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In November of 2015 I started writing a western. The original goal was to finish it as a project for National Novel Writing Month, but my professional and family commitments forced me to take a more measured pace. So here we are some six months later and the work is finally complete and the finished product should be available in the coming weeks. I wrote in a previous post  that I had several goals for the project; write in an unfamiliar genre, write with careful attention to establishing tone, and finish on a deadline. I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

Blood at Sunrise is  the name of the book and it is not what you would consider a typical western. There are several genre tropes present but the style of the writing and the elements of greatest concern within the narrative do not seem to fit with my, admittedly somewhat limited, understanding of the literary form of the genre. If anything, it reads like a pulpier Blood Meridian. This is somewhat expected as most of my work is a pulpier version of something. In case you missed it, I tend to wear my affinity for genre fiction like a badge of honor.

The truth is that this narrative could very easily have been set in the seventies after Vietnam, or in 1991 following the first gulf war, or even in a post 9/11 world. So the question remains; why a western? I think a good deal of it has to do with the archetypes of the characters that you find in a western meshing well with the story I wanted to tell.

In Blood at Sunrise, we follow Jefferson Crowe, a southern soldier who ran off to enlist in the Confederate army because he felt he had something to prove, as he returns after the war looking to put violence behind him. Unfortunately for Jefferson, on his journey home violence finds him and events are set into motion that place him in a position of authority; a position that necessitates violence and the willingness to use it.

The western genre, in film at least, which is the way I always absorbed it, seems to divide its heroes into white hat, dyed in the wool good-guys or individuals who straddle a line of constant inner conflict. The classic John Wayne v. Clint Eastwood dichotomy. I had hoped to play with those archetypes a bit, in that Jefferson longs to be a John Wayne character when he has a whole lot more in common with the Eastwood types. He wants to be a good man but he knows he is so very, very good at doing bad things.

His primary antagonist, the Reverend Benjamin Bane, is an embodiment of an idea as well. An idea that devotion to principles, when pushed to an extreme, leads to dangerous places. Our villain’s motivation, in his mind, is rooted in altruism and discipline. Jefferson’s own narrative arc is centered around his adherence to an internal code. The conflict of the story is built into the characters’ DNA.

That is why it had to be a western. The western as a genre is built on archetypes. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the most well-known western films; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time In The West, The Searchers, Unforgiven. The archetypes are right there in the titles. They are hard-wired into essence of the material. Blood at Sunrise is very much a story that plays with archetypes and convention while simultaneously subverting them for the sake of telling a different type of story than is usually found in traditional examples of the genre.

There is something largely operatic about Blood at Sunrise. While the setting is definitely a western, the spirit feels, to me at least, like something new. I truly hope that readers enjoy the experience.

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Film is a medium that is ruled by the sum of its parts. This is why it is possible to enjoy a film when certain elements falter in the eyes of the viewer. It is a function of the medium itself that a film can overcome the under-performance of its own elements to be viewed as a success by the audience. This is an understanding that most lovers of film will readily acknowledge when discussing the art form. It is a reason why viewers are apt to have so-called “guilty pleasures” wherein some element of an otherwise disposable piece of entertainment overpowers its combined negative elements to provide enjoyment to the person watching. There is nothing wrong with being the dissenting opinion. There is nothing wrong with believing that a film has merit that others do not see. However, in the wake of the release of mega-blockbuster Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice, there has been an explosion of inflammatory rhetoric and combative attitudes put forth by both critics and supporters of the film that seems to ignore the basic central tenet of film criticism; that artistic value is ultimately subjective.

