Audiobook Back Underway

We took a week off for Easter. Families. You know how it is. Today (well, yesterday when you read this), we started recording again in earnest. Discovered I'd forgotten to record the dedication of the book and that I'd probably better add a reader's note about ellipsis because I do things with ellipsis in book two that I'll just need to read aloud in the audio version. Then we launched into recording.

I talked about this the first time, but it's been a while. We use "bump and roll" editing, where we correct mistakes as I make them. Basically, if I flub a line, we back up right there and I take the line again so that when he starts editing, he's starting with one more or less good performance and just processing the finished sound and taking out weird, incidental noises. (I bet I make that sound way easier than it is).

So my judge of how well I'm doing is how often I've stopped momentum with one of my mistakes, and I can tell you right now the number one thing that causes me to make a mistake. It's acting. If I make a mistake, it's ten times more likely to be in dialog or in more impassioned POV narrative than a wind-up introduction. I think I went two or three pages in chapter one without a single mistake, and every one of those involved me voice acting dialog. When you're acting, you speed up a little. Your emotional brain connects and begins to anticipate words more, and those aren't always the words actually on the page. Often you find yourself halfway through a sentence and realize it isn't the sentence written. At least I do.

But for how we did? We hit our stride. We probably did better today than we did most days in book 1. I feel like we're getting better at this, and I had feared we'd have to learn how to do it all over again.

Anyway, we had a bit of a run up to get started again, but we recorded one fifteenth of the book today. I'm happy with the progress. I'll try to get a full ten percent next time. If I can hit that every week, I'll know that my sleep Sunday mornings are numbered.

And also, I won't have to read Fox in Sox two times a day every damn day like the producer makes me do while recording. I hate that damned book. Hate it. Hate it.

On Mass Effect and the Purpose of Humor

You probably think that I'm going to comment on humor in the new Mass Effect game, Mass Effect Andromeda. For that to be true, however, the game would have to actually have a sense of humor. Unfortunately, it does not. I have laughed out loud once in the first 24 hours of the game. In the past games, I would have at least chuckled ten times by now.

Why? Well, it's pretty obvious the authors just aren't that funny. The characters still banter. Their conversations are at least moderately clever, but they don't come off the mark into being witty. My friend Dan Willis put it best. He says that the game has spectacular story, but only workman writing.

No, instead I was just going to point out that I've been playing Andromeda since Wed night. I'll probably do two playthroughs before I do a new draft of DbC 4. That assumes the first playthrough doesn't take too long. In the first few days, I've played 24 hours and 8+ multiplay matches. I hope to finish the first world, post-prologue, tonight (last night when this posts.) I love these games and I didn't really start in time to see the bad animations, except in youtube videos, which seem exaggerated. Compared to Mass Effect 3, they are amazing. I spent the first hour and a half of ME3 nauseated by the uncanny valley.

But back to humor. Why do we need it? Well, at its core, I believe humor is an interrupted defense mechanism. It's what happens when our brain's natural defenses short circuit. The horror mechanism. The fight/flight mechanism. This is why in almost all jokes, someone gets hurt. We're taking the human mind's normal revulsion to that topic and subverting it.

And this leads us to the most useful aspect of humor. Humor tears down our brains' normal defenses and allows us to accept information that we'd normally reject. Jokes allow us to discuss topics that venture into the taboo. So much humor is transgressive because it can be. Humor, by its nature, pushes back the borders of what the listener considers inappropriate. A lot of comedians use this just as a mechanism of the humor itself. Transgression triggers our humor reflex in an of itself. I've heard black comedians say that certain offensive words make a joke six percent funnier, and they are probably right. There's a certain "I can't believe they said that" factor in any offensive joke.

Of course, this is a mixed bag, because everyone has a different idea about what's too transgressive. My mother's favorite joke contains a shocking amount to implied spousal abuse. My grandfather used the f-word as punctuation, but comics like Eddie Murphy and George Carlin could offend him with their swearing (not in the seven dirty words routine, ironically).

But here's the practical use: a joke can drift into areas where a civil conversation can never go. People are willing to laugh at things that they can't discuss rationally. Politics. Social issues. Touchy themes. You still can't go far with these things, but you can address them.

I remember a moment in The West Wing where flag burning finally came up. I braced myself for a giant political argument on free speech. Instead, Bartlet just said, "Is this really a problem? Really? Do we have a flag burning epidemic going on that needs to be brought before the president?"

In another show, I would have thought that a dodge, but The West Wing usually tackled those issues head on. This time, however, they took the time to use the scene as a giant comic drop on everyone arguing about the issue, and it did it in such a charming way that I, who had very strong views on the issue at the time, just chuckled and felt foolish about myself. So foolish that I've rarely thought about it since, outside the context of that scene.

However, humor used as a polemic must be funny. It must be well done. If it's attacking cherished beliefs, it should be subtle and light handed. (If it's attacking ridiculousness, just go to town). The fact remains, the funnier you are, the more you can get away with. If your jokes aren't landing, you can't pull this off. If your jokes kill, you can get away with a lot. If you only care about preaching to the choir, you can get away with more than if you're actually trying to reach across to people who disagree with you, but if that's the case, are you just pandering? Then again, there's something to be said for punching Hitler, as it were.

If you really are trying to reach across an ideological gap, this kind of delicate work requires a lot of test reads. You likely need to get a disparity of viewpoints in your readers. If you attack someone's belief's and you don't want them to be offended, you damn well better have them over-represented in your readers, and you need to listen hard to their advice. I've never written a story that I've taken that far, but if I did, I'd probably do multiple drafts with multiple sets of fresh readers, guiding me until you got the tone perfect because it would have to be perfect.

I personally go for a lighter hand, using humor to deliver a payload of theme that the reader might not notice at first. It's not typically a shocking theme, but the humor acts a delivery mechanism used to implant it more deeply in the reader's mind than it would have landed without the humor. Probably because the most shocking political message I have to deliver is something along the lines of, "Hey. Let's not fight so much."

So, yeah. Shocking.

On Critiques and Humor

Here's the thing about humor. Everyone thinks they are funny. It's one of the oldest truths in comedy. Some people even are. A few can be funny reliably, but even then, there's a big jump between that and writing humor.

Some of it comes with experience and some can be trained. I posted on joke forms a few weeks back, after LTUE. I stole that from Howard Tayler.

The problem with critiques, in general, is to know what to take from them. Most good critiquers no not to be prescriptive when critiquing. They explain their problems as best they can and allow you to fix them. All of that goes out the window with humor. Even the most careful critiquer can't help but try to get a joke into a manuscript. I know. I've done it. It's one of the oldest traditions in humor, older than writers rooms, probably older than vaudeville.

