Plot Spackle

Basic stuff from Writer’s Digest, but sometimes when I’m stuck, that’s what I need. Thankfully, getting stuck doesn’t happen that often.

The opening questions read almost like the “guide” I give to my readers. The main things I want from a reader during my writing process are these:

  • Are there any points at which you feel like putting the book down?
  • Do the characters feel like real people behaving as people would in the situation they’re in, or are their action forced or unrealistic?
  • Anything that just doesn’t feel right?

The reader doesn’t have to offer a solution — that’s my job. And, sometimes I don’t agree that the “problem” they’ve identified is actually a problem. But, usually when a trusted reader senses something is off, they’re right that something is wrong, even if they haven’t hit the target on exactly what that Something is.

The six plot fixes offered:

  1. Keep Nabbing Ideas — basically, this is “be ready for an idea whenever it strikes.” This is probably easier than ever with smart phones, I-Pads, tablets, etc. I go the low-tech route and just carry a notebook with me wherever I go.
  2. Create Two Trajectories — The main character should have a personal problem and a plot problem, which are not the same thing. In my soon-to-be-published mystery, the main character (Leonard) has the problem of solving a murder (plot) along with multiple personal problems related to the death of his wife, the relationship with his brother, a struggling business, and a budding romance.
  3. Add another level of complication — The key here is the mantra, “Torture your protagonist.” Nothing should be easy for the main character.
  4. Add a character — I don’t agree with this one very much. Adding characters because the plot is dragging seems like a good way to pollute the story with unnecessary characters. The key here is to make sure the story is properly cast. An interlude with a fun or interesting character can be good, but a little goes a long way here.
  5. Beware of unmotivated actions — This one is huge. When I read amateur screenplays or manuscripts, I encounter this problem (plus on-the-nose dialog) constantly. As a rule, people take the minimum action possible to achieve their goal. Characters in stories are no different. While “minimum” will vary depending on the character and the situation, the action should make sense to that character. If the character has to do something to “make the story work,” there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.
  6. Change a setting — If scenes feel tired and familiar, moving to a different location can help. This is the power of subtext. A love scene can be set ANYWHERE. So can any scene. Use that power wisely to break free from the cliched settings readers have seen repeatedly.

Stephen King to Write for ‘Walking Dead’?

I’m not normally a horror consumer, but I could not resist a zombie show run by The Shawshank Redemption writer Frank Darabont. Viewer reaction was mixed, but I thought The Walking Dead was terrific.

So, I admit to being more than a little geeked up when I saw this news: that Stephen King might write an episode in the upcoming season. One more reason to keep watching.

Who Can Say They Got A Triple Double?

My latest at the Washington Post. This one answering Javale McGee’s rhetorical defense of his efforts to get a triple double against the Bulls.

“I got a triple-double,” McGee said. “Who can say they got a triple-double?” So asked JaVale McGee in Mike Lee’s blog post about criticism of McGee’s efforts to get a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double at the end of a desultory loss to the Bulls.

Unlike some, I have no problem with McGee going for the stat in a blowout loss. Just like it didn’t bother me when he tried that in-game free throw line dunk at the end of a blowout loss. When else is he going to get a chance to try it in game action? When the team is up two with 30 seconds to play? I sure hope not.

The problem was not the attempt to get the points, but rather McGee’s embarrassing offensive repertoire and his preening, perspectiveless, immature celebration. Getting a triple-double is something to be proud of, but at the end of yet another brutal loss, it was worth a grin and a high-five, not a swing-on-the-rim tech.

Read the rest.


Andray Blatche Injury Symptoms

Mike Lee at the Washington Post reports that Andray Blatche will need more time for his injured shoulder to heal before he returns to action. Blatche’s quote in the story is quintessential Blatche.

From Lee’s story:

Andray Blatche had another MRI on Wednesday in Chicago to see how his sprained right shoulder is progressing. He is still listed as day-to-day but that day could still be some time away since he continues to have limited mobility in the arm. Blatche can lift his arm forward, but he cannot put it above his head from the side.

“It’s not good. I can lift it, but I can’t shoot at all. I can barely bounce a ball,” said Blatche, who has missed the past three games. “They haven’t given me [a timetable] yet. It all depends on how it heals. We haven’t been able to get it to heal.”

