Tag Archives: humor

Letters on Literary Devices 13: The Predictability Spectrum

To haters of predictable endings:

As I’m sure you’ve already predicted, I’m writing this letter to expound on a new literary term I just invented. Here’s the name: THE PREDICTABILIY SPECTRUM.

Why did I invent this term, you ask? Well, these days, spectrums are all the rage. Think about it. You got the visible light spectrum – you know – like rainbows and shit. Autism has a spectrum. There’s the ol’ electromagnetic spectrum. There’s economic spectrums, political spectrums, broad spectrum antibiotics. Even poop has a spectrum. Haven’t seen it? Check it out:

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So I figured that if poop gets a spectrum, us literary folks should start thinking about getting some of our own spectrums too. Thus, I’ve created the very first literary spectrum (That I happen to know of).

On the far left side of the spectrum, we have foreshadowing. Everyone knows foreshadowing. That’s when an author builds suspense by hinting at future events. It can be done with a recurring motif, a snippet of dialogue, a direct address to the reader, dramatic irony – you get the idea, the list goes on.

On the far right side of the spectrum, we have Deus ex machina. That’s just an old Greek term for an unbelievable ending. In Greek drama, Deus ex machina was used when the plot was unsolvable. In those cases, the Gods would intervene, save the day, and everyone would go home happy. To be called Deus ex machina, the resolution of the conflict must seem random which means a total absence of foreshadowing.

To better the understand spectrum, take a moment to study this professionally drawn illustration:

Predictability Spectrum

Similar to good pooping, good writing relies on balance. While a good dump finishes somewhere between constipation and diarrhea, a good ending to a novel can be found somewhere between completely predictable and totally random.

It’s important to keep in mind that no two poops are alike and no two novels are alike either. For some genres and styles, a more predictable, softer ending is expected. Others require hard twists and turns in the plot before reaching an explosive conclusion. And that’s why I like the Predictability Spectrum. It allows for differences unique to the author and poop – I mean book.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say. I doubt that you predicted any of that. Deuces.


Letters on Literary Devices 12: The Double Ellipsis

To The Double Ellipsis:

The other day a co-worker showed me a text-message that read as follows:

I have a plan……We can make this work……I’ll call you this evening…….

Two things stand out here. First, my co-worker receives cryptic messages. Does he sell drugs? Is he planning a bank robbery? Does he have a lady on the side? A man? – I didn’t ask but assumed it was innocent. Why else would he show me?

Second, the message contained a punctuation mark that I have seen before in poorly written fiction, but have never truly thought about: THE DOUBLE ELLIPSIS. That’s right folks, we’re talking six periods in a row.

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Now, you’re probably asking, “so what? It’s cool. What difference does an extra period make?”

Well, I’ll tell you the difference it makes.

A traditional ellipsis point(that’s actually the only kind) is made up of three periods. For those of you who can’t picture what that would look like, look here: {…}. Yep, that’s three in a row. In rhetoric and non-fiction writing generally, the ellipsis fulfills a finite function. It is an indication that a word or phrase or even a whole sentence or paragraph has been omitted.

So naturally, the text message with the double ellipsis had me asking this: how much did you omit between “I have a plan” and “We can make this work”? Was the plan hidden by the ellipsis? Is that what went there? Is that what was omitted? Was the plan so intricate that it needed not one, but two whole ellipsis? Back to back?

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In the moment I was convinced. As I looked at the screen of the cell phone, I searched for this mysterious plan between the spaces of those six periods. I looked. I squinted my eyes and held the phone an inch away from my face (I didn’t actually do that. I’m just being dramatic). And I saw…nothing (I felt that the single ellipsis would do here).

But wait! There are other uses of the ellipsis because fiction, unlike non-fiction, allows for greater flexibility with its punctuation marks.

You see, in fiction, the ellipsis can be used for more than just an omission. In fiction, the ellipsis implies trailing-off in speech, a brief pause, or stuttering/stammering. Perhaps the writer of the text message wanted to seem as if he was trailing-off and then trailing-off again. A double trail-off? “We can make this work……” Or maybe it was the double pause? Or maybe the fella speaks with a stutter and likes to present that in his text messages. In the case of the latter, his stutter really isn’t that bad. I’ve met folks who might warrant a triple or even quadruple ellipsis.

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Unfortunately, I won’t ever meet this mysterious text-messager. I’ll never have the chance to ask “why not just one ellipsis? 0 + 0 = 0! You can’t double omit! You can’t double trail-off! There’s no need for a double pause! A pause is a pause no matter how long it is! And if you speak with a stutter, that’s fine, but you don’t have to show that in your writing!”

Sincerely,
Eric James-Olson

If you are interested in my books, check out my links below. KindleUnlimited members can borrow for free. For everyone else, the books are priced slightly higher than the cost of dirt:  between 2.99 and 3.99. If you like this post, hook a brotha up with a like.

 

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!