The problem is that most people are really, really bad at it. I receive many joke suggestions in my critiqued manuscripts and its amazing just how few I can actually use. I suspect most of them aren't serious suggestions, they are just the critiquer feeling the need to interact with the text in a humorous way, and I take that as a compliment. But sometimes they get quite prescriptive. "You need to put X joke here." "Make a joke about Y." "How did you not make a joke about Z?"

You need to be aware of this if you try to write humor because it's the biggest pitfall before you. Almost every one of these jokes will be terrible, and by the time you get them, you might have lost all perspective on your own jokes. But trust me. They will be the most obvious joke possible, and the obvious joke, by definition, is almost never funny. The heart of humor is the unexpected. The very fact that the critiquer expected the joke is your biggest warning that you can't make that joke. So take careful note of these suggestions, and then do the opposite.

There is another thing you need to know about critiques and humor, and that's the fact that your own humor will seem stale to as you revise. The most important critiques you can get, early on, are which joke are actually funny. I don't know how many times my editor or copyeditor hasn't gotten a joke in the 6th or 7th draft that killed with everyone else. If I hadn't known those jokes killed, I would have cut them. Jokes are subjective, and you need to know if a joke is popular, because by that 7th draft, when they tell you it isn't funny you will believe them. It will have stopped being funny to you about three months prior. You won't even be able to remember when it was funny. Whenever that happens, I just put a comment to the effect of "That joke is a crowd favorite" and my editing people, who are smart enough to know that humor is subjective, just shrug and say, "OK" and move on.

Of course all of this goes out the door if you have a really funny person critiquing your manuscript, or, like I do, a professional humorist. In that case I recommend stealing their jokes, making them your own, and never looking back.

Because that's actually the oldest tradition in comedy.

Death by Cliché 3 Turned In, and a New Rule

First the good news. Today (well, yesterday when you read this), in a sleep-blurred haze, I turned in Death by Cliché 3. So that's done. The last draft had a bit of a rocky edit, and it's because of a joke I made in the chapter quotes.

You see in one of the chapters I needed a quote and so I had the narrator mention that he'd cut a superfluous chapter, and that should make it easier for me to hit the total number of chapters in the outline, which was 70. (This will almost certainly not be the same number of chapters when it releases). Then, as a joke, I have you hit Chapter 69, then 69.1, then 69.1.1, then 69.1.1.1, etc, until I get to the end of the climax and I move on to 70. A little meta joke. I didn't think much of it.

Well both my beta readers came back confused. The ending made no sense. Major plot points were missing. They thought character were dead who walked around, interacting with people at the end. I just couldn't figure it out. The setup at the end is tricky because the main characters never completely figure out what is happening in the novel, so there's a lot on the reader to keep straight. I can't just have a character think about how it's all working to remind them. Still, it seemed to be more than tricky. It seemed to be a train wreck.

Then I got to chapter 69 in their notes.

I keep all my chapters in separate word files until I combine them for submission. With chapter 69, however, I put them all together because I was afraid the numbering would make it hard to keep track of the read-order when you had them up on a computer screen. Then I noticed that no one had any notes after chapter 69 itself. They'd just arrived at that first pagebreak and stopped. They hadn't paged down and discovered 69.1, not to mention all the rest. So no wonder they were confused. They missed ALL of the resolution and most of the action of the climax.

I got a good new scene out of it trying to re-explain the theme, though, so it wasn't a total waste of mind-numbing panic.

On top of that, throughout all of the last two weeks, I've had pneumonia. This isn't terribly new, I'm a bit prone to it. It runs in my family: my father got pneumonia once a year. I used to get pneumonia after every con. Literally, 100% of the time. Then I learned that if I took an extra day off afterward, I stopped getting pneumonia. I still get con crud once in a while, but even that's rare, and when it comes, it rarely turns into pneumonia anymore.

Not after FanX. FanX put me down hard. It wasn't until the pnuemonia had me operating at about 40 lost IQ points that I finally realized what was going on.

See, the weeks before FanX I'd been in full work mode. I'd promised Wymore a critique and I had to turn in DbC3. I did my standard "crunch mode" 100-120 hour weeks. With five hours sleep a night. I pushed and pushed and pushed. It wasn't until I got sick that I realized the whole point in the extra day of rest was so that I didn't have to fight of convention sicknesses with a compromised immune system. Driving myself to the point of exhaustion before the con is a great way to get really, really sick.

So now I have a new rule. Not only do I take an extra day off after the con, but I have to go into the con well-rested. If I'm in crunch mode before the con, I probably need to suspend it at least a few days before the con itself. Because I like many things in this world.

Breathing is in the top five.

With DbC 3 turned in and myself recovered, I'll enter a bit more of a relaxed time. I'll play a couple games, then get into a full edit of DbC 4. Probably when I finish Mass Effect: Andromeda. In the meantime, I'll probably work on my novel Kill dash Nine, but at a relaxed rate, maybe a chapter every couple days.

Well, that's all. TTFN.

Sick Week

I have this tendency to get pneumonia. My father came down with a case every year. I get it every con if I don't take an extra day off after and once in a while if I do and I'm not careful. Post FanX, my lungs have started to fill and I'm in full on rest-so-it-doesn't-become-infected-and-become-a-real-case mode.

So I'm taking a sick week. It will take most of the week to recover. I'm still working on DbC3 but I've curtailed all other projects, including this blog. Instead, I'll steal a Schlock Mercenary Comic for your enjoyment.

www.schlockmercenary.com

SchlockMercenary.com

DbC 3 again, and More Villains

First of all, this weekend is FanX. My schedule has already changed slightly, so if you're planning on attending events, I suggest getting the phone app. It updates as they make changes and tracks your schedule for you. You can also set alerts to remind you when you have an upcoming event on your schedule. I live by it.

Also, if you want to be my assistant at FanX this year, you can apply. I'll be picking from submissions this week. It isn't a paid position, but it's light work. :) You can find out how by checking out the World's Greatest Comic Book Podcast on Tuesday.

Now on to business. I've started the rewrite of DbC 3. The front end and the back end will take the most work, which is pretty much the inverse of my usual books. Typically, it's the section between the Act Two Twist and the beginning of the climax where I flail about without a purpose. So that's a pleasant change. Anyway, I haven't made it very far yet, as I had to put a critique for Wymore to bed first, but I started Saturday and have officially hit the first section where two bits need to be rewritten and combined for brevity. So. Yay?

Okay, so that's out of the way. Last week I spoke about villains, but I only really discussed the more down-to-earth villains. The kind of villains you could have a beer with. Even Darth Vader had to get out of that armor from time to time and really did everything because he desperately feared being alone. But what do you do about the big evil's, like Sauron. Or the Devil. The evils which are more elemental forces than people?

