Book Review: Parable of the Sower

(Reed’s song of the day: Pirates, by Bullets and Octane)

Hey all,

I’ll be doing a lot of book reviews in the coming few months since I stocked up on new books at the LA Times Festival of Books! I hope to be bringing you some great picks for new voices in SFF.

Today’s book, however, actually came recommended from a friend. Thanks Audrey! Let’s dive in.


Title: Parable of the Sower

Author: Octavia Butler

Genre: Postapocalyptic low sci-fi, spiritualism

Premise: A young woman lives in a near-future earth gone straight to hell. Water and food scarcity, masses of homeless and criminals roving uninhabited, dried-up California, walled communities barely kept separate from the gangs… it’s kind of like The Walking Dead except without any zombies. This woman, Lauren, chronicles her experiences first in her home town and then on the highway heading north, trying to survive while debating with herself about life, religion, and the importance of things.

So like I said, my friend recommended this one to me and I happily accepted; I’ve been wanting to read some of Octavia Butler’s work for quite a while now and never got around to it. It’s interesting because, despite being science fiction, it’s really nothing like the usual Dune or Foundation or Ender’s Game. There’s no space exploration or alien races, no ridiculous technologies and organizations. You don’t have to memorize a long list of acronyms.

It’s much more low sci-fi than that – somewhere between Book of Eli and The Walking Dead. The book is written in the fashion of a young woman’s diary, chronicling her daily experience with the various horrors greeting the post-apocalyptic teenager. But what’s more interesting than that is that a decent portion of the book is dedicated to Lauren’s thoughts on religion – her dad is a pastor, but she’s creating her own belief system named Earthseed.

Lauren travels around, gathering people up into a little group from which to form a small Earthseed community. There’s a lot of debating spirituality and philosophy interspersed with graphic murder and heart-pounding action, which makes for an interesting read. Honestly, fans of Kent Wayne’s Echo series might like this, although I find it reads very differently.

So here’s the thing about this book. It’s very slow-moving and takes quite a bit of time to build up momentum, like a lot of sci-fi. I won’t lie; I had to struggle a bit through the first eighty or so pages. But once things started to pick up, I began to get invested very quickly.

I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite novel, but the strong points in it are very strong. The spirituality is an interesting twist and evokes some sincere thought on the reader’s standpoint; the characters are engaging and relatable; and the little bits of science fiction sprinkled throughout are tantalizing, with interesting applications.

On the not-so-great side, there’s the slow, gradual pace. There’s also a lot of comma splicing that drives the grammar part of my mind nuts (petty, I know, but some people will definitely be put off by it). It’s written as a journal, but it has all the commas, of a person, speaking, and thinking, about what they’re saying, and making, those little characteristic pauses we make, when we talk, you know what I mean?

Overall, though, it was a pretty solid novel. I would recommend it for anyone who likes their genre fiction served in a dense, creamy spirituality sauce.

Reed’s Rating: 7.5/10

Yours, getting into dat vampire suspense next,

-R.R. Buck

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I’m Stoked.

(Reed’s song of the day: Africa, by Toto)

Hi all,

Well, this post is going to go pretty much nowhere. As a matter of fact, I was thinking I wasn’t going to write anything today, but I wanted to share something with you all.

I’m stoked.

I had a great week last week. I got to go back to my hometown and hang out with my parents, as well as my high school best friend (whom I haven’t seen in over a year). During that time I had the opportunity to speak to a few of my high school teachers and ask them about the path to becoming a teacher.

Being away from Los Angeles and the pressures I face here was awesome. Spending time with my best friend and my parents was even more awesome. Everything was so restful and quiet – I got to write, read, and play video games for like six hours a day and think of nothing.

Then I went back up to LA, taking my friend with me, and we met up with other friends for a birthday party. There were people there from all aspects of my life – my apartment cohort, my lab, my hometown, and my previous job – but the group was still small and intimate.

Sitting back, watching them joke with each other as though they’d been friends forever, I realized how blessed and lucky I am. And really, that’s what it is – I am so lucky to have the friends I have. It’s like my one talent in this life is to find really incredible people and bring them together.

I was afraid this summer was going to be lonely, and I’m sure in some ways it will be. But so far, all I’ve really felt is stoked to be in such contact with so many wonderful people. I need to write more Life Counselors posts because all of them deserve my sincerest gratitude.

