Streed of Consciousness [Part 4 – The Quarter-Life Crisis]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: The Fallen by Set Your Goals)

Hey everyone! I’m taking a break from watching House of Cards and playing Breath of the Wild to write… something. I guess I’ll find out as I go along.

Actually, now that I’ve sat here for a few minutes trying to figure it out, I know exactly what to type. And this one’s actually important – I want to explain, from the perspective of a recent graduate, what it means to be going through the “quarter-life crisis” and what you can do to help someone you care about navigate this (almost guaranteed) rough patch.

(Pssst. Hey. Parents, siblings, and friends of someone who’s just entering early adulthood. This is written for you. Please pay attention.)

So here’s the idea. When a young adult graduates college, it’s more than just a transition into the job sphere. We’ve spent the last seventeen years of our lives in school, and now that’s being taken away from us. All the stability of knowing what we were doing, where we were going – it’s now gone. When we were young, we didn’t have to pay attention to the direction our lives were heading in, and even in high school, it only really extended so far as what college to go to and maybe what major to have.

Now, we’re actually in the adult world. Some of us might continue on to graduate school or another form of higher education. Some of us might take a gap year or two to figure things out. Some lucky few of us will have jobs. But the transition is by and large the same, regardless of where we’re heading.

The stakes haven’t ever felt so high in our lives – and I’m not being dramatic here. If a young adult knows what they’re planning on doing, that brings them a small amount of comfort and stability, but even then they’re not entirely carefree – they’re constantly plagued by doubts about if the path they’re planning on taking is the right path. If this young adult has had helicopter parents their whole life and now they’re making that first major decision on their own, that will ratchet up the stress incrementally.

And then there’s my own type – the people who did an undergraduate major, really liked it, but decided at the end of things that it wasn’t something they necessarily wanted to pursue for sure. I was lucky enough to have a job, but others can’t even fall back on an interim position while they try to figure things out. These people are stressed out to the extreme trying to make sense of their place in the world, and all the things they have to figure out seemingly within a year or two.

The short of it is, we’re dealing with an extreme loss of control and dysphoria. And we would appreciate all the help we can get.

So I want to give some friendly advice to anyone who has someone close with them who’s going through this kind of transition – because honestly, y’all, you suck at helping us with our problems. Please take this to heart:

  1. Stop trying to tell us what to do. I don’t care how well-meaning it is. I know it seems obvious to you in hindsight that the young adult in your life should be doing something. But right now, we are struggling with forming our identities and making choices, and we need to feel that we have agency – that we are not only capable of making our own decisions, but making the right ones. Every time you tell us what you think we should be doing, you are chipping away at our self-confidence and our ability to choose for ourselves.
  2. Related, support us in our choices. Yeah, I mean every one – even if you think it’s clearly the wrong choice. And seriously, if you’re reading this and thinking that we shouldn’t be coddled, fuck off. This is one of the most important times in our lives, and we need to feel not only that we’re making our own decisions, but that the people we care about are standing by those decisions. If you can’t do that for the year or two it takes us to get back on our feet, then… well, I honestly don’t know what to say. But we sincerely don’t appreciate it.
  3. Don’t try to offer us money or financial assistance. Again, this is something that is ostensibly well-meant, but it comes across as, “You can’t take care of things yourself, so let me step in to help you.” The whole point of this transition is for us to come out of it feeling like we can handle our own lives, and when you try to help us out financially, it undermines that feeling. Keep your money for when we come back home to visit – then you can buy us a nice dinner, because we probably won’t have eaten well for a while.
  4. Most importantly, listen to us and find out what we need. This one overrides the previous three – there might be some young adults in transition who really feel like they need to be told what to do, or offered money,  to feel comfortable. But Christ, people, you won’t figure that out if you don’t listen to what we’re trying to tell you. Just take a minute to listen to us without judgment – and I know this sounds like a standard maxim of engagement, but it’s shocking how few people do it. We will be bursting at the seams to tell you what we want from you – trust me, there’s little ability on our end to be withholding, especially with the pressure we’re facing. But you’ve gotta listen.

That’s it. Don’t tell us what to do; support the dumb decisions we make; stop giving us your money; and listen to what we’re trying to say. If you do this, you will be easing a tremendous burden on the young adult in your life. If you don’t – and I don’t care if it’s because you think you know better, or because you don’t want to coddle your child or sibling – seriously, go find a deep hole to stick your head into. You can shout your directives to yourself and they’ll echo and you can agree with yourself all day long while we figure our shit out.

