Thursday, May 29, 2008

Writing and Money (blame Matt)

How much do you think a writer needs to live on?

Ah, that depends on so many factors. It’s cheaper in, say, Nebraska, than here in California. A friend of mine describes his years as a college student as “having enough money to get by, but not enough to afford dental work.” It would be nice to be able to afford dental work.

A good goal would be the median income for where you live.

Do you think a serious writer can earn this sum by his writing and if so, how?

Can? Sure. Is it likely, on an ongoing basis? Not terribly. In fiction, it helps if you have a series—those seem to be more stable. And it’s good if you are already famous or controversial for some other reason. Or if you write non-fiction instead of fiction.

To put this in perspective, I have a friend who made the New York Times bestsellers list, and another friend who made the Los Angeles Times bestsellers list. These blessed events brought them a nice wad of cash—but neither of them is able to make their living from writing alone.

If not, what do you think is a suitable second occupation for him?

Some seem to do well at mixing teaching with writing, which is probably the most popular strategy here in the US. (This is the real reason for the proliferation of MFA programs in writing. Unfortunately, it’s sort of a pyramid scheme, and there’s already more people credentialed to teach writing than there are available slots.)

I think most writers would do well to avoid jobs that call upon their writing abilities. Technical writing, advertising, and editing seem to use up some of the vital force that ought to go into the real writing. (That said, however, a few exceptional people thrive on working with words all day long, and can turn happily to their own creative work after spending all day fiddling with words in another context. More power to them.)

Independent project consulting, which is my day job, is tricky. It gives you a great deal of flexibility, but it’s unpredictable. You may have a big gap of time where you can write, but you also can have times where a project pops up and gobbles down every waking minute. And, if a lot of long travel is involved, that’s stimulating—but leaves you too stupid and jet-lagged when you get home to do any useful work. Also, you are adding one unsteady income stream (project work) to another (writing), which isn’t exactly a recipe for financial stability.

If you’re still young, I think there’s a lot to be said for the traditional Jack-London approach of taking a whole series of weird jobs that will look nice on the back flap. Drive a truck, pole-dance, enlist in the French Foreign Legion.

I’d be in deep trouble much of the year were it not for the fact that my significant other has a steady, lucrative job. Live with or marry someone more financially responsible than yourself, or find a nice garret. (Garrets are hard to come by in California.)

Do you think literature suffers from the diversion of a writer’s energy into other employments or is enriched by it?

I think too many successful writers get thoroughly out of touch with the world. Work is a good way to stay in touch.

But too much work is—well, too much.

Do you think the state or any other institution should do more for writers?

Yes. And they should start by banning television, which has gobbled up so much of the market for stories. (The absence of television would have many other benefits as well.)

I don’t think the government ought to give financial support to writers, because I hate to think how they would decide which writers ought to be supported.

Are you satisfied with your own solution of the problem and have you any specific advice to give young people who wish to earn their living by writing?

Well, I wouldn’t call my present circumstances a “solution.” "Situation" would be a better word.

Do I have advice? Oh, yes. First off, don’t write at all if money is a primary consideration.

Second, if you’re temperamentally able, pick anything other than the writing of print fiction. Write for television, or get into screenwriting, or write nonfiction books, or ghostwrite for celebrities. Bestselling fiction gets the headlines, but fiction in general is the least lucrative of fields for a writer.

Third, if you ever get a windfall, use it to pay off your mortgage, even though, at least in the US, this makes no sense from a tax point of view. Anything that lowers your long-term cost of living is a big plus.

Fourth, become a breatharian.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Verified: London Still There

There will always be an England, I'm told, but as there's no specific on London per se, I often worry it might go missing. If you share my anxiety on this issue, you'll be pleased to hear it's still where you last saw it. I checked.

In principle, it only takes ten-and-a-half hours to fly to London from Los Angeles. Of course, you need to get to LAX two hours before departure; and, if you take a shuttle to the airport, as I did this time, that's another two hours. Then there's another two-and a half hours to get through the process at Heathrow and to your hotel...So what's that? Seventeen hours?

Thus, I just spent 34 hours in round-trip transit to spend 42 hours in London. If I'd been a bit quicker, I could have spent an equal number of hours on the plane and at the destination. Ain't modern life wonderful?

