Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Last of Us 2 -- My Final Thoughts *SPOILERS*

Okay! So, I have thought a lot about it (obsessed), and I think I get what The Last of Us 2 was going for. I am still going to maintain that it’s not the game we wanted. HOWEVER, it was kinda brilliant and I deeply respect what they have created here.


We spend the entire first game killing people like they are…well…video game characters. We never once pause to think about the nameless NPCs we’re mowing down to get to the climax, because we’re the protagonist, we’re the good guys. Since hopping on poor defenseless Koopas in Super Mario, we have been conditioned by games to just chew through the "bad guys" and not worry about the body count. Sometimes, if there is an achievement in a game to not kill anyone, or take a pure stealth route, we'll actually care, but that is about us, not about those nameless NPCs (non-player characters). 

In the beginning of TLoU2, we’re shown what it feels like to NOT be the protagonist, the hero of the story, but rather, just one of those pixel-people in the way of someone else’s climax. And we hates it!

We hate it so much we don’t even acknowledge it; it doesn't register that maybe this isn't our story as we head off on our quest for revenge, killing even more pixel-people without a care for who they are or what their story is. 

But this time they aren't nameless.

If you stand around in stealth long enough, you can hear the NPCs talking with each other about their own stories and lives. They got things going on! A lot of them just seem anxious to get home for dinner before the maniac slowly picking them all off (YOU) gets them. You kill a character in TLoU2, and some friend of theirs will happen across their body and mourn them, assuming you give the friend time before you kill them as well. You hear random names called out all through the game as you take characters out, including the DOGS.

Like Bear. I killed BEAR! OMG he looked like an overgrown corgi, and I demolished him with a hammer!

(RIP Bear. All he wanted was to play a little fetch with my liver...😔)

So we go all the way through this game, actively making the very point for Naughty Dog, and so many of us are so freakin’ self absorbed that even once it gets spelled at the end, we’re still pissed because…we’re the hero, dang it!

But, we’re not.

There are no heroes here, as in real life, just different points of view.

The world (especially in TLoU2) does not revolve around us. We could be, and likely are, all the villain in someone else’s story.

Honestly, it’s like a brutal lesson in empathy, which…given how crap the world is right now, is probably needed, and yet, for those of us who just wanted to take a break from all the bad and play a game with characters we loved, totally unwanted. I know I was personally looking for a little relief, and given I don't get to spend much money or time on entertainment, I was initially very disappointed.

Even now that I understand what they were doing the whole time, and why they made the choices they did, I am still a little let down. All this moral baggage put on the player is rough, especially given that the player gets no real chance to sway any of those decisions, to make the wrong choices for themselves—there is no real choice throughout the game. That makes it feel like we’re being punished for decisions we have no control over, sort of that Naughty Dog assumes we’re all bad guys and so we all need the same lesson—

Wait a minute! Did we just get made into NPCs? LOL Guess we should just be glad Devs didn’t ring our doorbell and throw a brick or soda bottle in our face, huh?

So, final thoughts...

In terms of entertainment, the story still gets lower marks from me (4/10), just in that it seemed the story wasn’t even intended to entertain (that’s what the gameplay is for—to distract you from the Jedi mind trick). If they cared about storycraft over the gimmick of  their Shyamalan POV twist, the story would have been organized differently, with less need for hackneyed flashbacks within flashbacks, and we would have legit started the game in the correct POV character.

The game play itself was beyond a 10/10. It was a beautiful game with amazing play and some of the best accessibility features I have ever seen (just in general a very inclusive experience).

 In terms of weaving something that really hits hard and makes you think…10/10. I have done little but obsess about it since the credits rolled. I would not be surprised or disappointed if it ends up game of the year.

Can’t wait to see how they mess with my head in TLoU3!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Hybrid Publishing?