That’s all I really wanted to say, other than that I have my next steps ready for my career path. I’m going to go into substitute teaching! So I’m sure I’ll have more life updates after getting started on that.

Overall, I’m just stoked. I hope you’re all doing as well as I am right now. If you’re not, see if you can spend some time with a friend or someone you love soon. They’re bound to cheer you up.

Yours, sappy as a maple tree,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#6 – The Dialogue Checklist]

(Reed’s song of the day: We Built This City, by Starship)

Hi friends!

Before we get started here, I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to my friend and fellow writer Audrey Miano, who’s started her own blog. She’s a great writer and I can’t wait to see how her blog develops.

You can find it here: https://www.audreymiano.com/

Enjoy!


Aight, let’s be real for a second. At the four-month mark a few days ago, I was mostly through editing the seventh chapter of my novel, Sleeper.

Not even seven chapters in four months. Suffice to say, editing is going terribly.

But when I think back to my first attempts at writing and how long it took to get good at that, I feel like I need to relax a little bit and let myself be terrible for a time. I’ve not ever really tried to self-edit before, and I’m going at it blindly for the most part. (If you recall, I’m really bad at researching writing advice.)

Well, it should be a mark of how badly it’s going that I actually went out and bought a self-editing book. It’s called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and I now own both versions of it. I would highly recommend it for anyone who’s having difficulty editing, as it breaks down the process into a few easy-to-manage steps. It even has practice exercises at the end of each chapter which I don’t do because, as we’ve established, I’m a little bitch.

BUT I’M GETTING BETTER!

Anyway, I wanted to take some insights I’ve had from dialogue editing (of which I’ve been doing a disgusting amount) and combine them with what Self-Editing teaches to give you a little dialogue checklist for each scene. Hopefully it helps!

Let’s dive in:

1. Strip adverbs and emotional language from the dialogue mechanics.

This is something we all do as new writers. “What the hell are you doing here?” does not require she shouted angrily to be understood. We can tell from the dialogue itself that this person is upset – that’s what makes it good dialogue. So if you’re leaning on props like adverbial descriptions or different ways of saying “said”, stop. Instead, make the dialogue completely clear and powerful and it’ll speak for itself.

Here’s an example of dialogue I’ve written where (I hope) the characters’ opinions towards each other come across without one single “she shouted” or “she whispered forcefully”:

“So then what would make ‘em move down there?” Lena played with a coin, rolling it between her fingers. One of the nonpareil rounds from the initial payment.

Damn, but she was good. And a liability. Still, she was one of the best in New Tix, and she had been able to find out where Orrie had kept her incoming messages. Without Lena, Melira wouldn’t have been able to steal this client in the first place.

“Lena, put that down and let’s speak seriously,” Melira said.

“Right,” Lena said, tapping the coin against the edge of Melira’s desk – but not quite putting it down. “Actually, we haven’t had us a serious chat about my fee.”

“We agreed ten percent off the top, withholding any bonuses.”

“Right, but that was before I ended up doing all the work besides wringing the poor sod’s neck myself. The way I see it, I should be getting half… including the bonuses.”

2. Adjust interior monologue as necessary.

One of the helpful tips from Self-Editing was the other half of the ’emotional language’ question – if I remove emotional language from my dialogue mechanics, where do I put it back in? Besides the obvious answer (the dialogue itself), you can also add it back in using internal monologue. Of course, you have to strike a good balance; doing it too much will make a reader feel as though they’re being handed a character’s emotional state, whereas doing it too little will leave the reader feeling disconnected from your characters entirely.

Let’s look again at the example dialogue snippet I provided above, but specifically at Melira’s internal monologue:

Damn, but she was good. And a liability. Still, she was one of the best in New Tix, and she had been able to find out where Orrie had kept her incoming messages. Without Lena, Melira wouldn’t have been able to steal this client in the first place. 

This text tells us a decent amount about both Melira and Lena and helps to establish the power dynamic in the conversation which sets up for the later dialogue about payment.

 

3. Adjust beats as necessary.

Beats are the bits of action that occur during a scene. Someone pausing to walk to the window, light a cigarette, or toss their hair – these are all beats. I’ve noticed one of the most subtle problems in my writing is that I lean on beats far too much in dialogue instead of just letting the characters talk. Self-Editing helped me remember beats are supposed to be just frequent enough to break up multiple lines of dialogue and give the reader a jump-start to their imagination while still allowing the reader to draw up most of the scene.