One of the prevailing false equivalencies in defending one’s opinion on a piece of art or entertainment is to dismiss the person stating the opinion rather than providing a logical opposition to the opinion itself. This is what is known as an ad hominem attack. A sizeable amount of the street-level conversation regarding the release of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice has circled around the fact that those criticizing the film are doing so out of customer loyalty to rival Marvel Comics, and in no way predicated on the fact that the film, like any produced by mere mortals, has flaws that many will see as inexcusable when trying to assess its relative value. In the world of film criticism, to a certain degree, any argument is valid provided that it resides in sound logic. Dismissing legitimate criticisms as an aftereffect of a perceived cultural hive-mind is not a basis for defending one’s own position. However, a sizeable faction of those supporting Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice seem incapable of drafting their own thesis in defense of the film and would rather predicate their attack on the criticism the film has received, hoping to undermine the voices of those who would question whatever artistic merit it might have by painting those who would speak against it as preternaturally biased. It is somewhat perplexing that so many defenders of the film have chosen this path because in the world of film criticism the best offence is not a good defense. Supporters of the film, if they are seeking credibility or validity for their own viewpoint, should focus on presenting the merits of the film rather than attacking those who fail to see them.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is a film that seems equal parts genetically engineered for close analysis and wholly underdeveloped to the point that any analysis would be equally insubstantial. Director Zack Snyder begins the film with a sequence in which a young Bruce Wayne, following the funeral of his parents, finds himself at the bottom of a well after tumbling down an unseen shaft. The young child is then shown ascending out of the cave in a maelstrom of bats. This is a powerful metaphor to be certain, or rather it could be, but ultimately it is meaningless because nothing in the film follows up on the symbolism presented in that scene. It is an isolated piece of imagery that exists only to provide a stirring visual. This is a legitimate criticism of an aspect of the film. Does it, in and of itself, mean that the film is a disaster? No. It does not. This criticism is not predicated on any particular loyalty to an outside brand or a bias against the film walking into the theater. It is an observation that explains why someone might take issue with the film and call it ultimately empty and lackluster in its construction.

Another rhetorical fallacy being paraded by supporters of the film is that it heralds the arrival of mainstream comic adaptations that ascend in maturity the way that rival Marvel adaptations are afraid to embrace. This seems entirely centered around a false definition of the word “mature.” In the parlance of those who herald Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice as a mature alternative to Marvel, the word they are likely looking for is simply “dark.” Maturity implies sophistication. Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is many things but sophisticated is low among the adjectives that could be reasonably applied to it with a straight face. By implying that Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is a mature film, supporters would then be arguing that it is intricately crafted and sophisticated in its design in a way that a lesser or more juvenile film could not attain. While I will say that there are points in the film that are artfully and tastefully rendered, with a careful intricacy in developing certain themes, the majority of the film’s construction is ultimately haphazard and disjointed in a way that defies the term “mature.” Coherency is a central part of narrative storytelling. There are myriad elements within the script of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice which defy logical cohesion. They are not so much “plot holes” as they are “logic holes,” and moments that could and should have been caught in revising the draft before being placed in production.

Again, that is not to say that there are not sophisticated elements showcasing this abstract concept of maturity within the film. Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice does an excellent job with its operatic interpretation of the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne, a singularly important moment in developing Batman as a character. It is even more striking when you realize that this scene, very early in the film, sets the philosophical principles of Batman in an organic way that utilized economic storytelling and strong visuals instead of the ham-fisted expository dialog that permeates the rest of the film. To wit, Thomas Wayne is shot down in the midst of attempting to fight off the attacker who would rob them. This is a direct act of aggression, which sets the tone for our more active-minded, aggressive Batman throughout the rest of the film. Contrast this with the Batman of the Christopher Nolan trilogy, whose Thomas Wayne died while trying to place himself between the attacker and his wife, an act of defense. To construct the scene this way, Snyder was likely attempting to prove his thesis on heroism; that passivity has no place in the heart of those we should call heroes. This is indeed a bold choice and shows some of the maturity that supporters of the film like to point to. However, much of the goodwill earned by flourishes like this are balanced out by scenes in which Lex Luthor taunts a senator with a glass of urine on her desk before suicide bomber takes out the capitol building.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is not an unholy abomination of a film. It is not even the worst comic book film of the last five years. Oddly enough, as much as this film drew from the oeuvre of Frank Miller, it was that man’s Sin City : A Dame to Kill For that takes the prize as the most incoherent, painfully unwatchable comic book adaptation since the genre saw its resurgence in the middle of the 2000s. What Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is actually is a deeply flawed film whose individual parts do not add up to a competent film but possesses minute elements that work in such a way that the flaws can be overlooked by a certain contingency of the audience. In a way, supporters of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice are correct. The film is critic proof. It will and has made the studio the money they so obviously desired. But for those who were hoping to see a film that embraced the true meaning of maturity, the concept that so many are quick to rally around to defend this film, they will only be disappointed.

