Fiction and Reality, Part Three

This is practically getting to be a series by now.

I’ve written before about characterization and how to make your people realistic: today I’m going to write about how to craft a realistic plot.  I mean, we’ve all read stories that rely far too much on coincidence.  We’ve all seen plots that hinge entirely on a character doing a 180-degree personality turn. We are all highly familiar with the deus ex machina.

When you write real people, characters have this super annoying habit of not doing what you need them to do, so dei ex machina are pretty commonplace.  Ship plunging helplessly into a black hole? Random future-people aliens will save your ass.  Death Star bearing down on your planet? Hey, some genius built an exhaust shaft that leads straight to the core engine and rendered all those expensive shields worthless.  Good job.

It is so much more satisfying to have a character figure it out realistically.  So how do you write an organic ending?

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Words, Words, Words…

Here in Iowa City, the libraries are in pretty good shape.  Iowa City Public Library is one of my favorite places to hang out, and has in fact been the oasis from which I’ve written several of these blog posts.  The building is open, artistic, with a great selection.  The huge windows have a lovely view of the pedestrian mall outside, which itself is full of yarn-bombed trees.  Great place to sit and write.


Given my target demographic, I don’t think I really need to sell the idea of whole buildings full of books to you, but here’s the thing: back where I’m from, libraries aren’t in such a good shape.

Example: back in 2013, Fairfax County threw out thousands of perfectly good books.  The current director, Sam Clay, has been cutting funding for the libraries for years, and steadily culling the actual selection.  And all this despite the fact that people still love paper books, and overall library usage went up in 2014.


I’m writing this blog post because I want to dispel a few things I’ve heard floating around.

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My “Fra’as” Is Cooler Than Your “Hobbit”.

If you’ve been following my Twitter at all, you’ll know that I started reading Dune this past weekend.  Despite my many criticisms, I’m getting into it– I was sad to put it aside at the end of two hours.

Anyway, Frank Herbert’s devotion to inserting new vocabulary has my mind on language again.  Why is it that some authors’ use of invented language makes me giddy, and some just drives me up a wall? Why is Tolkien’s language more accessible than Herbert’s?  They’re doing the same thing, inserting an invented language into an epic work.  They’re both brilliant writers with high acclaim.  But Herbert’s made-up words are driving me nuts and make the book less accessible; Tolkien’s barely fazed me.  The difficulty that comes with reading his writing comes elsewhere.


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Livetweet Books: Artemis Fowl

So for the past few weeks I’ve been trying something new: livetweeting as I read a book on Twitter every Saturday at noon CST.  It usually lasts one to two hours, and I’ve been immensely enjoying this– I force myself to have time to read, and I get to read books I’ve been meaning to for ages.

If you’re interested in following as I livetweet, my Twitter handle is @AlexPenname, and I have a little widget that posts my last few Tweets on the sidebar of my blog.  You can also follow the tag #livetweetbooks and the name of whatever I’m reading that week. As of the writing of this review, I’m reading through Dune– and that’s bound to take a few weeks.

Anyway, my first chosen book was Artemis Fowl.  Loved it.

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Lessons from the Trophy Generation: The Meaning of Success

Last week I talked about learning from the lies our parents told us: I talked about how it’s okay to make mistakes, and that smarts don’t mean shit if you don’t work hard.  This week, I’m going to talk about the pressures we face.

High school for me was a whirlwind of hormones and bullshit.  I was disinterested in my schoolwork, I wasn’t as social as the rest of my peers, I didn’t buy into what the administration had to say… Oh, and they had a lot to say. “Focus on your work so you can be successful.” “Apply yourself so you can be successful.”  “Go to college so you can be successful.”

Now that I work in the school system myself, I see much the same thing. The phrasing hasn’t even changed: students are constantly told to do things without question in the name of success.  Not to mention, they’re constantly given examples of the unsuccessful: from grade one’s “Andrew is being very disrespectful” to high school’s “You don’t want to end up flipping burgers”.

But no one ever defines success.  It’s just this nebulous thing you’re supposed to strive for, the nirvana of the school system.

I don’t think it exists.

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