So let’s take a look at the beats in my example:

Lena played with a coin, rolling it between her fingers.

Lena said, tapping the coin against the edge of Melira’s desk – but not quite putting it down.

See, this is one of the few times where my beats were actually good for multiple purposes. They broke up lines of dialogue and gave a hint of what was happening without being overbearing, but they also served another purpose in showing us Lena’s greed and distrust/disrespect of Melira.

If only I could write good beats more often.

4. Read it aloud and see if it sounds right.

Ah, the one I never do. I keep telling myself I will, but I don’t. Even though literally every book I’ve read on writing says I should read it aloud.

The reason we have to do this is to see whether the conversation sounds realistic and is achieving the tone we’re trying to accomplish. Oftentimes things come out when we’re reading aloud that seemed to make sense in print but don’t really sound very good.

We can also hear how characters’ voices sound aloud. If we read through my dialogue scene, we can hear Lena’s more rough word choices – for instance “poor sod” – next to Melira’s more cultured voice – as in “withholding”.

So, to recap:

1. Strip adverbs and emotional language from the dialogue mechanics.

2. Adjust interior monologue as necessary.

3. Adjust beats as necessary.

4. Read it aloud and see if it sounds right.

If you go through all four of these, you’ll probably catch most errors in juvenile dialogue writing. Whether or not it will actually make your dialogue incredible… well, probably not. It certainly hasn’t to mine. But it will put you on the right path, and that’s the place to start….

And I say hey! What a wonderful kind of day….

Okay, reference over. Have a good day everyone!

Yours, dia-lagging,

-R.R. Buck

When the Drum Ceases to Beat [Shitty Poetry]

(Reed’s playlist for the occasion: the entire contents of my old Ipod Touch)

Hi all,

I’m having a terrible time editing my novel, so I’m gonna break to write something else. This one goes out to all the pairs of shitty headphones I’ve ever had.

Enjoy!


Hear music around him always. Hear it slip from leaky headphones. Notes like fish, awash at sea, carried on the crashing waves.

Monday morning it’s ’80s classics. Wednesday night a movie score. The sound itself seems not to matter, as long as drums are at its heart.

Tinny echoes resound around him – flashes of his oldest friends are summoned up in voice and rhythm to carry him from place to place.

He knows them like he knows a lover. He knows the instruments by rote. And every day the open air takes some of them away, but does he care?

Oh, no, because the beauty in the sound is in its fleeting life. The beauty in the drums is that one day they’ll cease to beat for him. But every strangled moment when the sound is lost to open air, he can fill it in his mind and come to be a part of it. He can take his place amongst the Robert Plants and Dire Straits; he can be first chair at the greatest performance ever played.

So when his headphones come to fray. When the sound cuts in and out. Frustration will rule him a moment in the maddening silence. But when the drum ceases to beat, and when the music has dried up….

He’ll carry it with him always. The memories of friends who’ve gone.


Yours, in harmony,

-R.R. Buck

Life Counselor #6

(Reed’s song of the day: Show Your Face, by Balance and Composure)

Hello, o fearless leader of the Nudie Boys.

Hoo boy, this is going to be a hard one to write. I feel like every facet of what it means to be a brother, both the good and the bad, is prevalent in our relationship. We’ve been down a long, twisting road together. Somehow, we’re still doing pretty okay.

You have probably had more tangible impact on my life than anyone else, at least in sheer numbers (although Lindsay’s starting to get a leg up on you). You were the one to instruct me about philosophy and writing, the one who got me into punk rock and straight edge. You helped design the first tattoo I ever got and paid for it as a gift.

You’ve shown me what it means to be a thinking person. You’ve shown me how we can’t be content to ever just be content – that we have to keep moving forward, learning more, carving our path throughout the world. You’ve pushed me, and in some cases you’ve been the incentive for me to push myself. You were a standard I could never reach, but I kept trying anyway.

But honestly, I think some of the things you’ve taught me were things neither of us were really thinking about at the time. Some lessons I’ve had to take away myself with time, but you were the first person to plant that seed of thought (in some cases unconsciously).

