04 September 2013

Craft Notes: Story Structure

[Having just completed my Ureddit course on Narrative Writing Craft, I thought I would x-post my lessons here.  Seems like a good home for them, I suppose...]
“If the past is to be read as present, it is a curious present that we know to be past in relation to a future we know to be already in place, already in wait for us to reach it. Perhaps we would do best to speak of the anticipation of retrospection as our chief tool in making sense of narrative, the master trope of its strange logic” – Peter Brooks
Aristotle, in his Poetics, asserts that every story has a Beginning, Middle, and End. Gustav Freytag, in his philological studies, determined that the sequence of dramatic structure can be restated as a pattern of increasing tensions and conflicts organized into certain criteria: Exposition, Complication(s)/Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. The Structuralists and Formalists of the 20th century took this notion further and, analyzing conventional and unconventional/experimental literature, determined that this pattern can be more accurately restated as a progressive logic of Placement, Displacement, and Replacement. These structures are generally isomorphic, and all stories progress according to this pattern, which can trace development at the level of plot, character development, language, imagery, tone, or any mixture of the above.

Beginning  | Middle                       | End
Exposition | Complication(s) and Climax   | Denouement
“Hook”     | “Rising Action” and “Crisis” | “Falling Action” and “Untying/Unraveling”
Placement  | Displacement                 | Replacement

I’ll mostly be using Placement-Displacement-Replacement to talk about stories, but here are some quick definitions:
  • A “Hook” is the story’s incipient problem or driving question: the initial conflict, mystery/enigma, MacGuffin, or character “yearning”—as Robert Olen Butler puts it—that sets a plot in motion (this yearning, a character “wanting” something and then undertaking actions to achieve goals, is common in conventional fiction—we’ll talk about it more in Module 2).
  • “Exposition,” here, is more like the exposition of themes in music than rhetorical exposition), though this section of a story is typically populated with much of the latter.
  • “Rising Action” is a sequence of events, not necessarily chronological, that complicates and intensifies the initial problems and conflicts, each event building off each other (implicitly or explicitly) and increasing tension towards its apex.
  • The “Crisis” or Climax is the moment that brings all the conflict together in a single event, pitching the story’s tension as high as it can go (appropriate amplitude here is contingent on a lot of factors). An Anti-Climax, often used pejoratively, reverses expectations by fizzling out tension where one would expect it to be at its highest (though this can be effective, if done intentionally).
  • The “Falling Action” leading to the Denouement—French for “an untying”—is how all the conflicts and tensions play out after the Climax, sometimes inverting or mirroring the story’s build-up in the beginning. (Note: it is possible to have a story without a Denouement that ends at the moment of Climax, but this is like sex without cuddling or calling afterward: you’re probably going to make the other person mad if they expected differently.)
What writers call the Narrative Arc is the organization of a story (be it dramatized scenes, things summarized by a narrator, a series of descriptions, and/or linguistic games) into the pattern described above, which can be roughly visualized in a sort of wave.

Just as there are an infinite number of stories, so there are an infinite number of narrative arcs that follow any number of genre patterns. Keep in mind that no story and no genre are beholden to any one type of narrative arc, and you can certainly change the dependent/independent variables to get new shapes, depending on the type of story.

(Side note: these graphs and their variables are all subjective and relative. They are intended heuristically to illustrate a concept. Also, whether this pattern is something neurocognitively innate or merely part of a set of “best practices” humans have developed for persuasive purposes over the years, I won’t say, but this is open for discussion in the comments.)

To model for you how to apply these terms, I’ve annotated—based on my own reading/perspective—Robert Hass’ short story, “A Story About the Body” and Dan Chaon’s “The Bees” (annotations here—warning: spoilers). Take a look at these stories to get a sense of what I’m talking about and how to spot certain structural shifts and craft moves. (I’ll be talking about these stories a lot.)

  • “[Plot is] a structure of desire and resistance (conflict) in which the same desire and the same resistance meet in a series of actions (events).” – Douglas Glover
While often used interchangeably, the difference between a story and a plot was described well by E.M. Forster in his Aspects of the Novel:
  • “The King died and then the Queen died” is a story.
  • “The King died and then the Queen died of grief” is a plot.

According to this formulation, a story, then, is a sequence of events, possibly unrelated/non-causal. A plot is the intentional arrangement of events according to a principle of causality (i.e., “after this therefore because of this”) by a narrating agent. (It’s interesting to note that the word “plot” can also mean an entity’s—perhaps an author’s—“secret scheme.”)

A story addresses the question “what’s next?” while a plot prompts the question “why?” A story is all the scenes—units of arranged action over a set period of continuous time that take place in one setting—in chronological order; a plot is all the scenes arranged in a way that they make sense according to a narrative arc. Story is the stuff that happens; plot is the stuff that happens organized into a meaningful/enjoyable sequence. Note that, because plots can present scenes in any order so long as they contribute to the narrative arc, a reader can only get the whole “story” by reading the whole text (this will become very important when we talk about “Telling Time” in Module 3).

In fiction, essential events are called kernels, nonessential events are called satellites—removing any kernel event from a plot or changing their sequence will make a narrative disjointed/discordant, but both contribute to the overall story. (Satellites are especially important for things like sub-plots, which I’ll discuss in Module 6).

Many have argued over how many plots actually exist, arbitrarily throwing out numbers from 2 to 150. The number doesn’t matter as long as you understand that a plot is the essentially the emergent grammar of a narrative.

The 2 basic plots, according to John Gardner:

According to Georges Polti, in his book The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, there are 36 plots with different character types/objects/goals necessary for the execution of these plots, in essence treating a plot like the syntax of the sentence, with the grammatical roles of that sentence filled by certain agents or actions.

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." – Anton Chekhov

There is one last concept I’ll discuss here regarding story structure. Chekhov’s Gun is the dictum or guideline which states that the things you introduce in a story need to be important to the narrative in some way. Thought about simply, if your first chapter talks about knives and swords and daggers and bodkins, then somebody sure as heck better get stabbed at some later point. On a more nuanced level, this applies to any image pattern or metaphor, idea or concept, character trait or action: anything introduced during a story’s Placement period needs to play a role in the Displacement and/or Replacement. Your story’s structure is always dependent upon the “objects” (real or abstract) you place at its foundations.

