Being a Better Writer: Writing Exercises for Viewpoints

Welcome back, readers! And welcome to Tuesday! As you probably guessed, I had work shift yesterday, and as low as hours have been lately, there was no way I wasn’t taking it.

Just gotta make it to the end of August. The end of August.

Anyway, you guys aren’t here to hear about how close to the edge a writer’s life is. You’re here to hear about how it can be you at the edge!

I’m only sort of joking. Anyway, you’re here today for Being a Better Writer, and today we’ve got another request topic to tackle. Which, if you’ve glanced at the title above, you already know of: writing exercises.

Okay. I’ll give you all a minute to think on that one, and then I’m going to change the game. And again, if you saw the title, you’ve already guessed how that’s going to change.

I won’t be offering a comprehensive breakdown of dozens of writing exercises. Because, honestly, it’s easy to find writing exercises. Just type “good writing exercises” into Google and you’re bound to find hundreds. My offering, in that respect, of retreading the same ground? Not so useful.

However … that doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer. I’m not going to retread a bunch of exercises you’ll find elsewhere, but I will go over some of the exercises I did in college, as a young writer in creative writing classes, and discuss what made them stand out and why I still remember them today.

Sure, it’ll be a bit unconventional for a BaBW post, but I’m allowed to do that. It’s my site, and I answer to me. So, looking back, here are several challenges and exercises that helped me improve at my craft: what they were, what they each entailed, and how they helped me get better.

Let’s rock.

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Being a Better Writer: Writing for Interactive Stories

Welcome back readers! It’s going to be a great week here on the site. More stuff coming, as usual. Follow-ups to prior posts, feedback … Basically, there’s a lot going on at the moment, so expect to see quite a bit of that on display here as the days come along!

Okay, rather than spend a few paragraphs on news or teasers, I’d really rather just jump into today’s topic. This one is, as many of you probably already know, a request topic. And you know that because you were one of the many readers that requested it, and you let out a satisfied “finally” the moment you saw this post’s title.

But yes, we’re talking about writing for interactive stories: Choose-your-own-adventure-style works, tabletop campaigns, or any other sort of story where you give your audience the means to pick their own fate.

Now, this is one of those posts that I’m going to lead with a disclaimer. A stronger one than the normal “everyone’s experience is going to be a little different.” And that disclaimer is: I am not an expert at this. While I’ve been playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons for a few years now, and have been running my own custom campaign now for over six months, I would still acknowledge that I’m a novice of sorts and tend to make a lot of mistakes. Crud, last week I made a pretty lousy one and did something that would have worked for a normal book … but instead flubbed pretty bad because it wasn’t a book, it was an interactive story.

In other words, what I offer today is only going to be scratching the surface. I’m not a master-class writer at doing interactive stories and running tabletop games. I’ve never once written a Choose-your-own-adventure story, though I did read a number of them growing up. What I offer are some of the basic lessons I’ve learned that can hopefully help get you started. From there, I would hope that if you find the topic interesting, you would go to someplace like Youtube or Google and start searching for advice from dedicated Game/Dungeon Masters who have run professional games and have for decades. Yes, such advice does exist, and in fact I watched quite a bit of it before starting my own campaign in January.

Also, a bit of a warning: We’re going to bounce a bit today. Mostly because running a tabletop campaign story is still a bit different from a CYOA-style story. Plus, since I have more experience with the former, the advice I share here today will be more tailored to what I have done for that and would I would do for the other.

Right, disclaimers and notifications out of the way, let’s get this post underway! So … you want to run an interactive story.

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Being a Better Writer: Knowing When to Borrow and How

Welcome back readers!

Yeah, I know. It’s Tuesday. I had a work shift on Monday. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But, as always, that doesn’t mean that the post won’t be made soon!

So, diving right into things: knowing when to borrow and how.

This is a tricky question. Well, or it isn’t. There are some people who worry about whether or not they’re borrowing or copying too much … and then there are those that just shamelessly go for it.

If you’re one of the latter, this post is not for you. If you’re one of the former, well, I have talked about topics before that have spoken somewhat about this. Worrying about copying, duplicating, etc, is a common fear for a lot of young writers, and sands, even longstanding ones. Remember Is It Original or Is it Copying? Well … yeah, that article was written for a good reason.

But today’s topic is different enough that when I saw the request, I felt it did warrant its own post. See, the request wasn’t about how to avoid copying something, it was how to borrow something that worked from another work and use it for yourself without crossing that line.

And the answer? Carefully.

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Being a Better Writer: Red Herrings

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means. But first, some news.

For starters, Shadow of an Empire continues to do well both in sales and in reviews. It’s a Fantasy-Western, so it doesn’t quite appeal to everyone, but those who have picked it up have loved it, and it’s sitting nicely on Amazon with a 4.7 Star rating out of 5. It’s success has also given a bit of a boost to Colony as well, which has matched its sales almost one for one this month. Even better, Shadow of an Empire‘s footprint continues to grow! This is one that I think will end up very fondly remembered.

Second bit of news? Oh, nothing much … just 18,000 words of fiction written between Friday and Saturday! That’s right, the next writing project has begun, and once I put my fingers to the keyboard, it was like a dam had burst inside my head. Writing again, after so many months of editing; how I missed it!

