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Jun
27th
2019

What Can we Learn From Mr. Kaplan's Mess? (One Extraordinary Time Wrap Up) · 11:04pm Jun 27th, 2019

If for whatever reason you're reading this before reading the first fourteen(!) parts of this blog series, then you might want to go back and start from the beginning. Though, for your own sake, you might be better off leaving well alone.

It's done, folks! All fourteen chapters of One Extraordinary Time have been read, documented, and thoroughly despised.


I cooked myself a victory steak last night in celebration. Best damn steak I've ever had.

So what's the deal with this blog, then?

For the sake of getting something positive out of this experience, I've decided that I'm going to do one last, comprehensive, point-for-point analysis of everything that's wrong with this book. We're getting educational here, folks. Because I've always thought that you can learn just as much about writing from a bad story as you can from a good story, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned here.

No one asked for this, but I'm doing it anyway. Because dammit, I need catharsis too.

And at the end, I'll post the Amazon review. So if a whole lot (and I mean a whole lot (I made charts for this. Charts!)) of discussion on the craft of writing isn't your deal, then feel free to skip ahead.

With that out of the way, let's get started!



To kick this thing off, let's take a look at the book's summary on Amazon and see just what it was we were promised.

During August of 2001, life is carefree for Freddy Will. His life changed after 840 million dollars came his way, courtesy of an enormous bank error, along with witnessing the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. This waiter becomes an unexpected national hero. Romance, suspense, tragedy and humor are all in this action packed Historical Fiction.

...

"Action-packed Historical Fiction".

Ah, yes. Chock full of Thrilling Restaurant Action. Astounding feats of jogging! Watch in amazement as our hero does literally nothing for weeks at a time!

Is there romance in this story? God no. Suspense? That would require a plot. Humor? Not in the intended way! Historical fiction? Barely.

The book is most definitely a tragedy, though. And I'm not talking about the classical kind. That would require character flaws.

So, with what the book is trying to be in mind, let's talk about what it ended up as.

Section 1: Nuts and Bolts

So one of the easiest thing to critique in writing is prose, the actual arrangement of words that make up a story. It's also one of the easiest writing concepts to begin to grasp, because it's all very visible, and very technical, and you can be objective about it.

Mr. Kaplan's prose starts off bad and gets worse. From the first paragraph:

Saturday, August 18

Freddy was happy, finally at the front of the line after waiting thirty minutes. It was always crowded at the Great NY Bank on a Saturday. “Can I help you?” a smiling, pretty female teller asked.
Freddy smiled back, wearing his favorite Yankees T-shirt. “Yes, can I have please have $50?”

to the last sentence:

“Oh, I think once you’re in my apartment it will become apparent.” Freddy gave her a boyish smile as they walked slowly arm in arm on this bright, starry night.

there are few common issues that don't rear their ugly heads across the putrid length of this book.

Mr. Kaplan's main issue here is actually a very common one across new writers: He only knows how to tell the audience things, not how to show them.

...[Freddy] was always a good kid and never in trouble. He always showed people respect. Now his guilt and remorse was so bad, he was having trouble living in his skin. He was crying loudly on the inside. Freddy needed to tell the public how sorry he was.

This sort of writing makes up the prevailing majority of the book, and it is bad. Note the way the narrator exposits to us exactly how the character feels, even though we as an audience know how he's feeling because we've had more than enough context (Freddy's just been called by Henry after the bank discovers his fraud) to infer it.

This is referred to as telling, and it is the default means of storytelling for most new authors. It is also the worst possible way to convey any kind of emotion, stakes, or drama.

The opposite of this is showing:

Freddy's breath hitched. He dabbed at his forehead with the back of his free hand; he was sweating, despite the November cold.

Instead of directly telling the audience how Freddy is feeling, we instead show how he's feeling by demonstrating how his emotions are affecting him. Given the context, and what we know about Freddy, we can conclude just from this that he's nervous and panicking and miserable. And as an audience, we feel that emotion, because we've been there too, and we may recognize those symptoms. This is the power of showing.

This goes for describing events, too:

Freddy felt good after a nice run. He pulled a paper with four more names out of his pocket. When he walked into the bank lobby, he was immediately greeted by bank security, who pleasantly asked if he would follow them to Mr. Anderson’s office. Freddy’s heart immediately sank. He feared this was the moment he had dreaded.

Prose like this is dry. it reads like, and I use this simile a lot, a shopping list.

  • Freddy felt good after a nice run
  • He pulled a paper with four more names out of his pocket
  • When he walked into the bank lobby, he was immediately greeted by bank security
  • Freddy’s heart immediately sank.

This is an incredibly important scene to the "story". I should not be able to directly transpose it into a bulleted list. Writing your scene this way makes it feel stiff, and emotionless.