At heart, this concept and structural issues in general have to do with a reader’s expectations—the Narrative Contract, which we’ll talk about in Module 5. Everything you write in your story matters, nothing should be superfluous, because at every moment your audience is reading “in anticipation of retrospection”: they want to see how everything comes together at the end, and the beauty and poignancy of your work will be partially determined by how intricately things fit together.


Reading Assignment:
Discussion Questions:
  1. How would you categorize the plots of these stories according to John Gardner’s plots? How about Polti’s?
  2. Where would you say the dividing lines are for each of these stories in terms of Placement, Displacement, and Replacement? Try to identify the point where the Setup and Exposition of the Placement ends and the Rising Action of the Displacement begins, and try to identify the Climax and how that segues into the Denouement of the stories’ Replacement.
  3. What do you notice about the proportions of each section? What signals these transitions to the reader?
  4. What are the “hooks,” or initial conflicts/problems of these stories (or: where is the instance of initial tension)? How does the ending “Replace” this initial conflict?
  5. How are your expectations at the stories’ beginnings fulfilled by the end (or: do you notice any instances of Chekhov’s Gun explicitly or implicitly)?

Critical Writing Assignment - Annotate the Structural Changes of a Story

This one is a doozy, but if you take the time to do it I will 100% guarantee that you will become a better writer or editor. Follow the steps below:
  • Step 1: Find a short story you like that’s about 5,000 to 10,000 words (though this works with novels, too).
  • Step 2: Physically retype the entire story. Seriously. Look at the page as you’re typing it up in your word processor. Pay attention, along the way, to subtle patterns or things you might not have noticed before (and things like grammar and format and what not).
  • Step 3: Go through the typed story and annotate the structural and craft moves of the piece, either commenting on everything you can think of or on specific concepts (like structure and plot or image patterning or character development) as though you were trying to illustrate craft concepts for someone unfamiliar with them.
To model this assignment for you, I typed up Dan Chaon’s “The Bees,” and then I annotated it. (Read the story before you read the annotations, as they contain spoilers. I also chose a story in the Horror genre because I want you to see that even genre fiction is very tightly crafted.) This isn’t the first story I’ve done this for, but the process altogether took me about 11 hours. Even if you don’t do this assignment, you might consider looking at the story and annotations since they point out a lot of useful practices.  If you want to see another example online, check out these annotations for Tallent’s “No One’s a Mystery” published on Numero Cinq Magazine.


Guided Writing Assignment – Outlines, Part 1

Many of you who went to middle school in America or are familiar with plot-based writing templates (like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!) will already be familiar with a lot of the concepts introduced in Module 1. This activity will hopefully turn those descriptive observations into something useful (there will be a more detailed outlining and story structure activity in Module 7). Go through the steps below, writing down in as much or as little detail you want in your own document:
  • Step 1: Pick either one of Gardner’s plots and/or any one of Polti’s plots. This will provide a template for your story’s actions.
  • Step 2: Think of a “hook,” ongoing problem, conflict, or enigma faced by a character. What are some of the nuances of this problem? Why is it difficult to fix? (No world building but through what a character experiences in her/his quotidian day-to-day.)
  • Step 3: Think of two or three small singular or ongoing events in this character’s backstory or memory which contributed to the problem or made the character aware that there was some kind of problem/enigma.
  • Step 4: Describe a scene in two sentences beginning with “One day…” (or any variation on “One [specific temporal marker]…”) wherein the character does something to resolve the problem or figure out the enigma and involves him interacting with another character. Try to mention a small detail that might be significant at a later point.
  • Step 5: Describe a scene in two sentences beginning with “That night…” (or “The next morning…” or “Two weeks later…” or anything along those lines) wherein a complication arises from the character’s initial action, and the character does something to resolve this new complication.
  • Step 6: Think of how this character would reflect upon this problem and what s/he’s done. Thinking of the events that have happened, what does it all mean to the character and how has her/his perspective on the initial problem changed?
  • Step 7: Describe a scene in two to four sentences beginning with any temporal marker wherein the complication(s) that arose during the earlier scenes cause the initial problem to get worse than ever, bringing the story to a climax. (Make sure everything has occurred according to a logical/believable progression.) What is the final thing this character does to solve this problem that has been compounded with these complications? (Base this action on what you wrote for Step 6.) Does s/he succeed or fail, and what are the implications of the result?
  • Step 8: Describe a scene in two sentences beginning with any temporal marker wherein the character is experiencing her/his life after the climax. Add one more sentence about how your character feels about everything s/he did in the process of resolving (or failing to resolve) the initial problem.
Do all that, and you have a story outline. You can get as detailed listing character traits or settings as you want in this outline, but once you have this template try opening up a new word document and begin building your story out from each step in sequence, changing your outline when appropriate. (Here’s an arbitrary word count, if you need extra guidance: everything portraying step 2 and 3 should last from 300-1000 words, steps 4 and 5 together should be about 1000-2000, steps 6 and 7 should be about 1000-2000 words, and step 8 should be about 300-800 words.)


