If Walls Could Talk: Musings From Under The Ice Pack

M.H. Norris

About six weeks ago, I started Krav Maga lessons as a way to get into shape. I’ve found the lessons to be a fun challenge.

How many crutches M.H. needs. (“And also a pile of crutches” – Nadya Peek)

I’m sure you’re wondering, what does this have to do with writing, Mary Helen?

Well. Most Tuesdays on The Time Travel Nexus, I write a weekly television-related post. Usually news, sometimes multiple stories, sometimes I fixate on one. Mondays and Thursdays usually find me at the gym, training, and this past Monday was no different. After a meeting with James to work on an upcoming short story, I found myself cutting it close to class and figured I would write yesterday’s post when I got home.

This is the part of this post where I put a note to consider submitting columns in advance.

This is also the part where I acknowledge I rarely follow this advice.

I arrived at class with minutes to spare and we begin. During one of the exercises we do (in fact, I feel the need to note for dramatic effect–we do this particular exercise every single class) I went to dodge, felt something pop in my ankle, and down I went.

First off, let me tell you that it HURT.

I sat down, watched the rest of class, and ended up calling for a ride to take me home so I wouldn’t have to drive.

And as I put ice on my ankle and wanted nothing more to lay down, I realized something.

I didn’t have a post for The Time Travel Nexus.

Between, Tina Marie Delucia, William Martin, James, and me, we worked to figure out how to make it work, to reach our goals.

The result?

We ended up with a stockpile of posts for The Time Travel Nexus. They really stepped it up.

Writing is often thought of as a solitary activity. You sit for hours at your computer typing away at the work of art you are creating.

But it’s far from it.

Writers need editors, publishers, other writers to bounce ideas off of. We need our friends and family to encourage us, to cheer us on, to understand why we say no to plans when a deadline looms ever nearer. When I joined The Time Travel Nexus, we were a team of three. Now we number around a dozen and are looking for new writers (you can find the information here). No matter what the fashion, writing is a team sport.

Especially when you’re sitting with your foot propped up, wrapped in an ace blanket.

Technically, the goal of this column week to week is for me to share what’s going on with my writing. Sometimes, I extend that to commentating on things I’ve seen or read recently.

What I’m currently going through right now is learning that sometimes, it’s important that I push myself to write even if I don’t feel like it. Stephen King mentions in “On Writing” that he writes every, single day – Christmas and his birthday included.

I have often confessed that I don’t have that kind of discipline.

But sometimes I have to push myself. After all, as a writer it is important I meet my deadlines. And with pushing myself, comes the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles to complete the task.

If Walls Could Talk: The Arrowverse According to M.H. Norris and Mark Twain

M.H. Norris

I had fun going through Doctor Who’s Series 10 finale with Mark Twain’s rules of storytelling. I felt the Arrowverse deserved the same treatment. When I initially planned this post, I had only one rule in mind. But by searching through the rules to find the specific one I wanted, I found that the Arrowverse shows, The Flash, in particular, has violated several.

Before we begin, let me define terms for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term Arrowverse. The Arrowverse is made up of four television shows based off of various DC Comics: Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. All four shows air on The CW and have a habit of crossing in and out of each other on various occasions.

Background established, let’s examine the mistakes that these four shows have made.

4) They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there

Honest truth, most of the shows do well with this. The Flash is the one that drops the ball, with Iris West in particular.

If you take a hard honest at the first three seasons of the show, you’ll see that her sole purpose is to create drama. Her character has done nothing to move the story forward, and she has no character traits outside of “creating drama.”

When writing characters, make sure they serve a purpose a purpose within the story. They have to move the story forward. They cannot take it back in an attempt to create angst and drama. There are few things that will turn your audience off like forced drama.

6) They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

Once again, this goes to The Flash. With Barry temporarily out of the picture, someone has to take the lead on Team Flash. There are three characters who could take that role, all of whom make sense within the story that the creative team has set. There is one character that does not, Iris.

Yet, when the show returns back she is leading Team Flash. I’ve not-so-jokingly said that this is their attempt to give this character purpose.

These two rules play hand in hand with each other. The character must serve a purpose and they must fit the role you’re giving them.

In this example, nothing in Iris’ time on the show has justified the decision to let her lead Team Flash. These sorts of snap decisions, even if made with the intent of giving a character purpose, will turn off your audience.

Another example is Kara Danvers from Supergirl

From what was said, Kara is going to spend some time having a pity party over the fact that due to the events of the season finale her boyfriend had to leave Earth, never to return. This girl seems to be taking her forced breakup harder than she’s taking the death of her planet and people.

In fact, the so-called theme of the season is “what does it mean to be human?” A sensible measure of grief would be a great place to start.

Supergirl–who is supposed to be a strong, independent woman–is having a pity party and ditching her alter ego. She’s supposed to be the girl of steel. Instead, all of this is forced drama instead of a natural development to her established characterization.

This rule is about consistent characterization and having your characters not do things that seem out of character. Especially when you are writing a character in a series like these shows do. There’s a difference between letting your character grow and change and having them do something that doesn’t sit right with their character.

