Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #1

This post was originally written and posted November 3rd, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

I’m back! Woo! Man, does it feel good to by typing away at a keyboard this morning!

So, as I was looking over my list of topics this weekend, I came to a realization: A large part of what I had left to do from my list was mostly there because I’d never felt they would make a sufficient topic on their own. And the few topics that hadn’t been left for that reason had been left untouched for their own reasons; namely, that they were better-suited to one-on-one Q&A sessions, truly massive and in-depth writings, or very specific break-downs.

“This is no good,” I thought to myself. How can I manage to tackle all of these small issues in separate posts? They’d be small. To the point. Too abrupt. But I still wanted to cover them.

Which is why today I’m doing the first ever Micro-Blast! Why do separate posts for each one of these small topics or general ideas, when I can do several of them in one, quick, condensed post! This way, I can clean out the last of my old list before moving on to a whole new range of topics. So, without further ado, let us begin with the blasting!

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Being a Better Writer: What’s a Memorable Scene?

This post was originally written and posted September 8th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

Welcome back for today’s Being a Better Writer post. It is a bit more nebulous topic, and so I’m going to try and approach it in a bit more relaxed manner. Rather than moving from point to point, or even prepping more than the initial idea beforehand, I’m just going to talk about it and see where things go. Partially because I feel like being a bit more relaxed today, partially because I want to see how well this works, and lastly because the topic itself can be a little nebulous.

So, what does make a memorable scene? And here’s where we run into a few differences, right with the first answer. Because to me what makes a scene memorable is something important happening. But that might not be the same answer that others give. In fact, others might give a completely different assessment of what makes a scene memorable. Perhaps it has to do with the main characters. Perhaps it’s the final battle, the most energetic portion of the story. Even upon thinking about it, my own answer that it is something important doesn’t exactly hold a sum total, because there’s a secondary element to consider, in that it be interesting. For me, these are two things that I put into my mind when I’m writing: What’s important about this scene? And is it interesting?

But that probably isn’t what’s going through other writers or readers heads when they do their own scenes. They might be going for clever dialogue. Or maybe even a funny joke.

So why when I’m asked what makes a memorable scene, do I think of importance and interest? I think part of it comes from what I’m looking at as a writer. The last thing that I want my reader to do is be forced to slog through things that aren’t important. Look, let’s be honest, anyone with half a decent talent for prose can sit down and write a lovely several thousand word piece on a character’s experience of cleaning a kitchen. Sliding the washrag across the counter, doing the dishes, cleaning the windows, putting things away … this can be done pretty easily.

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding Colloquialisms

This post was originally written and posted September 8th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

So today’s topic is a bit of an interesting one. Let’s put forth a scenario to get us started. Have you ever been reading a story that was either Sci-fi or Fantasy, and then suddenly been reminded that it’s a book when a piece of dialogue sounds completely out of place? I’m not talking foreshadowing or eye-catching, I mean something that’s completely ill-placed and breaking of the book’s world, like a medieval fantasy character using the phrase “awesome” or making a political joke that relies on modern political climates to be funny—which means in the context of the book, it’s entirely out of place.

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Being a Better Writer: Letting Characters Live

This post was originally written and posted September 1st, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

Welcome back! I’m alive again! And feeling all the better after getting some solid sleep over the weekend at long last. One would think I’d be wise enough to let myself get some sleep while sick, but experience is proving that this isn’t the case. And on another positive side, I’ve finally joined the ranks of those who watch Gravity Falls! Which is enjoyable. There have actually been a few moments that have reminded me of the older seasons of The Simpsons with their attention to clever, careful jokes, including a season 1 brick joke that had me cracking up late at night.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a new show, I recommend it. Think Disney does the X-files, and if that sounds cool, give it a go. Now, onto today’s topic…

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Being a Better Writer: Language

This post was originally written and posted August 18th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

I expect that many of you upon reading this title expect something quite different than what you’re about to view. Perhaps a bit of a treatise on the use of various types of language, or on the origins of language, or even on the syntax and verbal tics of characters.

Actually, that last one isn’t a bad idea, but I’ve talked about it before. I guess I could go more in depth with it. If you’ve never considered how the language of different characters and scenes can affect your writing, well, it’s definitely worth thinking about.

But today, I’m going to talk about a different kind of language.

Foul language.

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Being a Better Writer: Motivation

This post was originally written and posted August 12th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

I actually have been asked about this topic on numerous occasions, and it was something that came up from multiple people during my time at the Crystal Mountain Convention. Everyone has a variant on the topic, but in the end, they all boil down to a two-part question: what do I do that keeps me motivated, and—in connection with that—what advice do I have for them to acquire motivation and keep it?

