Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 281)

Fantasy Indie Book Giveaway

Available through June 10 here.  Includes my book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  (Book 2, The Knight of Shattered Dreams, will be released May 31!)

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice; “I’ve become one of the undead!”

A horrible plague has spread across Britain, infecting some of its citizens with zombieism. The British, however, have not given themselves over to upset, but have discovered a method for controlling the plague: a serum that halts the infection in the living, and restores self-control (most of the time) to the undead.

On one golden afternoon, gentleman zombie Charles Dodgson tells Alice Liddell and her two sisters a story, the tale of how dear little Alice (who is rather a troublemaker) comes to the mythical homeland of the zombies, Underland, and her adventures there.

Will she escape?

Or will Mr. Dodgson, as the story progresses, consume them all?

The Queen of Stilled Hearts begins the story of Alice’s Adventures in Underland. It is continued in the second book, The Knight of Shattered Dreams, in which a tale is told of a certain looking-glass…

For older teens and up. Some gore and violence–not recommended for younger readers.

 

 

Upcoming Release: The Knight of Shattered Dreams

Coming May 31…

 

One thing was certain, that the zombies had everything to do with it…

Almost nine years have passed since that golden afternoon when gentleman zombie Charles Dodgson told Alice Liddell and her two sisters the story of Alice’s Adventures in Underland, the story of how Alice goes to the land of the zombies and what she finds there–and how she escapes.

The real Alice is no longer a little girl, but a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, troubled by the restricted life ahead of her as an upper-class woman in Victorian Britain.  Soon she will have to look for a husband…whom she hopes to find in a younger son of Queen Victoria, her old friend and playmate, Prince Leopold.

Queen Victoria has other ideas.

Then another, more virulent outbreak of the zombie virus spreads across Britain, leaving nowhere untouched…with Alice’s only hope being, once again, Mr. Dodgson and one of his wonderful stories, this time on the other side of a looking glass…

 

The Knight of Shattered Dreams finishes the story from book 1, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  For older teens and up.  Some gore and violence–not recommended for younger readers.

 

How to Study Fiction, Part 25: The Fall of the House of Usher

This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book.

Last time on “The Fall of the House of Usher” study, we looked at the paragraphing throughout the story to see how Poe handled the paragraphs.  The paragraphs, dear reader, were long, resuling in very slow pacing…except for a few little things:

  • The epigraph, or short quote/poem at the beginning of the story.
  • A poem, in stanzes.
  • Another short quote, near the end of the story.

Now, whenever a good, skillful writer changes pacing, it’s a sign to the reader that something has changed in the content.  A story that goes from slow pacing to fast pacing might indicate a shift from thoughtful reflection on the forest surrounding the narrator to an attack by bears.*

Because of what we’ve looked at in previous areas of this story, I’m going to say that, for the most part, Poe’s long paragraphs are:

  • Slow paced.
  • Reflective in mood (literally so, in places).
  • Deceptive, possibly with buried clues and implications.
  • Indirect (the sentences are also long and twisted; it’s possible to have long paragraphs and short sentences together, so the long sentences in the long paragraphs are also a nuance of pacing).

So what purpose do these shorter, faster-paced sections serve?  Probably, they serve to mark some change in content, because of the nature of pacing in fiction.

However, there’s another element to consider:  where those changes occurr.

The three locations are:

  • Beginning.
  • Midpoint.
  • Near, but not at, the end of the story.

Why is the location important?  Why did Poe put those things there?

In order to answer those questions, we have to look back to how stories are structured.  Where something is located in a story is important, because Western fiction is based on a pretty typical structure:

  • Setup
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

There are all kinds of way to expand on that structure, but that’s generally how it goes.  Sometimes (in other stories), Poe will take the resolution, slice it into bits, and hide it inside the rest of the story, so that the story ends at the exact moment of the greatest conflict.  (In “Usher” he does not; one of the stories he does that in is “Ligeia.”)

A slightly expanded version of the traditional Western structure might go like this:

  • Setup (10-15% section of the story).
  • Initial conflicts (lower stakes) (up to the 50% mark of the story).
  • Reversal/twist (generally at the 50% mark).
  • Stakes raised (50%-75% section of the story).
  • Final conflict (75-95% section of the story).
  • Resolution (final section of the story).