Make sure you’re on the right side of that line.

Those are the big two rules that were broken so far. I’m curious to see that if in the upcoming season, the shows course-correct. If you want more of my thoughts on the shows as a whole, check out my article on the Time Travel Nexus. (Speaking of, The Time Travel Nexus is doing an open submission period for new writers. If you are interested in writing about anything and everything time travel, take a look.)

If Walls Could Talk: Moving Past the Sting of Rejection

M.H. Norris

No – Henry Burrows

A few weeks ago, I did an article on preparing a proposal. I had found myself in a position where I was doing several at the same time. Over the course of May, I had four proposals I submitted for different projects.

This past week, I heard back from the first of the group and found myself facing the never-pleasant rejection.

We all know that rejection is part of being a writer, that people say you have to be rejected x number of times before you get one acceptance, yes. We all know the line about how you learn from rejection, and it helps you grow as a writer.

But that doesn’t mean it makes you feel any better.

When the submission period for All The Petty Myths closed, I was faced with stories knowing that I was going to have to accept some and reject others. After reading through them, I knew what had made it and what hadn’t.

Once that decision was made, though, I was faced with the task of being the one to send the never-pleasant rejection letters.

If you’re a publisher or a curator who is faced with the task, let me give you a piece of advice. If you truly want to help someone grow from rejecting them, add a personal note to tell them why it doesn’t work.

Even if it’s something simple like “this just doesn’t fit with what we’re doing” that helps them know how to improve for next time.

That being said writers…

WHEN SUBMITTING TO AN ANTHOLOGY, READ THE GUIDELINES BEFORE YOU SUBMIT.

I’ll admit, rejection hurts. Part of me thinks I’m more annoyed that I got sent a form rejection letter than I am upset that I got rejected.

This was something I’d spent a lot of time working on and I was really excited about the concept.

What do you do when you get the dreaded rejection email?

1) Shake It Off

It’s going to sting for a minute. Don’t push it down, necessarily.  You worked hard on a pitch and no one likes rejection. I called James and had a little pity party. But then I turned around and wrote a post for the Nexus.

Sulk for a bit and then shake it off.

2) Keep Writing

Maybe this project didn’t work out. but the next one might. I’m going to take that rejected story and tweak it and use it elsewhere. Within an hour of the rejection, I already had a plan to use it elsewhere so my work isn’t wasted.

While I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t write every day, I don’t stop just because I got rejected. Maybe I take the day off but then I have to keep going.

Deadlines will do that to you.

3) Look at Other Options

You got rejected. There’s a chance it’s simply because your story wasn’t a fit for that project. But perhaps there’s another home for it somewhere. Keep it in your mind. There are Facebook groups with open calls for short stories and perhaps you’ll find a home for it elsewhere.

Here’s some of the groups I know of.

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Pulp Fiction: https://www.facebook.com/groups/440107622678110/

Horror: https://www.facebook.com/groups/384615034930975/

Crime, Thriller, Mystery: https://www.facebook.com/groups/493431704005291/

Romance: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OpenSubmissionCallsForRomanceWriters/

I could give you the platitudes of how rejection is just a part of the writing process. But I will also be the first one to tell you that those don’t really make you feel better.

Don’t let it get you down, though. 

When the time is right, you’ll get accepted somewhere. And those letters, and the experience that follows makes up for that rejection letter.

If Walls Could Talk: Is a Story Linear or a Ball of Wibbly Wobbly Timey Whimey Stuff?

M.H. Norris

One of the hardest things I’m finding with Rosella’s first full-length book is that, for the first time, I’m struggling to write things in order. Usually, I write a story straight from start to finish but this time, I’m finding it hard to do so.

Because transitions are hard. I know what’s at both point A and point B but I’m struggling to figure out how to connect them. Part of it is that I’m excited: I went back to the basics on this one. I’ve really sat down and worked out the mechanics of writing mysteries, wanting to get this one just right.

I plotted and planned and I’ve got scenes coming up in the story that I want to write now and I’m struggling to write the scenes in order.

And, to an extent, I’ve given up on that fight.

I have a handful of scenes written out that need to be worked in. I’ve already worked in a couple and have a few floating in the research portion of my Scrivner document.

A Popular Argument Amongst Writers

Everyone seems to have their own opinion. Before now, I was very much a fan of writing start to finish. But now, I see the appeal of the other approach.

Because there are a couple of scenes where I see them more clearly than I see what’s next in my story. There’s moments that my fingers are itching to write and I might give in and just do it.

One one hand, I see the value of the start to finish approach. Bouncing around a story can cause you to feel a bit disjointed. But on the other side, I wonder if bouncing around might help you with that dreaded writer’s block.

What are your thoughts on it?

Start to finish?

Or…

Bounce around and then tie them all together?

With Jazz Street I did the first 12K or so (about 50 pages) from start to finish. That’s where I hit the metaphorical wall and started to bounce a little. Then, I plugged a scene or two in, and wondered if this approach might be better…

One thing I tried to do to help was to take my usual approach. I’d write out a calendar with the events of the book. I have the start, the climax, and the resolution all marked out. Then I’d fill in-between with various events.

