Being a Better Writer: Don’t Force It

Hello readers! Who’s ready for a busy week?

Why ask? Because it most definitely is going to be a busy one. For starters, Axtara – Banking and Finance completed the Alpha 1 this weekend! Which means it’s time for Alpha 2!

Yes, it’s getting a second Alpha. Not a long one. The reason is that some changes were made to the plot, small but impactful ones, and I need fresh eyes in order to assess how well the changes functioned in their goal. So this week there will be another Alpha call for the Alpha 2. I just need a few readers who want to blast through this thing in a few days (it’s not long) and comment so I can assess the changes and how they held up.

Once Alpha 2 is complete, I can determine whether or not Axtara requires a third alpha read or if it can be sent to Beta 1. Note that this wasn’t because there was some massive plot whole. There were a few narrative changes made to … well if I say it here, I contaminate any Alpha 2 Readers. This is all in the pursuit of making Axtara the best story it can be.

Some more news before we get down to today’s topic. As many of you have already noticed, Fireteam Freelance ended on Saturday. The last episode entry (Recombinant) went up, bringing the whole thing to a close. Well, as close to a close as a side story in the UNSEC Space setting could, anyway. But it is over and done.

Which means that in addition to the Alpha 2 call for Axtara, this week is also going to see two reaction posts. One from you readers, in which I’ll post a few of the comments left on episodes of Freelance over its posting time and then encourage you readers to leave final thoughts on the series as a whole (or specific sections, if so inclined) and then later this week, at the end, I’ll post my own thoughts on the series and my experience with it.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a busy week. Meanwhile, Starforge continues to roll forward, I am two reviews shy of 300 total (and still sitting at a 4.6 out of 5 average!) … and there’s probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting to mention.

But that’s more than enough news about what’s coming this week. Let’s get down to business talking about this week’s Being a Better Writer topic. Which is … probably not what you expected. The title being, after all, Don’t Force It, could mean a number of different things. So what’s this all about?

Well, let me put it another way and summarize the thrust of today’s topic: don’t be so committed to an idea or concept that the rest of your story suffers for it.

Perplexed? Don’t be. Hit that jump and let’s get talking about this.

So let me begin with where this whole post came from. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, part of being a good writer is being educated on, well, as much as possible. The more you know, the more knowledge you’ve got knocking about inside your brain, the more often that knowledge will slam into itself in a way to produce new ideas and concepts. Plus serve as great fuel for when you sit down to make those ideas reality.

Result: I watch a lot of documentary-style videos on Youtube. And this last week, I came across one that was more toward my interests and something I could watch while treating my ribs or doing dishes. It was a video titled So What Was That Whole Killzone Series About? and was, as you may have gathered from the title, a retrospective look at the Killzone video game series. This series spanned several generations of consoles and was about a war between two planets’ worth of people in a Sci-Fi future.

Now, I’m not linking the video because it wasn’t the topic that was important to the genesis of this post. But rather it was an observation made about the series as a whole that, by the latest entry, the creator of the video felt had ultimately hurt every aspect of it. And that was with their analogy.

See, the very first game, which was released over 15 years ago now, was designed by the creators to be reflective of the second world war. They were, at the time, trying to get away from the trends of a lot of First-Person-Shooter games at the time to stand out a little, and so created a setting that reflected the second world war in tone and style … but in a Sci-Fi setting.

All well and good right? It was an aspect that did make them stand out, at least to fans of the series. But as the games went on, well … it started to break down.

The issue, according to the video that I watched, was that the developers wanted to stick with this “real world comparison” as they moved on. Even … when it started to be at odds with the world they’d created.

See, the first few games told the story of the war between these two Sci-Fi cultures. And while there were some odd steps here and there, this worked fairly well. But then the war ended, and in a very dramatic fashion, in the series’ third title.

Problem? Well, not yet. The problem arose when the developers went for a fourth game in the series and decided to once again model heavily on world history, choosing to go for a “cold war” vibe. Which conceptually wasn’t a bad idea … but in light of the story they’d been telling so far, really kind of was.

See (and slight warning, spoilers for a decade-old game), their third entry had ended with one of the factions attempting to deploy a planet-destroying Sci-Fi superweapon on their foe and instead managing only to wipe out their own planet. Which was meant to be a really brutal ending to show how war was just brutal, etc etc.

But now the developers wanted a cold war scenario. Hmmm … how to do this with one of the two factions (no more, and that is a difference from actual WWII) having their entire planet wiped out? And this is where the trouble started. Anyone looking at that setup would have said “Hmm … even if we go for the Cold War angle, we’re really going to have to make some adjustments.” But apparently the developer disagreed. They wanted the Cold War. Not something like it. They wanted it.

What resulted was a setup and series of events in the wake of their third title and before the fourth that made no sense storywise. At all. As the creator of the video summed up (which in turn made me think of this post), the creators were so committed to that concept of the Cold War, and apparently so unwilling to compromise on it or change it, that they upended pretty much every sense of logic through the series, which resulted in a title that, for fans, felt hollow because none of it made a lot of sense.