Like the time you were going to see your ex, but I was having some sort of stupid girl troubles and you sat with me in the car for like a half hour, keeping her waiting, to make sure I was okay. I just remember being there and thinking, this is what I should be like to Trevor. This is who I want to be to the people I love.

And all of the times we’ve talked, all of the times I’ve had some sort of strange inferiority complex when speaking to you about a decision I’ve made, it’s forced me to realize – I need to have more confidence in my own capabilities. I need to not filter everything I think and do through the lens of your (or anyone’s) approval. And most importantly, I can accept offers of help, opinions, and even criticisms of myself without letting it impact me so damn much.

I’m still not great at treating you like a peer instead of a superior. There’s a decent amount I still have to let go. But I need you to know something.  I need you to know I’m learning and moving forward. I’m learning how to separate my personal validation from the comments people make on my work or my choices. I’m moving forward towards being centered and trusting myself.

I need you to know I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you the past few years. I had so much anger and such a lack of understanding. Every time you tried to help me or offer advice, I lashed out at you. I remember feeling so bitter all the time; I’m so glad that part is over. But there are still reparations to be made.

I need you to know that I know you care about me. Everything you do for me (even if it’s not something that’s best for me at the time) is because you want to see me succeed. I’ve been so lucky in my life to have a whole community of people standing behind me, rallying me and inspiring me to do more, and you’re straight in the middle of that. It may be only in hindsight, but I appreciate all that you’ve done for me.

I know it’s easy to find ourselves back home and regressing to our high school selves. I know it’s a lot harder to remind ourselves that we’ve all undergone an enormous amount of personal growth – and that the person we are now is not the person we remember the last time we saw each other. I think all of us are blind to the improvements the others have made.

But we’re improving. And I’m proud of you even as I’m proud of myself, because we’re starting to put the worst parts of ourselves to rest and become our most perfect selves.

I love you. I need to visit more. Even if all you want to do is play Fortnight.

Yours,

Little brother

Second Summer

(Reed’s Song of the Day: How Deep is Your Love, by Calvin Harris and Disciples)

I’m back, bitches.

I apologize for the hiatus; I was finishing out my last week at work, and then I had a friend over for the better part of a week. But now I am officially able to dedicate all my time, thoughts, and energy to you….

…because I’m once again unemployed.

I’ve had this happen two years in a row now. The UCLA Library employs me in limited appointment positions for 1,000 hours at a time. When that 1,000 hours is up, I’m out of a job and must take a few months of hiatus before I can be rehired. Or, that was the case last summer.

This time it’s a bit different. Apparently I can only have two limited appointment positions with the university before I have to be hired for a permanent career position. Which means I’m about to have some very interesting conversations with people in the Library.

The good news is, I have options. The bad news is, there’s no longer a guarantee I can find a position. But the whole thing isn’t nearly as worrisome to me as it was last summer. Which actually is the point I wanted to get to.

See, standing on the precipice over the long unemployed summer has given me the opportunity to examine how I feel now in relation to how I felt last summer, or the summer before when I was just graduated. And right now, I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made.

I don’t really remember how well I documented last summer in this blog, but if I can be completely frank here, it was kind of a mess. In fact, most of last year, or even most of the time since I’ve graduated from undergrad, I’ve been a mess. Somewhere between the quarter-life crisis, crippling insecurity about succeeding, and recent political developments, I’ve felt disillusioned about the world and my place in it.

A lot of it was tied into the work I was doing for the library in the 2016-17 academic year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, and I’ve developed a conceptualization of what I see as the “levels” of self-efficacy a new adult must feel in their jobs before they can be truly comfortable. Maybe it’s totally bullshit (probably is), but I’d like to share it anyway:

Level 1 – Having a job (which shows the adult somebody thinks they’re worth investing in, even if it’s as a fry cook at Burger King)

Level 2 – Having a job you actually care about (which shows the adult they can minimally succeed in their career field)

Level 3 –  Doing necessary work (I’ll explain this one a little better below)

Level 4 – Doing work no one else, or few others, would be able to do (which shows the adult they’re absolutely essential to the operation of their company)

I was really lucky upon graduation to have a job lined up for me – I was going to be an orientation counselor for UCLA for the summer. And while that job was great, fulfilling that Level 1 thing immediately, it came with a whole host of drawbacks. Suffice to say being an orientation counselor is not something I’d want to do for the rest of my life, even if I could.