Yours, just a little salty (can you tell?),

-R.R. Buck

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Reed’s Top 3 – Book Series

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: I Feel Good by James Brown)

It had to happen, but now I’m sad it’s here.

There are so many book series I love, and they follow so many different genres (although, yes, most of them are in SFF). I remember my mom used to do a bunch of research around every birthday and every Christmas (and sometimes even Easter and Valentine’s Day!) looking for the newest and most popular middle-grade or young adult book to give me as a gift. She never gave me a book I disliked.

But, all things being equal, I have narrowed it down to three. And interestingly enough, all three are in different genres – so I guess you’ll get a nice spread.

NUMBER THREE: HYPERION, BY DAN SIMMONS

Genre: Science Fiction

Hyperion and its sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, may not be considered a full series because there’s only two books, but in my mind it has to make my top three. As per usual, I won’t give spoilers except for the premise, but this two-part series has all the intrigue of a whodunnit, all the unique, relatable, and nuanced characters of a work of literature, and all the nerdy science fiction material of a SF classic.

Here’s the basic idea – seven travellers from across the known universe are gathered to be sent on a pilgrimage to the Shrike, an eight-foot tall half-man, half-machine creature revered by a cult on a backwater world forgotten by most civilized cultures. The Shrike is known to see groups of travellers, hear their requests, and grant one of them their wish while mercilessly slaughtering all the others.

But there are some extenuating factors. First, the federation that controls the “human” portion of the universe is at war with an alien race, and the war is centered around Hyperion, which is bound to be destroyed very soon. Second, this will be the last pilgrimage to the Shrike possibly in known history, because… you know… war. And third, it’s explained in the very first chapter that one of the seven travellers is actually a traitor from the alien race who is going to sabotage the mission and cause the fall of the entire human civilization.

So what do these travellers do, knowing that there’s a traitor in their midst? They decide to tell their stories, one at a time, so that they can attempt to figure out who the saboteur is. And so, instead of a regularly structured narrative, you have seven different stories told in different POVs and loosely related to one another, all while the world is crumbling around them.

And that’s just the first book.

It’s a beautiful testament to the human spirit and a sad revelation of human greed, and hands-down the best SF series I’ve read so far. If you’re interested, please pick both books up and let me know what you think when you’re done!

NUMBER TWO: THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVES, BY BRANDON SANDERSON

Genre: Epic Fantasy

This was possibly the hardest decision for number two. I’ve known my number one series since I was a kid, but there are so many high and epic fantasy series vying for the spot directly underneath it. In the end, I chose the Stormlight Archives because it is the one that – for twelve hundred pages a book – somehow kept me captivated and turning every single page.

So get this. This guy, Brandon Sanderson, is so prolific that he comes out with entire 200,000 word books as side ventures while he’s writing the Stormlight Archives, which is his master series. The series is planned to be ten books, each of them over 1,000 pages long. He’s got two out so far (The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance) and the third is scheduled to come out in November.

If you know epic fantasy, you know the plot can’t just be summarized adequately in a few sentences. But here’s the gist – for the last seven years, mankind has been at war with a race of people known as the Parshendi. They war because the Parshendi hired an assassin to kill the king of men on a day when a treaty between the two species was going to be signed. But as the story lifts back, it appears as though the Parshendi were not necessarily fully responsible for the death (and that’s all I’m going to say on that, thank you very much).

What I will say is that the magic system in this book is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. If you’re interested in a full, rich world where everything is drawn out to the last detail, and the magic system is inherently tied into that world, this is absolutely something you’ll want to pick up. My only previous complaint with Sanderson was that his characters seemed sort of two-dimensional, but in this series he’s done an incredible job of making the whole cast – major and minor – feel like real people that you love and hate and envy and pity and triumph with when they have their best moments.

Just know they’re massive, massive books. Like, they’ll hurt if you lean them on your chest while reading them laying down.

NUMBER ONE: ARTEMIS FOWL, BY EOIN COLFER

Genre: Middle Grade Low Fantasy

Oh, man. What do I even begin to say about this series.

Let’s just start with the premise. A twelve-year-old boy genius is the inheritor of a large fortune, a castle in Ireland, and a manservant/bodyguard who serves as the antisocial little shit’s only companion. Artemis, the boy genius, only really loves two things in the world – making adults look stupid, and creating brilliant plans to secure his financial future (as his father is dead and his mother on the verge of a mental breakdown).