Here's how it would look with showing:

Freddy stepped through the bank's doors. Having just completed his morning jog, he was slightly out of breath, but he was smiling. A new list of names sat in his back pocket, four in total; he reached around to retrieve it.

"Mr. Will?"

The smile froze on his face. Turning, his heart skipped. The man who had spoken was a security guard, and he wasn't alone. Two more men in security uniforms flanked him on either side.

"Y-yes?" Freddy asked, letting his arm drop back to his side. "Is there a problem?"

"Would you please come with us, sir?" The security guard at the front asked, cordial as could be. "Mr. Anderson would like to see you in his office."

Freddy's smile disappeared completely. He let out a sigh.

"Of course."

Now, it has to be said that telling isn't always a bad thing, either. Telling works well when what you're trying to convey isn't important to the scene at hand. For instance, if your characters start in one location, board a train, and the next scene resumes with them at a hotel at their destination, then it's absolutely fine—encouraged, really—to relegate that to exposition. And sometimes, you can even mix the two for greater effect:

Freddy's phone hand began to shake. His palms had begun to sweat, and he feared that at any moment he might pitch sideways and collapse on the rough surface of the New York sidewalk.

But—well, I said this in one of the chapters, but while Show, Don't Tell may be a very reductionist piece of writing advice (something I've complained about in the past), there is a reason it is typically taught first.

The counterpoint to prose is dialogue. Dialogue, of course, being text that is spoken or thought by the characters within the story (technically it's supposed to be specifically two or more people conversing, but for simplicity's sake it's often used to refer to speech in general, and that is what I'll be doing here).

Mr. Kaplan is very, very bad at dialogue.

“Frank, it’s fantastic that our son is helping so many people, including Thorton’s family. But how could he afford to give away over $500 million? Where in the world would he get that kind of money?” Julia asked.
“Honey, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I am overjoyed that he helped so many families. Many of them lost a cop that terrible day. When I talk with Freddy, I will ask him how he was able to make so much money,” Frank said.

It's harder to point at what exactly makes this bad because the real problem comes down to the fact that people don't talk like this. Frank's lines here are very formal, very choppy; there's no flow to them. They don't follow a consistent line of thought. They don't express any emotion, either, which is particularly bad in this case because he's just found out that his son is a multi-millionaire; the closest it comes is Frank telling us he's overjoyed, which suffers the same issues outlined previously.

This dialogue could be improved immediately by breaking it up into separate thoughts:

“Honey, I couldn’t begin to tell you." Frank shook his head. "I am overjoyed that he helped so many families. Many of them lost a cop that terrible day." He dropped the paper onto the table. "When I talk with Freddy, I will ask him how he was able to make so much money."

This is another thing Mr. Kaplan is bad at: he rarely if ever uses action tags, instead opting to go with more and more speech tags (said, asked, questioned, etc.) which end up being unnecessary most of the time. Now, despite what some morons people on the internet will tell you, there is nothing wrong with using simple speech tags, particularly 'said', repeatedly. The problem here is that the structure of the sentence gets repetitive, and that makes lines sound rote. You lose a lot of dynamism in your writing. Vary it up.

But here's the kicker. This one line:

Frank, smiling, shook his head in amazement. "Honey, I couldn't begin to tell you."

expresses more clearly and concisely every idea the original does. We see that he's happy, but also surprised. The line follows organically from the prior conversation. The implication that he's going to ask Freddy where he got all this money was already implicit in the scene, so we don't have to state it outright.

Like many things in writing, less is more, here.

Moving on to more technical issues: proofreading and formatting.

The former—well, should be self-explanatory; the book is riddled with errors, despite what I'm sure were Mr. Mrproofreader's best efforts—but the latter is something that actually ended up being the bigger issue a lot of the time, and most specifically in regards to changing scenes and points of view.

Scene and POV changes can be one of the most jarring things for a reader. They have to be handled very carefully by an author to avoid confusion, especially if there are going to be a lot of them.

The traditional way to do this in print is to use a scene break, which in most cases is just a new line between two paragraphs. In more expensive hardcovers, and in non-print media, like Fimfic, it is also common to use a Horizontal Rule:


Doing this makes it very clear to the reader that the previous scene has ended, and that we are now somewhere else, somewhen else, or in someone else.

And some people will even take this a step farther: when a scene ends and the POV changes, they'll use a special scene break specific to that character to let you know whose head we're jumping into. Generally this should be unnecessary (and never something to lean on) but it can help add clarity, which is important.

