Triumph! Early Access: A Fast Playing Game You Can Learn in an Afternoon

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It’s been a while, Internet. For those of you unaware, I’ve recently taken a regular writing job that has taken up the lion’s share of my free time, which naturally gets in the way of what are now side activities, such as posting here or writing stories. On the plus side, the Feast or Famine lifestyle of freelancing is no longer a problem. On the down side, I wasn’t able to go to Fall In this weekend.

That said, I did have some time to play a few rounds of a new set of rules—and I mean new ones. I bought them Thursday night, about ten minutes after they went up for sale on Wargame Vault. The game, Triumph (available at the previous hyperlink) is the first set of rules produced by the newly-formed Washington Grand Company. If you click on their website link, you might be confused about why there are two links there—I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s get a few things out of the way.

I’ve known these guys since I was fourteen—exactly half a lifetime ago for me. I met them at the conventions, because we all played DBA together. They were responsible for putting on some of the best events I’ve ever played—themed campaigns, preset tournaments, fixed-deployment giant battles, and a whole lot of other things I’m leaving out for the sake of brevity. Some of the best games of my life were played alongside (often against) them—I still remember a certain game in which I assaulted elephants with bow in close combat in a national tournament.

These are the kind of guys who really get into the hobby, from all sides. I’m more of a casual player, because I only care about the game. These are the guys who spend hours painting figures, designing terrain pieces, planning events… and dissecting rule sets.

When DBA 3.0 came out, there was a lot of backlash within the community. My review was pretty neutral—there were some good changes and some bad ones. In my opinion, it doesn’t feel like the DBA I’ve been playing for half my life. Maybe that’s good for other people, but it’s not for me. I haven’t played a single game of 3.0 since I posted that review, and I don’t miss it.

The folks at the Washington Grand Company felt similarly, and decided to make a set of rules that hit the same spot DBA used to. They succeeded.

Triumph! (which is misspelled without the exclamation point) is a set of fast-play, relatively simple Ancients and Medieval period historical wargaming rules. And… it’s fun.

 

Here is my review of my experience and first impressions of Triumph!. Before I get too far into it, I want to add a couple of caveats:

  1. These rules are still in early access. That means that they are playable and complete, but they are also subject to changes until the final version is released. Some of my criticism is going to be directly related to this, but please note that most of this is going to be addressed down the line.
  2. A lot of this review is going to be tinted through the lens of my experience with DBA. DBA’s influence is present throughout the rules, so I think the comparison is valid.
  3. My old man and I played a few games with three armies total; Ancient British against Ancient British, and Samanid against Ghaznavid. (For the record, my dad crushed me in every game, and I’m perfectly comfortable blaming the dice.) We haven’t touched Dark Ages, Medieval Europe, or a wide, vast range of other periods and regions yet.

The Good

  1. Army Compositions

Armies are not the same size. They never have been. Feudal England’s armies were typically a few hundred people, which is radically different from Persia’s forces, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands (or millions, depending on who you ask). Roman forces were usually outnumbered by considerable margins, two or three (or, if you ask Caesar, ten) to one. They won because they were better disciplined, better armed, and better armored.

DBA, and a lot of games like it, ignore this in favor of game mechanics. Regular DBA armies consist of twelve stands, with no variation. Spartans and Persians have the same number of figures, even though the scale is totally and completely off.

It also messes with the scale of the battlefield; those Persians occupy the same or nearly the same amount of space as the Spartans.

This isn’t a problem so much with the game as it is with the historical aspect of it. A game is a better game when there are the same number of stands; uniformity, in that regard, has a lot of advantages. My problem is that it’s a pretty crappy representation of reality. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, mostly because, again, I mostly care about the game, but it’s something that always bugged me about DBA.

These are both important to a lot of players; a uniform (or close to it) number of elements, but an appropriately balanced scale. There’s just no easy way to have both within the same rules; Commands and Colors, for example, just has fixed numbers for each scenario. DBM and DBMM went to a straight points system, with different grades of troops (and grades generals, and grades of freaking everything) making differences in numbers and quality.

