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Backflipping through reality at ludicrous speeds. What does RB stand for, anyway?

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What Can We Learn from Mr. Boutin's Mess? (RB Vs. Empress Theresa, Wrap Up) · 5:58pm May 17th

Previously, on Empress Theresa:

The end!

And now:

Welcome to the educational part of the series. If you're just joining us, I recommend going back and reading the rest of these blogs first, starting from the first chapter. Otherwise, you might not get what's going on.

Or, y'know, don't. Either works for me.

From the author's website:

A websearch on the keywords 'empress theresa norman boutin' yielded twenty-eight websites trashing Empress Theresa. It must be a new world record.

What group of people would do this and why? Consider it as you read about Theresa's personality below.

A bad book is ignored. Why are those people there?

A mediocre book is ignored. A bad book is fascinating.
I believe there's a lot to be learned from pulling apart writing that doesn't work. That's why I wrote this series, and it's why this part exists.

So put your science hats on, folks. Get out your scalpels.

It's dissection time.

Part 1: Doing Research

I didn’t have to do research. It was all in my head. Of course I looked up a few facts like the amount of gold in Fort Knox, the tectonic source of Antarctica, and the density of xenon, but 99.9% of the story came out of my memory.

I don't think I need to spend much time on this one. You're all smart people, after all. You've seen the kind of lampooning I and others have done of some of the absolute nonsense that graces the pages of this book.

As a writer, you need to be willing to do research. You're going to be doing a lot of Googling and wiki-diving. And that's a good thing! None of us know everything. You learn a lot of interesting things, doing this sort of work. It's a perk of the job.

And sometimes you'll be in over your head, and that's okay, too! Find someone else who knows more than you and ask them. The internet is filled with knowledgeable people who love to show off how much they know; it's a resource you can tap.

Don't just assume you know things. If you're even the least bit unsure, double-check. Otherwise, people like me are going to spend just as much time fact-checking as we do reading your book.

Part 2: Structuring a Plot

From an internet troll's 'review' (??!!) on Amazon......


"There are parts throughout the novel where it was complete agony for me because there's nothing going on. " 


I have a list of 34 'spectacular and riveting' events in Empress Theresa. That's an average of one event every 13.64 pages. How many stories have you read that can keep up that frantic pace?

I don't know if I could list thirty-four 'spectacular and riveting' events in this book, but regardless, this is a bad measure. You can't write a book on averages.

What do I mean by this? Well, I'm talking about structure.

You've probably all seen this diagram before, at the very least because I used it in the last one of these we did:

This is Freytag's five-act structure. It's not the only way to structure a story, but it is a useful way to take one apart.

The specifics of each part of the five-act aren't important this time. What I want you to pay attention to is the shape.

We start with the exposition. This gives way to the rising action, which builds until we reach the peak of the story, the highest point of tension, the climax. The end of the climax leads us into the falling action, which brings us smoothly to the conclusion of the story, and then to the dénouement, the end of the central conflict and everything else that wraps up the story.

This structure isn't rigid; it can be bent and smoothed and stretched in any number of ways and still work just fine. But it is a great example of how a book builds, how individual events can come together to be part of a greater whole.

Empress Theresa starts with exposition, and it ends with dénouement. But, and this is the critical question: what is the rising action of Empress Theresa? What's the falling action? And, most critically: what the heck is its climax?

Is it when she saves the world from the lack of wind? Is it when she lands her plane in New York? Is it taking over North Korea? How about when she puts the world into suspended animation?

Here's what I'm trying to get at, folks: Empress Theresa lacks an overarching structure. There are many events in the book that could themselves be broken up into act structures, but the whole book ends up just being a collection of these (and even in microcosm, these mini-arcs are paced and structured bizarrely). It's a book of events; it isn't a solid, singular story.

And many of the events in the book serve very little purpose in the overall whole. Consider the fact that you could remove parts like North Korea bombing Theresa's water columns, or Theresa flying the passenger plane, or even Theresa losing the use of her legs, and the rest of the story would remain, for the most part, unchanged. These events are filler; they are the result of an author who is trying to keep their average of 'spectacular and riveting events' up. Mr. Boutin is afraid you are going to get bored, and so he writes scenes like these, not realizing that scenes like these are part of the reason the book is so boring.

Empress Theresa is a sprawling, poorly-structured mess. And that's part of the reason it's so agonizing to read.

Another reason for that is:

Part 3: Characters and Narrative Dissonance

The bulk of this is going to be about Theresa. The reason for this is quite simple: none of the other characters matter. This book is about Theresa; her name's in the title, she's the narrator, and it's her who saves the day.

The only character who isn't basically interchangeable with anyone else is Steve. Oh, Steve. How loathsome you are.

But back to Theresa: what does the book want us to think of her?

Well, it wants us to think of her as the perfect person. A person who follows her conscience. A person who never lies, never cheats, who is humble and kind and intelligent and courageous. In essence, she is a good person.

This is how the book, and Mr. Boutin, see Theresa.

But is that how she really is?

Well, if you've been reading along, you know that the answer to that question is no.

