Being a Better Writer: Going Vertical

I’m back! No longer diseased! Well, not fully. And still with a recovering knee injury, but those things take time, or so I’m told by the doctors. But I am well enough to write write write at last! My mind is clear! And so after a long, unwelcome delay, we’re finally getting back to a follow-up post I alluded to some time ago.

That’s right, remember that post I wrote on Horizontal and Vertical storytelling a few weeks back? Because today’s post was originally, before I came down with disease that made me cough my lungs into a bowl, going to be the follow-up. Lousy timing, but what it means for readers today is that I suggest going back and reading that first post if you don’t remember the details behind it. Because I’ll give a quick, one-sentence recap related to today’s topic at hand, but after that I’m diving right into the thick of things, so if you’re not caught up on what horizontal and vertical storytelling are, you’ll want to read that link up above first, and then come back for this post.

Right, the preamble is out of the way, so let’s dive into it. Let’s go vertical and give our stories some depth!

Now, what some of you are probably thinking at this point, or were even thinking after that post a few weeks ago, is why I wanted to do a post on exactly this topic. After all, explaining to someone what horizontal writing is and how to do it? That’s pretty straightforward, since almost every story we’ve even been exposed to growing up (especially Hollywood action-blockbuster style stories) are horizontal focused. Point A to point D. Action beat to action beat.

We’re familiar with this kind of approach, and it’s what most think of when discussing stories. Hit the point, move to the next point, then the next, and so on and so forth. While not technically correct to call it such, for many this is essentially how they think of storytelling. Again, it’s not correct, but for a layman it’s pretty accurate.

My point is, explaining horizontal storytelling to someone is fairly easy and straightforward because most people understand how to tell a horizontal story. It’s familiar and easy to grasp. Vertical storytelling, on the other hand, is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with up front. It’s not nearly as often talked about, nor as often recognized, though it can be present in many entertainment items you may have enjoyed.

So, with that as our backing, how does one go about building a story that has vertical elements?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Being a Better Writer: Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling

Welcome back readers! I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I had a physical therapy appointment this morning, and that took up the early part of the day when I normally would have been writing this post.

Physical therapy? Yup, you read that right. Those of you who’ve been keeping tabs on all my posts will know that several months ago I twisted my knee at work and tore my meniscus. Since then, it’s been a slow recovery (aided only with gnashing of teeth by my employer, who let me sit for 30 days without medical treatment or work, one day short of the maximum allowed by law) that has been greatly aided by physical therapy. My knee isn’t back to full ability yet, though it’s definitely getting better (thankfully, as knee injuries suck). And physical therapy will wreck you! Or at least, it’s wrecking me. I am sore afterwards. But, like I said, getting better. It’s a good sore.

Good thing, too, because the amount of money my employer is spending to avoid spending money on medical care is, quite frankly, insane. Later this week I have to go back to a different doctor for another check-up. Now, physical therapy is under the guidance of a doctor. Why are they sending me to another doctor? For independent confirmation that I need physical therapy and am still injured.

That’s right. They’re so suspicious of doctors that they’re paying other doctors to confirm that the first and second doctors aren’t trying to cheat them. Personally, I think that says more about the company than it does about the doctors, but that’s just me.

Anyway,  you’re not here to read about that, so let’s get things moving. Starting with the announcement that this is the first topic off Topic List X! The big 1-0! We’re here at last! And I’m glad, because there are some good topics ahead!

Starting with today’s. Today, we’re going to discuss horizontal and vertical storytelling: what they are, what they mean, how they work, how they differ, and of course most importantly how you can use them in your work.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Ending Type Variety and Planning Ahead

I apologize for the lateness of this post. Despite not having work at my part-time due to a knee injury yesterday, this post ended up so long (my longest yet) that it wasn’t done in time to post.

Man, it feels like I’ve been writing about endings a lot lately, at least to me personally. Maybe that’s just because that topic sticks in my mind fairly vividly. Or maybe I’ve been covering endings too much lately and you’d all rather here me talk about something else. In which case, let me know in the comments! After all, there is Topic List X coming (currently I’m on IX)!

Right, no beating around the bush today. I want to dive right in. Let’s talk ending types.

Okay, some of you might be scratching your heads at this one. After all, an ending is an ending, right? I’ve talked about endings before. What more could I have to say?

Well, as it turns out, a bit. Because as I’ve said before in another post, endings are a bit like a keystone: Everything moves toward them. Every story has to have one. Or, again as I’ve said before, the whole thing falls apart.

But there is something I’ve not talked about with regards to these endings yet: What type of ending you want to have. Or, to put it another way, the various ways you can close your story based on what you expect to make of it at a later date.

Yes, today we will be talking about sequels. And lack of sequels, though neither of those is the total topic. No, we’re still going to be talking endings. Just the different kinds of endings your story can have to make those work or not work.

