Being a Better Writer: Scale, Scope, and Ideas

Welcome back readers. How was your weekend? Was it good?

Mine was. A Game of Stakes is going into Beta Reading this week thanks to my Saturday, so it’s one step closer to being done! I’m going to try and polish the Alpha off today, which was going to be yesterday, but  … Well, I had a work shift. And for the moment, Being a Better Writer takes precedence. Sorry for the delay, however.

Also, one other bit of cool news. I’m not sure about the internet etiquette for this scenario, so hopefully I don’t mess it up, but I’ve started getting hits from Wikipedia? Why? Being a Better Writer is being used as a source reference!

Again, not sure of the etiquette here. I only just noticed because I started seeing referral links from Wikipedia but … hey, cool! One further notch in “look how far I’ve come!”

Sands, maybe someday I’ll have a Wikipedia page dedicated to it or something. I’d not thought about that angle until this moment. Kind of an awesome thought.

I’d best get to work on building a future where that can happen, then! So, with news out of the way, let’s talk about ideas and scale.

This one is … an interesting topic. One that was brought about, as many of my topics are, by reading. In this case, it was reading two Science Fiction books, unrelated outside of genre, back-to-back and looking deeply at why I enjoyed one so much more than the other. After thinking about it for a time and letting my mind run across a large number of different traits and possible reasons, it was reading a third book that finally made things click in my head. And when it clicked, it clicked.

It has to do with scale and scope, plus ideas, and how those are brought about in your story.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Serving an Idea

Welcome back readers! Sorry for the lateness of the post. There almost wasn’t one this week. Between a work shift today and a family wedding last week (not my own; I’d talk about that) the last few days have been extremely busy, and more than once I’ve been tempted to just skip a week and get caught up with Hunter/HuntedBut then I was talking with someone online this morning about the differences between a couple of different Sci-Fi books with regard to how they approached their stories, and, well, here we are!

So, those of you who are long-time readers of this site may find this post slightly familiar. To be fair, in near five years doing this, I’m frankly amazed that I’ve managed to keep from retreading topics as many times as I have. But even with that, there’s something to be said for coming back at a topic from a new angle and with a different approach or perspective. So read on. Either it’ll be new to you, or it’ll be a different approach that you hadn’t run across before.

So, what are we going to talk about today? Priority of ideas and concepts. More specifically, how you present those ideas, the core concepts of your story, in your story, and how that ends up affecting everything else. Or rather, if it helps, how important those ideas are to the story in its most basic form.

Confused? Don’t be. Or hopefully, you won’t be in a moment. But this does take some explaining.

Continue reading

Classic Being a Better Writer: Character Odds and Ends

New here? Confused by what a Classic Being a Better Writer post is? No worries!

Classic posts dig into a four-year archive of weekly BaBW articles to dig up a couple that are relevant to one another, forming a quick and easy to browse sampling of some of the site’s various writing articles.

Today? A few odds and ends, from character versus plot (and what that means) to language!

No beating around the bush here. Let’s get going!


Character Versus Plot—
We’ll start with the underlying concept behind these two options: All stories are driven by something. Now, when I say that a story is driven by something, I don’t mean the antagonist, or the inciting incident, or even the growth of the character. What I’m referring to by driven is the events or actions by which the story is pulled forward.

Bilbo leaving Frodo the ring, for example, is something that pulls the story forward. Harry receiving a letter from Hogwarts. Vin being noticed by Kelsier. A story is, in it’s purest, simplified form, a collection of events. But something inside the story must happen in order for these events to occur. Cause and effect.

What I’m discussing today is the method by which the story moves forward. Is it character-derived, or plot-derived?


Common Problems with Character Emotion—
More specifically, we’re going to look how writers handle giving their characters emotions, and where a lot of the common pitfalls occur.

So right from the start, I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page here. We wantour characters to have emotion. We want them to be well-rounded, well developed … real, in other words. We want characters who are complex, with multiple facets to their character who remind us of real people. We want a character who seems real. We do not want a flat character.

But the challenge is that writing such a character is quite difficult, and many authors fall into pitfalls along the way. And I’m not speaking of just novice writers out there either, plenty of long-term authors can still be guilty of making any number of these mistakes, falling into traps by either cutting corners or not realizing what they’ve done. And for it, their work suffers. Characters become “props” in a story, interchangeable parts that simply drop into scenes or events to fulfill a purpose.


Language—
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.

Some of you might not recognize the term (as it isn’t as widely used anymore), so I’ll get a little more specific. Swearing. Cursing. Derogatory words. Words and phrases that are generally considered impolite. The “F” word. D**n. Stuff like that. And yes, I’m censoring them for this blog. Family friendly.

You got that? All right. Are you ready for one of the biggest shocks of your life?

You shouldn’t be using them. At least, not nearly as often as you do.


Support Via Patreon!

