Friday, October 28, 2011

Enticing Endings

This week I'm talking about story structure.

Here's the thing about endings. No ending should be the end. The best ending, while satisfying, leaves the reader wanting more, and also hints that there might still be more to come. Whether it's just the end of a chapter or the end of the whole book, there should be something calling the reader back for more.

When I finish a book, even if it's the last in a series, I want to believe that the characters could still have more adventures ahead of them. I feel like, if what I'm seeing is the greatest adventure these people will ever have, how sad will that be for them? To go through life knowing they've already achieved the best they can hope for? In life, I believe the next greatest thing we experience is always just around the corner. Things should keep getting better. I want the same in the books I read. This might be why I love origin stories so much - When you're seeing the protagonist just become the hero for the first time, you know he's got countless stories ahead of him.

An ending which is clearly the last point of a character's adventures can be deeply satisfying as well, but I think I'll always have a stronger fondness for seeing the hero ride off into the sunset in search of more dangers to face.

My least favourite kind of ending sees the story come slowly to a standstill, like the fuel of the story has simply run out. If an ending has happened just a little too late, coming because there's simply no more story to tell rather than being the perfect moment to say goodbye to the characters, I tend to feel somewhat hollow. It's like waiting around too long at a party and realising you're the last one left. It's just you and the leftover streamers lying across the tables, the band packing up their gear, and an empty glass in your hand.

Do you have any favourite endings? What do you long to see most as you turn those last few pages?

I'll be at Gaelcon for much of the weekend, so my replies to comments and general online presence won't be as frequent as usual.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Romantic Subplots

This week I'm talking about story structure and some of the different elements to how a story is crafted.

Today I'm discussing romantic subplots. I love romantic subplots. Even when there's no prominent romantic plotline, I'll be looking for ways to pair characters together.

The thing is, it drives me crazy when a romantic subplot suggests that certain behaviour is a positive thing when in fact it's really unhealthy in a relationship. Things like where a girl has a brief encounter with another guy and decides never to tell her boyfriend. Or a man who treats his wife badly and, rather than being made to answer for his behaviour, is instantly forgiven with one nice gesture. I'm a big believer in truth and honesty in relationships. A couple doesn't have to share every intricate detail of their day every evening, but no-one should ever feel that they can't tell their partner something, and they should realise that their partner deserves to know about things that have an important effect on them.

I realise that not every story can afford the time to detail every argument and reconciliation in a relationship, and not every relationship in fiction is going to be a positive and healthy one. What worries me is when the author seems to be suggesting that clearly unhealthy behaviour is something to aspire to. This is especially worrying in fiction aimed at teenagers.

I believe quality romantic plotlines can show the consequences of unhealthy behaviour, and the rewards of a strong relationship.

What do you think? Are there any romantic plots that have driven you mad? What about them got your hackles up? Are there any love stories you think stand out as great examples of how to write a romance?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Android Keyboard Review Updated, now 47 keyboards reviewed

DasherImage via WikipediaThis time, reviews of Dasher, Chorded Keyboard, and G-Board have been added.

Dasher is one of those really weird yet innovative input methods that seem to be designed for people with limited mobility, such as Dr. Stephen Hawking. it's easier for you to see it than to describe it.

Chorded Keyboard use only 12 keys to input all 26 letters by using other keys as shift keys. It's interesting.

And G-board can be thought of as better Graffiti gesture input.

Read the updated review at
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Jennifer Lopez Cries After Performance About Lost Love

Trilogies and Tetralogies

This weekend my wife and I will be at Gaelcon, the largest gaming convention in Ireland. I typically run a roleplaying game at the convention. Since running rpgs features a lot of consideration for story structure and offers a great proving ground for plot ideas and usage of themes and tropes, I thought I'd spend this week talking about certain aspects of storytelling structure.

For today's post, I'm dealing with two of the most common series formats, the trilogy and the tetralogy, going all the way back to ancient Greek theatre.

Ancient Greek theatre was often crafted and performed in a 3-play format. We get our term "trilogy" from this, when audiences would spend a day at the theatre, seeing three tragedies forming one over-arcing story, accompanied by a more comedic "satyr" play.

The trilogy has remained with us to this day, becoming the most common form of storytelling in any genre and format. Even within standalone novels and movies, we talk about the 3-act structure. In a typical trilogy today, the first story will handle the introduction of the heroes, the villains, and establish both the state of affairs from before the beginning of the story, and a new status quo after the villain's defeat. The second story further develops the nature of the heroes' struggle and often reveals more of the villain's motivations, often culminating in an ending that pitches the heroes into their darkest hour. Finally, the third part of the story will bring elements of the previous instalments together as the heroes come to their final realisations, unlocking their true strength and finally overcoming the villain.