So his current plan is, he’s going to steal a pot of gold from a leprechaun.

Artemis is the perfect person to believe in fairies – he’s young enough to still entertain the notion that they exist, but has a high enough IQ to go searching for them in places other kids would never think. And what he finds is pretty awesome.

Fairies exist. They live under the earth, where they’ve pretty much stayed out of sight of humankind so they can’t be hunted. And leprechauns are kind of their police force – a police force which, like any, has a ransom fund for if one of their officers get captured. So Artemis hatches a plan to kidnap Officer Holly Short, a ground-level policewoman.

Except he doesn’t realize a few important things. First, the fairies aren’t cute – they’re vicious, and grumpy, and in some cases downright disgusting. They also have their own SWAT team, all of whom are equipped with technologies the humans can’t even conceive of inventing just yet. And they get pretty pissed when one of their own is kidnapped.

This synopsis is just the first book of the series – there are actually eight of them, and they’re good all the way through the fifth (in most people’s opinion) or the sixth (in my opinion). The thing that makes me fall in love with this series over and over again, no matter how many times I read it, is the wit and the characters. Colfer employs this cast of characters of whom I have never met the like in my entire reading experience – their uniqueness is largely a part of the fairy system Colfer created, but they’re also just great, hilarious characters.

If you haven’t read it, please do me the favor of picking up at least the first book – even if you don’t really like middle grade fantasy. They are so heartwarming, and bizarre, and wonderful… they remind me of my childhood. And as writers, we could all learn a lot from the way Colfer structures character interactions and development.

That’s it, that’s all! Hopefully I just gave you some dank new reading material (if you’re considering the Stormlight Archives, you’ve got a few months’ worth of material, so you’re welcome).

Yours, looking for a new series to usurp the top three (so let me know yours!),

-R.R. Buck

Hello New Peeps!

Just wanted to say something to anyone who’s coming to check out my blog from CraftyArtistKc’s post. Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to look around and if you like what you see hit that follow button 😀

And to my followers, if you want to see me attempting to be civil and polite on someone else’s blog, head here.

Peace out everyone!

-R.R. Buck

Let’s Put the “Limited” Back in “Third Person Limited”

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: I Gotta Pee by NOFX)

ARE YOU READY FOR AN OPINION PIECE.

(See, it’s serious because I didn’t punctuate with a question mark.)

No, I’m kidding. I just wanted to take a brief moment today to talk about my writing style in my most recent projects, and why it tends towards third person limited POV. I know all of you have heard about the different forms of POV (or, at least I hope you have, if you’re an aspiring writer), but something I didn’t really pay attention to until I started reading as a writer was the depth of POV.

And, fair warning, there’s probably some canonical literary term besides “depth” for what I’m talking about, so if you know it, let me know. I just make this shit up as I go.

So here’s an example of what I’m calling a “deep POV” from a sci-fi book I’m currently reading (repping Kent Wayne woot woot!):

Atriya shut his eyes and slumped back, suddenly feeling immeasurably heavy. 

When he was younger, he’d dreamed of being a warrior. Of pushing his limits and growing his spirit, all the while punishing the wicked and saving others. But in light of his current circumstances, saving others was a distant fantasy.

Right now, he couldn’t even save himself.

I wanted to choose this section because I love the feeling that comes with it. Kent Wayne is a great writer, and the defeat here is palpable, along with this sort of ‘dying revelation’ of Atriya. It’s good writing, and I want to make that completely clear before I express my opinion about the POV.

See, a lot of Wayne’s books are written this way – heavy POV from the major characters, where you’re seeing, feeling, and thinking everything they are. And I myself have always shied away from that level of depth.

Before I get too wrapped up in explaining, let’s take a look at a scenario in my recent novel, Symphony of Legend:

“Well, this is new,” Qin said.

The two of them stood in the growing crowd of students clustered around the burnt message, Sera looming over the rest of the adolescents like an oversized stick bug. Qin, in contrast, had to get on her toes, her one hand on Sera’s shoulder for support, to even glimpse the bottom of the burn marks.

“What have the academae said?” she asked.

Sera’s eyes glazed over as he glanced to his right. “They haven’t said anything. I haven’t seen nobody since I – ”

“Anybody,” Qin corrected.

Sera halted. “I – what?”

“Haven’t seen anybody. A month in Terraven and you come back talking like a country hick.”

Sera’s mouth contorted into a grimace. “Good to see you again, Qin.”

