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Rutabaga

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About Rutabaga

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  • Birthday January 30

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  1. +1 to that recommendation -- thanks for it. Notable insights: Any time readers need to stop reading, back up, and re-read parts of story is bad because it pulls them out of the story. It’s work, and if your readers feel they’re working too hard, they’re just going to stop reading. And this: Each POV character needs a distinct personality. . . . If all your characters sound like the exact same person, readers get confused. A confused reader will only put up with reading for so long before they give up and move on. I am currently reading The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley, which was published in 1928. It definitely showcases an omniscient style of writing, where the storyteller injects his own views fairly often. In this excerpt, the lead character, Roger Sheringham, has been engaged to write a periodic column for a London newspaper, and on his way into the newspaper office is handed a letter that came in the mail for him. Roger always enjoyed this twice-weekly moment. In spite of his long acquaintance with them, ranging over nearly ten years, he was still able to experience a faint thrill on receiving letters from complete strangers. Praise of his work arriving out of the unknown delighted him; abuse filled him with combative joy. He always answered each one with individual care. It would have warmed the hearts of those of his correspondents who prefaced their letters with diffident apologies for addressing him (and nine out of ten of them did so), to see the welcome their efforts received. All authors are like this -- and all authors are careful to tell their friends what a nuisance it is having to waste so much time in answering the letters of strangers, and how they wish people wouldn't do it. All authors, in fact, are . . . . But that is enough about authors. A few pages later we encounter this: Roger pored over the picture. Like amateur snapshots, the pictures in an illustrated paper are considered fair game for the humorist. Whenever a painstaking humorist has to mention them he prefixes one of two epithets, "blurred" or "smudgy." Yet the pictures in the illustrated dailies of to-day are neither blurred nor smudgy. They were once, it is true, perhaps so late as ten years ago, when the art of picture-printing for daily newspapers was an infant; nowadays they are astonishingly clear. One does wish sometimes that even humorists would move with the times. These asides remind me of Byron's witty side-comments sprinkled throughout his epic poem Don Juan. And there's little question that this kind of overt, independent conversation with the storyteller has pretty much disappeared from today's fiction. I'm not sure that is a bad thing, honestly. R
  2. As your question implies, the issue of whether something is a good story is separate from the issue of whether it is well-written. These are both such broad topics that it would be hard to capture comprehensive answers on this kind of forum, but I'll hazard a few thoughts. A good story, in my view, is one that captures the reader's interest and maintains it to the end. It should generally involve characters and circumstances that are sufficiently familiar that the reader can relate to them while at the same time providing new and unexpected twists that take those things out of the realm of cliché and predictability. If the story is fashioned in a specific genre, it should honor the conventions of that genre sufficiently that the reader does not feel cheated. Often the story will follow the "Hero's Journey" in which the protagonist must face opposing forces and endeavor to triumph over them. Good stories generally involve conflict and challenge. A well-written story uses thoughtful and appropriate language, is relatively free from grammar and punctuation errors, and conveys its information with fresh and non-hackneyed forms of expression. It follows a logical structure, and information is revealed in a carefully controlled manner -- according to the immediate needs of that part of the story -- rather than simply dumped on the reader. It establishes its story universe early on, and does not violate that universe as the story progresses. It has a beginning, middle, and end. The story resolution is plausible, even if surprising, following logically from everything that was set up before . . . and generally reflecting the protagonist's effort to deal with his or her challenges. Confusion -- such as multiple characters having very similar names -- is avoided as much as possible. Those are my immediate thoughts. R
  3. As a member of the peanut gallery, I would encourage you to give this project a try. If Mike posts links to your revised stories on the AD home page, that will bring them to the attention of a whole new audience. I would expect very few people to stumble across revised editions that are simply hiding as links on your author page. As to changing the outcome: I agree with the precept of not changing the outcome if you are portraying the revised story as an updated, cleaned-up version of the old story. If the outcome needs to change, I would suggest leaving the old story where it is and publishing a new story under a (slightly) different title, and perhaps even including an introductory note in the new piece giving homage to the old version. My romantic side also requests that you do not change happy endings to tragic endings unless the compulsion is great. Best of luck with your journey. R
  4. The plot thickens, with a pretty despicable bad guy who has ties to bad guys from earlier parts of the story. R
  5. I want to make clear that my critique was only as to the ping-pong shift of first person viewpoints between the two principal characters in the story. As a technique I felt this approach was not well-suited to the dynamic of the story, because there were no real surprises lurking in the brains of each opposing character once we got to look inside. In other words, if character A is the current POV character, and says something to character B that causes character B to scowl, and character A reports to the reader that he sees character B scowling, the obvious inference is that whatever character A said to character B caused some negative reaction in character B. The nature of that reaction can be inferred from the words used by character A. It adds nothing of real consequence to then switch to the viewpoint of character B, have character B hear the statement by character A, and then have character B tell the reader that this statement causes some kind of concern. We already get that. True, the reader may get an inside look at the precise reason this statement caused concern for character B, but knowing that information is very often not necessary to the reader's overall understanding of the story. Stated another way, the unfolding of the story generally includes an unfolding