Flashback to LD 11

Hi again,

About a week ago I wrote a post on overwriting. In that post I promised future explanations of literary devices that cause a piece to feel – well – overwritten. If you haven’t read that post, it’s cool, just click this link: Letters on Literary Devices 11: Don’t Be So Dramatic. If you’ve read it already, you probably remember the following explanation which details the type of literary device capable of making a novel appear overwritten: “Well, any literary device used as a descriptor has the innate qualities necessary for causing readers to throw up.” I then listed a few and proved how “apostrophe’s” (the literary device, not the punctuation mark) when overused, can seem overwhelming.

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In this post I’d like to apply the same scrutiny to the literary term “epithet”.

For those who don’t know already, an epithet is a word or phrase precluding a characters name used for description. This strategy dates back to some of the earliest influences in Western Literature. Anyone who’s read the Iliad and the Odyssey, probably remembers the “Swift-footed” Achilles and the “Grey-Eyed” Athena. For ancient writers of epics, the epithet served a duel function. First, it was used as a descriptor. Second, it allowed more flexibility for poets who had to write within the constraints of dactylic hexameter. By having a list of several different epithets for each character, all having a different number of syllables, the poet could plug in the best rhythmically fitting epithet into each line.

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Well, that’s great and all, but how does this apply to novelists today? Obviously, no one writes full length fiction in dactylic hexameter anymore. It would be cool if someone tried, but probably unreadable because English doesn’t lend itself to dactyls. Writers still use epithets though, even if the rhythmic function of the device has become outmoded.

Now, I’m not going to point any fingers at my contemporaries. I’ve read some books using epithets for characters that have worked really well; I’ve read some books where the strategy just didn’t work.

Instead, I’ll just point out an example from my own writing.

In my first novel, Farmers and Cannibals, I used a epithet to describe the principal antagonist, “Big” Frank. Here’s the line from when he’s introduced: “Deep, dark, mahogany – the desk was chosen to say a lot about the massive man who sits behind it. “Big” Frank founded General Wheat Corporation sixteen years previously as a small time farmer willing to take a risk.”

“Big,” is Frank’s epithet and I chose the word because of its ambiguous context dependent meaning and relatively neutral connotation.

Now, I could’ve been annoying; I could’ve been guilty of overwriting if I used the word “Big” every time this character was mentioned. I’m glad I didn’t though, because as a descriptor that’s unnecessary. Throughout the novel, I only placed the word “Big” before his name when the character exerted his characteristic “bigness”: his tendency towards viciously controlling the fates of other men. That both gave the word “Big” its meaning within the novel, and served as a recurring motif chastising the behavior of the novel’s antagonist.

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Personally, I think this is a good way for novelists to use epithets. Overuse, can be annoying and seem overwritten. When used sparingly; however, the epithet is another tool for constructing layers of meaning.

Well, that’s it, if you have any examples of annoying epithets, good use of epithets, or any questions, disagreements, etc. please feel free to comment below!

If you are interested in my books, check out my links below. KindleUnlimited members can borrow for free. For everyone else, the books are priced slightly higher than the cost of dirt:  between 2.99 and 3.99. If you like this post, hook a brotha up with a like.

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!


Letters on Literary Devices 11: Don’t be so Dramatic

To all of you painfully affected, truly moved, earnestly touched, really warmed, really and truly heartened melodramatists who can’t earnestly prevent the painful deluge of exaggerated emotion flowing through your writing:

This letter’s for you (For everyone else, for anyone with taste, sorry about “the painful deluge” of adverbs).

For those of you who haven’t got it yet, the topic of this week’s letter is “overwriting” and the most basic way of “overwriting”  is demonstrated above with my introduction. It’s got too many adverbs: painfully, truly, earnestly, really, really/truly, earnestly (And yes, I repeated some on purpose). Although I’m sure there are folks out there who like this sort of thing, for most folks the preponderance of words ending in “ly” has a nauseating effect.

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While adverbs tends to be the chief culprit in ‘overwriting’, unnecessary adjectives can induce vomiting as well (Substitute for syrup of ipecac anyone?). Either way, too many descriptive words take away from the action of a plot, the point in a paper, the creative license of a readers imagination.

So, that covers “overwriting” basics: too much description = puke. This, of course, begs the question: what other literary devices, when used overmuch, cause readers to lose their metaphorical lunches? Well, any literary device used as a descriptor has the innate qualities necessary for causing readers to throw up. And which would those be, you ask? A whole bunch. Watch me name five just off the top of my head: metonymy, epithets, periphrasis, circumlocution, and apostrophe (not the punctuation mark), …that’s five.   For the sake of word count, I’m just going to focus on one and promise to write follow up posts on each of the others somewhere in the future (Flashback to LD 11 yo). So, which will I pick? Let’s start with the last on the list: apostrophe. (Dude, check out all the colon’s in this paragraph. Yea, that’s where your lunch SHOULD go).

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Apostrophe: So, you thought this was just a punctuation mark? It’s also an ancient Greek literary device that’s most commonly used in drama, but has also seen action in novels. What is it? It’s a shout-out to a God or ghost or naturally occurring phenomenon or anything that’s not really real. Let’s start with a  few classic examples. Remember the Iliad? It’s that ancient Greek epic by Homer. Check out the first lines of the poem: “Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.” When he shouts out to the “muse,” oh yea, that’s an apostrophe. The muse ain’t there and she ain’t real, but as part of Greek literary convention, the author calls on this muse to speak for him. Now, is this “overwriting” because he used an apostrophe? HELL NO! Homer was one bad dude, and he ain’t gonna be shoutin’ out to no muse every other line. He doesn’t do it too much, and that’s why it isn’t “overwritten.”