Side note: A very short story will tend to have fewer structural pieces; a longer story will tend to have more of them.  “Usher” is over 7K, which is at the long end of short stories (2.5K-7.5Kish), and has more structure than “The Cask of Amontillado,” at ~2300 words.  There tend to be very few Hero’s Journey stories at the 2300-word length!

To predict what content each of the three pieces marks a change in, without actually reading or rereading “The Fall of the House of Usher”:

  • The epigraph near the beginning will reflect the theme of the story–possibly a hidden theme.
  • The poem will reflect a reversal in the conflicts of the story.
  • The short quote near the 75% mark of the story will reflect something that either sets off the final conflict, or that marks “the beginning of the end.”

Let’s see if I’m right.

The initial quote:

Son cœur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne.

De Béranger

Translation:

Their heart is a poised lute;
as soon as it is touched, it resounds.

Knowing what we know about “Usher,” we have three characters:

  • Usher.
  • His sister.
  • The narrator.

Whose heart is being played?  We know from reading the story that Usher’s heart isn’t touched by, really, anything, other than feeling sorry for himself.  His sister’s heart is never touched; she’s barely a character, wafting in and out of rooms.

The narrator, though.  He gets played like a lute.

“Hey,” says Poe, “the key to this story is that the narrator is being lied to.”

The poem:

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

The content of the poem is basically (by stanza):

  • Once upon a time there was a beautiful palace, the capital of Thought itself.
  • This place was great.  It even smelled nice. (This cracked me up.)
  • Looking in through two windows of the palace, visitors could see the king of Thought.  The palace is probably some dude’s head.
  • Noise exits the mouth, singing the king’s praises.  (Usher speaking well of himself, that is.)
  • But then bad things came from outside the palace.  (Usher blames his issues on external influences.)
  • The palace of Thought is now lit with red lamps, and full of crazy-ass dancers, which spew from the mouth.

What we know from the story overall is:

  • Usher is insane, and probably a narcissist and committing incest to help preserve the family name.

Before the poem, he’s kind of weird, and you sort of want to feel bad for him, although not too bad.  After the poem, he starts talking about how the house of Usher (the actual building) is sentient, and, in fact, is to blame for everything that’s going wrong with him, Usher, personally.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher’s which I mention not so much on account of its novelty (for other men* have thought thus), as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones—in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around—above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence—the evidence of the sentience—was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke), in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him—what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

Side note: the asterisk ends up at the end of the story, and might be considered another change to the pacing:

* Watson, Dr. Percival, Spallanzani, and especially the Bishop of Landaff.—See “Chemical Essays,” vol. v.

I tracked this down to a reference in Family Secrets and the Psychoanalysis of Narrative, by Esther Rashkin (Princeton University Press, 2014), which says that those three men were…talking about something completely different: cross-fertilization between species.

So the footnote is there to show (if you knew the reference) that Usher is unable to grasp the idea of cross-fertilization.  I wonder what that says about the possibility of incest in his freaking screwed-up family.

However, I don’t think Poe would have thought that the majority of his readers were familiar with the text.  I suspect it’s just a joke that he wrote for his own amusement.

The quote near the end:

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win.

The quote is in the middle of a goofy story about a knight named Ethelred (I don’t think this is supposed to be Aethelred the Unready?) that the narrator grabs and reads to Usher in order to help calm him during the storm.  Ethelred, a doughty knight, forces his way into the hovel of a hermit who just pissed him off.

At the same time that the narrator is reading the story, the sister is breaking out of her tomb.

Ethelred expects to face a hermit, but instead faces a dragon:

“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sat in guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten—

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win.

After which, once again, comes evidence of the sister breaking out of the room with her tomb in it.

This goes back and forth a few times, story…uncanny noise…story…uncanny noise.

Then, finally, Usher breaks down and admits that he’s known for days that his sister was still living in the tomb, and that she is now coming for him, just like Ethelred came for the dragon, presumably to kill him.

As she should.

The story of Ethelred serves as a contrast to Usher’s story:

  • Medieval cheesiness versus Usher’s pretentious poem.
  • To show that Usher isn’t the good guy in this story (he’s not the knight in shining armor).
  • To be the narrator’s last, failed attempt to instill some sanity in Usher.

The quote itself raises the stakes to life and death, and hints that it’s not gonna be life in the final outcome.

