Creating an Editing/Revising Plan

I try to keep my blog informative and fun but sometimes I definitely want to write more towards fellow writers or even to those who are considering taking up writing.  Whichever you are (and maybe you’re neither but still like to come by and read my beautiful words), I hope today’s post will be beneficial.

If I had to estimate, I would say 40 percent of my writing experience is creating new content.  The other 60 percent is editing and revising.  I can often come up with new ideas quickly and hash out that first rough draft quickly with all the burrs and nicks.  In my experience, editing and revising are essential steps in the process of polishing a story to be ready to read.  Big rule for writers: Don’t let anyone read your rough draft.  Just don’t.  I know you’re excited to share your recent story and want someone else to love it as much as you.  Unlikely.  Just being honest.

In reality, your rough draft is not going to be good.  It may have parts that work really well but there will be wordiness and clunky dialogue more often than not.  Unfortunately…this goes beyond the rough draft.  For the love of all things sweet and shiny, I am seeing horrible mistakes in my fourth revision of my book!  Sometimes, it takes a few attempts to really chisel, sand, and polish before your story is ready to be read by another person.

I’ve been thinking about a system for myself and my own writing when it comes to editing and revising.  What would work best as I go through the process of making it worth reading and not come away having to answer a hundred questions of why this is that or what does that mean?  After a few questions like this, you start to question whether or not you acted prematurely in your earlier years.  So, I’ll preface this plan by saying I have not followed this yet.  This is merely my plan going forward with future books I write.  (Note: This is prone to change as I go through the process.)

Start: The rough draft is the beginning–the blank canvas.  That’s blank pages being filled in with whatever the writer’s mind is creating.  Notes and little ideas of setting and characters are implemented here depending on your level of preparation.  If you outline, then it’s easier but if you prefer the “go and flow” method, then the rough draft will have a definite coarse feel to it.

1st Edit/Revision: This should be done after you’ve finished the whole story.  Beginning and end have to be in place (write down any notes of things you want to change and plan to add, adjust, or delete after the story is done).  Resist the urge to go back and make corrections to page 10 when you are on page 230.  Until then, those changes you thought of while writing the rough draft should not be implemented.  Look for any grammatical errors as well.  Do not skip these.

2nd Edit/Revision: By this time, you know the story very well.  You could probably recite the whole thing to someone.  On this pass, I start looking at details.  Look for descriptions (characters, world, culture, themes, etc.) and make sure these are consistent throughout the story.  You are layering now.

3rd Edit/Revision: Step back and don’t look at or work on the story for at least a month.  If you are on a deadline, then I recommend some look-ahead planning.  When you come back to your story, you will see things you don’t like and will want to change.  Have at it!  One thing you may notice is wordiness.  Be willing to cut where it needs to be.  Rearrange some sentences if you need to.  Make it flow!

4th Edit/Revision: Read out loud.  I’ll be honest here.  I have not done this to a great degree but as I progress forward in my own writing, I have a plan to start reading my stories out loud to myself (not another soul in earshot!).  Why do this?  Because you will notice things.  Word flow will read bloated or stuffy.  You want flow.  Whether read in your head or out loud to a room full of listeners, you want your words to be silky smooth.

5th Edit/Revision: (I know, I know.  Almost there.)  Now, you might be tired of your story.  In fact, you are going to have doubts about it.  Before you convince yourself it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on, take a breath and relax.  You’ve put in the work and it should be ready to be read by others.  Find readers.  I would recommend friends and family who will be honest with you (not always easy to do but you should have some).  Make sure to tell them they need to be honest.  They do you no favors if they tell you you’re writing is the second coming of Tolkien, Dickens, or Milton (it likely won’t be).

Finally, take whatever feedback you get and apply those changes where you deem necessary.  Sometimes, you won’t always agree with the suggestions and that’s okay.  Preferences in readers is not gospel.  Don’t let it be.

There it is.  This is my editing and revising plan for myself.  There are other details but seeing as how this is a long blog post, I’ll leave it there.  Writing requires patience, effort, discipline, and the will to finish.  Being creative is not enough.  I did not know this when I first started and discovered it along the way.

Call to Action:  If you’re a writer or want to write, I’d suggest tucking this post away for reference.  There are plenty of other writers out there with different methods and probably even wrote books on the topic.  Find what works for you and stick with it.  Make changes along the way if you need to.  If you’re another writer and stumbled over here and have different methods, please share!  I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Managing Yourself: A Simple Principle

posted in: Fantasy, Life, Writing | 0

NOTE: In light of the events in Charlottesville today, I wanted to say I wrote this blog post weeks ago.  I want to make sure that none of the language used in the my writing could be mistaken for today’s events.  I will speak to the events here and say I am appalled at the racist hate displayed and in no way condone it.  I also am surprised by some of the responses on social media as well.  To think such things do not exist shows a lack of paying attention to the space in which our country has assembled.  I am not surprised and do not condone such actions but also am not scared or worried because a small number of hateful people decide to rally.  The small number of participants should remind us all that there are far more who do not stand with the hateful.  Those of us who choose to love our fellow men no matter color, culture, political side, and/or religious beliefs far outnumber the few who embrace hate in their hearts.

As strange as it is and this being my blog, everything stated is my own opinion and based on my experiences, convictions, beliefs, and research into various topics.  I know, you read that first sentence and think, “Oh boy, where’s this going?”  I try to keep this blog grounded in writing and whatever influences I have in my journey.

