Write Better: The Coyote, the Road Runner, Sympathy, and Craft as the Art of Constraint

Back at the beginning of March this list of Chuck Jones’s Rules for Coyote-Road Runner cartoons made the rounds:

(The pic, taken by filmmaker Amos Posner, shows a display in the Museum of the Moving Image’s “What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones” exhibit. It’s identical to the Coyote-Road Runner Rules Jones listed in his 1999 memoir Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist)

There’s some question as to the consistency with which The Rules are followed, as well as their pinned-to-the-wall workaday legitimacy, but as I work through a set of hard revisions on an almost-just-about-right SF novella, I’ve been thinking about these rules–not because I’m employing any of them in my edit (I’m not), but because they embody a different way of looking at constraints[*], and I’m very fond of drafting with a fuck-all attitude and revising with a sharp blade and very narrow constraints. By hewing to constraints we drive our work towards the Graceful Universality of fairytales, Willie Nelson songs, Basho haikus, Jones’ Coyote-Road Runner shorts, and the like. Besides, even if you miss the “graceful universality” bullseye, it’s effort well-spent, since the entire target constitutes “stuff someone will pay money for” (i.e., “work that meaningfully touches people”).

Jones’ Rules have been floating around the Internet for more than 15 years, during which time the list has swelled to as many as 11 items listed (in fact, Wikipedia editors only culled back to nine following Posner’s tweeted picture, even though Jones’ canonical nine-item Rules have been in print since 1999). Interestingly, the earliest instance of the Rules swelling beyond the Canonical Nine traces back to its *first* online incarnation back in 1999, which includes this 10th Rule:

(Rule 10.) The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.

This isn’t in Chuck’s Nine Rules because it’s something he explains a few pages earlier in his memoir, while setting up the discussion of the Coyote-Road Runner Rules. he returns to the idea in his analysis at the end of the book. It’s tacked on as a 10th Rule in that ancient webpage, but it’s really the 0th Rule, the fundamental Truth: The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote, and to a greater or lesser degree the Rules guide the forward energy of each story toward this goal. The Coyote is humiliated not so much by an active antagonist (that damnable Road Runner) as by his environment, by the core physics of the universe, by shoddy consumer goods, and by his own mania.

You know, like the rest of us.

All of which is a nice reminder for me, that any part of the craft–all of the rules of thumb and editorial tricks and writing tactics and daily grinding–exist to serve the 0th Rule of the Coyote and Road Runner: You need to cultivate the audience’s sympathy for the protagonist. “Sympathetic” doesn’t mean “likable.” Likability, in my humble, is bullshit: We don’t “like” Richard III, on balance, or Hannibal Lecter, or Walter White, or Lady MacBeth, or Medea–but these are among the most compelling protagonists in Western narrative.

Similarly, “sympathy” isn’t “pity”; pity is a form of contempt. We feel superior to those we pity. But I don’t think most audience members ever feel superior to even the very disagreeable protagonists I’ve listed above, flawed and awful as they are. Why? I imagine it’s because, like Coyote, they may be failures, but they certainly aren’t quitters. We can respect that, and sympathy rests on a measure of (often grudging) respect.

Now there’s most certainly another 3k words I can put to this–especially as it applies to the modern argumentative essay and social media–but let’s stop here, with the nuts-and-bolts Write Better advice:

  • Our job is to cultivate sympathy–not to be liked or pitied.
  • We write better when we hew to constraints that guide our readers toward “feeling with” our characters (even the Bad Guys).
  • There are many ways of formulating constraints; it doesn’t matter how they constrain you, so long as they do in fact constrain, that you at some point in your process feel hemmed in and annoyed by the Rules that you’ve set for yourself.

Or, in other words, accept the Fundamental Truth that Chuck Jones never deemed worth saying–that most artists come to see as so self-evident that it doesn’t bear mentioning:

You cannot catch or eat the Road Runner. But you always must chase.

Continue reading “Write Better: The Coyote, the Road Runner, Sympathy, and Craft as the Art of Constraint”

HAPPY THANKSGIVING: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!” #gobblegobble #writing

THANKSGIVING TURKEY GIVEAWAY! (WKRP in Cincinnati) from Tony DeSanto on Vimeo.

