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Wasted Productions Presents a Hollow Tale

By G.S. Williams, author of No Man An Island

Oct 21, 2010: In three years of participating in the web fiction community, I have learned a few things from stories like Tales of MU, Intimate History, The Legion of Nothing, Alisiyad and others. Through articles and discussions on Novelr and Ergo Fiction, as well. There are lots of resources available to writers online, as well as writing classes in communities.

On top of that, there’s the history of literature and the local library.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

Online audiences like to get to know characters. They want to feel emotionally connected to the story, and that’s best served by intimately knowing the feelings of the characters involved. The more we know about the character, the more we feel like we know them.

So, characters need to be carefully introduced, and not too many characters at once. And then we need reasons to follow this character’s exploits, an emotional hook to interest us. They can’t just be stock, cardboard figures.

Action needs to be clearly shown, vague and slow and expository can bog down a narrative and lose a reader’s interest early. You can’t just "tell" a story with declarative sentences, you have to "show" it with description.

"Hollow World" on the website "Wasted Productions" ignores all of the above in the first two chapters alone. The story starts "three days after the world as we know it ended"—and it should have started before the end, because being told "He thought it had begun with a number of explosions, he now knew they were gas tankers, and even the underground tanks at gas stations" is a lot less interesting than getting to know a character and suddenly explosions are happening all around them, cars are flipping, buildings falling apart, and they have to find a way to survive. I don’t want to hear that three days were bad, I want to see that they were.

Furthermore, the story is "apocalyptic" in the modern sense of taking place after a civilization-destroying catastrophe. Well, there are lots of examples of "good" apocalyptic science fiction and fantasy, from Mad Max to The Road, or Stephen King’s The Stand.

Hollow World is most like The Stand in its start, which is semi-realistic and present day. The story description, featuring mysticism and mythical features, is also strongly reminiscent of The Stand’s ultimate plot and conception after its every-day beginnings. But the difference between the Stand and the Hollow World is a vast chasm—Stephen King’s characters are all very realistic people that we get to know before their world crumbles, so we care about their suffering and their character development. "The Pennyman" and "Graham" in the story are too similar to King’s "TrashCan Man" and "the Man in Black" to ignore—this work feels highly derivative, but is a stale carbon copy. Hollow World is a hollow imitation that lacks emotional resonance.

The beautiful thing about books is that they’re out there to learn from. The Stand was published in 1978, it’s older than I am, but it ably demonstrates how to create characters that resonate within a catastrophic situation. The author of Hollow World could learn a lot emulating that, if they really want to write an apocalyptic story. By standing on the shoulders of giants, we can touch the sky—by learning from our forebears, we can build something new on their knowledge.

Ignoring the rich history of literature and online writing to start from scratch is indeed a Wasted Production in this case.

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