A four-part series is properly termed a tetralogy, coming from the Greek "tetra." When the trilogy of tragedies in Greek theatre is taken together with its accompanying satyr play, it forms a tetralogy. Unfortunately no complete ancient Greek tetralogy survives. The only Greek trilogy which survives is the Orestia. Recently movie trilogies have been revisited, turning them into tetralogies. Examples include the Rambo, Die Hard and Indiana Jones series. However the term quadrilogy, first actually recorded in 1865, is usually used instead when marketing 4-part movie series.

The structure of a tetralogy is more difficult to define. In planned 4-part series, tetralogies often eschew convention and while the third part may resolve many of the challenges faced by the heroes, the final victory will be delayed until the fourth part, or a previous lesser antagonist, or even an entirely new threat, may rise to challenge the heroes one last time.

Other formats of set series include a diology, pentalogy, hexalogy, heptalogy, octalogy, ennealogy and decalogy. These become ever more difficult to describe in terms of a predictable act structure, and usually become either more or less standalone stories connected by common characters and possibly an over-arcing metaplot, or simply one ongoing story broken up into component parts. In most cases, once a series has gone on long enough to move beyond five or six instalments, it can become difficult even for the author to define what kind of series it is until the final instalment has been released.

Do you have any favourite series? Is there a particular series length you find you prefer over others?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Heroes, In The End?

This week I finished playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Like many games with RPG elements, the game has the possibility for several different endings, each one with a different moral spin.

Here's the thing. I like it when my heroes do the right thing in the end. Typically, multiple endings are lost on me because I'll always try to figure out the one that simply offers the most honest and just ending for all involved. The ending I'd want to see if the game were a movie or a book. As much as I love seeing heroes go through hardship, suffering loss and setbacks, seeing loved ones die and facing almost unbearable defeat at the hands of the villains, in the end I want to see good prevail.

Because the best villains don't see themselves as evil, sometimes you can see an ending, especially in video games, where the hero sides with the villain's cause, if not their methods, and chooses to complete a (hopefully) less immoral version of their plans. This often rings a little hollow for me, because it suggests that, but for a few mistakes here and there, the villain's plan, the very thing the hero has spent all this time fighting against, was actually the right thing to do. Since the involvement of the hero inevitably causes the violence of the situation to escalate, how many lives could have been spared if he just hadn't gotten involved? In these cases, is the hero really any better than the villain?

Examining what a hero must become in order to defeat the villain is an important aspect of storytelling. It's a difficult balance to master. Push the hero too little, and there is no internal conflict, no struggle to find the right choice. Push the hero too far, and you risk the audience wondering what was the goal of the story.

What do you think? If a hero only succeeds because they become like the villain, or have lost so much of themself, and gained so little in return, that they're truly broken, have they really won? If you allow your enemy to change you just so you can overcome them, can you truly call yourself strong? Or has the villain just found another way to make you weak?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Android Keyboard Review Updated, now 44 keyboards reviewed

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBaseLatest to the review: MaxiKeys... a revolutionary new concept in onscreen keyboard... tilt scrolling!

Also, updated the links for Better Keyboard to Amazon, due to BetterAndroid's problem with Google.

You can find the updated review at
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I'm doing a bit of world-building at the moment for another of my side-WIPs. It's a dark fantasy set in a massive tower city. There's a lot to do because it's a very unusual setting, a world with no sun. I want to make sure the world feels like it could be real and the people in it live their lives as people who have never known light greater than torches and firelight.

All this work got me thinking about the importance of world-building, not just for very unusual fantasy settings, but even for everyday settings. I like to think of the writer's job as being a puppet master, with a great big curtain between the audience and his collection of puppets and props. The audience may never see everything that's behind that curtain, but the writer simply must have a complete selection back there, and be familiar enough with every prop and tool to be able to put any one of them to use at a moment's notice. I think most readers can tell when an author has had to scramble to find an explanation for certain unexpected events, or pull out a new character they weren't prepared to use.

Even if you're writing in a modern day setting with no monsters, sci-fi or magic, it's so important to make sure you know the ins and outs of the place your characters inhabit. Is the hero's work next to a dry cleaner or a pizzeria? How often does it rain? What's the daily commute like? These small, simple details can help you add life to your story, giving you background and ways to interact with the world beyond pursuing the over-arcing plot.

I like to plan out bits and pieces like that before I start writing. If I'm using a real city I pick out the real-world locations I want to include and decide how they fit in. I come up with the fictional places and people who add to the setting. I like to play around with real places and give them my own twist. It frees me up to do things with the setting I couldn't do if I was restricting myself solely to how a place exists in reality. When creating a fictitious setting I tend to start with a more overall, macro-management approach. I work out the things most important to my protagonist first. In Nightfall, for example, I created the town of Little Falls, and started out with things like developing the local school and popular places for kids to go driving up in the hills and woods near the town.

I won't have the chance or even the need to reveal everything I've come up with, but it's comforting to know the information is there. It's like a wonderful security blanket, knowing it's there should I need it.

What about you? Do you enjoy world-building? Have you ever experienced a jarring moment in a movie, tv show or book where you just get the feeling the author needed to come up with something quickly to get through a scene?