Then I got lucky again and the Library wanted to hire me after graduation for the 2016-17 school year.  That was kind of hitting Level 2, although I didn’t know it yet – I was able to work in the academic field and start the path to being a teacher. But I still wasn’t quite at Level 3, which was one of the things I think weighed upon me.

Let me give an example. If you’re going to get coffee for other employees, making copies, and other such tasks, you’re doing work that is necessary for the company to run. But at the same time, it doesn’t quite feel (at least to me) like you’re doing something that feels completely integral. As if, if you weren’t doing that work, it would be a minor inconvenience to everyone, not a crippling of function.

When I was at that Level 2 last year, I felt like I was catching a lot of things that fell through the cracks for other employees, and in that, I was successful – but I wasn’t doing work of my own that really allowed me to flourish as an employee. It led to me wondering whether I was really an important part of the Library.

I’m really happy to say this year changed things for me. Not only did I have additional responsibilities with the Library which I felt were crucial, but I also was allowed to take on my own projects and roles, including that of instructor, which I felt were necessary to both myself and the Library as a whole.

I’m not quite at Level 4 yet – and I don’t think I will be until I finish graduate school and start as a teacher – but I feel so much more satisfied with myself than I did last year at the same point.

And more broadly, as I’m facing down my third summer since graduating from undergrad, I feel different. I feel like I understand the world and my place in it. I feel like my philosophy and outlook, even my goals for myself, were forced to flex and bend the last two years, but now they’ve finally grown back stronger. I feel more well-rounded as a person and as a young professional.

Basically, whereas the last two summers I had mental health issues and concerns for myself in the career field, I now find those pressures have lessened significantly. And maybe they won’t go away for a while, but I’m so okay with that right now.

If you’re struggling with that quarter-life crisis still, I want you to know I feel for you. It totally sucks trying to orient yourself in the world, especially if it’s the first time you have to do so.

Keep on. You can do this, I promise. And all of that struggle will make you stronger.

Love you, everyone. Glad to be back 😀

Yours, revamping that resume,

-R.R. Buck

Streed of Consciousness [Part 12 – The Beauty of Language]

(Reed’s song of the day: Cheap Beer, by FIDLAR)

I’m not going to say anything new or original here; I just want to reflect on some stuff many of us know but is still pretty cool.

I’ve been thinking a lot about linguistics and the formation of language recently. It’s been swirling around in my head ever since I decided to create my own language for my current writing project. Well, if I’m being honest, it’s more of a framework than a fully speakable language, but it’s still fun.

Language is great in science fiction and fantasy novels. It gives the reader a feeling of being in on some otherworldly or ancient lore; it makes the world feel more real; and it has all the appeal of another language without the buy-in and practice required to fully learn something.

But more than that, language is interconnected with culture and thought. When learning a new language, you get a glimpse into how those who speak that language understand the world around them. And you can see the interplay where the language shapes the formation of thought just as much as thought shapes the formation of language.

I haven’t studied linguistics, and I know so little about it that I’m working with a friend who has studied linguistics to create my fantasy language. But I love the way that even the sounds of words can indicate something about the culture they’re from. And, of course, idioms and choices of words also reveal that cultural lens – like how the Spanish phrase for “to give birth”, dar la luz, means literally “to give the light”.

When I started to create my new language, I thought a lot about kudrans, the race of people who speak it. These fictitious folk have lived tribally for much longer than other races, choosing to be a part of the land instead of reacting against it. Their earliest words had to be short, choppy, and harsh – the kind of words that get the attention of someone in a fight against a wild animal, or that impose dominance and hierarchy.

But over time the kudrans have been swept into mainstream society and learned from other cultures who consider themselves more “civilized”. And the kudrans, who have always been proud people, adopted the subtler, finer bits of their neighbors’ languages and incorporated into their own. Whereas old kudran words may sound like a harsh mix of Japanese, Russian, and Arabic, their newer words have more vowels and longer syllables – something closer to native Hawaiian.

Grammar and sentence structure also impact language a lot. I personally love to think about the Subject – Verb – Object (SVO) versus Object – Verb – Subject (OVS) format to sentences. SVO is how English is spoken, as in “I threw the ball.” OVS is more common in Eastern cultures, as in “The ball threw I.” When you look at the two sentences, you can see that SVO places emphasis on the person who’s doing the action – perfectly aligned with this Western concept of rugged individualism and action – whereas the OVS format places emphasis on what is being done, leaving the subject out until the end of the sentence.