This is, in my humble, a damn-near perfect gag–which is saying something, because I find single-camera laugh-track situation comedies almost entirely unbearable to watch. They are the awful, crippled, shambling intermediate link between stage plays (which I like) and modern cinematic multi-camera sitcoms (which I *also* like). That said, the terribly be-shitted wasteland of laugh-track sitcoms was–by very virtue of the enormous piles of shit–nutrient rich soil, and some wonderful things flourished there. Chief among them were gags like this. Here it’s presented as a single, stand-alone joke. But in the episode itself, it was broken up (you can see the rough jump cuts where it’s pasted together here), and developed across the entire half-hour of programming as a sort of lietmotif.

TIP FOR WRITERS: This sort of multi-strand punctuated development is a really great tool both for building and managing tension (and thus carrying the audience along), and for building stories that can grab and hold otherwise non-overlapping audiences (MY SO-CALLED LIFE is sort of a perfect example of this: Most episodes had largely independent narrative threads about the parents and teens, making that show highly watchable to two groups who otherwise can’t agree on much).

ANOTHER TIP FOR WRITERS: When this joke is presented standalone like this, it becomes obvious that it’s a pretty tidy example of a piece that is pleasing and easy to track, in part, because it manages cognitive load gracefully–establishing a premise, building expectant tension, then releasing that tension–with a classic three-part structure.

FINAL NOTE: When I was a kid, it was the general manager’s punchline that I repeated–“as God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”–believing that it was the key to this house. I mean, after all, folks laugh when you say that. But as I get older and re-watch this each year, I find that what really, really makes it is Les Nessman’s earnest reporting of the facts–he is, in fact, in his naiveté, perfectly modeling what a reporter should be and should do–and especially his shell-shocked recounting, during the story’s Tangle, of the turkey’s counterattack. I’ve found that often–especially in literary fiction–authors confuse the Tangle with the Resolution, believing that once they’ve provided the Setup and Tangle, their story is done. I’d previously assumed that this was because they’d mistaken a simple twist for a “twist ending.” But the WKRP Turkey Drop Gag gives a clue as to a deeper reason for why folks confuse the Tangle for the Resolution: It’s because the Tangle is often the source of your story’s real punch, the place in its core that it coils back down into in order to spring out from its heels and knock you silly with the Resolution. (If these terms–Tangle, Resolution–are throwing you, just skim the bulleted bit near the top of the cognitive load post.)

Write Better: Watch Penn & Teller Saw Your Cognitive Load in Half! #writing

One of the things I think about a lot when I’m writing–but have only written about a little and tangentially–is cognitive load: The amount of data we expect readers to juggle and integrate. Readers only have so much cognitive bandwidth; writing that begins to overload this bandwidth is, at best, “challenging”–or, more frequently, simply frustrating and tiresome.

Managing Someone Else’s Cognitive Load

One way (the primary way?) of managing cognitive load is to balance the new/interesting/challenging items/structures you want readers to handle by giving them very easy-to-digest formulaic frameworks. E.g., Do you have a very complicated plot? Then either give them a very constrained set of characters (e.g., very few in number–like in Primer–or highly caricatured, like in The Usual Suspects). Numerous or very psychologically complex characters? Keep the story running in real-time (Hitchcock’s Rope), or confined to a single location (Reservoir Dogs), so readers don’t have to track both shifting alliances and shifting time/place. Very elevated language, or a challenging invented argot (Clockwork Orange, looking at you)? Keep the plot straightforward and the structure rigid (Clockwork is, at its heart, a very simple morality play broken into three equal-weighted acts, and tracing a downright medieval character trajectory).[*]

And so on. There’s a million combinations, but it starts with realizing that your reader’s attention is finite and precious, and you need to make hard choices in directing and managing that attention.

The 45/45/10 Formula

My fall-back formula for managing cognitive load in a story is to break it into 45/45/10 by word count:

  • The first 45% of the words are the Setup: Characters and situations are presented and relationships made clear.
  • The next 45% of the words are the Tangle: A complication disrupts (or at least complicates) the situation laid out in the Setup.
  • The last 10% of the story is the Resolution: The knot is Untangled, for better or worse.[**]

45/45/10 stories have pretty consistently proven easier for me to place than anything else, and I believe that’s because they are much easier to read. (It’s a very common pattern–you see it all over short stories and novels–and students of creative writing will no doubt notice that it’s basically a boiled-down version of the infamous three-act structure I was going on about last week. Just to make a quick point about process, though: I fall back on the 45/45/10 as a way to analyze things I’m revising, or to help me suss out where I should go next if I lose the thread of my narrative, but it isn’t like I use it to generate stories. It’s a formula into which I plug in characters, situations, and problems, not a handle I crank so that a black-box will poop out a salable story.)