You can see the difference immediately. You don’t read Qin’s exasperation with Sera – it comes out in the dialogue. It would have been equally fine for me to write something like this:

“I haven’t seen nobody since I talked to Dawn about it,” Sera said.

Qin grimaced. Did Sera always have to talk like some country hick? She knew he was better than that – hell, he could be the most eloquent person she knew sometimes – but it seemed like every single time he went back home to Terraven, he came back with that frustratingly coarse accent. Maybe it was habit catching up with him, but Qin suspected it was something else – some sense of nostalgia, maybe, when he got too lonely here at school. Yet another reminder that she couldn’t replace his precious family.

So here’s the interesting thing. When I place the scene in a deeper POV, where I’m actually hearing Qin’s thought process, I learn more about her – mainly that she feels jealous of Sera’s closer relationship with his family. And there’s a whole benefit to knowing every single thought of a character, to know them without the bias of only hearing their dialogue and trying to guess for yourself what they’re feeling.

But I never really liked that, both as a reader and a writer. I want my novels to feel cinematic – I want to see people’s facial expressions, hear their dialogue, and try to work out what their inner monologue might be. And, on rare occasions, I want that glimpse in their head, just to see if I’m on the right track.

That’s why in my work so much of the exposition and character building comes from dialogue. I love pitting my characters against one another, getting them pissed off and pointing out each others’ flaws – that way, you get an insight both into the character being talked about, and the one doing the talking. If Bob tells Suzy she’s a stuck-up bitch for not tipping at a restaurant, what does that say about Bob’s temper, or his sense of financial morality?

And the POV is still there – it’s subtle, but enough to give you an insight into the character. For instance, in the narration of the scene, Qin calls Sera an “oversized stick bug”, which no one else in the world besides this temperamental, snarky girl would think about a tall, thin guy. And that lets us know, in however a small way, that Qin is… well, temperamental and snarky.

I think every new author should explore not only various POVs but also various depths of POV. Do we hear every single thought of your characters, or are we left guessing about what makes them tick? I love to air on the side of subtlety, but sometimes that makes my readers draw wrong conclusions about my characters. Is that bad? WHO KNOWS? I’M ONLY A NEW WRITER!

But hey, if I find out if there’s an immutable truth to what makes for better writing, I’ll let you know.

(That was a joke; like I’ve said, there is no immutable truth. Come on, keep up.)

Yours, having spent the last… oh, God, six hours in lab (and with two more to go),

-R.R. Buck

Life Counselor #1

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Joker and the Thief by Wolfmother)

Craig! Craig, wake up! I have marbles!

Hello, there, old friend.

It’s been a while since we’ve talked – I know we haven’t kept in touch too much over the last few years, but somehow, that doesn’t stop our friendship from continuing to grow. It’s strange, feeling like adults, isn’t it? After we were kids far longer than we had a right to be.

I owe so much to you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have learned that religion can produce some of the best people in this world. I honestly might have become an atheist.

You taught me manners in a way my family never did – I’m sure I’ve lost them over time, but I can still pull some out when I’m trying not to make a complete ass of myself in public.

Oh, and you helped me make a complete ass of myself in public. Of all the people I knew in middle and high school, there were so few willing to tolerate my weirdness, fewer who would accept it, and only two or three who would engage in it with me. You taught me that it’s okay to be strange, and that sometimes being strange can bring the best people in life closer to you.

You taught me the prayer Catholics say before they eat. To this day, I still remember from so many dinners at your family’s house.

You taught me what it means to have a dog, and how the bond between a boy and his pet can be so much more than with anyone else. I think my love of animals started with Emmi. RIP.

You taught me how to be a better person without ever trying to push it on me. You taught me tolerance and understanding, acceptance of different lifestyles. You taught me to not try to worry about my sexuality or my identity – that those things fall into place eventually.

You taught me that it doesn’t matter if the person saying the microaggression believes in microaggressions – it only matters if the person hearing it does.

You’ve given me more inside jokes than I can count, and I’ve spilled more tears with you from laughing than from sadness.

You’ve taught me how much I can love a friend, fiercely, more than I ever would have thought possible.

When I introduce you to people, I tell them completely seriously that you’re one of the best people I know. And I have never meant anything less than that. You’re the good Samaritan in every sense of the word, to your detriment sometimes. And yet you’ll continue to be that person for the rest of your life, because you don’t know how to be less than that. If there’s a Heaven, and I like to believe there is, I know without a doubt you’ll get in.

