Our featured writer today is Richard Roberts.
Let’s give him a warm welcome!
If you would like your talent featured in the Artists in Our Midst series or Authors in Our Midst series, send me an email message. Don’t be shy! I have no more Artists posts in the queue, so please get in touch if you would like to be featured.
Fun, With Bullshit
by Richard Roberts
Good chronal aberration, jackals, and thank you for coming to my Balloon Juice post. Today I will be lecturing you about Fun, With Bullshit.
Bless you, oxford comma.
Watergirl has given me this chance to lecture you because I have a book coming out on January 4th, called Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m Queen Of The Dead, about a 15 year old girl whose super power is necromancy. It’s hard juggling a super power you’re not good at, creepy ghost ancestors, evil skeletal conquistadors, mean girls at school, your new boyfriend, and your new girlfriend all at once. Now with any luck Watergirl will add the book cover image I will give her below, and link it to the Amazon page to buy that book and we can get on to the pearls of wisdom.
As much as I look at how my ex-publisher blowing up affected my sales and feel like a failure, I am one of the incredibly lucky few who was making enough money as an author to live off it independently, and the trend in my royalties suggests I might reach that again in a couple of years. So, presumably, I am hot shit and have the moral authority to tell you all how to succeed. That’s how this works, right?
(See end of post for caveat) The first of two lessons I will preach is: Go big or go home. In fact, forget going home, just go big. Crank that sucker up to 11. It does not matter what you are writing, go all-in. The last thing you ever want to do is blend, be just another book on the shelf. One in a million writers will hit the fantastic big time with their mediocre novel that was in the right place at the right time, and those odds suck. So, make people go “You like X? You need to read Obvious Pen Name. Wow. So much X. Excuse me, I have to go read that book again.”
Crank it up. End that fight scene with one punch so brutal it ends the fight that fast, or stretch it out with snowballing chaos that destroys the city. Are you writing tragedy? Cut your reader’s heart out. Have the hero kill his mother who you have built up as the most lovable character in the book. “That’s too cruel!” No, it’s not. There is no prize for moderation. Are you writing fantasy? Yeet your castles up into the air, keep them up there by perching them on sleeping wind dragons, cover them with runes, throw in a freaky rose oracle. Is your schtick fantasy with a layer of normality? Put a jaded grandmother on that throne who yells at adventurers for making a mess when she can’t get cleaning staff because it’s a flying castle. I may not be into tech military style scifi, but if you do it, by the sun pony you research your calibers and building materials and assault your readers with whatever detail makes the weapon the heroine is pointing awesome – or garbage.
Plus, and this is important, going big is fun. You’re not writing tragedy unless you enjoy twisting the knife, so cackle with sadistic glee as you look for ways to make it hurt a little more. There is joy going “Bats. I like bats. I will add bats to my flying castle. Magic bats. Magic bats that are in the heroine’s bedroom and won’t go away!” You will enjoy the writing, you will write more, your passion will bleed into the text and suck in the reader, and your odds of success go up another notch. Hoo boy, do you need every notch you can get in this game.
Which leads to Bullshit. “But Sublime Richard!” I get to claim I hear you cry because I’m writing this, “I can’t do that. It wouldn’t make sense!” Your job as a writer is to make it make sense. To make it fit into your story, to make it fit into your world, to jam the square peg into the round hole and make your readers think that’s where it always belonged. It is a skill, not a magical talent. It can be studied, practiced, and learned. And that skill is called Bullshit.
Seriously. Bullshitting is one of a writer’s most essential skills, and for once, that is not bullshit. You don’t have to have the real answer to anything. You have to have a plausible explanation, and since as the writer you are God, you have a big advantage. You say your hero would never murder his mother? Oh, yeah? When he was so jittery he panicked and set the bomb off before seeing who walked in the door? Sure that would require incredible amounts of being jittery, but as God you can go back and drop in the foreshadowing comments about how little sleep he’s getting and how much coffee he’s drinking. You can make him complain about his own jitteriness in the bomb analysis process. You can establish how this couldn’t be avoided, or worse, it could have been avoided but didn’t seem important until suddenly your readers know something awful is about to happen, but not what. Now something insane seems inevitable and plausible.
Remember, you don’t have to be right. You have to sound plausible. That’s all.
And it’s a skill. It can be easily practiced. Pick some whackadoodle idea and try to come up with a justification. Time travelers from the sun? Where else were you going to find the physics-mauling conditions required for time travel? Come on, people, it’s not rocket science. They’re from the sun, they never needed rockets. They can spit and a solar flare will launch them where they want to go. Plus, ‘plausible’ varies according to setting. If you’re writing comedy, ‘plausible’ means you can make a joke about it. Bonus points, for most styles of writing, you want to minimize explanations to avoid the dreaded “In this modern age, our cars work on-” effect. An occasional hint at a scientific justification that is really just bullshit is enough.
Just keep practicing and it will become easy and automatic, and the practice is fun.
Caveat time. Random chance is an overwhelming factor in book sales, and makes it hard as hickory to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, good writing and good techniques are important. You can’t change life’s die roll, but you can ensure that a bigger set of results means you win, that ‘just missed it’ becomes ‘just got it’.
Thank you, and may Celestia bless your apple orchards. Also buy my book.