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As an English teacher I sometimes find myself compelled to complete the same writing prompts of my students. It’s finals time around my neck of the woods and an element of the final comes in the form of a timed expository response to a selected topic. The original composition was limited to twenty-six lines and this is simply a typed version of that same response, written under a forty-five minute time limit.


 

Things rise and fall in the cultural zeitgeist with the speed of a Japanese bullet train. Why would any one individual wish to conform to the mob mentality of societal pop culture instead of blazing their own trail? After all, the bullet train of pop culture has been known to fly off the rails from time to time.

Following trends does not ensure personal economic or spiritual success. The biggest success stories come about when an iconoclast, some unconventional individual who marches to the beat of his own drummer, eschews the most popular trends and forges something new and surprising. Take George Lucas for example. This is a man who crafted in Star Wars one of the largest cinematic achievements in the history of the art form. Yes, we now look at the 1977 film as a classic, comprised of elements that assure a creative and critical victory. However, at the time of its release, 20th Century Fox executives famously believed that they had invested time and money into a monumental failure and box office flop. It was too different from the popular films of the time, they argued. There was no way it would connect with movie going audiences. Time and good sense have prevailed however and we now understand that it was the very act of separating himself from the sheltered pack mentality of Hollywood that allowed for Lucas to bring his visionary space opera to the silver screen.

In the end it is the ability to reject conventional wisdom that allows an individual to have the greatest impact on society. As per the words of James F. Cooper, “the man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.”

The year has come and gone. It was a big one for me; bought a house, published a new novel, got engaged, saw the new Star Wars in theaters. Lots of ticks off the bucket list in 2015 for sure.  I can’t say it was a good year overall. I mean, police brutality, terrorism, Donald Trump…do I really need to go into detail? Probably not. But I will go into detail with regard to the things that didn’t make me hate the very concept of existence.

J. Goodson Dodd’s Top Films of 2015

I think it is telling that I can’t even do a top 10 list this year. Granted, I missed a few films that looked like surefire winners (Straight Outta Compton, Creed, The Good Dinosaur, Crimson Peak) but all the same, it was a rather week slate altogether. But the good ones sure as hell did stand out.

I don’t pretend that these are the most technically sound films, or prestigious. These are simply the films that stayed with me or impressed me the most over the course of the year.

Beginning with…

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5. The Martian

Ridley Scott is such a hit or miss director these days. I personally loved Prometheus but I know it gets a lot of hate. Then you’ve got less than stellar Exodus, The Counselor, and that misguided attempt at Robin Hood with Russel Crowe.

With The Martian, however, Ridley Scott shows what made him such a respected name in the game of film in the first place with a masterfully paced adaptation of Andrew Weir’s novel of the same name. While much of the credit for the film goes to the folks who wrote the thing, Scott’s direction and steady hand go a long way towards cementing it as one of the best of the year. That’s to say nothing of Matt Damon playing the ever-loving hell out of Mark Watney, someone who the audience demands be charming enough that we believe it is worth the effort exerted to bring him home from his extra-terrestrial exile.

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4. Ant-Man

This time last year I was one hundred percent certain that Ant-Man would be overshadowed by Age of Ultron. Which is a shame, I told myself, because I love the character and lesser-known heroes deserve a chance to find love from the greater public at large.