Penn & Teller Cut Through the Tangle

So, all that said, here’s Penn & Teller’s version of Sawing the Lady in Half. I love P&T, but not just because they are good magicians (in fact, having seen them live now and again, I can see that they aren’t always that hot, in terms of the mechanics of sleight-of-hand; they botch things just as often as any other live pros). What I love about P&T is that they make the fact that magic is a narrative art front and center; it’s not about technique or gimmicks or effect, it’s about telling stories (just like good ads and good poems and good stories). And, because I’m still a post-modern comp lit student at heart, I’m tickled even further by the fact that their stories are always metafictions, stories about the nature of stories themselves, and story telling. They are meta-magicians whose work, over the long haul, comments on and critiques their craft in a deep and loving way. I love that meaty, rich approach, which means that even if I occasionally find the execution a little weak, I don’t care because the overall narrative of the trick is itself delightful and instructive.

As is the case here: this trick–and oldy, but a goody–falls tidily into my best belovéd 45/45/10 formula: They give as a full Setup–with four characters (one of them being us, the audience, who in P&T’s stories is always a character), they Tangle that Setup, and then they Resolve it in a way that implicates everyone involved (including us, the audience). it is a tight and lovely 3min35sec. Watch it, and watch the clock while you do:

Continue reading “Write Better: Watch Penn & Teller Saw Your Cognitive Load in Half! #writing”

Narrative, Argument, and 3-Part Structures: Beginning, Middle, End; Pity, Fear, Catharsis; Claim, Support, Conclude; Arrive, Observe, Conquer

Listen: All pieces of halfway decent writing–all jokes, all ad copy, all novels, all recipes, all news articles–are narrative, and all narrative is formulaic. There aren’t exceptions, just the rule. And that formula, at it’s base, is the Fundamental Three-Part Structure[*]

But, to be clear, I never draft anything beginning with the Structure. I don’t think the Formula is any good for generating “content.” That said, once I catch the thread of what I’m working on, I invariably start to break it down into its three parts, in order to get a sense of how I should develop the piece. This is basically automatic now with essays–because I’ve been writing them for so damn long–but I still very self-consciously seek out the parameters of the “Setup,” “Tangle,” and “Untangle” (my pet names for these parts in fiction) when I’m working a story (and it very much feels like *working* a story, not *writing* it or *drafting* it; you work a story like you work clay).

So, while you might not buy into that tired old “three-act structure,” I think you discount structure and formula, in general, at your peril. For me, the refusal to see writing fiction as being fundamentally the same as writing non-fiction–structurally–immeasurably slowed my progress as a writer of stories: All of my sales were happy accidents, all my failures bewildering mysteries.
But the thing is that not everyone’s formulation of the Fundamental Three-Part Structure works for everyone else. Like I said, because I had an early and thorough introduction to drama (esp. Shakespeare–a writer of *five* act plays), I rejected the “three-act structure” early (and lamentably).
But there are *tons* of ways of characterizing the Fundamental Three-Part Structure–just like there are tons of faces of the One True God (*zing!*) The trick is finding the characterization that works for you (I’ll share mine down the road–but tonight this needs to be short, so short I’ll keep it). Aristotle, for example, characterized the Fundamental Three-Part Structure as the audience–identifying with the protagonist–being guided through Pity, Fear, and Catharsis.

It’s in that spirit that I present this talk by Julian Friedmann. He’s a literary/screen(?) agent I’d never heard of before, but he has a somewhat novel spin on the Fundamental Three-Part Structure. He talks about structure and Aristotle’s Pity-Fear-Catharsis starting around 8:18, but the whole thing is a worthy watch. I also very much dig Friedmann explanation of why we consistently and deeply enjoy narrative, in that it is an opportunity to “rehearse our fears.” I think that’s important, esp. if you want to make some dough in this game, or are perplexed why something with abysmal writing–like THE HUNGER GAMES–is a bestseller, while countless beautifully written novels bumble along boring you to tears. A big part of it is that those lovely pieces of lyrical writing have failed to make sure their structure is sturdy and balanced. And part of it is that they are giving you no opportunity to rehearse your fear of what comes next.