I think I nailed it on my prediction of the epigraph and poem, but bunted on the other quote:  It’s not really the quote that is the major turning point, but the story of Ethelred itself.  But I was close.

Next time:

The final “Usher” episode to follow, where we will focus more on the structure of the story.  We touched on it here, but I’m going to go into more depth–and color.

The world is madness which can only be combatted with sly nonsense.  Read the latest at the Wonderland Press-Heraldhere!

 

*If you’re not sure about how pacing changes content, please see the series on pacing.

 

Priorities 2019 – and Knight of Shattered Dreams cover reveal :)

I am running on fumes trying to get caught up over the last few weeks.  Here’s one of my posts from my newsletter, which originally ran in January, when I decided to change my newsletter format from trying to accomplish All the Things to what I felt was most important.  If you’re interested in signing up for the newsletter, the link is here

Priorities 

I decided to stop making New Year’s resolutions.  You know how it goes.  First you push hard.  Then you slide a little.  You push even harder.  Then you slide a little further.  Eventually, all that pushing makes you tired.  And you stop.Last year, I decided that I wanted to move from a freelance-based business (ghostwriting for clients) to a royalty-based business (selling my own books).  I knew it was going to take a lot of time.  I started blocking off mornings for my own work, and afternoons for my clients.  And then I spun my wheels.  I was doing a lot of minor tasks that didn’t get me any further toward my goal.

So, knowing myself, I decided to do one small task per day from several categories:

  • Writing for myself.
  • Studying.
  • Promoting my work.
  • Publishing more work.
By November I realized I was missing one category:
  • Growing my business.

I had run into a situation where I had to do a massive behind-the-scenes overhaul on my website.  I had let things slide…and it had become frustrating to use.  You can’t grow business based on a website that annoys people.  But I hate updating my website.  Bleah.

When I sat back during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I realized that having those categories was nice, but that I wasn’t really accomplishing what I had set out to do.  Publishing my backlog of work, in particular, hadn’t really gone anywhere.

My priorities had defaulted to:

  • Promoting (if you include social media).
  • Writing.
  • Studying.
  • Publishing.
  • Growing my business.

Ouch!  I was spending the majority of my time keeping up with stupid Facebook notifications.  I was jumping whenever someone whistled.

I went over the last ten years of my writing career.  I’m not where I used to be.  I’m a much better writer.  I looked at the things that made me better.  The top thing wasn’t writing, per se.  It was studying.  Specifically, it was about five years ago that I started typing stories in an doing analysis on how specific parts of them worked.

Studying how to write in an effective manner (typing stuff in) helped me write faster, edit less, and feel more confident about what I wrote.  It was a game changer.  I can type stuff in if I’m depressed, anxious, or brain-dead that morning, and it will help me focus on writing.  And, if I stick to typing in a thousand words a day, it doesn’t really take that long.

But it was embarrassing to realize that writing wasn’t the top item.  Also embarrassing?  Realizing just how much backlog I had in my files, waiting to get edited and published.  Write as much as you want, but by itself it can’t make your career.

I sat down over a few days and painfully sorted out what would put me where I wanted to be, eventually:

  • Studying.
  • Writing.
  • Publishing.
  • Growing my business.
  • Promotions.
(I put publishing over growing my business right now because I have literally ten different things that I should have published years ago, so right now that kind of is growing the business.)

A lot of things are important.  But when you say to yourself, “I can get it all done!” then something is going to slide, and it’s going to be the hardest, most brain-intense, most life-enriching items on your to-do list, unless you have priorities. No priorities = Facebook.

I’ve been using the new list since January 2, and I’ve already had two super-productive days, and one day of running errands.  I honestly feel a little panicked, because I’m not jumping on top of my emails and messages first thing in the morning, and it’s easy to convince yourself the world will end if you don’t reply to people immediately if not sooner.  But I got a lot of stuff done.

We’ll see how it goes.  If you try something similar, please be gentle on yourself:  getting myself sorted even this far took about half a year and involved a lot of mistakes.

But I think in ten years I’m going to be pretty pleased.

**Update May 2019:  So far so good.  I’ve finished two novels, did a major rewrite on a third, and wrote several short stories since then, gone to a professional-level workshop in Vegas, made progress with my continuing study (still on Poe, btw), updated my website pages (I hate doing this), and participated in several anthologies. The next release should be May 31, and here is the cover!