With Badge City: Notches this approach wouldn’t have worked, as the bulk of the book took place in the same 72-ish hour period. Hence, why I did things differently: I drew lines that represented each day trying to keep it straight. And someone said I got my math wrong.

Maybe I did, but with as much math as I did that day, I would be surprised.

Sometimes in the column, I give you advice and wisdom from my experience. Today, I’m using it more to sort out my own thoughts on what’s currently going on in my writing career.

Maybe, this will help me figure out where to go next.

But before I go, Let me leave you with this hint. The highly anticipated anthology Speakeasies and Spiritualists, curated by the lovely Nicole Petit, is due out this week. There’s a story written by yours truly in it. Check it out, there’s something in that story that you’ll see again sometime soon.

If Walls Could Talk: Setting Your Work Free

M.H. Norris

I remember the first time I let a group of people read my work. This was just at the beginning of the period of time where younger me considered that, hey, maybe this hobby of mine could be something more.

Two Roads in a Wood

One thing I still clearly remember is the fact that I was completely and utterly terrified. This was my work, something I’d spent ages on, and now I was just going to read it for these people–and throw myself at the mercy of their critiques?

I’ve done it quite a bit since then. But every time I take my work to a writing group to have it critiqued, I get that feeling. Granted, it’s smaller than it was that first time, but it’s there all the same.

But from what I’ve witnessed over the years, it’s better than the alternative.

And just what is that alternative?

The alternative is letting it sit there, letting yourself make edit after edit after edit trying to make it “perfect” and hope that one day you’ll share it with the world. That alternative is having half-started project after half-started project.

I’ve seen both versions of that alternative play out, and I can tell you neither is good for a writer.

But Mary Helen, you don’t understand. You’re just saying it’s hard for you to release your work.

I’m really not. I even admitted it in this week’s Raconteur Roundtable.

So what are ways you can set your work free?

1) Start a Blog

Or write a column for an existing blog (like yours truly does). Either way, it has two benefits. The first is that you are getting in the habit of writing regularly. The second is that you are putting your work out there for the world to see on a semi-regular basis.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be fiction. It can be articles, thoughts on what’s going on in your life or in the world, or reviews of your favorite books series or TV show (if it’s this option and it has time travel, shoot me a message and maybe we’ll talk about getting you to write for the Time Travel Nexus). It doesn’t really matter what it is, it matters that you do it.

2) Find a Writing Group

I’ll admit, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to one. Life does get in the way. But I did find this beneficial. You can find these in three places.

In the Community

There is a local group here in my hometown. I went for years, before life just got in the way and my schedule became a bit hectic. But for a while, week to week, I took a bit of my work to this group and let them help me find ways to make it better.

They pushed me. I needed to write every week so I would have something to show them. It also got my work out to a small audience and allowed me immediate feedback.

And sometimes, you really just need that.

At Your School

Yes, this one really only applies to students. But considering James and I met at our alma mater’s creative writing club I can’t help but point out that that is one place you should look.

If nothing else, you might find a friend for life. I did (two, counting the always fabulous Nicole Petit).

Online

I was actually a part of an online writing site for a while. It was fun because it pushed me in a different way, and also gave me a place to go on a daily basis that allowed me to not only get feedback but build friendships with fellow writers.

I sometimes miss those days. It was like Cheers.

That being said, it isn’t necessarily hard to find somewhere to go to share you work and by doing it with a small group of people, it makes the big releases easier.

Here’s Another Confession

The week Badge City: Notches was released I think I was checking Amazon every hour on the hour while I was awake to see how it was doing.

I needed that validation to tell me that people were actually reading something I wrote. I had written a book and it was out there–and people liked it and read it.

But if you don’t let your work go then you don’t get to experience that feeling of relief and joy.

And what’s almost worse is that this idea, the one you’ve dedicated a lot of your time to, that you are probably really passionate about, won’t ever have the chance to shine.

So let it go.

Let it go out in the world for all to see.

It might not be perfect, it might have spots you regret down the road (yes, I’m eyeing my first ever short story).

But it’s your journey as a writer.

And unless you make that first step, your journey won’t go nearly as far as it could.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

A lot of people write in their spare time as nothing more than a hobby. Shoot, until about five years ago, I was one of them. But then, with the encouragement of some friends, I took the road less travelled and let my work out into the world.

You can too.

Because I will be the first to tell you, it makes all the difference.

If Walls Could Talk: Doctor Who’s Two-Part Finale According To M.H. Norris and Mark Twain (Series 10)

M.H. Norris

On an episode of The Raconteur Roundtable, James and I sat down and broke down the first half of Series 10, taking a look from both a content and a writing standpoint. I would like to extend that look today, and examine the last two parts of Doctor Who’s tenth series.

“World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” were the two-part finale that all but ended both Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s time on Doctor Who.

As I get started, I’d like to put my traditional disclaimer up. Peter Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who had many problems. Yet, I do not blame Peter Capaldi for a single one of them. If nothing else, I can see where he tried so hard to save it.