Module 1 Selected Bibliography and Recommended Reading:

Barthes’ S/Z
Burroway’s Writing Fiction
Cohan and Shires’ Telling Stories: A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction
Forster’s Aspects of the Novel
Glover’s Attack of the Copula Spiders
James’ “The Art of Fiction
Kellogg, Phelan, and Scholes’ The Nature of Narrative
Mullin’s “Plot Structure in Short Stories
Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose
Vonnegut’s “Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing

22 August 2013

Creative Writing Exercise: Sentence Sounds

(This exercise is lifted from Metro: Journeys in Writing Creatively)
  • “What the writer must do, of course, is not only render the scene, but render the scene inseparable from its language, so that if the idea...is taken from the situation, like a heart from its body, both die.” —William Gass
This exercise is designed to keep you writing, in Richard Hugo's terms, “off the subject.” It assumes that: 1) your subject will prevail only if it is somehow protected from earnest intentions, and 2) the smallest unit of particular attention in fiction is the sentence. It is adapted, in part, from a similar writing exercise developed by Ken Waldman.
Make an assumption about life, something that you believe about life but perhaps are not comfortable declaring to the world. It could be big or small, true or decidedly untrue. It could be the sentence, “The dancer’s body is a media of shape and movement.” Then proceed through the following directions.
As you follow them, work to develop a narrative sequence; each sentence should somehow connect to, or lead to, the next, building a story. But don’t think it through. Concentrate, instead, on the directions as you find them, which you should follow exactly and in order, avoiding dialogue unless it is called for.
Be prepared to be surprised by the story that emerges.
The Directions:
1. Begin with the “assumption” you have chosen. Write it down.
2. Write a sentence that repeats one word, but no more than one, from this sentence.
3. Write a sentence that repeats one word, but no more than one, from your second sentence.
4. Write a sentence that includes: a place name.
5. a dash.
6. a color and a name.
7. more than thirty words.
8. fewer than ten words.
9. a colon.
10. a part of the body.
11. the conditional tense.
12. a first-person pronoun.
13. an interruptive clause.
14. quotation marks.
15. two interruptive clauses.
16. three articles of clothing.
17. a simile.
18. any form of the word “try.”
19. a geographical formation.
20. italics.
21. a dictionary definition.
22. a metaphor.
23. a parallel structure.
24. between twenty-nine and forty words.
25. between seventeen and thirty words.
26. exactly five words.
27. a comma and a semi colon.
28. the same words four times.
29. a second-person pronoun.
30. a question mark.
31. reference to a past event.
32. a familial relationship.
33. parentheses.
34. alliteration.
35. a paradox.
36. exactly ten words.
37. a comma splice.
38. two dashes.
39. something seen.
40. something tasted.
41. something heard.
42. something touched.
43. something smelled.
44. an equivocation.
45. the future tense.
46. the present tense.
Write a sentence, a paragraph, a page, then finish the story you’ve begun. Now you have a narrative you can revise and rewrite to your heart's content.
Remember that though the rules are minimums, they are absolute: don’t fudge.

11 August 2013

Miami to Champaign, plus Some Things About Me

So I returned to Illinois after spending the last month and a half in Florida (hence the lack of blogging: I had other things to do, like depression-eating and loafing).

I won't go into the details, but I will say that I'm getting a little sick of traveling.  I used to have infinite patience for Trains, Planes, and Automobiles; now, occupying a space where the distance between the edge of my seat and the back of the seat in front of me is shorter than the length between my hip and knee just isn't all that appealing anymore.

In lieu of describing what it's like to sit for 11 hours, I'll give you a highlight reel (think: Facebook statuses that were never posted) of what's going on with me:

  • My wife is in Miami, playing with formaldehyde and training for CrossFit and Triathlons.  
  • I'm in Champaign, writing a lot and generally being bored due to a lack of internet at my apartment.
  • Peter Orner's The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo is a good novel, but I don't know if I'm fond of the super-concise chapter style.  Reading the book sometimes gives me the same feeling as flipping through television channels (but not in the Robert Coover way).  
  • Because I'm crazy, I'll be taking a class on the philosophy of Space, Time, and Matter this semester.  There are $150 worth of books assigned that I just bought for $60.  
  • I'm learning Bach on the guitar, my chess tactics rating is over 1500 for the first time (my Bullet rating got to 1500 before dropping back down to 1250 in, like, a day), and I'm sending a bunch of stories to magazines.
  • I caught up on The Walking Dead, saw the trailer for season 4, and became convinced that Carl is going to go full serial murderer.  I began collecting evidence to corroborate this, believing that my theory was original, until I learned that everyone had this thought already.  I guess that means the show's writers have done a good job setting it up, even if they don't go through with it.  
  • I'm still teaching that Ureddit course on creative writing.  With any hope some of the lessons will prove useful in the class I'm teaching this semester.
  • I'll be Creative Non-Fiction editor for Ninth Letter this fall.  Lyric essays?  Pshaw.  Autobiographical meditations?  No way, Jose.  Richard Preston-esque explorations into science and medicine?  You're accepted!  (kidding...kidding...)

26 July 2013

On Verbal Irony and Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”

I love the song “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, and what I love most is the sophistication and tragic irony embedded in the song.  I think the song provides an excellent model for writers trying to incorporate irony—which I’m using here to refer to “the use of words to expresssomething other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning”—into satire and fiction.

One quibble you might have is that the song’s lyrics are literal and all the Gangsta Rap tropes are sincere (in the “I’m saying these things because this is what stupid people want to hear” sort of way).  Indeed, some people even tried to identify the exact day Ice Cube was singing about (which was apparently 1/20/1992).  But doing this is like trying to find all the real people the characters in Joyce’s Dubliners were based on: it’s stupid, and doesn’t actually reveal anything about the work or the culture in which the work was created.

The song itself features many of the characteristics common to satire, which signals to a listener the use of irony:
  1. Exaggeration/Hyperbole – “Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp / And it read Ice Cube's a pimp” and “Get me on the court and I'm trouble / Last week fuck around and got a triple double” and “Pulled out the jammy, and killed the punanny / And my dick runs deep, so deep, so deep / put her ass to sleep”
  2. Parody – “Cause just yesterday them fools tried to blast me / Saw the police and they rolled right past me,” which imitates common sentiments expressed in many gangsta rap songs
  3. Verbal Hints – “I don't know but today seems kinda odd” and “It's ironic, I had the blunt she had the chronic” and “Today was like one of those fly dreams”
  4. Explicit Declaration – “Hey hey, wait a minute Pooh Stop the shit / What the fuck am I thinking about?” which is the final lyric in the song, intended to undercut the literal meaning of everything that came before it by saying that all of it was just something Ice Cube was “thinking about”

So all that stuff shows that the song has some other meaning or message beyond what is literally said, but what is it?  The key is in the way things that happen on this imagined “good day” contrast with Ice Cube’s typical reality, and that’s where the real tragedy of this song lies.  If these—having sex, winning money, spending time with his friends, not getting shot at—are the things that happen on a good day he’s imagining, it’s clearly contrasted with his standard day-to-day, emphasized even further by the lines “Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A. / Today was a good day” and “Today I didn't even have to use my A.K. / I got to say it was a good day.” 

