Friday, April 25, 2014

Deus Ex Machina

Deus ex Machina, or the God out of the Machine. What is it precisely? It's original reference comes from Greek plays. It means the day is saved through an act of God. As a basic example, let us imagine we are in a Greek amphitheater watching a play. The end of the play is coming, and the protagonist is fighting with the antagonist. The antagonist is a better warrior and soon the protagonist is flat on his back with the antagonist's spear hovering over the protagonist's heart. And you think "Ah-ha! This is going to be a tragedy." Suddenly, Zeus appears and strikes down the antagonist, saving the day. If you were to see such a play, you would probably leave the amphitheater feeling unsatisfied.

So what happened? The playwright likely found that he had written himself into a corner and had a time crunch. Thus, he chose a simple resolution. However, the audience was asking themselves "Where did Zeus come from." Zeus appeared only at the end. There was no mention of Zeus anywhere. The protagonist now seems cheapened, since he had nothing to do with the antagonist's defeat.

The advent of author's self-publishing has been a double edged sword. Authors who might otherwise be ignored by swamped publishers because the authors didn't include vampires, zombies, or some other "in thing," have an outlet for their creativity that can provide them with at least some additional income. On the other hand, quite of few of these self published authors have made beginners mistakes. Some of these mistakes are worse than others.

I won't mention names, since  I don't want to embarrass anyone. I've read science fiction's novel that began brilliantly. It was exciting. The concept was intriguing and fresh. However, I got to the end, and these aliens came out of no where and saved the day. It was a disappointing ending. In some Christian science fiction novels I've read, an evil immortal enemy is about to win when angles appear and defeat them.

What is the problem? Usually, people expect the protagonist to do something in the end.

So how does the author save the story? One thing they could do is rewrite that part so the antagonist does the work. However, suppose the story is better served is he doesn't? As in the Christian example, it could be a morality tale about trust in something greater than yourself. It can be tricky, but the author's who get away with it best will set it up early. The antagonist could be told that he has to reach a certain spot and perform a certain ritual before the angles come. Perhaps he or she has to find certain relics to perform this ritual. That way, the audience is blindsided. Second, it is established that the protagonist can't do it alone but does need to do certain things himself before he can get help.

I have read many, otherwise excellent novels that fall apart at the end due to the author skipping important steps.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kurt's Frontier: New Book Review Blog

Hi Folks,

As any who follow me may know, I do review books on Goodreads as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, depending on where I got the book.

I now also write reviews on Invincible Love of Reading under Kurt's Frontier. I am their Science Fiction/Fantasy guy. It's an exciting time for me. You can check it out at Thanks for that, Melissa.

How do I decide what to put up there. First, pretty much sci/fi and fantasy. Second, I take a mouth full and spit it into a fire. If it causes a potentially lethal explosion ... Okay, just kidding. I prepick the books from my TBR (to-be-read, for those who don't know). It's a combination of what looks interesting and a bit of "eeny meeny miny moe". That way I don't do too much cherry picking. This leaves open the possibility of a bad review.

I make that decision at the beginning of the month. When done, I write a review. If you see something along the lines of "Review to come" it means I want the review to appear on Kurt's Frontier first. That is usually the third Wednesday of the Month. That weekend I put it on goodreads with the stipulations that appeared on Invincible Love of Reading first. 

I will guarantee an honest opinion in any review I write. I will also say that (at least from this point on) I will post my reviews at least on goodreads. I will not guarantee it will appear on Kurt's Frontier, even if you ask.

I reserve to myself the right to refuse to review a book, as do most reviewers, professional, semi-professional, and amateur. So far, I don't turn many books away, but that could change, depending on my work load. Remember I write myself and I teach. It can also depend on the level of interest or how big my TBR pile is getting.

Thank you to those who follow my reviews. I hope you continue to find them useful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On the Cutting Room Floor

Part of the reason this post is so late is that I really wasn't sure what to write about. Now I've got something.

I was once told that Mark Twain's wife use to edit his books for him. His biggest complaint was that she always made him take out his favorite parts. I don't know what was in those parts, but I can make some good guesses.

I had just such a moment myself recently while going over the sequel for Price of Vengeance, Promise of Mercy. Not to give too much away, but it takes place approximately 25 years after the events of Price of Vengeance. For those of you who may not have read the book, the hero, Liam, has married the girl he loved, Celinia. In the intervening years, they have had four children. The oldest are identical triplet girls, Deirdre, Aisling, and Bayvin. They also have a son named Aidan. The girls have just completed their advanced military training.

Okay, there's the background. The problem came up when one of the pivotal characters who was allied with the antagonist, was being uncooperative. He was basically threatened with castration. It was a great series of scenes that built one on top of the other. First, Deirdre's uncle hinted that she had made an enemy eat his own privates. (It was a bluff.) She later built on this to make him order his people to surrender. (She told him that if he did, he'd get to keep his lovely baritone voice.) There was one other part where this came into play, but I think that's enough.

Like Mark Twain, I have an editor. I call her Mom. She raised some objections to this sequence of scenes. Primarily, the first book was made to be readable by a younger crowd. I was stubborn. I put a lot of work into those scenes. I rationalized that kids no more about these things than adults want to believe. It shouldn't be a problem.

My warning signs should have been how much fun I had writing them. The person who taught me about plotting (see last blog) warned me that this could often be the case. He's also the one who told me about Mark Twain.

So what made me see the light? My brother gave a manuscript to my 11 year old niece. When she got to that part she went to her mother and said, "Should I be reading this?"

Don't you hate it when mom's right?

Moral of the story. There is no part of your prose that is so sacred that you might not have to sacrifice it. Remember (and I think I'm paraphrasing one of my teachers) you don't judge great writing by the quality of what you put in, but by the quality of what you take out. If great things have to go to make the story work as it should, then take it as a good sign.n