Continue reading “Narrative, Argument, and 3-Part Structures: Beginning, Middle, End; Pity, Fear, Catharsis; Claim, Support, Conclude; Arrive, Observe, Conquer”

DIE HARD (its Origins), Violence, Redemption, and Xmas (Plus a Bonus Writing Tip!)

Good pal Mojo got me thinking about DIE HARD again the other day, and it brought to mind the novel that movie is based on, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER by Roderick Thorpe–which I read over Xmas last year. Below I’ve pasted a slight polishing-up of my Goodreads review of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (which I gave 4 of 5 stars) from early this year.

Takeaway: “Xmas stories are inherently about redemption, as is Xmas, which for so many families seems to be the Hail Mary pass of the emotional calendar.”

And also this fact: As Americans we have quietly accepted–in our narratives, and in our government actions, and in our news stories, and in our lives–that the truest Redemption comes through Violence. I don’t state that as media criticism, but as Fact: The Big Win if we want to reduce the amount of high-speed lead going into bodies in this country won’t come from bickering about banning X or buying back Y or screaming about Z’s right to keep and bear As, or screeching that all the Bs are a bunch of Cs for valuing their Ds more than the lives of Es . . . or whatever. It won’t come from threats (no matter how dire) or from punishments (no matter how sever). We will significantly curb our violence when we start telling each other new stories about how to address problems with something other than Force. Full stop.

So, please, be gently–with yourself and with everyone else–on these Days of Awe.

Anyway, that got harsh, and I apologize; it’s Funseasoneveryonehappytime! So, the review:

Here’s the caveat on that rating: This book is actually 5+ for fans of DIE HARD (not the franchise, which God willing *has no fans*, but the original movie), but probably something like 3 stars for Normal Humans Not Already Wrapped Up in an Exploration of Crime Fiction and 1970s Nihilism (for those touring American crime fiction looking to get the lay of the land, I give this an honest 4 stars–and there we sit).

This book is sturdy enough–the pace is good, the bigotry relatively muted, the writing basically stays out of the way–but I’m going to go out on a limb and says that the only thing that makes it remotely interesting to the vast bulk of modern readers is that it’s the basis for DIE HARD (which, incidentally, is my favorite Christmas movie. In case it can’t go without saying, I’m not Christian–but nonetheless feel this film, both in content and mood, captures something ineffable but central to the Xmases of my youth. I can even go so far as to let DIE HARD 2 in on Xmas. But it stops there, Bruce Willy, despite you being my shiznt. For real.) But it’s NOTHING LASTS and DIE HARD taken *together* that’s so fascinating, because they’re basically Dark Twins.

DIE HARD retains the structure of NOTHING LASTS: The basic formula is the same (Problem Solver arrives to CA via plane, ends up sucked into loved one’s raucous office Xmas party, thugs invade, elevators, machine guns, cops and walkie-talkies, ho-ho-ho, &c.), all of the set-piece action sequences that make DIE HARD a delight are carried over from the movie, and both are similarly rooted in a downright iron-clad commitment to the Aristotelian Unities of time/space/action[*] They are, in essence, the same fundamental story told differently, like two bands’ alternate covers of the same ur-song. (I know, it sounds like I’m bizarrely claiming that somehow NOTHING LASTS–which came first and is the *cited source* for DIE HARD doesn’t have primacy. I am, in fact, claiming just that. Like STAR WARS vs. WHATEVER SOURCE YOU FAVOR, this story hits a Deep Place in the American psyche).

But DIE HARD and NOTHING LASTS are twins separated at birth and raised in different homes and in different time periods. DIE HARD–and this is why the DH version of the story has legs that NOTHING LASTS doesn’t–is fundamentally about the Redemptive Power of Violence (both enacting and enduring violence) in the New Year Birth Season of what, in all honesty, is sort of the craziest God you could make up. It makes the ur-story seem like some Norse myth lit only by fire in the darkest depths of the dying time. NOTHING LASTS is no less violent, no less grueling for protagonist or thrilling for the reader, but it is deeply cynical (in the way only America of the ’70s could be) and fundamentally nihilistic. It’s not about the Redemptive Power of Violence because it exists in a universe where there can be no redemption–which is also why, in contrast to DH, it doesn’t *read* as a Christmas story, despite having exactly the same timing and setting.

Xmas stories are inherently about redemption, as is Xmas, which for so many families seems to be the Hail Mary pass of the emotional calendar.