A situation came up when dealing with a student recently, where I realized that not everyone looking to self-publish was around for the early wave of vanity publishers preying on inexperienced authors. The scam of promising an author a traditional publishing experience for a fee was one even my own mother fell for, so you would think it would always be at the forefront of my mind. Nope, there is nothing but vast echo of “meow meow meow meow” going on in there about 80% of the time. The other 20% is filled with exploring the futility of existence and the inevitable heat death of the universe.
The term “Hybrid Author” no longer just means an author who traditionally publishes as well as self publishes. The term has been taken over by the latest iteration of vanity presses, preying upon novice authors. What’s worse, many major, legitimate publishing houses now use these vanity presses as the “self-publishing arm” of their company, lending credibility to the predatory practice in exchange for a percentage of the profits—even though we trade in art, it must never be forgotten for a moment that a publisher’s main concern is running a business and making profit, not filling the world with great literature. They are not benevolent caretakers of our work and should not be trusted blindly—this is why we read contracts and give our agents a percentage of what we make to ensure we’re not being taken advantage of. Please be aware of what vanity presses look like in today’s publishing landscape and don’t be fooled.

Addition reading:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Damien Graves -- Guest Post -- Hineni

 Damien Graves here!
I haven’t yet set up a blog of my own, but as this is “Disturbed Graves” I figure I fit here as well as anywhere. While this is my mother’s blog, I will be doing the occasional guest blog, sharing writing exercises I have completed and every now and again a short story.

Below is a writing exercise I did in my Holocaust course, where we were meant to become a person being sent on their way to the death camps of Auschwitz. My professor was very pleased with the result of my exercise, so I wanted to share it. Now, while I am studying the Holocaust and WWII, I am by no means claiming to be anywhere near an expert, so if I got details wrong, I apologize.

For your consideration,



The smell that hit us when they opened the doors of the cattle train was a physical presence—the tang of soured bleach, old death, and defecation. Like a maw of some great beast gaping in the darkness, its perfumed promise of sorrow swallowed us up as we were herded as livestock into its unkind gloom.

I settled myself as well as I could in the corner of the car, propped against a water bucket. The available space was eaten up quickly by body after body forced into the car, packed like maggots in a wound, with scarcely a breath of distance between us. Men with overgrown and unkempt beards, women with tangled hair and fussy children, all scattered the interior of the train car now. They are people. I am people. Yet here we are, huddled for warmth in a box made for animals to the slaughter. I prayed the train would stop, the doors would open up, and we’d be released somewhere warm and dry, somewhere we could begin anew. Somewhere that hope still lived. Somewhere the children these women held might have a chance to smile again.

But I knew of the rumors. I knew where we were going. I knew where we were going and what was to come, and still I prayed. I prayed to God, as I always had done, to protect us, to help me see it through. I prayed to God even though it seemed so long since God had listened to any of us. God wasn’t in this place anymore. He seemed to have turned his back, shut his eyes, or perhaps just grown so weary of the human capacity for greed and cruelty that instead of sending flood or fire he’d decided to let us be the device of our own destruction. Would the war leave any who knew his name, to praise it, to raise it up with a hallelujah, or to curse it for his apparent cold indifference?

Would any of us on this train even make it to our stop? Its wheels rolled on and on for an eternity, and even in the ceaseless night within our car I could see most of us were but fading ghosts of ourselves. Fathers’ brows furrowed with worry for their children, daughters whimpered about the cold, mothers struggled to keep everyone together and put on the bravest faces of all of us to calm the little ones. Would I die when those wheels came to a halt? Or was I going to be put back to work, like in the ghettos? Was it selfish to think of what was to come for me when so many hollowed out and terrified faces surrounded me? Was it wrong to think of my own fate when looking into the eyes of a cold and hungry child who had not yet begun to live? Probably, but my fear was beyond my control now.

The train’s wheels slowed, screeched against the rails, and eventually those doors opened once more. The SS greeted us, harbingers of doom in snappy black uniforms. A larger officer stepped in front of me, his boots shining. He grabbed my shoulder and shook me hard before pushing me toward the exit. I landed awkwardly on my feet and shuffled aimlessly for a moment, and then the officers began barking orders. They divided us up, left and right, pushing people into different lines. I was urged to the right; I wasn't sure why they divided us up this way, many women and young children found themselves going left, older men, graying in hair were also sent to the left. We were ushered toward a gate with a sign that declared “Work Sets You Free.” We marched our way over to a building reminiscent of a barracks, long and made of brick, gray in every sense of the word. I was forced to undress, as we all were. I removed my scarf and coat, and more slowly my under things; the closer I came to being completely undressed, entirely on display, the more shame I felt. I was reluctant to part with my fragile armor, and clutched my shirt to my chest, imagining that maybe this one strip of cloth could spare me some dignity. It was ripped from my hands, and I was shoved, herded along with the others to be shaved.