Alice’s Adventures in Underland:
The Knight of Shattered Dreams

Alice, now 17, is on the cusp of womanhood and in love with a forbidden prince (well, just Leopold) as the zombie infection mutates and changes. Will the love of her life survive? You can find the first book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts, here.

The world is madness which can only be combatted with sly nonsense.  Read the latest at the Wonderland Press-Heraldhere!

New Release: The King of Cats (Defenders of Dream #3)

The King of Cats (Defenders of Dream #3)

Universal Buy LinkGoodreads (reviews)

Whose friendship matters most in the land of dreams?

Ferntail the cat and his friends have been summoned to the capital of dreams. Why? No one explained, but it seemed foolish to decline. Perhaps the King of Cats would like to recognize them for their brave and valiant deeds.

Or perhaps the King of Cats needs their help.

The nearby Kingdom of Mice has been overthrown, and suspicions abound. Who is undermining the land of dreams?

Only Ferntail can find out.

A Defenders of Dream story:

The Society of Secret Cats
The Nightmare House
King of Cats

New Release: Cat Tales Issue #4

Cat Tales Issue #4

Universal Book Link | Goodreads (reviews)

Featuring my short story “The Nightmare House.”

Nine of the wildest and weirdest cat stories that you have ever come across. Fantasy, mystery and true-to-life tales of cat wonder. You will laugh, you will cry, and your cat will wonder if it is time to put you down and call you breakfast.

“The problem with cats is that they get the same exact look whether they see a moth or an ax-murderer.” – Paula Poundstone

“After scolding one’s cat one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference.” – Charlotte Gray

“Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose.” – Garrison Keillor

“A cat will purr when it is angry, or happy, or sad – and you will NEVER freaking know the difference – until it is too freaking late.” – Steve Vernon

How to Study Fiction, Part 24: The Fall of the House of Usher

This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book.

Last week (figuratively speaking) on “The Fall of the House of Usher,” we worked on the first paragraph and why it might be the length that it is.  If you haven’t read that one, you should probably check it out.

You can find a copy of “The Fall of the House of Usher” here, on Project Gutenberg.

So what are the rest of the paragraphs like?

This is the entire text of “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  I copied it out of Project Gutenberg, cut off the disclaimers and whatnot, and reformatted it a little so the paragraphs had white space between them to make their lengths more obvious. You should be able to click on the image and pull up a larger version.  The text goes from left to right on the top row, then to the bottom row.

What I hope you can see, at a glance, is that the paragraphs here are long.

LOOOONG.

Also, you can kind of see that there’s only one big section to the story, although there’s a poem in the middle of it.

Just from the layout above, we know:

  • Long paragraphs are long.  (As it happens, the first paragraph is the longest by like 28 words.)
  • There’s only one even remotely short paragraph, at 52 words long.
  • This is a short story that occurs in one section, more or less, although it may or may not be divided into different scenes connected by transitions.  When you go to look at the content, look for what ties this all together.
  • The center of this story is the poem.  Literally.
  • The two set-apart quotes, at the beginning and two-thirds of the way through the story, may be more important than they at first appear (they may appear to have been randomly placed, but they’re the only structural elements, along with the poem, to interrupt the lengthy series of paragraphs).

What we’re looking for are things that make themselves visually apparent, either because they stand out in and of themselves, or because they form patterns.

You might say that Poe wrote in long paragraphs because of the requirements of his day, in which the goal was to pack as many words onto a page as possible.  (I have no idea whether this is true, but let’s say it is.)  Thus, the lengths of the paragraphs would have no specific meaning, and, if he were writing the same story today, he would have paragraphed it differently.

Which is entirely possible.

However, as most poets know, the form in which one writes affects the contents of what one writes.  A pop song is not an aria; a haiku is not a sonnet.

Fiction in which one must pack as much text as possible onto a page is not text in which you’re getting paid by the line.  The content will prove to be somewhat different:  a tale in which it is encouraged to have long, smooth, almost lulling paragraphs will be more slowly paced than a tale in which short, staccato paragraphs are the norm.  A slowly paced story will have different content than a fast-paced one, just as a historical drama like The Remains of the Day will be paced differently, and have different content, than John Wick.

