30 September, 2013

Painting a Clown Face on the Mona Lisa

Subtitled:  "The Hobbit: The Never Ending Journey"

I tried to resist writing this, perhaps for long enough that it's no longer topical and nobody cares. Then I went to IMDB and was horrified to see the 8.1 rating of The Hobbit. I looked out of curiosity, and I have very nearly lost my faith in humanity.


Story: 10/10. It's the Hobbit. It's one of the greatest stories ever told, in my opinion.

Execution: I'm too offended to give a number.

The Hobbit is not the crowning achievement of Tolkien's. Lord of the Rings changed Fantasy Fiction forever with its anthropological depth and detailed world building. But as far as the quality of narrative, The Hobbit is an unassuming, honest story that reads brilliantly from beginning to end. By contrast, LOTR delves for long passages into desultory details of the world that are fascinating if you've already decided to make yourself love Middle Earth, but rather laborious if you haven't. Again, LOTR is ingenious, but The Hobbit is honest, good fiction, and better told in my opinion.

Why belabor this point? It's exactly what the film failed to accomplish. The book is simple, short, punchy, beautiful. The trilogy (TRILOGY!!!) of films will, in the end, go on for 9 hours.

Is there plot and/or character material to keep the story going for that long.  H*** F*****G **IT B**CH NO!!!!!

The first fight scene probably lasts around thirty minutes. I am not exaggerating. The story is padded not with character or plot or setting or anything of value. It's not even padded with really cool violence. It's padded with dwarves falling off cliffs. Seriously. Not exaggerating. You must spend a good twenty minutes of the film just watching dwarves fall off cliffs. Then they hit their heads after 100-300 metre drops and still feel fine. Much of the rest of the padding consists of things that could make a dwarf fall off a cliff, like orcs, or rock monsters, or more orcs, or some other less interesting monster.

It could easily be forty minutes of dwarves falling off cliffs. I lost count when my brain turned to mush. Either way, there's probably 1.5 hours here of dwarves fighting and falling. I'm not exaggerating.

You will spend a good 2 hours, probably 2.5 hours, watching fight scenes and landscapes. There is enough story in The Hobbit for maybe, at a serious stretch, 2 and a half hours. A punchy, compact and excellent story could not exceed 2 hours.  The story of The Hobbit would make one of the best 2 hours of cinematic experience you'd ever see.  It is a superb story, worthy of a superb movie. What Peter Jackson has done is not only make something offensively garish out of one of the best stories ever told but he's created an offense to art itself. He has made a clown drawing and called it the Mona Lisa.

Honestly, and again I must stress that I'm not exaggerating, I would like to see Peter Jackson punished for this. I would like to see law suits, violence, him falling off a cliff for at least 20 minutes, fighting orcs for one and a half hours. Make him fall off a cliff for 40 minutes just to be safe. Then see if he shakes his head and feels fine afterwards. If so, make another two films out of it. This film is an offense to cinema, to Fantasy Fiction, to Tolkien and to the artistic traditions of our culture.

If I were in charge of the Tolkien estate, I'd be filing a law suit.

Burn, Peter Jackson. I hope you hang your head in shame for at least two hours of every day, and it should probably be two and a half hours just to be safe. If the next movie doesn't begin with a personal apology, I'm not watching it.

27 September, 2013

Correspondence Tuition and Editorial Critique

I wish to offer my readers manuscript guidance and correspondence tuition.

My credentials include two postgraduate degrees in Creative Writing, a PGCE in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, co-founder and editor of Ripple Magazine, Seminar Leader at Kingston University, and of course many years of selling short fiction all around the world.

I'm trained and qualified to teach Creative Writing. I was lucky enough to learn from the best, including Steve Erickson, Paul McAuley, Scott Bradfield, Rachel Cusk, Stephen Jones, Christopher Priest and many others. Upon request, atop your manuscript critique I'll point you in the right direction, having assessed your strengths and weaknesses, suggesting authors worthy of study and general areas of focus.