To assist me in analyzing the two-part finale, I’m going to pull Mark Twain’s nineteen rules governing literary art, from his classic essay, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”

Serious spoiler warning for the two-part finale of Series 10 of Doctor Who, “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls.” To illustrate the rules, I will not be withholding spoilers up to and including the last minute of the show. If you have not had a chance to watch and do not want to be spoiled, I’ll see you back here in a couple of days after you watch.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1) That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

Take an honest, objective look at the episode and tell me where this went? If you say from one end of the ship to another, I’m going to stare at you.

What did it accomplish?

In fact, “World Enough and Time” could have not existed, and could have been shoved into the first five minutes of “The Doctor Falls.” We would not have lost a lot.

The same thing can be said of “Extremis” earlier in the season. Though, with “Extremis,” that was glossed over in a line in the second part.

The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole go through this whole adventure, shoot there are even two Masters running around too. But at the end of the day, when the dust settled and everyone more or less moved on from this, what was accomplished?

Absolutely nothing.

The Cybermen are still on the ship. Nardole is stuck there. Bill is…. Well we’ll save that one for a later rule. And the Doctor… actually we’re going to save that one for a later rule as well. No-one has changed, as characters. The Masters are fundamentally the same, shedding whatever attempts at character development the series has given them. Nardole is the same. The Doctor is the same. Bill is the same.

The plot is static. The characters are static.

Two hours of footage have gone nowhere.

2) They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

As already stated above, we could have done without the first part of the two-parter. The sole purpose of this episode was to remind us that time moved faster at the bottom than it did at the top of the ship.

Let me state that one more time in case you didn’t notice it here or in the episode, time moves faster in the bottom of the ship than it does at the top.

In fact, Whovians have taken the time to diagram this.

But seriously, what happened in “World Enough and Time”? Bill is killed (in the most obnoxious and unrealistic way – if you’ve seen the scene in question you know what I mean). But then she’s not killed, she’s partially and then later fully converted into a Cyberman.

The Master is around, two of them. One, Missy is with the Doctor the other is in disguise helping Steven Moffat leave his mark on canon by changing the origin story of the Mondasian Cyberman (keep in mind these are the Cyberman who we meet in the 1966 serial The Tenth Planet).

And of course, countless references to  time moving faster in the bottom of the ship than it does at the top.

This entire episode could have been condensed and added in, giving Part 2 some much needed tension and help.

3) They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

Bill…

Oh Bill…

We first met both Bill and Heather in “The Pilot” where Heather ends up (according to the Doctor) dead due to a weird space oil thing that’s not fully explained and is the one vague point in the only solid episode of Series 10.

Is she dead?

According to the Doctor, yes.

Is she living?

According to Heather, yes. It’s just a different kind of living.

Either way, the distinction isn’t made clear.

4) They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

Heather, who came to assist in Bill’s exit is an excellent example of a violation of this rule.

We never saw any sign of her and her puddle all season long.

Until we did.

Until, such a time as it was convenient to the plot for her to show back up. And convenience to your plot is not a sufficient excuse to randomly throw a character back into a story. Her presence was unestablished. She is the worst kind of Deus Ex Machina.

5) They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

There’s a balance between character-building dialogue and cutting into your action sequence with needless dialogue that really doesn’t belong here.

There’s two particular times where the dialogue really stood out as unnecessary and did nothing more than to further bog down an episode that was already bogged down.

Let’s take a look at  the first one.

MASTER: You can’t win.

DOCTOR: I know! And?

MASTER: Come on, Lady Version. I honestly don’t know what you see in him.

MISSY: Likewise.

Both turn and begin to walk away.

DOCTOR: No! No! When I say no, you turn back around!

The Doctor runs, catching up with them before cutting their path off by standing in front of them.

DOCTOR: Hey! I’m going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let’s have this out, you and me, once and for all. Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because, because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun and God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do, because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it till it kills me. You’re going to die too, some day. How will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?

MASTER: See this face? Take a good, long look at it. This is the face that didn’t listen to a word you just said.

He walks off.

DOCTOR: Missy. Missy. You’ve changed. I know you have. And I know what you’re capable of. Stand with me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

MISSY: Me too. But no. Sorry. Just, no. But thanks for trying.

First, let me take a second to point out that I’ve never been a fan of this buddy-buddy thing that Moffat has been doing with the Doctor and the Master. They were friends once upon a time, but that ended a long, long, long, long time ago.

All through classic Doctor Who, the Doctor and the Master fought each other. There were plenty of times where if he’d had the chance, both would have killed the other.

The Master didn’t hesitate to torture him in Series 3, now did he?

Yet, all of a sudden the two are all buddy-buddy.

If the Doctor knew he was going to die (and he did) and got to have it out with the Master one last time, this doesn’t seem to be what they would discuss. Especially not after all the lead up Steven Moffat has planted all season long.

Another example of this happens a few minutes later and this one has been annoying me just as much. Take a look:

DOCTOR: Yeah. This is it, I’m afraid. So, if there’s anything we ought to be saying?

BILL: I can’t think of anything. Can you?