Let’s check out an example from good ol’ Bill Shakespeare:

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee: I’ll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me!

In this, Hamlet is calling out to the Ghost of his murdered father. Like Homer, Shakespeare uses the apostrophe as a plot device, as the inciting incident that sets off the events of the tragedy. Does he have Hamlet call out to the ghost every other line? HELL NO! Shakespeare, like Homer, was one bad dude. Sure, there are places throughout the play where we are reminded of the ghost, but it never becomes overwhelming.

In contrast with these “bad dudes” of literature, Mary Shelley, in Frankenstein, commits sin, after “overwriting” sin. I happen to be teaching the novel to an AP class at the moment. And even though I love the novel, the students and I have both noticed long dragged-out sections where the adverbs and adjectives are piled on, and the sickening overuse of apostrophe overwhelms the senses and the stomach.

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Allow me an example: “Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me; if ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory; let me become as nought; but if not, depart, depart, and leave me in darkness.” (I think I just threw up in my mouth). Victor’s shout-out to nature here wouldn’t be so repulsive if it were alone. But these types of lines litter several of the chapters with melodrama, which actually detracts from the seriousness of Victor’s emotions. I mean, shit, the creature killed his whole damn family. Is that how you’d respond to finding out your whole family is dead? Would you be calling out to “stars and clouds and winds”? Would you accuse the sky of mocking you?

And yes, I know she was being poetic. And by itself, that line is great. But seriously, similar lines are repeated over and over throughout novel. It just gets old. It detracts from the action of the plot.

 

Well, that concludes this letter. What was my point in all this? There’s nothing wrong with descriptive writing. The problem is when there is too much of it. So watch for your adverbs, adjectives, and shout-outs to the supernatural. If you do it too much, you might be accused of “overwriting.”

 

With true and humble regards (puke),

Eric James-Olson

 

 

P.S.: If you are interested in my books, check out my links below. KindleUnlimited members can borrow for free. For everyone else, the books are priced slightly higher than the cost of dirt:  between 2.99 and 3.99. If you like this post, hook a brotha up with a like. If you’d like to receive e-mails for future posts, click the link on the side to join my e-mail list.

 

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


An Announcement… of sorts

Hey Folks,

For all of you out there interested in my fiction, my books can be borrowed free from Amazon. It’s through the KindleUnlimited program which is now offering a free 30 day trial (US ONLY). Don’t know much about the program? Check out this link: KINDLEUNLIMITED

I know – it’s awesome. And if you’re not interested in my books, or have already bought them, there are tons of other author’s with books listed through the program.

 

OTHER NEWS

To all of you who e-mailed, my next “Letter on Literary Devices” will be out later this week. I know, I know, I haven’t posted much recently. I’m not sure if any of you out there are inclined towards believing excuses, but I do have one for anyone who happens to trust me (Suckers): for the past month I’ve been painstakingly editing and revising a new novel – well, the first half of it at least. I’m planning on having the second half written by the end of the year but am not sure of when it will be published, who it will be published by, or any of that stuff yet. I have a title, but that might change too.

So, that’s it for this evening. Below are the links to my books for anyone interested in a free borrow. As always, thanks for checkin’ out my blog!

But the Angels Never Came:

Farmers and Cannibals:

Just After the Fall:

The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you!


Letters on Literary Devices 9: Incomplete thoug…

To all the incomplete thoughts out there,

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article (I can’t remember where, when, who is was by, or what the title was) explaining the conventional differences between good ol’ American English and the slightly different, slightly more refined version of that same language on the other side of the Atlantic. No, it wasn’t about how American Standard English (AmSE) is the best and British Standard English (BrSE) is the worst or anything childish like that. Rather, it was about one of the most fascinating, intriguing subjects that man has ever conjured: punctuation.

Yea, that’s right folks. I’m talking periods, commas, and yea, that’s right, even the old semi-colon.

The article went on to explain how differences in usage are often cited as typos by readers educated under the opposing standard language. What? Let me explain with an unnecessarily awkward, convoluted sentence: So Brit readers reading American author’s might see a comma “misplaced” that is actually in a standard location according to AmSE, and an American reader reading a British author might see a comma “misplaced” that is actually in a standard location according to BrSE. Yea (1). I know. Crazy (2).

This got me thinking. Yea (3). I know. Scary (4). When a reader posts a review, what other assumptions does he or she make about typos?

Well, I racked my brain. I thought real hard and then had a milkshake. After that, I went to the gym. I lifted some weights. Did a little cardio. Checked myself out in the mirror when it seemed like no one was watching. Did some more thinking. And drove home.

As I drove home I still had nothing. Honestly, I couldn’t think of much. But that’s when it hit me.  Sentence Fragments (5). The bane of secondary school teachers everywhere (6). Sentence fragments (7).