In her speech and actions, Theresa reveals what she really is. She's vain. She's vindictive. She's unpleasant to others. She's self-centered. She's reckless, and she's not as smart as she thinks she is.

And this dissonance, between what the book is telling us and what the book is showing us is, I think, a big part of what makes her not work as a character.

See, you can have a good protagonist that is all of these things. There are plenty of examples. But the difference here is that in those stories, those flaws are treated as flaws. Here, the book is unable to recognize them as flaws, because it can't recognize that Theresa's character has any flaws.

Here's the deal folks: a 'perfect' character is rarely actually perfect. The author—and their extension, the narrative—just thinks they are. It's why characters like this are unpleasant to read about, rather than simply bland.
Here's what Mr. Boutin has to say, on his website:

Q: A protaganist with flaws would be more interesting.

A: A major theme of the story is that good people do good in the world. Giving her a drug problem or sexual promisuity would add nothing to the theme and distract from it.

In the story, Theresa makes a comment to PM Blair, "Yeah, well, people with problems don't change the world." At this point Theresa is not yet aware of the great demands that will be made on her, but Blair immediately understands the importance of her comment. Someone who will be as powerful as Theresa may become better be an exceptional person or else "...we are all lost."

The story could only be written once and then the story goes on the shelf forever.

I didn't want a million women coming at me saying, "Thanks a lot! There'll only be one Empress Theresa and you gave us a drug addict and slut. You couldn't give us a better hero than that? You couldn't give us a better model for our daughters?"

I did.

There's a fundamental misunderstanding, here. A character flaw does not have to be as extreme a drug problem or sexual promiscuity. In fact, the latter isn't necessarily a flaw (though Mr. Boutin would likely disagree), and the former may not qualify as a character flaw at all, depending on the definition you want to use.

So, how would one fix Theresa's character? Well, I think bridging the divide between her character and what the narrative thinks of her character is a good place to start. I can think of two solutions. One might be a little controversial.

The first is for the narrative to acknowledge her existing issues. This would make it possible for her to grow, as outlined above.

The second would be to actually make her as perfect as the narrative wants her to be.

I know what you're thinking, but stick with me for a minute. I think that, if Theresa was actually humble, was forgiving, was, essentially, a saint... she'd actually be so innocuous as to be harmless. She'd still be bland, don't get me wrong, but you can still root for a bland character. It's much more difficult to root for someone you don't like than someone you don't care about. And, with the narrative/character divide healed, it would leave us more room to focus on the story itself.

I also think it would better illustrate what I believe to be the book's central thesis, which means it's finally time to ask the question:

Part 4: What Is This Book About?

I'd like to posit, and I think Mr. Boutin would agree with me on this, that this book is about the following premise:

Good people do good things. Bad people do bad things. Be a good person, and you will do nothing but good.

How do we define a Good Person? How do we define a Bad Person?
Well, it's easy to see what Mr. Boutin thinks.

Theresa sums up the human condition in a single sentence: "We're lost in this confusing world unless we follow the directions of its Maker."


Do events create the person? I don't think so. This would seem to negate the concept of free will. If a person's character depends on his experiences then "who can be saved?" as it says in the story of the rich man who turned away saddened because he had much. Apparently whether you end up good or bad is a matter of chance.

This is not the message I wanted to give.

Theresa starts out good before the story's events begin. She doesn't change. She has free will and chooses to be as she is.

Theresa is, of course, one of the Good People. The circumstances around her (being brought up in a middle-class, white, nuclear suburban family in a privileged first-world country, being fortunate enough to be born without any form of disability, having 'the good genes', as it were, having good parents) do not factor into the equation as far as Mr. Boutin is concerned.

And then there are people who aren't so good, who cheat on spouses, who are promiscuous, who are troubled by drugs, alcohol, bad companions, mental illness, petty crime, or violent crime. None of these things apply to Theresa.

Mental illness, something that you cannot control if you are unlucky enough to be born with or predisposed to, makes you a Bad Person. Being brought up with the wrong people makes you a Bad Person. Stealing food when you have none makes you a Bad Person.

I am a Bad Person, according to Mr. Boutin.

Mr. Boutin talks about free will. I see no trace of that in this argument.

I don't like this way of thinking. In case you couldn't tell.

I also want to remind you of something Theresa says in the book at one point:

"Yeah, well, people with problems don't change the world."

Not only is this patently untrue, it demonstrates clearly that this is the thesis of the book. Bad People, people with problems, will never do Good Things. They can only do Bad Things.

This idea explains a lot about why Mr. Boutin acts the way he does. Indulge me in psychological analysis for a minute: I believe that, fundamentally, Mr. Boutin believes himself to be one of the Good People. Since he is a Good Person, he must therefore do Good Things. His work must be Good; he feels he deserves as much.

So when people criticize his work—well, his work is Good. That means the people who are criticizing his work, criticizing him... well, they must be the Bad People. They are the people who don't live by their conscience, who are unintelligent, who are liars. His work can't be bad; his critics must be conspiring against it.