I charge:

£8 for up to 1000 words.

£12 for 1000-1500

£15 for 1500-2000

£20 for 2000-3000

£25 for 3000-4000

I am of course willing to round down . If, let's say, your manuscript is 1,050 words or something silly like that, I won't charge you an extra £4 for 50 words.

Prices for longer pieces can be negotiated. The longer it is, the less money you'll spend per word.

Send your manuscript as a .doc, .docx or .rtf file and I will smother it in red text, strikethroughs and brackets, and send it back to you mangled and ready for improvement. Along with craft advice, I will suggest markets to which I believe your work could sell.

If interested, please contact me at wm.luke.everest@gmail.com or use the comments section below and we'll swap email addresses. Feel free to contact me beforehand with further questions, but please do so via the comments section below. Please also feel free to leave feedback below!

I cannot guarantee your story will be ready for publication after my critique. I can guarantee that your work will improve, and most importantly, you'll receive direction in a long, often baffling and almost always lonely learning process.

For correspondence tuition, lessons will be set according to a student's level and needs. For instance, if you're having trouble generating ideas that you feel confident in, after a conversation to help me determine how/why you feel stuck and what kind of stuff you want to write, I'll offer writing assignments designed to help you break free of your slump and achieve your long term goals.

I'll recommend study materials which will include articles on the art of writing and books worthy of analysis, all specifically tailored to your needs. Reading assignments will be based on areas for improvement and general aspirations. A science fiction aspirant will receive different reading lists to a literary aspirant.

The initial consultation is free. Contact me if interested.

Beyond that, I charge £30 per lesson. This includes the price of a manuscript critique (up to 2,500 words) a one on one tutorial session via skype (30mins) about my critique, answering any questions you may have and going into further detail with general issues, and future guidance (or homework, as some unpleasantly label it) tailored to your needs.

For longer packages, I charge

£150 for six lessons (effectively giving you the sixth one free)

£200 for ten lessons

24 September, 2013

Exclamation Points at Home are a Sign of Poor Planning at Work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You'll notice many of my novel-related posts are riddled with exclamation marks. This is for good reason...! Partly, those are how I stay awake these days, and partly, those are just how I feel. (!)

Write an outline as you go! Seriously, do it! For the love of Gandalf!

If it were socially appropriate for me to walk around with a reminder note dangling before my face from a straw taped to the top of my head, it would say this.

When you take stock of your plot, you will benefit tremendously from having a scene by scene outline. And it will be a massive pain in the ass--if Donkey Kong were a baboon the pain could even spread to encompass his massive, extravagant buttocks--to go back over and read your entire book, writing a summary from start to finish. I, through not following my own advice, have now had to do this five times. I know it's good to read your book over and over, but it's demotivating to realise that's all you can do for a few days: read, summarise, read, summarise, find gun, summarise, read, aim, kill self.....

Seriously. It sucks. (!)

Other than the obvious, "What happens?", here's some stuff to make note of in each summary:

What has each character revealed about themselves? This goes for a particular look your POV character has noticed (he clicks his tongue when he's nervous, he likes hats, whatever) to a deep secret. Note everything. You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget, and find yourself carefully sculpting another description only to discover you've just wasted an hour.

Ditto for the setting, if that's relevant.

What has your character learned? In a way, the first two things fall into this category, but I mean this in terms of plot. If it's a character novel, how have they grown? If it's a crime mystery, what clues have they uncovered, and also how have they grown? Note everything, even if it seems irrelevant. Once you get to the denouement, it won't be.

Even more importantly (I'll touch on it now and write a post about it later) what does your character want?

Note anything, even if it's just a phrase, that you're going to refer back to. If you discover this later (as in, if you discover that you're going to refer back to something after having already done so unconsciously, or just deciding to after the fact) go back and change your outline. Do it right then! Otherwise you might forget! In a good book, you'll probably refer back a lot, and it's a pain big enough for Donkey Kong's ass, even if he were a baboon, to go back and find them from the huge mess of text.

