Category: Advice

7. Ask a Triceratops


This week – genre beets!

“Dear Susan,
I was told that every genre has particular story beats and that reader will be angry if they don’t see them in your story?
Is this true and what are they are?

Capt. Trope Dope”

Wow, beets. What a revelation.
Sure, we had root vegetables back in the day but these days? Amazing! I know I can be mean and unfair towards human ingenuity but you will never hear anything but praise form me about the human domestication of beta vulgarisms into a myriad of frankly delicious comestibles.

Let us run through some of the highlights:

  • Chard: be it red or green or every colour of Italy, this leafy ambrosia is both colourful and tasty. Sometimes it is called ‘perpetual spinach’ – doesn’t that sound like heaven! Put away that kale you paleo hipsters and get your mouths around the genetically modified wonder that is CHARD!
  • Sugar beet: You want a heavy sucrose hit? Well put away your sugarcane or your corn, this root has them all beet! Packed with sugar like its halloween but underground, it is the sugar source that you can grow in temperate countries!
  • Beetroot: Not only tasty raw, it is delicious baked AND you can use it to stain your hide when preparing for battle. Your enemies will cower in fear when they see the beetroot juice dripping from your mouth like you are some kind of vampire triceratops.
  • Mangel-wurzels: I can’t – I just can’t describe just how AMAZING the mangel-wurzel is. Why don’t humans build statues to them? You, as a species, literally systematically took one plant species and selectively bred them into a food item that is frankly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

If you can’t beet them then eat them!


6. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at choosing a program to write with:

“Dear Susan,
Top five writing programs?

Mrs. Type Cast”

I just use Notepad because I eschew formatting. I asked around to see what everybody else uses:

  • Camestros: First choice is Excel, then Word, then Pages (Mac), then Text Wrangler, then Notepad++ (he was unwilling to accept that Excel is not a writing program)
  • Timothy: Libre Office, Word
  • Straw Puppy: Scrivener
  • Mr Atomic: internal OS text editor
  • Random squirrel teasing Timothy: Microsoft Publisher
  • Nice Lady from the Post Office: Adobe In-Design (Creative Cloud)
  • Bortsworth Drycleaners: GNU emacs
  • Shadowy figure spotted in the abandoned Woolworths: astral projection of blood that seeps through the plaster of your walls

There are so many choices! Pick one that has the features you need for the writing you want to do. The only one I’d advise against is the one based on an ancient eldritch evil that may consume your soul i.e Microsoft Publisher.


5. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at the erotic arts:

“Dear Susan,
Any suggestions for writing erotic yet tasteful sex scenes?

Mr. Sweet Sheets”

No, I’ve no suggestions. I don’t really understand mammal sex. Your obsession with including it in art puzzles me. Yes, it is natural and healthy but so is having a poop. Yes, I don’t understand the social importance of sex to mammals but think about poop. You, have all sorts of taboos and rituals around pooping. You have special rooms for pooping. You have a special machine in your special room that you use just for pooping into. In many places you wash away your poops with PURIFIED DRINKING WATER. You have special paper for wiping away poop remains. You have a whole subset of words just for pooping.

Now ask yourself: when is the last time a character in a book you read did a poop? Was it a nice satisfying poop or was it less than ideal? Was it loud? Was it soft? Was it moist?

Please do not misunderstand me. I don’t want to read about humans pooping. Yet your books and stories are all set in a fantasy world in which nobody poops. Poops are more universal than sex. More people poop than do sex things, and most people poop more often than they sex. This is where I suspect human fiction has skipped a step. Writing all the complex aspects of human sex things can’t be easy – I get that – yet you don’t practise writing more basic and more common activities like poops.

My simple writing tip for humans is this. Try writing poops before you write sex. If you can’t write poops (something you do most days) how are you going to write sex which is more complex and may involve more people?

4. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at choosing your sub-genre:

“Dear Susan,
I’ve written an urban fantasy set in Victorian times. My boyfriend says that I can’t call it ’steampunk’ because it isn’t science-fiction but I don’t want to call it ‘gaslight’ because the whole story takes place outside in daytime. My mum says I should just call it urban fantasy but my Dad says paranormal romance will attract more readers.

Any advice for the right sub-genre?

Ms. Difference Engine”

Triceratopian literature also has many genres and sub-genres. A few examples:

  • A stupid t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘tragedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and everybody stands around laughing at them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘comedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [tragi-comedy]
  • A drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them [drama]
  • A t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard [fantasy]
  • A t-rex invents a new way of getting drunk [science fiction]
  • An allosaurus gets drunk and tries to climb a tree and finds a wizard and eats it [historical fantasy]

Saying “my novel has a drunk t-rex and some trees” really isn’t enough to pick what genre it should be in! What story is not going to have a t-rex, some trees and some alcohol related incident?

One solution would be to add elements that make it clearly one genre rather than another. This can be quite forced and can make your story seem odd or unnatural.

A different solution is to clarify the genre-boundary in your book blurb e.g.:

“This novel is a cross between a t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard stories and a drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them stories.”

See? The reader knows what to expect now!

“Urban fantasy” will probably work just fine for your novel if you clarify some of the other features in your blurb. To help you along here is my suggestion:

“In Victorian London Elizabeth Hopsworthy finds herself lost in London’s majestic Hyde Park. Who are the strange figures she can see from the corners of her eyes? What kind of enchantment has befallen her? Did she drink one too many sherries? Maybe she could use her font limbs to climb a tree? Ooops! She has fallen out of the tree and landed on a triceratops injuring it. I bet that triceratops has quite the story to tell! Well I’m going to tell you about the time somebody told you the story that triceratops was going to tell!”