However, I have noticed something in recent months that has me somewhat concerned but not apprehensive in my pursuit for traditional publishing.  Just some thoughts I’ve been wanting to share.

Twitter is quite the social media tool/outlet to connect with all kinds of people from all kinds of walks of life.  I’ve been able to follow, interact, and have discussions with unpublished and published authors, editors, agents, and others in the book industry.  This has been a fun experience for me and allows me to ask questions, find resources, and even form acquaintance-like relationships.

In spite of all this, though, I also come up against some things that flash warning signs.  Now, I’m approaching this carefully because I don’t want to offend or stir anything.  If this blog post leads to anything, I hope its respectful dialogue.  I have no interest in debating or converting for any purpose.  I want to share some concerns.

If you are unaware (I seriously don’t know how that could be) but there are a lot of dividing lines right now in the US.  Politics, religion, and even sports produce some really nasty things “said” about and to people who may not share the same views.  Now, I could unfollow those who have these different views from me but I honestly like to read what people are saying so I understand where they’re coming from.

My chief concern though when it comes to the writing industry is will I be ignored or attacked if I don’t share the same views so openly expressed?

I do not get political or even religious on social media.  I follow many people who I share different views than and read things every day I do not agree with.  However, I have and hold to a position that I cannot manage anyone but myself.  It’s not easy but it’s a great discipline to have.  Others are very open about their anger and sometimes hate of other people and this makes me wonder if I will be “denied” opportunities if I disagree with those who hold the keys.  I think it’s a legitimate concern for me to have but at the same time I trust that my writing and storytelling abilities will supersede any disagreements.

If I could offer any kind of advice (totally up to you if you want to follow it or not; you won’t offend me if you don’t or call me a name), it would be that I think people need to be careful of vitriol espoused on social media.  Not because you’ll offend someone but because people like me will wonder, “Can I have any kind of relationship with this person if they find out I don’t share the same views as them?”

The writing community is a unique place in that there’s usually a lot of support and few “rivalries”.  When writers announce their successes, I see way more support and congratulations than the opposite.  There may be jealousy but that drives a lot of writers to believe they can be the next one to sign that book deal contract.

However, and I’ve seen this a lot in recent weeks, there are writers and agents that are extremely hostile and sometimes plain disgusting with what they say in response to something outside of writing that they are upset over.  I get it.  There are things that drive me up the wall and boil my blood as well but I don’t think it’s worth my time or effort to say anything on a social platform (part of me doesn’t think anyone cares anyway).

Obviously, I am not saying this sort of behavior should be stopped.  Far from it actually.  Speak and be heard but I know there are consequences for saying things.  For me, I never want to jeopardize future relationships because of a quick response born out of anger or offense.  As I stated before, I can only manage myself and I want to always be mindful of how my words affect not only others but myself in the grand scheme of things.

Call to Action: Now I don’t know if my concerns are legitimate or not but I’ll probably share stories once I get deeper into the agent/publishing levels.  Until then, sign up for the newsletter!  (Yes, you’ll see this push throughout the month.)

Sunday Levity: Pun Fun!

posted in: Sunday Levity | 0


I’d like to dedicate this Sunday Levity post to my sister-in-law.  She’s a punner.

Puns nowadays can almost seem kitsch.  Dad jokes are soaked in them yet there seems to be this continual employ of them in our water cooler circles.  Sometimes, they can be funny and unexpected.  Sometimes they are clever and earn the slow clap treatment.

Whatever your feelings towards the play on words, I hope you are having a great Sunday and surrounded by people you love and love you back.

Enjoy the video I’ve attached!  It’s punny!

Happenings: Life as a Writer

Hello all!  Life continues as it does without giving so much as a moment’s break.  I’ve been actively keeping up on all of my projects and won’t rehash any of it here (busyness is a real thing for a writer).

I do have a slight announcement to share.  I am featured on another writer’s blog in an interview that you can click over to read here: http://jamie-marchant.com/blog/

Hope you enjoy that little bit of a tidbit.  It was a fun experience and I hope to do more in the near future.  Yes, that was an actual excerpt from “So Speaks the Gallows” and a great deal of fun to finally share.  (I think I’ll share it here on the website as well over on the So Speaks the Gallows page.)

I am working on the second newsletter set to be released at the end of August.  If you haven’t signed up yet for it, I highly encourage you to do so.  It will contain a “Shoals to the Hallowed” short story that will fill in some gaps and provide additional information to everything what has transpired so far.  I know there’s a propensity to provide exposition but I really try to avoid this while writing.  The information is there but lines do need to be made.  I trust you all as readers to do that.

Also, I wanted to take today’s blog post to recommend a movie to all of you.  Baby Driver (the title of the film may be the only thing I don’t like about it) is such a great film and done so well from a direction perspective.  I know I mentioned it in a previous post but I cannot stop promoting it!  You’ll find today’s Call to Action devoted to a video that dives deeper into the filmmaking that I found fun to watch.

