The Mad Missourian, Ben Wheeler returns!
A tome of terror and nightmare beyond your reckoning! IT IS THE NECRONOMICON AESTHETICA . Bound in the twisted and flayed flesh of critics and penned with the blood-tear ink of underpaid and overworked artists, this book will be the end-all and be-all of entertaining fiction analysis. This is not to be an explicit guide to a paint by numbers towards something poor, generic and, Lord forgive me for saying this, derivative. This is a guide to promoting excellence of story telling, to look at, disagree with or consult like a road map where you already know the way, but you want to make sure.
Read ON brave delver of the darkest literary arts!
Now, even now, you scrape the flesh of William Twist clear. A thousand little changes you have carved into him. His agonies echo in the blood-moon shadowed hills. The bats have flown out and back to their sanctuary of the eaves above. In their vampire mouths they carry fruit, insects and bird eggs, and with care that would shame even the tenderest mother, they plant their gifts into his mouth. William will not fail in his duties, even if you do. The agonies will end tonight, the blood-moon will not pass until until you finish your dread work.
The skin flaps are stretched thinner and farther than before. As you pull the book out, yet deeper mysteries are revealed. Did you really write in a mascot character that does nothing but be cute and kid-friendly? Did you really write a sentence that lasted five full lines? Did you really use “Brouhaha” 45 times in a row? Did you really write an esoteric blog post that only obliquely covered the stated topic? ITUMBO OF NIGHT indicates the flagellating squid-arms of Halbiacor, of the Deeps. These errors can only be paid for in blood, unless you can correct them soon.
You remember the lessons of your mentor, Scrofula. His screeching fly-head burbled the mysteries of life and literature. Indeed, madness and dreams went hand in hand with logic and philosophy. How can fiction be fiction unless it is not true? But how can it be worth reading if it is not about true things? Do you think false dreams and lies can support a narrative? Do you think people are pleased by you shoving your sexual love of centaurs into every nook and cranny of your tale?. NO! No matter how much you desire to ride a centaur across the fields, wind in your hair and making out with a bare-chested centaur lass, it just isn’t going to happen! IT ISN’T! And that is about when Scrofula usually collapsed into the fetal position, weeping and gnashing his teeth about “Rolling in the hay” for the rest of the class.
Carefully, now, so carefully even a feather would blush, you go deeper into the folds of William Twist’s flesh. Your spirit glows white hot with the fires of a man who is bowing to the objective truths. You are that man who searches for that excellence in the minutia. Your story will be glow like the ancient lighthouses of Croesus, upon which were writ madness that caused men to seek the sea and not the murderous rocks ahead. You remember once more the lessons of Scrofula, in between his lovelorn lamentations for the extinct centaur and the strange buzzings that came from nowhere and everywhere at once.
You examine your work closely, and remove as much passive voice as is reasonable. Every action scene should be active, but descriptions can go with whatever flows best. Passive voice can slow a story down, and so can give gravity to scenes as the reader must pause to appreciate, subconsciously, ancient temples and grandiose mountain keeps. Consider the first example vs. the second.
“Alexander drew his sword and faced the dragon knight. For her part, she glowed with the empowering dragon fire of her kind and brandished a pole-arm longer than most houses stood tall.”
“Alexander was drawing his sword as he was facing the dragon knight. For her part, she was glowing with the empowering dragon fire of her kind and was brandishing a pole arm longer than most houses were tall”
And again, though a gestalt between the two would suit best:
“The Obelisk of Plato, holding the second Crystal of Charlemagne, reached to high heaven, and seemed more like a mountain than anything made by man’s hands. The runes glittered in the light of the fraternal twin new and full moons and carved so deep as to provide handholds.”
“… was reaching to high heaven and was more like a mountain… … The runes were glittering … were carved so deep…”
The word choices are carefully considered. Are there vain repetitions? Did you try to horn in your infernal word of the day calendar where it doesn’t belong? Did you use plain words or bold words? Did you choose something overly complex or did you ensure that the events of your story could be understood by your intended audience?
CRITICAL DISTINCTION: Did you use a thesaurus blindly, or carefully considering the implications and ‘beat’ of the word? There is no shame in using a thesaurus, provided your choice is the right choice for that sentence. It is better to rewrite the sentence or paragraph than choose poorly from a thesaurus. They can tell. They will laugh. Your shame will glow as brightly as Virgo in the night sky. Beware!
One assumes you remember the lessons of your dread grammarians. Each gutting flail strike you dodges is one more period, comma or, ITUMBO OF NIGHT forgive me, semicolon rule you etch into your mind. Are there too many commas? Not enough commas? Did you use a period when a “, and’ would better suit? Consider
“‘Ah? You are, like, us.’ The dragon knight breathing heavily and wetly covered her wound with her hand, and she feared death, slow, or sudden”
“‘Ah! You are like us.’ The dragon knight, breathing heavily and wetly, covered her wound with her hand. She feared death, slow or sudden.”