Don’t you ever forget how much I love you. Don’t you ever forget how good an impression a person like you makes on this world. It’s hard, and it’s bullshit, how much you have to put up with. But please keep being you – there just aren’t enough people like you in the world, and the few of you are like beacons in the darkness.

Thank you for teaching me so much.

Yours, from eight years old until the end of our lives,

-R.R. Buck

New Series – Life Counselors

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Cigarettes and Saints by the Wonder Years)

I had pause today to reflect on how lucky and blessed I am to be living my life.

It seems as though many people around me are dealing with various forms of hardship, and somehow I’m immune to most of it. I think, besides being incredibly lucky, that the advice and counsel I’ve received over my nearly 23 years has had a lot to do with it.

When I realized this, it came simultaneously with a realization that I’ve done very little to recognize those people in my life who’ve given me such sound counsel. And, as you may have noticed, I’ve been looking for new series to post about, which is why I created Streed of Consciousness (where I just write about whatever comes to mind) and Reed’s Top 3, in addition to my regular articles with writing tips and nerdisms.

So I’m creating a new series, which I’m calling Life Counselors. Here’s how it works:

The very first line below the playlist of the day will be a reference that will immediately be noticed by the person it’s about – it serves the dual purpose of letting them know I’m writing about them, and maintaining their anonymity. So if you see the very first sentence of my article and you know what it is, the post is probably about you.

Then I’m going to write a list of things this person has taught me. It might be shorter than most of my posts, but every word will come from the heart.

Finally, I’m going to tell this person something. I don’t really know what – it might just be expressing thanks, or it might be trying to tell them something I haven’t been able to say to their face before. I guess we’ll find out when the first one comes out.

And, yeah. If you have a lot of people in your life who influence you, hopefully these posts will make you think of them and maybe remind you to thank them every once in a while. God knows we can all do with a little more love right now.

The first one will come out tomorrow, so I hope you all like it!

Yours, lounging in his new cape,

-R.R. Buck

Renaissance Pleasure Faire Los Angeles Review

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Ride by TWENTY ONE PILOTS)

I have found my people.

That’s the easiest way I can describe my experience at last day of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire just outside of Pasadena. It was like one long extended nerdgasm for an entire (sun-drenched and dehydrating) day.

My friends and I kind of decided to go on a whim after hearing about it, and I mostly imagined a cross between a historical museum and a way-too-serious roleplaying experience. What I got was nowhere near that.

It actually almost reminded me of the Sawdust Festival up in Laguna – it’s a showcasing of a plethora of different local artists who do everything from forge steel and pewter into weapons and tankards, to leather workers who create clothing – not costumes, but actual clothing, as one of them reminded me several times – from historical time periods, to random other things like crystals set into headbands and tiaras or medallions hand-stamped to order with a fucking guillotine. We watched a glassblower make a wine goblet and then promptly shatter it for our entertainment; some of my friends saw a one-man performance of Romeo and Juliet, and we even watched a jousting tournament.

I was surprised at how no one tried to be over-the-top in accent or demeanor; instead, it just felt like a bunch of people who were nerdy about certain periods of history hanging out together and showing off their stuff. Most of the people I met ranged from pleasant to straight-up helpful; one dude saw me eyeing suede capes and cloaks and immediately suggested a few vendors to compare.

The other thing I loved about the faire was that it didn’t strictly conform to the Renaissance time period. From steampunk to piracy to the gypsy lifestyle, there were cosplayers and merchants derived from any interesting and fantasy-relatable time period. There was even a dude dressed up like the Twilight Princess version of Link (and if you know me, you know that I immediately accosted him and asked to snapchat him).

Some previous influence had suggested to me that a Renaissance Faire would be a high-LARP, almost ridiculously over-the-top experience where anyone who wasn’t dressed like a 15th century swordfighter would look stupid and out of place. Instead, it was a really nice mix – both fairgoers who clearly just wanted to look around, and roleplayers or cosplayers who had spent thousands of dollars on fantasy outfits reminiscent of Game of Thrones. I would seriously recommend it for anyone who even has a passing interest in history, fantasy, or roleplay.

And I may or may not have bought a hooded cloak for my D&D sessions. By which I mean I absolutely did.

Yours, feeling quite white and nerdy,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review – American Gods

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin)

Okay, I just want to point out before I start this one that I was planning on reading it before the mini-series was announced, and it was only just two weeks ago that I was able to make it to a bookstore to pick it up.

