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For those of you who aren’t aware, Hunter S. Thompson, author of Hell’s Angels, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and The Great Shark Hunt among other books, followed a strict regime of clean living, healthy food, and adequate rest so that his mind would remain clear at all times, thus enabling him to concentrate on his writing. The rest of you know I’m yanking the noobs’ cranks.
Here, according to his biographer E. Jean Carroll, is his daily routine.
3:00 p.m. rise
3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills
3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill
4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill
4:16 orange juice, Dunhill
5:11 coffee, Dunhills
5:30 more ice in the Chivas
5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.
6:00 grass to take the edge off the day
7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch-Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jiggers of Chivas.)
9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously
10:00 drops acid
11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass
11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.
12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write
12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.
6:00 the hot tub-champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo
If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.
I’ll be at the Dallas / Fort Worth GI Joe and Action Figure Show 2014 in Grapevine, Texas on Oct. 4 & 5
tap-dancing like a Nicholas brother discussing*my involvement with G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundarr The Barbarian, and a host of other questions about my career in animation / comics / videos games.**
* Now that the statute of limitations is up…
** Besides the obvious one of “Who would hire you in the first place?”
Frank R. Paul’s illustration for
Hugo Gernsbach’s unreadable Ralph 124C41+
I’ve just started in on a Very Big Book by a Very Important Writer, and man, is it ever tough slogging.
It’s like trying to hack my way through a room filled with tofu armed with only a spoon.
The problem is that the VIW feels it is important that the reader knows all sorts of important background information before the story actually begins so that the actual plot, once it starts, will be easier to comprehend.
This is a bad habit VIW has developed in latter years. Some time back I began reading one of the author’s previous Very Big Books and was dismayed to the point of despair at all the background information I was being required to read through. In fact, I was on page 99 and decided that if things didn’t improve on the next page I was bailing out –
– and luckily on page 100 the VIW finally introduced the main point of the book and the story kicked into high gear and it ended up being one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read.
But pages 1 – 99 of that book coulda / shoulda been jettisoned, especially since they amounted to little more than roman a clef fan-fic of a Very Popular TV series.
All that stuff could have been omitted without harming the actual story. All the human characters were cardboard dolls who could have been easily replaced, distinguished from their pulp archetypes only by the stray extraneous supercilious detail.
The info dump is often important in very many novels and films; the necessity of explaining or better yet, demonstrating important information that makes the rest of the story comprehensible.
In detective stories the info dump usually occurs when the private eye is hired to solve a case and the client fills him and us in on all the basic particulars. In spy fiction the spy master calls in the super secret agent and hands them a dossier with all the crucial background information on the supervillain.
Sci-fi and fantasy stories often have an additional hurdle:
Contemporary or even recent (i.e., post industrial age) historical fiction does not need an elaborate explanation of the times / culture / infrastructure that supports their stories. We know how big cities function, so the private eye does not need to explain the working of the highway system or the interdependent symbiosis of automobile manufacturers / petroleum producers in order for us to understand how they drove from their crummy office downtown to the client’s elegant mansion uptown.
But make enough significant changes in the background, and leaping that knowledge hurdle becomes problematic.
There are different approaches to this.
Alfred Bester did it most baldly, literally starting off his classic novel The Stars My Destination (Tyger! Tyger! for you folks in the UK) with a historical essay on how the discovery of “jaunting” (teleportation by effort of mind alone) drastically changed the culture of humanity.
Noriyoshi Ohrai’s cover interpretation of
Alfred Bester’s novel for the Japanese edition.
You’ll note the Japanese editor thoughtfully
corrected William Blake’s spelling…
Bester got away with it because he’s a stylish, flamboyant writer and his essay was a rollicking word picture of an extravagant future with sly and hilarious observations.
It was entertaining, and as such no spoonful of sugar was needed to make it go down easier.
Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis of Urine Town took the same approach with “Too Much Exposition”, a meta-fiction number that not only acknowledges it’s a standard trope in a Broadway musical, but also cheerfully admits the entire premise of the production is ridiculous!
That trick doesn’t work for everyone, however, and far far FAR too many sci-fi novels begin with a scene (read “lecture”) where too many characters are introduced much too quickly and much too blandly (no matter how much eccentric fringe is hung on them) with no purpose except to discuss amongst themselves the radical changes in human society that occurred since atomic toilets were installed a generation before.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. A close reading of the story reveals a society technologically far advanced from ours, with hunter-killer robots and buildings so fireproof that firemen no longer fight flames but are government sanctioned arsonists.
But for Bradbury’s purposes, none of the technological background is important to explaining how and why his society works, much less what drives the thirst for forbidden knowledge that makes his protagonist Guy Montag so memorable where other sci-fi characters are interchangeable ciphers.
Fahrenheit 451’s world seems at first glance no different from our own…except for one little thing. And that approach makes it more timeless and translatable — not translatable merely in the sense of one language to another but in the sense of one time & culture being able to grasp the meaning of another.
