Being a Better Writer: Writing a Mentor

Bleck.

So the slightly raspy throat that I worked through my shift with yesterday (hence no Being a Better Writer post on Monday) has erupted into something a bit more substantial, and I’m sitting here nursing a headache and a throat that feels like someone poured concrete down it … which is a weird image, but honestly feels pretty sport on. Anyway, I’m hoping that that’s all I’m feeling so that this post still stays up to par. Music is on, my finger are striking keys … let’s get this done.

So, writing about mentors. This is once again a fan-requested topic (of which I only have a few left), submitted in response to my last topic call. But, thankfully, it wasn’t just a call for “what is a mentor character” but for a slightly more in-depth question: how do I use a mentor character?

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Status Update

All right, guys. Time for a status update.

First of all, it’s a good thing I got 20,000 words written last week, because I had more shifts than normal at my other job this week, and that’s made this week quite a bit slower. In the end, I guess it balances out at neutral, aiming somewhere slightly north of 10k per week. Which is a lot less than my old, pre-second job standard, but still functional.

However, the slow but steady rate still pays dividends. Shadow of an Empire has passed 200,000 words, and is in its final chapters! Which means that my estimates of it being around 225k or so were pretty on spot. For the record, that’ll be about 700 pages of reading.

Now, I’m sure some of you have wondered where news of Colony has gone. Well, it’s been in its second alpha for some time now, the alpha readers slowly picking through it while I’ve been working on Shadow. But once Shadow is done and into its first alpha … all of my attention is going to shift to Colony. The time I’ve spent on Shadow gave the alpha readers plenty of time to summarize and read through Colony‘s 1200 or so page bulk, so it’ll be time to return to its watery pages and revise, rewrite, and edit. I’m hoping there won’t be a need for a third alpha, but with a book this large …

From there, it’s on to Beta status for Colony. Beta 1, 2, and then the final pre-read and the creation of the cover. So maybe August? I’d like it to be out this summer. Taking a second job has slowed me down, but I need to get this book out at long last.

From there, I’m not going to dawdle on Shadow of an Empire. Once Colony is out the door, it’s going into alpha and beta before I start working on Jungle.

And in between, I’ve even got some ideas for some smaller, fanfiction-related stuff to write up.

It’s going to be a busy summer.

Anyway, that’s the update. I’m out!

Being a Better Writer: Author Morals and Story Theme

So, right now, I think I may be able to guess what many of you are thinking, which is, upon looking at the title: Hey, didn’t we just read this like a week or two ago? To which I say, yes,  almost.

For those of you who weren’t yet thinking, but now have looked up and noticed the similarities in the title, yes, it’s almost the same topic. In fact, there’s only a single word of difference.

See, a few weeks ago, I wrote an article about contrasting an author’s morals versus a character’s morals, talking about some of the difficulties new authors—or really any author—could run into while writing a story that contained characters with viewpoints or beliefs that disagreed with the authors. And, though you should probably go read that article if you want the highlights, the conclusion was that you shouldn’t be afraid to write characters who are not you that you disagree with, though there was the additional caveat that you should consider theme, and whether or not that character will detract from the theme you’re instilling into your work.

Then, a short time later, I wrote another post, this one discussing theme, message, and the difference between the two. It discussed how theme could become message, how message could distract from an otherwise good book, and how you could help keep the balance between having a theme without becoming message fiction.

Well, today we’re combing those two topics, bringing everything back around for another look. Because we’ve talked about characters having different views/morals than an author, and how that’s okay. We’ve also talked about the difference between theme and message, and how to try and hit that balance between “there’s a point” and “this is the point and you will accept it.” So now, with both of those in mind, we’re going to blend  them together a bit and tackle a slightly different question (to wit, two word’s worth of difference, which can go a long way).

Today, we’re going to talk about author morals once more, but this time how they relate to the theme of your story, the morals that it presents and ascribes to. We’ve already declared that it’s okay to have a character that you personally disagree with, but what about a theme or a moral? Should that same logic applied to characters that you disagree with also extend to the very themes of what you write?

Some of you, I gather, have already reached an answer. Or to be more accurate, I should likely say answers. See, the reason that this is a topic in and of itself is because right now, in the US particularly, but likely extending in small amounts to other writing regions as well, there is a “progressive” movement that argues quite vocally that “Yes, an author should write themes—or with these movements, more accurately messages—that they disagree with.” They use a variety of arguments, from “It’s the author’s duty to write what the public wants, and we’re the ‘public,’ so therefore they need to write what we want to read” to “An author is only limiting themselves if they only write morals that they support”—usually followed by a list of their “demands” for what the author should write instead.

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The Big One-Zero-Zero

Whoa.

So I just counted, and Monday’s Being a Better Writer post? The one about writing warfare?

That was my 100th Being a Better Writer post. As in one, zero, zero.

I’m honestly shocked. I knew I’d written a lot of these things, but 100? I feel like I should be looking around corners for some sort of surprise for myself. 100 posts … that’s a lot of work. Even going off of the average post size (which seems to hover around 2,000 words), that’s 200,000 words worth of content over the last two years! That’s the length of my current draft of Shadow of an Empire. If I were to collect all the BaBW posts into a single, ordinarily clad book, with no frills, that means it would be at least 600 pages long. And let’s be honest, when I do get around to that it’s going to be longer so there’s room for notes, extra examples, and the like. Oh, and probably split into several books.