Mr. Kaplan elected to do none of these things, and instead feels comfortable switching scenes and characters between paragraphs, mid-paragraphs, and in at least one case, in the middle of a sentence. Doing this confuses the reader; they have to go back and re-read what's just happened to work out what's going on. This completely annihilates any kind of immersion... although you'll never get that with One Extraordinary Time, anyway.

The point I'm trying to get across here is that formatting is important, not just for readability, but also for creating a coherent narrative. This is the reason why one of the main barriers for approval on Fimfic ends up being formatting issues.

Incidentally, this story wouldn't have passed Fimfic's readability guidelines. It breaks the new speaker/new line rule a lot.

A reminder, before we move on: a significant amount of money was paid to an actual company to get this ebook formatted. There is no excuse for this.

Section 2: Characters

God, where to even begin.

Okay, so start off on a superficial level, one of the most irksome things for me while reading this has got to be the characters' names.

Specifically: Harry, Henry, Harris, Harriet, Julie, and Julia.

I will be the first to admit that I rarely remember the names of characters after finishing a book, or even in the middle of a book. My brain recognizes the general shape of their names and then moves on. I'm bad at names in real life, too.

But dammit, Mr. Kaplan, you didn't make it hard.

There are hundreds of thousands of first names out there. There is really no excuse for this. It makes keeping track of who's who far, far harder than it needs to be, and frankly it's just annoying. Names are important, folks.

Alright, so let's break down what a character is.

Characters, in stories, are to varying degrees made up of: a collection of traits, a motivation (also frequently called a want), a need, and a collection of flaws that prevent them from achieving their motivation and/or need.

Let's take, for sake of choosing a character everyone here probably is familiar: Twilight Sparkle, My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic, S1E2.

Twilight's main traits at the beginning of the season are that she's studious, practical, and has high standards for herself. Standard stuff.

Her motivation, in S1E2, is to find the Elements of Harmony and use them to stop Nightmare Moon from plunging her homeland into eternal darkness. This is what prompts her to start her quest.

Her need is a bit different. Twilight Sparkle needs to learn that there is more to life than books. She needs to make friends; this is what her mini-arc across the episode is, and what her general arc for several seasons to come focuses on.

This ties into her main flaw: Twilight Sparkle is not good at befriending other ponies. She puts more importance on her studies than she does other people.

As you can see, these four things are intricately linked. Twilight's studious trait is one of her greatest assets, but it's also part of her main flaw, and it's her flaw that that she needs to overcome in order to activate the Elements and save the day.

Great flaws are born from traits. Needs are flaws that must be overcome. And motivations are what gets a character off their ass and started on their journey to achieve their need... or not, in the case of a tragic character.

And in the case of Twilight Sparkle, that's not her only set of flaws/needs! She's also extremely high-strung, over-reliant on her magic and magical knowledge, and prone to bite off more than she can chew. And all of these flaws still spawn organically from her core character traits!

This is what makes Twilight a solid character, and it's why she's still a joy to follow even after nine seasons.

Of course, not all characters need to have needs, and arguably neither do they need motivations or even flaws. These are static characters, and there is nothing wrong with using them in a supportive role. Think early Celestia, for example.

But if your character is meant to have an arc (which they probably should if they're secondary cast, and definitely should have if they're a primary character) then it should be possible to break them down along these lines.

So, now let's take a look at Freddy Will.

What are Freddy's main character traits? Well, he's altruistic. Hard working. Loves his friends and family. And of course, he loves the Yankees.

Motivation will be addressed in the next chapter, so how about his flaws? Well, he's...

...Um...

...kind of rash, I guess? Doesn't always think things through? Sure, let's go with that, that seems to be what the end of the book points at.

In that case, Freddy's need would be to learn to sit down and think things through. But see, the thing is, that's not a lesson that's ever taught in this book Heck, we see him immediately taking on a new job at the end without so much as a question. So that can't be his relevant need.

The truth is, Freddy doesn't have a need for the purposes of this story. Freddy doesn't need to learn anything here. He starts the story being altruistic, gets more altruistic, and is then rewarded for his altruism.

We hope you've enjoyed No Moral Theatre.

Freddy doesn't have a need, which means he doesn't have an arc, and that makes him a static character.

Which is pretty much the death sentence for a protagonist.

Alright, how about our other main cast? Let's do Frank, as he's probably the best-defined character in the story, even moreso than Freddy.

Frank's main character traits are that he's strong-willed, has a very strong sense of justice, and is fiercely loyal to his wife and son. That's a good start.

Frank's flaws are that he's set in his ways, strongly opinionated, and that he has no patience for even the slightest bit of moral wrongdoing, no matter the context. That last one is not necessarily a flaw, but it is in the context of the story.

So far, so good. How about needs?

Well, the obvious need would be to learn to be more flexible in his thinking. That's good, that's a fine and respectable arc for a character. Does he achieve his need?