By itself, NOTHING LASTS is the sorta book you find abandoned in a beach rental, read over the course of a couple days while your kids get sunburned, then re-abandon in a motel lobby once you’ve finished the final page. But reading it against DIE HARD lets you see what’s really making DIE HARD work as an essential Xtian American text about how Violence–absorbing it and meting it out–is *the* Way to Solve Our Problems. Frankly, having them side by side answers a helluva lotta questions raised by the daily news.

Recommended, especially in this time of Giving and Receiving.

Jim Crace’s Harvest, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, the Hooptie-Jaguar Continuum, Moral Fiction, Grammarly, & Disclosures

(Disclosure: The publisher sent me a review copy of HARVEST because I *loved* Crace’s THE PESTHOUSE so much. HARVEST didn’t hit me nearly so squarely as PESTHOUSE–largely because of my inborn anti-Anglophilia bias–but is still a great read. Slow, yes, but tense and engaging. The language is taut, and the progress as steady and terrifying as watching those videos of the 2011 tsunami rolling into Fukushima.)

So, let’s broadly assume that a car more or less has two systems: The go-parts (engine, brakes, transmission, etc.) and the looky-parts (body shape, paint job, seats, handling, etc.) An ugly ass car with a solid engine–i.e., a “hooptie”– will get you places. You might be embarrassed to be seen in it, but it gets the job done, and in a pinch you are *always* grateful for the solid lil mule. A beautiful car with nothing reliable inside–e.g., my dad’s much mourned late-60s British-racing-green Jaguar–is lovely to look at, but frustrates you into rage when you actually try to get anything done.

In terms of books, something like HUNGER GAMES is a hooptie: It’s a chugging little story held together by duct tape, rust, wire coat hangers, and your inability to afford something better. A lot of the more literary-influenced speculative fiction that’s hot right now (Kameron Hurley’s GOD’S WAR, for example) is on the other end: Wonderful language, evocative worlds, interesting conceits, but 100 pages in I still can’t figure out where the hell I’m going–or if the car’s even moving. I mean, I sorta don’t care, ’cause it feels pretty rad to just *sit* in a ’60s Jaguar, but that’s the thing: You’re stuck just sitting in it. (FYI, I’m 90% sure I’ve swiped this car metaphor from Joe Hill, or maybe from his dad, or maybe even both of them on separate occasions. I’m the GONE IN 60 SECONDS of concept-plagiarism!)

Crace’s HARVEST is right in the middle–despite being pretty deep into the “literary” end of the spectrum. The language is restrained and lyric, the characters deep without being ponderous, the conceit interesting but simple–meanwhile, the story actually moves forward with grace and momentum. I never found myself up til 2am still turning pages (as I regularly do with our Lord and Savior, Stephen King–and did with Crace’s PESTHOUSE), but I was also never tempted to abandon the book. Even when I was called away for a few days (I’ve got a toddler who frequently sucks at sleeping), I was always able to drop right back into the story and characters, and glad to do so.

Like PESTHOUSE, this novel is *also* a post-apocalypse novel, just one that happens to be set in the historically accurate past. A few weeks back a filmmaking/photographing pal of mine wondered aloud (via Twitter) if rubble was *mandatory* to post-apocalyptic dystopias (subtly bemoaning, I think, the aesthetic stagnation in this vein of storytelling). Fortunately, I can point her to HARVEST, where Crace gives us a model of a dystopian future that isn’t rooted in Rust Belt Detroit rubble, or even in the future. The world, it seems, has already ended over and over and over again.

HARVEST is a workmanlike novel, and I say that with admiration–and the suspicion that, considering the topic and central ideas, this was a conscious choice, to craft a novel that is solid and reliable and workmanlike, as opposed to one which soars. That capacity to show the restraint due your subjects tips us off to how accomplished and masterly Crace is. All of which is to say that this book is, in a way, a sort of literary pool sharking. *Damn!* Mutherfucker played us for fools all along!

Carrying forward with our discussion of the “hooptie-Jaguar continuum” (i.e., poorly written tales with great engines vs. beautifully crafted tales that don’t go anywhere), John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR is a bit to the hooptie end of things. This is by no means an insult, because the story has a great little mule of an engine–it had me up late reading on many nights. Heck, it’s even a fairly good looking hooptie: the prose itself is solid and stays out of the way. It’s a Good Book(TM).

