Being a Better Writer: When Characters Fail

Welcome back, readers, to another Monday Being a Better Writer post! Today we’ve got a request topic, one that hopefully I’ll be able to do justice to the satisfaction of the one who asked. In addition, it’s also one of the last topics left on Topic List IX! We’re close to Topic List X, and I’m glad, because I’ve already got some pretty neat topics on there to go over.

But that’s in the future. For the now, let’s get going on today’s topic: When Characters Fail.

I’ll admit, I bounced around a bit on topic titles for this one, and not without good reason. For a moment it was “Failing to Succeed,” and then almost became “Letting Characters Fail.” But finally, I settled on When Characters Fail, rather than on letting, and I think that distinction is important.

See, if we go into our characters failing with the mindset that we’re “letting” them fail (and in fact, are), then we might be approaching our story in the wrong way. Sure, we’re giving our characters the “try/fail” cycle that they need, and they’re going through it, but here’s the thing about “letting” them fail. When we “let” our characters fail, then they’re not the ones acting on the try/fail cycle. We as authors are. We’re looking at our story and going “Okay, you can fail here, this is a good spot for it,” and letting the failure happen where we decide it works, rather than simply letting the characters be free to fail when their own choices drop it on them.

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Being a Better Writer: Escalating Tension

All right, so this topic has been on the list for a while, and it’s high time it gets crossed off. Which means … I’ve got to talk about it. Time to see how much knowledge I can impart! So here goes!

So, before on this site (several times in fact, if memory serves) we’ve spoken about the three act structure, or the rise and fall of action, or pacing … Like I said, if memory serves, this topic has come up quite a bit. Anyway, with that, the classic plot timeline has come into play. You know the one. Rising and falling action, a climax, all that jazz? Hang on, I made one at one point. Take a look.

Yup. That thing. Like I said, we’ve talked about it before. And we’ve touched on key points, such as the falling tension, the climax, the resolution, the stinger, or even the various parts. But one part of that timeline that I don’t believe has ever been talked about on this blog is the moments of rising tension.

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Being a Better Writer: Showing Character and Setting with Small Details

First of all, I apologize for how late this post is (it’s Tuesday). Turns out, I’d almost forgotten that I had a meeting at my part-time Monday. Now, I can’t work currently, but I can attend a meeting. So I did, forgetting until Sunday night that this automatically conflicted with the Monday morning Being a Better Writer post. I then got up a little early to try and work something out, but didn’t get too far before I had to head off to work.

Side note: The knee is still recovering. Trying to get my back pay for the several weeks worth of work I was unable to do. We’ll see what happens. Wish me luck!

Anyway, so today’s topic. I want to dive right into this one headway, because it’s a good one. Often here before I’ve talked about show versus tell, right? And yes, that’s show versus tell, not show don’t tell. The first is proper (all things in balance). The latter is overblown purple prose taught as a guideline to push writers into showing, but then unfortunately not untaught.

Anyway, there are, if memory serves, several blog posts on that very topic here on the site. But I want to go one step further and tackle something that usually comes right on the heels of telling someone to “show” something.

The question of “how?”

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Being a Better Writer: Audience and Shifting Reader Culture

Hey everyone, welcome back! I hope you all had a pretty good weekend. Mine was … actually, I don’t think I’ve posted about this on here, but coming up on three weeks ago now at work I twisted my knee. Which is why my posting on here suddenly got really regular. Ever twisted your knee? Well, it’s not fun. It’s not something that requires surgery, nor that makes you completely incapable of using your leg … but it does pretty much prevent you from hobbling more than a few-hundred feet in total (and that brings about swelling and some serious pain). It’s not an injury you can have and at the same time do a job involving lots of walking and other physical activity … which means I’ve had time off from work (time I hopefully get paid for under workman’s comp since it was an injury from work; but we’ll see on that angle). So I’ve been doing a lot of writing.

Anyway, that’s a long, roundabout way of putting context to saying that my weekend was pretty good. I hit my monthly quota early (surprise surprise, right?) and, by combining two months of quota rewards (each time I meet a monthly quota I spend $5 on myself), picked up Hollow Knight. It’s a game, not a book. Fantastic game so far, though. It’s a brilliantly-conceived little world, with a lot of charm and wonderful art direction. Blended with fantastic design. A someone who loves the Metroid games, Hollow Knight is going right up there with Shadow Complex.

Okay, okay, you’re not hear to read about games … though I’ll admit I’m a bit tempted to do a piece on Hollow Knight‘s particular style of storytelling, as well as a few other games that do similar, and how it’s influenced my own. But … that’s for another time. No, now I need to get down to business on today’s topic.