...No. Despite his flaws being directly challenged by his son's actions, pitting his love for his family against his sense of justice, the problem is swept under the rug in the end and he never ends up changing either way.

Okay, then if he has a need but fails to achieve it, is he a tragic character?

Also no. His failure to achieve his need has no impact on him or any other character in the end. Again, the whole issue just gets swept under the rug.

So Frank, despite being so close, is also a static character.

There's no point in going over his wife; she's pretty much just the token liberal. How about Freddy's love interest, Monica Spadolini? What are her traits?

Well, she's... in love with Freddy.

Yeah, no luck there. More on that in the "Romance" section of this review.

What I'm getting at here is that, in One Extraordinary Time, every character is static. I'm pretty sure the only actual instance we get of a character actually changing is the racist cab driver from chapter one!

And this is bad. It's bad because the progression of a story is around 80% the growth of its characters, 20% the actual plot. It doesn't matter how great your story is; if your characters are flat, then your book is flat.

Alright, let's look on the other side of things. Do we have an antagonist?

Well...

Section 3: Pacing and Storytelling

So first, let's define what an antagonist is, because it isn't synonymous with a villain. An antagonist is an external person or thing, that stands in opposition to the protagonist. The antagonist actively works against the main character achieving their goal; achieving their motivation. The two concepts are inextricably linked.

So what's Freddy's motivation? What's the inciting incident that puts him on his journey?

Well, there's actually three of these, and they occur in chapters 1, 3, and 7 accordingly. They are: the bank error, Harry's hospitalization, and 9/11.

Actually, let's put aside the discussion on antagonists and plot for a minute and talk about pacing.

Proper pacing is a very ephemeral thing, and it takes a lot of tweaking and revising to get it right most of the time. Of course, you've got your three act structure, your five act structure, etc., but these are just guidelines for story structure; they only give suggestions at best for pacing, and every story is going to be slightly different.

An amusing anecdote: ages and ages ago someone replied to a post in one of the writing groups about someone struggling with pacing with a spreadsheet outlining the exact word length of each sub-act of a number of major stories (might have been parts of the hero's journey, even, which is its own can of worms) and had averaged it out to use as a model for his own writing.

That guy was an idiot. Writing doesn't work that way.

Anyway, pacing is hard, takes time, etc.

One Extraordinary Time doesn't have pacing.

It just doesn't.

It's not even that it has bad pacing! There's just no attempt made at maintaining coherent pacing, or even a coherent structure, here at all!

Let me explain what I mean using the Freytag's five-act structure. Note: not all stories need to or should follow a five-act, three-act, or any other kind of act structure, but it's useful for illustrative purposes, and most stories can be generalized to fit it.

The five-act is made up of—well, five acts: the Exposition, the Rising Action, the Climax, the Falling Action, and the Dénouement. Your English teacher probably showed you this diagram at some point:

Once again, we'll be looking to Friendship is Magic as an example. This time, we'll be using S1E26, The Best Night Ever.

The Exposition is the setup. It introduces us to the world and the characters of the story. In the case of S1E26, this would be everything from the start of the episode up until the end of The Gala Song (today I learned that the name of that song is literally just 'The Gala Song'). It sets up what the Gala is and what each character expects to get out of it.

The Rising Action falls immediately after the Exposition. It is often kicked off by an inciting incident (the event that kicks off the plot), and is the build up of events that lead to the climax. S1E26 doesn't really have an inciting incident, but the rising action begins as soon as they enter the Gala and things start going wrong. It goes on until...

The Climax, where everything comes to a head. This is the big turning point in the story, the highest point of tension, where the protagonist(s)'s fates change, one way or the other. In the case of our example, this belongs to Rarity, and it's the point where Blueblood uses her as an equine shield, ruining her dress and her night.

Then comes the Falling Action, in which the conflict unravels and the plot moves towards its conclusion. In the case of S1E26, this is, in order: Rarity exploding at Blueblood, Rainbow knocking over the columns, Twilight saying it can't get worse, and then Fluttershy's mania-induced critter stampede. Celestia tells them to run, and they run like Tartarus.

And finally, the Dénouement, the ending. Conflicts are resolved. Things go back to (some relative state of) normalcy. For S1E26, this is the doughnut shop.

So, in essence, we get something that looks like this:

So. Now let's take a look at One Extraordinary Time.

Exposition: About two paragraphs.

Saturday, August 18

Freddy was happy, finally at the front of the line after waiting thirty minutes. It was always crowded at the Great NY Bank on a Saturday. “Can I help you?” a smiling, pretty female teller asked.
Freddy smiled back, wearing his favorite Yankees T-shirt. “Yes, can I have please have $50?”

