I hate it when I’m enjoying a really good book only to have the whole thing marred by a really foolish mistake. Without going into the title of the book in question, the part I’m talking about is a rescue of the main characters who’ve been tied up in a building about to be demolished. The rescuer uses a piece of glass from one of the windows to cut the ropes. There is only one problem. When a building is going to be demolished all of the window glass is removed to prevent a wave of shattered glass tearing across the city. Now, I cannot fault the writer and editor, who may or may not know that fact, but I can wonder why he or she didn’t do some research on building demolition to make sure some curmudgeon like me doesn’t come up and say, “well you know…” So let this be a cautionary tail, even if your book isn’t about building demolition make sure you get the real life stuff accurate.
This was a great post from The Creative Pen on how to avoid overwriting. I know myself, I am guilty of this from time to time, and from time to time I like reading works whose writing is thick with description. Then again I am really turned off by works where I am just wading through piles and piles of prose, cough Cryptonomicon cough. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. The good news is you aren’t going to get there overnight, but persistence with a good bit of editing will see you through. http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/02/18/avoid-overwriting/
The good guy may get the girls but it’s that bad guy that keeps the pages turning. I find writing a compelling villain is tougher than a book’s lead character. Male or female it is that villain that will be the measure of how good your protagonist truly is. Even when that antagonist isn’t a person, you must write about their actions that the reader can make no mistake about their villainy. Myself, I like cunning villains more so than overly powerful ones. I also like villains who have a morality too. Huh?
Think about it this way, in Marvel’s X-Men, Magneto is the villain to Charles Xavier. Yet all Magneto is interested in is the well being of his fellow mutants and protecting them. His methods vary drastically from Professor Xavier’s, but the moral compass for both points in the same direction. The challenge in writing about a character such as this is making sure that his or her actions remain true to that morality.
Another fun type of villain is the off the rails amoral variety. The sheer chaos of writing for one of these characters is demanding. Still the end result can be very rewarding as your hero rises and meets every nefarious deed. Yet all is not lost even for these types of villains. I’m thinking about Godzilla here. Obviously he or she was the villain of the first movie in 1954 but latter movies would see the unstoppable force of nature become the hero protecting humanity. That he or she had to destroy half of Tokyo to do it is another matter.
In both these examples you can have a wide range of villains that combine components of each, though like I said before I like my villains morally guided if not socially minded.
With all apologies to the Hendrix estate, there is a funny meme on the internets with two figures standing on opposite ends of a large painted number. One argues that it is a six while the other argues that it is a nine. The moral is both are right according to their perspective. A followup meme points out that one is definitely wrong because whoever painted the number set out to paint either a six or a nine. Both made me chuckle and both told me there is a lesson in them for writers.
Ambiguity is the bane of communication. It can often crop up in our writing because we know what we mean in our heads but sometimes the words leave it open to interpretation. Nothing you write should ever be open to interpretation, this isn’t painting. Then there are the little things that you don’t even recognize someone might have a question over. For example, does your scene take place at night or day? It might not mean a whole lot at the point in the story but a scene or two later could be ruined if your reader thought it was daylight and your reader is in the nighttime hours. Ambiguity in the details you reveal makes it harder for the reader to connect with and buy into the story. Most of these will come out in beta readings or from your editor. Still, always being aware of instances where what you say can be taken a couple of different ways will make your writing that much stronger.
I was going to share this, then I wasn’t but now I figured I will. I ran across this post from Janet Reid’s awesome blog: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-n-word.html
I think she covered this from a very interesting angle as a writer. I would like to add to the discussion what I think is the danger of having such verboten words. Think about it, what if you woke up one day and the word tumultuous was no longer allowed in print or speech? How would we ever describe loud confused noises? This could not be a worse example but just think on it.
I’m not making light of what this word represents, it’s history or inherent ugliness. I just wonder, should we as writers, be accepting of a language with certain words that we cannot use at all? Especially when the feelings those words conjure could be otherwise conveyed? Now our responsibility is that should we use such a word we must be very clear in our context what the purpose of that word is. Remember words have power and when that power is abused there are consequences.
No Man’s Sky is a video game developed by Hello Games that came out this month to very mixed reviews. The hype for the game had been very high as were the expectations. Most reviewers remark that the game does do some things very well but that it isn’t for every one. So why am I mentioning that here?