I’ll give you a warning, though: It’s probably going to be a shorter one. Why? Well … because last week’s was titanic, in part. And because Jungle is finally starting to get to the exciting bits (for me, at least) where things start coming together! So I’m a bit excited to get to be working on that.

So, today’s topic is a bit of a weird one … Weird enough that I just wiped 700 words on it out of existence because it didn’t feel on point enough. Today, I want to talk about audience. Well, not just audience, but also the shifting culture that audience brings.

Confused? It’s a bit weird. So let me give you an example from this year’s LTUE.

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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.

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Being a Better Writer: Order of Operations

Hello again, readers, and welcome to yet another Being a Better Writer post with an ominous, math-based title!

I know, I know. Forty percent of you clicked away after reading that sentence. Another fifty percent didn’t make it past seeing the title. And the twenty percent that are left? They know what’s wrong with that last statement.

Actually, if you’re quick on the uptake, you might have realized that there’s more than one error in that last paragraph. The first most probably spotted, but the second …? Well, it has to do with our title, which means that this is as good a point as any to dive right in and get into things.

So, let’s go ahead and start then. Except … unlike normal, I actually want to start today with a bit of a hands-on moment. A writing prompt, if you will. You may have noticed that there’s a scenic picture below. See it? You might need to hit the jump. Anyway, it’s a picture of the Kennecott Copper Mine ghost town in Alaska. This particular picture was shared to Reddit, IIRC, so hopefully it’s all right to use it here. I didn’t take it, is what I’m saying, and the goal here is to use it for educational purposes. You can click on it to see it in all its glory (which I recommend).

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Being a Better Writer: Getting in the Zone

Welcome back, all, to another Monday! I’ve got to type fast with this post, as I’ve got another shift at my part-time today. This time, it’s in the afternoon rather than the morning, however, so as long as I keep my fingers moving, you’re getting a Monday post! Really quick, however, before I get started: some quick news updates!

Jungle is currently sitting at about 190,000 words (check the “Current Projects” page) and is over 50% done! The only part that saddens me about this is how long it has taken me—now I fully see the effect of working part time and trying to write a book: I just don’t have the same amount of time. I’ve been cutting back personal time, however, and gotten my monthly goals back on a somewhat reduced track … but it still sucks, because I’d really like to finish up Jungle and get started on the editing for Shadow of an Empire so that I can get that out by the end of the year. Granted, I could just stop writing massive epics … but what’s the fun in that?

Discord Day Care, meanwhile, is almost ready to go up. I’m going through the last stages of Beta right now, giving it the final polishing touches. That just leaves me with a cover to find, and to get it all uploaded and ready to post. The publishing schedule for the story, I have decided, will follow the timeline of the story itself. Each chapter will be published as it occurs in the story, in real-time. The only thing that won’t match up will be the dates. I debated back and forth about the best way to do this, but concluded that for Day Care, a publishing schedule like this one should work best. So be excited, it’s almost here at last!

Just a bit more, I promise, then we’ll dive into this week’s topic. First, last month’s Patreon supporter post was a pretty in-depth look back on the origins of my first book, One Drink. It’s something I’ve meant to do for a while now, and yes, for those of you supporting me on Patreon, you can expect in-depth retrospectives on each of my other works to make their way to you as time moves on. Those of you who are not Patreon supporters, it’s only a $1-pledge to become one, and you’ll get access to some behind-the-scenes stuff and previews. Plus, you get the satisfaction that your dollar helps support content like Being a Better Writer!

Now, last, I swear, and then we’ll be on topic: The Rolling Sale. No defined date on this one yet. I’m still working out some details. But the general idea is that it will be a month-long or so event, starting with One Drink and stretching up to Colony. The general idea will be that the first title in the chain will go on sale, alongside an announcement of tiers for the next sale. The more copies go out, the deeper the discount on the next book in the chain. Ditto for when the sale shifts to that title. Kind of a “the more people take advantage of this, the better it gets for everyone” angle.

Right, that’s all the news. Now on to today’s topic: getting in the zone.

So I’m fairly certain that some of you may be scratching your head over this title … and that’s partially my fault. After all, there are a lot of “zones” authors tend to get into when writing. There’s getting in the character’s heads. There’s getting into the world so it feels like we’re living and breathing it. And there’s even just hitting our stride and typing out endless chains of smooth sentences that come together to build the perfect paragraph. Technically, there are a lot of zones in writing.

But today, I’ve going to talk about the most general ones. This is, actually, a requested topic from a reader who wanted a bit of advice on this matter. I don’t recall their exact, word-for-word question, but it went a little something like this: When you sit down in the morning and get ready to write, how do you get yourself into the mindset to write? How do you clear your head? How do you pull yourself away from the rest of the world and immerse yourself in whatever fantastical world you’re putting together?

And … the truth is, this time, that there’s actually a magic bullet.

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