Any good linguist is probably cringing right now at the way I’m misusing terminology. But hey, that’s what happens when you’re learning. And I’ll never be some Tolkein writing a dozen fully speakable languages, but at the very least I can borrow some of those principles, some of that knowledge, and make something cool to speak or read.

So ne-kieran, everyone. I hope you’re learning fascinating things today, too.

ke-zhol,

-R.R. Buck

Dialogue Scene from “Sleeper”

(Reed’s song of the day: High, by Sir Sly)

Hi all,

Just wanted to share some dialogue I just wrote and thought turned out pretty well for a first attempt. For context, Melira (the daughter) was caught talking to a member of a different race and social class during work, something Benn (the father) forbade her to do.

Enjoy!


The Government Ordinance building was a long rectangle, forming one of the five sides of the pentagonal middle sector of Kalin. Both the external facade and the internal decor were constructed from Renewal oak and pine, lacquered to a dull shine under the light of massive Hilan crystal chandeliers. The majority of the building was an indoor atrium, open and echoing, but there were also thin corridors running the outer perimeter at each floor and connecting to small offices.

From where Melira stood on the third floor, she could see all the way across to the opposite side of the building where managers and higher-level government workers paced these corridors in quiet conversation. But she ignored them for the frenetic pace of the Ordinance ground floor, or just “the floor”, as the workers called it.

Here, in the bottom of the atrium, desks and cubicles were crammed into the space with hardly a thin dividing wall between them. Workers scribbled frantically on paper or parchment or vellum; peelees scurried in between hurrying operans, carrying notices and requests; and every once in a while, a person would stand triumphantly, clutching a paper, and hurry towards the nearest staircase to the upper corridors.

These lowest level workers mostly gathered data on the workings of the city. They collaborated with the Cityscaping Ordinance and to some extent with the other three Ordinances to collect information which they then passed on to employees at the analysis level to ultimately bring to the Head Governor. They were exclusively middle-tier operans with dreams of glory and putting their family’s name on the list for a barony. Their determination and dedication could be felt in the energy of the Ordinance floor.

“Orderly chaos, isn’t it?” Benn said, leaning against the rail next to her. He offered her a tired smile.

Melira nodded, still watching the workers below. “All those people pushing themselves to their utmost, just for a chance at being where we currently stand.”

“It’s humbling.”

“It’s irritating.”

Benn raised an eyebrow.

“Why can’t they have aspirations beyond this?” Melira swept her hand over the Ordinance floor. “Why does it all have to be so rank-and-file? They could be doing anything, achieving anything, with the kind of tenacity they have. Instead they sit here and wait for someone to notice them.”

“Maybe they don’t mind operating through an established path. Perhaps it gives them comfort. After all, it is jarring to everyone involved when someone suddenly stops doing what is expected of them.”

Melira finally looked at her father. He was watching her with one elbow leaning against the railing. “You mean what’s expected of me,” she said.

“I thought I told you to stop meeting with the other races in public.”

“You didn’t tell me anything, Dad. You made a request, which I took into consideration.”

“Mel….”

“Look, how was I supposed to know Hugo would come in? No one saw her enter, no one would have seen her leave – ”

“He’s your supervisor, Melira. It would be folly not to check in on you every once in a while. And you’re ignoring the fact that you specifically disobeyed me after we spoke about this.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, it’s not disobedience. It’s open-mindedness!”

“It is both. And there are reasons rules have been established – ”

“Seriously, have you ever tried to consider that they might be due for a change? That perhaps your precious rules might be outdated, inapplicable, or just foolish?”

Melira’s shout echoed out into the open space of the atrium. One or two workers on the Ordinance floor glanced up at the two of them before hurrying on their way.

Benn let out a long sigh. His one hand went to the side of his face, scratching at his hairline. “Mel,” he said softly. “Why do you think everyone is trying to control you?”

“Sun, I don’t know, Dad. Perhaps it’s all this talk about blind obedience.”

“And is there ever a reason?”

“A reason to what?”

Benn turned back to her, and she was astonished to see tears glinting in his eyes. “A reason to obey. Even if it were absolutely the wrong thing to do, or if it were silly. Would there ever be a case in which you would just obey? If it were for the sake of your father’s peace of mind? For stability?”