Despite the threats, brow-beatings, scare tactics of English teachers globally, the sentence fragment has always had a home in literature. I would start to name author’s but that would be silly. Everybody does it. Open a book. Read a few pages. You’ll find one. Guaranteed (8).

Right now, you’re probably thinking this: But why? Why? God, Why!?! Mrs. Bonebreaker told me that if I put another incomplete sentence in my paper she’d snap my pencil in half, and I don’t think she was talking about the one I write with.

Relax (9). It’ll be ok. Deep breaths (10).

Let’s go back to the basics. What’s a sentence? Easy (11). It’s a complete  thought. That’s why they’re so good for writing with. It’s good to have complete thoughts. So, what’s a sentence fragment? An incomplete thought (12). Not too useful in an essay (13). That’s why ol’ Bonebreaker threatened to snap your pencil in half. You were probably writing an essay.

In fiction, however, the incomplete thought can be fairly useful.

The most obvious and probably most common use of incomplete thoughts  is through character dialogue. People don’t always speak with completely formed ideas, so  a lot of author’s imitate this when writing dialogue.

Another common use of the sentence fragment is in the imitation of real human thinking. Think about it. Do you think in complete sentences? Unless you’re really weird, you probably don’t. So a common way to show this, to show a characters thoughts is through the employment of sentence fragments. Most of the time you wouldn’t even notice that you’re looking at fragments. Check out this excerpt from a novel I’m working on:

 

I’m just stuck here. Stuck here watchin’ the old man take a swim every now and then. Stuck here watchin’ ol’ Linda read trashy novels and stroke the armrest of her beach chair. Stuck here bored as hell wantin’ nothin’ else but a chance to meet some chick young enough to take me seriously.

That’s the problem though. All the girls around here are so stuck up and full of shit and three or five years older than me. Sucks being fifteen.

 

For those keeping track at home, that’s four fragments and only three complete sentences. All those “sentences” starting with “stuck” are without subjects. There’s no subject in the sentence starting with “sucks” either.

So, what does this do? Well, it makes the ideas seem less organized. It makes the ideas feel as if each runs into the next. It makes the ideas sound like, well, thoughts.

Now, do all readers know this? No (14). An author takes a chance anytime he or she uses a sentence fragment or any other break from convention when writing fiction. There is the chance that the break with convention won’t be seen as an artistic choice, but rather, will be seen as a clumsy error.

So what? Good question (15). I’ll try to answer it in three sentences. Complete ones (16). Here it goes: with the explosion of self-published authors into the mainstream of fiction, a huge amount of poorly written, poorly edited, poorly proofread novels have hit the market causing readers to notice unheard of quantities of conventional errors in “published” books. This trend has raised awareness to the possibility of typos in independently published fiction. My point is this: although there may be a preponderance of typos in “indie” fiction, not all typos are typos; some writers are better than others; some writers have the literary knowledge to make artistic choices that bend the rules of convention.

In a free society where everyone is empowered to be a critic, a society that encourages all customers, all readers to share opinions on an authors work, there will always be those who critique without requisite knowledge, without adequate understanding. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s much better than the alternative. But it is a fact for which we should be cognizant.

I don’t know about you, but the next time I see a break with convention, I’ll think twice before I assume it’s a mistake.

 

Sincerely,

Eric James-Olson

 

P.S. If you were wondering about all the numbers in parenthesis, the explanation is simple. I was keeping track of all my sentence fragments. No, I didn’t include the fragments from the excerpt.

 

 

 

 

 


Flashback: Letters on LD6: Literary Fracking

Hi folks,

Today I’m flashing back to an old post I wrote, Letters on Literary Devices 6: Jumpy Writing, and providing an example of “literary fracking” for all of you who were confused by the term. I coined this term based off an actual term in literary criticism: “the fractured narrative.”

Basically, the fractured narrative is when a book travels from one perspective to another focusing on the same event. The perspectives can come from character who took part in the event or even characters who are commenting on the event days or months or years later.

In my novel Just After the Fall, I used this strategy throughout. The main event, the beginning of a religious cult, occurred in real time for the protagonist. Two separate commentaries are provided by a future historian and a future religious leader. There is also a separate narrative that occurs after the main event but during the life of the protagonist. This is important because it shows how the cult developed into a religion which inevitably benefitted its people through the creation of a shared, common culture. Despite the fact that  it was just made up.

The excerpt below shows the commentary by the future religious leader and the separate narrative that occurs after the main event (I couldn’t use the chapters that showed the main event because those chapters are too long for an excerpt). Notice the change in narrative tone. The second chapter, the chapter that shows the beginning of the religious cult, maintains a simple, matter-of-fact voice, absent of the thinly veiled sarcasm found in  the “Sermon”.

Hope you enjoy it! Literary Fracking, everyone!

 

Just_After_the_Fall_Cover_for_Kindle

 

from Just After the Fall

A Sermon on Suicides from the Year 2540: Part IV

 

…“Followers of Abraham,” the orator continued, his voice reaching the top of a crescendo. His hands were above his head. “On this day, as you depart, as you leave this holy service, look around yourselves. See that there are powers acting independent of you. See that none of these powers are greater than you. And know that you do not have control of those powers, nor do you need to have control of those powers, for you do control your individual self, for that, above all else, was the lesson Lawrence learned traversing the wilderness. For that was the lesson that brought our people out of the darkness of the mountains and into the white light of liberty. For myself and no-one else!”