Immediately after this is what would be the inciting incident—Freddy's bank error—which should kick the Rising Action.

Except it doesn't. What follows for the rest of the chapter—and for the next five—is more of the Exposition: introducing us to the characters and their lives.

And, I want to make it clear: you can absolutely start with the inciting incident, and you can absolutely combine the Exposition and the Rising Action. it's a form of en media res: you start the plot off right away, let us get acquainted with our characters over the start of the Rising Action. This is fine!

But that's not what happens here. What Mr. Kaplan has done is given us the inciting incident, and then gone, "Wait, shit, lemme get back to you on that."

So the exposition continues until chapter three, where we hit another inciting incident: Harry's accident.

He got to 84th and Lexington when he saw a car going way too fast. It made a sharp turn, screeching. Then he heard a loud thump. Freddy ran over, and his heart started pumping quickly as he saw a black guy on the ground, spewing blood on the street. The driver who hit him was nowhere to be found. Freddy, nearly panic-stricken, asked, “Can you hear me?”

And this does kick off a rising action... but it doesn't go anywhere.The story is back to Exposition by the end of the chapter. It's like a mini speed-bump of actual plot.

The actual rising action doesn't start until Chapter seven—halfway through the book—when 9/11 happens.

So, something you never want to hear your partner say: "where's the climax?"

That's the thing.

One Extraordinary Time doesn't have one.

The closest candidate in the book is chapter 13, in which the bank finally manages to pull their finger out of their ass enough to realize that eight hundred million dollars has gone missing. But a climax is supposed to be the point where the conflict comes to a head; this is just the introduction of a conflict, which is the job of the Rising Action.

What would have been the story's climax is Freddy's trial. It would have been the point where tensions were highest, where Freddy would truly have to confront his actions and their consequences, where the action would have begun.

But we don't get a trial.

What One Extraordinary Time has is an anticlimax. And it's the oldest in the book: the deus ex machina.

For anyone who might need a refresher, a deus ex machina (literally 'god from the machine') is a term coined in ancient Greece, wherein it was used to refer to the unfortunately common practice in Greek theatre of having gods (oft portrayed using cranes and harnesses, hence the 'machina') resolve the conflict of the play and rush it to a conclusion. Nowadays, it can refer to any force external to the main characters which comes in and forcibly solves the central conflict.

Deus ex machinas aren't inherently bad (most things in writing aren't, and if you want a great example of a story that pulls this off masterfully, look no further than Principal Celestia Hunts the Undead). But here, the intervention prevents us from reaching the point of climax. It means that the characters never have to actually solve their own problem, and they do not have to grow, and they do not have to learn anything. Once again:

We hope you've enjoyed No Moral Theatre.

This is like cutting off the head of someone giving a speech minutes before they make their conclusion, and it is painfully unrewarding.

After the anticlimax, we slam headfirst into the Dénouement; the restaurant scene at the end, where everyone is happy, all interpersonal conflicts are abruptly resolved (not by actually addressing the underlying issues causing them but by removing the thing that kicked them off), and the guy gets the girl.

In the end, the pyramid for One Extraordinary Time ends up looking like...

Well...

I'll just let it speak for itself:

So let's circle this back around to antagonists, and more specifically, conflicts. What is the central conflict of One Extraordinary Time?

It's the bank trying to take back its money.That's the only thing remotely resembling a conflict in this entire story.

The central conflict of this book only begins to become relevant in chapter 13.

I want to let that sink in for a moment. That's like if Nightmare Moon only showed up three minutes before the end of S1E2.

And then got shot before Twilight could get the Elements.

What a wildly different show that would have been.

What I'm really trying to get at here, folks, is that this book wasn't planned. It wasn't plotted. At no point was there any attempt made to wrangle the events within it into any kind of narrative.

What we have instead is a listing of all the events that occurred between August and Novemeber in the life of Freddy Will. Raw. Unedited. Unpiloted by its author, the story meanders on forever. Plot points occur when they feel like it. Events happen and then mean nothing. Conflicts arise only when the narrative decides they should be relevant again. Inconsequential things drag on forever, and important things are given no time at all.

That may be how things happen in real life, but we're writing fiction. And fiction is a streamlined, coherent version of reality. It's reality but it makes sense.

One Extraordinary Time is neither realistic nor coherent, and I think that's the most confusing thing of all.

Section 3.5: Themes

What is One Extraordinary Time about?

I postulated early in the reading that it was about New York, and I stand by that.

For the first ten chapters.

After that, I have no idea what it wants to be, and neither does the story. Focus changes abruptly halfway through chapter 11 and the story becomes a romance. Then the focus changes again to Freddy's legal troubles in chapter 13. It was enough to give me whiplash.