Game of Thrones started back up, so I’m watching that as well as other shows.  Some are guilty pleasures but not things I recommend for their storytelling.  I will say, though, that I’m always looking for new shows.  I avoid procedurals like the plague and really only like those in comedies.  For drama, I love a good serial that has twists and turns.
I’m still behind in my Goodreads reading challenge but trying to catch up.  I find myself in a weird place though as I’m listening to an audiobook of Christopher Moore’s “Lamb”, which is the fictional story about Jesus and his best friend, Biff, as they travel in search of the three magi who delivered gifts to Jesus as a baby.  They go on quite the adventure that is absolutely speculative fictional, not always…kosher.  And, I’m reading the book, “Good Omens”, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, which has a rather satirical take on the apocalypse with the coming of the Antichrist but things are not quite going as planned.  Very strange dichotomy of reading that I did not plan but both stories have crossed over.  I’m not quite sure I’d recommend either book at this point.

Not a main writing focus for today’s blog post but I like to pause and share the things I’m doing and enjoying.  All of these affect my writing in some form or another.  I’m not one of those writers who is always writing/editing/revising or working on my projects.  Breaks are good for my sanity, which is essential for writers to maintain (though, I guess there are some writers out there who would argue the opposite).

Call to Action: Watch the video and enjoy!

Stretching and Testing: Exploring Other Genres

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 2
While at this time in my life as a writer I am focusing on fantasy, I often wonder what it would be like to sit down and try to write a story (at whatever length) that moves away from my preferred genre.  I dabbled in this in the past with short stories for classes and while they were definitely not fantasy, I always approached them with the desire to explore different characters who had secrets or qualities that were not revealed until the very end (I may have to dig these up and consider revising).

I blame this blog post of a rabbit trail of creativity on my attempt at reading non-fantasy books.  As I’ve stated before, I am looking for different kinds of books to read to help stretch my writing muscles.  So far, I delved into biographies and a few contemporary fiction novels.  I’ve enjoyed these books for various reasons but I can’t help but wonder, “If I were to write a satirical novel or maybe something considered horror, what kind of story would I write?”

So often, I see motivational and inspirational quotes, encouraging writers to write what they love.  I wholeheartedly agree with this but I can’t help but think there’s value in trying new things.  Obviously, my time is taken up by my devotion to my fantasy series but what’s to stop me from taking a few hours and try to write something that takes place in the late 20th century or more recent?  Nothing really to be honest.  It could serve as a simple creative exercise and there are benefits to that practice.

At this time, I think if I played with any kind of new idea, I’d have to keep it to a short story word count.  If I were to stretch myself too thin, I think I could easily become overwhelmed and that could affect my writing commitments.  This would not be good for myself in the end.  So, a short story would have to be limit.

I think writers can sometimes become distracted by fresh ideas, neglecting current stories that are further along.  I kind of attribute it to being like a new pair of shoes.  You love them when you buy them, wear them everyday, and tell yourself you don’t need another pair for years.  Then, you’re browsing online or at a store and boom!  You spot another pair of shoes that convince you immediately your current shoes are worn down too much to be worn much longer.  I would encourage all writers to watch out for this situation.  You are the best judge of your stories but do not trash something that you cherish just for the sake of something new and fresh.

Call to Action:  Does anyone have a good recommendation for a book of short stories?  I think I need to read more to get a better feel for their length and convention.

On This Day: 17 July 2006 – Mistborn: The Final Empire First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 3

This month’s “On This Day” post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing for awhile.  I learned of Brandon Sanderson back when I was living in Seattle and going to school.  I learned that my favorite author Robert Jordan had succumbed to his life-threatening sickness and passed on.  While it was horrible news and I felt the pain in my heart at such a tragedy to the fantasy and literary world, I also learned that another author would be finishing Jordan’s grand fantasy masterpiece, The Wheel of Time series.

I reviewed the first WoT book, The Eye of the World, back in January for my first OTD post if you recall or are new to my blog.  Jordan managed to write up to book 12 of the series before he passed.  He wanted to write one more book to close the series but it was quickly realized that final book would need to be three books to do the end justice.

After learning Sanderson would be taking the helm and finishing the series based on in depth notes provided by Jordan and the aid of Jordan’s widow who served as his editor for decades, Sanderson undertook the great effort.

This allowed me time to get to know the unknown writer who would be finishing what I considered the greatest fantasy series ever (part of me still believes this).  So, I went to Sanderson’s book, Mistborn: The Final Empire, and was thrust into a world that I could not step away from even if I tried.

The brilliance of Sanderson’s writing and skill is often found in the originality of his magic systems which I will be focusing on for this post.  Without delving into spoilers for the book (yes, if I went into the fullness of the magic system, I’d be spoiling things), I will cover the basics.

In Mistborn, the main magic system explored and focused on is called Allomancy.  Here’s how it works: men and women, called Mistings or Mistborn depending on their ability, can use types of metals to enhance themselves physically and mentally.  Below is a table with a basic description:

PHYSICAL Pushing Pulling Pulling Pushing MENTAL
External Steel

Pushes on Nearby Metals

Iron

Pulls on Nearby Metals

Zinc

Enflames Emotions

Brass

Dampens Emotions

External
Internal Pewter

Increases Physical Abilities

Tin

Increases Physical Senses

Copper

Hides Allomantic Pulses

Bronze

Detects Allomantic Pulses

Internal
ENHANCEMENT Pushing Pulling Pulling Pushing TEMPORAL

I understand that just looking at this is difficult to understand, which is why I would highly encourage reading this book.  The best I can explain it here is that an Allomancer uses small amounts of these metals (kept in glass vials) and swallows the contents.  Depending on the type of Allomancer and what metal they are able to utilize, they can internally “burn” the metal inside them and carry out any of the functions listed in the table.One great example in the book is the pushing and pulling of metal.  Mistborns are able to launch themselves up into the air by pushing on a piece of metal on the ground and then pull themselves to another piece of metal like an iron bannister of a balcony.  The image truly allows for some amazing action sequences.