The tragedy of this song and why the irony works so well is that Ice Cube doesn’t want people he knows to die, Ice Cube doesn’t want to have to shoot people: he wants to enjoy his life.  But because these things are a fact of his life, that bad days happen often and his good days are imaginary, we get a very bleak picture of life in South Central in the early ‘90’s for Ice Cube and many young black males.  At that time, violent crime in Los Angeles was at a terrible high.  Even though this bleak picture is never explicitly illustrated, a listener arrives at and is made aware of it through the song’s irony.

Much in the same way one is meant to arrive at the conclusion opposite of that presented in Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” a listener of this song will see a harsh reality highlighted by its contrast, Ice Cube’s fantasy set to an Isley Brothers sample. 

Many people trying to write satire or trying to convey a message by subtly presenting the literal opposite of that message could learn something from this song. 

24 July 2013

Teaching a Class, and a Metaphor for Writing

So I'm teaching a free online class on Ureddit called "Creative Writing and Narrative Craft Crash Course," because I wasn't content to do the million other things on my plate.

I figured it would be good for me, though, since many of the topics relate directly to a primer I've been working on since the first creative writing class I taught and I'm teaching a craft/"writing appreciation" class in the fall semester.  This online course will force me to develop materials and lesson plans in advance, and anything that keeps me from procrastinating is a good thing.

In preparing some preliminary material for the course, I wrote out an idea that's been kicking around in my head for a few months, a kind of metaphor or theory of writing and creativity.  Now that I've articulated it finally, I feel pretty strongly about it:

Every author has a team of “writers” and “editors” in their head.  The writers are miners: their job is to go into the dark—whether it is the subconscious/unconscious, the id, Robert Olen Butler’s “white-hot center,” Stephen King’s basement with the creepy muse-guy, wherever you believe your creative ideas come from—and dig stuff up.  They then bring it to the “editors,” who are mineral scientists and jewelers in this metaphor: the mineral scientists sift through what was dug up looking for gems so the jewelers can cut them into appealing shapes.  Here’s the thing, you can’t send the editor/artisan-scientists into the mine to do the digging: they went to college, they wear cardigan sweaters, they don’t like dirt under their fingernails—they’ll get in the way of the digging.  But you can give your writer-miners two things: 1) experience, so they recognize the textural differences between gems and dirt; 2) some job training about the properties of gems, so they can apply this knowledge as they’re gaining experience.  Likewise, you can send your editor/mineral scientists off to do a post-doc, allowing them to recognize new and rare gems, or get the jewelers certified in using a faceting machine so their cuts get better and they don’t have to churn out cabochons every time.  All that’s to say, if you approach it right, learning technical stuff can be very useful for writing.  

Anyway, I'm going to take it easy on my typical blogging schedule (that I've had for, like, two weeks) to post updates about the course and course modules.  Here's to hoping it helps some people.

22 July 2013

Acoustic Covers of Popular Songs

No commentary this time, just a list of some of my favorite acoustic covers of contemporary pop songs on YouTube.

Jamie T - "If I Were a Boy" (by Beyoncé)

JussJef - "Lollipop" (by Lil' Wayne)

Obadiah Parker - "Hey Ya" (by Outkast)

Ray Lamontagne - "Crazy" (by Gnarls Barkley)

Iron and Wine - "Such Great Heights" (by The Postal Service)

Chris Cornell - "Billie Jean" (by Michael Jackson)

Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah" (by Leonard Cohen)

Mike Dawes - "Somebody that I used to Know" (by Gotye)

Waitswatcher - "Invitation to the Blues" (by Tom Waits)

misspapanoche - "Teardrop" (by Massive Attack)

Igor Presnyakov - "Get Lucky" (by Daft Punk)

Sam Westphalen - "Lateralus" (by Tool)

and one orchestral cover:
Kaleidoscope Orchestra - "Skrillex Suite" (a medley of Skrillex songs)

19 July 2013

On Structure and Formulaism in Fiction

I’m a strong adherent of the notion that all stories share in common a three part structure, and that most attempts at describing or analyzing narrative structure throughout history—from Aristotle’s “Beginning – Middle – End” to Gustav Freytag’s sexy pyramid in Dramatic Techniques to Bakhtin’s “Placement – Displacement – Replacement”—are roughly isomorphic.  Many people who disagree find the notion that fiction must adhere to a three-part structure too confining, too formulaic.  And yet, every time I read something from a three-part detractor, their work always inevitably progresses according to this logic.

The disconnect occurs for a few reasons, I think, but chief among them is the fallacious belief that when people talk about a three-part structure they are actually talking about plot.  Plot can unfold in a logic of Placement, Displacement, and Replacement, but structure and plot are not synonymous, and a story can be structured according to the progression of its language, of its image patterns, of its tone, of its character development.  While Freytag’s pyramid describes a progression of dramatic action as the increase in tension towards a climax, tension need not necessarily occur between multiple agents/characters (or between man and god, or man and nature), though tension does need to emerge from the conflict between opposed binaries, even if those binaries are purely conceptual or linguistic. 

In reality, though, this structure/plot conflation exists, and many young writers of the belles-lettres are averse to acknowledging or working with an attention towards structure because it is too reminiscent, in their minds, of Hollywood formulae.  Over the years, though, I’ve come to think of these formulae as useful heuristics for writers.  The same way self-imposing constraints onwriting forces a person to explore and express things in new ways, learning to operate within a form can be very useful for internalizing and then breaking away from a pattern. 

But one must understand that a description of a three-part structure is not a prescription.  “Placement – Displacement – Replacement” is how a story, any story, will unfold, and there is infinite variation within this structure.  Hollywood formulae, on the other hand, are by nature prescriptive and reductive.  They take the reality that is a three-part structure, and then invent tropes to which characters or plots must adhere in a specific, artificial sequence.  This is something that writers should learn, and then learn to avoid.