Because that's the weird thing, right: The story was actually thematically consistent for the first ten chapters. That was the only thing it had going for it! It wanted to celebrate New York, the city's history, and how it survived after the worst attack on the USA post Pearl Harbor. It didn't do a good job of doing that, but it was still trying!

And then abruptly the story stopped being about that and started being about Freddy and Monica. It felt like I'd stumbled into a different book. Again: a lack of cohesion. If you're going to branch off into other plotlines, weave them into your main. Don't just stop the plot; that's only going to lose you all the readers who were enjoying it.

Not that anyone was, in this case, but the point stands.

And actually, speaking of Freddy and Monica...

Section 4: Romance

Said it before, I'll say it again: I don't know shit about romance.

And I was going to do a long thing here where I painstakingly tried to go through and point out why Freddy and Monica's relationship is poorly written, but then I realized that I didn't have to.

Because I know Aragon. And Aragon knows about as much about romance as me and has the balls to write a fantastic blog series about it anyway. By sheer coincidence, the first one happens to cover the exact issues we see in One Extraordinary Time. So go pop that open in another tab, read it, read the rest of his romance blogs because they're great, and then come back here in like a week when you remember that there was a reason you started following the man.

Also, as a supplement (and in case you skipped over it before), Chuckfinley on Alien Shipping Syndrome.

What I will add to this topic, however, is why Freddy and Monica's relationship is not just poorly written, but poorly conceived. There are several reasons for this:

1.) This relationship is sleazy.

It's sleazy because of the circumstances. I said it at the time: Freddy has made her indebted to him by giving her family money. He has an unfair amount of power over her because in some twisted sense, she thinks she owes him. This is how abusive relationships start.

Add on to that the fact that her life over the past month has been a massive emotional rollercoaster, and she's probably not going to be in a great state of mind anyway to be making decisions like this. By going along with this, Freddy is actively taking advantage of her.

If you wanted to make this work, then you could have had Monica meet Freddy before she knew who he was, and then used the reveal to create drama. Or had them both have mixed feelings about starting a relationship and decide to take it slowly, or to wait. Or just let them be friends.

2.) Monica is treated as a prize.

Monica is given to Freddy as a reward for his altruism. Because he's such a Nice Guy.

I thought we'd started to move on from this trope, but apparently not.

3.) It's used to create forced drama.

Freddy casts Monica away for the sake of her own feelings. Because he's such a Nice Guy.

This is cheap, cookie cutter drama. It's been done a million times before. It was stupid then, too. It's not meaningful to either of these characters, and it's not meaningful to the book, or to the audience, either.

It's dimestore paperback nonsense and I won't stand for it.

4). What it means for the rest of the story.

When the romance starts, the narrative takes a hard swing into romance. It basically becomes the main plot of the book for the next few chapters.

That makes all the events that led up to that point setup for this romance plot. That makes 9/11 set up for this romance plot.

And I'm not saying that you can't have romance after a tragedy. But to shift the focus so thoroughly that the tragedy becomes almost a footnote is just disrespectful. You've turned tragedy into a plot point so that these two characters can bang. This is not okay.

And speaking of tragedy... it's time for the elephant in the room.

Section 5: The Elephant in the Room

So, the elephant in the room: Mr. Kaplan and 9/11.

I think we can all agree that One Extraordinary Time is an awful, awful portrayal of an awful, awful event. I shouldn't need to explain that. It's insincere, clunky, and emotionally manipulative. It also just plain sucks.

This raises the question:

Should Mr. Kaplan, and other amateur writers, try to tackle these sorts of subjects?

I'm going to preface this section by saying that MrNumbers made several of the points I'm about to make better, and he did so in 2017. I'm referring to the Hazardous Materials blog, which is one of the oldest things to ever be pinned in #writing-help, and it has seen an immense amount of use there. Go read it if you haven't already.

There are topics that need to be handled delicately. And people with little to no writing experience—or personal experience—are not equipped to handle these topics delicately. Mr. Kaplan is one of these people.

I'm going to say this straight up, with no hesitation: beginners should be discouraged from trying to do this. It's harmful for others, its harmful for their own capabilities, and frankly it's just in poor taste. Learn some tact, and come back when you know what you're doing.

"But if people aren't allowed to write about these things, then how are you supposed to learn how to handle them properly?" you may ask.

But here's the thing:

You don't learn how to handle these properly by writing about them.

Writing more suicide fics will not make you better capable of writing about suicide. Writing more rape survivor stories will not make you any more qualified to write rape survivor stories. Writing about 9/11 does not make you an expert on writing about 9/11.