I truly do not know if I can do it justice in explanation but this type of magic system upon first reading was mesmerizing.  The creativeness involved (remember, I am simply going over the basics of the system) and the deeper layers explored by Sanderson through the characters inspires me as a fantasy writer.

Magic systems are one of the main attractions for readers of the genre.  Some are extremely creative while others are more arcane and not completely explored as a whole because they serve almost as ancillary roles in the main narrative of the story.  What Sanderson offers (he has a bevy of books, novellas, and short stories to his name now) is a well-thought out system that affects the culture, economy, and other ways of life.  This is not always the case in most fantasy books but Sanderson follows this model in such a way that you cannot help but be entertained by how it’s used and plays a role.

Call to Action: Give it a read!  The world is rich and the action is fast and engaging.  Best of all are the characters who I did not spend any time exploring in this post but they are just as in depth as the magic system.

Keeping Track: Importance of a Glossary

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

Since I’ve started to focus on revising “So Speaks the Gallows”, my blog posts seem to be centered around that process and things I’m encountering along the way.  That should narrow into specific topics from time to time or at least I hope it does.  Obviously, some specifics will be avoided or omitted for the sake of keeping details under wraps but hopefully the main points of what I’m blogging about will come through.

I know I’ve mentioned it before but my wife has repeatedly expressed amazement and awe (the latter is more my word than hers, lol) that I am able to construct a diverse and enriched detailed world that I’ve spent a great deal of time developing and getting just right.  World building has its merits along with adventurous intrigue, but I would be remiss to say its a simple exercise of the creative mind to keep track of everything.

As much as I love world building, a greater aspect of doing so is recording and keeping a detailed file of everything specific to my fantasy world.  Now, when it comes to the main characters, some supporting characters, and their descriptions, I could throw those out easily.  Even places, cultural details, magic-related items, etc., I can describe those in length and thoroughly.  However, there are smaller aspects I cannot for the life of me always remember.

What was the name of that village/town by that small river where my main character interacted briefly with a traveler whose name I can’t remember and they drank wine from a vineyard and ate a type of cheese whose names allude me…  You get the picture.  Not everything can be stowed away and plucked to the forefront of my memory.

Detailed notes are best kept in a separate file I’ve titled Master Glossary.  It’s this file that has saved me lots of time when researching and going back looking for a bit of information I’ve forgotten.  I would encourage all fantasy writers to do this but somehow I believe they already do.  If they didn’t in the beginning, they definitely did once they had a couple of beta readers point out embarrassing mistakes.

I mention this for today’s blog post because I’ve been trying to polish up my Master Glossary as I’ve gone about revising SStG.  Unfortunately, and I know this set me back some hours, I haven’t even begun to include the many characters, places, and things I’ve written for the other novellas and books rough drafts yet.  That will be quite the undertaking but necessary.

I know for a fact that agents could be very interested in book one but if my world building and tracking of this world is messy and unkempt, they could have reservations about trusting in my ability to see the story continued and wrapped up.  A glossary and detailed note taking is essential to my tightening the writing and making sure consistency is found throughout the narrative.

Call to Action:  Hmm, I don’t have a post-related CTA today to be honest.  I’ve toyed with a few things and came up empty.  So let’s go the charitable route.  If you have the chance, look to help a family member, friend, or even a stranger today.  Even if it’s offering to pay for someone’s coffee, consider doing so.  The world is ugly at times but we can still be courteous and decent despite the atrocities.

Steady Pace: Writing Action Sequences

I’ve recently worked on a long action sequence in “So Speaks the Gallows” and the effort made me think it was a good time to blog about writing action.  This is based on my own experience and in no way a “must follow” instructional.  Just some thoughts, ideas, and practices I’ve found myself able to explore over time.

Writing action scenes is not an easy endeavor to say the least.  When thinking epic fantasy, the images of epic battles similar to what can be found in the Lord of the Rings movies comes to mind.  Visualizing these sequences for the screen has its own set of difficulties (see the Appendices of the movies for further detail).  For novel writing though, it’s a bit different.  The action has to be described in a way that holds and maintains the reader’s attention without inundating them with any confusing language or unnecessary details.

This is a difficult part of writing.  I did not understand this in the beginning and actually prefer smaller scenes of action than large scale warfare.  There are writers that do both very well.  Brandon Sanderson (via the notes and direction of Robert Jordan) was able to do this in the final book of the Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, which is a massive final battle that has so many moving parts and elements that it’s amazing to read.

For myself, action sequences need to be treated in a way that moves and does not stall.  Characters are engaged in often life and death situations and have to act in order to survive.  Their choices should reflect this and if they make a mistake, then there should be consequences.  For myself, I don’t like it when the “heroes” are untouchable.  Emotions should be tugged on throughout action sequences both in the characters and the reader.

Something I try to keep in mind while writing action is forward progress and the toll taken on the characters.  Long fights where neither side gets tired is unrealistic (unless we are dealing with superheroes and/or ridiculous fights in the Matrix).  Two guys with swords fighting to the death are not likely to last more than a few minutes.  The best training in the world does not mean the body does not lose energy and grow tired.  And if and when one side suffers an injury, that has an affect on the body as well.  Loss of blood forces the body react in a way to compensate for the wound.  This is something I personally pay attention to while writing any kind of fighting scene.