Which leads me to perhaps the biggest lesson we can take away from this whole thing:

Part 5: How (Not) to Take Criticism

It is quite common for an author to feel like what they are currently working on is the single best piece of literature anyone has ever written in the history of mankind. Normal, even. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a good attitude to have while writing! It's motivating, and it'll keep you working at your best.

But once you're finished, once you've put your proverbial pen down and let the afterglow fade, you need to be able to let go of that feeling.

This is one of the reasons it's a good idea to wait a while after you finish writing before you start editing. Time reveals the flaws in your art that you couldn't see while you were making it.

Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't take pride in your work. You made something, and that's incredible! Most people never do. Pat yourself on the back. No, what I'm saying is that you need to be able to look at your own work critically, something I hope this series can help you do.

If you aren't able to do this, if you can't let go of the idea that your work is perfect, then, well...

Then you'll end up like Mr. Boutin.

The GENIUS of Empress Theresa

Empress Theresa raises the bar of modern day writing in many ways.

Let's take time to learn a little about the human flavor of Empress Theresa. Quotations will do it. Internet trolls will hate this!


Somebody wrote this Amazon listing 'review' on June 13, 2017;


This is the single worst book I've ever read. I didn't buy it, because you don't deserve money. I downloaded a free version and slogged through the perverse, lewd, disgusting Christian propaganda that is this book.

Please just... never write anything ever again. Ever.



Well, that says it all, doesn't it? "perverse, lewd, disgusting Christian propaganda"? Have you every seen anything that blasphemous? None of the dozens of other trolls objected to this remark. These people hate anything that even mentions God. You saw his words.

In chapter 2, Theresa is a star baseball pitcher in high school. Internet trolls viciously attack her on the internet. A teacher tells Theresa why they do that, and she understands.

"I saw why the trolls were angry. They knew they couldn’t go where I was going. I’d have a good life. They wouldn’t."

If I'd intended to write a story that the internet trolls would hate, I couldn't have done better than Empress Theresa. It's a natural internet troll target.

Internet trolls are not literary critics.

They show no evidence of knowing the first thing about literary criticism which is a disciplined science. All they do is criticize, using lies and distortions to denigrate the target of their hatred.

I'm not going to dispute that most of the reviews of this book are done by amateurs, and that most are not very constructive. I hope this piece can be an exception.

But regardless, these reviews are feedback. Feedback isn't always constructive, but that doesn't mean you can ignore it outright. You can dismiss some negative reviews, but if a hundred people are telling you that your book is bad, then it's probably bad. If a hundred people tell you they didn't get it, then you failed to make them get it.

And that's okay! Writing is a learning process. Take what you've learned to heart and start something new, something better. Improve. You'll write a masterpiece some day; that day just wasn't today.

Negative criticism will always hurt. It feels like a punch in the gut, and there's not much you can do about that.

The important thing is that you don't punch back.

I don't want to say you should never push back against honest criticism. Sometimes people are wrong. Conversations like this can be productive, for both sides of the debate.

But you can't come in swinging. Don't let yourself get angry or vindictive. Stay calm, and be reasonable. Be open to criticism.

Because if you aren't, you're painting a target on your back, especially if you're publishing anything on the internet. This book gets a lot of negative attention simply because Norman Boutin is so bad at taking criticism. It's easy to get a rise from him. People like getting a rise out of him. It's classic internet behaviour.

Ironically enough, he's probably made more money off this book because of this. It might have faded into obscurity otherwise, and then we'd all have been better off. Instead... well, here we are.

So, in conclusion: don't be like Mr. Boutin. You might end up here someday.

Some of you who read the last one of these I did may be expecting an Amazon review at the end of all of this.

Well, I'm consciously not going to post one this time. Because I don't want to get involved in that.

But, if I were to sum up my feelings on this book to a prospective reader, it might go something like this:

Empress Theresa is a book that starts out boring and gets worse from there. Long stretches of very little happening give way to events that defy logic and simple science, and the pattern repeats itself until the very end of the book. The characters start bland and grow more and more unpleasant as the book goes on. You will not root for Theresa. You will hope someone stops her.
This book is agonizingly long. Your time on this Earth is short.
Do not spend it here.

And that's it folks. That's all I have left to give.

If you liked this series, thank you! Tell your friends, and if you have any suggestions for books to cover in the future, leave 'em in the comments. I can't guarantee there'll be more of these, but I'd like to do them. It's kind of fun, in a masochistic way.

And if you really liked it, you can drop me a dollar or two here. Y'know. If you want to.

Anyway, I'm going to go take a long, well-deserved rest. Until next time, folks.

I'm RB, and I hope you have a wonderful day.

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Comments ( 4 )

Huh, it was an interesting listen, and I enjoyed the lampooning in good humor.

Not to mock, but to enjoy it as it was. And yeah, criticism is a hard pill to swallow. The problem often being how few actual critics are what they call themselves, instead of armchair jockeys.

Author Interviewer

I still kinda hope he shows up here. Be sure to ping me if he does. :V

I thought of another inconsistency.
He really likes Joan of Arc, but really hates France.
Not sure what that means, but I found it interesting.

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." - Anton Ego

If this book were a restaurant, and its author the chef, what might Ego have to say about it?

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