Being a Better Writer: The Keystone

Welcome back readers! As you may have guessed from this posting date, I had another Monday shift at my part time, hence why you’re getting this today (I’m at the moment writing it up during the early evening of the 22nd, so you’re reading this in what would technically be the future). Nothing too unusual there.

So, let’s dive right into today’s topic, shall we? I really don’t feel like beating around the bush; but rather I’d prefer to just get down to it. Today’s topic comes from … well, it comes from a number of sources, actually. Listening to other authors talk about writing, certainly. Reading a few books and whatnot over the last few weeks. And just following various forums about writing online. Toss all those things into my head, and let simmer for a few hours, and this post and topic is what came from it.

First question: Are you familiar with what a keystone is? You might remember this from your history classes, particularly if they covered the Roman Empire. A keystone was, well, the key to constructing those awesome Roman arches ancient tourists would see everywhere in Rome. And modern tourist still can see in the same places, 3000 years later. You know the shape—the classic pillars with the half-circle on the top?

This design was the one of many things that took Rome to stardom and made them the most influential empire in the world (so influential that many today still underestimate exactly how much of our day-to-day society was shaped by them). It enabled Rome to build bigger, grander, more spacious structure than anyone that had come before them.

So yeah, kind of a big deal. But how did it work? And what does it have to do with writing?

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Things Moving and in Context

So this last weekend I came to a conclusion. I’d spent the week writing, as usual, working on the first draft of Jungle (you know, that sequel to that Colony book everyone keeps talking about), but between being sick and low on sleep (said sickness really, really wanted me to sleep), something just wasn’t clicking. Something about the chapter I was working on, even when I finished it, felt off.

I spent my Saturday thinking about it. Running things over in my mind. Thinking about what critical plot elements the chapter introduced, how it did so, what the characters did when interacting, etc. And finally, I reached an important conclusion: The chapter wasn’t working because it was dragging. It was a slog. And it had to go.

Said chapter is now marked for deletion and rewrite. Actually, rewrite isn’t even the right term. Summation is more accurate. Because, I realized as I was thinking about it, everything that happens in that chapter could also be told in a different chapter in half the time, at a later point in the story, when there is, to put it plainly, more going on.

The chapter I’d written was dragging. It wasn’t keeping the story moving.

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Being a Better Writer: References and Pop Culture

Hello readers, and welcome back to another post of Being a Better Writer, coming to you bright and early this Tuesday morning.

Yeah, Tuesday. Mondays shifts at my part-time job again. Just a fair heads-up, I’ve got a Monday shift next week too, so next week’s BaBW post will also  be delayed. It happens. And I need the money, so …

Oh, and I apologize in advance if this post seems a little scatter-brained. I’ve not been sleeping well lately, and that’s probably had a detrimental effect on my writing.

Right. Back to the topic at hand. Which is a request topic from one of you readers! And an interesting one at that, one I wouldn’t have likely come to on my own. See, this reader asked after right and wrong ways to do pop-culture references in a book. And while yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this … it’s not a topic I would have thought to discuss until it was posed!

This is why reader questions are always good to hear. Sometimes there’s just a topic I wouldn’t have ever considered on my own, but someone else has. And in this case, it’s a topic that’s worth talking about.

So, references and pop culture … Where do we start? Well, how about some definitions and clarifications for those who aren’t quite certain what I mean when I talk about these terms?

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Being a Better Writer: Politics

Oh dear, what have I done? Why did I ever even write this topic down? What was I thinking? And then I picked it?

Actually, it’s not that bad. Some of you readers may have had similar reactions to seeing this topic, considering what it could discuss … and let’s be honest, that is a topic I could discuss, and likely will at another time.

Just not today. No, today’s topic of politics isn’t going to be involved with the real-world, thankfully (because that’s a mess). No, instead I want to talk about the politics in your book. No, not those “social politics” of the theme and whatnot. Not that at all. That’s the other topic, the one most of us dread because it’s so overblown these days.

No, I want to talk about the political sphere of your story. The politics in your story, that the characters are part of. Not the reader.

Now, because I’ve seen this topic broached before at conventions, writing classes, and the like, I can imagine what the average response is to this topic. Either a confused expression (fairly common) or a deadpan,  bored look coupled with the thought “Well, my book doesn’t involve politics or anything like that, so I’m just going to zone out” (which is equally common, in my experience). But … you’re wrong. If you’re thinking that right now, you’re wrong. And here’s why.

Almost every story, no matter the subject, will involve politics of some kind. In some way, from some angle. Politics will be there.

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Being a Better Writer: The Heavy Hand of the Writer

So … I picked that title because it looked and read better than my other alternatives. One of which was “The Heavy Hand of Whatever” which really didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Another was the several knit-together topics that this post was to cover … which would leave you, readers, with a giant string to look at. Then the last was a giant string (______) in place of “the Writer.”

Oh, right, before I dive into things don’t forget: April 19th is a one day sale of all my works in honor of my birthday! That is one day away! Or possibly less … or maybe even in the past, depending on when you read this post. Hopefully you read it in time. Part of the goal I’m going for is for everyone who’s enjoyed one of my books to share their favorite somehow while the sale is on, so get ready! You can check this post for a quick reminder of all the sales. Got it? Good!

So, back to the mysterious topic at hand. This is one of those posts that was actually inspired by a book that I’m currently forcing my way through. Yes, forcing … It’s not a very good book. But, since what’s causing me to not enjoy it is an easily identifiable flaw, or rather a series of them … My mind immediately turned to this blog and started putting together a blog post. A blog post I knew would be written late, since I had work today, and I have family visiting tomorrow.

