Friday, October 7, 2011

Pizza-popsicles and other sticking points

I'm doing another guest post for Wicked & Tricksy, this time on the subject of beta-reading, and boy am I glad I wrote this out last week before I was kicked down by illness.

EDIT: Since the Wicked & Tricksy site is no longer up, here's the complete post:

...yes, I'm going to explain that post title...

When beta-reading, I think my strengths lie in finding the logic problems in the story, from character development, to how a curtain rack would be secured to a wall. Seriously, I get obsessed with weird things and tend to over-think myself into a corner when I'm reading someone else's work.

So, the pizza-popsicle thing?

This term started in my writing group when one member included a time-traveling character obsessed with popsicles. At one point, the character wrapped a piece of pizza around a popsicle and fused it together somehow.

...and as I was reading that line, I got stuck.

...and I couldn't get past it 'cause my mind was churning in circles looking for a logical loop-hole in which it could believe that a frozen popsicle can be fused with a hot piece of pizza while each maintain their hot/cold states.

...and my tiny little brain spun and spun like a hyperactive hamster on a wheel that is somehow beyond the confines/rules of physics...

So a 'pizza-popsicle' refers to anything in a story that yanks you out of the suspension-of-disbelief state. It’s whenever you stop and have to think too much to understand something. It could be anything from wondering how long it takes a grenade to explode after the pin is pulled, to a word used in a line of dialogue that just doesn't feel *right* for the character speaking, so you stop and go back to double-check the dialogue tag. Sometimes you think a character is standing on one side of the room, then in the very next line he/she is suddenly coming through a door on the opposite side. It could be that moment of thinking, 'there's absolutely no reason for that guy to suddenly fall in love with her!'

It doesn't matter how large or small, it just has to disturb the flow of the story and remind you it is a story.

First-draft manuscripts are usually ripe with pizza-popsicles, but that's totally normal. Most of them will be pretty easy to resolve, either by cutting a small piece of information, or giving a bit more information somewhere else to clarify. Sometimes switching a few lines around so 'B' comes before 'A' will fix the problem. Other times it's not as easy to pinpoint or fix... like, if you had to read the same line several times for it to make sense, but you can’t explain why.

The hardest kind of pizza-popsicles are when the pizza-popsicle influences a large plot-point because, each time it's repeated, it'll pull you further and further out of the story and impact your ability to pay attention to things like pacing/etc. Like, one of my biggest sticking points is the *best friend* character who only exists in the story to show the reader that the MC isn’t a friendless-loser... and only pops up to cheer up the MC or be a sounding board when MC + love interest are having problems. After that they conveniently disapear. Whenever this kind of character shows up, I’m constantly asking myself why they are friends, especially if the MC never seems to seek out/help the best friend with anything. Usually the best friend has no plot arc of their own, so that is the actual problem that needs to be solved.

For these big/repetitive pizza-popsicles, I find it's always best to try to address them as soon as they first appear and clearly outline the implications throughout the story.

If you don't know if you have pizza-popsicles in your story, listen when a beta-reader says, 'Why didn't they just...' or 'I didn't understand how...' or asks a direct questions like, 'how long is the timer on a grenade?' That's your clue that they've tripped over a pizza-popsicle.

Even though they seem like small comments, pay close attention. Remember, anytime your reader stops to think, it means they have been jarred out of the flow of your story, which is not what you want to happen. I know it sounds wrong to say it, but you really don’t want your readers thinking while they read... you want them to be so engrossed that they keep turning the pages until the reach the end... and then pester you constantly until they can read your next work.

Have you come across problems like this when beta-reading for someone else? Or, if you’ve received comments back from your beta-reader, do some questions/comments seem unimportant in the great-scheme-of-things? Have you ever considered the larger implication of those kinds of picky questions?


  1. Well it is the details that can make or break a story... so the time traveler? If traveled into the future while against all principles of physics, the way we understand physics, it might have been possible....and of course you’re right. If it takes the reader too long to understand something then a change is needed.

  2. I can get the grammar and syntax of sentences as well as I can pinpoint logic problems, but the logic problems definitely end up as "pizza-popsicles" for me. Even the small ones. >.<

  3. But pizza popsicles sounded so good to eat :p Though, in reality, the character was probably lying about that given he lied about most things in the story: I figured a time traveller would, by definition, be a liar in all respects. That the popsicle issue turned into a giant metaphor for his free will vs. his own future self probably just added to the 'huh' aspect.

    It did not make it into the next draft, needless to say :)

  4. are now immortalized, Alcar... or at least Winter and his popsicle obsession ;)

    Yup, there were more pizza-popsicle moment with that character than just his pizza-popsicle ;)

  5. Oh, yeah. Though, to be fair, time travel itself probably counts as one.


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)