So how did Ant-Man manage to be the best superhero film we got this year? Not only by virtue of only having to compete with garbage like Fantastic Four and the mediocrity of Avengers : Age of Ultron, but by having the sort of wit and charm that works best for left-field characters like Scott Lang. Having one of the best ensemble casts of any major film this year didn’t hurt, because Michael Pena could salvage even the worst of films.

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3. The Hateful Eight

I was sure this was going to be number one for me. I was sure of it. And it is only by virtue of the strength of other films that this gets the bronze medal. Quentin Tarantino turns in what, after careful consideration, might be his most carefully constructed piece of writing to date, filmed with expert precision, making it by far his most stunningly shot film. Looking at the man’s filmography, The Hateful Eight is the culmination of everything that is Tarantino. It has the excess of Kill Bill with the claustrophobic tension of Reservoir Dogs and the steady focus of Inglourious Basterds. It is a difficult film. One that will be divisive and off-putting to most, but over time will likely be appreciated as one of the finest pieces of cinema produced not just by Tarantino but any director working in the modern age.

Thematically, it is the grandest of anything Tarantino has ever done. His statement on the concept of race relations and violence in America is pointed and vicious. This is a timely film. Only minor tweaks would be necessary to bring the film into the present day and the message would remain the same. That is part of the brilliance of Tarantino’s design. There is a bit of dialog in the film about the “disarming” characteristics of a certain letter that Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren has in his possession. So too is there a disarming quality to the idea of a violent Quentin Tarantino film. He has long been regarded as a man more inclined to style over substance but with The Hateful Eight he truly does have something to say and he is going to say it loud, painting a thematic slogan across the screen in blood all the while filmed in glorious Panavision 70mm.

I had a lot of conflicting ideas about this film. I think I’ve worked through most of them and have settled on a final opinion. For my original review, you can check out my Tumblr post.

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2. Star Wars – Episode VII : The Force Awakens

I cried. Let that sink in. In all of the prequels, I don’t think I ever had a single emotional response to anything presented on the screen. I had the same emotional attachment to the franchise, but it didn’t connect.

So what changed?

The fact of the matter is that the reason the latest Star Wars film works is because it has an emotional core. While the script may have some pretty glaring flaws, the result of unending rewrites and tinkering, the overall construction of the film is rooted in an emotional ideal. Our new leads are connected to something that we have an affinity for, but we could have easily wound up hating the ever loving bejeezus out of them. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have the unenviable task of being the new faces of Star Wars and not only do they do an amazing job, the managed to get me emotionally invested in their stories.

The “Hero’s Journey” trope has been rode into the ground and beaten within an inch of its life. So having that same story pattern brought up again and applied with Rey, my brain should have rejected it and dismissed it outright. Instead, the vibrancy with which she is brought to life makes me invested in the journey itself. I don’t mind familiar beats being hit again because when the beats land, they do so effectively with none of the clumsy handiwork of the prequels.

This feels like Star Wars again. On every conceivable level. And when Star Wars is good, it’s really really good. There’s a reason it is so long-lasting and endearing as a franchise beyond simple merchandising. There is magic in that universe. The Force Awakens proves that.

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1. Mad Max – Fury Road

I have never seen a film so visceral and economically minded with regard to storytelling as the fourth film in George Miller’s Mad Max saga.

This film is a modern marvel.

It should not work. Thirty years have passed since Max was on screen. Mel Gibson isn’t back. The continuity has been shot to hell. There’s very little in the way of dialog, which means virtually no exposition. How the hell were modern audiences going to react to a film that demanded that they fill in gaps with their imagination and critical thinking? Surprisingly they took to it like a fish to water and it became what has to be one of the most universally praised films I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know many people who didn’t think this thing was a masterpiece of cinematic genius. I know general consensus doesn’t amount to a whole lot but I’ll be damned if I’m not in awe of how universal the acceptance of Fury Road as a stunning benchmark in the name of cinematic achievement has become.