Of all the formulae I’ve seen, the one that interests me the most, because it is so damn specific, is the one found in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.  A variation of the three-act structure, it’s impossible to watch a contemporary film without seeing how common this pattern of tropes has become

It’s easy to see how the different parts of Snyder’s beat sheet correspond to a logic of Placement – Displacement – Replacement.  Indeed, the whole notion of theme A in the beginning synthesizing with theme B by the end is reminiscent of the sonata form in classical music, which structures musical content in a narrative grammar.  But while I can see why this formula is useful for generating and advancing conflict quickly, I think there’s a profound deficit when it comes to pressing forward some of the other conflict possibilities I mentioned above. 

Over the next few weeks, I want to look at how one can analyze the structure of a text on multiple levels of discourse (similar to my post last week) in a manner that’s useful, but I also want to incorporate discussions of beat sheets and plot formulae to see how they might be useful in generating a story’s plot.  The last thing I wish to impart is the fact that the three-part structure in writing is always a good thing, but formulae that extrapolate and prescribe too-specific aspects of this structure can be good or bad, depending on how you use them.

17 July 2013

Bullet Chess and Addiction

I’m addicted to chess.  Specifically internet chess with a 1-minute timer, or “Bullet Chess.”

The problem is I’m really bad at it.  Well, there’s a larger problem, which is that I can’t stop playing it even though I’m really bad at it.  In fact, it’s the reason why I didn’t start working on this blog posting until really late.

I suppose, as far as addictions go, chess isn’t so bad.  I’m not mainlining speedballs, at least not on a daily basis (kidding).  I did a cursory search on EBSCO and Google Scholar for any studies that have gone in to chess addiction and all I found out was: 1) MMORPGs cause seizures that are “not analogous to the ordinary video game-induced seizures”; 2) chess and video games are a lot alike because they reward players in-game as a result of success and skill, therefore chess and video games are not like gambling and addiction to the former is nothing like addiction to the latter, because “gambling is just dumb” and requires no skill; and 3) interest in chess is intrinsically tied to castration anxiety and oedipal motives.

(Future writing assignment: Psychology as fringe science, discuss.)

So if I play chess for 30 hours straight and have a seizure, I can be thankful that I’m not having a regular-type video game-induced seizure, that don’t (necessarily) have a gambling addiction, and that I have a penis my father hasn’t cut off yet (even though I’m subconsciously anxious about it, probably in the parietally situated id). 

The above is all pretty tongue-in-cheek, but it does make me think about the relationships between habit formation, internet addiction, and video game addiction.  Unlike video games, apparently internet addiction does have some relationship with pathological gambling, and it all comes down to poor impulse control.   

And while chess in general is hard to resist, Bullet Chess seems designed to scrape away at any vestige of impulse control I may have.  The entire premise is to move as quickly as possible, which, for me, tends to mean as impulsively as possible.  This results in embarrassing games like this (I play white): 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.e3 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.a3 Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bd3 O-O 8.Bxf5 exf5 9.Qc2 Qd7 10.O-O Ne4 11.Ne5 Nxe5 12.dxe5 Qe6 13.cxd5 Qxe5 14.f3 Nxc3 15.bxc3 Rad8 16.c4 Bc5 17.f4 Bxe3+ 18.Bxe3 Qxe3+ 19.Kh1 Rfe8 20.Rfe1 Qxe1+ 21.Rxe1 Rxe1#

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with algebraic notation, I just described a game wherein I helped the other player win as quickly as possible.)

I’m left in a conundrum, then.  If I get my impulse control under control, I’ll be a better Bullet Chess player.  If my impulse control is tempered, however, I’ll be less compelled to play Bullet Chess, which means I’ll play less and become a worse player. 

Eh, that’s fine.  Maybe that’ll leave me more time to watch Let’s Play videos, which is a subject for some other post.  

15 July 2013

Musical Five - Novelty Songs

Danny Elfman’s “Pico to Sepulveda” – (On YouTube) – This song comes from the 1982 film The Forbidden Zone, the first film ever scored by Danny Elfman.  The film, which rates pretty highly on the offensive scale, marked a kind of transition from the early performance art/theatrical days of Oingo Boingo into the New Wave band we all know and love, though this song did get a lot of radio play as the theme song for Dr. Demento’s radio show.  The portion of the movie during which “Pico to Sepulveda” plays has little if anything to do with the overarching plot of the movie, but it’s always stood out to me as my favorite song from the film for its catchy rhythm and lyrics. 

The Residents’ “Constantinople” – (On YouTube) – The Residents is one of my favorite unapologetically weird groups.  Before they knew how to play instruments, they recorded a demo and sent it to, I believe, Frank Zappa’s label, which was rejected and sent back addressed to “Residents,” and this was how they got their name.  Over forty years of making music later, they’ve never gotten far from their avant-garde, creepy-and-unsettling roots, as exemplified by “Constantinople,” one of the first songs of theirs I ever heard.

Beck’s “Satan Gave me a Taco” – (On YouTube) – Even well-known artists occasionally write novelty songs; in this case, “Satan Gave me a Taco” is sort of par for the course.  For Beck, who tends to write nonsensical lyrics for his hits anyway, it was a toss-up deciding between “Satan Gave me a Taco” and his cover of The Prodigy’s “Firestarter,” but I couldn’t find the latter on YouTube.   I mean, Beck is a guy who threw his shoe during an interview with Thurston Moore, so I wasn’t too surprised when I heard this song for the first time.  The song is ridiculous and compositionally pretty simple, but it’s fun and enjoyable in addition to being funny.  But if the video above isn’t weird enough for you, and you want to see some of the awesome stuff MTV used to air, check out this video of Thurston Moore, Beck, and Mike D “jamming” together.