Triumph! did something a bit different, and I like it a lot. Armies are made up of 48 points worth of troops. All troops range from 2 to 4 points in value. This puts the total number of elements in an army somewhere between 12 and 24 ostensibly, though the only troops worth two points can’t be generals, so the ceiling is actually lower.

Combined with those point values, every army has a set minimum and maximum number of their available troop types. For example, the Ancient British army (the army of Boudicca, the true Gentleman’s Choice of general) requires that every army have at least four warband, and two “bad horse” elements. That’s a total of 22 points right off the bat, nearly half the army. The rest of the troops can be made up of battle taxis (a type of chariot, for the uninitiated), skirmishers, rabble, more warband, and more bad horse. In other words, there are about 80 points of elements to choose from, and 22 are selected for you. There are similar breakdowns for the other armies I’ve seen, too.

Basically, every army has a core of required troops, but the rest is up to you. There are limits—you can’t fill up the rest of your Ancient British army with battle taxis (you can have up to four)—but the freedom is… freeing.

It’s a good hybrid approach, and I can see this being adapted for a lot of scenarios and themed campaigns. For example, a Caesar’s Gallic Campaign…campaign… might limit Roman armies to 36 points, or 40, or might expand Gallic armies to 60 points. It’s pretty easy to expand or contract the limits, and you don’t even have to mess with the minimum or maximum numbers of specific elements to achieve a more realistic numbers disparity. Persian armies should be filled out with levies, horde, and rabble, so just increasing the points available to them can achieve that.

Now, this kind of thing is perfectly achievable with DBA, but requires a more heavy-handed approach, and can’t really be done without dictating the exact composition of each army. It’s more work for event coordinators and tournament organizers, and anything that makes their lives easier is something I favor.

In practice, I think that most armies are going to be somewhere between 12 and 16 elements total. My Ancient British army was 14 elements, and my Samanid army was 12. Victory conditions don’t change; you still need to kill 16 points worth of your opponent’s elements to win.

  1. Game Board

DBA is played on a square mat, either 24” or 30” (pretty much depending upon whether you play in Europe or America). A lot of other games play on square boards, too.

Triumph! decided that square boards are lame, and wanted to make them wider than they are deep. The recommended board size is 48 MU by 32 MU (I’ll explain MU later), which is roughly 37 inches across and 25 inches deep at the 15mm figure scale.

That provides a lot of room for horizontal maneuvering without deploying the armies too far apart. That means that you actually have space for sweeping cavalry maneuvers, and flank marches are riskier than on square boards. That said, you’re still fairly close to your opponent’s army, and they can threaten to close while you’re busy dancing in the backfield.

In short, the battle has room to develop, but you’re not so far away from your enemy that he can sit in the corner and wait.

  1. Terrain

The terrain rules are… interesting.

My biggest issue with DBA, bar none, has always been the fact that you can clutter the board with so much difficult terrain that the game will take forever. I’ve always insisted that ancient and medieval battles were mostly fought on, you know, battlefields, which were generally open and relatively easy to traverse. There were strategic things, like a copse of woods or a hill to take, but the battlefields were rarely swamps.

Those are what we call “skirmishes,” mostly, with small numbers of troops engaging in brief exchanges, rather than big, sweeping battles overseen by a general, which is what these games are supposed to represent. A few elements engaging in a patch of woods is cool, and historically accurate, but the entire battle taking place in the woods is not.

What frustrated me is that there was always that one guy who would place the maximum number of terrain pieces every single time, without fail. He’d cover the board in woods, steep hills, and marshes, and I’d know that there would be very little chance of completing the game under the time constraints of a tournament. It was often enough to make me wish I could just look at him and say, “How about we just call this a draw now instead of wasting an hour on nothing?”

Triumph! does something I like with terrain (and some things I don’t like, which I’ll get into later). They randomize the amount of terrain pieces you can use. You roll a die, modify it by the type of environment the battle is supposed to represent, and that determines how many pieces you can put down.

Now, this means that most battles, on average, should wind up with three or four pieces of terrain. With the previously mentioned game boards, this leaves a lot of room to play freely in. It’s also possible for there to be very little or a whole lot of bad going on the board—but nobody has control over it. That’s the kind of thing I like; it takes the decision to clutter the board out of the hands of the jerk who doesn’t know any better.