of the reason for a character's concern, and will typically center (in this example) on character A's efforts to decipher what's going on. If an author wants to use a Rashomon-like approach to telling a story, presenting it from different viewpoints, I think it takes a good measure of skill, and I think it needs to be strongly justified by some aspect of the story that could not be revealed in a conventional narrative based on one character's point of view. To work well, in my opinion, the shifting viewpoints need to have clear and unmistakable differences in "voice" and attitude, such that a reader knows instantly when reading a passage which of the characters is narrating. Otherwise the reader wastes time trying to figure out which person is talking at a given moment. And I think that there needs to be something unexpected and crucial in the brain of a second character -- something that makes a fundamental difference to the story -- that the first character (and the world) would not otherwise know about, and that a reader needs to know about right then (rather than discovering it later). For an example of multiple first-person viewpoints that worked more effectively in my view, see https://www.nifty.org/nifty/gay/young-friends/puppy-love. Significantly, these were three separate and continuous narrations of the same series of events -- more genuinely Rashomon-like -- and not the ping-pong style of hopping between to characters in the course of the events. But I thought there was some value in the multiple viewpoints because we learned some unexpected things about the characters that way . . . it wasn't all predictable. Having said all that, however, I enjoyed this story and don't want to leave a negative impression overall. As far as verisimilitude -- the concept that the story was "removed from reality" -- I think we readers need to cooperate with the author in accepting the premises for the sake of the story. Alfred Hitchcock once said, "What is drama but life with the dull parts taken out?" From the standpoint of the laws of physics, Mitch could have kissed Gary in the restroom. In other words, we are not asked to abandon the world we know, as we would if Mitch had, say, magically levitated three feet off the ground in the restroom. Thus, while Mitch's action may be unexpected and even unlikely, it does not require disregard of our understanding of the natural world. Similarly, although the father's evolution in thinking was surprising (to me at least), it certainly was not beyond the realm of actual possibility. I'm OK with it and glad for the outcome. If not, I would never be able to read any of the stories by Grant Bentley. And, by the way, I definitely approve of the cover picture. R
  6. New short story posted here: http://www.awesomedude.com/alan_dwight/in-the-beginning/in-the-beginning.htm It is a gratifying story which reached a better ending than I had anticipated from the way it was developing. Worth a read. My one overall comment is this, however: I did NOT find the alternating first-person viewpoints of Gary and Mitch to be particularly satisfying in conveying the story. It seemed contrived and unnecessary, as there was no discernible difference in "voice" between the characters, and no hidden elements lurked on either side that made the shifting viewpoints essential to the story. In other words, no real surprises emerged from either viewpoint -- their reactions to events and issues were fairly predictable even without an inside look at their individual ways of thinking -- and the shifts just made things slightly more confusing for the reader in keeping track of who "I" and "he" represented. R
  7. If I ever want to be nibbled to death, I'll know where to turn. E
  8. Yes, indeed -- I love the Edward Petherbridge portrayal of WImsey, which rings very true. I actually have all of those TV episodes on DVD. I had not thought of Sayers at the time of my original post, but I think she is pretty well-known. I have read all of her Wimsey stories (wish there were more). For some reason I had not heard of Crofts or Berkeley until recently, and there are probably some other dark-horse authors in there as well. I'm finding it much easier to locate Berkeley compared to Crofts at the library. Of course all of this is just to fill the time awaiting @Nigel Gordon and his next series in the "Living with Johnny" saga. R
  9. A quick follow-up: I just finished "The Layton Court Mystery," Anthony Berkeley's first mystery. Great fun, and full of twists and turns right up to the end. R
  10. Of course most people are familiar with Agatha Christie as an author of detective fiction, and to perhaps a slightly lesser extent Ngaio Marsh, but I have recently been discovering two of their contemporaries from the 1920s onward: Freeman Wills Crofts, and his "Inspector French" stories, and Anthony Berkeley, and his Roger Sheringham stories. My local public library has both authors available in e-book form (more of Berkeley than Crofts) and I am enjoying the quaint style of these books. In contrast to today's typical styles, both authors lean heavily to an omniscient style where the narrator (and the narrator's point of view) becomes an integral part of the story. I have also been sequencing through each of Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn stories, guided by a list of them in order that I found online. It turns out that there is a definite sequence to them. Again, the local library obligingly offers them in Kindle e-book form. R
  11. Just checking in again @Nigel Gordon to encourage you to keep moving forward on this tale. The peanut gallery wants to see the good guys prevail and the bad guys get their just deserts. R
  12. Story's index page here: http://www.awesomedude.com/alan_dwight/a-wash-ashore/index.htm This story is set somewhere between Provincetown and Chatham on a storm-wracked stretch of Cape Code, in the late 19th century. Out of tragic circumstances at the beginning, two plucky young men find their way together, with both mistakes and triumphs. A good read. R
  13. I decided it wasn't fair not to include a speculation photo of Jeff; R
  14. The "Border Wolves" series provides the kind of guilty pleasure that is hard to resist -- romance, fantasy, and plenty of sexual activity. Not a whole lot of profound philosophical content or enduring life lessons . . . just a really fun read with engaging good guys and really bad bad guys. It is undoubtedly best to start out at the beginning of the series rather than joining it in later segments; it will make much more sense that way. R
  15. Continuing my series, we do not get any real information about the appearance of Bax (Brian Baxter) but here is one possibility that occurred to me: Seems like both David and Jordan have come out of these events with stronger and more self-assured personalities. And kudos to Jeff for being a loyal defender of his friends. David could well be right that Jeff will outshine him as he grows up, but there's little question of Jeff's loyalty and affection. Good show.
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