Being a Better Writer: Adding Meaning

Hey there readers!

Yes, once again this post is falling on a Tuesday. I’ve taken a larger than normal load of shifts during the Christmas rush to help keep myself afloat (and maybe afford a little advertising on the side), so my schedule has been in a bit more of a time crunch than usual.

Alctually, make that a lot more of a time crunch, since I’m still working on finishing Jungle. The bad news is that I’m still working on it despite all of last month. The good news, however, is that I’m on the last five chapters. No joke. The end is all plotted out, everything is wrapping itself up, characters are dying …

I mean … no one is dying. It’s all sunshine and happiness with micro-missile launching rifles! Oh, and yes, those are a thing. For when you absolutely know you’re going to be facing exosuits.

Right, enough beating around the bush, though. I’ve got a Being a Better Writer post to write! And you to read!

So, today’s topic is another request from Topic List X. It’s also a pretty good one. The question given was roughly ‘How does one go about adding meaning, such as theme or symbology, to their story?’

Like I said, that’s a good question. The thing is, I’ll bet my answer is going to shock them.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Character Odds and Ends

New here? Confused by what a Classic Being a Better Writer post is? No worries!

Classic posts dig into a four-year archive of weekly BaBW articles to dig up a couple that are relevant to one another, forming a quick and easy to browse sampling of some of the site’s various writing articles.

Today? A few odds and ends, from character versus plot (and what that means) to language!

No beating around the bush here. Let’s get going!


Character Versus Plot—
We’ll start with the underlying concept behind these two options: All stories are driven by something. Now, when I say that a story is driven by something, I don’t mean the antagonist, or the inciting incident, or even the growth of the character. What I’m referring to by driven is the events or actions by which the story is pulled forward.

Bilbo leaving Frodo the ring, for example, is something that pulls the story forward. Harry receiving a letter from Hogwarts. Vin being noticed by Kelsier. A story is, in it’s purest, simplified form, a collection of events. But something inside the story must happen in order for these events to occur. Cause and effect.

What I’m discussing today is the method by which the story moves forward. Is it character-derived, or plot-derived?


Common Problems with Character Emotion—
More specifically, we’re going to look how writers handle giving their characters emotions, and where a lot of the common pitfalls occur.

So right from the start, I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page here. We wantour characters to have emotion. We want them to be well-rounded, well developed … real, in other words. We want characters who are complex, with multiple facets to their character who remind us of real people. We want a character who seems real. We do not want a flat character.

But the challenge is that writing such a character is quite difficult, and many authors fall into pitfalls along the way. And I’m not speaking of just novice writers out there either, plenty of long-term authors can still be guilty of making any number of these mistakes, falling into traps by either cutting corners or not realizing what they’ve done. And for it, their work suffers. Characters become “props” in a story, interchangeable parts that simply drop into scenes or events to fulfill a purpose.


Language—
If you’ve never considered how the language of different characters and scenes can affect your writing, well, it’s definitely worth thinking about.

But today, I’m going to talk about a different kind of language.

Foul language.

Some of you might not recognize the term (as it isn’t as widely used anymore), so I’ll get a little more specific. Swearing. Cursing. Derogatory words. Words and phrases that are generally considered impolite. The “F” word. D**n. Stuff like that. And yes, I’m censoring them for this blog. Family friendly.

You got that? All right. Are you ready for one of the biggest shocks of your life?

You shouldn’t be using them. At least, not nearly as often as you do.


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Being a Better Writer: Preaching to the Choir

Morning readers! Well, actually afternoon, and that’s my fault. Ever start reading a book late at night? Yeah, that’s something I shouldn’t do, and yet …

Well, anyway, let’s dive right into today’s topic shall we? It’s one that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, since it comes up a lot in the modern reading world, and quite frankly, it really shouldn’t. At least, not if the claims of the authors were remotely accurate.

What am I talking about? Why, I’m talking about preaching to the choir! Which I’m sure you know all about, so let me just skim over things so we can all get to talking about how right we are and how wrong everyon—

Ahem. Apologies, but we won’t be doing that at all. But that last little paragraph does serve to illustrate in a somewhat rough fashion exactly why this topic should be brought up, as it’s an exaggeration example—though not too far off the mark in many cases, sadly—of what preaching to the choir is, and offers a glimpse of why writing something in that fashion can wreck your story’s potential audience.

So without further ado, let’s dive into today’s Being a Better Writer, starting with an answer to the question that I’m sure is on some of your minds (and if not, we’re talking about it anyway to establish a baseline): what is preaching to the choir?

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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: 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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The Tragedy of DOOM 2016

I hold that DOOM 2016 is a tragedy.

I can already see many of you shaking your heads and moving to click away. No, no, don’t hit that back button yet. It’s not what you think! DOOM 2016 was a fantastic game. I loved every minute of it.

But it’s still a tragedy.

Right, quick addendum before I get into the meat of things here. First, I know I normally don’t talk about games on here, despite doing a lot of gaming in my limited spare time. Today is one of those “exception to the rule” days. Should be fun regardless.

Second, mandatory plug for Colony! It continues to rack up readers, and there’s a reason for it: The story is awesome! If you haven’t grabbed it yet, consider clicking the cover on the right there (or to the books page if you’re viewing this post some time from now and that cover isn’t Colony) and taking a quick look!

Those things aside, let’s get back to the topic at hand: The Tragedy of DOOM 2016. As I said earlier, DOOM 2016 is a fantastic game. It managed to not just perfectly catch the high-octane feel that the old, original Doom titles had when played by a pro, but translate them, not just into a modern era but to a modern audience as well.

The result is something incredible. Violent and insane (this is not a game to ignore the M-rating on; it earns it with showers of demon-blood), but incredible. You’d be hard-pressed to walk away from a session of play with DOOM without feeling your heart pound. The game is just that good.

But it’s also a tragedy.

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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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