I really can’t say much more about the film. It stands on its own. It was the single most impressive film I’ve seen this year. I doubt we will see anything like it for a good long while.

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I love being a writer. I truly do. As a teacher I attempt to center the core of my instruction around the idea of building better writers. Though I may love literature as an art form, I also understand that in the current educational climate the ability to understand the dramatic themes in The Crucible comes secondary to advanced literacy and written communication skills. I try to teach my students the intricacies of using the English language to make themselves understood and how mastery of communication is one of the single most important traits they can attain when it comes to their eventual attempts to move upward in their careers or in societal circumstances.

Nobody can ever accuse me of not having a deep appreciation for the form of writing, and I find immense satisfaction in the act itself. Writing One Fate For Failure was one of the most emotionally fulfilling endeavors I have ever engaged in. I am unimaginably proud of it as a piece of my creative output and I have loved hearing the responses to it from the meager audience it has attracted since its release. (*Side-note: The only available editions thus far are the hardcover, which I know is massively overpriced, and the Kindle edition. I am hoping to have a more affordable paperback edition out soon. I promise it is something I am working tirelessly on as we speak.) What I do not enjoy, or am at least uncomfortable doing on a large scale, is the self-promotion that comes along with the release of a creative work.

This blog is updated with no real attention to regularity. I will simply write when it strikes me as being appropriate. I also have a hard time keeping up with Twitter. Part of this is because I am not a creator with any established cultural awareness. More simply put, my creative work is not popular enough to pay the bills. As such I have a job that takes up a good deal of my time and I cannot dedicate my entire existence to selling the thing that I have spent so much time creating.

The fact of the matter is this; if you create something you want the world to see, if you intend to maintain control of that creation you must also be willing to accept responsibility for the success or failure of that creation.

Thus far, I feel like I have not been living up to the current standard necessary to get the word out for my new novel. I can’t place the fizzle of a reaction to its release to anybody but myself. I just haven’t had the time, or perhaps the drive necessary, to promote the thing 24/7.

The point of writing this isn’t to lament that the book didn’t set the world on fire however. I didn’t have any expectation of that at all. In truth, the number of people who have taken the time to download and read the book has brought a smile to my face. It is also seemingly garnering far more positive a reaction than Grave Danger ever did. No, the point of writing this is to talk about whether a creative work only has value if it has an audience.

John Steinbeck once said that the “audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person-a real person you know, or an imagined person-and write to that one.” I don’t have any true inkling of how many people will read anything I write at any given time, these little essays included. Therefore, I write using myself as an audience surrogate and, in all honesty, simply hope that somebody else enjoys it.

In my mind, the joy of writing isn’t necessarily the idea of those creations finding an audience once I’ve published them, though it is an added bonus. To me, a true creator pushes the content out of their soul because they don’t know any other way to exist. I feel like there was a time when I didn’t think of my writing in this way, but I have slowly but surely come around to this mindset after spending enough time in reflection to grasp the concept that not everything that is great ever finds an audience and sometimes things that never need to see the light of day somehow find their way into the greater consciousness of popular culture.

I recognize that the tone of this essay is a bit scattershot. Perhaps it is because my emotional attachment to my creative output leads to such peaks and valleys. What I hope the supposed audience of this writing will take away is that creativity both is and is not a commodity, and even if nobody ever reads a single line of your creative output, that does not mean it is not valid and a beautiful culmination of creative determination.

All of that said, please be sure to buy One Fate for Failure on Amazon. I think you’ll love it.

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“So, what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”

I think about those lines, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi quite a bit when it comes time to start writing something new. Whose point of view am I telling the story from? Are they reliable in their narration? What is their voice? Is it the best means of transmitting the story in my head to my readers.

