Terminator Offers Some Lessons for the Salvation of Your Novel

We were so excited for Terminator: Salvation, we cannot even tell you. All our intellectual snobbery is reserved for books; when it comes to the cinematic experience, we demand constant explosions, post-apocalyptic scenarios, lots of aliens/robots/asteroids, and/or large-scale natural disasters (with occasional exceptions made for arty French films, obvs). After reading uniformly negative reviews of TS, we felt some anxiety about coughing up $14 to see it in a theater, and only got around to watching it this weekend. Well, nobody was lying. TS is a profoundly dumb movie, and not dumb in a gleeful Independence Day sort of way, with bad jokes and Jeff Goldblum being all cute. HOWEVER, something quite fortuitous happened in the first quarter of the film, when we realized that TS is flawed in the same ways a lot of the novel drafts we reject are flawed, and thus has a number of Instructive Points to offer our dear Author-friends (you see! we think about you ALL THE TIME! Do you feel loved, or what?). So here, out of the goodness of our blackened and desiccated heart, we present Imperatives of Fiction-Writing as Demonstrated by "McG."

1. You need a plot. You really, really do. A Good Idea ("What if it's the future! And robots are the boss of everything and this hot non-emotive dude has to find this kid who is actually his dad and send him back in time before the robots kill everyone!") is an excellent start, but a Good Idea is NOT sufficient to carry the entire vehicle of your novel. We don't care how highfalutin' your concept or your prose is; you leave out the plot and you are going to bore us out of our skull, and not because we are too stupid to comprehend the brilliance of your talent. You REALLY EXTRA-ESPECIALLY need a plot if you are working in genre fiction. Bonus points if your plot MAKES SENSE (see No. 2).

2. You need to demonstrate a chain of causality. You cannot just cut to your main character and his Trusty Sidekick of Color testing their Secret Weapon in the center of the Robots Valley of Death, in the middle of the night, apropos of nothing. Particularly after you have told us that the robots guard their turf assiduously and are extra-good at blowing people up in the dark. Why? Because your poor reader is going to be all like HOW THE FUCK DID THEY GET INTO THE MIDDLE OF ROBOTS DEATH VALLEY and not all like OOH HOW THRILLING! ROBOTS DEATH VALLEY! and the one thing you never, ever want your reader to be doing is being all distracted from your novel by piddly logistical details. Which leads us to:

3. You need to be consistent. Yes, it is an eighties-classy and awesome image (and perhaps the only classy and awesome image in this entire stupid movie) to have John Connor sticking a GNR cassette into a boombox and pressing play to serve as a robot-distracting ploy. But guess what? IT'S TWO THOUSAND EIGHTEEN. We would have trouble finding a GNR tape and a boombox with which to play it RIGHT NOW, in the waning hours of 2009. Are we supposed to believe JC popped over to the nearest Goodwill so as to procure these items? Or perhaps he clutched his childhood tape-player and GNR tape collection to his manly breast through a nuclear apocalypse? Again, Author-friends, when you throw in stuff that you think is cool but makes no sense in the context of your book, your reader starts to hate and distrust you, and that is so not what you want happening. KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS, dear ones. Kill 'em dead.

4. Your universe must have rules. Even if you are writing science fiction. Like, if you are creating a post-apocalyptic world controlled by robots but grounded in reality? Where people are still normal people just trying to survive and defeat said robots? You cannot impale your main character through the heart and have him continue to frolic about. You don't get to have your hero conveniently stumble across the robots' nuclear reactor, which they have left in the middle of the floor. Our Support Team would also like to point out that you don't get to fly a helicopter through a nuclear explosion, because nuclear explosions emit an electromagnetic pulse that shuts down everything electrical within their blast radius. You get to make stuff up, Author-friends, but you don't get to make stuff up that is totally implausible in the context of the world you have created.

5. You need to know what you're aiming for. The lovely INTERN had a very excellent post on this topic a while back. Maybe what you actually want to make is not a science fiction film but a killer Nine Inch Nails video, which is a supremely worthy goal in itself. Broken? Maybe one of the greatest albums ever, and we are completely unembarrassed to tell you that Nine Inch Nails opening for David Bowie at the Seattle Center in 1995 (we are a LOT older than you think we are, y'all) is to this day one of the best live shows we have ever seen. But a two-minute video is not a feature-length film. Just saying. Also, this is probably less relevant to your Novel, but if you use Nine Inch Nails in the preview you should FOLLOW THROUGH and get old Trent to do the soundtrack for your movie because otherwise Rejectionists get all excited ("OMG EXPLOSIONS AND ROBOTS AND THE APOCALYPSE AND NINE INCH NAILSSSS!!! EEEEEE!!!!!!!") and then feel let down and cranky when the soundtrack of your movie turns out to be Christian Bale grunting a lot.

6. You need a plausible grounds for romantic activity. By "plausible grounds" we do not mean "narrowly evading sexual assault thanks to rescue by hot dude." Narrowly evading sexual assault does not, in our experience, make the ladies feel frisky. In fact, can we retire the "narrow evasion of sexual assault thanks to rescue by hot dude" as a plot device FOREVER? CAN WE LET THAT ONE GO PLEASE? THANK YOU.

7. If you are going to use people of color in every "trusty sidekick/lesser-villain/mute adorable biracial child who serves as an indicator of the foxy foxy multiracial future" role WHY DON'T YOU GO OUT ON THE LIMB OF CRAZY AND MAKE A PERSON OF COLOR ONE OF YOUR MAIN CHARACTERS JUST TRY IT WE GUARANTEE IT WILL NOT KILL ANYONE.

Okee, there you go. Revise, little ones, REVISE!