“For myself and no-one else,” the flock repeated.

 

In his private chambers the orator de-robed. Underneath he wore black. Sitting across from him, on a thick mules-leather chair was another man in black.

“Well done,” said the man in black. “You are a tribute to our order.”

The orator nodded his head. He grinned. His teeth were perfect. His canines were sharp.

“Some of the boys at central ran numbers last week. Faith has increased almost six percent since you began here.”

The orator said nothing. He nodded his head.

The man in black reclined further into his chair. “We’ll see productivity numbers next week. The projection from central is showing a three percent increase.” He shifted his weight. “This looks good. You’re looking good. You’re making me look good.”

“Just wait till next week,” the orator replied. “I’m beginning my telling of the Abraham stories. Those, I do particularly well.” He chuckled. “I have a name for it. They’ll eat it up. I’m calling it, But the Angels Never Came.”

The man in black laughed. “They will,” he said. “I know they will. They’ll grow fat on your sermons, and we’ll grow fat on our bonus checks from central office.”

 

 

To the East of Eden: Part IV

 

The top of the mountain was white rock. There were no trees or vegetation. The old man, wearing the brown cloth unique to his tribe, walked across the space separating himself and Lawrence and embraced the younger man.

“It has been too long,” the old man said. There was no hair on his head, but his beard was still thick and long. The dark hairs of his youth had turned a healthy grey.

The old man turned towards Maria. He embraced her.

“How are the boys?” the old man asked.

Maria smiled. “It has been too long,” she answered. “George is a man now. He’s a leader in our tribe. There is talk of him running for the next election. We are proud. And Cain, he was such a smart boy. As a man he’s interested in farming. He has a lot of ideas. He’s been planting trees. He wants all the breadfruit, for all the people of Abraham, to come from the south. ‘Trade,’ he always says the word ‘trade.’ He thinks very big.”

The old man nodded his head.

“So,” Lawrence began. “How are your people Chet?”

“Well fed.” Chet answered. His hands were at his sides. He was old but his back was not curved. The muscles in his legs were thick. “And yours?”

“Well fed and growing. The lands to the south are filling up.”

Lawrence looked past Chet. Resting next to the old man’s bag was an automatic rifle.

“Come across any poachers?” Lawrence asked.

“No, I never do. They see my rifle and they stay away. Besides, I’m an old bag of bones. They go after young meat.”

Lawrence nodded his head.

“It must be nice,” Chet continued, “traveling through the south, traveling without one of those.” He pointed back towards his rifle.

“We stayed as one people.”

“I still remember our splitting off. You were crazy, I thought, staying down there, near the patrols.”

“The first year was tense. But the drones got packed up and shipped off. Never saw one myself. Not after the split. The shared fear. In the beginning, that’s what kept us together.”

Chet nodded.

“How is Abraham?” Lawrence asked.

“Oh,” Chet replied, “last I heard, he’s doing fine. Always on the move. For so long he lived for the people of the Village. Since the split, he has lived only for himself. You see. I knew him. I knew him well. He was always under so much strain. I could never look at him in the eyes before. But now, he is at peace.”

Lawrence nodded. “He was right. He had the right idea all along. He had all the power, but he walked away.”

“It’s his example that they follow,” Chet said in agreement. “They can longer follow the words from his mouth. They follow his beliefs. They follow his morals.”

Time passed. Maria spoke more of her sons. Chet and Lawrence reminisced sitting with backs against the white rocks of the mountain. The sun went up. The sun went down. Maria started a fire and the three ate. It was not until after the meal that Lawrence brought up the matter of official duties. The men talked of trade, new developments in breadfruit farming, and efforts on both sides to maintain the religion of Abraham in their peoples, for the yearly gathering at Church Peak was only a month away.

 

Thanks for checking out this excerpt! If you still have questions about the fractured narrative or literary fracking, feel free to put those in the comment section below!

AND WRITERS: IF YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE OF LITERARY FRACKING, SEND MY AN E-MAIL SO I CAN FEATURE YOU ON MY BLOG! EJAMESOLSON1@GMAIL.COM

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale. They are priced between 2.99 and 3.99.  Check out these links if you’re interested:

 

But_the_Angels_Never_Cover_for_Kindle

 

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Just_After_the_Fall_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

The_Church_Peak_Hote_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

 

THANKS!!!!!!!!

 

 

 


Books for Men 2: Ape and Essence

Ladies and Gentleman,

Welcome back to Books for Men. As I mentioned in my post last week, I’ll be reviewing Aldous Huxley’s Ape and Essence .

For those of you who missed last week’s post, I’ll break down the most important parts for you: Books for Men focuses on fiction that emphasizes history, philosophy, politics,  religion, ideas, beliefs. The criticism centers on the author’s development of symbolism, allegory, and milieu, not the author’s development of character and plot. These conditions were decided based on well-documented trends in what men read, not on stereotypes regarding maleness, masculinity, what it means to be a “real man.” My goal has nothing to do with defining masculinity; it has everything to do with suggesting books that I think other men will like.