Given that those 42 hours were partly devoted to work and partly devoted to sleeping, I didn't end up with much time--though I did manage to wander to a couple of bookstores, where I verified that Shock and Awe was indeed on a shelf in a Borders (but only one copy; I can't figure out if that's good news or bad). I picked up Gallows Lane, Sleepwalker's Introduction to Flight, and, finally, Charles Lambert's Little Monsters. I also visited a bookstore called Daunt's, which seemed like a nice place despite its overbearing name, but would have seemed even nicer if it had carried my book. (They had Light Reading, so the store gets some points for that. But only two out of a possible ten.)

I first visited London in 1980 or so. It was an expensive town back then. It's an even more expensive town today. I am delighted to report that London has now reached the long-expected pound proportional purchasing parity point (PPPPP). That legendary point is reached when what costs one dollar in the US costs one pound in London. This makes the prices all look quite familiar except for that squiggly "L" in front (until you realize that the actual cost is twice as much).

Well, not everything costs twice as much. Some things cost much more. For example, the house I live in would cost approximately forty-eight billion dollars in central London (even though our place is closer to the beach). I asked my colleagues--mere oil-company executives, every one--how they managed to survive there. The answer? They all live way the hell out of town.

(Who is it that lives in London proper these days, anyway? Unlike the case in Venice, there seem to be people around London who aren't tourists or people working in the tourist industry. Are all the apparent residents paid actors?)

Anyhow, London remains one of the best walking-around towns on the planet. And if you folks Over There enjoyed the lovely weather last Thursday and Friday, you have me to thank, because for once I remembered to bring an umbrella. I had a vast pile to choose from, most of them purchased in extremis on previous visits.

I'll write something sensible in a day or two. My body is back in Surf City, but my brain is still somewhere over Newfoundland. Or maybe Labrador. Woof.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Less Characterization, Please?

“Literary novels are mainly about character; commercial novels are primarily concerned with plot.”

That’s one of those oft-repeated generalizations that drives me a little daffy. Not only are there often hidden value-judgments lurking therein (literary = good, commercial = less good; character-oriented = noble, plot-oriented = base), but I don’t think it’s true in the first place. If there is anything I believe distinguishes a literary novel from others, it is attention to language, not character.

But, as often happens on this blog, I’m getting sidetracked. My point is that for many years I accepted the idea that more character depth was an inherent good. You could have too much description, too much action, too much dialogue, too much exposition, but you couldn’t have too much characterization. (And, in some people’s view, you can’t have too much conflict or tension—but I’ll blather about that at some future date.)

Eventually I realized there is indeed such a thing as too much characterization—even though no one is every likely to mention that in a critique. When is characterization going too deep? With minor characters, making them too vivid and complex can seem to promise the reader that they will play an important ongoing role, leaving a “hole” in the story when they don’t reappear.

In one of my novels, I have an interesting young man named Xochipilli (pronounced ‘Showkapeelee’) who is the reincarnation of the Aztec god of the same name. (If you care, Xochipilli was the “Lord of the Flowers”, the god of MesoAmerican psychedelic plants.) He dominates one chapter and then only appears peripherally in the rest of the book. The top-ranked complaint I received about the book was that Xochipilli didn’t play a bigger role; people found him too memorable for what he does in the story as a whole.

With major characters, including protagonists, adding depth and breadth that doesn’t touch on the story can be distracting. Everyone has bathroom habits. Does describing them really help understand your character? For a certain type of character, sure. For others, it’s just weird.

I sometimes see flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood, or phone interactions with parents, stuck obtrusively and irrelevantly into stories. The logic seems to be that everyone has a childhood, and pretty much everybody has parents, so we need to march those facts onto the stage. Well, pretty much everybody has head colds, too, but that doesn’t mean they belong in every novel.

I love some books for their characterization, but that doesn’t mean they would have been better books if I had known the characters even better. Just like description, or anything else, there’s a right amount.

But I bet we’ll never see a review that complains about ‘too much characterization.’

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The British Invasion Continues

The last time I visited London, a little less than a year ago, I came back with a copy of Emma Darwin's marvelous novel The Mathematics of Love. And I was glad I bought it; it was a great read.