Let there be a cost.  This is sort of my mantra whenever things turn violent in anything I’m writing.  Violence is a means of entertainment we find in all mediums but we are far removed from any ideology that the good guys never lose.  It’s difficult for me to write an action sequence and write the deaths of characters I know very well after so many years with them but they are not and cannot be untouchable.  There is a difference between killing characters off for shock affect and characters dying because they were bested and/or caught in the crossfire.  This is difficult to pull off and while I could justify the killing of a character (whatever their role in the story), some readers could easily say they feel cheated by the death, arguing it was unnecessary.  It’s up to me to make it justifiable in the end.

Action should pull on the reader in several different ways.  It takes years to practice and become good at it.  My recent revision of the long sequence I mentioned previously revealed a lot about myself when I first wrote it.  Too often, I ran into paragraphs that simply did nothing to push the action forward.  These stilted moments were amateur to say the least and I am pleased with the revision.  There’s a flow–a pace–to writing these scenes and while I continue to test myself and improve, I believe I’m closer to applying my writing style and voice to these difficult scenes.

Call to Action:  So, we recently watched the movie “Baby Driver”.  I whole-heartedly recommend viewing this fine film.  Not only is it fun and original, but it does something for action sequences that is not only entertaining but strikes the creative chord (pun intended).  How?  The director, Edgar Wright, syncs the soundtrack of the film to the action.  Trust me, you’ll love it.

Word Count: Does It Matter?

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 6
Often, writer’s (especially with their first book attempts) just write, trying to finish the book.  That’s the primary goal with dreams of publication on the horizon.  What happens (and this is my experience) is that writers begin to do research and find information on length of the book and how that may or may not affect the book being bought and published for the general public.

When I was younger, this terrified me because I realized that my first book was very large.  Mind you, I’ve decided to love and write epic fantasy because I like a good storytelling challenge.  Now, if you do any kind of quick searches for epic fantasy novel word count, you will find what is quite the endeavor.  Anywhere from 175K to 225K words seems an appropriate average.  This translates to several hundreds of pages both in hardback and paperback, which is quite the commitment for a reader.  It’s even more so for a publisher though who is putting up the money to pay for a wide release of what they hope will be a bestseller.

Publishers are in the book game to make money.  That has to be realized.  Agents are in the book game to make money as well.  They are looking for writers who write something they believe they can sell for a book deal to a major publisher so that the book will hit the shelves at Barnes and Noble and the virtual shelves at Amazon.  Writers are in the game to write.  Sure some look to make money but I’m of the opinion best selling writers have both the skill to write a great story that other people are willing to pay for to read, but also the ability to tell the story in a way only they can.  We’ve got it in us to put the words on the pages.

In the beginning, I wanted to write, get published, and make money.  Not much of a confession since I was 18 and had no idea what else to do with my life at that time.  Now, 32, I want to write and get published.  If I make money in doing so then that’s just an added bonus.  What does this have to do with word count, you might ask?  A lot actually because I cannot sacrifice my story for the sake of believing it can only be published by a major publisher if I get it under 125K words because that might be what the publisher prefers.

From a cost/profit position, I get it.  It’s not easy to sell a new epic fantasy book that stretches several hundred pages and expect a profit all the time.  It happens but there’s a lot that goes into the effort of the agent and publisher to get that money.

For me, I cannot get hung up on length when it comes to my book.  Is it long, yes.  Admittedly so, it is long.  But that is because it is epic fantasy.  It’s the nature of the beast.  My goal is to write, edit, revise, and polish it to the best of my abilities.  Not only that, but it needs to be the best it can be in order for an agent to believe it enough to invest their career, reputation, and time into it.  It’s no easy task but doable and I believe in my writing and storytelling abilities to reach this goal despite the word count.

To all other writers who may venture to read this blog post (are you out there?  I’m not quite sure to be honest), I would encourage you to tell the story from beginning to end as you see fit.  Be prepared to have to cut and revise if your beta readers make suggestions.  Be prepared to spend more time revising sections if an agent believes it will benefit the book, which will lead it to being sold.  If there’s a section that you disagree needs to be cut/revised for whatever reason, make an appeal and state your reason why.  Trust in yourself.

Call to Action: I’m curious to know if book readers turn away from books based on length.  Do you have a preference?

Recommended: The Last of Us

I’m not the biggest gamer nor would I consider myself well-informed on the great selection of games out there nowadays.  That’s not to say I haven’t wasted many a days staring at a screen and directing an avatar through a dangerous, violent adventure pursuing the ultimate goal or an achievement/trophy.  I won’t be going into a lot of detail about my experience with video games today but I do want to shine some light on a particular game that has impacted me the most in my 20+ years of playing video games across many consoles.

The Last of Us is in my opinion the best narrative of a story in video game form (based on what I’ve experienced; there could be others).  I won’t be getting into gameplay or mechanics of the game itself because I know some readers will not be familiar with that aspect (so let’s keep it general).  However, I think everyone can admire and stand with me when it comes to enjoying a well-told story.  The Last of Us does this.

The game follows Joel–one of our main protagonists–in a future that is decimated by a disease that affects people’s brains and bodies, leading to eventual violent tendencies.  He’s a survivor, suffering demons from the first days of the outbreak.  This leads to his eventual goal for the game.  His task is to escort a young girl, Ellie, to a location across the country where she can be safe from would-be antagonists who seek to do her harm.