Without further adieu my review of Ape and Essence:

 

Ape and Essence starts out simply enough. Two men, both in the movie business, discuss an array of topics ranging from infidelity, to the assassination of Ghandi, to movie scripts that will never see the screen. The focus, however, appears to be the assassination of Ghandi. Through dialogue and inner narrative, Huxley juxtaposes two philosophical concepts: the plight of the marginalized individual vs. the machinery of civilized “Order”. Ghandi, of course, represents the individual serving his own cause,  who is killed because he “refused any longer to go on dreaming our dreams of a national Order,” concluding that “Order begets tyranny,” inevitably.

This representation of Ghandi, this dichotomy between the “individual” and “order” serves as a central theme throughout the rest of the book, an assertion that the plot will seek to make self-evident.

From here, our two men, Bob Briggs and the narrator are nearly ran over by a truck loaded down with movie scripts destined for the incinerator. The truck takes a sharp turn and several scripts fall out onto the pavement. Most of the scripts are trash, but one catches the eye of the narrator: “Ape and Essence.” It is this script, this piece of trash, this meaningless item written by an obscure author, that will serve as the majority of the novel.

Now, the men don’t just start reading. If they had just started reading the script, the significance of the script as an object in itself might have been lost. Instead, they try to track down the author. I won’t go into the details of their search. The search ends like this: he’s already dead. But the point is this: the story that he wrote, “Ape and Essence,” is not a story that other men want to hear. It’s a story that humanity turns its collective eyes from. It’s a story that owes its existence to the exigency of chance and luck. It goes against popular opinion. It isn’t comfortable. It isn’t easy to hear. But it does exist. It’s real.

So, what’s in the script? Well, the second part of the novel titled “The Script,” claims to be a verbatim reading. And it does read a lot like a movie script and begins with a short vignette, an allegory portraying men with power, world leaders, perhaps,  as apes controlled by an inexplicable need to destroy each other. The vignette closes with two warring factions, both in possession of an “Einstein” who pushes a button destroying the entire planet. Literally, this short scene represents a futuristic WWIII. It also represents the control that political powers have over scientific discovery; the “Einstein’s” are literally kept on leashes, and the devastating potential that science can achieve. Think: Prometheus bringing fire to man, except no positives outcomes, only destruction. A more contemporary comparison would be Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The message about the dangers of science is essentially the same.

From here, the script travels a hundred years or so into the future. With the exception of New Zealand, the entire world has been destroyed by nuclear blasts. The New Zealanders are scientists and in the midst of an exploration to California.

One of the scientists, Dr. Poole gets ambushed by the local Californian’s, a group of people who’s parents and grandparents somehow survived the initial nuclear blasts and weren’t killed by nuclear radiation.

From this point on, the suspense builds from a want to better understand these people. It becomes a milieu-based or world-building style narrative.

In the wake of nuclear catastrophe, Huxley creates a world where mankind has reverted to a state that is almost inhuman. He does this not by creating an absence of culture, but instead by describing a complete inversion of Western civilization. Instead of God, the people believe in Belial (the devil). Instead of Democracy, the people are ruled by despots (even though they call it a democracy, Animal Farm, anyone?). The women wear patches over their breasts that say “no”. They wear these patches over each of their orifices as well. The most grotesque manifestation of this new reality is in the mating ritual. Instead of marriages born out of love or arranged by parents or agreed upon by mutual recognition of common interests, the Belial worshippers engage in a yearly mating ritual in which any deformed children from the year before are slaughtered. Oh, I forgot to mention. The people are all deformed because of nuclear radiation. Any children who are “too” mutated are killed (This is Sparta!?!).

The slaughter is followed by an orgy. It isn’t a complete free for all. Much like deer during the rut, the men with the biggest horns get the women. The people in these scenes don’t seem like people at all. Reading these scenes was akin to watching the nature channel years ago, when all it ever showed was animals mating.

Much like in Brave New World, Huxley portrays women as a lower, unprivileged class whose main role in society is copulation. He goes further here, describing women as “vessel’s” for Belial. This brings about a strange irony: women are of a lower class because they carry “Belial” or evil with them; and yet, the people as a whole revel in, and celebrate Belial as their God. This also points out the inherent power that man, as an animal, has over women, as animals. Here, the men are shown as physically stronger, and the women are forced to “submit”. Although it isn’t clear, Huxley may have been commenting sarcastically about the inherent absurdity of gender inequality, showing that it’s a feature of our animal nature, not the part of our nature that makes us uniquely human.

After the ritual, our protagonist, Dr. Poole interviews the man who’s really in charge of this civilization, the head of The Church of Belial, the Arch-Vicor, and it’s from this Arch-Vicor the nature of this new world is fully explained, and for those who intend to read the book, I won’t spoil the reveal here, but I’ll give a hint: it has to do with the allegorical conversation from the beginning of the book regarding “Ghandi” and “Order”. He also reveals the reasons for the mating ritual and why the people are forbidden to have monogamous sexual relationships.