Skip down a bit to see what I don’t like about the terrain rules, or be patient and keep reading about good things.

  1. Troop Types

I like it when a game makes distinctions between types of troops. One of my larger criticisms of DBA was that Roman Legionnaires fought as well as medieval swordsmen, despite the significant difference in technology (well, metallurgy, really), style, formation, and historical successes. The same was true for Hittite Empire spearmen, who used relatively crude weaponry, and Greek spear phalanxes, which fought in much tighter formation. Greek spearmen were better than Hittite spearmen, they fought significantly differently, and yet both are treated identically.

Triumph! has a lot of different troop types. Like… a lot of different troop types. Way more than DBA—twice as many, at least. That may seem like a negative aspect, because DBA’s biggest draw is its simplicity, and to some extent, that’s true. There are three types of regular cavalry, for example: Horse Bow, Javelin Cavalry, and Elite Cavalry, each slightly different in terms of capability.

DBA had one. It was called “cavalry.” That was easier to remember, true, but wasn’t all that accurate in terms of history. Cavalry armed with bow did fight differently than that armed with javelin, and to different effect against different opponents.

The added complexity is a calculated tradeoff; yeah, it’s more stuff to remember, but it’s also cooler in terms of flavor. It also makes room for greater variation of armies.

 

Mixed

  1. Terrain Cards

As I read through the rules to deploy terrain, I came across a spot that started talking about terrain cards. These are basically preset configurations for terrain that you print out and select from at random when you’re setting up the board.

Basically, here’s how the terrain rules work:

  1. The person who won the terrain roll rolls a die to see how many pieces of terrain he’s supposed to put out. He picks out his terrain, and numbers each piece 1-6.
  2. He draws a terrain card.
  3. He then sets up the terrain so that it roughly matches the configuration on the card.

These cards split the board into six imaginary pieces. Each piece of terrain must follow the rules laid out on the drawn card; if it depicts piece number one touching the board edge, for example, then it needs to touch that board edge, and be within the section indicated (though there’s some wiggle room).

I get the objective; take some of the decision-making out of the hands of the person deploying the terrain and prevent them from screwing their opponent completely before the game even starts. The player still gets to make some decisions, and can move each piece he’s allotted around so long as they all fulfil the requirements (like touching the edges of two of the sectors).

That said, this is pretty needlessly complicated.

I don’t think that predetermined general terrain deployment is the way to achieve what (I assume) their goal is. I think that writing clear rules that prevent cluttering while keeping everything interesting is the way to approach this.

That said, there is one really big advantage to Triumph!—you don’t have to do it this way. My dad and I took one look at the terrain card rules and immediately said, “Nope.” So we didn’t bother with them, and instead put out terrain however we felt like it, though we did use the rest of the rules (like dicing for the number of pieces, sticking to the types of terrain, and so on).

I feel like this is one of those things that solves an ant infestation by burning down the house. Some people might like it this way—I know Flames of War, for example, has predetermined terrain setups—but that’s not how I roll.

  1. Meshwesh

“What is this nonsense word, Alex?”

Why, it is the name they have given to the database of army lists, dear reader. You can see it for yourself here—you don’t need the rules to look at it.

One of the biggest pains with DBA was searching through the lists at the end of the book for the army you wanted to build (or reassemble, like right before a tournament). The lists were in generally chronological order, split across a few periods, and had tons of text.

I spent a little bit of time gushing over the lists in the release of DBA 3.0, because they were excellently detailed, each providing a blurb about the army, the kinds of figures that should be used, and providing (often completely and totally inadequate) sources for determining the makeup of each.

But it was still annoying to look through them for that one thing you needed to check.

With Meshwesh, they made their lists not just freely available (which is a nice change) but searchable—by full or partial strings, too. You can type in “Anc” and immediately see “Ancient British,” right under “Ancient Lybian” (because they’re organized by year, not alphabetically, ya dummy). Even better, the in-period, historical enemies are listed right there, and you can click on them to be taken to that army’s page. This makes finding and screwing around with armies way easier.