The only thing I don't like about The Lord of the Rings is the treatment of Sauron. I need something to sink my teeth into with a villain. With the big, elemental evils, you might not be able to give them and sympathetic point of view, like you might with a more human villain. That doesn't mean that their POV can't be interesting.

I start with brilliant dialog. If I'm writing a ten thousand-year-old villain, he will always be the wittiest person in any room. His dialog will captivate. More importantly, it will show a point of view that is slightly outside our way of thinking. Above everything we know. Beyond us.

Let me give you an example from a book I think unlikely to get published. In it the villain is an eleven-thousand-year-old fallen angel. I wanted to play with all the fallen angel tropes, so he spends a great deal of time talking. Endlessly taunting the main character as they fight. Now there are plans within plans withing plans here, and the main character finds out later that there's a tactical reason for every word he says, but early in the conversation, hero calls him out on it. The fallen angel tells the main character that all of those stories where the villain taunts the hero... every one, since the beginning of time...they've all been about him. The hero mentions that in the stories the hero always wins, and the fallen angel says, "That's because they're stories."

It's in that moment that the main character realizes that he's not just fighting a fallen angel, but an archetype of evil so iconic that he's warped the way humanity has communicated for as long as humanity has used narrative to comfort themselves. He also realizes that while in the stories the hero always uses the villain's monologue to beat him, in reality, the fallen angel indulges himself because he can. In reality, he's never lost. The monologue, a terrible cliche in most cases, has become a terrifying reminder of just how powerful the villain actually is.

But I also wanted to give him a slightly broken and ironic point of view, so in one of his monologues, he told a story. In this world, they had a war in heaven, but in it, the fallen angels had a moment of victory, and this fallen angel was the one who forced his way into God's presence and made their demands. He tells how all God had to do at that point was apologize, and all would have been forgiven, even then. If God had just admitted, even after all that pain and blood, that he'd just been wrong, that the fallen angels would have forgiven him and the breach could have been healed. But he wouldn't. God stood, too stubborn and too proud. And the world remained as it did to this day.

I never state it outright, but it should be obvious to any reader that the opposite was, of course true. That God is silent throughout this entire story because it is He who waits. Quietly. With forgiveness. Waits ready to be asked. Did the fallen angel deserve grace? Of course not, but as the book states later, that's the point of grace. It wouldn't be grace if we deserved it. Watching this broken creature rail and accuse God of his very own crime doesn't actually build sympathy, but it adds a bit richer texture to a character who could appear entirely two-dimensional otherwise.

You might not be able to actually make a character like this sympathetic. You can, however, add enough color to make them an interesting read.

DbC 3 and 5. Also, Villains.

Last week I turned in my first chapters of DbC 5 into writer's group. It was a bit of a hot mess, like first submissions often are, but it was a sufficiently entertaining hot mess. I'm happy with the response. We will push forward.

Friday I spent about three and a half hours in a car so that I could spend two hours doing RPG panels at SaltCon. It was fun. Their panel track is still in its infancy, so attendance was light. I think the administrator worried about that, but I've been doing this too long to worry about stuff like that. I've done 7 pm Valentine's Evening panels before. You make do.

After that came recovery and a fair number of pain pills. On Sunday if finally burned out on Blood Bowl II, which means that It's time I get DbC 3 in hand. I don't have an actual deadline on this one, nor do I have a huge pile of first draft notes to enter, so my goal is just to work on it an hour or more each night. It will take a little more restructuring than the second draft did. I want to cut about ten percent from the beginning, but we'll hit that at a good, solid pace and once I'm past that and they leave on their mission, the book should fly by.

I didn't want to just talk about news this time and this week's events don't present a natural theme, so I thought I'd borrow the theme from CQ's monthly topic: Villains.

A common problem we see in movies is that the villain is more interesting in than the hero. This is a bit easier to pull off in movies than in the written word, I believe, because of the lack of POV writing. Cracked has pointed it out several times, at least on their podcast. The reason the villain is so interesting in movies is that his motivation doesn't need to be well-reasoned. In many movies, if not most, if you actually examine things from the villain's side, things fall apart very quickly.

But in a novel, we tend to have large portions from the villain's POV. Their motivations and their plans need to hold together better than in a movie, and because of that, the villains in books fall flat a lot more often than in films. In movies they can be visually flamboyant and over the top. In a book, they have to make sense, and they are often petty and cruel, psychologically damaged, and rife with unlikeable traits that are unpleasant to experience from their point of view.

I think my view on villains was shaped by doing too much Shakespeare in college. I know it crystalized when watching The Rock with a friend with whom I'd done said Shakespeare. This friend pointed out that the movie was so compelling because we wanted Ed Harris's character to win as much as we wanted the heroes to win, just like in most Shakespeare plays. I realized at that point that I'd been doing the same thing in my own writing.

Usually, I do one of two things with the villain. Either I give them a noble goal and a believable reason they don't believe they can achieve it through noble means, or I put them in a much more evil organization and make them the underdog, so that the reader begins to root for them (because we always root for the underdog). It's not uncommon for me to receive notes early in a book where new readers express distress as two characters move toward an inevitable clash and the reader is upset that either of them will die.

This is, of course, exactly the response I'm going for. That tension adds all sorts of drama to story, and how it will play out in the end will keep a reader on the edge of their seat throughout good portions of a book. It can also make them hate you, of course. Use it with caution.

Of course, this takes you back to the problem you have in movies: making your hero interesting enough to face off against your villain. That is harder. Heroes can be as boring as bag of doorknobs.

Generic, industrial doorknobs. The bag is nothing special either.

Death by Cliché 4 In the Can and FanX and Other Cons

At almost 2 am Thursday morning, I finished Death by Cliché 4 and turned it in to my writer's group. I then took a celebratory lap. I'm sorry, that should read "nap." And by nap, I mean I passed out for five hours. Five hard, hard hours.

So that's done. Thank god. It's over. Put a fork in me. Now I need to get the first submission ready for five. In time for Thursday. It is the Dark and Hungry God. It must be fed. It comes round once a week. Whether I'm ready or not.

Also, Friday we received our schedules for FanX. I'm on three panels. Considering that we have greatly reduced schedules this year, I'm going to consider that a lot.

My schedule is as follows:

Friday:

Build A Story: Professional Storytellers Create from Scratch :: 151G

Friday March 17, 2017 :: 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Saturday:

5:00 pm

Choose Your Own Apocalypse: Dragons vs. Undead vs. Elementals :: 151G

Saturday March 18, 2017 :: 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm

7:00 pm

The Art of Horror: Why People Loved to be Scared :: 151G

Saturday March 18, 2017 :: 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Before that, I'll be speaking briefly at SaltCon. Just two panels, this Friday.

