Author Archives: Jenn Lyons

About Jenn Lyons

Jenn is a writer, artist, and game producer living in a castle near the sea in a land called Honalee. (If anyone can prove any of that's not true, please email us and we'll update this page immediately.) She writes fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal mysteries.

The Rule of Neat

If I ever sit down and write my own personal ‘Rules for Writers’ (which will be kind of like Rules for the Overlord, but with fewer minions) one of the rules I want to be sure to put in there is what I like to call ‘The Rule of Neat’.

The Rule of Neat is simple: Why is [detail, plot point, device] in my story? If the answer is ‘because it’s neat’ then please go back and either remove or revise that element. Something very much like this rule (although not precisely the same) is embodied in the idea of ‘kill your darlings’ — it’s very often the passages of which we are the most fond that are the most cliched and unnecessary. In fact, the first novel I ever finished (and the one I will one day finish rewriting, I promise) was so guilty of this that it’s a primary reason I tore the damn thing apart and put a lot more work into world-building for the second go. There was so many points in that story that I couldn’t justify other than because I thought they were neat scenes that the whole mess failed on virtually every level.

If you’ve ever read the rough drafts for Star Wars, Episode IV (they are kind of like reading a train wreck honestly — terrible and fascinating and you can’t quite look away) there are some fantastic examples of this. Obi Wan Kenobi (or someone in the same role) has a scene where Kenobi punctuates his argument by revealing to the young hero that one of his arms is a cybernetic limb because he lost his real arm in ‘the war.’ This scene is really just excreble, and it’s in the first five versions of the script. The sixth version made it to film, and it’s only in the sixth version that Lucas cuts this dog. Lucas never quite lost his fascination with having people lose hands and limbs, but it was much more powerful when saved for Luke in Empire Strikes Back. It means something when it happens to Luke. Having Obi Wan reveal it as a done deal has no power whatsoever.

There’s nothing wrong with an important scene also being ‘neat.’ Steven Brust has a terrific footnote in one of his novels where he explains that all writing is ultimately the writer saying ‘let me show you something cool’ and that a reader’s enjoyment of said writing will ultimately hinge on whether or not they agree and to what extent. People absolutely should share the stuff they think is neat — but my personal feeling is that if that’s the only reason it’s there, the warning bells should go off. ‘Neat’ can also be incredibly self-indulgent and nonsensical. ‘Neat’ can also include memes and inside jokes that are wonderfully insightful to a small group of people but will seem contrived, odd or just downright idiotic to most readers. ‘Neat’ has the ability to stare down reason, logic and common sense and say ‘I don’t care if it makes no sense for Neo to be able to control machines outside of the Matrix. It’s neat!’

No. Just…no.

The Rule of Neat segues nicely into Forgetting to Ask A Five-Year-Old, since very often someone who picks at the logical elements of a story will quickly zero in on the stuff that’s only there because the author thinks X is really damn cool.

And of course, the Rule of Neat won’t save you from having such a justification but simply being completely wrong. (See: George Lucas. See: Jar-Jar Binks. See:Virtually Everything George Lucas Has Done In The Last Two Decades.)

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Flowchart of Awesome

A Flowchart provided by the SF Signal, who clearly have mad chart skills.
A Flowchart provided by the SF Signal, who clearly have mad chart skills.

You may have already encountered the above making its arounds on the internet, but if you haven’t, click through above: it’s well worth a look. This breakdown of NPRs popular top 100 list of science fiction and fantasy should cure any ‘I don’t know what to read next’ questions you might be harboring, and if you’ve already read all of them? Congratulations!

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Bummer

I loved the new page theme, but when Mike mentioned it didn’t save pages, I knew it had to go. Alas and alack.

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Bad Boys

Let’s face it: girls like bad boys.

I imagine it drives men nuts, right? It’s the old cliche: they try to do everything right, try to be polite, treat a girl well — and what happens? The girl runs off with some asshole with a fancy car who’s going to sleep around on her and expects her to clean his toilet. The phrase ‘nice guys finish last’ is a cliche for a very good reason: apparently it happens. A lot. Make jokes about girls with daddy issues all you like, but no one’s denying that bad boys don’t seem to have much trouble catching the girl — or the attention of the audience. Look at how Draco Malfoy is depicted in the Harry Potter novels (hint: it’s not flattering,) and then look at how many stories are out there utterly romanticizing the hell out of him anyway (hint: a lot.)

Mike and I sometimes have our personal shorthand for certain phenomena in writing and entertainment, and this one we like to call the Alex Effect (after Alex from A Clockwork Orange.) It’s a simple premise: a character can be as thoroughly nasty and evil as you could possibly want, but as long as they’re charming, witty and crack the occasional joke, the audience will love them anyway. They can even dispense with the jokes as long as the they’re driven by some horrible wrong done to them or come from an underdog background before they began their mad crime spree (Magneto, I’m looking at you.)

Seriously, what is wrong with our species?

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Red Crescent

Moved into the Unseen

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Preivew: Blood Chimera, Prologue – Part I

So I have to say that I often write prologues but they are usually the first things cut when editing time comes. More often than not, I’m telling a setting or background I should be showing instead. I agonized over whether or not to cut the prologue from my SF novel, Marduk’s Rebellion before deciding it was much stronger without it. I’m faced with a similar choice with Blood Chimera, but I think ultimately it does enough to advance the story that it’s likely to stay.

Story found after the cut…

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Preivew: Blood Chimera, Prologue – Part I

So I have to say that I often write prologues but they are usually the first things cut when editing time comes. More often than not, I’m telling a setting or background I should be showing instead. I agonized over whether or not to cut the prologue from my SF novel, Marduk’s Rebellion before deciding it was much stronger without it. I’m faced with a similar choice with Blood Chimera, but I think ultimately it does enough to advance the story that it’s likely to stay.

Story found after the cut…

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Filed under Snippet, Words words words - Writing and books