That said, it is not friendly for newcomers. Not because it’s hard to use—that’s pretty easy, actually, and if you can’t figure it out, well, maybe you’ve got some other issues you should deal with. No, it’s a pain because you can’t have both the list and the rules open on your tablet or phone at the same time.

Right now, these rules are digital only. There’s no physical copy of these to be had, unless you decide to print the rules like a filthy savage. I didn’t foresee this issue, so I just had my tablet to set up the games.

As I was putting together the armies, I had to keep checking point values and advantages of particular elements. This meant that, each time I wanted to check, I had to minimize the army list, go to the terrible file manager on my tablet, find the rules, open them up, and scroll to the point value page (and the combat factor tables).

This sounds like a really petty thing to complain about, but I’m complaining nonetheless. It took me an extra ten minutes or so to put together each army, which is significant. My dad and I only had a few hours to play, and that’s time away from the game on nonsense issues.

It’s a pretty easy fix; update the tables on Meshwesh to also include the point values, at the very least. Give us a unified view so that we can at least assemble a legal army faster!

There’s also another potential hitch: Meshwesh is a browser-based application. That requires internet access. What if I’m playing in my friend’s basement? What if there’s a power outage? Wargaming is pretty much built to be played in low-tech environments; there’s a reason it’s been around for so long. I’m not averse to including technical solutions to problems like trawling through pages and pages of lists (and, to be fair, there are 650 army entries), but they’ve got to be as accessible as possible.

This kind of thing screams for a downloadable application with local storage. It’s built like an app already—standard search bar, hyperlinks, tables, the works. Let me download Meshwesh onto my phone so I can access it during the next snowstorm to knock out Long Island’s power grid (which is, apparently, made mostly out of dental floss and the wishes of children everywhere).

The army lists aren’t accessible anywhere else, either, so if the site goes down, nobody can play. I suppose they could always release this as a PDF, but then we’d lose all of the great functionality!

I like Meshwesh. I think it’s a big step in the right direction. But I need to be able to use it always, regardless of where I am.

And don’t make me close it to look up point values!

  1. What is a Battle Line?

The rules are, generally speaking, written pretty well. I was able to read them and understand just about everything—but that isn’t everything.

“Battle Line” is a concept that is unique to Triumph!. It is, I think, a pretty cool addition…if I understand it correctly.

Because I’m not sure I do.

If you look up an army on Meshwesh, you’ll see that there will be a big “X” marked under the “Battle Line?” column for certain troops. According to how I read the rules, this means that, in the event that someone is invaded, they deploy those troops first, before the invader deploys their army.

But… it’s not exactly explained well. From what I read, it basically means that these troops need to be deployed in the middle third of the board? But if you roll a one for the maneuver roll, you can also do a flank march, and flank march troops can be made up of eight points of battle line troops, and if your marked battle line is only made up of eight points of troops, I guess you can declare that they’re all going to flank march?

But can you actually do that?

Look, the rules are generally easy to understand, but there are some things that really could use expansion. There’s a section titled “Battle Line troops” that states that the battle line designation only affects deployment, but it doesn’t say how it affects deployment.

There are some armies on Meshwesh that don’t seem to have any battle line designated, either. Does that mean they don’t deploy at all, and that you just skip right to the invader’s deployment?

This is the kind of complaint that is probably due to this still being early access. I expect a lot of this to be addressed in updates in the future.

 

Conclusion

My gripes with Triumph! are all relatively minor. They’re either aesthetic or something that can be easily fixed. There’s nothing in here that’s outright bad.

Right now, I rate the game an 8/10. It’s very good, very well put together, easy to learn, and easy to play. There are a few things I’d like to see change, but nothing game-breaking.