You learn to write these things by learning to write. You want to do hazardous topics justice? Learn how to create strong, relatable characters first. Learn how to weave emotion into your prose without making it just FEEL SAD. Learn how to construct a conflict so that it's equal parts meaningful and engrossing. In doing so, you are equipping yourself with the tools that will allow you to handle things like rape, suicide, and 9/11.

And I would even go so far as to say that tackling hazardous subjects like these will make you learn less overall, because what you're focused on is the idea, not the mechanism. You aren't paying attention to how characters talk, or grow. You aren't learning how to create a meaningful conflict; the conflict's been given to you already. You aren't learning how to make your characters feel like real people because you're too busy making them into vessels to talk about the thing you really care about.

You will learn far, far more about how to handle delicate topics from writing low-stakes, low-concept stories than you ever will from writing about 9/11.

Here's where this differs, though. A lot of the above (and all of Numbers' original blog) is directed at people who have not experienced the sorts of things they are writing about.

But tragedies affect a lot of people. In Mr. Kaplan's case, he did live through 9/11. So did I. So did (probably) all of you.

Is it wrong to discourage people from attempting to process their emotions through writing, even if they're amateurs? Don't they have that right?

Yes. They do have that right.

But there's also a responsibility that goes along with it.

If you want to work through something through writing, then go for it. It's a very healthy way to do so. I will never discourage anyone from this.

But as soon as you release that story in a public forum, be it Fimfic, the Amazon Store, or even actual store shelves, it stops being a personal piece. Now it is something separate from you, and something separate from the original context in which it was written. Now it matters how you handle delicate subjects.

Because the mishandling of subjects like this can cause harm. They can cause anger. They can bring back memories of things people really don't want to think about, and they can cheapen them. They can make horrible, horrible things feel mundane. They can spread misunderstanding. They can make people who are going through the thing you're describing feel they are wrong because what they feel doesn't match up with what you're saying, and the things you've said will help don't help, and they're at a fragile enough state in their lives to believe you.

Words are powerful. You have the right to use them, but if you're going to inflict your words on others, you have the responsibility to make sure you've done a good job.

If that doesn't scare you, then you have a long way to go, my friend.

And now, what you've all been waiting for:

The Amazon review, which I will be posting shortly after this blog.


This is a book for no one.

If you are looking for a book to read, this will disappoint you. You will put it down after the first poorly-written chapter in which nothing happens, or perhaps the second chapter, in which nothing happens, or perhaps the third, or the fourth, or the fifth, or the sixth.

If the idea of a story about an ordinary man suddenly becoming rich appeals to you, this will disappoint you. The protagonist is a boring piece of wood who does nothing with his wealth for the majority of the story. He spends more time jogging and waiting tables than he does anything else.

If you are looking for a powerful piece about the horrors of living through and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, this will disappoint you. And it will make you frustrated for how blandly it is portrayed.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, then this will disappoint you. You will find it to be closer to a history lecture, and not the fun kind, and not a particularly accurate one half the time, either.

If you are looking for a touching romance in the wake of disaster, then this will disappoint you. If the main character is a wooden board, then his love interest is a block of soap. The portrayal of love in this story is level with the understanding of a particularly naive sixteen-year-old.

If you are looking for some cheap reading, and you looked at the price, and you said to yourself, "Eh, it's only three dollars," then this will disappoint you. It isn't worth it. This is the kind of book someone else should have to pay *you* to read.

And if you saw the name of this book's editor and thought this might be a fun story to have a laugh at the expense of, then you will only make yourself miserable. There is no mirth to be had here.

This is a book for no one. There is not one single redeemable quality of this story upon which I could recommend it to someone. It fails at everything it tries to do. It fails at having a plot. It fails at having even remotely interesting characters. It fails at portraying one of the most devastating events in American history. And it fails at being even the slightest bit amusing in how bad it is.

This is a book for no one.

Don't inflict it upon yourself.


And that's a wrap, everybody!

If you enjoyed this little series of blogs about me torturing myself live for your enjoyment, then maybe consider looking at some of my stories. I'm told that at least some of them might be good. There's also this old thing that I don't like to talk about, but I've been told I should shill it more often. Do what you will.

Either way, thank you for putting up with the blog spam. And if you aren't already following Estee then, like, I dunno what to tell you. Go do that. I swear that's not the Stockholm syndrome talking.

Incidentally, the book I gave them to read arrived in their post box on Monday. It's not as bad as this one (and, really, considering we've both had to read through this one, I think that's a blessing), but it sure ain't good, and I hope it will be entertaining.

Its author is actually quite famous, particularly in her home country, and is a New York Times Bestselling Author. Statistically speaking, some of you probably read some of her other novels when you were younger, considering her most famous work has sold gangbusters and even got a (pretty lackluster) movie adaptation.