As it turns out, though, I need not have crossed the ocean to pick up a copy. Those of us living in North America can now find the new, book-club-friendly, trade paperback reprint everywhere. In the photo above is the face-out stack of them stashed in the Newport Beach Barnes & Noble (a bookstore roughly the size of an airport).

So I'd urge my fellow citizens to wander down to their favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. (Of course, if you fear getting too far away from your computer, you can always pick it up from Amazon.)

In one of those oddities of alphabetization, MoL's nearest neighbor on the shelf is The Darwin Conspiracy, which happens to be written by someone named Darnton...just ahead of Darwin in the list. Emma already has a title for her second novel, A Secret Alchemy, but for her third, perhaps she'd like to consider The Darnton Conspiracy.

And, speaking of London, I'm going to be there next week...for practically no time at all. Just in to go to a meeting and then back out again (with, I'm hoping, enough time to snag a copy of the latest McGilloway). This project will be dragging me back to London in a few months, though, so those of you who live in those parts are warned.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Flat And Round

"Because round things...are boring."
aaaaa--from Francis Vincent Zappa's symphony Lumpy Gravy

As long as I’m jabbering about characterization, let’s chat a bit about ‘flat’ and ‘round.’

As far as I know, the distinction between flat and round characters originated with EM Forster in his Cambridge lectures, later published as Aspects of the Novel. That book is often referenced but apparently seldom read, since Forster is often cited as encouraging the use of ‘round’ characters and assaulting the use of ‘flat’ characters. That was not at all his point.

According to Forster, a flat character is one who can be summed up, one whose behavior is predictable in almost any situation. By definition, then, a flat character can’t have a ‘character arc,’ and develop across a novel.

Forster doesn’t mean that flat characters are to be avoided. He feels they are less of an artistic achievement than memorable round characters, but are still vital in the construction of a novel:

One great advantage of flat characters is that they are easily recognized whenever they come in—recognized by the reader’s emotional eye, not by the visual eye, which merely records the recurrence of a proper name. In Russian novels, where they so seldom occur, they would be a decided help. It is a convenience for an author when he can strike with full force at once, and flat characters are very useful to him, since they never need reintroducing, have not to be watched for development, and provide their own atmosphere—little luminous disks of a pre-arranged size, pushed hither and thither like counters across the void or between the stars; most satisfactory.

A second advantage is that they are easily remembered by the reader afterwards. They remain in the mind as unalterable for the reason that they were not changed by circumstances, which gives them in retrospect a comforting quality, and preserves them when the book that produced them may decay.

Forster cites Dickens and HG Wells as important writers who worked almost exclusively with flat characters.

Although people often reference Forster with respect to flat and round, those same people often use the words in opposition to how he meant them. It is not at all unusual to have someone say in a critique, “Bob seems kind of flat to me,” when in fact they mean Bob is boring them to tears. It’s easy to write round characters that are unutterably dull; most people, if portrayed on the page with any accuracy, will seem like lukewarm water.

At the other extreme, that same reader will often offer as a compliment the fact that someone ‘pops right off the page.’ And they are likely to go further with that metaphor, describing the character as ‘three-dimensional,’ or even ‘round’. But most frequently the characters that pop off the page are, by Forster’s definition, flat: characters that are vivid, amusing, or powerful, but are not terribly nuanced.

Is there such a thing as being “too round”? Forster thought so. He quotes the critic Norman Douglas, who attacked a biography written by DH Lawrence as using “the novelist’s touch” which is, according to Douglas:

…a failure to realize the complexities of the ordinary human mind; it selects for literary purposes two or three facets of a man or woman, generally the most spectacular, and therefore useful ingredients of their character, and disregards all the others….The facets may be correct so far as they go but there are too few of them: what the author says may be true and yet by no means the truth. That is the novelist’s touch. It falsifies life.

To which Forster responds:

Well, the novelist’s touch as thus defined is, of course, bad in biography, for no human being is simple. But in a novel it has its place: a novel that is at all complex often requires flat people as well as round, and the outcome of their collisions parallels life more accurately than Mr. Douglas implies…Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures, people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter, and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow.

So, the next time someone says this character is flat, or that one pops off the page, ask for definitions. Chances are they’ll mention Forster, and chances are they’ll be using the terms in almost the opposite way to how he defined them.