Here are a few final stats for those of you who want to see what’s what:

  1. Expected Play Time: 10 minutes or so to set up, including building armies (once you’ve got the point values memorized, I’d imagine), about 30-50 minutes to play. Total play time somewhere between 40 minutes to an hour, give or take a few minutes.
  2. Money Investment: The rules themselves are $15 for the PDF version. You get the full rules, terrain cards, and a couple of quick-reference sheets (with combat factors, combat results, game setup steps, that kind of thing). For figures, expect each army to consist of somewhere around 12-16 stands, each with 3-4 figures. For 15mm, probably somewhere around $50-80 for the raw lead, depending on where you buy the figures. Assume the cost to be somewhere close to a DBA army with all of the options, which is a good guide.
  3. Accessibility: If you’ve played any wargame ever, you can probably pick this up pretty quickly. Guys move, you line up in corner-to-corner contact (so that the stands are flush), and then you roll dice. I’d rate this a 4/10 in terms of difficulty, on a scale I’ve just made up.

 

Anyway, this is a game from people who love fast-play ancient and medieval wargaming, who know what they’re doing, and who made a fun, simple game. Definitely check it out (and at least mess with those army lists).

You can buy the rules here.

You can see the army lists here.

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Category: General Reviews

Review: Daredevil Season Two

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted, internet. I’d apologize, but I’ve been busy! I’ve taken on a lot of recurring work over the past year, and it’s edged out most of my available free and/or work time. The good news is that I’m able to financially support myself again; the bad news is that it doesn’t leave me with an awful lot of time to write. That said, I’m doing what I can, and over the next couple of months, I fully intend to sink into a comfortable rhythm from which I can start producing some decent fiction.

Until then, I want to talk about Daredevil Season Two.

I’ve told pretty much everyone who will listen what an amazing time it is to be a nerd. For decades, nerd culture was shunted to the side, scoffed at, or was otherwise ignored and labelled “kid stuff.” The Spider-Man trilogy started to change that, but even their box office returns weren’t quite enough to begin calling that kind of thing mainstream. Batman Begins helped a lot, but even that felt more like a niche audience; the Dark Knight trilogy didn’t really catch on until… well, The Dark Knight, and that was entirely based on the performance of Heath Ledger as Joker.

No, the rise of nerd culture in the mainstream is, in my opinion, pretty much the result of Robert Downey Jr.’s insanely charming performance of Tony Stark and Jon Favreau’s guiding ideology for Iron Man. Eight years ago (yes, Iron Man came out in 2008), Hollywood proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that comic book movies could be made for adults, that they could be accessible by kids, that they could be financially successful, and that they could be done right.

You know the rest; Marvel began churning out new IPs until they couldn’t find any more; we’re getting Doctor Strange later this year, along with Black Panther (which sounds way more racist than it actually is) in 2018. I fully expect them to continue scraping the bottom of the barrel until they start using Namor, the Marvel ripoff of Aquaman, but I’m going to go ahead and see every single thing they put out, because I’m a slave to this kind of stuff. They also kind of have the highest batting average of any studio I’ve ever even heard of; they haven’t made a bad movie since the Hulk franchise was killed.

Anyway, Marvel proved that they could do camp and brightly energetic stuff early on, but there were a few people who liked the darker style that the Dark Knight trilogy is known for— the realism, the washed-out lighting, the brooding, and the edginess that makes you feel like every scene could play out at your local Hot Topic. Because their cinematic universe was built around colorful and exciting movies, they couldn’t exactly execute a tonal shift well enough to produce a hardcore series of films that fits the mood of Daredevil and still have it feel like a Marvel movie.

So instead they went to Netflix, where they were given thirteen hours to tell something dark, edgy, and interesting, without the insanely high stakes that the Avengers franchise needs in order to function as a vehicle.

Season One was pants-crappingly awesome. I loved every second of it, despite its flaws— and there were some. The narrative did drag in the middle of the season, they tried really, really hard to find something for Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Paige to do that was also plot relevant, and…

That costume. Oh, that terrible costume.

But I was able to overlook what was wrong with Season One mainly because of Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk. Every scene that guy was in was my favorite scene of the episode; he really was that good.

I was ecstatic to hear that it was cleared for a second season (pretty much moments after it aired), but I was left with a nagging doubt: could the series continue to be as good without the Kingpin to caulk up the cracks in the narrative? Continue reading

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Rules to Break: Show, Don’t Tell

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There is a rule that is often taught to creative writing students that might do irreparable harm to their prose: “Show, Don’t Tell.” I was told frequently that summarization and describing moods is terrible writing. Professors insisted that I canonize one of my least favorite writers of all time, Ernest Hemingway, for his minimalistic style that refused to resort to the petty internal monologues that other, lesser authors leaned on as a crutch.