I shambled along my course like a creature with no mind, deaf and blind and numb to the cries around me, to the slaughter I felt sure was to come. When I sat to be shaved, my mind was somewhere else, somewhere green, but the putrid stench of unwashed bodies and human waste wouldn’t let the fresh meadow in my mind persist. My hair was taken without ceremony, damn near half my scalp going with it, making me truly as naked as the day I was born, hairless and exposed. We were then given garments, prison uniforms, because that was what we were now. Prisoners. Criminals.

And now I have to ask myself, who am I? I’d been reduced to a man in stripes with a star pinned to his chest, my identity corrupted into something horrible, into something to be ashamed of. At least I was not alone. None of the men here looked as they had when we arrived, but rather the army of once unkempt men now resembled shaven rats. My father crosses my mind then; he’d always had long hair and a beard. Would I even recognize him if he were in the room with me now? Would he recognize me? I hope that he is not here, that he is never here, or any place such as this. I wouldn't want him to see me this way, and as much as I wanted to see him and Mom again, never, ever, here. What was is now gone, and I could not look to the past for comfort. All that was left was God’s will, and an uncertain future, however long it might last. I would face it as bravely as a man with no other option could be expected to. “Hineni…” I whisper. Hineni.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Boring Dialogue and How to Fix It

As an editor, I run across boring dialogue all the time. I consistently advise my authors to study "micro tension" and often to look into some of Donald Maass's books where he discusses it.

Good dialogue has good tension. Sometimes all that is needed to build tension is to give your audience an expectation of a negative outcome (they know something the characters don't or are pretending they don't), and then delaying that outcome while often teasing its arrival. Watch a few Tarantino films--the man knows his dialogue. Check out this scene for instance.

Warning: This scene is a bit graphic and the language gets offensive, NSFW. It's a Tarantino film, and that's just how he rolls.

Everyone knows that Candy knows Dr. King Schultz is playing him. When Candy returns to the room, the audience expects Schultz to be confronted. That doesn't happen, not immediately. Instead Candy engages the men he knows are trying to cheat him, appearing affable, all while telling a story that grows increasingly more threatening. The audience very quickly realizes that Schultz knows that Candy knows, and so throughout the entire nine minute scene we're expecting violence and a full confrontation. At multiple points it looks like the situation is going to explode into real violence, but it's not until about eight and a half minutes in when we're made to, for just a moment, think Django's wife is certainly going to be killed, and yet even in this expectation we're denied. The dialogue and interactions set up expectation, deny it, set it up, deny it again--this is tension.

An alternative scene that does nearly the same thing, but isn't quite so NSFW: 


Inglourious Basterds Analysis — The Elements of Suspense

But you don't always have a gun pointed at a character's back, and you don't always have imminent doom you can use for a scene you are writing. When that happens, micro tension is king, but even then it works on the same general principle of setting up expectations and then delaying them. Every scene should have a purpose, and every character in a scene should have a goal--what the character wants in the long run, and what the character wants RIGHT NOW. Tension in dialogue is created when the wants/needs of one character are at odds with the wants and needs of the other character. It can be as minor as a man really needing his morning cup of coffee, and a barista who really just wants the morning rush to clear out, so she can check Facebook on her iPhone. As both of these characters stand in the way of the other's needs, and the author delays fulfilling those needs, you create tension.

Micro tension at its finest! 

Check out these links for more information on micro tension:

Pick a passage of dialogue. Strip it down. Increase hostility between the speakers. It can be friendly ribbing, worried questioning, polite disagreement, snide derision, veiled threats, open hostility, or any other degree of friction.

You can add micro-tension in dialogue in two ways.

1. Escalate the language. This doesn't mean tossing in a bunch of F-bombs or otherwise. That's just trying to be edgy and failing. But don't let characters use wussy words or vague phrasing. Make their statements direct and strong. Use harsher, more meaningful words.