Also, I believe I agreed to add a new con this week at Weber in June. I don't have a lot of details on that one yet. I believe it's new. So it was a weekend of convention news.

I don't have much else. My brain is still spinning. I'm putting off my next big rewrite of DbC 3. I don't wanna.

Aside from DbC 4, just odds and ends. Talk to you next week.

This Blog Title Intentionally Not Funny

So. This week we held Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE), the academic symposium for science fiction and fantasy writers. We laughed. We cried. There was likely a knife fight over Keynesian Economics. I'm not sure, I was in the Green Room singing Hamilton, insinuating that the movie The Accountant was based on the life of Larry Correia, and looking for a spoon so I could do a proper koala bear impersonation. Occasionally, I would emerge, bleary-eyed, to do a panel.

On one such panel, a panel I suspect that I actually pitched, we discussed the secrets of writing humor. The panel called "I'm in it for the laughs" (Which, if I pitched, was probably supposed to be called "This Panel Title Intentionally Not Funny"), involved Michaelbrent Collings, Frank Morin, Michelle Witte, and myself pretending really hard that we know how humor works. Frank Morin was moderating, so he was the one who had to do the least amount of lying. However, I made a solemn oath in that panel, and I take such oaths seriously, so I'm fulfilling it now.

You see, I had big intentions for this panel. I was going to sit down and catalog all of the major formulas of joke writing. Rule of three. Comic drop. Forced Congruence. All of them. A quick google search had shown no good resource for this, and I thought they should all be in one place. Unfortunately, I also had a demo for the Star Wars RPG to run on Saturday. The Star Wars game was two hours of people counting on me to be entertaining. The list of joke forms, in a panel, would be taking other panelist's time so it could run no longer than five minutes, and it would take much longer than the game's ten hours to prep. My priorities became clear and it just never got done.

Luckily, about five hours before the panel, Howard Tayler mentioned he had a presentation with such a list. This surprised me because I'd asked him for one previously. This shouldn't have surprised me because months or years after I'd asked for that list, when he actually wrote this presentation, he asked me for sections of my book DbC2 to quote inside, so I totally was part of preparing this. But, I've been accused of many things. Observant has never been one of them. Howard sent me the presentation. The day was saved (in passive voice, because Howard was very, very tired).

After reading the list in a staccato, rapid-fire fashion at the end of the panel, about a dozen people looked up with shaking, desperate pens from their attempt to take notes and asked where they could get a copy of that list. I promised I'd make this blog post. Then I promised Howard that he could approve it first. Then he promised to take his giant New Rock sci-fi boot off the small of my back.

So here we are. The list. I won't give a full presentation on each. That's another panel and it's Howard's purview. I'll go a little deeper into Rule of Three, just because that's the one he used my stuff in, so I feel like I'm on comfortable ground there.

Comic Drop

A comic drop is when you take a person of high status and you lower them a peg. Political satire is comic drop in purest form. Comic drop is NOT funny if the person already exists in a low state. That is called "punching down." You can only punch up. As Krusty said on the Simpsons, you can't throw a pie into the face of a schlub. You have to throw the pie at someone with dignity.

Rule of Three

Rule of three shows that things are funny in patterns of threes. Look at my joke about my green room antics, above. The general patter of a rule of three joke is beat, beat, punchline. For this one, I'm going to quote Howard, who goes on to quote the first and second drafts of Death by Cliché 2: The Wrath of Con.

Here’s a snippet of text from Bob Defendi in which a world-class swordswoman is really, really enjoying the carrots in her stew:

"These carrots could make apples jealous. These were the kings of carrots. These carrots could unite the races and bring about world peace. These carrots were to food what the reverse short sword grip was to parrying."

This bit was funny, but it felt like it might be misfiring a bit. As we reviewed it we found that there were four elements, which made the joke seem a little long. Rather than cut anything, we simply reordered the elements, putting the first one last.

"These were the kings of carrots. These carrots could unite the races and bring about world peace. These carrots were to food what the reverse short sword grip was to parrying. These carrots could make apples jealous."

Payload, Then Pause

Payload, Then Pause states that the funniest part of the joke, the punchline, should go as closest to the natural pause as possible. In Howard's example above, I led with the apples line, which he pointed out was actually the funniest analogy. Howard looks for the funniest word in a joke and often rewrites the joke to put that as close to the natural pause as possible.

Recontextualize

Recontextualize is a joke form where the reader believes you're talking about one thing and then you twist the joke at the end. For instance, I often tell people, "I miss you, Jim." <Pause for contextualization.> "So I'm buying a scope." <Recontextualization>

Wordplay

The wordplay in its basic form is the pun. In its highest art form, it is the "Who's on First?" routine by Abbot and Costello. Most witty banter falls into wordplay. Half of the stuff dripping from a Joss Whedon script lands here.

Repetition

Repetition is returning to the same joke multiple times, in new and interesting ways. The classic form is the callback, where you revisit an old joke to bring completion, often twice to invoke Rule of Three. A secret about that carrots joke above is that Howard doesn't really love it because of what he wrote there. Howard loves it because it's a running joke that plows relentlessly through that scene, as others are trying to demand that woman's attention. (Howard knows this of course, but it's an example of how one bit falls into multiple joke forms. That one bit hits probably hits every joke form on this list except Double Down and Noises Off.)

Another interesting use of repetition was employed by David Letterman. When he had a huge joke land during his monologues, he'd put that punchline in his pocket for whenever he got in trouble later during the same bit. For instance, I once saw an episode where he said that he saw two men talking, confused, and one of them said (in a hick accent) "Them bats is smart. They use radar." The delivery was perfect and the audience died laughing. For the rest of the monologue, if a joke fell flat, he would stare out into the audience walk way too close to the camera, and say, "Them bats is smart. They use radar." He would instantly have the audience back on his side.

Double Down

Double down is a form of joke where you set up a joke, a second character undercuts or denies it, and instead of backing off, the original character recommits to the joke, but harder. With Howard's permission (and he'll cut this if I don't have it), here is an example bit of dialogue from Schlock Mercenary:

"No other casualties to report, sir."

"Really? What about your arm?"

"I'm currently left-handed."

"Your right arm is missing."

"It's not missing. It's fused to a bulkhead on deck twelve."

Surprising, yet Inevitable

Many jokes will have some aspect of surprising yet inevitable. Like a good story, a joke often catches you off guard with the ending that you should have seen coming, but didn't. Jerry Seinfeld's observational humor was a master of surprising yet inevitable. He would spend entire routines talking about things we spent all day interacting with, but never really considered.