As far as I can tell, that's about it. Note them in detail, though. My advice is to have two versions of your outline, printed and sitting on your desk. In one, have the details. In the other, just have a sentence or two describing the action at its most basic level. That simplistic version will be handy for jumping around the text. There's "document map" in MS Word, but sadly it's been programmed by small children and/or monkeys. It's horrible. Seriously. If the people who programmed it weren't innocent children and/or cute fuzzy monkeys, if they were adults who performed the atrocities deliberately and knowingly, then they should be sent to prison. Furthermore, having things in outline form on paper will mean you can look at it and your novel at once. Also, and better still, you'll see the shape of each chapter. It's very handy. (!)

16 September, 2013

"Character," Christopher Priest said to me

I had the honour of meeting Christopher Priest. He gave a talk/reading at my old university and Ruth (my fiance, whom I met on the MA) and I were invited to attend. In the Q and A session, I selfishly pestered him with far more questions than anyone else. Yes, call me a douche bag, but I was the douche bag who got the most out of the Q and A session, so there you go.

I told him I'd gotten stuck in my book. I'd pulled the trigger before I'd aimed the gun, and I was writing my way out of a black hole (all of this I've mentioned in the blog many times). I asked what a professional, Chris Nolan and Stephen Spielberg (who's expressed interest in The Separation) attracting author would do and/or focus on to get out of the mess.

"Character," he said to me, nodding and looking right into my eyes. Amazingly, that one word made perfect sense, and changed my perspective.

The book isn't about stuff happening. I was struggling so hard to make it all feel unified, I hadn't let myself sit back and take stock. Who is my character really? What does he want/need/feel? I had to know all this on the deepest level, because it's character that makes great fiction. Every scene should be about (not just infused with, but actually 100% about) my main character's emotional needs. The plot is a question of those needs. Otherwise there's no story.

Christopher Priest's one word lesson helped more with my book than anything I've come across.

I was reminded very strongly of something Scott Bradfield and Paul McAuley each said to me on separate occasions:  "The reader follows the character, not the story." It seems great craftsman are in agreement on that score.

04 September, 2013

Oversimplifying Under-simplifications

In an old post, "Spank Me", I mentioned getting hard-core (interpret that as you will) advice from my agent. Another interesting thing happened in a little back and forth we had afterwards. She asked me to describe the plot on simple terms. I did so in three or four paragraphs, seemingly little for an 80-100,000 page book. She questioned me in some depth and finally said, "So it's about a (thing happening) in a therapeutic hospital that you want perceived as an evil one."

"Curses!" I thought. What an oversimplification! Does that mean she hates the book because it's too smegging simple!? I've worked hard to lend that idea depth. I wrote back something along the lines of "Yes, essentially, but I want the reader to take my main character's side. I want to challenge their values, make them understand something very few people understand, and generally make the evil thing seem like a really meaningful, but also just plain cool, engaging thing." Blah, blah, blah. There was more than that, but that's the gist. Literally seconds after clicking the "send" button, I realised what Leslie was doing.

"If you can't explain a concept in simplistic terms, you don't truly understand the concept," as Albert Einstein said. I love Einstein quotes. He had a terrific clarity of thought and way with words.

(Another I use to justify myself:  "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" And yes, I know the guy in "The Big Bang Theory" television show quoted him as "messy desk", but he was wrong.)

So anyway, there we had it. One sentence, almost insultingly (at first) simplistically described a work I'd put half a year into, and made quite multi-layered and action-infused, if I do say so myself. It had covered the baseline of my plot in a way that at first glance made it look crap. But if I understand how to describe it in a sentence, and can also describe what I want the reader to feel in a sentence (which I won't reveal), I can have tremendous clarity of thought and purpose in writing the book. I can even have a way with words.