DOCTOR: No.

BILL: But, hey er, you know how I’m usually all about women and, and kind of people my own age.

DOCTOR: Yeah?

BILL: Glad you knew that.

Both know this is the last conversation they’ll get to have with each other and this is what they spend it on?

So much potential for one last touching character moment. And that’s how they say goodbye.

6) They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

Series 10 was almost completely void of characterization. The Doctor was never consistent episode to episode. Besides being gay and the bit with her mother, we never see a lot of what makes Bill Bill. Writers bounce back and forth between portraying her as intelligent, or so stupid that, as a physics student, she doesn’t know what CERN is.

The Doctor acted in and out of character the whole series. In several episodes, I would see him act in a way that he never would have (siding with the emoji bots in “Smile” is a good example of this).

Another thing that was extremely out of character were the Masters. Let me make one thing perfectly clear.

The Master would never shoot himself.

In fact, all through classic Who, most of his arcs were about him finding ways to prolong his life. Shoot, the entire Doctor Who TV movie (1996) exists because the Master just won’t die.

So he/she goes and stabs themselves in the back, twice?

No.

It’s not in the Master’s character to do something like that.

7) They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.

This requires a character to have consistent characterization which is something Twelve is noticeably lacking. I get the character shifting a few times in the first few episodes, he’s getting a feel for his own skin as well as the writers getting used to him.

But for three seasons for his character to shift, rather dramatically at times and then flip flop back to previous versions for no reason?

8) They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.

Why on Earth would the Doctor set the Cybermen databanks to target him, Missy, and the Master. I get the idea of trapping the two of them, but he also traps himself.

And why does he keep fighting this battle. I get it’s because it’s “Kind,” but it’s pointless. For the first time ever, I find myself agree with the Master on something.

But because the Doctor claims it’s who he is, it’s suddenly okay.

9) They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Heather is another point. She magically comes in at the last minute to give Moffat a cop out of actually killing Bill.

Actually, why didn’t Bill die in the explosion the Doctor set off?

Another thing was that the Doctor suddenly expected the Master to change after millennia of the two bashing heads and fighting across the cosmos?

Talk about exploiting miracles.

10) They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

It has been years since I’ve felt like I’m invested enough to care what happens to the characters in Doctor Who. I honestly felt nothing during “Angels Take Manhattan,” and while “Face the Raven” was a good exit, said exit was later voided—thus promptly voiding any emotional impact it had.

Why should I care if Bill was shot? We’re really not given a lot about her character. She couldn’t afford school, she sold chips, the Doctor decides to take her under his wing. She’s gay, she lives with her Aunt. Her mother died when she was little.

All of this information was given to us in “The Pilot.” But none of this is built or expanded on or really presented in a way that makes me want to care. The only thing we learn later is she’s really into the lost Roman legion, which hardly gives us anything else to latch onto.

Even with all that time with the Ponds, it was such shallow character development that I had nothing to latch onto and be interested in.

All these goodbyes are happening and I felt nothing. I was not invested.

11) They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

Yes, to an extent, part of the Doctor’s character is that there is a certain degree of unpredictability.

But this surpasses it.

He wants to have a heart to heart with the Masters. He lies to Bill. He tricks Nardole in basically waiting a few extra years and then dying anyway because he is in an impossible situation.

12) Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

All through Series 10, the Doctor and the Master have seemed to be attempting to rekindle their friendship. They dance around it, especially in “Eaters of Light,” as we lead into the penultimate.

Another place where this rule may have been broken was with Bill and the Doctor as they said goodbye (see dialogue with rule 5).

Series 10 seemed to love to beat around the bush and never actually give you a moment to get attached to the characters.

13) Use the right word, not its second cousin.

All of a sudden, the Mondasian Cyberman developed a laser canon on their heads. Bill discovers this by getting angry with the Doctor.

Off and on, he got her to use it a couple of times and referred to it as “could you get angry on this.”

No.

14) Eschew surplusage.

Be clear.

That’s all that that means. And look, I saved you a trip to Google.

Moffat bogged down his entire last season in the need to be technical and make himself appear clever.

Let’s be clear on something. Nothing makes you look less clever than someone being able to tell you were trying to be clever.

By bogging down a  script with useless things that only hide the point of your episode (or book or whatever it is you’re writing, you find yourself in the position where someone like me is making this list.

15) Not omit necessary details.

For this one, I’m going to go back to “Oxygen” for my example. What was this mission doing? Why were they there? How and when did the suits malfunction? Why did no one remember Nardole is a robot and could handle the vacuum of space better than Bill? Why would any company supposedly interested in making money kill its highly-trained employees, when getting new ones would surely cost more? How is bringing down one company supposed to end capitalism forever? Why are the employees seemingly familiar with films from thousands of years beforehand?

One necessary detail from the two-parter that would have been included, especially because it would have been a fun technical detail, is more on the relation of time throughout the lower parts of the ship. It seemed as if each floor worked on a different speed of time but how much did they differ?

16) Avoid slovenliness of form.