Noises Off

The key to the Noises Off joke, as Howard tells it, is that the pie fight you see in your head is always funnier than the pie fight you see on screen. The setup is that you see or hear two characters describing or commenting on the action without seeing the action itself. Now, Lilo and Stitch had the Noises off line in it, ironically, not in a Noises Off joke. In it, Lilo was on the phone while her house was being attacked and Stitch, the alien superweapon, was trying to save her. In a classic Noises Off joke, we'd get this from the other side of the phone and never see what happened in the house. In the movie, we get it backward, and Lilo hangs up on the person the moment after she delivers news so we only get a hint of the reaction. So while it isn't a true Noises Off scene, it culminates with the most perfect Noises Off line ever written:

"Oh good, my dog found the chainsaw."

Reach Further

Reach Further is a variation of the double down joke form. In double down, a second person interacts with the first. In reach further, the joke teller sets the joke, takes a beat, then takes the joke further on his or her own. Here's the example Howard used from Jim Gaffigan, and I love it too much to find another:

“Growing up my parents had fine china you couldn’t even put in the dishwasher. ‘Don’t get that wet, you need to clean it with a kitten.’”

Quite the reach. And then? He doubles down.

“‘It needs to be a white kitten’”

Forced Congruence

I will end this post the same way Howard ended his presentation. With forced congruence, and perhaps the greatest line of comedy ever written. It is self-explanatory:

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.”

—Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

DbC 2 Turned In and LTUE

I set myself a goal of editing a quarter of DbC 2 each night until it was finished. When you're doing the actual final proof it's not that hard to do sixty pages in an evening. Often you go twelve pages without an edit, and when you get there it's either a comment that left for the copy editor so he wouldn't change something or a minor change like a comma. About three times in an evening I would need to make a real change.

Anyway, Thursday and Friday I'm not actually home, so I finished that Saturday and submitted it. I expect word any moment that they received it. (Monday morning edit: word received). So that's put to bed. Now I just need my audio guy to finish his studio so we can begin the audiobook.

Meanwhile, I've been prepping for Life, the Universe, and Everything, a local academic symposium. They've asked me to run a game demo and I've chosen to run a Star Wars adventure for Fantasy Flight Game's current RPG. I've modeled the base structure of their beginner sets. Friday night I ran it for my game group. We went long, but about an hour. So on the day of, I'll need to either cut or come up with an alternate plan. Right now, I intend to poll the group at the beginning and ask them if they want the full version of the adventure or a stripped down version. If they want the stripped down version, I'll heavily edit two skill-intensive encounters that eat up a lot of table time, and possibly cut a redundant encounter which mainly teaches initiative and the edition of a second range band. If they want the full version, we'll run it as is, and see about moving to the game room when our time in the demo room expires. It will mainly depend on if they want to devote three hours to the game or just the two.

Other than that, I'm probably moderating a panel or two. I should probably look into that.

All right. Obviously, I know I'm moderating some panels. In fact, one of the panels I asked to be removed as moderator. Usually, I love moderating, but I feel it necessary to talk less when I moderate and I might have the strongest subject credentials on that panel, so I decided to head that one off early. I have often ended up at panels, seen that one of the biggest authorities on a subject had been made moderator, and offered to take over for the same reason. Anyway, the staff was happy to accommodate.

Other than that, I've been playing Blood Bowl II. I feel like finalizing DbC2 earned me continued goof off time. I finished my first tournament as the Dark Elves, my favorite team, but I haven't rolled a single stat gain on a player and that's killing me. I'll probably try another team tonight. Maybe the Undead or Wood Elves or Dwarves. (Monday morning edit: Tried Undead and Wood Elves, Wood Elves won me over, and after four games, they already earned a stat gain on a wardancer.)

So that's my week. Next week you'll get an LTUE report.

TTFN.

Final Edit Time. Also, SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!!!

This was a pretty big weekend. I usually write these Sunday afternoon, but this one was delayed until the evening, after possibly the most exciting Superbowl in...I don't know...ever? Thirty-one unanswered points? A 25 point comeback? The first overtime in Superbowl history? The Fox streaming feed going out and having to watch a chunk of the fourth quarter in Spanish? It was eventful, I'll tell you that much.

I found the flood originally straightening up for the playtest in the playtest room in the basement, so that's how the weekend started. In between, I played a lot of Blood Bowl II, which seemed particularly appropriate for Superbowl Weekend. I won the campaign mode literally ten minutes before kickoff. I started up an Old World League Tournament after, but then paused it to write this.

Also during this, I emailed my copyeditor to find out if I'd lost an email somewhere. Back at the end of December, I'd turned in my full rewrite of DbC 2 for him to go over. He usually has a pretty quick turn around, and he'd sent me a few facebook messages early on that led me to believe he'd jumped right into a second round of edits. During the big game we emailed back and forth a few confused date emails, but it came down to the fact that he had finished but the email had never actually been sent. So now I have the edits. It should be a non-issue for me to get them out this week.

I still have flood damage to repair. I also need to prep a big Star Wars demo for Life the Universe and Everything, a symposium in Provo. It will have an audience, so I want it to be as professional as possible. Anyway, a full enough week, but I'm looking forward to it.

TTFN.

It Never Rains, But It Floods

So by the time you read this, the lion's share of my taxes should be done, meaning that I'll be done categorizing all of my deduction. (I just have a couple hours left as I set this blog post up.) I still have to copy down all the totals onto the worksheet my tax guy provides, but I'll do that when I have all my tax forms. I also paid Sales Tax (personally) for the first time. Before, I've always either been exempt or performed sales through venues that handled the sales tax for me (online retailers, for instance, or the settling up process at the end of Salt Lake Comic Con). So basically, there will be about an hour left to do sometime in the future, but I'm waiting for paperwork to put all that together.

A new adventure reared it's head this weekend, however. We'd blocked the door to the conference room I built for playtests in my house (not a huge deal, we'd just set a few things in front of it that needed to be carried to another room) and needed to clear it for a session this weekend, so no one trips. Upon doing this, we discovered that another room in the basement, one under the kitchen, has had some minor flooding. But while the flooding was minor, there were hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of boxes sitting on top of the water, and they had to be moved. Also, I have a bad back.

I managed to get about 90% of the way through before I completely blew out my ability to, you know, move. Luckily, I had an able bodied friend coming over that night and he happily moved the last five or so boxes the five or ten feet necessary to make sure that nothing still sat in water.

So, over the next week or two, I'll need to unpack all the boxes that got wet and assess the dollar damage done. Find out if it's worth filing an insurance claim. I literally have no idea yet. Some of the boxes are RPG books, some are paperbacks, so the range could be anywhere from $100 to thousands. I just don't know yet.