2. Have the dialogue create friction. Besides the composure of the dialogue, consider the content as well. Are people kitten footing around the issue when they talk to each other? Get them to call each other out. Perhaps one character uses a word the other might consider blasphemous or insulting. Don't let them become so diplomatic (unless it's that vitriolic diplomacy where tension is simmering below every nicety).

Maass says earlier in the chapter: Micro-tension is easily understood but hard to do. I know this because when teaching it in workshops I watch participants nod in understanding when I explain it, but see them stare helplessly at their pages when they try to do it themselves.

Dialogue becomes compelling when the two speakers are emotionally at odds with each other: perhaps one is dubious of the other's argument. The reader reads on, wanting to know -- needing to know -- if, at the end of the conversation, the speakers will be reconciled.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Don’t blink! Authors Don’t Look Away. (Part One of My Unsolicited Advice Series)

Well, some do, and when an author blinks an angel eats their soul with spidery mandibles and coughs up a hairball of mediocre prose that gives us all a bad name. Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but it can take a potentially amazing work and make it blah.

As a professional editor, I've found the advice I end up giving to my authors more often than not is to get deeper into their character’s POV, and to not be afraid to type the words that make them cringe. Good writing comes from the heart. Awe inspiring comes from the gut, particularly if you’ve torn it out and drizzled it all over the paper—go there, say it, write it. The more difficult a scene feels to approach, the more important it is that you free yourself to write it.

Let the bad guys be BAD.

One of the worst lit crimes I see, and I see it often, is when authors write jerks. Jerks, asses, and douche-bags get no love in most books. They may get a lot of screen time (probably not) but they don’t get the TLC of a protagonist. This is a problem, because you could have a book with really well developed protagonists,but when you pit them against their jerky rival, the scene loses balance and authenticity—it’s hard to take a hero seriously when he’s fighting a cardboard cut out of a cartoon bad guy. If you really want to make that “bad guy” believable, and the threat to the protagonist genuine, you need to employ the same sort of deep POV and characterization you use with your protagonists.

I know it feels icky and you want to distance yourself from feeling like an ass as much as possible—nobody wants to get under the skin of a character no one is supposed to like—but you will thank me for it later if you really give yourself over to it…and so will your readers. What’s the worst that could happen? A reader picks up your book and makes the mistake of thinking some part of you is just like the jerk in your story? Well, yeah, that may happen, but it’s better than the reader thinking some part of you is a cliché, mustache twirling, drama hound, right? Give yourself permission to say all the vile, awful things that little dark part of your heart has always wanted to say. Give yourself permission to slip into the shoes of your berating father, your overbearing mother, that jackass at work who doesn’t know his sexist jokes aren’t funny and spits a little when he talks. These wonderful models of terrible people in your life are not contagious—you can wear their skin for a scene and go right back to being your usual pleasant self…after you show your ass in the scene and make your protagonist really uncomfortable. Don’t hold back. Don’t parrot the words of bad guys from TV—it comes off sounding like a bad high school play—get real, get ugly, and go there.

Don’t tone it down.
Don’t just give your readers what you think they can handle in terms of asshole people.
Don't do that! Don't write a jerk, BE a jerk.
Don't tell yourself "I can't have them say this doesn't sound like writing" or pull back because some part of you is just afraid to relive those words people have said to YOU again.
Just spill it. Let your jerk be full-on rotten.
And let him or her be inspired by the full-on rotten people in your life. It's like method acting. You channel that hateful awful person through yourself, to the keyboard. Let us see you be bad!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Official Apology : I’m sorry I broke Amazon

For years I have tip-toed around the idea of self-publishing, but for one reason or another I always talked myself out of doing it. I finally took the plunge this weekend, and excitedly uploaded my work to Amazon.

I’m sorry Amazon readers. I’m really very sorry other authors who were trying to publish their own books. I’m sorry Amazon—I didn’t mean to break you.

Apparently what had been running as a well-oiled, predictable machine totally forgot how to Amazon when gunked up with my first dip into the self-pub pool. My work got stuck in queue, under review for days when less than twelve hours was the previous norm, and I took everyone else down with me. Self-publishing message boards everywhere were filled with people  trying to figure out why their books weren’t being processed, what had happened.