It's probably too late to get people to stop using the terms incorrectly, and to make them realize they are not terms of praise and condemnation but instead technical terms. I haven't much hope. 'Decimate' has come to mean 'totally destroyed' (rather than 'reduced by ten percent'); and I predict that in our lifetimes, 'penultimate' will no longer mean 'next to last' but will be listed in the dictionary under its new and incredibly stupid meaning of 'most amazingly ultimate of all'.

Yet sometimes you have to yield ground. Sometimes you must retreat and live to fight another day. (Although usually you retreat and then lose the war, though no one talks about that eventuality much.)

At the minimum, perhaps we can get people to stop invoking Forster when they misuse the terms he so carefully crafted. Or at least read him.

More On Duckies

[Shown above: the rare and valuable Leopard Devil Ducky.]

It looks as if I need to talk more about the issues raised in the previous Rubber Ducky post, as people are tossing me troubling comments and questions. (Of course, if I weren’t troubled about the whole issue in the first place, I probably wouldn’t be writing these posts.)

Chayefsky never laid out a general theory of the Rubber Ducky—it was simply a dismissive comment he sometimes made, and director Sidney Lumet (who came from the theatre) picked it up from their conversations and spread it around.

I certainly don’t think Chayefsky meant that past events could never act as motivators or couldn’t shape characters. I think the reasons he chose to represent the sort of thing he objected to as a “Rubber Ducky” are:

1) A ducky is a small, insignificant item
2) A ducky isn't even cuddly, like a favorite stuffed animal
3) A ducky hasn’t got much intrinsic logical or symbolic connection to anything of import

That is, I think Chayefsky was referring to motivators that were too tiny or too irrelevant to seem sensible. His main target was 1950s TV dramas, which often explained away, rather than explained, someone’s extreme or deranged behavior by jumping into the past—usually in the last few minutes of the show--and offering up some irrelevant childhood trauma.

One must remember that in those days discussions of sex, must less sexual abuse or incest, were strictly verboten in American television. In our more enlightened times, we don’t really need Rubber Duckies, because Childhood Sexual Abuse has become the all-purpose explanation for character damage: it’s simple, you need not get too specific, everybody agrees it’s a Big Deal, and exactly how it relates to the adult characters personality need not be explored. Whether you’re describing Charles Manson or Joan of Arc, all you need to do is mumble “childhood sexual abuse” and your audience is supposed to nod knowingly as if that clarifies everything. (Post-traumatic stress syndrome is quickly taking over the former role of childhood sexual abuse, as it’s more flexible and can include sexual abuse.)

As usual, I digress. I guess what makes a backstory element a Rubber Ducky is when that element is fundamentally unsatisfying.

Now, here’s a question. Citizen Kane’s Rosebud: Rubber Ducky, or not?

I’d argue that Rosebud isn’t a ducky because it is a symbol of what Charles Foster Kane had taken away from him—which is basically his whole family and childhood. In fact, the sled isn’t taken away from him at all—he still has it when he dies. The sled is meant to take us back to the (less than idyllic) childhood scene we are shown earlier in the film.

Can I believe that someone grows up to have an unquenchable thirst for admiration and love because they can no longer go sledding? Not really. But because they were torn away from their family and raised by stern, cold guardians? Sure. Rosebud is simply meant to connect Kane’s two worlds in our minds.

I believe, however, that Citizen Kane had an unhealthy effect on the minds of many writers. The revelation of Rosebud illuminated the entire foregoing film, and often provoked gasps from people seeing it for the first time. Who wouldn’t like to have that sort of effect on an audience? (I think O. Henry’s short stories—which I admire—had a similar effect on many writers, making them believe that the whole purpose of a story was to surprise the reader at the very end.)

Like most issues in writing, how the reader responds is everything. Is that engrossing exposition, or an info-dump? An unforeseen but symbolically perfect accident, or a deus ex machina? A POV transition, or head-hopping?

A brilliant backstory element, or a Rubber Ducky? That’s the kind of thing I wring my hands over as I write. Which is a problem, as you can't type with any precision when you're wringing your hands...