Without going into spoilers (just in case any readers have yet to play the game and are planning to), it’s not the most embracing of relationships as Joel is worn down by the world and carries the pain of losing his own daughter years prior.  Ellie is a girl who was born into a broken world and her wonder about the world lost leads her to ask Joel lots of questions and be what a teenager might be in those circumstances: curious.

From setting to setting, the game pits Joel and Ellie against enemies in various forms and they have to do whatever they can to survive and find safety.  Woven throughout this drama and the intense gameplay, you as the player are privileged to be part of the relationship that grows between them.  Joel is a father without a daughter and Ellie quickly becomes the potential surrogate despite his wanting to be done with the mission at hand, struggling to bond with what he thinks might be stolen away from him yet again.

My love for this game comes from the dynamic between the two characters.  I have a soft spot when it comes to stories that involve a parental figure and a child who rely on each other and come out changed for the better in the end (see my review of Logan).  By the end, both Joel and Ellie are different, experiences real growth.  I can admit, but there’s a point in the game that is so emotional that I definitely teared up a little.

A minor narrative detail throughout the game is when the game slows down and Joel and Ellie are going from one place to another (or from conflict to conflict).  Here is where the casual conversations take place.  Ellie will see something or you can direct Joel to look at something in the environment and Ellie will react, asking questions that explore her thoughts, Joel’s thoughts, and end with the two talking as if the world has not gone toes up.  It’s a small detail strung throughout the game but adds a layer no other game has taken advantage of to my knowledge before it.  It’s a genius character element!

Yes, The Last of Us is a video game and while a great many lack in great storytelling, this one sets the standard.  It was funny, I found out a friend of mine recently started the game and I told him I would come and watch him play to witness his experience with the game.  It’s something I cannot go through for the first time again but I love that others can.  Even if they do not feel the same way as I do about it, to me it’s worth experiencing just as much as I think some films or TV shows should be experienced.  It’s storytelling done right and I will always be drawn to those examples.

Call to Action: It’s not a simple, “Oh you should go out, buy a Playstation and the game, and play!”  No, that’s not feasible.  Instead, I’ve attached a non-spoiler review video for your viewing pleasure.  There’s some in-game language and violence in the video so you’ve been warned.

On This Day: 27 June 2006 – The Lies of Locke Lamora first published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 2

This month’s OTD post will focus on Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” which is the first of the “Gentleman Bastard Sequence”.  It’s a novel that follows the main character, Locke Lamora, who alongside his best friend, Jean Tannen, get caught up in a caper-like story that they must survive after would-be allies turn on them.

As always, no spoilers will be found here.

While the characters and action are captivating, I want to focus a bit more on the setting.  The story takes place in a Venice-like city called Camorr.  Lynch does an amazing job of thrusting the reader into this new and interesting place.  The world feels expansive beyond this one city but unexplored beyond minor mention.  The layers of world building can be felt in the dialogue/language, history, and religions.  The weaving of these elements are everything a fantasy story needs.

As I’ve explored in past blog posts, fantasy can be a difficult genre to write both in creation and holding a reader’s attention.  There is little familiarity except in more generic of terms.  Elements of culture and society have to be infused within the narrative through observation and understanding possessed in the point of view offered.  Some writers are vague in this exploration while others like Lynch dive deeper in the ocean of world building and succeed!

More to the story itself, Locke and Jean belong to a lesser, smaller gang of thieves surrounded by danger at every turn.  This takes the form of secret police and larger gangs that all have collective agendas of their own.  Throw in the threat of a Bondsmage (a warlock for hire) bent on killing them and you’ve got quite a thrill ride to enjoy!

What I enjoyed most upon reading this book is that it is actually pretty straight forward.  I kept expecting crazy twists that knocked me backwards but instead, there were subtle actions that were consistent and reasonable within the world.  There’s absolutely surprises and double-crosses that will keep you reading but you truly stay engaged in the story because you want to see how Locke and Jean will make it to the end of the book.  Each are skilled in their own right but neither possesses magic or has an ally that does.  They must rely on their wits and knowledge of the culture and city to survive.

It’s a rich world with so many interesting ideas that are fresh.  The technology is advanced to a point where chemistry serves as an almost societal magic embraced by all where the more mystic of arts has to be purchased as I stated before.  For a fantasy novel, it does not have an epic magic feel and those who actually practice magic–the Bondsmage–serve as more a background entity.  It’s a controlled approach that doesn’t spread across the entirety of the narrative.  This is a very cool idea and one I enjoyed.  It put constrictions on what to expect from a fantastical stance.

Totally recommended.  I’ve read the first three books of the series so far and enjoyed each as they explore new places and characters, expanding the world in a way that I really enjoyed.  My only gripe (I realize I probably don’t do that enough in any of my reviews of things) is that I felt like some of the exposition was unnecessary.  I get why Lynch added it (as a fellow writer, exposition is tough to navigate and probably more of a preference thing on my part).  However, in this instance, it’s hard to go into more detail without spoiling anything.  So, I’ll leave it at that.

Call to Action: Read it of course!  (Click on the pic of the book above to purchase.)  Or let me know what you thought about it if you have read it.