I happened.

I’m cursed.

If I touch something, it breaks.
If I want something, it’s gone.
If I love something, it dies…or runs away screaming because it knows what’s coming.
If I go “Hey, that’s the best show ever!” it gets cancelled (Firefly is probably my fault too. Sorry browncoats.)
If I enter a crowded room, it clears out (although that may have less to do with my luck and more to do with an inability to censor myself for polite society).
If I join a group, a team, a movement, it self-destructs.

So yes, Amazon, and all those affected by the great end of August slow-down of the review and publish process, I apologize. I’ll try not to let it happen again, but as I have four more parts to my serial to get out, I can’t make any promises.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Zombie Night (Review)

Zombie Night

I’m a sucker for a good B horror flick. Toss in zombies, and I have a hard time not at least giving the film a single watch through. Add in John Gulager, the man behind the Feast trilogy, and this became a must watch film. 

Let me just say, this movie was no Feast. One thing I have come to expect from Gulager is characters with a lot of bite (the puns here are unavoidable, my apologies). Characterization in this film was shoddy at best. The plot was nonexistent, explanations for the zombies nonexistent, decent acting over all pretty sparse, dialogue not remotely engaging. Even for a B horror film, most of Zombie Night was pretty disappointing, however, there were some shining moments that prove this film could have been amazing with a little focus, investment, and editing.

(Spoilers and review under cut)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Since/cents/scents/sense when?

The boy may be in college, but I can’t seem to turn off the internal Mommy editor. At least he has a good sense of humor about it.

Damien Graves
Is it alright if I take a nap?
I’m not feeling well

Shannon Graves
Sure, honey.

Damien Graves
Thank you.

Shannon Graves
All right*
Alright is not a word.

Damien Graves
Sense when?
WTF since*

Shannon Graves

Damien Graves

Shannon Graves
Since is a time based indicator. As in “I haven’t talked to her since last week.”

Damien Graves
Yeah. I know. I’m stupid-ed

Shannon Graves
Sense is like "I have a sense that something bad is going to happen."

Damien Graves

Shannon Graves
or "Sight is one of the five senses."

Damien Graves

Shannon Graves
Cents is a measure of money, usually in the form of coinage. As in "I have five cents."

Damien Graves
love you
and your ability to check my homonyms

Shannon Graves
Scents is something that triggers your olfactory senses, such as "The scent of the cookies and bread baking in the kitchen made me want to chew off my arm."
Am done now.

Damien Graves
Good night Sheldon!
That made my day.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Published Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

It’s a painful truth that nearly all published novels could still use a little work. It has been said that a book is never done, but due, and anyone who has been met with deadlines knows this to be a fact. An author or editor can always read back over their work and find something to fix, something to expand on, or something to perfect. An editor can always find a place for another comma. At some point, regardless of what shape the novel is in, it will go to print, and then if you are lucky, you’ll have a whole audience of people more than happy to point out where those missing commas go, what needed expanding, perfecting, and fixing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take pride in the quality of work you send to print, or that you shouldn’t learn from your mistakes. In fact, one positive to backing away from a book once the deadline rolls in is that the distance can give you a better perspective to analyze what you have done and how you can do it better.
Missing quotation marks, missing commas, extra commas, and small grammar flubs are often overlooked or simply forgiven by readers, many assuming they were a printing or editing error. Passive writing, echoes and repeats, misused words, and consistency errors, however, tend to be viewed as content errors and placed solely on the shoulders of the author. One trip through the Amazon reviews section reveals just how harsh readers can be about these things, and even five-star reviews lauding content can’t always win back potential readers if you have enough grammar Nazis and error watchdogs slinging low-rated reviews your way.
It’s not enough to just sigh and say, well, my editor should have caught that mistake, should have pointed it out, because at the end of the day the only one hurting for the error is the author—the editor has likely already earned their end for the work and moved on to something else. The sad part is, if you do even a modicum of research and education into the craft of writing before you start, you’ll find a legion of writers before you have stumbled over these errors and weak writing devices and have shared them with the world. That’s not to say you can’t do it your way, even if your way is 100% against what the bulk of writing advice tells you. It just means if you do it, you have to wow with it. If it doesn’t make your reader pause for an instant and think, whoa, that’s new, then all you are doing is repeating the past mistakes.