Melira’s stomach turned inward. His every word was like a little barb in her skin, inevitably pulling her towards what he wanted for her. “Dad, you don’t get to say that,” she muttered.

“So now you’re telling me to obey you?”

“Look, can we not talk about this now? We were going to have a nice lunch in the Sprawl.”

“We never talk about this, Mel. At least not in a way where a conclusion is reached.”

“Well, I’m done talking.” Melira turned on her heel and started walking down the corridor towards the staircase.

Benn hurried to catch up. “Fine,” he said. “We don’t have to speak of this today. As a matter of fact, we’ll never speak of it again. Instead, here’s what I’ll do. The next time I find out you’ve been meeting with a tixan or kudran friend – in any capacity – I’ll have Orrie step in and have a chat with them.”

Melira spun around, feeling the guilt in her stomach twist into something else. “Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?”

“Not you, certainly. I couldn’t say the same for your friends.”

A bark of angry laughter came from her throat. “And you think Orrie is just going to respond to your beck and call like a bitch?”

“We have a preexisting arrangement that covers matters like this.”

Melira gripped the railing with one hand until her knuckles turned white. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see down below the workers writing and walking and pushing themselves. And in front of her stood Benn, his arms folded across his chest, his expression cold.

“You know, I suddenly don’t feel very hungry,” she said. “And I had a report that was supposed to be due before we left. So if you’ll excuse me, this obedient daughter is going to go back to her office.”

Benn said nothing, allowing her to brush past him. It was only when she was halfway down the hall that his voice came echoing after her: “It’s what’s best for you, Melira. Perhaps someday you’ll see that.”


Hope you liked it! And have a great Tuesday.

Yours, making slow improvements,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#5 – Filler Chapters]

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Purple Rain, by Prince)

Hey HEY folks! Coming to you from (finally) rainy Los Angeles, it’s yet another blogger who thinks he can tell you how to write better!

I’m using this post to stall for time while I try to figure out what content I want in my next chapter, so let’s get right down to it. Let’s talk about those “filler chapters”.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Those beloved chapters with a really great character moment or some awesome banter between your protagonist and antagonist, but very little happening in the way of plot? Maybe there’s a really cool specific part of your world you wanted to include to spice things up, but other than that, nothing’s happening? Sound familiar?

It does to me, sadly enough. In my earlier projects – of which Sleeper is one – I used to spend months writing out my world. I would gather information about society and culture, arts, money, politics, gender roles, character backstories as they applied to their home cities, flora and fauna, travel routes, seasons, time dilation, et cetera, et cetera. I would build so much world that I could barely fit it into my books.

And that was the problem – all my worldbuilding would make it into the book, but far too much to be interesting to a reader. It would come out as these long chunks of expository text – because how else are you going to explain the nuances of the world that your characters wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to? – sitting dense and fat in the middle of my books. When I or my readers would go through them, it would simultaneously feel like nothing was happening, and too much was happening.

I bet you think I’m going to tell you to cut all those unwieldy filler chapters, right?

WRONG.

See, that was how I used to edit, before I really examined what editing was supposed to do. I would ruthlessly cut away everything that didn’t push the plot forward or compel characters into the next scene. I did this for one of my projects last year, Symphony of Legend. Guess how it came out?

Like a pancake to the face. Like a scrunchie made out of plot points.

It hit so fast, readers (including myself) were left disoriented, still trying to understand the basic concepts of the world while already getting into the higher-level complicated magics. It was a pretty big turnoff, and I pulled off on having people read the second and third parts of the novel for that reason.

So I’m not here to tell you to remove your filler chapters. Because honestly, in genres that take a lot of worldbuilding like science fiction and fantasy, you need to slow down every once in a while and let things sit. Let your audience absorb some of your amazing creation when there’s not a battle going on or a character about to die. Give them some time spent staring at your world.

Brandon Sanderson does it. Patrick Rothfuss does it. Most other notable fantasy and sci-fi authors do it (and it even happens in a lot of other genre fiction).

The key to a good filler chapter is not in pushing the plot, but rather the story. You don’t need to have a major plot point every single chapter, or even most chapters. But what you do need to have is something compelling the audience forward. A conversation that leads into the next chapter, maybe. A period of observation where a character is allowed to sit back and enjoy the world, but in the end they notice the thing they were looking for. A simple character-establishing scene where a minor decision reveals something about your protagonist, but also comes back to affect the plot later.