Classic Being a Better Writer: Plot Problems

Hey hey! I’m almost back to full health, and it’s been far too long since a Classic Being a Better Writer post went up on the site!

New? Unsure what those words meant? Let me clarify! Being a Better Writer is a writing feature that’s been running for almost four years now, posting every Monday. These posts cover a wide, vast assortment of topics, from subplots to mystery to dialogue, all with the goal of helping writers young and old improve their craft.

Of course, with almost four years of weekly posts collected here, the simple act of an archive binge suddenly becomes quite daunting … hence the Classic posts. Classic posts collect a few older posts on a related topic and offer a brief look at them as well as a link to each for nice, easily accessibly bingeing.

This week? We’re looking at plot problems with larger narratives, and how you can catch them early or fix them! So dive in! Click those links! And if you like what you’re reading, don’t neglect that Patreon button on the side!


Playing Out Your Puzzle Pieces—
As a new writer, nothing is more daunting than looking at someone else’s book with all it’s intersecting plot threads and carefully doled out clues and thinking “How on earth do I do that?” To a new writer, it seems like an almost insurmountable task: There are all these different parts of the story, and all of it seems to be fitting together just so the guide to reader to figure things out or move along with the story at the same pace as the characters … And once you stand back and look at it, that’s quite a bit of work!

And, to be fair, the average English class that many are going to have gone through in their high-school years has very low odds of touching on this, which only compounds the problem. For new writers, it just seems like something that writers do, but no one is explaining how. Again, this is why I encourage taking creative writing classes if they’re available to you—they’ll teach this kind of stuff and more.


Character Versus Plot—
Effectively—and understand that I am for the purposes of today’s concept, grossly simplifying—every story out there, written, told, or seen, rides a sliding scale into one of two categories: They’re either a character-driven piece or a plot-driven piece. That’s it. These are your options, and understanding which your story is going to be, as well as more importantly, how to achieve this, will play a part in determining the success of your work.


Avoiding a Sagging Middle—
Well, let’s take a look at an old principle of storytelling, one that most, if not all of you, should be familiar with: The concept of rising action. We’ve spoken about this before, actually, when discussing pacing (twice, actually). But the core idea is that you want to give your readers and ebb and flow to the tension of the story. As time goes on, the tension rises, the reader gets sucked in, we have a climactic moment of some kind, and then the story eases off for a bit and lets the reader relax.


The Meandering Story—
All right, before we go any further, we need to clear something up by determining exactly what a meandering story is. It’s not a story that stars a lot of twist and turns, no. Rather, a meandering story is one that loses sight of its end goal.

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean that the characters lose sight of the end goal (or maybe don’t know what that goal is). No, that’s fine. Characters can lose sight of things all you want. That’s just part of the story.

Instead, what I’m talking about is a story where the plot has lost sight of the end of the story. It’s forgotten where it’s going, or is confused about its ultimate objective, but rather than stop and try and figure things out, it just keeps going, like an energizer bunny, despite the fact that it has no idea where it’s headed. It wanders from plot point to plot point, searching for some vague sense of purpose to drive itself forward. Or maybe it has an idea of where it wants to go (like “X needs to defeat Y”) but has no idea how to get to that point, and so bounces across every possible solution, one after another, until it finally clicks.

 

 

Like what you saw here? Want to see more? Support via Patreon!

Being a Better Writer: Time(line) Management

I bet a lot of you are going to be surprised by the actual gist of this post. Yes, I am talking about time management, but not in the way you think. Also, I’m fairly certain I’ve done posts on making good use of writing time before, so those still exist.

No, today I’m going to talk about a different kind of time management. And, before I start, I must stress that I don’t share all the credit for the idea of this topic. It actually came to me as I was listening to an old episode of the Writing Excuses podcast (I’m two seasons behind thanks to a massive backlog), and one of the hosts made an off-hand comment pertaining to the shuffling chapters around. With a start, I realized that there was an important bit of writing that I’d never considered writing about on this blog before, and put it on the list that night.

So, what sort of time management isn’t your own management, but something else? Simple: it’s the management of time in your story.

Some of you might be going “Huh?” after a pronouncement like that, and I don’t blame you. This almost feels like the kind of subject where you have to explain it to get everyone on the same page. Once you do, everyone nods and goes “Oooohhhh.” So let me see if I can get us all on that same page.

Every book has a timeline. That plot arc you’re following? It has a beginning, a middle, and an end (hopefully). Along, I would expect, with some nice ups and downs strung along the middle. With me so far?

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Static Backdrop

You ever watch an old movie? Not like black-and-white, pre-talkies era, but forties or fifties-era flick. You know, color, but early color, surprisingly regular inclination to break into song and dance?

It was a thing.