There are, of course, a wide variety of approaches in between. Robert Heinlein is perhaps the prime example of a writer who skillfully / seamlessly weaves in great big info dumps without drawing undo attention to them. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel famously starts off in Norman Rockwell Americana and ends up in Star Wars backyard and does so with a casual series of reveals that literally doubles the scope of the novel chapter by chapter.
Conversely, Jack Vance and Cordwainer Smith just plunge ahead with concepts and terminology unfamiliar to the reader, expecting them to hang on for the ride.
In effect, they expect readers to be co-collaborators with them, using their own imaginations to fill in details of the broad vibrant sketches they provide.
There’s no one absolute right or wrong way of m/t/faking an info dump…
…except, of course,
for the one unpardonable
writing sin: Boredom.
As a rough rule of thumb, the less you tell / the more you show, the better.
The less concrete your background and the more abstract, the better.
the details don’t
Even in sci-fi, the story is not so much about what happens (and even less how it happens) than it is why it happens and (most importantly) to who it happens.
Create characters the reader is curious about,
and you’re on your way to the homestretch.
 And not a serving spoon, either, but one of those dinky little sample spoons they have at Baskin-Robbins.
 Sidebar: I understand the temptation to take shortcuts, and in a story where the human character interaction is less important that the ideas being expressed it’s no great sin to fall back on templates that readers are familiar with through TV and movie exposure. But, people, there’s more than one Very Popular TV series, and more than one Very Popular Movie, and it wouldn’t hurt to lift character types and tropes from other TV and movie series for variety’s sake, if nothing else. Will, Dr. Smith, and the Robot haven’t been working much recently, know what I’m sayin’?
 How this information is obtained is never explained. It’s nice to think that M may have graduates of Hogwarth’s laboring away in the bowels of MI5 to magically secure the info they hand over to 007.
 Harlan Ellison in his great short story “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman” famously brings the proceedings to a screeching halt to explain that his protagonist’s acquisition of $100,000 worth of jelly beans was impossible because (a) nobody uses money anymore (b) the Harlequin couldn’t have possibly accumulated that much cash even if it did exist (c) the logistics of moving $100,000 worth of jelly beans without attracting government attention were beyond any single individual’s ability (d) they haven’t even made jelly beans in over a hundred years! Nonetheless, the Harlequin still manages to acquire / move / distribute $100,000 worth of jelly beans and literally gums of the works of his time obsessed society. It’s Harlan’s story, and if he says it happened, it happened…
 At least in his earlier, less didactic stories.
 Psuedonym for Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger.
When I was in high school, the most widely read book was not found in the library. It was a tattered paperback that passed from hand to hand under desks, and was often read furtively while the teacher was trying to get across some finer points of algebra.
Call Me Brick by Munroe Howard was a crappy book, a Candy-wannabe only without Terry Southern’s nasty edge and sly wit, but we must have read that one single paperback to shreds before the semester was finished. I think every single student read it at least once (and Reader Zero was a girl who brought it in to share with her friends, and one of them loaned it to her boyfriend on the football team and he shared it with us and so on and so on and so on…)
I bring it up because this is Banned Books Week, in which the censors yet again fail to learn that the surest way of getting a kid to do anything is to say it’s bad for ‘em.
Look, I appreciate parents wanting to make sure their kids aren’t exposed to material they think would be harmful to them (I’ve got my copy of The Anarchist Cookbook well hidden from prying young eyes).
But that applies only to your kids and only in your home; in a public setting such as a library or a school, it’s not your place, it’s not my place, and it’s certainly not some uptight jackanape’s place to decide what is / is not right / wrong for other people’s kids or young adults when they reach their teen years.
Show some support for the First Amendment by going to your local public library branch and reading something that would get some bluenose’s knickers in a twist.
Tell ‘em Judy Blume and Steve King sent you…
And if you’re wondering how a Christian can support “bad” books, it’s because I know once you get rid of the “bad” books the next one to go will be the “good” book.
The long war had ended.
Its miseries had grown faded.
Deaf men became difficult to talk to,
Heroes became bores.
Who had converted blood into gold
Had grown elderly.
But they held a meeting,
‘We think perhaps we ought
To put up tombs
Or erect altars
To those brave lads
Who were so willingly burnt,
Who lost all likeness to a living thing,
Or were blown to bleeding patches of flesh
For our sakes.
It would look well.
Or we might even educate the children.’
But the richest of these wizards
And he said:
‘I have always been to the front
-In private enterprise-,
I yield in public spirit
To no man.
I think yours is a very good idea
-A capital idea-
And not too costly . . .
But it seems to me
That the cause for which we fought
Is again endangered.
What more fitting memorial for the fallen
Than that their children
Should fall for the same cause?’
Rushing eagerly into the street,
The kindly old gentlemen cried
To the young:
‘Will you sacrifice
Through your lethargy
What your fathers died to gain ?
The world must be made safe for the young!’
And the children
Went. . . .
are you running from
or are you running to?
are you running by
or are you running thru?
are you running false
or are you running true?
tell me what you did
not what you want to do
(c) Buzz Dixon
1. The story has to dig deep into who you are.
…..2. Learn from the past and put a twist on it.
……….3. Remember, you’re better at being you than anyone else.
……………4. Work. A lot.
………………..5. Don’t worry about selling out.