The novel concludes suspensefully. In spite of custom, Dr. Poole develops a romantic relationship with Loola, a native Californian who’s mutations are relatively unnoticeable: she has four nipples. Dr. Poole finds himself faced with a difficult choice: he can either join The Church of Belial and become a leader in the community (I forgot to mention that becoming a priest in this society requires surgery. Eunuchs), or he can leave with his new girlfriend in search of place that values individual freedom over collective order.

 

I won’t say how it ends. I hope you read it and please, feel free to comment below. There was so much more in this book then I had time to discuss and would love to hear your interpretations!

I’ll be posting my next Book for Men in two weeks. I’ll be reading and reviewing To Have and Have Not by Earnest Hemingway

Oh, and if you have any suggestions, know of any books that you think I should review, please let me know by posting them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 


Seein’ that its Tuesday

Seein’ that its Tuesday, I figured I’d dig up an old blog post and re-post it for all you who’ve just started following me. This one’s from my old Blog on Goodreads. It’s one of my Letters on Literary Devices, a fun, mock-epistolary take on literary critique. Hope you don’t mind sarcasm. Check her out!

 

LETTERS ON LITERARY DEVICES 3: MINOR CHARACTERS

To all you underdeveloped, two-dimensional, cardboard cut-out flat, uninteresting, unengaging, unrealistic, stereotypical characters out there that ain’t worth the key strokes your author wasted on your creation:
This letter’s for you.
If there is one thing that readers the world over seem to agree on it’s this: you and all your friends are the scum of the literary universe. Yea, I’m talkin’ ’bout all your buddies. The author surrogate, the foil, the stock character, parallel characters, dichotomous characters, all you bastardized step-children of the well-rounded, complex protagonist, and morally flawed antagonist who is still deserving of our empathy.Nine out of ten times (I made that statistic up) when I read a bad review of a novel it’s because one of you son’s of bitches decided to show up in an otherwise merit-worthy book.Characters like you are described as annoying, inconsistent, unimportant, unnecessary, strange, etc. etc. the list goes on and on, you get the idea. But if somehow you didn’t, allow me to be perfectly clear: readers hate your guts.

Now, I’ll be honest. There was a time in my life, a dark time, when I felt the same way too. I’m admitting it. I hated you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but what can I say, I was on this kick where I was into reading excruciatingly long novels by writers like Tolstoy and Steinbeck. There’s nothing quite like pages and pages of character development to turn a man against other elements of storytelling such as plot and conflict, allegory and symbolism, all those other aspects of a story that you and your pals are often used to create.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here. Most of the time when readers complain about a flat, underdeveloped character they are talking about the protagonist, the main guy or gal that the story is all about. And I admit, in many cases, an underdeveloped main character can ruin a story.

But you, the less developed minor character, I got your back. I’m on your side. I know you serve a purpose.

Whether your author created you to speak his her own opinions, to serve as the ying for the protagonist’s yang, to represent a stereotypical idea, to serve as a exclamation point highlighting a major characters attributes, or to represent a contrasting extreme, I know you’re doing your job, and I like you now (Sorry if that last sentence didn’t make sense. Each item in the list is a playful definition of the bastardized step-children mentioned in paragraph three).

Yes, I admit it, I have changed my beliefs on characters. And with a newly opened mind I can’t help but wonder: have I been wrong all along. Have I and readers everywhere assumed unfairly that it is well-rounded characters above all else that make a book worth reading?

And immediately I am struck with a realization. There are some seriously flat characters, from some seriously enjoyable classic books that I found to be both gripping and interesting. Coriolanus from Coriolanus, Barkis from David Copperfield, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. These characters, a protagonist, a minor character, and an antagonist are all flat as can be, all have a single motivation, and yet, each holds my interest.

Why? That’s the question. Why? Each for a different reason I suppose. The first’s inability to change leads to his tragic, and suspenseful downfall. The second’s singularity in purpose serves to develop an important theme. The third’s desire for revenge swallows both him and his entire crew alive.

Although none of the above mentioned characters could be described as round, each contributes allegorical significance to their respective stories, and each functions as a driving force in the plot.

Even though I still love characters, well developed characters that serve as the sole purpose in a character driven novel, I can see now, that stories don’t have to be about characters and characters only.

Come to think of it, I don’t think us readers give you less developed characters enough credit. And I think we’ve been a little hard on those authors that have chosen you over your more fully developed counterparts. It’s funny really. It’s ironic. With all the criticism out there, and all the pressure for authors to develop characters, we, as readers, for the sake of rounding out characters, have limited an author’s ability to create a well-rounded book.

So, in conclusion, I hope you forgive me for past prejudice. I was harsh, but I’m sorry, and I’d like to be friends.

Sincerely,
Your New BFF, Eric James-Olson


It’s Monday…How about a book excerpt?

Hey people,

It’s Monday again.  To start the week off right I have a book excerpt for you. Don’t worry. It’s not inspirational or campy or a bunch of crap.

