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The Change Up

In baseball, the change-up is a pitch a bit slower than the fastball.  The batter, expecting the fastball, swings early and WHOOSH.  Strike-three.  You’re out.

In writing, however, I use the term “change up” to mean a significant shift in mood.  TV tropes calls it “Mood Whiplash” and “Mood Dissonance”.

Joss Whedon is a master of it. (See Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog as a good example.)

The Change Up is an important tool in fiction.  Let me give you an example, not from fiction writing itself but one that illustrates the point.

When I first got an MP3 player, I loaded it up with my absolute favorite songs.  Now, at the time, my tastes ran to rather sentimental love songs and ballads.  Soon I had a playlist consisting of all my very favorite songs.

Only one problem.  The playlist was boring.  There wasn’t anything wrong (for my tastes at the time) with any of the songs on It–remember, they were all among my top favorites–but the same basic themes and styles over and over again became monotonous.  The fix, in that case was simple, to go further down my list of favorites and find some music with different styles and different themes to add to the mix.  The result was a far more interesting, and less boring, play list.

I find the same thing happening in fiction.  I like gritty, realistic military SF.  Such fiction often tends to be grim.  But the fiction I’ll come back to, the series I’ll stick with, and the writers I will continue to follow, are those who add a bit of lightness to the mix–humor, perhaps, or maybe some romance.

So don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit.  Add some levity to your dark and gritty story.   Get serious occasionally in your lighthearted comedy.  You may find your story all the better for it.

The anticlimax. It’s important

One thing some writer’s miss is the falling action (termed anticlimax by some) after the main climax of a story.  Some people stop right at the climax or, worse, right before the climax, when it becomes obvious that the climax is going to happen (for example, in a romance as soon as it becomes clear the girl is going to say “yes”).

This can be a mistake.

One of my favorite anime series was Maison Ikkoku. After about 92 episodes of torment. The principles go round and round with each other, two steps forward, 1.999 back, and so on, they finally “get together” in episode 92. Then the next 4 episodes showcase the new relationship and tie up various minor loose ends from subplots. And when it is done, it is done. The everlovin’ end. No more to be said. This story is over.

Compare with another one I liked but found rather unsatisfying in its ending, Marmalade Boy. (Why, yes, I do have a liking for funny romance, emphasis on romance. Why do you ask?) The basic structure of this one is that the primary couple, after they get together, faces a series of every increasing “threats” to their relationship. They get past one only to face a bigger challenge later. And when the series ends, there’s no real “They’ve finally made it” in beating the latest (rather than “last” if you get the distinction) of a series of challenges. What’s almost embarrassing to watch is that the final denouement is a resolution for a secondary character, not the primaries. Perhaps that was “realistic” in that there are no guarantees in real life and anything short of ones death leaves the possibility that things could go bad. Still, it didn’t make for satisfying fiction, not for me. So a good series that I enjoyed right up until the end and then went . . . bleh.

The key difference here is that one took the time after the “climax” to establish the new situation, to show that, yes, the conflict had been resolved, that it wasn’t just another of the “two steps forward” to be quickly followed by “1.999 steps back.”  The other one lacked that.  And, so, the other one was a less satisfying ending for me as a watcher.

So don’t be afraid to take a little time after the main conflict is resolved to show that it has been resolved and to show the new situation that arises out of the resolution.  Don’t take too much, of course, but a little bit can pay big dividends in reader satisfaction.

Neil Armstrong, Rest in Peace

Taking a moment to mourn the passing of one of truly great figures of the Space Age:  Neil Armstrong.

Born in 1930 Neil served as a Navy Fighter pilot and served in the Korean War.  He became a test pilot before entering the astronaut program.

His first trip into Space was with Gemini 8.  This mission accomplished the first ever docking between two space vehicles–the Gemini capsule and the Agena target vehicle.  During that mission a malfunction caused the spacecraft to tumble out of control.  Neil was able to recover control sufficiently to successfully re-enter saving the capsule and the lives of Neil and his fellow astronaut David Scott.

Later, during preparations for the Apollo moon landings, a highly experimental training vehicle began to have control problems while Neil was flying it.  He ejected at the last possible instant (later analysis suggested that a mere half second further delay would have not given his parachute time to open) and his only injury was from biting his tongue.  Although nearly killed in the accident, Neil later credited the experience in that vehicle with making the moon landings possible.

Then, finally, in Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Buz Aldrin (with Michael Collins remaining in the command module above them) made the first ever landing on another body by human beings.  The landing itself was not without its own harrowing moments.  When their planned landing area appeared to be unsafe, Neil took over manual control, shifted their descent, and safely brought the Lunar Excursion Module (the LEM) to a landing with a mere thirty seconds of fuel remaining.

After his famous trip to the moon, Neil generally lived a quiet life but his legacy remains.  As a science fiction writer I find Neil and his legacy to be important to me personally.

It is still my hope that we might move beyond this one planet, out beyond the Earth and the Moon, and eventually to the Stars, and that our children’s, children’s children will look back on a truly great man who led the way.

Goodbye, Neil.  You will be missed.

Another Rogues in Hell review

The Dowser’s Delusions

I’ve always been a fan of the shared-world universe of Thieves World. It’s sword and sorcery at its best: character-oriented, with great plots and stories. Janet Morris has been editing, and writing stories for her “In Hell” shared-world Universe for quite some time now: Heroes in Hell and Lawyers in Hell. And now, continuing with the series, she brings us Rogues in Hell, which IMHO is the best of the lot. I love the whole concept behind the series, the cultures, inhabitants and levels of Hell. It’s quite a cool concept, and for writers this is a great place to let your imagination run wild. And I like the use of historical, legendary and mythic characters.

A review for Rogues in Hell

Rogues in Hell contains my latest story “The Place of Fear.”  It has just been reviewed at:

Nephite Blood, Spartan Heart

Rogues in Hell created by Janet Morris, edited by Janet and Chris Morris, with the diabolical assistance of their damnedest writers

Into the rich shared world milieu of Morris’s  In Hell series we are given glimpses into a number of adventures and cruel double-crosses.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the varied and wild assortment in this rogues gallery, there were quite a few individuals I guess I never expected to see in Hell, among them Mary Shelley, Ben Franklin, Solomon, Wyatt Earp, Frank Hopkins, Bat Masterson, and T.E. Lawrence. Some others I have to admit to not being too surprised about as residents of the netherworld.


Periodic Product Shill

Books and other things by The Writer in Black that you can buy:

Rogues in Hell (Heroes in Hell 13)

Sword & Sorceress 26

Lawyers in Hell (Heroes in Hell 12)

Analog Science Fiction & Fact April ’91

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Winter 1991

Books by Janet and Chris Morris (Editors of the Heroes in Hell series):

Interview with the Devil (Heroes in Hell series)

The Fish, the Fighters, and the Song Girl

The Sacred Band

Wake of the Riddler

Mage Blood