(Actually, this makes me want to write a novel where taking away someone's rubber ducky plays a pivotal role. With enough attention and craft, I think you can make anything work...)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chayevfky's Rubber Ducky

[ Shown above: Glow-in-the-Dark Zombie Devil Rubber Ducky. Available from the always-tasteful Archie McPhee (]

Storytelling in the 20th century was strongly influenced by Freud. An obvious consequence was the self-conscious deployment of symbols. (And even though Freud famously said that sometimes a cigar was just a cigar, Bill Clinton went far towards proving him wrong.) But I think a less obvious and more pervasive effect of the growth of psychoanalysis was the idea that some small event in the past--the memory of which was probably repressed--could provide motivation for even the most improbable character behaviors.

Playwright Paddy Chayefsky famously derided this as the Rubber Ducky school of character depth: when the villain was eight, someone took away his rubber ducky--and that is why he grew up to be a savage serial killer who dresses in his mother's outfits when he attacks his victims. (Hey, it's no sillier than some of the things you can find in early psychoanalytical case studies.)

Now, I'm not arguing that traumatic past events can't shape a character, or even that a character's primary reason for living can't result from a single event--especially if what we're writing is more of a tale and less of a modernist piece. For example, in William Goldman's The Princess Bride, I'm perfectly content to have The World's Greatest Swordsman roam from country to country searching for the Man With Six Fingers, muttering all the while under his breath, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!" It's a comprehensible motivation--it explains why Inigo was driven to become such a great swordsman--and provides just as much depth as the character requires (i.e. not much). Someone might argue it's a Rubber Ducky, but it's a solid one, and one that is matched perfectly to Inigo's character and quest.

On the other hand, one of the most disappointing books I've read is Thomas Harris' Hannibal. I think Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs are examples of the best the genre can do, but Hannibal had a number of problems. The biggest error that Harris made, though, was when he tried to Rubber-Ducky the great Hannibal Lecter. Harris is too astute a writer to come up with a simple and arbitrary event in Lecter's past; instead, he crafts a prolonged situation in Lecter's childhood that in many ways matches Lecter's preoccupations. As Rubber Duckies go, it's a bath toy of Olympian scale, but it's still just a Rubber Ducky.

Harris did this to himself. Hannibal Lecter is a great character, full of subtlety and depth, and after we've watched him on the page for two fine novels, we don't want him "explained." A few hints would have been enough. A simple, heroic character like Inigo Montoya can survive a good explanation, but I resented the explanation of Lecter in the same way I'd resent someone summing up the whole of my own life and personality by referring to a single event in my childhood.

And why am I going on about this? Ah. In my work-in-progress (it's always about me, isn't it?), three of the characters have huge backstories--ones that will result in prolonged scenes in the past, which is always tricky to manage. And at least one of the backstories runs the risk of being a Rubber Ducky. So I'm fretting. How do you test to see if your story concept is a Rubber Ducky? Do they squeak when you squeeze them?

Or, as with witches, do you just toss them into the pond and hope they don't float?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The 2008 Orange Prize Shortlist

Well, this isn't exactly breaking news--somehow the Prize Committee neglected to ring me up and tell me--but Patricia Wood, author of the funny and touching novel Lottery (and sometime visitor to this blog), has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

Since the Orange Prize is for women only, some of us shouldn't be expecting to ever see our names on that list, no matter what we write. But despite its gender discrimination, it's still a great prize, and generally shows better taste in its selection than some other prizes I could name. For example, a few years back, it picked Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, a novel I've forced on anyone who would sit still. This year, in addition to Patricia's well-deserved nomination, Rose Tremain--one of my favorite authors (The Way I Found Her is a masterpiece)--is also on the shortlist. So I have two horses in this race.

(But I confess I'm rooting for Patricia, because hers is a debut novel. And because I know her, at least in cyberspace--see the link on the sidebar under Cool Writers? And because she manages to visit Absolute Write every so often without losing her patience, which deserves some sort of prize all by itself.)

What? You haven't read Lottery? There's still time. That cover image up in the corner--of the somewhat-more-garish UK edition--will take you to the book on Amazon UK. The hardback is still in the stores in the US. And, for those of you who are inclined to pinch pennies, I believe a paperback edition is due out in a month or so.

Go, Patricia!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Way It Looks on the Page

A writer friend who read Shock and Awe in manuscript form read it again when the hardback came out. She told me she liked it much better the second time. “Am I really that shallow?” she asked. “Should typesetting it and wrapping a cover around it make it seem better?”