ITUMBO OF NIGHT SPEAKS: DO NOT USE SEMICOLONS EXCEPT IN UTMOST NEED! THE CULTURE DOES NOT KNOW THEM AS BEFORE TIMES! THE EFFECT MAY BE LOST OR CONFUSING.
It is time to perform yet more terrible surgeries. You must remove a character. Yes, that mascot must fade into oblivion. You lack the hardness of heart of having sweet, soulful Gorgu eaten by the snow-orcs and dire werewolves the Ice Quean and Igaram field against the heroes. You must excise him and all mentions of him within the tale. What’s more, you must carefully consider whether you have writings that depend on him existing. Indeed, a careful reader will be heartily thrown from the scent of the story if even a hint of Gorgu’s cute yet ugly face remains. Conversations about him cannot remain. Conversations with him have to be rewritten or removed. Conversations where he is doing something amusing and adorable, sickly sweet, in the background must go without his diverting antics. Many reads and rereads must be done until every bit of sweet, soulful Gorgu is removed from every hint and gesture. Nothing can remain. Weep for Gorgu, though he never lived or capered as he did in the embrace of William Twist. The hunchback will always carry a torch for him.
Indeed, the opposite is true to add characters. Say you want to add a captured Dragon Princess (complete with tail and scales) to give the Dragon Knights more motivation to serve the Ice Quean. Scenes and conversations must be added. The Dragon Knight, Ellesmere, must shout “FOR THE PRINCESS!” as a potential battle cry. A scrying orb must depict the Dragon Princess in the clutches of the Ice Quean. Statues and coins with her mother’s visage must appear every now and then. The world must be subtly changed so that she is added. Perhaps even an impromptu visit to her palace, to rally the dragon knights to the battle against snow orc and dire-werewolf, must be added. Any number of things to give the dragon knight depth and breadth is a welcome addition. Perhaps, instead of perishing in a blaze of glory, untouchable and consumed by the very infernal fires that empower her to hold off Igaram’s snow orcs, she meets with the Dragon Princess, who heals her wounds and empowers her with a ‘pure fire’, allowing her to survive the encounter.
From “Screaming and berserk, the very image of fire and dragonhood burst from Ellesmere. Flames spewed from her mouth, concentrated but wild, scorching the snow-orcs and setting them to flight… Spasming and twisting into herself, she fell into the arms of Casper, who held her despite the burning heat, weeping and wailing as he watched her skin flake away to reveal fire-blacked flesh, even to the bone.” To “Screaming and berserk, she leaped across the battlefield, willing to pay any cost just so her princess could live. The Dragon princess, pinioned by bands of brass, fell faster and faster from where Igaram’s clockwerk dragon let go of her. Ellesmere caught the Dragon Princess before she touched the ground… The Dragon princess kissed her forehead bestowing the very image of fire and dragonhood upon her… Casper caught her as she fell back from earth, the fiery throes of the Dragon Princess’ blessing fading in glowing ebbs. For a moment, he despaired that she had perished in that blaze of infernal glory. Yet, at that moment when he kissed her feverish forehead, her eyes flew open. For a moment, the two of them looked at each other, his blue eyes to her lizard-like red eyes, and then they began to laugh in relief as they knew death had passed them over.”
BEWARE: A scene can feel ‘added in’ if care is not taken to smoothly transition from one scene to another. The ‘added in’ feeling can cause light to major disruption to the suspension of disbelief!
A similar process works for changing names, but the demon “CTRL F” usually works for these situations. That’s why you sacrificed those goats to him, after all. A chapter of the Necronomicon Aesthetica dedicated to names will be written next.