Bauhaus’ “2-Peter Murphy” – (On YouTube) – At the end of the CD reissue of Bauhaus’ Mask, each member of the band did something a little strange, then put it together as a bonus track.  “Fish Cakes,” or “2-Peter Murphy,” is the lead singer’s contribution.  There’s not much to say about this track, other than the fact that it’s fucking weird and a bit of a stretch from the moody, gothic rock stuff they normally do

Komar & Melamid’s “The Most Unwanted Song” – (On YouTube) – So these artists, known for hiring marketing companies to poll people to see what they like in artworks and then cobbling together the most common responses into one painting, did a poll to see what people liked and did not like to hear in music.  “The Most Unwanted Song”—a hodgepodge of operatic rapping, abrupt transitions, kids singing jingles, bagpipes, cowboy music, &c.—is the composition that resulted after the artists discovered everything that people hated.  I don’t know if this would count as a novelty song or brilliant art, but, as with The Residents above, I think that line is pretty vague.  Still, listening to this song is like going on a journey into some dark corner of humanity’s shared consciousness while being bombarded with everything we’re exposed to in culture but which never made it into the “mainstream.”  

12 July 2013

The Functional Units of a Text (Part 1): Discourses of Interpretation

Roland Barthes established in his book, S/Z, the notion that narrative texts establish and pattern five separate, interwoven types of meaningful units, thematic and semantic, which he called codes.  Every functional segment of a text (which he called “lexia”) communicates something that a reader must interpret as it pertains to the whole of the text via one or more of these codes: (a) Hermeneutic, (b) Proairetic, (c) Cultural, (d) Semic, (e) Symbolic.  I’ll go into what these mean below, but here’s a brief rundown.

To learn about these codes a little better, let’s pop open the hood of a text and try to understand the different components that constitute how a reader experiences and comes to understand a text by looking at Robert Hass’ “A Story about the Body”:

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony,c had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her.a He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night,e walking back from a concert,b they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.”de The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity—like music—withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.”a He walked back to his own cabin through the pines,b and in the morninge he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door.d It looked to be full of rose petals,e but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl—she must have swept the corners of her studio—was full of dead bees.ade 

[The superscripted letters correspond to the different codes I have listed above, as I see them.]

The Hermeneutic Code – this defines the parts of the text that establish conflict, tension,  and enigmas; delay and suspend the resolution or “disclosure” of these enigmas; and then resolve these enigmas and conflicts.  In the (a) segments above, you can see that the major tension/enigma begins when the composer wants something: the Japanese painter.  Based on our expectations, we, as readers, ask, “What will come of this feeling?  How will this play out?”  We then see how he reacts to new knowledge about the painter, but the interaction, the tension, is not resolved yet, because his shallow douchebaggery compels her to make a statement in response (in the form of the bowl of bees).  The bowl of bees, then, both closes the story and resolves the enigma of “What’s going to come of the Composer’s wants?” but opens a new conflict or enigma by asking the reader, “What does the bowl of bees signify?”  You can see this code in action whenever a main character encounters a problem or mystery, and the purpose of any text is to (typically) show the path the main character takes to resolving that problem or mystery (e.g., How is Walter White going to make meth without getting caught? and so on).  The Hermeneutic Code generally develops over the course of a text in ten stages:
  1. Thematisation – Segments of text (lexia) that makes a reader wonder what in the narrative is in question, and what’s the conflict or enigma.
  2. Proposal – Lexia that confirms what the conflict or enigma will be throughout the text.
  3. Formulation – Lexia that set in motion the path that a reader will take towards the resolution of a conflict or unraveling of an enigma.
  4. Promise of an answer to the enigma/conflict (or the request for an answer).
  5. Snare – A false or fraudulent resolution that avoids the true answer.
  6. Equivocation – A Snare with just a hint of truth to it.
  7. Jamming – Lexia which imply or explicitly state that the enigma or conflict cannot be resolved.
  8. Suspended answer – Lexia which almost answer or resolve, but then stop before reaching the end.
  9. Partial answer – Lexia that fully resolve a part but not all of the conflict or enigma.
  10. Disclosure / Decipherment – The segment of the text that concludes and totally wraps up an enigma or conflict.

Here, because the Hass text is so compressed, many of these different stages either don’t occur or occur concurrently.

The Proairetic Code – this is the code of major plot actions sequenced in a narrative, the literal answer to “what is happening right now?”  In the (b) segments of the Hass story, the composer is walking.  That is a plot event (it often breaks down into simple verbs, like “murder” or “stroll” or “talk”).  The plot of the Hass piece can be broken down into a few relatively simple actions: first, walking and talking, then looking, then walking (at a later time), and then picking up a bowl left for him by the painter.  (N.B. Actions can be broken down into two categories: the “already-completed” and “being-completed-at-the-moment-of-reading.”)  Sometimes the repetition of an action, in conjunction with one of the other codes, will signify its importance to the meaning of a story.  You see this code in action whenever a character does anything.  The Proairetic Code and the Hermeneutic Code are the only two that are “irreversible”: once you know the sequence of actions or the resolution to a conflict/enigma, you can’t “unknow” it.

The Cultural Code – this is the code that requires a reader to incorporate their outside knowledge of other texts and the world to understand a certain aspect of the text at hand.  There’s some expectation that the reader will know what an “artist’s colony” is in the (c) segment above.  In essence, this is the code of intertextuality: of reference, allusion, and index.  Every time you read a text that namedrops a Sibelius symphony, has an unattributed snippet or paraphrase from the bible, or just rattles off a list of historical figures a reader is supposed to know about prior to the text’s reading, you’re seeing the Cultural Code in action.  Sometimes this is done to give the illusion of authenticity and a veneer of believability—naturally, one would be more likely to suspend disbelief and buy that a story takes place in Los Angeles if some mention is made of the Santa Anas, even if you did not know that the Santa Anas are winds that take place in the fall there.  This code can also be employed, however, to help shape a reader’s understanding of a text’s connotations (discussed in the Semic Code below) and underlying meaning.  For instance, in the Hass text, it’s not trivial that a bowl of bees is given as a statement in a setting that’s called a “colony.”  Of course, writers need be wary of the cultural references they make in their texts since the meaning and context of those references gets easily lost to history. 