Unless you’re an incredible writer with a ridiculously deep world (read: Tolkein), you won’t be able to captivate an audience just with your worldbuilding. But what you can do is give them a taste of it in these every-so-often filler chapters while also keeping some sort of a progression. Not necessarily a plot progression, just… a progression. Of some kind.

Of course, it’s one thing to remark upon this in your blog. It’s another to sit down at your computer and try to write a chapter of just filler to input between major events. I’m having difficulties with it right now, and you may have those same difficulties. It’ll be okay. I promise. We’ll figure something out.

And the best part is, if we can get the flow right – that waxing and waning of tension and progression – we find ourselves with an exciting, very readable project. So, like all annoying parts of the editing process, it’s worth it in the end.

Hopefully I’ve stalled for enough time to form a latent chapter storyboard in my brain. I’ll keep my fingers crossed (for me and for you!)

Yours, with his numb little toes in his wet little shoes,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review – Who Fears Death

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Dying of Thirst, by Kendrick Lamar)

Hello and what’s up, good people of the world. I’m in a weirdly good mood today – actually, I have been since last week. I hope wherever you are, you’re doing all right and not letting life beat you down too hard.

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing one of the newest books of the season – a book which has influenced my recent writing like the soil in which the wine grapes grow.

How disgustingly pedantic of me. Eh, takes too much time to backspace.

Here we go!


Title: Who Fears Death

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Genre: Post-apocalyptic fantasy, sci-fi

Premise: Onyesonwu is born an Ewu, a child of weaponized rape. Her people, the Okeke, have long been enslaved and brutalized by the Nuru tribe, and her very life is a testament to their lust for domination. But she is also born special – a sorceress with unique powers that give her the possibility of enacting revenge upon her Nuru father. Her journey, though, is anything but straightforward.

Damn, y’all, I loved this book.

I honestly don’t know what else I can really say but that. It’s kind of funny, because I picked it up on a whim – I was at the Amazon Bookstore and saw one of those displays with the “If you like this, you’ll like this” theme, and this was one of the suggested titles. I’d never heard of it, didn’t know they were planning on making it into an HBO show… nothing. It just looked like a good read, and seemed to have some strong women of color in main roles.

Of course, when I did find out they were making it into a show, I said to myself, “Well, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” Because this book is freaking awesome.

The story is very much a hero’s journey as we watch a young woman struggle with her upbringing and newfound powers, learn to tame them, and then make a trek across the desert to meet her father, who is pretty much Sauron. But it reads so much less like traditional fantasy and so much more like traditional African storytelling. There’s a whole mythos to the culture that comes through naturally, and any hints of post-apocalypse or science fiction are woven through rather than jutting out. It’s like we’re reading a grown-up Lion King. A… really grown-up Lion King.

I guess I should say that, while I’m dwelling on it – this is your official trigger warning for graphic rape, violence, sexuality, language… pretty much the whole HBO shebang. The beginning of this book is so very dark that I almost had to put it down. The main character, Onye, has so much anger because of her birthright as an Ewu, and because of this, the social justice themes – both race and gender – shine brightly through. The darkness is counteracted by the light in the characters, in their relationships with one another.

And that’s another thing I love about this book – the characters. They don’t fall under any one archetype (except for, ironically, Onye) and they have so many layers of depth. You simultaneously feel like you know them immediately and that you have so much more to learn about them.

Honestly, the whole thing is good. If you aren’t turned off by adult content, I think it’s a must-read. Even for those who don’t particularly like fantasy, I would still suggest it. It’s so off the beaten path compared to most fantasy novels I read.

And, seriously, the end of the book is awesome. No spoilers, as I promise every time I do a review, but it subverts reader expectations so wonderfully and I just wish I could talk about it. But I won’t. So you can enjoy it.

There’s really only one thing keeping me from giving it a perfect score. As I said, Onye is a great character, but she kind of feels single-faceted to me. She has a lot of anger and it continually gets the better of her as she meddles with forces she can’t control. It’s a good archetype, but when all the other characters are so unique, I kind of wished the protagonist had a bit more depth as well.

But seriously, that’s the only thing I can think of. You need to read this book.

Reed’s Rating: 9/10

Yours, also 15-ish books through Animorphs,

-R.R. Buck