What Estee will be reading, however, is not her most famous book, and in fact seems to have been largely ignored by fans and critics alike, despite selling over 1 million copies. Its two sequels don't even have Wikipedia pages. One of them isn't even mentioned on the first's Wikipedia page.

So, Estee, if/when you read this:

Your turn.

Yours in sadomasochism and thank god it's over,
-RB

Comments ( 11 )

This book if you want to call it that is evil

RB_
RB_ #2 · Jun 27th, 2019 · · ·

The truest irony, and the perfect ending to this saga:

cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/268412583160184832/593945343780061184/unknown.png

GG, Mr. Kaplan. GG.

Having dated a particularly naive 16 year old (while being of the same age myself) and looking back I assure you even they would not be able to produce such wooden and poorly executed romance.

Thank you for your service, I sincerely hope you never have to do it again. It was a pleasure to read through your editorial review of the monstrosity, actually.

5080698
Apparently it's just a general Amazon policy that you need to have spent $50 to leave reviews? Get spendin'! The world needs to be warned! :rainbowwild:

As of right now Amazon is showing 0 reviews for this work so I'm not sure why that is if you left one.

I just had a thought on what would actually be a good reason, narratively, to change POV missentence; the POV character is possessed slash mind controlled slash something like that and the jarring change is part of the experience. It'd be tricky to do but it might work very well if it could be done right.

And then got shot before Twilight could get the Elements.

What a wildly different show that would have been.

I want to know who is holding the smoking gun. Is it the Gluemaker or Celestia? Or some guard we got to know for about five minutes who we never thought would be relevant again? Because depending on who took the shot is how things would go afterwards.

then come back here in like a week when you remember that there was a reason you started following the man.

Ha! Jokes on you RB_ I'm already following Aragon so you're not getting rid of me that easily!

I thought we'd started to move on from this trope, but apparently not.

We will never truly escape it. Even if the human race changes so much to not even have gender(s) anymore this trope will still be around in some form.

So did (probably) all of you.

This year it will have been eighteen years since 9/11 happened. So we might have a few people who were born into a post-9/11 world around.

Man's hilarious.

him to read arrived in his

Again with the gendered pronouns.

5080698
Oh, that explains why there is no review...

Thanks for the breakdown RB_, and thanks for suffering for our enjoyment. Just, don't do it again any time soon. Please. Give yourself time to heal.

I am glad Estee mentioned this again, since i'd read yoru first blog post and then clean forgot about it (which meant I just binged the whole thing, when I probably could have been doing something useful with my time, like finishing that level of War for the Overworld or something); I salute you, for you heroism for standing against crimes against literature. You have endured what this Lich could have not.

*salutes*

(I Have to say, at about chapter 10-ish, before the romance, I was going "well, I can sort of think maybe this was just a way of trying to do a fix-fic for 9/11, to maybe on some small level at least lessen the tragedy if only one some fictional other world," and then we hit the romance and I was like "no, no, this is just utter crap.")

"Action-packed Historical Fiction".

Ah, yes. Chock full of Thrilling Restaurant Action. Astounding feats of jogging! Watch in amazement as our hero does literally nothing for weeks at a time!

this reminded me of a fantasy book i read PART of once.
i think it was a spin-off of an existing novel...at least i HOPE it was.
the main characters are walking down back-roads, AVOIDING battles during a war, trying to warn people ABOUT the war, and occasionally hearing rumors and gossip ABOUT the war. after a few chapters of them NEVER even SEEING any action, i got bored and quit reading.
IF i had read the original books FIRST the gossip scenes MIGHT have been mildly amusing.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

That's some solid One Extraordinary Time fanfiction you got there

Whoof. This is a good blog, though. You turned that coal into at least a halfway decent looking ruby.

I started just speed-scrolling around Chapter 10.
I had to see whether there was anything to justify the cover art.

I'm sorry you had to suffer through that book.
Earlier on, I'd considered jokingly saying, "Better you than me" but no; with this book it's a case of "better no one than anyone".

*shakes off the dross*
Eurgh.

Just wanted to mention that I'm late getting to this blog series, but it singlehandedly got me to throw in on your Patreon. The level of dedication to investigating the trainwreck, and especially the way you picked it apart for some sort of redeeming lesson at the end, was tremendous. Thank you for the effort, and the solid writing advice.

Thanks for writing this, I actually had a lot of fun reading your blog. It has been a few months, since I went through this series, but I ended up not leaving a comment. Oh well, better late than never right?

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the links. They really helped me. I ended up giving Chuckfinley a follow since I really liked he's take on A.S.S along with he's recommendations for Dean Wesley's: Writing and Opinions webpage.

Looking forward to seeing more from you.

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