How’s the weather?
Elmore Leonard, along with a score of other experts on the subject, says that beginning a novel with the weather is a bad idea because readers don’t connect with scenery; they connect with characters. Even once a story is well on its way, if you have paragraphs of description of scenery or weather, you risk your readers skimming. Opening with the weather is the literary equivalent of small talk—nice weather we’re having, isn’t it? It’s the throat-clearing, getting-to-know-you sort of filler that even in real life we try to avoid.
Have a look at Liz Carlyle’s Never Romance a Rake:
The West Indian sun beat down on the still and verdant fields, searing all which lay beneath. Galleried white plantation houses shimmered in the heat, dotting the lush landscape like perfect, lucent pearls. Inside the fine homes, their broad corridors were steeped in shadow, and window louvers lay wide to catch the meager breeze, whilst slave children worked the fans which fluttered from lofty ceilings like massive raptors’ wings. (Ch. 1, para. 1)
You’ll notice first that this opening passage is indeed about the weather and the scenery. What’s more, the author doesn’t bother to at least filter these details through the senses of her point-of-view character. If this information isn’t important to the character, why would the author assume it would be important to the reader? Modern convention leans toward a much deeper perspective than was expected even just a decade or so ago, and a narrative clearly flavored with the POV character’s voice is preferred. Readers have come to accept that if a detail is mentioned, then the detail is noticed by and filtered through the point-of-view character. Liz goes on for three paragraphs before she even introduces her characters, and when she does, it’s from a very distant POV.
Compare the above excerpt to the one below by Liz Jensen:
That summer, the summer all the rules began to change, June seemed to last for a thousand years. The temperatures were merciless: thirty-eight, thirty-nine, then forty in the shade. It was heat to die in, to go nuts in, or to spawn. Old folk collapsed, dogs were cooked alive in cars, lovers couldn’t keep their hands off each other. The sky pressed down like a furnace lid, shrinking the subsoil, cracking concrete, killing shrubs from the roots up… (Ch. 1, para. 1)
This excerpt too begins with the weather and setting details, but it’s hard to miss the voice of the character in the words. It has personality, voice, and the details are weighed through the character’s senses—in short, you know the character a little better just by reading it. Solid characterization is built through showing how your character sees the world around her, and in this excerpt, while a less-developed character might just say, “June was hot,” Jensen tells us what hot means to the character. It’s not enough to just tell the reader what something looked like or what the weather is like. In order to successfully break the “Don’t start with weather” rule, you have to show the reader how the character processes these details.

More than a mouthful.
It’s a good idea to always read your work out loud. It’s an even better idea to have someone else read it to you. I realize the latter isn’t always an option, but what we put on the page isn’t necessarily as clear and easily digestible to others as it should be. Often these bits will slip past editors as well, especially if you get an editor more concerned with grammatical correctness than readability. Meg Cabot’s Jinx, being published by a respectable traditional publisher, likely had a whole series of edits from content, to line, to proofing. Still many sentences are unreadable, especially out loud. Take the first sentence of chapter three, for example:
“Then one of the strangers, a girl whose jet-black hair matched the color of her minidress and high-heeled boots, came swaggering out of the gazebo and stood with one hand on a narrow, jutting hip while she eyed me suspiciously through heavily made-up eyes” (Ch. 3, para. 1).
This is a painfully long sentence fattened up so much by adjectives and adverbs that by the time the reader gets to the end of it, they may have to back up and read it again just to swallow the full image. Reading it out loud, as it is written, would require inserting an audible period that the author hasn’t provided. If the author had read her work aloud, she probably would have picked up on this and been able to correct it.
Without changing the wording overmuch, the most effective fix would be to break the sentence up into two or three smaller sentences. And just for the sake of avoiding echoes (audible repeats), I would also suggest a slight change in wording for the last section of the sentence to do away with the eyed/eyes repeat: “Then one of the strangers came swaggering out of the gazebo, a hand on her narrow, jutting hip. Her jet-black hair matched the color of her minidress and high-heeled boots. She gauged me suspiciously through heavily made-up eyes.”