A good author suits their content to their form, and their form to their content.  If it works out better to have long paragraphs, then a good writer will write the best slow-paced story they can produce.  (An inexperienced writer may try to force a fast-paced story into long paragraphs, and may or may not succeed.)

So what we’re looking at in Usher is a relatively short piece with long paragraphs and therefore slow pacing.  The paragraphs tend to stay in the same pattern of long paragraph followed by long paragraph–giving the piece a hypnotic feel.  You’ll often see a writer interrupt long paragraphs by one- or two-line short paragraphs to keep the reader from getting fully lulled.

Like this.

Then, in the middle of the story, is something completely different, the poem, called “The Haunted Palace.” (I pulled the numbers out; they’re distracting.)

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

Why?

Here are the other elements that stand out:

The short paragraph:

“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after having stared about him for some moments in silence—“you have not then seen it?—but, stay! you shall.” Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.

The first quote (at the beginning of the story):

Son cœur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne.

Which translates to:

Their heart is a poised lute;
as soon as it is touched, it resounds.

The second quote:

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win.

Why?

Next time, I want to talk about the content of the poem and the two quotes (and the story that goes with the second quote), and why they are formatted differently.  Poe could have written a story without a poem at its heart, no quotes, and no shorter paragraph.

Why didn’t he?

The world is madness. Read the latest at the Wonderland Press-Heraldhere!

New Release: The Nightmare House

The Defenders of Dreams Series

I started a new series – or rather continued a story that I had put up a while ago and turned it into a series for middle-graders (9-12 y.o.).  These aren’t picture books or chapter books (like Magic Tree House), but more on the level of Percy Jackson or early Harry Potter books.

Note: I’ll be updating the cover for “The Society of Secret Cats” to match “The Nightmare House.”

I realized I’d kept putting off posting that I had a new story up “until everything was perfect,” then decideed that I’d never get it announced if I waited for that 🙂

A third story, “The King of Cats,” will be out soon.

 

The Society of Secret Cats (Defenders of Dream #1)

Universal Buy LinkGoodreads (reviews)

What if cats were really there to guard your dreams? Handsome, dashing Ferntail the cat must rescue  his human charge from a nightmare that invades her dream, with the help of a mysterious and beautiful cat.

The Nightmare House (Defenders of Dream #2)

Universal Buy LinkGoodreads (reviews)

Ferntail the cat can do nothing about the nightmares the house is giving his family.  For that, a dog must be called in. An annoying pug puppy named Nodoji.

Only one question: will Ferntail or the house get Nodoji first?

How to Study Fiction, Part 23: The Fall of the House of Usher

This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book.

The Paragraphs of the House of Usher

You can find a copy of “The Fall of the House of Usher” here, on Project Gutenberg.

Today, we’re going to look at paragraph lengths.  A note of caution here:  as with his sentence lengths, Poe’s paragraph lengths are extremely long for modern sensibilitites to cope with.  I would seriously think twice about writing paragraphs this long unless you feel a sort of calling for it, deep in your soul.  (I, myself, sometimes do.)

How long should a modern paragraph be?  I mean, the honest answer is, “As long as it needs to be,” but how does that even help, if you’re not at the point where you have a good feel for pacing?

I’m going to say that you should be able to fit five medium-length paragraphs on a standard book page.  Most book pages will have about 25 lines or so–a reasonable amount before your brain goes, “Hurrrr” and needs a tiny break when you look to the next page.  If you check most paperback and most hardcover books, they will have about 25 lines per page.  Mostly.  I have an edition of “Seven Gothic Tales” by Isak Dineson that I’m trying to read right now, and my print copy has 34 brutal lines per page.  I’m thinking about giving up on it and switching to digital.  It is sooo hard to read.

But, if I were to skim down any normally formatted page with about 25 lines of text, and I saw five paragraphs of about the same size, I wouldn’t think they were long or short, just kind of medium.

Okay, let me just completely derail this week’s post for a short discussion on book formatting, now that I think about it:

  • Physical books are formatted to certain dimensions because they help readers pay attention better.
  • Most physical books are formatted to be about 25 lines per page.
  • Most lines are formatted to have approximately 65-70 characters per line, which works out to about 10 words per line.
  • Most pages have about 250 words per page, barring chapter art and such.
  • Standard manuscript format will leave you with about 250 words per page so that a manuscript will have approximately the same page count as a formatted book.
  • All formats of book, from mass market paperback to hardcover, tend to have these same rules of thumb, even though they don’t have to.