I ought to note that more had been done than printing it up, of course: it had been edited. Nonetheless, the editing changes weren’t huge. So, my answer would be, Yes, you really are that shallow. And so, I think, are most of us.

One reason I don’t compose longhand—other than the drudgery of needing to type it all in later—is that my handwriting lacks authority in my eyes. It looks sloppy and scribbly, and, above all, it looks too much like I wrote it. I need the impersonal touch of type to be able to see it as prose. (I know a writer who counsels all his students not to write by hand because if you see it in your own handwriting it will seem better to you. This is a man who clearly has a different relationship with his handwriting than the one I have with mine.)

To me, format matters. It seems to affect my perceptions in a fundamental way. I revise on the screen as I write, but I still print out the pages the next day for polishing, because how I apprehend them on paper is different than on the screen. (And reading them aloud adds yet another facet.) In workshops or writing groups, when I’ve printed out full chapters for critiques, I invariably find something I want to change. And the whole thing looks different when the full manuscript is printed out, and startlingly different when galleys arrive. (I had to quell the urge to engage in substantial rewriting at the galley stage.)

Pamela reads books on her PalmPilot when she travels (and during boring meetings—don’t tell her bosses). She even has copies of my novels on there (there’s a dandy little piece of software that converts them). I find the format almost impossible to bear—yet there, once again, when I see my words in that tight, isolated format, I see them differently.

A writer over on the Absolute Write forum said that before he sent his manuscripts out to other writers for critique, he planned to use Lulu to print up paperback copies in typeset form. I’m not sure I’d go that far (though I can see the appeal). But I might print out my manuscript with something akin to book margins, book fonts, and book spacing to do a final edit. Anything closer to galleys would make me see it from a fresh perspective.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Teaching Bad Lessons

Child psychologists agree that you shouldn't reward whining, as it only reinforces the behavior.

Well, a while back on this blog I whined about the way Amazon US had managed to screw up the listing for the US paperback release of RN Morris' Gentle Axe, making it almost impossible to find and order that edition of the book. (I whine about Amazon US a lot, largely because they did terrible things to people in the US who ordered Shock and Awe.)

To my lasting amazement Caroline Garner, the publicist at Penguin US, actually read the blog entry and promptly made Amazon fix the entries. (Anybody who can slap Amazon into shape is somebody I want on my side.) She also sent me a handful of copies of the book to hand out to my friends and relatives, as well as a bound galley of the US edition of Roger's next book, which I will hawk on eBay for beaucoup bucks when he becomes just a little better known.

This was a bad lesson. You can expect a lot more whining from me in the future.

As long as I'm having my own bad behavior reinforced, let me reinforce Jenn Ashworth's bad behavior over on her blog Every Day I Lie a Little. She Of The One Sock has a nice post listing ten lies she has told in just one day (and claims this is not an exhaustive list). It also discusses the role of lying in her childhood (and makes me wonder what the hell a "wendy house" might be).

And, while we're at it, Neil Ayres tells some Big Fat Lies about Aliya over on their blog. (But when Neil does it, it's called Magical Realism, and is therefore okay.)

So, whining. Lying. Would anyone else like their bad behavior reinforced? Perhaps a tantrum, or maybe a little burglary?

Friday, May 2, 2008

More Pen Names

Joining Roger Morris/RN Morris (not much of a stretch, really), MFW Curran/Frank Saxon, and David Isaak/DG Underhill, the estimable Aliya Whiteley has adopted a nom de plume for a portion of her work.

Of course, Aliya is so prolific (using pauses between novels to dash off novellas, short stories, letters to the editor, CD liner notes, monographs on tropical fish, and short pamphlets on Roman funeral practices) that she's likely to need a few more.

Laws of Plot

On examination, I'm inclined to believe these are true.

· Watt-Evans' Law of Literary Creation: There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently talented writer can't get a good story out of it.

· Feist's Corollary: There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently untalented writer can't screw it up.

· Morrison's Corollary: There is no idea that a sufficiently talented writer has made into a good story that can't become annoying in the sequels.

· Holliday's Corollary: There is no plot so stunningly original that a reviewer can't make it sound hackneyed.