Oh, in case you’re wondering how badly this screwed things up, the solution they went with was “In the wake of Planet B being blown up, Faction A (the defenders who didn’t blow up their own world) decided to give Faction B half of their Planet A immediately to the survivors of Planet B. Completely, with no oversight or post-war restrictions. So Faction B rolls into the now “their” half of Planet B, murders and enslaves the residents that were “once” part of Faction A with no word from Faction A and immediately goes right back to being their usual selves.

Yeah … the comparison the creator of the video made was thusly: That if WWII had ended this way, England would have, at the end of the bombing of Germany, said “Hey, rather than rebuild, we’re just going to give the Nazis Ireland. Starting tomorrow. All people in Ireland? You’re German now. And those Nazis can go setup camps and whatnot in Ireland, we’re cool with it.”

Yeah, it makes zero sense. And the fans who picked up the game or knew even the barest bit about the series’ story knew it. But the developer was so committed to making this Cold War thing happen that they forced it anyway … And made the whole setting juggle multiple idiot balls.

I hope that by this point you’re starting to see where this applies to writing, because this video on Killzone was far from the first time I’ve seen something like this happen. There have been multiple instances in my experience where I’ve seen a young writer sit down and start to create a story with an objective in mind (usually something along the likes of “I want to create a story like this). But as the story takes shape, it begins to deviate from that course, and the young writer, in panic or annoyance that the story is moving away from their original visualized object, takes efforts to force the story back on the “correct” path. Often not realizing that they’re destabilizing or even outright destroying the process of their world coming to life.

In fairness, it’s not hard to see why a young writer might react this way. They, like the developers of Killzone, started out with a vision of what they wanted their story to look like. A vision that was probably pretty clear. And, in most cases, the thing that they’re modeling it on is pretty darn good. Such as The Lord of the Rings. Why do we see so much fantasy fiction that’s almost nothing more than a fanfiction/retelling of TLotR? Simple: A lot of young writers want to write something that’s like it. They have TLotR as their “vision,” or aspects of it, and write toward those aspects.

And that’s fine. I feel I should point out that having a “vision” in mind isn’t bad at all. It’s a great way to direct your work toward a certain atmosphere, setup, style, etc.

However, you should never be so committed to the vision that when the story begins to evolve in its own direction, you yank it back on course, forcing it back toward that destination you’ve set.

Now, this isn’t to say you can’t set it back on course. But before you do, you should ask if you really want to. If the story is headed in a new direction, yes it may not be what you envisioned … but is that really so bad? Maybe the new direction is better?

This is a question that should be asked, because sometimes the new direction is better. Sometimes where the story is starting to go, or the characters, or the style, is heading that direction because that’s the most ideal for the story.

Other times with a little work, the vision can be retrofitted into this new direction. For example, I’m sure that a number of you readers could think of ways that the “Cold War vision” for the game series Killzone could have worked in some form while not taking the overtly ridiculous steps they took to make it as close as possible. If your story or work starts to take a new direction, maybe examine where it might go to see how your old vision and this new direction can still work hand-in-hand.

And if that isn’t possible, or not what you want, don’t force the story back on track. Instead, backtrack. Look back at the path the story has taken and identify what moved it away from the vision, then ask yourself if you can change those points in order to bring it back. And if you even should.

See, sometimes moving away from the vision is just fine. If the story is taking on a life of its own, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. If you finish it, you may just find that though it’s not the vision, it’s still a great story, and you can tackle the vision with another project! Or sometimes you’ll realize it’s a better path to take from the vision you had. This can happen too.

There’s little sense to be had in hobbling to stopping a perfectly good story because it happens to be taking its own path, not the vision you had in mind for it. Yet sometimes young writers will do just that, reigning a story back in because it just “won’t” fit the vision.

Don’t! Let it breathe! Let your vision be flexible! Adapt! Trying to force a story to conform to something that it was moving away from will just break it! Ask yourself if it needs to conform to the vision, the vision to it, or maybe if it should be allowed to break free entirely.

Yes, it may mean you end up in paths you didn’t mean to tread. Sometimes it may mean going back and cutting or changing things. Or shifting gears. Or giving up the vision entirely.

But sometimes … that’s not a bad thing.

It’s fine to have a vision in mind for your story. But don’t let it break the story, or be so ironclad it forces the story away from a path it should follow.

Have a vision, but don’t force it either.

Good luck. Now get writing!

Being a Better Writer exists thanks to the aid of the following Patreon supporters: Frenetic, Pajo, Anonymous Potato, tiwake, Taylor, Jack of a Few Trades, Alamis, Seirsan, Grand General Luna, Miller, Hoopy McGee, Brown, Lightwind, and Thomas! Special thanks to them for helping keep Unusual Things ad-free and the Being a Better Writer articles coming!

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