Don’t tell me how to feel.
One of the worst things an author can do is violate the reader by trying to ham-fistedly shove thoughts and feelings into their head. Trying to force a sense of urgency by saying something is urgent, or trying to create a feeling of humor by making all your characters laugh and say how funny something is, is the literary equivalent of bad touching your reader. Part of what allows a reader to connect to a story or a character is the feeling that they're discovering something new, that they're smart enough to pick up on clues that allow them to possibly know that character better than anyone else reading it. It’s the same principle as when someone you know casually shares a deep and intimate secret with you; it’s human nature to feel bonded over that. You want your reader to bond with your words, so you can’t use them as a bludgeon to get the effect you are looking for. Think of it like trying to convince your husband you need a new washing machine. If you just say outright that you need a new machine, you may get groans and sighs and resistance. Send him to work a few days with stained and shrunken shirts, and you can expect the new machine to be on order most ricky-tick.
Consider Critical Impact by Linda Hall. At the beginning of the book there is an explosion, and the hero sees the heroine crushed under debris. His response: “He ran toward the building because he had seen a woman fall. He needed to get to her!” (Ch. 1, para. 17). With the clever exclamation point there, the reader knows they are supposed to be excited; they are supposed to feel that sense of panic and urgency. What I felt when reading it was, “Really, Captain Obvious? You think so? Maybe we should just let her simmer a bit.” Hall makes the mistake of trying to shake us into feeling the character’s concern. A more subtle and effective way might have been to simply say: “The weight of the rubble would crush her. If she wasn’t dead already, she would be soon.”
The benefits of not forcing the reader’s reaction to the information are multiple. The first is that if they are allowed to come to the conclusion that “he needs to get to her” on their own, they will be more invested in him doing so. The second is when you cut to the buried heroine in the next scene, we don’t know if he’s coming to save her or not. Yes, we hope he is, but since the author didn’t tell us that, we’re just as unsure how long the heroine has to live as she is, and this creates real tension, not the forced tension of before. Lastly, exclamation points in narrative are usually stupid, and this gets rid of one. Anything you can do to eliminate the screamy, attention seeking punctuation is a good thing.
Forced urgency can be deadly to your prose, but forced laughter is like being stuck in a room with your obnoxious brother-in-law who passes gas and slings one-liner duds, but thinks he’s hilarious. Having your characters laugh at jokes and silliness in your work can often come off like the author just amusing themselves and waiting for the rimshot (badum-CHING) at every punch line. If something is funny, you don’t have to cue the reader to laugh; they will.
For that matter, certain forms of humor don’t really translate well to fiction, and using them can be more tiresome to your readers than funny. Toilet humor and slapstick, or physical humor, have a harder time coming across as intended because these things work primarily as sight gags. It’s hysterical to see your favorite actress stumbling around and digging through trash for a lost cell phone, but reading about it just doesn’t have the same effect. In I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, the author employed a number of traditional sight gags and slapstick and as a result the writing had a tendency to come off tedious and a little melodramatic. In my experience, you can’t just show the character running around like a chicken with her head sawed off to get the laugh; you have to frame it with emotional support—it’s the character’s response to these things happening to them and what they’re doing that has the greater chance to get a laugh.
None of the discussions in this essay have been to say you should never do these things. There are no hard, fast rules of what a writer can and cannot do in their work. However, it’s hard to argue with overwhelming evidence and public opinion that, in general, these techniques don’t work. Don’t start with the weather. Don’t tell me, your reader, what to think or how to feel. Don’t let your writing outrun the reader’s ability to actually speak your lines. The breaking of these rules must be attempted experimentally, if at all, and with the understanding that it can really test your reader’s patience. If you can find a creative way to make them work, by all means, do so, but the aim should always be to connect with the reader and to communicate clearly, first and foremost.

Works Cited
Cabot, Meg. Jinx. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. E-book.
Carlyle, Liz. Never Romance a Rake. New York: Pocket Books, 2008. E-book.
Hall, Linda. Critical Impact. New York: Steeple Hill, 2010. E-book.
Jensen, Liz. The Rapture. New York: Doubleday, 2009. E-book.
Kinsella, Sophie. I’ve Got Your Number. New York: The Dial Press, 2012. E-book.