Layers Upon Layers: Revising Tips

I’ll get to the topic of this blog post shortly but I wanted to speak a little to the Shoals to the Hallowed flash fiction pieces posted at the end of each month.  To clarify, these are not connected to the Ravanguard series and have remained a writing exercise/foundational laying of the future series.  I apologize to anyone who wishes there was more.  I’m exploring the best way to give you more, which leads to a thought I had but will require an adjustment of sorts to the newsletter cycle.

In a previous post, I had created the main protagonist of the next Ravanguard-related short story for the second newsletter slated to be released at the end of August.  I think I will put that on hold for now (apologies to those who contributed to the character building exercise we shared).  I will come back to it but I think I’d like to use the newsletter as a means for writing a short story for the Shoals to the Hallowed.  You, the subscribers, will receive more context into the world and it will hopefully connect some dots as well.

Also, my previous plan to have 12 POVs is now being cut to 6 so that means in July, we will be returning to one of the characters you’ve all previously been introduced to.  I may even try to squeeze in two flash fiction posts from time to time but it all depends on my schedule.  Thank you for reading and continuing to support me.

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Onto the post!

The more I do it, the more I think a first rough draft of a story is simply pushing from beginning to end.  There’s so much that can happen along the way and the writer can plan and outline and still come away after that last page is finished and be surprised by some twists and turns.  I actually enjoy starting a story and not knowing where it will end.  It allows for growth and space.  When I’m surprised by something that happens, I know the reader will be too.

I could easily go on and on but I wanted to bring to light revising tips I’ve accumulated over the years.  There is no true rule or standard for revising.  It’s simply polishing the rough edges of the manuscript.

One thing I look for as I revise the flow of words.  Is there one?  Or does the paragraph or dialogue read congested or even constipated (bad imagery I know).  There’s a rhythm to language that can and should be utilized in storytelling.  Sometimes, it can be rough but that usually falls in line with a particular character, mood, or tone set before.  Sometimes (in my experience), this requires some adding or removing of words or even rewriting the paragraph or dialogue altogether.  Either way, it’s about not putting the reader in a place where it’s difficult to keep reading.

Another thing I look for when I revise is detail.  Is there too much or too little?  This is a bit of a chess game between me and the page to be honest.  It’s not a simple, “Oh, I forgot to say what color that woman’s dress is.”  No, it has more to do with whether or not the scenery/character/conflict is lacking in any way.

I’ll often find that I use words improperly that I mean to have a specific connotation in relation to the colors or sounds in the scene.  Appealing to the senses is essential as a writer.  We want the reader to be immersed in the action taking place in front of them.  If I fail to provide a detail even as minuscule as the sound of footsteps approaching or the creak of a door when someone unexpected enters a room, I’m denying the reader an experience.

These are just a few of the things I look for and are mindful of when revising.  It’s difficult but when I look back at the early scenes/chapters I wrote for “So Speaks the Gallows”, I have to remember that much of the world and characters were not fully fleshed out at that time.  I wrote the first chapters almost ten years ago now.  So much has happened since then and I’ve grown as a writer, able to look at how I write now to those first rough drafts of chapters and it’s truly gratifying to know I’ve grown and not been stagnant.

Call to Action: I haven’t said it in awhile but you should sign up for the newsletter when prompted on the website.  Maybe the promise of a Shoals to the Hallowed short story will be more enticing to some who have resisted so far.

Urgency for Agency: Search for an Agent

Plans change.  Most often, they change because a previous thought or idea can be influenced by new information.

I recently listened to a Q&A with a literary agent and there were some preconceived ideas I had about the process for publishing for myself that were shattered.  This has opened my eyes and my mind to make some changes.  I’ve sat with it for a few weeks now and I’m willing to say I’ve been approaching my goal the wrong way.

While not going into the deeper specifics, I’ll simply say that I had previously planned to self-publish the first novella of the Ravanguard series and use that as a means for attracting an agent.  In my mind, this was a great idea that showed initiative and forethought.  While I think this is partly true, I think after some processing and reflection, my approach was also in due part based in fear that my writing would not be good enough to attract an agent based on the writing of book 1.

This is the kind of fear every writer deals with.  My wife is gracious enough to help convince me that it’s a fear that I do not and should not worry about.  I agree.  I believe in my writing and the story I have to tell.  I’ve simply suffered a flat tire in the journey but thankfully, the spare is on and I’m on track again.

So, my plan has shifted.  I will not pursue self-publishing “Dim the Veil”.  It still serves as a companion to the series and is canon and will likely be published in the future but book 1 of the Ravanguard series, “So Speaks the Gallows”, is the top priority from her on out.  This is the vehicle for the series and I mean to see it as the selling point for gaining an agent.

Currently, I have been moving through book 1 with a friend, who has graciously offered his time, to fine comb through the book.  Seeing as how this book is over 450 pages, it has been a long process.  However, I’ve decided to refocus my revision efforts based on the feedback and discussions and I will make this final polish before searching for an agent.

Finding an agent is a process in itself.  It requires patience.  I will likely receive rejection letters but I do believe the right agent is out there for me and it will be a person I can partner with for the future.  They don’t make money unless they successfully sell the book to a publisher.  I learned a great deal through the Q&A session I listened to and will likely listen to it a few more times just to make sure I’m fit with the knowledge needed to move forward.

My wife has actually encouraged me to look for an agent for a few years now and I fought it in an attempt to convince her my plan was the right way to go.  It’s never fun to eat crow but everything is better with BBQ sauce (hickory and sweet, not spicy).  It’s an adjustment and those are never easy to realign to but I believe now that this is the route I need to take.