This made me laugh. Can’t shoot, can’t dribble. Note that he he didn’t say, “…I can’t rebound…” or “…I can’t hold anyone off in the post…” or “…I can’t set effective screens…”

Can’t shoot, can’t bounce the ball. What else is there in basketball? Not much — at least in Blatche’s mind.

Still Looking Like Tree Rollins

This is not Javale McGee. Just a guy he statistically resembles.

Over the summer, I took a look at some Javale McGee career comps in my WashPost blog.  With ~20 games left in the season, I thought it worth taking a quick look to see who shows up now for McGee.

Search parameters were centers with the following:

  • ortg of at least 109 (McGee is at 110 this season)
  • usage rate of 16 or lower (McGee = 15.4)
  • rebound % 16 or greater (McGee = 16.4)
  • block % 5 or greater (McGee = 6.2)

When I limited the search to just the third season, I came up with one name: Tree Rollins. Again.

Expand to allow any such season from a player 25 or younger, and this is the full list sorted by PER:

  • Tree Rollins
  • Javale McGee
  • Samuel Dalembert
  • Sam Bowie
  • Joel Przybilla
  • Greg Ostertag
  • Hasheem Thabeet

Remove the age restriction, and it brings in the following players and their ages when they reached the statistical criteria mentioned above:

  • Rollins — 24, 26
  • Mutombo — 28, 29, 32, 33, 38, 41
  • Ervin Johnson — 30
  • Brendan Haywood — 30
  • Adonal Foyle — 33
  • Desagna Diop — 26
  • Dalembert — 22, 26
  • Wayne Cooper — 32
  • Camby — 32, 34

Dunno about you, but I’m not exactly overwhelmed by this list.

Career Comps for Andray Blatche

Just did a quick search at Basketball Reference looking for players with a similar career profile to Andray Blatche.

The parameters — 6-10 or taller, through 6 seasons has an offensive rating of 101 or lower (Blatche is at 100); a usage rate of 22 or higher (Blatche: 22.7); at least 2,000 career minutes.

Here’s the list:

  • Ralph Sampson
  • Jermaine O’Neal
  • Herb Williams
  • Andray Blatche
  • Isaac Austin
  • Chris Anstey
  • Alaa Abdelnaby
  • Sharone Wright
  • Predrag Drobnjak
  • Doug Smith
  • Acie Earl
  • William Bedford
  • John Amaechi

The only guy to get excited about is O’Neal, but Jermaine was a good rebounder (Blatche isn’t) and a terrific defender who actually made the All-NBA team in his 6th, 7th and 8th seasons.

Unfortunately, Blatche is a lot more like the other schlubs on the list.

Minute by Minute — A Look At Javale McGee

My latest at the Washington Post.

In cyberspace the past couple days, a season-long conversation about JaVale McGee has flared up. On one side are those who argue that McGee makes the Wizards better (looking at +/- data) and that when he plays more, the team has a better record.

On the other side are those who argue that McGee is capable of dominating individual games because of his overwhelming athleticism, but that he fails to do so regularly for several reasons, including that:

  • he’s unskilled
  • he doesn’t know how to play
  • he continues to suffer from lapses in concentration.

The “McGee is a good player being hampered by bad coaching adherents” point to the team’s 5-2 record when McGee plays 36 minutes or more. Sounds impressive. Especially when you look at McGee’s per minute numbers when he plays that much.

But, this argument is yanked short by Ye Olde “Chicken or Egg?” question. Is McGee playing well (and the team winning) because he’s getting more minutes, or is the team winning and McGee getting more minutes because he’s being productive? And, is this analysis an example of the hazards of arbitrary endpoints?

Read the rest.

Minute by Minute — the McGee Numbers

Click on the chart to make it bigger.

GmSc = Game Score — a summary measure of a player’s single-game statistical contributions. It was created by John Hollinger.  Sort of a PER for individual games.

sortg = Simple offensive rating. Used by Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus, it’s a useful tool (in part because it’s easy to calculate).  The formula is 100 x (pts / (fga + .44 x fta + tov).