Quite frankly, Doctor Who slovenly this entire two-parter. Yes, usually the Doctor is coming up with and executing a plan on the fly. But usually it’s not so slipshod as he was here. Yes, in one way, the Doctor was being written towards his regeneration, but you can write him there without him actually going there.

Look at Three, look at Nine, look at One and Two. The others (besides Ten and Eleven who were intentionally omitted from the list) I’m not as familiar with their regeneration stories to be able to make the comparison.

But while they would end up at their ends, they still kept on the adventure like normal.

For some reason, the tenth Doctor got it in his head to throw himself a giant episode long pity party about regenerating and every regeneration since has also had it.

And I’m quite frankly over it. But that’s a post for another time (and maybe for the Nexus instead of here).

All of this is beside the true slovenliness of form that’s haunted the entire 10th series—broken pacing, here in spades, of overly-long set-ups and rushed conclusions.

17) Use good grammar.

The one rule that “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” manages to avoid.

Mainly because this rule is meant for other mediums.

18) Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Everything has to be this big ball of complicated. Look at the River Song arc. It lasted from 2008 to Christmas of 2015. Sure, for binge watchers, this approach may work, but for causal watchers and for posterity—who might not watch this in a straight line—this approach is not beneficial to the show.

It shoots Moffat’s Doctors in the foot because some of their notable serials will have trouble translating to posterity in the way classic Who does. Twelve has three good episodes. Husbands of River Song is bogged down by her plotline. The Return of Doctor Mysterio to an extent because they constantly mention the previous episode. Which leaves “The Pilot” all alone for clear, heavy-continuity-free, recommendations.

Overall, the two-part series finale to Series 10 was flat, lackluster, dragged in its pacing, and often made truly inexplicable decisions.

Truly, the best part was the last minute where we get the first on-screen appearance of the first Doctor since the 1983 serial “The Five Doctors.”

Hopefully Christmas will do him justice.

If Walls Could Talk: Find Your Weird

M.H. Norris

A couple of years ago, I was getting ready to take a roadtrip when I discovered that Felicia Day had written an autobiography. Seeing that the audiobook was almost the length of my drive, I grabbed it and on that trip I listened. She was already an actress I liked, and I was excited to hear her story. After all, this was the point where I was really starting to embrace my inner nerd and she was known for embracing her weird.

After listening to her and hearing the similarities between our stories, I realized something. If she could make it, then maybe there was hope I could make it.

So how does one make their way into this field?

You do what Felicia Day did, and I try to: forge your own path, create your own place and don’t settle until you found it.

1. Find What Works for You

There are thousands, if not millions, of writing advice books, blogs, magazines–all of them telling you their thoughts and opinions on this craft. Anyone and everyone can tell you what works best for them. But you have to figure out what works best for you. That’s one reason I like the premise of this blog. I’m more or less telling you my thoughts and musings week to week with the intention that you know that that’s what it is.

I can tell you a lot of things about writing. But I can also tell you this. I’m still figuring out what’s best for me and sometimes it varies project to project.

2. Don’t Settle

Write what speaks to you. Chances are, it will speak to someone else.

Don’t let what you write be influenced by what “experts” say is selling, or won’t sell, or what they think is the next big thing. Here’s a fun fact that I don’t mention often these days, when I first started writing more seriously, I thought I was going to write Young Adult. I’m still not opposed to the idea of revisiting that idea some day. When I wandered into the field of murder mysteries, I honestly didn’t expect to find the home I’ve found in this genre.  But if you’re not embracing what you love to write, and are doing it because someone told that something was “in,” then you are failing yourself and your potential. That would be settling.

But, both Felicia Day and I have learned that things don’t always go according to the plans we make for our lives.

This is going to be one of those times where I’m very honest with you all. Over the last couple of years, I’ve struggled with figuring out just what it is I’m supposed to be doing.

Ultimately the dream, the goal, is to be able to write and what not full time. But until M.H. Norris can pay the bills, Mary Helen has to somehow. And while it may seem odd to refer to two different sides of me like that, sometimes they do feel miles apart. Maybe that’s part of me learning to “embrace the weird” and not stick to the status quo. Figuring out how to make the two mesh a little better. If you haven’t had the chance to read Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) by (or listened to her read the audiobook), that is something I suggest you pick up and read.

Especially, if you’re like me and wondering where your place in the world is. Maybe her story can encourage you like it did me.

At Awesome Con last weekend, I had the privilege of finally meeting Felicia Day and I told her how she had been an encouragement to me, and that even though I was still trying to figure it out and find my way–her story encouraged me that I would. figure it out.

Let me leave you with her advice.

She told me to always be proactive, to try new things and to always be doing something.

So, what did my meeting with Felicia Day teach me about writing?

It told me to keep doing what I’m doing and to find my place in the crazy world of publishing. Felicia Day has seen the good and bad sides of the internet and I’ve seen the good and bad sides of the publishing industry.

But I’m finding my place. Mystery Maven, Sci-Fi Sorceress. Award-winning author and co-host of the Raconteur Roundtable. Titles I never imagined holding but now are ones I hold dear. Embrace your weird. Even if it’s not the one you expected.