In One Fate for Failure, I made the decision to write in the first person. I felt like a great deal could be added to the narrative by filtering it through Maddie’s perspective. The entire tone of the story depended on her voice being an ever present force in the text. Take for example this bit of expository inner-dialog that we get from her in the first chapter;

Rick was ex-Delta and I was Naval Intelligence. We were as different as two people could be, but we had a mutual respect that made us gel in ways that lots of people wished they could. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community who didn’t care for me much at all for one reason or another. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could but I won’t because it’s crass and I don’t have the stomach for it. I come from a family that was always big on being proper. My parents were New England blue blood through and through. Cape Cod in the summer type of folks. They raised me to have manners and be respectful like a lady should. Then they died in a boating accident like the worst kind of east coast cliché and in my adolescence discovered a lot of things about myself while rebelling to manage my grief.

If I were to try to re-write that same excerpt of text from a different perspective, the same information would be conveyed but it is the fact that the details being relayed are being voiced by the character herself that lend it the appropriate tone. She is making these observations about herself and that somehow, to me at least, makes the whole passage more legitimate and serves the character better. While Maddie is telling us what is going on in her head, feeding us information, the fact that she is divulging this sort of backstory lets us know that she has a self-analytical mind and thus the layered distribution of information makes for a deeper reading experience.

I have only written in first person once before, in 2012’s Grave Danger. I’m not sure if a pattern is emerging or if my two recent writing exercises demanded a first person narration due to the conventions of their genre. At its heart, Grave Danger is a detective noir, albeit filled with paranormal elements, and the whole thing played out in black and white with that growly voice over narration that was ever present in those early detective films of classic Hollywood. One Fate for Failure’s first person perspective was driven by my desire to round out my central character. There was a central motivation there. It didn’t so much have to do with convention, seeing as it was a take-off of Fleming and his progeny.

So how do you make that final decision as to what perspective to write from? What is the best way to tell your story?

The truth is that it depends on authorial purpose. As a teacher I try to explain authorial purpose to my students and some of them rebel at the idea because they say “well how the hell would I know what he was thinking?” But as a writer your purpose should be clear in your head before you ever sit down to write. I knew when I began outlining One Fate for Failure that I wanted to subvert tropes found in the spy genre and make a comment on those same conventions. I knew that I would want to throw some winks at the audience and the best way to do that was to have the narrator make them for me. That only works within the context of the genre if the narration is first person. Add that to the fact that I wanted my prose to have the rich, layered delivery of information that I mentioned earlier and the choice was practically made for me.

Ask yourself why you want to write and what you are seeking to accomplish. Then you can make the decision as to what perspective to write from. If you can answer those questions, it should be a fairly easy process. If you can’t answer those questions, your story probably isn’t ready to be written yet. I’m already prepping my next project. It’s outlined and ready to go. I know that I want to tell a story that, again, subverts a particular genre, but I want to play within those conventions and as such I know that this time around I will be utilizing an omnipotent third-person narrator. My aim with this is to give the proceedings a feel akin to a folk-tale, as if the story is being related years down the line from someone who heard it from someone else.

A writer needs to be self-analytical to be worth a damn. It is a primal urge to get our stories onto the page but we also have to resist the urge to let the story control us as writers. The story works in service of your own authorial intent. Never lose sight of that.

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Over the last few days, I have been outlining heavily for my NaNoWriMo entry this year. I’ve spoken a bit about how One Fate For Failure took a very long time for me to complete and the reason for that is due to my reluctance to spend too much time outlining and instead allow my boundless creativity to take me in new and exciting directions.

Of course what happened was I would write myself into a corner and would have to toss aside dozens of pages and rebuild from scratch. That’s why when the book first came about it was about someone named Alyssa who couldn’t be any more dissimilar from Maddie as a character if I tried and the title was No Fate For Failure which in retrospect makes very little sense at all. The point is that I put a great deal of faith in my ability to write extemporaneously and I have come to understand that I am not the sort of writer who can pull off such a feat.