I hate Hemingway. “The Old Man and the Sea” remains my least favorite book of all time, for its heavy-handed Christ allegories, its dour tone, and the lack of any sort of interesting story. The fact that it’s required reading for high school English students while books that will actually engage teenagers and children like “Harry Potter” are not remains one of the biggest reasons I did not become a teacher. God forbid we should teach recent and influential books to students– no, we should instead teach a sixty year old text about a senior citizen who goes fishing. Never mind that current students can’t engage with the text or identify with the era in which it was written. Let’s bore them, that’s a good idea.

Here’s a pair of sentences from Hemingway that should sum up his writing style if you’ve never read him before: “He went to the river. The river was there.” Pulled from a short story titled “Big Two-Hearted River,” this sentence duo is hailed as excellent prose. And it is, if you’re writing for English Literature professors and nobody else.

The reason I speak of Hemingway and my distaste for his writing is that he was a big supporter of “Show, Don’t Tell.” The rule, as you might guess, states that, rather than tell the reader what happened, what is happening, or what characters are thinking, you demonstrate it by action. Instead of writing “Mark was terrified,” you should write “Mark gasped in alarm and fright.”

The idea of the rule is to engage with the reader’s senses– taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing– and allow them to infer the implications. In a previous post, I explain some of the dangers of going overboard with descriptive writing.

In brief, overly descriptive prose takes up so much space and time that it might just annoy the reader. People don’t need details on every single piece of furniture in a room, the individual wrinkles on a character’s face, or the exact textual depiction of every leaf on every tree.

In fact, I prefer to do almost the opposite, especially when it comes to describing how characters look physically. In Catalya, for example, I describe the titular character as beautiful, with green eyes, and a musical laugh. That’s it. For Chuck, the perspective character, I only say that he wears glasses. His dad is described as a big man, as is his friend Alex. Andrew has a beard. And Catalya’s mom looks like her daughter. The closest I get to any sort of definitive description is Derek, who is detailed as tall, of indeterminate age, and with a long scar across his face.

I don’t give too many details for two reasons. The first is that, by excluding them, I allow the reader to fill in those details on their own. Catalya looks like whoever you want her to, and the same goes for the other characters.

The second is that Catalya clocks in at 121,000 words, already pushing the generally accepted limit of commercial fiction (though I think that’s a bunch of crap). If my style required excessive details, that word count would likely be upwards of 160,000– there are a lot of scenes and locations.

“Show, Don’t Tell,” on the other hand, demands those descriptions. Adjectives are a way of life for the style’s adherents, but they are never applied to mood or inner monologue.

This style focuses on prose rather than plot. Word choice and sentence construction are paramount. 

As I have said many times before, I firmly believe that good plots make good books. I think that before you ever put words on a page, you should come up with the best plot possible.

There are some benefits of the rule, however. Some scenes absolutely should be sensory and descriptive.

These are the types of scenes that add drama to the story. Details of a wedding scene should be plentiful. A first date might include descriptions of outfits and demeanor. The scenes done this way will depend entirely upon the story, its narrative arcs, and the writer’s discretion, of course.

The problem with relying too heavily upon it, however, is that it can drag the pace of a story right down to zero. I read a story once that had a thrilling chase scene; a dude was running from vampires through an office building. In the middle of the action, the narrative stopped for three paragraphs to describe the layout of a room the protagonist just entered. It then picked right back up, beginning with the protagonist leaving the newly-described room.

 

This is a rule that should be broken, and as frequently as you wish. This is especially true depending upon the point of view of your story.

Let me explain.

When you write in first-person, unless your perspective character is a mind reader, every other character’s actions are a case of “Show, Don’t Tell.” There is no vehicle to describe inner monologues, hidden emotions, or ulterior motives, except inferences made by the perspective character– inferences that can be wrong. Because every detail is viewed through the lens of another character, obviously the individual actions are open to interpretation.

That doesn’t mean that the same can or should be true of the perspective character. There is absolutely nothing wrong with narrating.