So … here’s the biggest problem with this book I’m trying to shove through (which, if you’re wondering where it came from, originated at my local library as my random pick of “Let’s try this”). Okay, second biggest problem next to its plot being ripped off pretty much wholesale from any generic book or film that has a Skynet plot. And this problem is … Crud, I barely know where to start. Technically, it’s a lot of problems all wrapped up under one giant umbrella, each one feeding off of one another to create a morass of issues. But at it’s core?

The book is extremely heavy-handed in it’s approach to, well, everything from the plot to the theme.

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Being a Better Writer: Detailing Characters

Whoa. Did I wake up late today. Noon, in fact. Wow.

But you know what? I feel excellent! Last night marks, I think, the first full night of sleep I’ve gotten in since … crud … Since I returned from my quick Alaska trip. And even there I was playing catch up. I think that today I might almost be caught up.

So … today’s post is a little late. Sorry. But I really don’t feel bad. I feel really good. Crud, I might even go get some exercise today!

Also, really quick before we get to today’s topic, don’t forget the 24-hour sale hitting on April 19th! Even if you already own a few books, it’s a chance to either complete your collection or share your favorites with someone else!

Okay, all that out of the way? Let’s get down to business with today’s topic of choice: Detailing characters.

Hopefully, that title has done its job properly and drawn most of you in. Made you think. Many, I expect, upon seeing the term “detail” and “character” in the same context would assume that the topic of choice would be about how to create or write detailed characters. Which, to be  fair, is a very good topic. Hence why I’ve made a number of posts on it already. And yes, this topic does sort of align with that. It’s definitely going to get the tag.

But … I didn’t say “detailed characters.” I said detailing, which is just a little bit different. Detailing is something a bit more specific.

It can also be a verb, describing an action instead of being a thing. So, for example, I can talk about detailing as a concept … but I can also say “Oh, I was detailing X” and the statement still works.

Right, right, enough background. So what is detailing, and what does it have to do with your characters? Simple. Detailing is the act of adding small, decorative features to a building, sculpture, painting, or other piece of art. Hence the name. You’re adding small “details” to an item in order to enhance the whole. Like molding along the edge of a room, or a slight upwards crease to the lines around a sculpture’s eyes. Small, tiny details that enhance the whole when pulled back.

Most of you can probably see where I’m going with this now. Maybe. You’re thinking about the small details of your characters, right? How to add them in to enhance what the reader already knows?

Well, that’s good. In fact, I think I wrote another post that touched on that at one point. Maybe more than one. Which is good, because I’m not repeating that today. No, I’m not going to be talking about your primary characters at all.

No, today I’m stepping in another direction with our detailing. I’m talking about secondary and tertiary characters. And just like that, the whole situation has changed.

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Being a Better Writer: Fleshing Out Ideas – From Idea to Story

Welcome back, readers, to another Monday post of Being a Better Writer! Sorry for the delay. As many of you likely guessed, I was given a morning shift at work to deal with. Half-shift, but even then there’s the prep time around it, afterwards, travel time, etc … Hence why I’d rather sell more books. But that’s a case for another post. Being late, better I dive right into today’s topic!

Now, I don’t actually remember the circumstances by which this topic came to be on the list (could have been LTUE), but either way, the topic is a good one. Hang out in a writing-centric thread online or attend a writing workshop—sands, even look in the comments of a public page for an author or attend a panel—and eventually, probably fairly quickly, you’ll hear a question or  comment that’s a lot like the following:

I have this great idea/concept/story/character, but the moment I try to sit down and write them, I just run out of steam. I can’t get it/them written. How do I do this?

Now, the exact phrasing may vary, but trust me, you’ll here the sentiment, echoed from a number of beginning writers. And you won’t even have to wait long. It’s a question that comes up all the time.

And you know, to be fair, it’s not exactly a bad question. A poor one, maybe, but not a bad one. And it’s one that’s often reflected by the faces and situations of many more in whatever assorted audience is present than the one who asked. Crud, I’m certain that it’s a question that some of the authors who have been forced to scramble for an answer themselves once voiced, though perhaps internally.

But … it’s still a poor question. I certainly wouldn’t call it a good one. Not poor enough that it isn’t worth tackling in this post, but not the best question either.

Why? Well, let me answer that before I get into the deeper-roots behind the question. The question is a poor one because 90% of the time the individual asking it is asking for a silver bullet. A solution that doesn’t exist. I entirely suspect that if, when asked this question, whoever was asked responded with “Well, are you using X program?” or “Are you sitting in this kind of chair?” there would be a massive sale of said product in the audience that had asked.

Again, I shouldn’t batter these poor souls too badly. After all, they are beginners. But as beginners, when asking this question, the answer they get is hardly the answer they want (and sometimes, they’ll tell you). They’re inexperienced enough to think that all it takes is an idea, a pen or a keyboard, and a little bit of writing, and boom! Story! And the problem with that is that, as all writers know, there is no silver bullet. There’s no magic “thing” or element that anyone can just do to take a story from an idea to a finished product (or at least a halfway competent one). And in that regard, the question is poor.

Now, that said, it wouldn’t take much to “fix” it so that we can give it a real answer. If we rearrange it a little, tweak a few of the words a bit, we get something much more workable. Something like:

I have a good idea/story/concept/character, but the when I sit down to try and write it, I start having trouble. How do I take it from an idea to a finished work? What are the steps there?

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