Before I show the excerpt, however, I’d like to give some context. A few days ago I received an e-mail from an author in response to a post I wrote: Flashback: Letters on LD 2. The post gave an example of how the repetition of images can be used to show confusion in a character. In her e-mail the author asked, “So what emotions can repetition be used to show?” And my answer to that is simple: any emotion as long as emotional weight is given to the repeated image. Some images are already loaded with emotion. These are sometimes referred to as cultural symbols. Objects such as prison bars, hearts, doors,  and horizons come pre-packaged with collectively prescribed emotions. Other objects require a some symbolic development by the author. Our culture hasn’t assigned any particular symbolic or emotional significance to extension cords or garage door openers. But, believe it or not, an author could develop these into emotional or symbolic images if he or she wished to. Anyway, in the following excerpt from The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited, I used the repetition of images to show a characters growing insanity, fear, moral deprivation, need for submission from his wife. Look for when the character mentions tits, food, and water. Hope you enjoy it! Happy Monday! (Oh, and one last thing. I know that character is sexist. In context with the rest of the book, his actions are NOT condoned.

 

The_Church_Peak_Hote_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

from: The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited

For the rest of that night, I sat by the door. I didn’t eat. I didn’t drink. I sat with my knife in my hand, ready. After a while Mayra got up. She wasn’t crying anymore. She seemed like her bitchy self. Whenever I looked over at her, she had a stupid, angry look on her face. She wanted me to see that look. She wanted me to see it.

Morning must have come, but no light came through the solid black of the steel shutter. Every now and then, I looked through the peep-hole. It was black out there now. The flickering light was gone. Maybe he was sitting out there. Maybe he wasn’t. There was no way to tell.

“You can’t sit there all day,” Mayra said. Her arms were folded tightly across her little tits. “Do you want some water?”

I told her that I did. She was looking relatively less bitchy, but I still answered like a smart-ass.

“Well, fuck you,” she said. “Get your own fucking water.”

After that she paced around the room with her folded arms tight against her tiny tits. What a fuckin’ bitch. That’s all I could think. I kept thinking, She’s a bitch; she’s a bitch; she’s a bitch. I couldn’t think about the boy who trapped us in there. I couldn’t think about how it was I who brought us here. It was I who wanted the story. It was I who was responsible for everything. All I could think about was how much of a bitch she was being.

I didn’t try to apologize or make it up to her. I just let her pace the room. I got up with my knife in my hand. I walked towards my backpack. I pulled out the water bottle. I took a drink.

 

For the rest of the day, I sat in a chair next to the door. I listened. I listened closely for the sound of feet walking down the hallway. All day I sat there. All day I heard nothing.

Mayra made herself useful. She brought me food every so often. At one point she fell asleep. That was around noon. I remember because I made a point to check my watch. In the afternoon she tried to talk to me. It was that nervous type of chatter that some women can’t help but do. I told her to keep her mouth shut, and she did.

 

Evening came, and I was exhausted. Mayra brought me food. I ate, and my eyes started getting heavy.

I woke up to that feeling of falling. The room was dark. “What the fuck – Mayra, what the fuck!”

“I turned it off so you could sleep.” She said that and then the dim light from her lantern filled the room.

“You let me sleep.” I said. “You let me sleep! You let me fuckin’ sleep!” I screamed and screamed. I don’t even remember the words I called her. I walked across the room. My knife was in my hand. I held her by the throat. I remember holding her and seeing that fear in her eyes. She would have let me do it. She would’ve…

(The subject stopped speaking abruptly. He had been sitting straight up. But when he stopped speaking, he slouched forward. A distant look came to his eyes. He sat like that for several minutes)

Mr. Jeffries.

(The subject appeared surprised to see us)

Mr. Jeffries. Continue, please.

Right. Right.

You were speaking about holding a knife up to your wife.

Right. I did do that. Right. I had forgotten. But. I wasn’t going to tell you that. But I did. I guess it’s alright. I feel like I know you. I do. I know you.

Yes, it does feel that way. Could you continue, please?

Right. Well, I didn’t kill her. She was afraid, and that was enough. Sometimes you just have to scare someone into doing what you want them to do. That’s really what the world is all about. Think about it. That’s what the world has always been about. It’s not about killing. That’s counterproductive. It’s fear. It’s fear that gets you what you want.

Right, so, after that she didn’t let me fall asleep. I stayed by the door. I was there to protect us. I stayed by the door and she brought me water and food. There was a madman out there, an enemy, and it was my job to protect us from him. It wasn’t asking too much when Mayra brought over a water bottle or a meal bar. No, it was fair.

And at some point it was night. If not for our watches, we couldn’t have known. It was always the same color in that room. There were the same shadows on the walls, the same shadow underneath the bed, the same shadow cast from Mayra’s nervous body. Her arms weren’t folded across her little tits anymore. She wasn’t calm, but at least she knew well enough to keep from annoying me. There was no point in her showing me her anger anymore. There was just no point, so she kept her arms to her sides and no expression on her face.

It was a shame really. I liked the way her tits looked with her arms folded across.

 

And that’s it. Repeating images. Please feel free to comment below. Love to hear from you!

Author’s: If you have an excerpt that you would like me to share next week send me an e-mail: ejamesolson1@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you.

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale. They are priced between 2.99 and 3.99.  Check out these links if you’re interested:

 

But_the_Angels_Never_Cover_for_Kindle

 

Farmers_and__Canniba_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

Just_After_the_Fall_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!

 


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