“I was scared. Scared that I would lose her.”

Works just as well as

“Monica, you aren’t thinking of leaving me, are you?”

Imagine, for a moment, a first-person POV book written entirely in “Show, Don’t Tell” style. No narration is given; all of the details are plentiful, and their implications are entirely inferred by the reader. Does the perspective character’s shuffling feet indicate nervousness or eagerness? That’s up to you, dear reader, because I can’t be bothered to tell you. What book on this planet would you want to read like that?

Well, you would be reading Fight Club. Chuck Palahniuk is a big proponent of “Show, Don’t Tell.” While I like his plots, I find his prose to be borderline unreadable. It reads like slam poetry. And while poetry is fine in and of itself, I believe that it has a place, and novels are not it.

Detail after detail assails you, with no break in the narrative, no exposition, just data, raw data, pummeling your brain until you see the scene. I don’t think that there is a wrong way to write stories, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t seem like one. I felt the same way about Jonny Truant sections of House of Leaves, which was written in a similar style. That, at least, had the saving grace of being a fascinating labyrinth of a book. Fight Club was just the most nineties book ever written (your job is lame and boring, there are no real men any more, and if you have a steady income and use that income to purchase things you think would look good in your house, you’re a sellout).

There’s nothing wrong with providing details. They’re good! Details can help you provide your reader with an escape, or give an insight into a character’s traits. But there absolutely must be a balance.

I work as a freelance editor, and I’ve worked on several client’s novels. (By the way, twenty thousand words is not a novel– hate to break it to you). Far too often, these first-time authors appear to have fallen into this trap of overly descriptive writing, and have, rather than providing a finished product that is well-written, have handed me a document that is chock full of purple prose. Every single line in one of them contained some kind of sensory description of the scenery or the characters present.

Like, I get it. The chair is brown, sagging closer to the floor after multiple generations of alcoholic Archie Bunker-wannabes have sat in it. We don’t need forty words dedicated to a freaking chair. It’s not even an important chair– it’s just there while two people are talking. Neither of them are even sitting in it! And it’s never mentioned again.

I’m not exaggerating, here. I deleted the chair paragraph (along with a lot of other things), and was given a lecture in return about how I don’t understand the symbolism of the chair. I got an email from this client telling me about how this freaking chair represented the patriarchy.

Look, I understand where a lot of you guys are coming from. I’ve got degrees in English Literature. I’ve read the stuff, written the papers, had the debates, and heard the lectures. It’s very easy to fall into this trap, to begin to believe that the average reader enjoys dissecting books until every last allegory is exposed, that they love to discover all of the hidden symbolism in each text, and that their open interpretation of what you meant when you described the home as Blue (with a capital “B”) is what drives you as a creator.

But you know what? It’s not true. It really, really isn’t.

The only way you can get away with stuff like that is if it isn’t heavy-handed. You know who wrote really tediously? J.R.R. Tolkien. That’s right, I said itThe Lord of the Rings changed my life, and set me on a course from second grade to who I became today, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t spend twenty damn pages describing the road upon which the Fellowship travels. I love that story, but won’t read it again until it’s time for me to read it to my kid.

Summarization and narration are important tools in a writer’s arsenal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your reader what your character is thinking or what they’re feeling. Not every single scene needs to be a sensory experience. I hear from a lot of people that it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. And I get what they mean, but, like, shouldn’t you make sure that you’re not detouring in Moscow to get to London?

The fact of the matter is that you have to strike an appropriate balance in your prose. You absolutely cannot focus on prose and sacrifice the plot. The truth is that we remember The Lord of the Rings because of the epic story, not the clean, crisp narrative.

And please, for the love of God, remember that description is not all it takes to write well.

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TV Show Review: Netflix’s Daredevil

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I am always consuming stories. To me, I don’t care if it’s from a TV show, a movie, a book, or a well-written video game; stories are stories to me, and the medium really doesn’t matter to me.

I also suffer from chronic insomnia, a condition I would not wish upon my worst enemy (except, perhaps, Kurt Russell, who knows what he did). I take medication for it, and it works pretty well, but it also takes about four hours before it starts to affect me (my tolerance is ludicrously high to sleeping pills, as I started taking them when I was around twelve).