I’ve attempted to tackle this discussion before, but ended up digressing into a discussion more about how I kept myself focused and on task rather than what I let motivate me. Which I suppose was because I probably see writing motivation as a bit different from what most new writers hope to hear. I get the feeling that a lot of times what people are really looking for when they ask me about motivation is some sort of “magic bullet” answer like “oh, it’ll come as soon as you get that one idea.” And to an extent, this does sort-of happen, but not in the way most are hoping. If you’re looking at this post to find the one thing that will suddenly, magically motivate you to write, make the work no longer seem like work, well … you won’t. That’s not how it works. Writing is work, and it’s always going to be work even if you enjoy it. The simplest answer I can give to motivating yourself to writing is “just do it.”

The problem a lot of young authors have is that they want the writing they’d like to do to be more appealing than say … playing Halo, watching television, or reading a book. They have this idea that they need to enjoy it, that writing should be just as fun and relaxing as sitting down with a controller in hand and playing a round of deathmatch. And the truth is, it isn’t. Not at first, anyway.

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Op-Ed: Authors and Self-Promotion

This post was originally written and posted August 6th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post has been uploaded ahead of time.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that we live in a different universe. This universe isn’t very different—in fact it’s shockingly similar. But there are a few key differences. Tiny ones, but tiny ones that lead to some interesting changes.

The key difference is that in this universe more authors listen to a particular bit of “advice” that gets handed out quite often. Let’s take a look and see what happens by following the life of a woman named Naomi.

Naomi is a writer. She’s written several manuscripts for a series over the years, but has been turned down by publishers for each one of them. She continues to write. One night she is at a party with her husband, and they happen to meet Stephen King.

Ah! A fellow—if famous—writer! The perfect opportunity to talk shop and share stories! Maybe even mention her own work. Except as Naomi thinks about it, she realizes that she shouldn’t bring up her own writing. After all, as people are so inclined to often tell her, “a writer shouldn’t promote their own work.” Disappointed but deciding that those people are right, Naomi stays quiet.

As a result, in this universe Stephen King never reads her manuscripts nor takes them to his editor. They are never published, and never go on to win numerous awards. They never sell hundreds of thousands of copies. They are never mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. Naomi Novik does not go on to write many more novels of historical fantasy and become an international success.

All because she listened to one of the most common bits of advice I hear being given to new authors: that an author shouldn’t promote his or her own work.

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Being a Better Writer: Underpowered and Overpowered Characters

This post was originally written and posted August 4th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still in Alaska. This post has been uploaded ahead of time.

Hello, everyone, new and old! Welcome back—or to, if this is your first—my weekly Monday writing guide post! I’ve got a great topic today, one that comes by request, and I’m eager to get down to it.

Today’s topic stems from a question that I’ve been asked by several followers on different occasions, making it one of the more common concerns that I hear. The wording and approach usually varies, but the end result always boils down to something like this: how can I keep my characters from becoming overpowered?

The short answer: We don’t. There’s no such thing.

I can hear the comments being composed from here, through time. Let me clarify.

A better answer would be: That isn’t the right question. Because you see, it’s not hard for most writers to keep their characters from being overpowered. Unless they’re green enough that it seems completely logical to them to give the main character expert-level skills at archery, swordsmanship, guns, gun repair, vehicle repair, vehicle piloting, magic, kung-fu (including the ancient form no one knows but the hero), lockpicking, skydiving, scuba diving, and romance, they won’t. That’s rookie level writing. Unless you’re Clive Cussler, but he gets a pass for making it a success anyway.

The real question that they want to ask, I feel, is this: how do I create a character with enough skills and talent to overcome what I place in his path without giving them too many skills and talents?

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Being a Better Writer: Hard and Soft Openings

This post was originally written and posted July 28th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So, a few weeks ago I talked about writing an opening chapter. It wasn’t a bad blog post, but as some pointed out, it was purely about structure and structure alone. There was nothing covering any of the other bits and pieces that went into an opening chapter.

This was, admittedly, a failure on my part. One that today I mean to rectify. So, once again I’m going to talk about openings, but this time from another perspective. I’m going to talk about the type of opening you choose to have for your work.

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Being a Better Writer: Being a Better Reader

This post was originally written and posted July 24th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So, being a better reader.

As we might guess from the title, this topic doesn’t just have to apply to writers. Being a better reader is something that most of us just take for granted, or hold to a flat, level interpretation—that interpretation being what our elementary-school educators would have called it: additional reading comprehension, moving up the grade levels, etc.

But learning to be a better reader in the context I wish to talk about isn’t about comprehension of words or whether the book you’re reading has chapters. And it isn’t in the context of looking for themes and using various classes of criticism, either—though such things are certainly helpful. No, what I’m referring to is the kind of reader that works with what they are reading and learns to approach the book from the author’s own angle.

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