That said, there is *a lot* crammed in there–seemingly every notion Scalzi had about war and age and distance and loss–and so the impact of any one of his really interesting, possibly intricate ideas is sorta lost in the roar (part of the reason that the novel is three-star, rather than four). The shoehorning bummed me out, since it meant that we raced right past a lot of stuff that I really wanted to explore–and that brings me around to the other reason I’ve low-starred a book that, honestly, I really, really enjoyed:
What the Hell is this book saying about war?

Just to clarify, it isn’t that this book is saying something about war that I disagree with; plenty of books and stories and films I’ve liked a lot argue for the nobility and necessity of Violence. Even when I find it disagreeable, I can always live with a well-formed claim, attractively presented. My beef here is that whatever Young Scalzi’s ideas of war were, they aren’t on the page in any coherent way.

Part of the problem is that this *really* seemed like it was building towards being a statement about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I know that might sound nuts, but it seemed far from accidental that the army in the novel is the is the CDF (or “Colonial Defense Forces”)–a pretty obvious analogue (in my eyes) to the real-world Israeli army (the one every Israeli, male and female, is conscripted into), which is the “IDF” (“Israeli Defense Force”). More to the point, the position of Scalzi’s earthlings–humans as an embattled minority that needs to hack out a foothold in the Universe by any means necessary–is precisely the founding principal of the State of Israel. It just seemed too obvious a match.
But Young Scalzi appears to have next to nothing to say about war–not in the Mid-East in the 20th/21stC, or anywhere else at any time.

Ultimately, the most the book might be said to claim is something like “war is really bad and wasteful, but we have no alternative,” and that strikes me as nothing more than the sort of weak “giving air time to both sides” BS we see when journalists let a climate scientist speak for 5 minutes, then let a denier speak for 5 minutes, and act like the preponderance of evidence *doesn’t* all fall to one side.

I’m not saying war is such a clear cut case. But I am saying that Scalzi fails to attempt to articulate a solid claim about the utility of war. You might counter that maybe Scalzi didn’t *want* to argue about war. Leaving aside the fundamental question (Why would you want to write a war book with “WAR” in the title and *not* argue about war?), my reply is this: It was Scalzi’s responsibility to tell us, his readers, something about war. *That’s* what this needed to be a 4-star book. Again, it didn’t need to say what *I* wanted said about war, it just had to say *something* about war. I *totally* disagree with what DIE HARD says about the Redemptive Power of Violence, but that’s easily a 4-star piece of storytelling.
Here’s the brass tacks: If you write, and if you write well, then your stories–not history, or statistics, or day-to-day observations–are going to constitute the bulk of what forms your fellow citizens’ worldviews. Regardless of what they say, very few men and women enlist because they want to uphold the Constitution; they enlist because of TOP GUN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, “Dulce et decorum est . . .” and all that jazz.
Scalzi–even the Young Scalzi that wrote this debut novel–is such an able storyteller, and has become over time such a Lion for Justice, that his fundamental mealy-mouthedness in OLD MAN’S WAR sorely disappointed me. In the end, saying nothing in this way is a form of cowardice. At best, then, OLD MAN’S WAR’s statement about war is sort of an implied meta-statement cribbed from Yeats’s “Second Coming”:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

Interestingly, this failure to stake a moral claim seems to become more pronounced as you move toward the “hooptie” end of the Hooptie-Jaguar Continuum. HUNGER GAMES, for example, likewise seems untroubled by its disinterest in examining the presumably accidental irony of denouncing state-sponsored violence while glorifying the Personally Redemptive Power of Violence. It’s as though–as is so often the case with an actual automotive hooptie–that we get so wrapped up in keeping the car moving that we totally lose track of why we’re going where we’re going, and if going there is a good idea to begin with.

That said, OLD MAN’S WAR left me eager to read more of Scalzi, eager to see if he’s grown more bold in staking out moral territory in his fiction–’cause that is the real battleground, brothers and sisters. Just like every writer who came before you, your op-eds and blog posts and “statements of belief” and whatever will be lost to time; it’s only the stories that’ll last, so the stories are the places where you need to make your argument.

FYI: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because a pleasant young man flattered me, asked nicely, and offered me mild compensation in the form of an Amazon GC. Grammarly dinged me on 47(!!!) critical writing issues and gave me a failing grade (36 out of 100!) for this post. Check it out:

So, there’s your grains of salt. (In case it seems whack, the “Plagiarism” charge is reasonable, as this post draws heavily from two book reviews I previously published.)