100 BaBW posts. It happened surprisingly quickly. Maybe I should look into a long side-bar listing each and every one of them.

So here’s to 100 more. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. To those of you who’ve read, learned from, and enjoyed them, you’re going to see many more coming in the future.

The only thing that’s bugging me now is looking back, I can’t pick a favorite.

Here’s to the future, guys. Here’s to another 100 BaBW posts, more books, and more fun.

Being a Better Writer: Writing Warfare

Welcome back, readers (and by extension, writers). It’s time for another Being a Better Writer post. The topic for this week? It’s another request, and an interesting, if complex, one. Today, we’re going to discuss how to write a scene of warfare. Not a shoot-out, or a simple fight, but a full-on war.

Alright, let me clarify. This isn’t going to be a simple “here’s what you write.” At least, not the way most people (including the commentator who asked this question) think. Most people, upon reading the topic, likely promptly thought of one of their favorite battle scenes from a book, movie, game, or other form of entertainment. Scenes of fantasy armies clashing, magic flying around, spaceships shooting one another, muskets being primed …

Uh-oh.

Yeah, see, here’s the thing. All of those different things described up above? They’re all different battles … and they’re all going to be different types of warfare. Which means that each one could be written differently, or focus on different aspects of war. The magical warfare, for example, could be a type of war in which anyone not under a magic shield becomes a bloody mess of human remains, leading to armies only moving around under special shields, or possibly being reduced to just some elite cleaning crews and a bunch of magic users flinging destruction back and forth trying to catch a shield off-guard. Meanwhile, a scene of musket warfare would be bloody, gritty, and close, with clouds of smoke covering the viewpoint and obscuring the battlefield, cannons firing volleys, lines of men frantically reloading as balls whiz past them, and lines of cavalry sweeping in from the flanks.

All of these different kinds of war are going to lead to—you guessed it—different scenes of war, and therefore different things to write about. And that’s not even mentioning our viewpoint, be they front-line infantry, commander, narration, or some other perspective that could be bearing witness to the whole thing.

If you’re getting the idea that writing about a scene of warfare may be a complicated, messy business, then good. I’m doing my job. I’m not trying to discourage you, but rather point out that there are a lot of things you’re going to need to take into consideration before you start having two factions throw down.

What are those things? Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

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Being a Better Writer: Considering Theme and Message

Message. Message is an area of much controversy these days, especially in fiction. There are numerous groups with their own ideas of what “the message” of all fiction should be, all arguing and fighting with one another, not a few of them acting like spoiled, entitled children.

But we’re not going to talk about that today. Well, we will a little, because it’s kind of hard to escape in today’s topic. After all, I want to talk about message, and there’s a whole political battle going over “message” in fiction (note the quotation marks, they are significant). But I don’t want to focus on that. Instead, what I want to talk about is, well, what you see in the title: theme and message.

Let’s face it: Every decent story is going to have a theme behind it. Why? Because any good story, from the simplest to the most complex, is going to have a purpose. Something that it drives towards. It’s going to have an inciting incident, rising action, a climax, and a conclusion. And in order for it to have that conclusion, it must have something to conclude.

What does this mean? Well, in a roundabout way, no matter what story you write, what it’s about, or who you put in it, there’s going to be some sort of conclusion. If it doesn’t have one, then you don’t have a story, just a directionless event. And we don’t want that.

So, for our story to fit the requirements of a story, it needs to have a conclusion of some kind. And that means that, even if you’re not a fan of message fiction, your story will have a message of some kind, like it or not.

Right, some of you might be a little confused at the moment, so let me step back and clarify something. Message fiction versus theme and message: what’s the difference?

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Being a Better Writer: Opening Pandora’s Music Box

This is a post I didn’t actually think I’d ever write.

Hyperbole? Not really, actually. As you may have gathered from the title, today I’m going to be talking about music, which is a common enough topic that I’ve been asked about by many a young writer. They want to know if someone can listen to music while writing, what I listen to, etc.

And for the longest time, I’ve just said “Yes” and left it at that. I listen to music when I write, you can too.

But the other day, as I was working while listening to some new music, I started thinking about how many had asked me this question, and the nature of my response. And I started to wonder if there perhaps wasn’t more to say than a simple affirmation that I did. Because, while true that I do listen to music while I write—constantly, in fact—there’s a bit more to it than simply turning on the radio and diving right into whatever I’m working on. Because if it were that simple for everyone … well, the question wouldn’t be coming up, would it? Would be writers would simply turn something on and go, no need to ask anyone else at all.

So today, I’m going to talk a little bit more about listening to music while writing. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that over the years I’ve developed a code of rules that determine quite a bit of my writing process. Or perhaps “guidelines” is a better phrase. Irregardless, the point is, I just don’t sit down and hit “play” before I start working. Not normally. There are restrictions I follow, little self-learned requirements I keep to. And now, I’m going to share them with you.

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