Anyway, here we go on my first book review:

Title: American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy

Premise: A recently released convict finds himself out of a job until an enigmatic old man offers him a position as his driver, bodyguard, and right-hand man. But working for Mr. Wednesday has all sorts of strange implications and consequences.

So, this was my first Gaiman novel (unless you count Good Omens, which I don’t). It was an interesting blend – at times it was almost a biopic of the continental United States and that small-town America vibe, and at others it was this nearly overwhelming mythological tale involving every pantheon you’ve never heard of.

I came into reading it as someone who knows very little about mythology, and isn’t the biggest fan of small-town America, so I wasn’t really sure what to think when I picked it up. It was recommended by a friend, but she warned me it was paced kind of slow – another red flag for me, as someone who’s never been able to finish Great Expectations and took three tries to read Dune all the way through.

That being said, I thought it was pretty damn good.

In terms of characters, you don’t have to know any gods to get an immediate sense of who all these people are. Their dialogue and accents feel perfectly genuine; their interactions run everywhere from engaging to gripping and intense; and they always act the way you expect them to. In a novel where a lot of the main plot is hidden and you’re always a little confused about something, the dialogue is a great constant to come back to – it feels like old friends talking.

The main character, Shadow, is a depressing dude. If you’re not down for dark novels, you’d better watch out for this one, because it had me gripped by the balls of my soul the whole time. (Yeah, I just said that.) You find yourself really resonating with his struggle, even though you don’t really know what that struggle is, and it’s interesting that the protagonist of the novel always seems to be playing second fiddle to literally everyone he interacts with.

It’s almost as if you, as a reader through Shadow’s perspective, are just observing the events of the book, until those great few moments where Shadow decides to have some agency and do something cool. A very strange read, but completely enjoyable for it.

I actually found it most interesting as an encapsulation of middle America, and that way that most people view America. Having lived my entire life in California, I thought it was really interesting to see, to feel, how middle America lives, thinks, and breathes. I feel like this would be especially interesting to non-Americans who want to immerse themselves in our culture.

Downsides? There were a few. It’s written excellently, but there is a pretty large chunk in the middle that moves very slowly. You’re still interested in what could happen because that’s how good the writing is, but you kind of want things to move on. (Of course, I read the anniversary edition which has a few thousand more words in, so maybe that was it.) And I did feel like some of the events of the ending were kind of anti-climactic – I won’t give any spoilers, but for a character like Shadow where you’re waiting for them to have some powerful sense of agency, the final moment where he does something, I wanted to feel like it was a little more.

Overall? I think it’s something you should pick up, especially if you’re interested in American culture or mythology, or just somber, dark stories.

Reed’s Rating: 8.5/10

Yours, preparing to read some small-press fantasy novels next,

-R.R. Buck

How To Stage A Reveal In Your Writing

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Push It by Salt-N-Pepa)

If you’re anything like me as a writer, you love putting in twist, turns, and surprise reveals. They’re not just for suspense and mystery – fantasy, science fiction, romance, horror, and many other genres also like to incorporate their own styles of twists. It’s a fun way to keep the readers engaged and guessing as they struggle to figure out just what is awry.

In my experience with my alpha readers, there are three types of readers when it comes to reveals or plot twists. And, because I’m me, I’m gonna give them dorky names.

  1. Sleuths – these folks are paying so much attention to the little things, they’re hardly paying attention to anything else. Oftentimes, if they’re veteran readers of a genre or an author, they’ll know some big plot twist is coming, and they want to piece it together as quickly as possible. They’ll pick things apart looking for every inconspicuous sentence or detail, and they’ll probably see right through anything that comes too easily, which makes them the hardest to please with plot twists.
  2. Welpers – these are people who read books in detail, not skimming anything, and so they naturally pick up on hints and clues. And, as they come across a strange, unexplained sentence or event that hints towards something more, they say “Welp.” And move on. I like these people because they’re clever enough to notice every Easter egg, but they like to be surprised and/or don’t want to put the effort in to figuring out what all the clues mean.
  3. Bwammers – I definitely fall into this category of reader, who is in no way stupid (no, seriously). The Bwammers are either super interested in the books to the point of skimming past minor incongruencies, or they’re not very invested and don’t really care if something doesn’t make sense in the overall plot. Either way, they’re not really looking for clues, and if they read them, they’ll probably just ignore them. These folks are the best to spring a surprise on, because they’ll have no idea it’s coming, and only when the reveal occurs will they start to realize the little things that forecast it from the beginning of the book. BWAAAAAAM.

