

One page was nothing but names I could use for random characters.  Each name was dissimilar from the main characters so readers wouldn’t be confused by a similar sounding or spelled name.  I also picked names that were common in the area where the novel was set.  

Every character had their description, etc., with other details.  If I “cast” the character as an actor I’m familiar with, I’d write that down, too, so I’d be able to hear the correct voice in my head when I wrote dialogue for a character who had been elsewhere for a lot of pages.  

I started the novel with most of my info in the bible on the major characters, but I added info for them and others as I created it.  When I found research articles, I’d clip them including where I’d got them, and insert that into my folder.

I usually added information to the bible after I finished writing for the day, or I’d go back over it before I started writing so I wouldn’t lose my writing rhythm.  

Another handy page or two to have, particularly if your book is a fantasy, is a word bible.  Each character’s name, made-up words with a brief definition, place names, and unusual capitalizations are listed.  When your book is edited, this list will keep the copy editor from hassling you about words that may appear to be misspelled.   

Some pages were there for thinking through various plot points, considering possible scenes later in the novel, and general mental doodling.  

I also had clippings of people’s faces to remind me of specific characters.

All this may appear to be a lot of extra work, but it will be worth it for rewrites, etc., and, maybe, that standalone may turn into a series, and the bible will be worth its weight in gold for the time saved.  

Monday, April 8, 2019

Promotion Items at the Freebie Table

Last week, one of the writer sites I keep up with, Killzone, had a discussion on freebie/swag tables at conventions.  Here’s a link to the blog article by Laura Benedict, and I’ve put my own suggestions down below.  

I dealt with and watched over the swag tables at a science fiction convention aimed at readers for many years. A lot is left behind. I still have a big pile of really nice bookmarks from the very first WHEEL OF TIME novel. Must be a collectors item, now.

Some of the things I learned is that those expensive items should be promoting you and your series, not a specific book, unless it’s your first book, so you won’t be wasting money with leftovers. Flat paper of any type, book covers, etc., is never touched unless someone already has an interest in your product. 

If you have an expensive promo item, don’t put them all out at once. Stop by once or twice a day early in the conference, restock, and straighten up your goodie pile.

Bring those promo items and business cards to whatever event you speak at and offer them when you are introduced. Have a business card with your book and author info, and also have a business card with your private contact info for when you are networking. 

If you want to offer a free short story or book sample, put a QR code on your book mark or whatever. A QR is one of those squares full of blocks that a smartphone can scan for info. Some sites online can generate a code for you. I printed a QR code to my website on my author name sign for when I do joint signings.

As a reader, I’m more likely to be interested in an author from a free book or short story from a site like Bookbub or one of the author collectives than a bookmark so I’m not that enthusiastic about freebie tables. Your taste may vary.

Monday, April 1, 2019

How Not to Plot a Series

I read over a dozen fantasy series.

I’m currently reading the fourth book in an urban fantasy series I’ve enjoyed so far, but this book just hasn’t grabbed me as a reader, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  Some of my answers will help you as a writer, whatever kind of genre fiction you write.


This bad guy is the super villain of a series or part of a series.  Whenever the main character kills him or stops him, he comes back in the next book.  

Sometimes, this works as in the case of Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.  One of the reasons Voldemort works is because in the first part of the series he’s not really there.  Instead, bits of him are there in the person of one of his loyal followers who is trying to bring him back from the dead or as an avatar from a diary.  Harry and friends succeed in stopping him and his followers each time.  By the time Voldemort finally comes back, the reader is invested in the good characters and their goals.  Voldemort’s power keeps increasing in the following books and the good characters have goals to reach to stop him.

Sometimes, the super bad guy doesn’t work.  In the book series I’m reading now, the bad guy has died several times, yet he keeps hopping back as the same powerful bad guy in each book.  He just died again, and I’m not a quarter of the way through the fourth book, and his means of hopping back has already been stated.  This bad guy who will not die makes me less invested emotionally in him than if he were a whack-a-mole in the arcade game.  Same-old same-old doesn’t cut it for a bad guy.


You can’t have some form of apocalypse looming at the end of each novel.  The end of the world is so big that it carries very little emotional investment in the reader who knows that the world won’t end in this novel because the series will end.  Instead, make stopping the apocalypse the final goal of the series and let each book work toward that major goal, one minor but important goal at a time.  

Make the goal personal or specific for the main character.  A loved one or an innocent child to be saved carries much more emotion for both the main character and the reader than some vague object as part of a treasure hunt of apocalypse-ending talismans.


If there is a desperate situation and one choice to save the day is mind-numbingly stupid or suicidal, don’t let the hero choose that choice immediately.  Instead, let him try some of the obvious safer solutions first until he runs out of time and must try the suicidal solution.  Most of us don’t want our main character suicidal, stupid, or a stick puppet for author plot laziness.