I had decided that if my taxes were done in less than a week, I'd start a new project. If they took longer, I'd let myself take a break a play a computer game before going back to 80+ hour weeks. If you take out the time I spent dealing with the flood, the taxes probably took just under a week, but now that I have at least two weeks of late night damage control box sorting ahead of me, I decided that I might as well give myself a break.

So I'm playing Blood Bowl II. The violence is refreshingly cathartic.

Still Tax Time, and Also Plotting

Well, that game didn't take two weeks. I finished Empire: Total War yesterday evening. That means that I'm back to 80+ hour weeks until I finish my taxes. If my taxes take long enough--they'll also include reconciling my game company books for the end of the year--I'll call that good and start a new game. If not, I'll probably leap straight into getting DbC 3 ready for submission.

As a side note, for those following at home, I think I said that I play Rise of the Tomb Raider next, since it's a Christmas present. I realized last night that it might be the only game that's 4k HDR ready I actually own when I get my new computer with my tax return, so I've bumped it to the end of my Christmas present list. Either way, I probably have one more EU4 game in me before I burn out on it, so I'll try the Ottomans next and then retire that game from my schedule. At that point EU4 will surpass everything but Skyrim for hours played in my library.

This has been game chat.

Back to the subject at hand. Taxes. I had an embarrassing moment last week when I learned that I'd been overly cautious in sending out 1099s to my freelancers over the years. So I've already sent them email statements on what they earned last year and apologies for making them wait for 1099s in the past. Anyway, I called my tax guy and he (or rather one of his assistant) straightened me out.

So last night I published the Actuator RPG for James Wymore. This is a slightly different product for us because it isn't involved with any of our lines (and I didn't write it or help develop it). But when James told me he was doing it, I knew that if he handled the art, I could have it edited and pagemade with relatively little effort, and I already have an RPGNow/DriveThruRPG store in place, but that stuff would be a headache for him on his first time releasing an RPG product. Also, I knew that that I'd see lots of pitfalls and have some insight he'd need, which mainly involved me saying, "It isn't that kind of a market," or "This is what you'd need to do that," in Facebook chat every time I saw him thinking of something that might get him into a little bit of trouble. (And by trouble, I mean that the product wouldn't do what it can do, most efficiently, not that he'd get into literal trouble. He didn't try to violate copyright law or anything.) Anyway, most of my job there was just reminding him how small the RPG marketplace is compared to the fiction marketplace, so his expectations are realistic. I felt like the Grinch most of the time. Also, my editor and I badgered him into offering it for free.

Meanwhile, right now I'm ramping into the climax of DbC 4. I should finish the long night of the soul this week, and maybe the first chapter of the climax. That means that in two to three weeks, that book will be done, so I'm plotting 5 in earnest. Five looks to be shaping into a heist/con style story, which is a genre I haven't written before. Luckily, my friend Dan Willis has, and he sent me his plotting notes, which was very helpful. Also, I'm watching lots of movies like The Sting and Ocean's Eleven to get the rhythm. I'm a plotter, but this will have to be tightly plotted, even by my standards. I need to know every twist on page 1 if I'm to pull them off on page 300. They can be fixed in rewrites of course, but the more I have to do that, the more painful those rewrites will be, so this is definitely a "measure twice, cut once" situation. I've been laying groundwork for it throughout DbC 4 as well, so hopefully, it all comes together nicely.

One nice bit of happenstance: I have three audiobook queues. One is the list of authors I read actively. I think there are currently 28. One is the queue of audible books I've purchased for other reasons, such as sales, that don't fit in that first queue. The third is a slot for a "Project-Related Work." With DbC, that's usually a comedy, to keep my "funny juices" flowing. Podcasts will force books into my schedule not in those queues, but those are the organized ones. But this week Mary Robinette Kowal's excellent Valour and Vanity happened to make it to the top of that first queue. Imagine my delight when it turned out to be a heist story. Checked two boxes with that one.

Anyway, that's my week and my month, and hopefully not more than that. I will stare my taxes in their steely eyes and stab them in their heart. Then I'll conquer Eastern Europe.

Ah, Tax Time

I was speaking with my mother last night. The conversation went something like this:

"As soon as I finish playing this game I'm playing, I have to start on my taxes."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I'm hoping the game takes at least two more weeks."

For those following at home, the game is Empire Total War. I tend alternate my PC games between the oldest unplayed in my library and a newer "player's choice" game. The game after Empire Total War will be Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I got for Christmas. But I digress.

I have a tax guy. Or gal. I don't know. I turn it in and someone at the company does it. Last time it was the head of the organization because I messed up on my HSA and no one knew how to deal with the penalty for that. Usually, it's a minion. I highly recommend having a tax person walk you through the pitfalls of being a private business owner when you first go into business as a writer. For instance, don't write the word "Research" on a deduction. Evidently, that's a red flag.

I was lucky in that I found a tax guy (it was definitely a guy at the time) that was very affordable and sat down and spent an hour or so with me the first time, just walking me through the hurdles. Since then, he's passed away and his company has been absorbed, and the price goes up each year, but only 20 dollars so it will be a while before it gets as expensive as some of the big companies. In the meantime, all the people in the office know me by name.

So the big push is that I need to get tax forms OUT for the people I send royalties to by the end of the month. That means I should probably reconcile my end of year books for Final Redoubt Press as well. 1099s need to go to by January 31st. If the game takes two weeks, it will need to pause for that, obviously, because that needs to happen in the next day or two.

After that, I have to do the big push for my taxes themselves, and that used to take me two weeks, but since I started digitizing my receipts, I think that takes less time. It might only have taken a week last year. We'll see.

Anyway. I need a new gaming PC. And the guy who inherits my old gaming PC, and who uses them to Hangout with us on Saturdays REALLY needs my old gaming PCs. (Each week that goes by the chances go up we lose him for good as that really old machine just dies forever). And so I need to get my taxes done. So that I can play whatever comes after Rise of the Tomb Raider. Looks like one of the Command and Conquer games. And so he can use Google Hangouts without three reboots a night. Wish me luck. Hopefully, we will not lose contact with a friend and I will be neither commanded nor conquered.

Rogue One as a Prequel

So, a lot of people are talking about how Rogue One is a better Star Wars prequel than the prequel trilogy. For this week, let's take a step back and see how Rogue One succeeded in fitting in so neatly before Star Wars. I'm not going to rag on the prequel movies in this post. We're just going to look at what Rogue One did right. You can draw your own conclusions about whether the prequel films also did some or all of these things right. So let's again get with the spoiler space. 

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What Rogue One did first and foremost was tell a good story, and where it succeeded most was where it concentrated on that story. The few times it genuinely failed was when it tried to force its references to the earlier films (earlier in the years they released, not in the universe chronology.) Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba showing up on the same planet as Saw are a good example of perhaps too heavy of a hand.