Anyway, if you’ve ever sat down and watched one of these older flicks with friends, family, or even on your lonesome, it’s likely that at some point during the runtime of the film, a comment similar to the following was made:

Hey, you! Don’t walk into the backdrop!

For those of you among my readers that are younger, or perhaps haven’t watched a lot of older movies, this comment comes about because in older films, they didn’t have the amazing special effects we have today, where different scenes can be easily stitched together with computer composites and the like. No, in the old days there were much more difficult tricks for creating certain shots. If you wanted to have your characters come around a road and into view of an ancient city, for example, you couldn’t just throw together some awesome CGI and call it a day. That just wasn’t an option. Nor was building a real “fake” ancient city from scratch (though a few over-the-top productions did their best to get close).

No, what these old movies had to do was find another solution. A popular one was using a model (if you’ve ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a certain line may be coming to mind right now lampshading this effect). The studio crew would make a detailed model replica of the ancient city, and trick photography would be used to place the actors in front of it at an angle that made everything line up correctly (or they’d use an early form of “green screen,” there were many methods of pulling this trick off).

Of course, a model costs money. And so for many, a much cheaper, easier solution was used, one which had served stage plays for centuries: the painted backdrop.

It was pretty easy to do. Get a large cloth and a bunch of painters, describe the scene and the angle at which it’ll be shot, and then hang it in the back of the scene. Have your actors walk around in front of it and act as if it’s the real deal, and boom, problem solved.

Well, almost. As you can imagine, it’s usually pretty obvious to the audience what the backdrop is. Any number of little details can set it off—and the lower the film’s budget, the more likely that you’ll notice them. The background rippling in some unseen breeze, for example, is a little telling. Or the fact that much of the film is three-dimensional right up until a certain point where everything becomes slightly flat. Or maybe it’s that the lighting isn’t right, and you can tell that the character is about to run into a “background”. It can even be something as simple as a backdrop of a bustling city that is—often without comment—completely stationary or suffering from sudden, jarring movements.

Now, my point here isn’t to disparage old films. They did what they could with what they had … even if sometimes it made it look like an actor who was “riding off into the sunset” was about to slam headfirst into it.

So then, some of you may be wondering, where am I going with this, and what does it have to do with my writing? Well, let me tell you a little story about this weekend.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Playing Out Your Puzzle Pieces

Welcome back, readers, to a Monday post that’s actually on a Monday! BaBW is back to its proper day once more! So, to commemorate the occasion, what’s today’s writing topic?

Puzzle pieces.

I can see the curious, questioning looks even from here in the past, so let me explain a little further.

One of the questions I get asked from readers—especially those who are about to make the transition to new writers—is how I’m able to fill my books with such complicated plots and keep everything moving at a steady pace at the same time.

This is a legitimate question. I want to stress that up front. As a new writer, nothing is more daunting than looking at someone else’s book with all it’s intersecting plot threads and carefully doled out clues and thinking “How on earth do I do that?” To a new writer, it seems like an almost insurmountable task: There are all these different parts of the story, and all of it seems to be fitting together just so the guide to reader to figure things out or move along with the story at the same pace as the characters … And once you stand back and look at it, that’s quite a bit of work!

And, to be fair, the average English class that many are going to have gone through in their high-school years has very low odds of touching on this, which only compounds the problem. For new writers, it just seems like something that writers do, but no one is explaining how. Again, this is why I encourage taking creative writing classes if they’re available to you—they’ll teach this kind of stuff and more.

But, that aside, point is, most young writers see a full, complex story and wonder how on earth an author was ever able to keep everything straight. Crud, some don’t. Read through a Sci-Fi book the other day (giving an author I’d read before another shot because the premise of the book was very unique, even if I’d been disappointed in an earlier work of theirs) where the author didn’t dole out their complex story well—at all. Here’s how it ending up playing out: You got the opening chapters, introducing the characters, and giving you roughly 80% of the information you needed to know for the conclusion of the story. Then, following that was most of the book, roughly two dozen chapters of the characters just making their way to the conclusion while talking but never really doing much for the story other than “We go from here to the their, this ending is stressful.” Near the end of that bit, which was most of the book and pretty dull, we got another 10%, and then the conclusion happened almost immediately, bringing with it the last 10%.

Do you see the problem? The book had a great premise and an interesting idea, but the author didn’t know how to dole the information out. The result was a massive dump of exposition at the beginning, and a small one at the end with the final bits the reader needed … and then everything in-between was just sort of  … there. It could have been summed up in two or three chapters rather than twenty.

Or the story could have doled out its puzzle pieces better, distributed them evenly across those intervening  chapters, and given them some purpose to the overall plot (as opposed to the “And we’re traveling … and we’re traveling … and we’re traveling …” that the story became). Something that would have given them impact on the story, rather than just being happenstance.

Right, so that’s the second time (not counting the title) that I’ve used that term, so it’s high time I explained what I mean when I write it.

Continue reading