Or perhaps “endings” isn’t the best way to put it. After all, many people tend to use terms like “the ending scene” or the like to talk about a climatic battle, rather than the actual ending. So perhaps I should say “conclusion,” or maybe “resolution,” and frame our discussion in terms of that. Or maybe even “approach.”

Why? Because again, as I’ve said before, everything in your story points toward the ending. The conclusion. So the type of conclusion you want your story to have? Well, it’s better if you know going in so that you can adjust the rest of your story to fit. Know which one you’re going to want to pull out of your writer’s toolbox to frame the rest of the story. Just like keystones can be in varying shapes and sizes, so can endings.

A minor note here: What I’ll be talking about today is somewhat flexible. More than one story has been written with one type of conclusion in mind only to deliver another, and while yes, this does affect how the story is received … it’s not the end of the world. It’s a bit like having … oh, a keystone that isn’t cut quite right but still does its job when slotted into place. It might not fit perfectly, and the top might be a little uneven … but it still does its job. However, much like a paving stone that is raised or lowered slightly above or below that of its fellows, it still may feel odd to the pedestrian, and the discrepancy will likely be noted. If you’d like an example of this, think of any movie or book that in the last moments made a sudden sweep into sequel territory. Makes you stumble a bit, doesn’t it? Even if it doesn’t necessarily not make the rest of the story worth it.

Point being, today’s topic is very much a question of making everything line up right. If you happen to swap ending “types” at the last minute, well, your story isn’t going to come apart. Not in this context, anyway. But if you know beforehand what you want, you can lay the groundwork of the story much more carefully so that everything lines up nice and neat at the end.

Got it? We’re talking about types of conclusions you can make your story work toward. Types of endings, in other words, you’ll see in various media, and when and how to make them work, or what you’d need to do to pull that off.

So, preamble done, let’s start with the most basic type of ending.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Balancing a Returning Character

Whoa! Late post today! Don’t worry, it wasn’t because I was slacking off. The opposite, actually. See, during that month-long burn to get Colony published and into eager reader’s hands (many of whom are now enjoying it immensely, going by the high-quality reviews that have already rolled in), I skipped a lot of sleep. Quite a lot. We’re talking 10-12 hours spent a day working on Colony regularly, plus everything else my life had. So I was, for almost a month, getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night.

Now I’m catching up. Fighting off a cold, letting the web-eyed feeling go away. The like. So today I slept pretty late. I’m not going to apologize for it; I needed it.

But since I’ve touched on the topic, here’s my shameless plug reminder to go buy a copy of Colony! It’s currently collecting a nice set of 5-star ratings and reviews across Amazon and Goodreads! Not only does it help support yours truly, but you’ll be getting an awesome Sci-Fi read to enjoy!

Right, enough plugs, as I’m sure you’re all off to buy Colony now. Once you’ve done that, you can come back and read today’s Being a Better Writer post. Which starts in the next paragraph (but first, as a quick aside, if you’re a long-time reader of BaBW but not of my books, consider being one who reads both. After all, if I can write this much good advice on writing, wouldn’t it be worth your time to see if I’ve delivered on that?).

So, balancing a returning character. Many of you are probably wondering what exactly I’m referring to when I say that. It could be taken a couple of ways, I’ll admit. So let me explain in a bit more detail. Today’s topic comes as a response to a reader question from long ago, one given in response to a post on dealing with overpowered and underpowered characters. This reader had a curious thought with regards to both that subject and the idea of continual, advancing character development: Considering that characters do (or at least should) continue to advance, develop, and grow, how does a writer keep them from becoming overpowered if they use them in a sequel work? Or, as they phrased it, how do you keep legacy characters (or characters from earlier in a series) from becoming too much for the story to take and overwhelming it?

Okay, some of you are nodding, but for those of you who are nodding but only halfway certain of what I just said, let me explain in a bit more depth through use of an example. Say you write a book. You’ve got a cool protagonist that starts out fairly inexperienced against whatever foe you’ve got, but by the end of the story they’ve “leveled up” and gained enough skills and talents to be able to defeat the antagonist.

Cool. Edit it, print it, sell it.

Then you decide you want to work on a sequel. Except … you can’t write the same book twice. Why? Because if you throw that character into the same scenario as the last one, or even a similar one … guess what, you’ll have a pretty short book. Because they’ve already overcome those trials and struggles. They know how to succeed.

So, now the obvious answer is to escalate the threat/antagonist the same way you’ve escalated the protagonist, right? Well … maybe. You can only do this for so long before the story starts to hit DragonBall Z-levels of ridiculously competent/overpowered characters. Endless escalation makes for … Well, it makes things start to become ridiculous fairly quickly.

And that’s the query that was proposed by the reader. They wanted to know how they could use these “Legacy Characters” without breaking the flow of their sequel. How they could keep things tough and difficult for their protagonists while still using the same protagonists in some manner (even having them as a side character can still enable them to solve a lot of problems).

So today, that’s our topic. How to bring back a character in a later work with all their skills and talents … but not have them break our story.

Continue reading