It’s kind of hard structuring your reveals to give satisfaction to all three types of readers. But as I’ve had a lot of people read a lot of books of mine, I’ve noticed that a certain type of vague structure seems to apply. It does change depending on what act your twist occurs in, and whether it is integral to the main plot, but here’s what I’ve got for you:

If it’s a minor twist occurring in the first or second act:

  1. An initial mention of it, as early as possible – something really hidden, but strange to the Sleuths and Welpers who pick up on it. The key to this one is making it really subtle – just to instill a bit of confusion in the reader, and get them started thinking about what it could mean.
  2. A lead-in to the reveal, occurring just before the actual reveal occurs – it can be as early as a chapter before, or as late as just a few paragraphs before. More on why this is important below.
  3. The reveal, which usually should occur in just a sentence or two. It can be followed by explanation, if needed, after the fact, but for just a moment or two, drink in the surprise of the reveal – you deserve it, and your reader craves it. Leave the explanation aside and just make it as shocking as possible.

If it’s a major twist occurring in the second or third act:

  1. The same initial mention – It should be anywhere from about as subtle as a small reveal, to much less subtle, as you want all three types of readers (if possible) to be aware of this, since it’s an important plot point as well as a reveal.
  2. A reminder (and this might be one or multiple, depending on how late the actual reveal occurs) of the incongruous detail, perhaps building extra suspense as you go. This is to keep people reminded of what’s important, as well to build a trail of clues which your Sleuths will go apeshit over.
  3. The lead-in which is where all of your Sleuths will realize what the twist is (and in some cases, some of your Welpers too). This gives them the satisfaction of feeling like they figured it out early.
  4. The reveal for your Bwammers, who won’t know a thing and will be totally knocked over by the reveal, which is exactly what they want. So everyone’s happy.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you might have some layered reveals for really important plot points – as in, person A has a secret that comes out in Act 1, but then it’s revealed they weren’t telling the entire truth in Act 2, and in the rising action of Act 3 the full secret is revealed. If this happens, you’ll want to consider each reveal as being a reminder from the list above, but each with its own little lead-in and resolution. That way, people won’t feel like they’re being lied to or deliberately misled.

For instance, [SPOILER ALERT FOR MOVEMENT 1 OF SYMPHONY OF LEGEND, SO ANY ALPHA READERS WHO HAVEN’T FINISHED IT SHOULDN’T READ BEYOND HERE:]

….

They gone?

Okay.

In Act 1 of my book, there is a small reveal about a character whose best friend is hallucinated. (Okay, yeah, it’s not original, but it is a part of a layered reveal as described above, and is only the first step to realizing the hallucination’s identity.) So how do I go about getting my character to realize it?

Well, in the first scene, which is an idyllic family scene where we’re meeting the protagonist’s brothers and sisters, he’s being followed around by this girl Deira, who presumably is some kind of sister or friend. She hangs out with him and his mom at the breakfast nook while the mother and son chat, and then something weird happens.

The mom says, “Does Deira want any breakfast?”

And the son, Sera, says “Mom, you don’t have to patronize.”

If you’re a Bwammer, you won’t even notice this little detail. If you’re a Welper, you see it happening, maybe make note of it, but you just shrug and move on. If you’re a Sleuth, you’re reading it over and over again, trying to understand. Is the mother patronizing her son? Patronizing Deira? You can’t figure it out, but it’s there in your mind – a warning light for the next time Deira comes up.

Which she doesn’t. For four more chapters. You meet Sera’s other friends and learn about them from their own perspectives, and you kind of forget about Deira for a while. But then, at the outset of Chapter 6, we’re back to Sera’s point of view, and Deira is hanging out with all of them.

The Bwammer doesn’t really notice anything different, but the Sleuths and the Welpers are saying to themselves, “Where was she all the last four chapters? Why is she just reappearing now?” And as the scene goes on and none of the other characters seem to acknowledge Deira – at one point, one of them even steps between her and Sera, forcing them apart – the Sleuths might start guessing that this person is not real.

This whole chapter so far is the lead-in, and it comes to a head quickly when Sera and Deira are talking and another character comes up to Sera and says, “Hey, quit talking to yourself.”

And then, immediately after, Deira says, “I’m real, you know.”

The Sleuths are feeling smug they figured it out. The Welpers can see, in retrospect, how the clues slowly lead up to the reveal. And the Bwammers are BWAAAAAMing, out, having seen none of this coming right up until Deira spoke.