Don't get me wrong, the story doesn't stand on its own. If you take someone who hasn't seen Star Wars, they will be completely lost, but within the context of the Star Wars universe, this is a good self-contained movie. Apart from minor roles and cameos, all the characters are new.  Their struggle is personal and motivated by their own person inner demons.

So instead of a lot of blatant ham-handed connections, they held themselves to just a few ham-handed connections and tried, in general, to keep their prequelism more subtle. They took episode 4, 5, and 6 and they projected back from there. Here are some of the little things they did to help you feel like you were watching the inciting incidents of the original Star Wars Trilogy:

Blatant

The Movie Ends with the Tantive IV racing away from Darth Vader with the Death Star Plans. Vader is beyond pissed at this moment, explaining why he is at a 10 at the beginning of Star Wars (maybe at an 11), when he rarely gets above a 3 or a 4 at any other point in the films.

Also, we see that Leia is lying to his face throughout the opening of the film, stoking his rage, and they both know it. That scene has always struck me as tonally different from the rest of the movies. That's probably because of Prowse's performance, later dubbed over by Jones, but now we have an in-universe reason.

We now know why the Death Star had the flaw it had. A nice little retcon.

And of course, we now have an full movie outlining the events described in the crawl of Ep 4, so obviously, there's that.

More Subtle

We see Red Five die, making room for Luke. I believe we see Wedge's spot open up as well. According to Sam Witwer, they hired the actor that performed Wedge's voice in Ep 4 to come back and do voiceovers in Rogue One, but then realized that Wedge was the only one who reacts to the size of the Death Star when they approach it in the Battle of Yavin, and he couldn't have been in this movie.

We see that AT-AT's used to have weak armor and a slightly different design, explaining why the pilots tried to shoot at them with normal snowspeeder guns in the Battle of Hoth, and didn't start the battle with a backup plan.

We hear two stormtroopers discussing decommissioning the BT-15s, setting up the line in Ep 4 where two stormtroopers discuss the new BT-16s while Kenobi is disabling the tractor beam.

Red Leader and Gold Leader were in the film. Red Leader, whose actor is no longer with us, was completely built from A roll and B roll from Ep 4. Gold Leader's actor is still alive and returned to perform additional voice work.

They have an analog version of the Dejarik holochess game in Saw's fortress.

K2 Starts to say "I have a bad feeling about this." but gets cut off.

Super Subtle/Pure Fan Service

They have blue milk in their home in the opening scene, like Luke's home in Ep 4.

They mention the Whills, which were mentioned in Lucas's original Star Wars script. They also use the phrase, "May the Force of others be with you," also from the script. Finally, and we're out of prequel territory here, but they wanted to have a blue squadron in Ep 4, but it wouldn't work with the bluescreen technology of the time.

As with every Star Wars film, the Wilhelm scream is heard, this time when Jyn pushes the stormtrooper off the cliff.

Sam Witwer, who worked with the voice actors, reputedly took great pains to make sure the stormtrooper performances fell into line with Ep 4 stormtroopers, who "never went above a 5." Evidently, the stormtroopers in ep 4 were all voice recorded by some LA DJs.

As you can see, they worked hard, on many levels, to make this movie work. Whereas some films (again, not necessarily referring to the prequel trilogy here) do nothing put openly wink at the audience, the Star Wars connections in Rogue One are buried deeply in its DNA. Whereas most movie remakes and prequels wave their arms blatantly at the audience, Rogue One works their magic down into the deepest fabric of the film. Some of it works. Some of it misfires, but as a whole, it comes together into a cohersive and well-made piece of storytelling.

And that's all any of us could hope for.

Character Archetypes in Rogue One

So. Rogue One happened. And as someone who is just old enough to demark their lives by the time before Star Wars and after Star Wars, you can probably guess what my next couple blog posts will be about. That's right. So let's get with the spoiler space. 

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So, for those who went through this with me on Episode VII, you'll remember I use the Dramatica archetypes, but for those just joining us, let me remind you, briefly, about archetype pairs again.

In the Grand Argument Theory of storytelling put forth by Dramatica, the characters are broken into archetype pairs who each take one side of an argument. How these character interactions turn out make the story's ultimate statement on that aspect of the argument. For instance, the sidekick and skeptic character argue the merits of doubt and faith (through their actions, if not directly). How these characters fare show the story's message on which is more important: faith or skepticism.

So the archetypes are as follows:

Protagonist/Antagonist: Hero/Villain. These two are pretty self-explanatory.

Reason/Emotion: These two characters argue the merits of intellect versus passion.

Sidekick/Skeptic: These two characters argue the merits of faith versus doubt. Loyalty vs self-interest.

Guardian/Contagonist: The guardian tries to keep the protagonist on the true path, while the contagonist tries to steer them down a crooked path. For instance, most people think that Darth Vader is the antagonist in the Star Wars trilogy. He isn't. He's the contagonist because his ultimate goal is to corrupt Luke, not to kill him. He doesn't oppose Luke, he opposes Obi-Wan. Fatally, in fact.

So I don't know if Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy consciously use these archetypes. Dramatica didn't invent them, they produced them from observing and distilling many, many successful stories. However, they have an interesting take on at least two of the Interactions. One I've used myself. So let's examine how this all pans out in Rogue One.

Protagonist/Antagonist: Obviously, Jyn Erso and Orson Krennic. Jyn is our plucky hero and Krennic our Nazi-like villain. There isn't anything very surprising here.

Reason/Emotion: K-2SO/Boshi Rook. Our mentally damaged droid and our mentally damaged pilot. It's most interesting in the fact that they almost never interact. The movie doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on this argument. It actually brushes K-2's side under the rug by making him come from a place very close to emotion most of the time, and what arguments it makes about reason and emotion it tends to make with through our protagonist and contagonist, leaving these characters to carry more emotional character arcs, which I'm fine with because K-2's is arguably the most moving in the film. I can't complain they only pay lip service to reason. "I won't tell you the odds of her using it against you. But it's high."

Sidekick/Skeptic: Chirrut Îmwe/Baze Malbus. Our character of faith and our fallen faith character. I don't think there's any question where the film places the winner in this argument. In fact, even when the skeptic is being all skeptical, he is still absolutely loyal. "I don't need luck. I have you." The most interesting thing they did here, and one of my personal favorite tricks, is making the two inseparable best friends. Essentially, making them two halves of the same person, only truly complete when they act together. These two, in many ways, were the heart of the film.

Contagonist/Guardian: Cassian Andor/Galen Erso. It's no surprise that Galen is the guardian. His first act is to sacrifice his own freedom to save his daughter, and his every act after that is to keep her, and after that the galaxy, safer. His final acts are to get the word of the Death Star to the Rebellion. The interesting part comes in Cassian, who's tasked with killing him, and can't bring himself to do so. However, if you expand the contagonist to include the Rebellion leadership as a whole (or at least elements of it) you can at least argue that the contagonist still does him in.