The Semic Code – though vaguely defined in the book, this is the code of connotation and underlying meanings.  Essentially, this code traces implicature, the meanings intended that go beyond what is merely written on the page.  The text above is nested with “semes,” as Barthes calls them, because of its compression and subtlety.  The simplest examples I can point to in the Hass text involve the Japanese painter saying, “I think you would like to have me,” telling him of her mastectomy, and the narrator replying, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.”  Even though it is never explicitly stated, the reader is meant to understand that they’re talking about making whoopee, bumping uglies, kipping horizontally, so to speak: she’s making an advance, he’s spurning her, and the reader is supposed to intuit and understand this.  Likewise, the pines and the porch imply more details about the setting which is never explicitly described, though we can assume it’s fairly rustic.  And the act at the end, her giving him a bowl of bees covered by a thin layer of rose petals, is supposed to be interpreted as what the painter thinks of him.  Important to note here, then, is that this code sits at the heart of the adage, “Show, don’t tell.”  Showing, in a text, involves sequencing words such that an additional meaning is conveyed so a reader can understand what’s going on without being literally told what’s going on.  “Adele wanted to stab her husband in the face” is less compelling, in most narratives, than “Adele imagined her husband’s face on the surface of the apple as she cored and sliced it” because it’s too ham-handedly blunt (though sometimes even this sort of bluntness can convey an extra-literal meaning as well).    

The Symbolic Code – this is the code of binary opposition, contrast, and themes.  When all the codes above are taken into account, a reader begins to internalize a network of meanings that allows her/him to get at what a piece is actually “about.”  In the Hass piece, for such a short piece of writing, there is a plurality of meanings and effective contrasts: night is contrasted with day, surfaces are contrasted with content, expectation is contrasted with reality, femininity is contrasted with masculinity.  All of these contrasts, these proto-themes, are brought to a reader’s attention by the enigmas and tensions and resolutions, the cultural references, the underlying connotations to what is being said versus what is being meant.  A full explication of the above 215 word text’s symbolic constellations would take pages and pages—one of the reasons why it’s such a marvelous, beautiful piece.  

For anybody interested in fiction writing, then, the key to these is to try to internalize these codes (by thinking about them as you read other texts) so that you don’t even think about them consciously when you compose.  Conversely, a consideration of each of these codes can come strongly into play during edits and revisions.  When people talk about a story that’s “tight” or when writers talk about “tightening up a story,” what they often truly mean is changing things in a text in such a way as to highlight or emphasize material that is codified in one of the above five ways while deemphasizing or cutting things that don’t fit those specific codifications.  Everything a writer puts in a fictional text is a choice, conscious or unconscious, and an awareness of these codes can certainly aid an author when making those choices.  

Next time, as opposed to the discourses of interpretation, I’ll try to talk a little bit about the discourses of composition.  

10 July 2013

On Miami, but mostly about Roads

This summer I helped my wife move to Miami, Florida.  So far, I’ve been here about 18 days and the place is already starting to feel more like home than Champaign ever did, even if our current living situation is…sparse.

But the city.  Like Los Angeles, Miami is an ever-expanding rhizome of freeways and interchanges and highways and overpasses.  Many people here commute, typically in one person per car, and the public transportation system is about as useful as barbed wire dental floss (in that you could theoretically use it, but you’re going to regret it). 

All the streets here are arrayed on a grid and named according to a system designed by whom I assume to be an autistic savant or computer programmer, in that they sort of make sense if you’re the type of person that can’t imagine what clouds might look like while also having an affinity for Sim City.  The roads are named according to their quadrants, the origin of which is the intersection of Miami Avenue and Flagler Street (all avenues go North-South, all Streets go East-West).  The numbered streets and avenues are diffentiated from their counterparts in other quadrants by affixing the cardinal direction relative to the aforementioned origin point, so the first avenue (running North-South) west of Miami but north of Flagler is NW 1st Avenue, the first street (running East-West) east of Miami but south of Flagler is SE 1st Street, and so on.  Now, add to that little alleys and thruways that are always named, in sequence, Court or Place (Terrace, if it’s East-West), so that every road between, say, 1st and 2nd will be named 1st Ct then 1st Pl.  Which means, for example, that NW 1st Pl is North of West Flagler, West of North Miami, and the second road that runs between NW 1st and NW 2nd Avenue.  I mean, look at this crap:

Look at all the Streets and avenues that end in a three-way intersection, but then continue shifted a bit to the left or right.

How have GPS units not fritzed out trying to navigate this nonsense?

I’ve also noticed, as a whole, there are more Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, and other very expensive cars than I ever saw on the streets of Los Angeles.  Even living in the area I do, which had about 2,700 auto thefts in 2011, I see ridiculously expensive cars every single day. 

The above paragraph emphasizes, I think, the incredible amount of wealth inequality here.  Each residential high rise is like a little enclave, gated and guarded against homeless, mostly black people who sleep on the streets down by the Overtown Post Office or in Rescue Missions.  Maybe it’s the bleeding heart, Commie-Socialist sympathizer in me, but I don’t feel right when people in multi-million dollar high rises can throw water balloons at homeless drug addicts from their balconies. 

I’ll probably write more about this in the near future, as it’s something that really bothers me (even more than the road naming conventions).

What else have I noticed?  Hmm.  Men and women wear a lot of bright colors, especially pink and yellow and magenta.  A lot of people, young and old, look like they’ve had plastic surgery (I’ve seen more breast implants here than I ever did in the San Fernando Valley). 

Really, though, Miami is just another place, not altogether that different from every other big city I’ve been to, but certainly it seems more similar to Los Angeles than any other city I’ve seen.  I look forward to exploring this place.

09 July 2013

Bad at Blogging

So I have this...internet presence just kind of sitting around, and I've never known what to do with it.  I'm bad at blogging.  A bad blogger.  If someone said, Go there and cover That Thing, I could do that and write it up and post it here.  Coming up with things to write on my own (possibly, horror of horrors, about myself), I'm just miserably bad at that.

Part of this reluctance to blog comes from me wondering what the hell a blog is for.  Self-expression?  I write all of the time.  Catharsis?  I'd rather not collect my schmoopy moodiness for posterity; this isn't Livejournal.  Humor?  I've found all too often that irony doesn't come across well on the internet.