After a few paragraphs, it’s revealed that she’s a hallucination, that he’s been seeing her the last three years. But for that moment, the audience is taken aback, and that’s one of the best feelings in fiction.

Yours, having pushed dinner back for this post and is now insanely hungry,

-R.R. Buck

Reed’s Top 3 – Standalone Novels

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: The Lemon Song by Led Zeppelin)

Hey everyone,

I need to write something short – I’ve been running around all day with random things (joke’s on me for making my unemployment too productive). And I’ve also been looking for a new series with a catchy name, so here’s what I’ve got:

Reed’s Top 3 – in which I name my top three favorite somethings and explain why they’re so cool. What’s in it for you? Absolutely nothing! (Unless you care about the details of my personal life.) But hopefully I can be entertaining and informative when talking about my favorite three types of nuts (pistachios, almonds, and deez).

No, I’m kidding. Kind of. But I will try to stick to things you might care about. For instance, as writers, we are naturally readers, and if you’re a good reader, you’re always looking for a new interesting book to try out, right? So here we go on my top three favorite standalone novels!

NUMBER 3: THE DREAM MERCHANT, BY ISABEL HOVING

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

I have to admit that I haven’t read this one since I was in middle school, but what little I remember changed me as a kid. The basic plot is a group of children who are hired by a corporation to sell goods in the world of dreams – there’s a really cute initiation ritual where the kid has to trade up from like a rubber band to a diamond or something of that sort. But things change when the main character, Josh, gets stranded in the dream world and has to work through its entire geography to exit, during which time he learns a lot about the secrets of the dream.

If you’ve been keeping up with me, you’ll notice that this sounds like the intellectual precursor to The Kalin Chronicles, which I wrote a year or two ago and failed to get anyone interested in (click here for my terrible query letter). This book first made me realize the potential that dreams have as an area of fantasy, and that lingering interest was what made Inception my all-time favorite movie (I guess that’s a spoiler for my Reed’s Top 3 – Movies edition).

It may not stand the test of time, but the only way to know for sure is to check it out!

NUMBER 2: I AM THE MESSENGER, BY MARCUS ZUSAK

Genre: Kind of transcendent, but my best guess is biopic/philosophy

If you’re the kind of person who likes stories that are somehow both depressing and uplifting, I would highly recommend checking this one out. Zusak is more famous for The Book Thief, but in my opinion it doesn’t even compare to I Am The Messenger. It’s the story of a lower-class shmuck of a cab driver who has no clue what he’s doing with his life, who accidentally foils a bank robbery (this isn’t really a spoiler, it’s in the very first line of the book). And afterwards, his life starts getting weird. I don’t want to give anything else away, but essentially he goes on a kind of odyssey of character where he learns about the world around him, the relationships between people, and how we as human beings can come together in little acts of altruism and kindness. It’s an incredible novel, but it’s pretty adult with sexuality, so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who’s not down for that.

Suffice to say if you’re looking for a book that gives you an accurate, beautiful look at the best and worst humanity has to offer – and in a way that is completely novel and inspiring – you should check this one out.

NUMBER 1: GOOD OMENS BY TERRY PRATCHETT AND NEIL GAIMAN

Genre: Low Fantasy

Oh, man. This book.

Before Good Omens, my favorite book for about seven or eight years was I Am The Messenger. But sad to say, my mind and soul belong to those bittersweet philosophical novels, but my heart, the part of me that loves a book ferociously, is infatuated with satire.

And I have to say that Good Omens is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read.

I can’t even begin to explain the absurd and convoluted plot, but essentially it has to do with an angel and a demon making friendly when the apocalypse begins. That’s seriously all I want to tell you.

It’s freaking ridiculous. Every moment is saturated with witty culturalisms and allusions, ridiculous circumstances and action, and the kind of characters you hate to love, but they’re just too goddamn funny not to. If you’ve read anything by Terry Pratchett, you’ll know what I’m talking about; if not, think of the absurdity of something like Catch-22 or Candide and combine it with that evangelical fantasy structure of something like American Gods.

I promise you, if you’re quick enough to catch what goes on, you will actually cry from laughing too hard. And it actually ends up being pretty sweet, in the end. So, seriously, if you’re looking for something new to read and you like satire, just read the first page of this book and I promise you’ll be wanting more.

Anyway, that’s it! Turned out to be longer than expected. Hope you all enjoyed it, and if you want to see more stuff like this, let me know!

Yours, eating Sour Patch Watermelons,

-R.R. Buck