Your brain needs a brief reset in order to process information.  In a print book, those resets occur invisibly:  the ends of lines, every point of punctuation, every page turn, every scene break, every chapter break.

In a properly formatted print book, that is.

It is 100% a benefit if you, as a writer, find out what basic book design looks like.  You don’t have to keep it in mind as you write, but once you know it, you can’t not know it.  Readers can’t really read as fast as they seem to read.  The time they spend reading is packed with little invisible pauses.

Honoring that can only help you be a better writer.

Wikibooks’ Basic Book Design is a good starting reference on basic book design.  I’m not joking.  I go back to it all the time.  If you are an indie publisher, reading this will make your books, both ebook and print, easier to read (and classier looking) as well.

Back to our regularly scheduled post.

Five paragraphs per page works out to about five lines of ten words each, or fifty words per paragraph.

One paragraph that takes up the whole page would be a very long paragraph, at 250 words.

A paragraph that took only one line would be a very short paragraph, at 10 words or fewer.

So let’s say:

  • One line: a very short paragraph.
  • 2-3 lines: a short paragraph.
  • 4-6 lines: a medium paragraph.
  • 7-10 lines: a long paragraph.
  • 10+ lines: a very long paragraph.
  • 25+ lines: a wall of text (as in, there are no indents or paragraph breaks in the black marks on the page).

Now, I personally would say paragraph lengths should be determined, at heart, by the content of the paragraphs, but again, that doesn’t really help if you don’t have a sense of how to match up form and content yet.

So let’s rephrase that:

One paragraph = one element gets described or one action taken.

Now, paragraphing is more complex than that, but that’s the essence.  You get to do one thing in that paragraph, and then you have to hit the return key.

But…!

Yes.  Some authors put more than one thing in a paragraph.  But mostly, in modern fiction, they don’t unless they’re lying to you about something.

One of the best ways to fool a reader is to put something in plain view, but don’t put it as the first or last sentence in a paragraph with more than three sentences.  Our brains are like, “Um.  This too many things, la la la,” and drifts a bit, because it needs to be reset.

The reader’s brain gets reset at the ends of lines.  It gets reset at every punctuation mark.  That’s still not enough.  It needs to be reset at the end of a paragraph, too.

So:  If you see a long paragraph in modern fiction, you can assume that the author, either deliberately or accidentally, is now lying to the reader or has some other mysterious purpose.  They’re letting the reader’s attention span strain a little farther than it should, and hoping that the reader will miss important points among all the other little distractions going on.

It’s just like a magic trick, really.

As we established, Poe likes to deceive the reader, and, in fact, he does so in the first paragraph of “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Here’s the first paragraph, once again, for your perusal:

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

This is a 400-word paragraph that, in a print book, would occupy 40 lines, or about 1.5 pages.  It is a “wall of text.”

We established last week that Poe misleads the reader by focusing on the details about the house, when really the narrator is really in denial about what he expects to find when he  sees his friend again.

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Ostensibly, this paragraph is a description of how unsettling the House of Usher is.  It covers one thing.  It describes one thing.  The narrator doesn’t really take much of an action here; he arrives and looks at stuff.  (He doesn’t, say, engage in a sword fight.)  So we’ll ignore the extremely minor action he takes and focus on the house.

The reason that Poe goes on and on about the house here is to screw with your brain and put it slightly to sleep.  Your brain goes, “Blah blah blah, house, blah blah.”

But tucked in that is the narrator going, “By the way?  I’m not actually reliable.”  He doth protest a little too much.

And please note that the major points of the paragraph–and its major deceptions–are not in the beginning, or at the end, of this massive wall of text.

And that’s enough for today, I think.

Next time: We’re going to look at other paragraphs.  Zowie!

The world is madness. Read the latest at the Wonderland Press-Herald, here!

New Release: Cat Tales Issue #1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cat Tales Issue #1

Universal Book Link | Goodreads (reviews)

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, some cat, somewhere, is always watching you!  Nine tales of cat magic, suitable for reading in front of clever, adorable, and even irascible cats.

 

 

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