By James Gilmore
Pirate Latitudes is taut genre novel written by one of the modern masters of suspense, Michael Crichton. Intense and inventive, the action and drama never fail to entertain in a story laden with clever ideas in plotting and execution while widely diverse, fascinating characters populate the novel. Crichton fulfills and defies every pirate cliché by making them his own, transforming each element into something unique and poignant and exploring to its logical, if not surprising, conclusion.
Unfortunately, Pirate Latitudes once again exhibits Crichton’s two major weaknesses: (1) his talent for gullibly accepting stereotypes (valid or not) based on his research, and (2) failing to provide any greater depth or meaning beyond the story itself, which is where the limit of the story’s impact can be felt most.
A thrilling ride for Crichton and pirate lovers; a guilty pleasure for lit-heads.
Rating: 3 / 5
By James Gilmore
Of Mice and Men might as well have been called “the ranch of broken dreams.” Presenting itself like a stage play in all but format, author John Steinbeck maintains Aristotle’s unity of place and time by focusing our attention on a microcosm inhabited by two men who share a single hollow dream. Ultimately, their dream collapses due to their own human weaknesses and those of their fellow men. The fundamental core of the story illustrates how human beings latch onto hope, real or imaginary (but in either case perceived as actual), as a goal to strive for, as a reason for living, and how and why reality seldom plays out like our dreams say they ought.
Of Mice and Men packs brutal emotional impact through realistic, layered characters and relationships in this structurally sound novella.
Readers will find Of Mice and Men much more accessible than Steinbeck’s far more brutal Grapes of Wrath, and should be required reading for any serious reader or storyteller.
Rating: 5 / 5
I’ve been published again and this time I have two haiku appearing in Three Line Poetry issue #11, edited by Glenn Lyvers.
Inside Issue #11 you will find many some shorties-but-goodies tailored for the short-attention spanners of the 21st century. You will find my two poems (“a wolf eats his prey” and “a leaf falls slowly”) at any of the following venues:
Kindle (half price)
Don’t pass up this opportunity to read some great new poetry for free or, for a small sum, in print.
Feel free to view other free issues of Three Line Poetry as well.
Support Three Line Poetry and modern poetry!
By James Gilmore
Among the great works of literature by Jules Verne are such classics as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days and The Mysterious Island. What you will not find nested among those works is a novel called Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (La Jangada is the original title)—and for good reason. One wouldn’t be so surprised at the quality (or lack thereof) of the novel had it been Jules Verne’s first attempt at the craft, but it mystifyingly appears at the very heart of his career alongside the greats.
Despite pretense of adventure, 800 Leagues is for all intents and purposes a family melodrama with only trace amounts of “adventure.” The novel is a dull read and hardly believable. Sorely lack in conflict, the text is often insultingly redundant, the author reiterating known facts in such a fashion that the reader can’t help but feel like he is trying to fill space in a balloon filled with hot hair. This effectively reduces the pacing of the novel to that of a dying snail. The linear, predictable story submarines the uneventful plot with rare exception. Any changes in the story occur entirely by means of deus ex machinae, which leaves the hands of the characters out of events almost entirely, save one or two instances, scuttling their raison d’être.
Overshadowing the weak dramatic impact of the book is the fact that it reads like a pedantic love letter to the Amazon River, like a wan excuse to wax poetic about this illustrious body of moving water. Although informative, it reduces the novel’s literary value to a mere historical survey of Amazonian river tribes who would cease to exist a century later.
The characters in the novel tend to be shallow in depth and over dramatic. The antagonist is the most interesting and compelling of the cast. Unfortunately, his presence is minimal.
Despite some interesting tangents concerning facts about the Amazon River and a few florid descriptions, the novel is thin, flat, artificially contrived and obvious.
A caution to all who tread here: Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon is Jules Verne’s worst. Despite a 5-star rating (from 2 reviews) on Amazon.com at the time of this writing, place this novel on your list of “books to avoid at all costs.” Feel free to sample the free Kindle book (if you dare).
Rating: 1.5 / 5
In this episode of shameless self-promotion, I want to bring to your attention my two main blogs: Minimalist Reviews and Story Science. I’m trying to push some traffic to my blogs so please have a click and see what they are all about.