The really interesting take is the protagonist and the contagonist. In most stories, the contagonist is trying to turn the protagonist away from their true path, but Rogue One follows where Return of the Jedi originally led us. In this story, the protagonist is having none of that, and it's here job to bring the contagonist back to the light. And she does so. Does Jyn change? Yes, but in her core principles she never really wavers and once she decides that the Rebellion's cause is worthy of her attention, after her reconciliation with the path her father took, she begins warping everyone around her to her way with the strength of her personality.

Cassian, K2, the Rebellion itself. One by one, she brings people to her side. Only Chirrut sees her for who she really is at the beginning of the movie, and it isn't terribly surprising since she's been hiding from everyone, including herself. In fact, you could make the strong argument that until she stops hating her father and sees the Death Star in use, she doesn't really see herself either. Only in that moment does she realize that she isn't the person who can just stand around and let the Empire win.

Maybe the most interesting pairing in the movie Rogue One is Jyn vs Jyn. The Jyn we know at the beginning, the scarred, discarded little girl that Saw Gerrera pulled out of that hole all those years ago, and the hero waiting within, that awakens when she realizes that her father wasn't a monster, and heroes can sacrifice their lives not just by dying for a cause, like her mother, but by living for one.

Like her father.

Messing Up is Data Too

So the weekend before last, I totally blew it. I had a 99 cent sale. My second. It was the first sale after the publisher moved me into the LitRPG category, and that move did great things for my overall numbers. This time I wouldn't be competing against Harry Potter and (strangely enough) Game of Thrones for the top ten spots in the category. Okay, I totally still would since all TV and Movie adaptations are there as well, but they don't fill that category quite as completely. Anyway, I was really looking forward to the data.

I set up several ads. Many podcasts announced the sale just before the sale went live. I had a few feeds promise to drop an ad into their feed the day of. Then, I completely forgot.

I can't tell you what happened. My Christmas vacation started. Rogue One came out. My alert to remind me to check on them went awry. I set everything up a week or more in advance and when the day came up and my alert didn't fire, I just completely forgot the date.

I remembered when there were just a few hours left in the sale. I checked the numbers. It would be inaccurate to say I'd sold nothing, but the blip was hardly noteworthy. I probably sold as many books the first two days after we shifted categories as we did during the two days of the sale.  A hiccup, really. I just completely messed up.

I should have checked those feeds the moment I got home that night first night as it started at midnight. I should have sent off friendly reminder emails so the ads hit the feeds first thing in the morning Saturday. A little late, but not too far off. If I'd been on the ball, we probably could have saved the sale.

But I didn't.

I was pretty depressed that day, for three or four hours. I just couldn't believe I'd messed up so badly. I generally don't make mistakes that big. I kicked myself for hours. Probably didn't help that one of my friends took that moment to light into me about how I should be with one of the big three publishers, as if I needed to be reminded about twenty-five years of failure and rejection at that moment.

But, I decided, that I needed this data too. This failure data. Now I know exactly what I sell when I have a sale and I don't push it with timely ads (and what I sell is Bupkis.) For you to know how effective something is, you need a baseline. I now have an idea just how spectacularly effective my first sale really was, because my second sale was a shocking realization that if I do nothing to draw attention to the promotion, there is no attention.

Now, I'll point out that the publisher does do some to draw attention to these sales as well, but this was a publisher-wide sale, so my book was on sale with at least 20 other titles at the same time (probably more, I didn't count). If I hadn't done anything on that first sale, they probably would have still driven some attention to the promotion, but now I know what the draw is of the Amazon sale by itself, and that is almost nothing.

So now I have my baseline. Now I know just how little mention even a day or two before the sale actually does to drive sales. This is all good information.

I just need to use it properly, going forward.

Vacation 2: The Wrath of Bob

I've started a new vacation, so here are you book recommendations for today.

20 Master Plots and How to Build them, but Ronald B. Tobias, is a cornerstone of my plotting process. If you've read my posts on plotting, you'll know that for every real subplot, I assign it a full plot arc and then map it to one of the plots in this book. I use this book to make sure that the plot is complete and that it follows the accepted form. Basically, that I don't mess it all up. This book shouldn't be used to make your work look like everyone else's, though. This book should be used to as a jumping off point to take the accepted form and to find new and interesting takes on the old themes.

Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley is an interesting entry to this list because technically I haven't read it. What I have read are the Dramatica help files, printed out and from begining to end, back when those were the only way to digest this information. If you get Dramatica, you could still do that, but it would be an annoying and you'd abuse a tree. It might be better just to spring for the kindle edition of this book. It explains the Grand Argument Theory of storytelling (if they still call it that), and how it applies to plotting a story, Dramatica style.

Death by Cliché 2 Nearing Completion

So next week I go on vacation. For Thanksgiving, I tried to clear my schedule for my vacation. I don't think that will be possible for Christmas. I've promised two friends that I'd give them full alpha reads by the end of the year. On top of that, at literally any minute I expect to get back proofs on DbC 2, and I've asked for a proofer that gives very thorough work. Not only does he find stuff that requires entire sentence rewrites, requiring more than one pass, but I specifically ask for him and my editor because he's a gamer and my editor isn't, so I expect him to catch at least one thing that the editor didn't, that's game related.

Anyway. I expect some longish nights coming, and I don't think they can be longish enough to get done before my vacation.

I'll probably take Christmas Off, though. Because: Christmas.

Things continue on DbC 4. I discovered this week that I've been taking "In Late, Out Early" to too great an extreme. In late, out early is a bit of writing advice that's meant to curb an author's instinct to linger on a character. You meander your way into a scene. You linger too long after a scene should be over. Well, taken to an extreme, the character doesn't have time to make an impact. They become more of a highlight reel than an actual character arc, and evidently, I have committed that sin. It isn't the first time. It won't be the last. Sometimes, we worry more about keeping things moving than actually taking the time to let the characters breathe. In our fear of being boring, we become as frenetic as a coked-up hummingbird.

So, I've gone back and written some more connective tissue bits. In them, I'm trying to correct some character issues that critiquers also noticed. If they like the new direction, I can carry the changes through the stuff I already wrote. It also allowed me to work in a Star Wars joke I was dying to use, but skipped somehow. So there was that.

But all in all, things are good. I keep finding myself looking for the cat, but that's becoming increasingly infrequent. I don't know if it will ever completely go away. But we push on. We keep going. Right now I'm also playing Europa Universalis VI, and I'm about to vent my frustrations on the French.

I suspect we all know that will help.