Being a Better Writer: Subplots

This post was originally written and posted March 3rd, 2015, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So about a week ago, as I was browsing a social site online, I came across a cry for help. A writer was in the process of putting together their first story—an epic journey adventure across an unknown continent kind of story—and they’d run into a major snag. Once they stepped outside the action scenes, they were finding that everything else about their story fell flat. There just wasn’t anything gripping going on outside of those pivotal plot moments. And they wanted to know what they could do to mitigate this, to make the story more than a clear case of moving from point A to point B to point C.

The answer was that he needed to have stuff to fill in the periods between those points that wasn’t just … padding. Material that was more than filler.

They needed a subplot.

So, we’re going to start with the basics here today: What is a subplot, and why do I need one? Why are they so important? And how do I use one?

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Being a Better Writer: Killing Characters

This post was originally written and posted February 23rd, 2015, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Woo boy, this topic has been a while in coming. I mean a while, I had this written down on the second list of topics I put together. Seeing as it’s one of the last on my third, it’s pretty clear I’ve been putting it off for a while. Granted, part of that was because every time I looked at getting around to it, I had a story coming out, and I really didn’t want to be that cruel, but since we’re looking at a month or so before Beyond the Borderlands is ready, I feel now I can safely tackle this topic without worrying a bunch of you. Well, except for the Beyond alpha readers, but that’s the price of being an alpha reader.

So, killing characters … Why do we do it? And how?

Well, let’s set some ground terms here. First of all, we’re not talking about red shirts, those well-meaning but ultimately diversionary characters whose only purpose for the story is to die a few scenes or minutes in just to emphasize that the situation is serious. Though these particular characters have their place (the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for example) in establishing a scene or mood, that isn’t what this particular blog is about.

And we’re not talking about killing background or secondary characters either. You know, the kind that’s just one step above red shirt, like a main character’s parent? The one who, if they die, will actually conveniently set up the main character for their journey of discovery and adventure? Or the one who’s always been a friend to the character, but doesn’t really get much screen time past a few mentions or small scenes and a hug, but then dies during or near the finale in a manner startlingly similar to a red shirt, never to be mentioned again except maybe once in passing?

We’re not talking about those. And to be fair, maybe we should at some point, because each one of those scenarios does come with it’s own laundry list of little cliches and storytelling tools as well as drawbacks. But today we’re not talking about those. No, today we’re talking about the most influential kind of character death.

The main character death.

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Well, this weekend was a slow one. If you’re wondering where today’s post went, the answer is … tomorrow.

A lot of things are going to get done tomorrow.

Basically, it comes down to one of two things. The first is in the title. I got sick this last weekend. Well, really in the week leading up to it. Knocked out by some sinus infection.

How bad was I? At one point I wandered into my bathroom to collect some toilet-paper tissue to blow my nose on. I walked into the darkened bathroom, right past the light switch … and up to the toilet paper roll, which I proceeded to flip up and down in the dark, wondering why the light wasn’t coming on.

Yup. I was out of it. Still feeling the lingering aftereffects too. If there are a few typos in this post … egh. Whatever.

Anyway, the other reason is that, as of last week, I have now started working at my second job, and as you’d imagine, that’s cutting into my free time just a little bit. I’m still getting my schedule figured out (and of course, being sick threw it for a complete loop), but it does appear that my writing is going to slow down a little bit. I’ll do what I can, but things will likely get a little slower from here on out.

Anyway, I’ll keep you guys posted.

Being a Better Writer: When Exposition Stops Being Entertaining

This post was originally written and posted February 2nd, 2015, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Welcome back everyone after another fun weekend! Anyone do anything awesome? I did! I spent my Saturday experiencing the sights and sounds of Comic-con, spending lots of money on said Comic-con (seriously, swag!) and then getting killed in an unexpected, but much enjoyed, run-in with Borderlands‘s own Krieg.

Thankfully, being an author, my budget is pretty small and limited, but getting respawned at the nearest New-U station wasn’t too wallet breaking. Now, my wallet slightly lighter and my goodie-bag full, I’m back once again, and ready to start another week off with a discussion on writing.

This week’s topic is one that comes from a reader and, to be honest, it’s a pretty darn good question, because it’s one concerning exposition. This is an area that has flummoxed not just young writers from around the world and across time, but even experienced ones, leading to many heads meeting desks. It’s a conundrum that pops up even in well-received works, be they movies, books, or any other medium with a plot. This conundrum? Well, I’ll let our seeker do their own explaining first. Here’s what they asked:

What do you do, when you’re writing, and the story really needs to get this information across in order to move the plot forward, but the narrative or dialogue to convey this information to the reader is soooooo boring that you don’t want to write it and you wouldn’t want to read it, either?

I’m sure that “think of a less boring way to convey the information” is a technically correct answer, but I hope you have some guidance in this area.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Motivations

Why do your characters do what they do?

It seems like a simple question. And, likewise, a simple answer. Why do they do what they do? Because they want to.

Okay, but why?

Character motivation is one of those topics that seems pretty straightforward. You have a character, and you want them to do something, so they need a reason to do it, right?

Well … hopefully, yes. But in practice, is that what’s going on in our writing? Does our character really have motivation … or are we just putting them in a position to do something by necessity, or where they’ll go along with the flow?

Yes, this is a basic topic. But it’s one that feels justified simply because it can become a major stumbling block for newer writers. Often I’ve picked up a story about some characters setting out on a globe-trotting adventure only to wonder halfway through the opening chapter “Okay, but why?” because the author was so keen on getting to the adventure that they neglected to put much work into explaining how the character got there in the first place. Which isn’t to say that the motive may not have been there, just that the author neglected to mention it or explain it fully.

Right, so two possible problems, there. The first is that the author isn’t giving their characters enough motivation. The second is that even when they are, they aren’t explaining them adequately. So, what can we do about that?

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