Minimalist Reviews is a film and book review blog which discusses the storytelling techniques of each work in minimalist fashion. No 10-page reviews here.
Story Science is a consultation service (run by me) whose blog portion delivers unique articles on the craft of storytelling as well as twice monthly writing exercises.
Until next time, ciao!
Why: Have you ever had a story stuck in your head but weren’t able to get it down on paper? Or it just doesn’t translate onto the page the way you envision it? Or maybe you’re like me and you just need to get the @#&% thing on paper to get it out of your head so you can come back to it later.
All of these reasons are why the “What Happens Next?” exercise came into being. This exercise will help you sort out your story by allowing you to effectively write your entire piece at the structural without getting lost in the details.
Purpose: To put onto the page everything that happens in your story in sequential order. The exercise focuses on plot development step by step, highlighting parts of your story that do not work correctly, are repetitive or missing. It also forces you to think about your story analytically so that when you sit down to actually write the text of your creative work you will have a clear direction in which to write.
Challenge: Write down each thing that happens in your story in outline form in the order in which they occur using a new line and only one sentence for each event. Describe the event as minimally but as specifically as possible. Do this from beginning to end. Push yourself, don’t get lazy, and don’t forget to finish. It can be very tempting to abandon the exercise before completing it because it can be very taxing on the brain and surprisingly difficult. In only a few hours (or days, depending on the length of your work) you can lay out your entire story from beginning to end.
- Start from the beginning and finish with the end.
- Do no skip anything. If you know a part is missing, indicate so, including a summary of what should or might be there and what it needs to lead to (such as, “our main character somehow survives and manages to make it back with proof that he has recovered the artifact”). It’s okay to be generic or vague here, but not okay to summarize huge chunks unless you absolutely don’t have anything for that point.
- Do not include details other than those necessary to explain each element, event or incident.
- Do not include character background or any other such depth that is not directly relevant to the plot.
- Keep your notes, discoveries and comments elsewhere.
- If you plan to rearrange things out of chronological order, you may choose to put them in chronological order first to make sure your story doesn’t have any holes and reorder them as desired later.
- Bjorn wakes up tied to a chair.
- Bjorn breaks free and searches the house for something to eat.
- Bjorn is confronted by a stranger, who wants to know the color of his favorite socks.
- After a brief exchange, Bjorn leaves the house to find a basket of goodies abandoned by a tree.
- Bjorn cries at the memory of his mother and how she used to bake goodies for him, flashes back to an incident where he burned himself while she was baking cookies and how she lovingly cared for him.
- After completing the exercise, expand what you’ve written into an annotated step outline.
- Watch a movie or read a short book with a partner, then wait a day or so and sit down with someone else, having them ask you, “What happened next?” or “And then what happened?” (etc.), not letting you skip anything. It will force you to remember events in the order in which they occurred in a sort of oral step outline. It’s much harder than it sounds because your brain tends to only remember the highlights of a story, not all the steps in between.
- As above, have a partner ask you what happens next for your own story, whether or not they know anything your story.
The “Everything You Know About This” exercise.
In this version of the exercise you will be able to get a story out of your head before it is fully formed at a time when you aren’t able to actually write out the whole piece. This will preserve your creative work for later use when you have time to come back to it and do it justice.
- Write down absolutely everything you know about your story in bullet form, including character elements, background and other details or thoughts which pertain to the plot.
- They do not have to be in order. You can re-order them later.
- I highly suggest writing by hand because it gives your brain more time to think and connect dots and make discoveries you might not otherwise make while typing.
- When finished, type up your bullet list and put everything in order. You will be surprised at how much you know about your story.
By James Gilmore
It is not my habit to review non-story materials but I thought a brief experiment might be acceptable.
The Grand Design is yet another book by the mastermind Stephen Hawking concerning the makeup of our universe. While a fascinating read, the book spends almost its entirety on the history of the field which built the foundation for quantum physics. A Layman’s History of Physics would be a much more apt title. The book only expresses one real opinion which is made plain at the very end—essentially that M-Theory rocks and everything else sucks.
Not Hawking’s best. A tantalizing and thought-provoking read nonetheless.
Rating: 3 / 5