Luckily, my renewed dedication to the world of outlining has borne some nutritious fruit. I am often waffling back and forth on the way I structure my narratives. One of the things I have debated with myself over time and time again is the very concept of the prologue. When is it appropriate to use one? Is it cheating to include it? From the meager research I’ve done into the concept, the prologue is derived from Euripedes and the purpose was to replace a perfunctory, exposition-heavy first act.

Looking at the type of novels I have written, and examining the stories I have tried to tell, I cannot really look at a single one and argue against not only the inclusion of but the necessity of a prologue. In A Dark Tomorrow I utilized a vignette to set the mood and tone of the piece, introducing a character and the setting. I could have utilized this space in order to do some world building in order to eliminate some more exposition heavy chapters in the middle of the book, but as a rookie novelist I made many mistakes in that particular story. I am still insanely proud of it because, hey, it’s my first novel and its like my child that I can never truly stay mad at.

With The Song Before Nightfall, I wanted to make sure that readers had an understanding of the geography and history of the fantasy world I had created. This was doubly important because I didn’t shill out the money necessary to have a graphically inclined person draft a map of the locations that would be included in the narrative. There is no clearly drawn illustration of Adacia and the surrounding kingdoms the way there was for Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Martin’s realms in A Song of Ice and Fire. I had to utilize my words in order to set the stage. To do this within the context of the narrative would take forever. It would have ballooned massively out of control. That is not something I wanted to happen.

One Fate For Failure does not have a prologue. The thing jumps right in. I made a conscious choice to do this in order to work within the conventions of the genre. Now, the first chapter acts like a prologue in the same fashion that most of the pre-credits sequences for a James Bond film do, but I don’t consider it to be a prologue in same way that I do the first few pages of The Song Before Nightfall.

What is my point you may ask? Well, for anyone wondering whether they need a prologue to begin their story, you really have to ask yourself some questions;

  1. Can this information be worked organically into the narrative?
    • Sometimes it truly is better to hit the ground running, and a prologue can feel unintentionally inhibiting to a reader. If the prologue you have crafted doesn’t give them a sense of understanding, it likely needs to be rethought or excised.
    • Remember, a prologue serves the purpose of replacing what would normally serve as a first act. Depending on the type of story you’re writing, a prologue can enhance the feeling of entering the narrative in medias res, even if it truly is the beginning of the arc you’re wishing to tell.
  2. Does it fit with the genre of writing I am working in?
    • Some genres just work better without a prologue. Sometimes you want to be careful not to give too much away. The piece I am currently working on absolutely requires a prologue in my opinion because the reader may need the historical context to understand the story. Working in historical fiction, readers will often need that context in order to feel comfortable with the story you are attempting to tell.
  3. Does it MATTER?
    • This is the big one. Is it a big ol’ waste of space or does it contribute something. I am a firm believer that it is better to have a shorter final product than have a bloated end product that suffers at the expense of appearing bulkier. I know people want to get their money’s worth but always remember that every decision you make should be done in service of the narrative.

The big deal here is really context. Does what you are offering up in the prologue provide necessary context for your reader? Do they gain something from that information? If not, then why are you bothering to include it? When you are writing it is important to keep your audience engaged. Nobody will come back to read your next book if they felt you wasted their time with your last effort.

You spend a lot of time writing, make sure you make it worth their’s to read it.

As an English teacher as well as a writer I often times will draft literary analysis examples on the fly to show how to examine different genres of writing. Today I looked at a poem by Robert Frost entitled Acquainted With the Night and drafted a quick analysis essay that I figured I would share so that I can refer back to it the next time I need something similar.


Poetry is often used to elicit empathy from the reader. The poet crafts words and phrases into rhyme and meter in an effort to elicit a response from his audience that is commensurate with his own emotional state. In the poem “Acquainted with the Night,” poet Robert Frost seeks to create empathy for the speaker of the piece, who is largely coming to terms with his own struggle with depression and internal darkness.