Point being, while this pace probably isn’t sustainable (I still have the part-time because I have to worry about rent or bills that my royalties don’t fully cover yet), it is moving along quite rapidly now that I can finally work on it. A month or two, and I could be done, if that pace keeps up!

And in other news … actually, there isn’t any other news. I’m ready to get to today’s post now. And then onto working on Hunter/Hunted!

Right, so, red herrings. If you’ve missed the two posts prior to this one, on Chekhov’s Guns and Chekhov’s Armory, this post is definitely one that builds off of those two. With those, we discussed … well, Chekhov’s Guns and their usage. The whole idea that if you present the audience with a “gun” that’s hung on the mantle, they expect (and a good author will deliver) that at some point it will come down and be “fired.”

Really quick, this doesn’t have to be a literal “gun.” It’s a metaphor. Read the last two Being a Better Writer posts if you’re out of the loop.

But building off of that, this week I want to talk about the inverse of the Chekhov’s Gun (well, sort of). We’re going to talk about the “Red Herring.”

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Being a Better Writer: Chekhov’s Armory

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer! This week, I’m picking up right where I left off from last week’s discussion on Chekhov’s Guns, and moving on to another type of … Well, I guess we could call it a foreshadowing tool? Preparatory Plot Device set-up? Honestly, I’m not certain there’s an official name for this kind of thing past “Chekhov’s Armory,” but foreshadowing tool does work, though in the short term.

But that’s me getting distracted by terms, which few of us are here for. We’re here for Chekhov’s Armory, which I’m going to point out right now, Anton Chekhov did not invent. Rather, it’s simply the name that has become attached to the concept given its growth out of Chekhov’s Gun.

But again, getting sidetracked. So let’s dive right in. What is Chekhov’s Armory?

Well, to answer that question, I’m actually going to show you a youtube video. Hopefully you’re at a location where you can watch it, because this is one of those cases where showing you what something is and then talking about it will be far more effective than simply trying to explain it first. The video in question? The famous “Flying Wing Fight” from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you haven’t seen this film, rectify this ASAPRaiders is one of the most famous films in cinema, and it’s not hard to see why once you’ve seen it.

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Being a Better Writer: Chekhov’s Gun

Welcome back readers! Guess who had a real breakfast yesterday morning? If you guessed me, that’s correct. If you’re wondering why that’s significant, all I feel I need to do is point you at the title of my last post, the self-explanatory Flu.

Yup. The latter half of this last week was fun. And compared to that, being able to have real food is absolutely wonderful.

On another note, you know what else is wonderful? Seeing the first reviews and feedback start to trickle in for Shadow of an Empire. It’s official: Shadow of an Empire is an awesome, gripping read, and people love it! This also marks the first time I’ve ever had people contact me over Twitter to tell me how much they loved the book—right on! If you’ve not gotten started on Shadow of an Empire yet … well, what’s the hold up? Click that book cover on the right and get going! Knife-fights, horseback chases, shootouts, and more await!

Grabbed your copy? Good. Now that you’ve done that, we can move onto today’s topic: Chekhov’s Gun.

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of this one. Chekhov’s gun is one of the more universally known writing rules. Named not for Chekhov of Star Trek fame but rather for a book on writing advice by one Anton Chekhov, Chekhov’s Gun has become an almost universal law across fiction. It’s simple, easy to remember, and most of all, works. Writing a story? Keeping Chekhov’s Gun in mind will not only help you keep track of important narrative objects, but also trim out unneeded descriptive elements and clutter. Not bad for a straightforward, easy to remember quote.

Now, at this point those of you who can paraphrase the rule off-hand are probably already jumping ahead, but those of you who cannot, and are either new to the rule or inexperienced with it may be wondering exactly what it is or how pulls this off. So, as we start our discussion of Chekhov’s Gun, let’s revisit the rule itself. Like I said, it’s pretty simple, and easy to remember. You ready? Here goes:

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Being a Better Writer: Moving From Essays and Non-Fiction Forms to Fiction

Readers, in case you somehow missed it, Shadow of an Empire is now out! And you should definitely pick up a copy. No, seriously, you really should. Reviews are starting to trickle in, and you definitely do not want to miss this book. Just click that colorful cover to the right there, or if you’re reading this post on an archive binge, the books tab.

Now then, with that said and out of the way (buy the book!), let’s get down to business for today’s hotly requested topic: How to switch from writing non-fiction work like essays and reports to something that’s a work of fiction.

Well, for starters, if you’ve acknowledged that there’s a difference, you’ve made the first step. Believe me, this is not always the case. Not everyone realizes that the two are fundamentally different, or that the experience and knowledge that make one form of writing sing will serve only to drag the other down.

Because writing a piece of non-fiction, be it a textbook, an essay, or a news article (at least, in the days when news articles weren’t clickbait opinion pieces) is a process entirely different in execution than writing, say, a short story about a character who goes out to buy milk. So different, in fact, that we’re going to run headlong into one of the oldest battles of fiction.

Show Versus Tell.

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