If I'm going to keep this thing around, I have to make it worthwhile for friends, family, and strangers.  I have to strike a balance between self-promotion ("Hey, look at what I'm doing!") and entertainment ("Hey, here's a thing I made to delight you!").  I don't want this to be another braindead megaphone; I want to write things that people can enjoy.

To get into this habit, this summer I'm going to try to actually, you know, post to this stupid thing.  I'll start off with three times a week--Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays--and see how that schedule treats me.  To give myself direction rather than figuring out stuff to write, I'm going to theme each day:

Music Mondays - Where I link playlists, write about songs/artists/albums, review albums or concerts, &c.

Wednesday Weekly Updates - Where I spread loggorhea all over the page in the form of reflections, opinions, short essays, &c.  This is sort of like a "Thoughts from Places" kind of day.

Fiction Fridays - Where I write about fiction craft, MFA events and stuff, review stories/books, interview random people, &c.  Let's call this a professional development day.

I'm going to start tomorrow.  I hope I can keep it up.

10 May 2013

Notes on Craft: Writing Rules pt. 1

So I'm going to do a series of posts on the craft of narrative writing, partially as a way of articulating and organizing what I know for my own benefit but mostly so random people who read this can benefit if writing is their, like, thing or whatever.

My first post in this series will be an installment from an ongoing pet-project of mine.  I like referring to precedent when I write or speak about writing, and so I collect a lot of quotes from writers and others that I think might be useful for thinking about writing (this batch mostly comes from this article in the Guardian).  I hope you all find these as useful

  • “Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.” – Jeanette Winterson
  • “Writing fiction is not ]self­expression’ or ‘therapy.’  Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects.” – Sarah Waters
  • “In fiction, research is overrated. But that means readers will write you correcting all of your minor biographical, geographical and historical errors. If you like, make those corrections in the paperback, but don’t sweat it too much.” – Sherman Alexie
  • “Never be satisfied with a first draft. In fact, never be satisfied with your own stuff at all, until you're certain it's as good as your finite powers can enable it to be.” – Rose Tremain
  • “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” - Colm Tóibín
  • “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.” – Zadie Smith
  • “Unless you are writing something very avant-garde—all gnarled, snarled and ‘obscure’—be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.  Unless you are writing something very post-modernist—self-conscious, self-reflexive and ‘provocative’—be alert for possibilities of using plain familiar words in place of polysyllabic ‘big’ words.” – Joyce Carol Oates
  • “Honour the miraculousness of the ordinary.” – Andrew Motion
  • “Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that's the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don't notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they're trying too hard to instruct the reader.” – Hilary Mantel
  • “Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer—however happy, however tragic—is ever wasted.” – PD James
  • “Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.” – David Hare
  • “Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman
  • “The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than ‘The Metamorphosis.’” – Jonathan Franzen
  • “Don't drink and write at the same time.” – Richard Ford

15 March 2013


So I've been running a blog for a course that I'm teaching, and one of my recent assignments was to pick a rhetorical figure of speech from the Silva Rhetoricae, find examples of it being used in everyday discourse, and discuss when and why it would be useful to deploy in one's own writing.

My lovely friend Christene read some of my students' responses and decided to email me her own:

For Sean
I see what you did to your class in class with class. Do you need a tell to tell which trope I am using? In your handout you told them you wanted literary examples. Those who didn’t do it were punished to set an example. They didn’t make the grade, so they were graded down. I shall earn my keep by keeping you entertained.
I know, in theory, according to your assignment, I was also supposed to use Theory. Well, I have my own theory on that.
Still no examples, but I did find a picture of a figure I figured you would want to picture. I found nothing on Google, but before going to close the window, I found something close. To question what I found, I have a question for you: If two words are spelled the same, but pronounced differently, would you pronounce them Antanaclasis? If so, then I might have an exemplary exemplary.
If you are still here, here is a light definition of Antanaclasis: from the Greek “to reflect light” or “bend against,” it is now used to shift meaning. And I will bend my energies to finding samples for you to sample. I hope you don’t mind, but I didn’t spend too much time on what it means. Just keep in mind the second time a word is used, my means for using it have shifted.
In case you want three case studies, and you are want for them, I have found three texts, which I was going to text to you, but I thought it would be better if I spent the better part of the day taking part in writing this instead. After all, words can make you smart. Oh yes, words can smart.
Alright fine already, my fine findings are all ready.
They may sound silly, but they are sound.
I find the very first one is very easy. To make it harder I will let you find it.
I am sorry, I tried to locate them all within one work, but it was trying, and it didn’t work. However, if you follow the links you will see they are still somewhat linked.
I will count on you to be able to count with me.
I wanted to keep this post short, so I am short on pictures. Besides, I did not find any fitting ones that would fit within the page borders.
In a way, I am having way too much fun with this. Much like you must have had when you conceived it. Trying to find examples for you, I read an article that maintained I could maintain this indefinitely with all words except articles. I assume I could assume such a task, but in the end I would rather end at the end.

Thanks, Christene!  Your email brightened my day.

23 February 2013


"The girl hated her name for almost as long as she hated her body, but finally began to appreciate it towards the end of her life when she realized that her body, covered with thousands of moles from the soles of her feet to her scalp, was a map of the stars.  
Art by Ben Tegel

"You’d think this would be something noticeable, an easy realization.  Oh, there’s the big dipper.  There’s the Pleiades.  Not so.  Imagine a rustic night and infinite starlight; imagine diamond dust on black velvet.  The noise of the light is overwhelming.  Now make it three dimensional and everything inverted: the North Star somewhere near her heel, Sigma Octantis shrouded in her hair.  Now imagine the folds and contours of your body, your curves (yes, you have them), the sinusoidal dips and peaks: how do you measure declination?  right ascension?  Where, pray tell, is your ecliptic compared to the Earth’s?  How could you possibly expect to compare patterns in the sky with melanocytic growths on your flesh?  Not an easy feat, someone would really have to be looking in order to notice."

Above are the first two paragraphs from the story "Stella" I had published in the third issue of The Rattling Wall last year.  If you'd like to read more, buy a copy here.