Or something like that. I should imagine that humans climbing trees does not have the same inherent dramatic tension as a t-rex trying to climb a tree, what with your longer fore-limbs and twiggy finger things and simian ancestory.

3. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at e-book formats:

“Dear Susan,
MOBI or e-Pub? Which is best?

Sickof Peadeaeff”

Smart question. I find the best plan is to avoid making the choice at all! Use a tool like Calibre and you can move quickly and easily between formats. Alternatively you can consider using Smashword which will convert your book into multiple formats. The last thing you want to do is make life difficult for your readers.

Personally I write everything in plain text and the only concession I make to formatting is line breaks. When you’ve travelled through the eras as much as I have you learn one key fact: text formats keep changing! Who now uses the zqipo format beloved of the dinosapien civilisation of Nnnerrrrn? Nobody! When your only city and only online bookstore is little more than the eroded crater of a comet impact, you really can’t expect anybody to still be using your proprietary e-book file format!

And what of the far future? In fungus town people mainly stare at mould. Mould is a good choice because frankly there is always mould.

2. Ask A Triceratops


By Susan Triceratops

This week I take a look at the world of love:

“Dear Susan,
I want to add a bit of a love story plot to my zombie survival novel. Is that a good idea?

What would a triceratops do?
Romeo Corpsewalker”

Great question Romeo!
In triceratops culture we make a big distinction between what mammals might call ‘romantic love’ and ‘erotic or sexual love/lust’. For a triceratops sex is largely perfunctory and does not form the basis of long term relationships. For us ‘herd love’ is paramount – something not unlike mammal notions of camaraderie, or team-bonding but deeper, more heartfelt and closer emotionally to mammalian romance.

So would I include a love story in a zombie survival novel? You betcha! A group of survivors learning how to be tough in a world full of remorseless yet stupid predators? That’s practically soap-opera for a triceratops. You may not believe this but your average T-rex was either an idiot or a drunk or both. They weren’t zombies obviously but surviving in the Cretaceous was not unlike living in a zombie apocalypse but with more cycads and proto-flowers.

I can’t think of a nicer story than those survivors bonding, coming together as a herd and every so often releasing armoured shabby terror on the idiot predators around them.As they used to say: love is stampeding at a T-rex till it stupidly runs off a cliff. Happy days, happy happy days.

1. Ask A Triceratops


By Susan Triceratops

This week an aspiring author asks:

“Dear Susan,
I can’t decide whether I should use first person or third person for my new novella. I’d like to try second person but I’m told it is really difficult.

What would a triceratops use?
Firstorthird Cantdecide”

Great question! I’m going to have to get technical here!

Typically there are three and a half choices.

  • First person – typified by the word “I”. The story is narrated directly by a character involved in the events and at the centre of the story (or part of the story).
  • Second person – typified by the word “you”. The story is told as if the reader is being addressed as if they were a main character in the book.
  • Third person – typified by she, he, they or other pronouns. The story is narrated as if by an observer who can knows what is happening but is not actually involved.Third person can be split into two further types:
    • Limited point of view – third person is used but in a way that follows a particular character and limits what we are told by what that character knows or experiences.
    • Omniscient – the story is told as if by a person who knows everything relevant that occurred.

Human writers like to use first and third-limited these days. I guess they suit mammal brains.

What would a triceratops use? Well grammatically and stylistically we like to use the FOURTH person.

The fourth person is characterised by the word “apparently” and is the perspective of somebody discussing events indirectly.

The fourth person comes in two basic forms:

  • Fourth person incidental – the story is told in the form of describing indirect events and occurrences from which the main story can be inferred. The closest I’ve seen a mammal use this is Tom Stoppard’s Rozencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead – which doesn’t really capture the full triceratops literary style but gives you a sense of it.
  • Fourth person retelling – the story is told as somebody re-telling a story they heard from somebody else. This is seen as a lesser, more populist style by triceratops. However, it can stack recursively to make quite complex perspectives when the fourth person is used to tell a story that was already fourth person. To translate into mammal, imagine a film of an interview of a director of a documentary about the staging of a performance of a dramatisation of a novel that was of a woman watching the film version of the play of the Frost-Nixon interviews.

The fourth person is modified by noting the perspective which is being used for the incidental account or retelling.

  • Fourth by first person – “I was told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
  • Fourth by second person – “You were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
  • Fourth by third person – “They were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”

In addition the perspective of the incidental or retold story may need to be noted. This is done by adding “via”. ““You were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.” would be classed as Fourth by second via third omniscient in a triceratopian writing class.

The most highly regarded approach in triceratops society is the fourth by fourth by third via second. It is a highly traditional perspective used in both contemporary forms and classic poetry. Original it was used to describe the incidental aftermath of what occurred in a retelling of doctor explaining what happened just before a triceratops was accidentally knocked unconscious by a drunken t-rex trying to climb a tree (a recurring theme in classical triceratops poetry).

Personally, I’d opt for Fourth (incidental) by second via third. This may sound super difficult but it is an easy introduction for a mammal to have a go at the triceratopian way of writing! Just imagine you are telling somebody what happened to them when they were watching a movie of the main story that you originally had in mind. Note a common mistake by mammals is to add in to many sundry events that aren’t in the ‘movie’. Your fourth by second protagonist should only be experiencing events and emotions that arise directly from the ‘movie’ (i.e. your third person narrative).