If Walls Could Talk: Why Wandering Characters Aren’t So Bad

M.H. Norris

There’s a perk to working with a character over the course of multiple stories.

The Experience of Writing Rosella [(c) Bill Keane]

Yes, I do believe you can really get to know a character over the course of a single story. But to go beyond that, to start a series, there is just something extra about developing a character. It’s one thing to do it from start to finish and not necessarily worry about the repercussions of whatever fun things you have awaiting your protagonist in the climax.

With a sequel, with a series even, you have to take that into consideration. How does whatever happened affect them from that point further? How does it help them grow their character?

There’s different circumstances from story to story and as a result, the character might react different or show a different side of themselves.

I experienced that with Rosella this week.

Writing a scene, I had an idea of something I wanted to do and I thought she would react one way. And then, she surprised me and acted in a way I didn’t expect. Now whether that was to stick it to me and prove she does what she wants, that remains to be seen.

But I found it fun, and it does oddly fit her.

I think I’ve discussed it before, but it’s been awhile so I’m going to mention it again. Characters can take over your story and gain a life of their own.

And they like to wander.

And it’s annoying.

Rosella did that to me, she wandered off on a rabbit trail and I didn’t know what she was doing, and why she went there, and what she could see that had caught her attention.

What can you do when they do that? When they take over a scene rather rudely and without permission and wander off on their own adventure within the carefully constructed tale you’ve put together.

There isn’t much you can besides follow along. Let them take you where they are going and see where it leads you. Because, sometimes they can have a lot of fun and take you in a direction you didn’t notice previously.

Following Rosella’s rabbit trail helped me to set-up something earlier than I originally thought I would be able to.

Developing characters to use over multiple stories brings challenges you don’t see with one offs and those are what sometimes pushes you to work just a bit harder.

One thing I hate is when a character goes through this fantastic adventure and grows and learns something and then the next time you see them, it’s like it never happened and they haven’t changed a bit.

It drives me mad.

People are the sum of their experiences. Characters are no different. These moments make them who they are. Two roads diverged in a road…

Sorry, the Robert Frost cliche does actually fit here.

And with writing a series character, you get to explore that in a way you normally couldn’t can. There’s all the experience that led them to the point of the beginning of the series. But then each and every story in the series builds them more. Giving them more opportunities to show who they are, and wonder off away from your plans.

It’s a good thing. Embrace it.

If Walls Could Talk: Polishing Your Pitch ‘Til It’s Perfect

M.H. Norris

“Canada Water Library Shelves” by Barney Moss

Sometimes, writers have to go back to basics. It’s been awhile since I pitched a short story idea cold turkey without having been asked to pitch an idea and I found myself a bit rusty. What do I say in a pitch? What details do I include? Seriously? Just a page?

Let’s preface this post with this, pitches and outlines are two of my least favorite parts of writing but they are necessary.

James, stop chuckling.

Let’s talk about the all-important pitch. You see a short story anthology, you want to be in said anthology. They ask for a one-page summary.

What do you do?

Don’t panic.

Yes, the bottom of that single page can and will feel extremely close.

Yes, you will be forced to cut things and you’ll hate everything because you think the things you are cutting are vitally important and the editor can’t possibly do without and how dare they expect you to limit your brilliance to just one page.

Yes, yes they do.

This pitch is your chance to show the editor, or curator, just what you can do. In approximately 500 words, you must convey a story that will span several thousand.

So here are some tricks.

1) Do include information about the ending

Especially with a mystery. This may seem obvious, but trust me when I say it isn’t. They want a synopsis from start to finish.It should feature every major plot point.

If you’re writing a mystery, be sure to include who did it, maybe insight into the motive (let’s be honest if you have a good long idea for motive you won’t be able to fit it into the pitch – tease them, give them a hint at least, as much as you can).

Part of it is they want to make sure you can finish the story once you start.

2) Do not go over the limit

Yes, yes, I know. You think one or two lines over won’t make a difference.

It will.

Especially if you are trying to break into a franchise anthology or with a bigger publishing house, they are sticklers for the rules.

It’s hard, I know. Trust me, I’m working on a pitch right now for something and I’ve already cut once and I probably have to go cut again (I’m writing this and trying to avoid the fate that awaits me – sigh this reprieve won’t last for long).

But do it. You need to follow the instructions. That doesn’t mean these details are cut from the story; they’re only your synopsis for this pitch.

3) Don’t be afraid to repurpose ideas

Two stories on this one. Because yes, I made it this far without storytime this week. I pitched a short story idea and got rejected. I loved the idea of the idea and found a potential second home for it, but the idea needed to be repurposed. We’ll see if I get to use it this time.

Second story is actually one you can find on the commentary for the pilot of Psych. Steve Franks talks about a scene near the end where Shawn actually calls the cops on himself (yes, he does have a reason but it’s funny to pretend he doesn’t). According to Franks, he’d been trying to fit that gag in to projects for years but it never stuck and he was so happy he actually got to do it.

Sometimes, a story you think is perfect for one thing, actually belongs somewhere else, slightly different.

