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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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: Character Versus Plot

This post was originally written and posted November 10th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today we’re going to talk about a lesser-considered aspect of storytelling and writing. I’ve bandied about with a few different introductions to the concept and summarily discarded all of them, so instead I’m just going to jump right in and tackle things.

Effectively—and understand that I am for the purposes of today’s concept, grossly simplifying—every story out there, written, told, or seen, rides a sliding scale into one of two categories: They’re either a character-driven piece or a plot-driven piece. That’s it. These are your options, and understanding which your story is going to be, as well as more importantly, how to achieve this, will play a part in determining the success of your work.

Okay, some of you are nodding, some of you are confused, a few are wondering where I’m going with this. So let’s look into this one a little more deeply.

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Being a Better Writer: Should I Build a Plot Structure?

Today I’m going to be tackling a topic by request. Now, it’s not a topic I’ve not heard discussed before. Or, to put that in a clearer context, this is a question that crops up with fair regularity in writing groups, classes, and cons … But it’s also not one of the more common questions because it implies a bit more forethought. Not that those who aren’t asking it aren’t thinking, but rather that those who tend to ask this question, at least as I see it, are probing for a bit more detail, making a bit of a “I should look before I leap” observation.

The question is: Should I build a plot structure?

Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that. Most of the time the writer asking this question isn’t really asking whether or not they should. What they’re asking is why they should or shouldn’t.

Shouldn’t? Oh yes. There are definitely cases where a plot structure might not be in your best interest, or even harmful to the overall story. Perhaps a better way to interpret this question then, is when should I build a plot structure?

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