In the poem, Frost utilizes a structure that is not altogether dissimilar to a Shakespearean sonnet. He gives us four stanzas, three lines each, followed by a rhyming couplet. The scheme of ABA, BCB, CDC, DAD, AA allows the reader to follow the pattern of Frost’s thought process and aids the reader in understanding his meaning; that struggling with depression is like wandering alone through a dark and stormy night in the wrong part of town.

Frost’s tone here is bleak. He uses imagery to paint a picture of darkness and help the reader understand the feeling of being completely underwhelmed. A good example can be found in the first stanza when he writes “I have outwalked the furthest city light” (line 3), positing an existence and struggle that extends beyond the illuminated world of what is known and into a dark place where only uncertainty remains. Frost’s examination of internalized depression continues, elaborating and further emphasizing the emptiness and isolation that such a situation can impress upon a person. “I have looked down the saddest city lane./ I have passed by the watchman on his beat/ and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain” (lines 4-6). Here Frost is specifically talking about the emotional weight of depression, passing the “watchman on his beat,” representing the collective figure of possible protection or salvation from his condition, and the guilt and burden that is often associated with living with depression. He is “unwilling to explain” his condition because he fears what reaction it might provoke.

Frost wraps his entire theme in the blanket of a major metaphor. The “night” is meant to represent depression and his speaker is slowly coming to terms with those feelings. In the final stanza, in a rhyming couplet Frost writes that the world, here personified by the moon shining in the night sky, has “proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right/ I have been acquainted with the night” (lines 13-14). Here, Frost is making a declarative statement that there is no objectivity to the concept of darkness and depression, it simply is. He has sought, thus far, to allow us to empathize with those who might be struggling with such emotions, here he is concluding my reminding those who do not suffer that there is no place for judgment.

Poetry is a form devised to deliver and convey emotions. No rule exists that says the emotions conveyed need be positive. Robert Frost writes about the darkness that many people face, and how on a long enough timeline it ceases to be anything but a regular part of their life, sad as it may be.

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An apology is meaningless if the words are not then followed by actions of penance. In America, the driving principle behind the criminal justice system is that of rehabilitation. The goal of incarceration is two-fold; to punish the crime and to correct the behavior.  A prison term itself means nothing if the former convict falls prey to recidivism. It is only if the criminal emerges on the other side as a changed man that society is willing to forgive the sins of the past.

Tyron Edwards famously stated “right actions for the future are the best apologies for the wrong ones in the past.” This is a philosophical statement that affirms the idea of the duplicitous nature of mankind; that we as a species tend to say one thing while doing another. Edwards is arguing that only by aligning our moral compass with the physical deeds we perform can we hope to truly atone for our mistakes. There is another old idiom that states “practice makes perfect.” As such, we may only perfect ourselves through true and honest practices. Words alone have no value. A man may apologize to escape the tension of a moment but if he does not engage in the active practice of atonement he is doomed to find himself yet again in the tense situation he thought to use his words to escape. This exemplifies the idea of yet another philosophical idiom; “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Society will always place higher stick in deeds than words. One need only look to the media portrayal of cultural idols to find this to be true. One mistake, if not properly a toned for with a change in actual behavior, can lead to that individual’s doom in terms of relevance and cultural visibility.  Celebrity is fleeting and actions carry more weight than words. It is why one man can go from being perceived entirely as a cocaine addled criminal to an A-list multimillionaire by practicing actual reform of his character while another may be endlessly mocked for paying lip service to the idea of penance while making no true change.

Society craves honesty. In order to truly prove the value of a statement it must be followed by faithful action. Society tends to operate on tangible evidence over faith alone. As the song goes, “deeds not words/you should have told the truth/you’re a liar and a traitor/and now we’ve got the proof.”

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One Fate For Failure
Song Before Nightfall
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