Basically, since I also currently only work as a freelancer from home and sell my books (NOW AVAILABLE IN TRADE PAPERBACK! CHECK IT OUT!), I have an additional five to six hours each day that most people don’t. Most insomniacs still have to go to work in the morning; I’m already here.  Continue reading

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Tabletop Review: DBA 3.0

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I’m taking a minute today to break from my normal posting topics (literature and all things writing) to discuss my other hobby: tabletop war games.

I started playing when I was about ten years old, when my dad and I would make up nonsense rules for army men in the sandbox in my backyard. It wasn’t until I was about twelve, when my uncle David came down from New Hampshire for a visit, that I was exposed to organized rules for the first time. That was my earliest exposure to DBA. Continue reading

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Rules for Paper Writing: Best Practices

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I spent a couple of posts telling you guys what you shouldn’t do when writing papers. Today, however, I’m going to take some time to outline some things that you should do if you want to get a decent grade.

I put together some videos detailing the Fried Chicken Method, which was taught to me several years ago by my favorite professor, Dr. Ricciardi. It’s a pretty straightforward method that deals mainly with paragraph construction. It’s designed to be a system that can allow anyone of any skill level to write a solid paper. I’m going to take it for granted that you watched the videos, because I don’t like retreading the same ground twice, and it really is a lot of information to type out here. Just… just watch the videos, okay? I put a lot of work into them. They’re free.

Whether you decide to use the Fried Chicken Method or not, there are some things that everyone should do in their papers. Continue reading

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Writer’s Block: The Brutal Truth

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Every single writer who has been working for longer than a year or two has hit a wall. It’ll often happen at the absolute worst time, too. And there is absolutely nothing I or anyone else can say that will save you from it.

Sure, there are articles scattered across the Tubes of the Internet Machine, books filling half of the self-help section of Barnes and Noble, and everyone from psychics to motivational speakers all insisting that there is a silver bullet for Writer’s Block. The only trouble is that they’re full of crap. Continue reading

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Op-Ed: Common Core

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I’m taking a break from my normal format here to talk about some things that haven’t been sitting right with me for a while. As the title suggests, it has to do with the oft-reviled Common Core.

I have degrees in English Literature, History and Adolescent Education. One of the reasons I don’t hold a New York State certification for teaching is that I abandoned the career path after I completed my mandatory hundred hours of observation. Originally, I was poised to be placed in an English department classroom as a student teacher, and I would eventually become certified to teach History or English– and English teachers who are dudes are a rare commodity in New York State.

But I was turned off the job by a host of reasons (and the fact that I don’t have the right temperament to teach high school– I would’ve been fired for flying off the handle within a year). The most egregious thing was the curriculum, which I loathed. Continue reading

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Category: Essays | Tags: , , ,

Common Paper Writing Mistakes Continued: Five More Basic Errors

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In a previous post, I outlined simple mistakes that are made with startling frequency in college papers. Well, that didn’t cover nearly all of the basic flubs I’ve seen over the years.

For some, this will come as new information; for others, this will be an example of a crotchety old man yelling at the ocean. Considering that I’ve often said that I’m basically a twenty-something octogenarian, I’m okay with the characterization.

Here’s the rundown of an extra five errors. Continue reading

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Things Happening, Continued

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You might have noticed some disruption over the past couple of weeks to the post schedule, and for that I apologize. The truth is that I’ve been working on the next book rather frequently, and writing posts takes an awfully long time out of my day. For perspective, a typical fiction writing post is about 2,500 words, which takes me anywhere from two to five hours, depending on the amount of research I have to do.

I promised myself that I would never sacrifice quality for quantity, so rather than rush to push out something that was sub-par for the website, I’ve been taking the time normally spent writing one or two posts to work on the next book.

The book is titled Thoughtstuff, Volume One: Things in the Dark, Things in the Light. It is more than halfway done. I should have the rough draft completed by the middle of next week, and subsequent formatting and editing done by the fifteenth (give or take a few days). It will likely be available for purchase sometime shortly after that. Continue reading

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Category: News