That has to go with the keep trying and don’t give up advice that I should put in here somewhere.

4) Make sure all your pieces connect and it makes sense

This is hard and a place where I struggle. Especially if I’m limited to something like one page. Badge City: Notches’ pitch was 2-3 pages if memory serves and I could get away with that. But often, that isn’t the case and you have to adapt.

That being said, trying to throw a mystery into a few words and include the who, what, where, when, why, and how is very tricky. Keeping that all intact and staying inside the word limit is even harder.

But it needs to make sense because if it doesn’t, you’re killing your story before it has a chance to shine.

So A goes to B goes to C and when you cut stuff due to space make sure you don’t cut something that makes your plot suddenly not make sense.

It’s a balancing act. Have someone read it over before you send it in to make sure it still makes sense.

5) Do have other details that don’t make it in

Keep in mind, that once accepted, you have to write this story. You cannot give away everything in a pitch. Those gems you cut? Keep them tucked away, just in case. You might get the chance to use them.

6) Do your research

There’s a good chance you’ll have to have some basic knowledge of whatever you happen to be talking about to make your pitch make sense. Granted, I’m one to talk since I pitched for Badge City: Notches using the information I’d learned on Psych about police procedure and murder.

Luckily for me, Steve Franks’ father was a cop. He knew his stuff. And it tended to slot in with my interviews with members of the police force and my stack of reference books.

If you’re writing a historical, those little details can make or break you. This is also the point where I once again point you in the direction of Jon Black’s fabulous blog here on the 18thWall site.

Hint hint, wink wink.

Pitches, synopsis, and outlines aren’t going anywhere in writing. Sad but true facts. Hopefully the things I shared here help you as you search for the perfect place for your idea.

Good luck!

If Walls Could Talk: Remember Why You Write

M.H. Norris

Grab a cup of tea and let me start this week off by telling you a story about a young girl who would one day become your favorite mystery maven.

But at this point, where our story is set, I wasn’t there quite yet. In fact, I hadn’t really written my first mystery at this point. We’re coming around to the point where I maybe was starting to work on “Puzzle Pieces” for The Lemon Herberts.

June 2012

Some of you who follow me on Facebook, or have caught me talking about my writing, might know the significance of that month. That was the month my grandfather passed away. In case you don’t know the significance of that, he is one of the reasons I fell in love with writing. He read everything he could get his hands on. That’s saying something, because he went legally blind and was still reading large print.

His love of reading was contagious. We would read together–especially mysteries.

My love of the genre was already there.

A few weeks after his passing, I discovered the USA Network show, Psych. It became one of my absolute favorite shows. For those of you who haven’t had the privilege, Psych is a show about Shawn Spencer,  a hyper-observant guy with a photographic memory (and was trained by his father his entire childhood) who solves crimes in Santa Barbara California all while posing as a Psychic Detective. Because Shawn has the attention span of the average five-year-old, they tended to only work on murder cases; those were the only cases shiny enough to keep his attention.

January 2014

Fast forward about 19 months. I had the opportunity to write a police procedural, but needed a case. This is also around the time Psych‘s seventh season was airing, and the big announcement that they were closing on their eighth and final season.

While making the decision, I turned to my favorite crime fighting team and saw them solving murders. After spending as much time as I have watching them at work, I thought a murder case was where I would be the most familiar–and thus at least have a foundation between it and my grandfather, the two things that made writing a police procedural even appeal to me.

So there it is, I also talk about this in this week’s episode of The Raconteur Roundtable!

But I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m telling this story, after all, it’s been awhile since I ranted like this. Over this last weekend, I started to rewatch Psych. I figured, since this is partially what inspired me to write my first mystery, maybe I’d find whatever muse was hiding in those eight seasons.

I’m about halfway through Season 1 and I’m having an absolute blast. It’s like revisiting old friends after a long time away.

So here’s my question for all of your and partially why I’m writing this today. What inspired you to write? Who?

We hit a point in our writing careers, or at least I feel like I have, where we seem to maybe step away from that inspiration. We forget that we decided to do this writing thing because we love it.

Somewhere along the way it becomes all about deadlines and the next project and your writing bucket list and what you want to do and where you want to go.

What about those days where you dreamed of writing, of telling your story and having your voice heard?

When was the last time you wrote for fun?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with all of the above, it’s part of what makes up a writing career.

But sometimes, you need to take a step back and find your muse. Find where you started. Sure, if you’re like me you’ve come a long, long, long, long ways since then.

But it’s your start.

What inspired you? What spoke to you then? Maybe it was two guys who constantly make 80s jokes, eat an obsessive amount of pineapple, and solve murders that might otherwise go unsolved in rather untraditional methods.

What is it?

If you’re like me and feel like you’ve been stuck in a writing rut, maybe you should join me in revisiting it and seeing if you can remember what it was that inspired you.

Normally here I give you advice and tell you my two cents worth on how to fix the problem in question. But not this week.

This week I’m going to issue you a challenge.

Find what inspired you

And maybe, take an hour or two this week and write something for the sake of writing.

I’ve done both this week. I think it’s made the world of difference.