Well, for starters the game is billed as a procedurally generated exploration / survival game with millions of combinations of planets to visit. The consensus is that the game does this exceptionally well, but what it’s missing is a strong story to keep the player interested and moving forward in the game. The most common complaint I have heard is that after the first hour you get the feeling of, “been there, done that.”
Did you ever read a book with that same problem? I know I have. Sometimes, in the throes of writing, it is easy getting bogged down in the world that you miss the story. I think No Man’s Sky is a cautionary tale of the power of story. That’s not to say there isn’t one in No Man’s but for some there needs to be more. In a book it is the same way. You can only get so far with just the arc of your main plot. Each chapter will need it’s own arc, it’s beginning, middle and end that, while moving the reader along and setting up the next chapter, provides a satisfying reward for reading through it. The lesson here is always make sure that your reader has more than an interesting world, give them characters and drama and conflict. Intertwine the events of the story and let the drama reflect the world it takes place in. In doing that your readers will never get the feeling of, “been there, done that.”
Oh and in case you were wondering I am planing on purchasing No Man’s Sky as I am the kind of person who loves a lot of exploration in video games, just not in my books.
I admit I’m a sucker for a good opening line. So much so, that I keep a notebook of ones that I come up with even if I don’t have a novel or story to go with them. I know someday I will. Writing first lines is fun but in the chronology of your work’s creation rarely fit in. Many times I have added or removed the first chapter once the rest of the work has taken shape. I was going to write more on them, but then I saw this post from Rachelle Gardner and figured I could do no better. http://www.rachellegardner.com/that-all-important-first-line/
In the spirit of things I could add an own opening line I just came upon in my head: This would make a Hell of a first line for a book if it wasn’t happening right now, and to me.
In truth it’s already passed but I’m still not settled into a new normal. I left my job at the Arizona State Library and Archives after seven years. The reasons were numerous but in my head I knew I was ready for a change and new challenges. I’ve begun my new job as Adult Services Supervisor at the Maricopa County Northwest Regional District Library in Surprise, Arizona. Yes, Surprise is a real place. I am still on track to complete and have out my long overdue collection of short stories and flash fiction as well as my first Steampunk novel, The Fourth Prometheus.
I started thinking about how often we go through these events and yet often overlook them when it comes time to write. Is that because they seem too routine? I know most people wouldn’t want to read a story about some guy with a head cold, although Franz Kafka had us reading about one who turned into a cockroach. Cockroaches aside, there are plenty of events in our lives that can lend a little bit of reality and substance to our characters. Sure a zombie plague could be breaking out, but what if the main protagonist in the story also happens to be trying to plan her first wedding at the same time? An alien abduction? Okay, but what if it comes right after the abductee just became a daddy? These could all turn up the drama in a piece. In addition you would have a character that many readers will easily identify with. Right now I’m working up a story about a new guy on the job who discovers that he can move objects when he gets stressed out. Can you say cleanup in aisle five?
Recently the wife and I sat down to check out the TV show American Horror Story. All I’m going to say is if that’s your idea of horror, you need to read more Lovecraft or Ramsey Campbell. That’s not what bugged me the most. What was with all the swearing?
In general, though they wouldn’t admit it, people have a far more colorful, (dirty), vocabulary than they realize. At the same time very few people like being constantly sworn at. This creates a conundrum for the writer. Pepper your dialog worth too many naughty words and it will come across as trying too hard to be “gritty” or “edgy.” Not enough, or worse, you throw down some, “gosh darns,” or, “what the hecks,” and people will wonder what kind of prude world they have slipped into.
I remember sitting down to watch NYPD Blue and marveling at all the words that shouldn’t be on TV suddenly on TV. Then there was the South Park “shit” episode. All the same I’m not really a fan of being sworn at constantly. I’ve enjoyed my share of potty mouthed comics but even there the best of them knew how to use these words for maximum effect. That’s what it really comes down to. As writers words are our tools. We must reserve the right one for the situation. You wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to swat a fly, would you? Your words should be used the same way. Save the words that would make you mom blush or shove a bar of soap in your mouth for when you really need your characters to show some emotion. It’s a subtle difference but can make or break your writing.
I will state this now, I am not a talented writer. I am a skilled one. My first few stories blew as many chucks as the next writer’s. I listened, studied and learned, and I still have more ways to go. For me, the first step in becoming a success at any endeavor is knowing and understanding what you don’t know. For more I suggest you read this great post from Anne R. Allen’s Blog – Is Talent Overrated? 8 Things That Are More Important Than Talent for Writing Success.