Oh, horror of horrors! You come across a single sentence that lasts for five lines… and a paragraph that’s an entire page… NOT DOUBLE SPACED. William Twist wails and shudders as you consider these abominations. You remember the severed head of the necrotic English Major and his mad uttering:
A sentence has no ‘length restriction’ but rather, a ‘content restriction.’ A sentence must have a noun and then a verb at least. Anything more is window dressing and enhances your story. However, a sentence that runs too long can be confusing. If you diagram the sentence (something you haven’t done since high school, if you went to a good one) and it looks more like circuitry than a tree, then, probably, the sentence is too complex and needs to be broken up. Examples would be too arbitrary here. A good rule of thumb would be to read the sentence, and if it goes for 3 lines or longer, it’s probably too long. This assuming it’s not a run-on sentence. Do what you have to do for top-tier writing, but don’t think every 200 word sentence is a winner. None of them are, more than likely. Moving on, paragraphs, similarly. If a paragraph is too long or has too many… Wait a second…
Likewise, Paragraphs, similarly. Each paragraph should, ideally, be a self-contained idea being described to the reader. A paragraph with many separate ideas within it probably needs to be decompressed, or restructured to allow for a proper flow of the mind, even if the literary flow is impeccable. If you confuse your reader with a thousand beautiful ideas, then the benefit is lost. This does not count descriptions, as describing something is an idea of itself. The same applies to action scenes, romance and so on. Rather, the thesis of this paragraph more applies to rapid-fire technical ideas (without properly priming the reader for rapid-fire ideas previously, of course), magical system rule making, strategy sessions and religious imagery, among others that are more situational. If you wrote such that information is dumped then you are probably risking confusion and loss of Suspension of Disbelief.
Write according to the needs of the narrative/story/conversation, not what you want to see for its own sake. Do not offend your readers with something they cannot understand. This paragraph is ‘one idea’ about paragraph writing, but has many statements within it, as you’ve been primed to accept that this is what this paragraph would look like.
Now, reading your work, you might think that you need a prologue or epilogue. Maybe? Does it add anything or telegraph something or apply somewhere within the story itself? Does it give more dread to the villains or more dreams to the hero or explain way-cool mystic powers? Purpose here, is more important than prose. A beautiful prologue with hackneyed tropes mean little and merely delay the reader from the tragedy of Alexander’s village being burned down. Say, a prologue about a prince meeting a girl with ice powers in a fairy tale rhyme adds more than, say, Igaram’s start of darkness. Both are important, but Igaram’s start of darkness probably makes more sense when his perky-goth daughter betrays him to the heroes and explains his history to Alexander’s party and to the readers in the 11th hour of the plot.
Epilogues the same way. The fairy tale might be a great poignant ending, but Igaram’s tragic backstory might also work. Probably, the story should end at a ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW” situation, but not so explicit. Casper and Ellesmere’s quarter-dragon babies are adorable, even when they breath fire. It might just be the sort of light-hearted jape that ends the book on a great note. If that’s the tone of the story, of course. An epilogue is an after-taste even as a prologue is a aperitif.
You’ve now rewritten much of the story, or at least edited it to perfection. Gorgu, sweet and soulful, is no longer capering about. Ellesmere no longer perishes at the cost of victory. The prologue and epilogue are just right. You have maintained mental discipline (As described in the last article HERE) and no one can guess your sexual fetish. Easily. Your word choice is varied and organic. Your punctuation and spelling is on point. Aye! This is a work of perfection.
You untie your editor, who is entranced by the spectacle. The moons are now in alignment, and William Twist’s back folds are glowing in daylight, so bright are the luminaries. She kisses his fevered brow. Not long yet. She places hand to scraping tool, and line edits the work. Of course, you missed a comma here. This sentence doesn’t work, needs rewriting. Who is this Gorgu? Run on. Fragment. Word repetition.
On and on it goes. You don’t know whether William Twist is suffering more as his pitiable nerves are scraped once more or you, the editor giving your thought-child a working over you could never do. For, though the book is now as perfect you can get it in your mind, another mind may not think so. No matter how critical your thoughts are, another is yet more critical. And so it is. Make your work as perfect, objectively, as you can. The editor ensures that the unenlightened can read it and not go mad, and catch the things ITUMBO OF NIGHT and your muse have conspired to hide from your sight and keep you humble.
At this point, the 9/10 rule applies. 10/10 of the edits are going to be good and useful. 9/10 should be accepted blindly and without comment. At no point should you aggressively argue with the editor. However, occasionally, the edits should be different from the editor’s recommendation. They are fallible as you are. While 9/10 edits should be accepted, that last 1/10 should be rewritten according to your vision and sent back to the editor to ensure a harmonious result. The sentence or plot point should be changed, but it might not need to be changed as the editor recommends or requires. Do not go to the editor and accuse them of sabotage or some other stupid accusation, but do respectfully work to ensure that the spirit of the book is upheld. Two subjective people, with their own hopes and dreams, are editing a work with objective qualities! Blessed are the writer and editor who work together!
Now, at the end of the night, William Twists’ back folds are returned to their positions, hunching him over and pinching painfully. He collapses, and you hold him until he revives. The Editor is banished to where ever she came from, with the usual payment of Judas Silver. Now, It’s time to return to your Castle Dolorous and consider your next move. Your next dream. Also send it to your publisher so all the magical world knows of your literary might and fear you.
Next week: NAMES AND POWER, PLEASE DON’T CURSE ME, ALAN MOORE