While I am revising book 1, I will also be preparing my query letters for agents and making sure those are top notch as well.  It’s an art in itself.  There are some rules that stretch across the board but a lot of agents have some differences in how they want to be queried.  The list of agents is growing and I have hope that he or she who decides to invest in me is in that list.

Call to Action: Despite these changes, I will continue on as I have been.  The next newsletter is still set for an August release.  Sign up if you haven’t.  Definitely expect a bigger update on book 1 and searching for an agent at that time.  I’m going to limit how much I discuss it here on the blog (if I can).

Wonder Woman: Thoughts and Impact

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review, Writing | 2

I’m juggling and shifting my blog post schedule around to bring you all my take on the film, Wonder Woman, which Leesie and I went and saw this last weekend.

This is not a review but rather an initial impact on me as a writer and storyteller.  Have no fear, there will be no spoilers shared here!

I went into the movie expecting it to be good based on reviews I’ve come across.  I have not been the biggest fan of the DC comics movies so far (I enjoyed the first halves of Man of Steel and Suicide Squad) but I have held out hope that the trailer I saw for Wonder Woman would hold up for the entire film.

We watched the movie and my first comment to Leesie afterward was, “I am amazed that it took until 2017 for us to get a movie like that.”  Now, what I meant was, “Holy crap!  Why have we not had a movie centered on a woman super hero?!”  Seriously, I loved the film.  It had so much good in it that I’m still processing everything to this day.

What’s more is I truly loved hearing Leesie’s take on it.  In case you all don’t know, I’m a straight white male and that has…interesting connotations in today’s society (let’s leave that ditty for another day though).  My wife’s opinion means a lot to me as a storyteller and I often expose her to movies or shows that impact me as a writer and I want her take on it.  This doesn’t always go over well though because she doesn’t see what I see but that’s not really a bad thing.  I’m just a nerd who gets inspired by things not everyone else does lol.  So, not a knock on her, I just really like to hear her reaction.

But for Wonder Woman, I absolutely wanted to hear her reaction.  To listen to her talk about how it evoked emotion in her to witness a woman who was both powerful and compassionate lead the charge (not a spoiler since it’s in the trailers but that “no man’s land” scene was one of the best I’ve ever seen) tore at me.  As a man, and I like to think I value women pretty well (all thanks to my mom), I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  I don’t know how women feel or think.  I don’t know what their experiences are in the workplace and other social constructs.  I just don’t but I love that I can talk to my wife and listen to her talk about these things that are inspiring to her and for different reasons than they are for me.

One other aspect she brought up to me (after reviewing this blog post) was the fact that Diana did not devalue the men she encountered (for the first time mind you) but came alongside them, learning about them as people and valuing what they had to bring to the table.  This idea of co-value is what seems to be missing in a lot of the discussion between men and women’s roles in society.  We are different.  Biologically and mentally there are differences but in action we can carry out the same goals.  I am always thinking about this as a writer and even putting it up against other stories in any medium of media.

Already, my mind is going back to the female characters of my stories.  I’ve never wanted to write ones that feel inferior for the sake of a plot device.  I truly don’t want to tell the story of a damsel in distress who can only be saved by the knight in shining armor.  It’s been done to death and it’s not an interesting story to tell (at least not to me).

As I write and revise the first book of the Ravanguard series, I’m reassessing my main female protagonist’s scenes in which I explore her thoughts and actions in the conflicts she faces.  Yes, she has help from both male and female counterparts but I truly desire to write her stronger than I previously had.  Will she make mistakes?  Yes, because that’s believable and makes her grow as a character but I don’t have to write her into corners or the tallest, darkest tower with way to escape lest their be some chiseled Fabio chump to scale that tower to free her.

Wonder Woman was an amazing film to experience and I highly recommend it to everyone.  I came away extremely impressed with the direction of the film by director, Patty Jenkins (keep an eye on her as a director) and Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana aka Wonder Woman.  Gadot was mesmerizing and embodied a hero with a clear vision of purpose and power.  Ignore the naysayers and pompous twits who feel the need to gripe over sensitivity issues (most of these are results of their own biases).  Form your own opinion and let that be enough.

Call to Action: Go see it.  In fact, if you’ve already seen it, go see it again.  I don’t often watch movies twice in theaters but I would absolutely jump at the chance to see Wonder Woman again.

Pressure Tester: Meeting the Content Quota

posted in: Fantasy, Flash Fiction, Life, Writing | 0

I took the Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to conduct a little experiment.  Since I started this blog and launched my website, I knew I needed to up my game and produce content.  I knew I needed to have more of a presence on social media (Twitter primarily because of its format, features, and links to other writers).  What I didn’t know though was the amount of time this required of me.

I’ve done enough research to understand how marketing myself as a writer on the interwebz is important as I pursue my dream of publishing my stories.  The blog was a great opportunity for me to write and share.  The benefits have been great (I’ve already shared that to some extent and won’t regurgitate it at the moment).  I’ve tweeted and interacted with other writers as opportunities allowed.  Overall, the experience has been good but… To put it bluntly, I’ve run into a bit of a wall.

Let me explain (No, there is too much.  Let me sum up).  Being that active on Twitter has been time consuming.  I got into a habit where I always had a tab open to Twitter and would continually keep an eye on my feed.  I wouldn’t tweet something every hour on the hour but I tried to so throughout the day because all the research I did told me I had to be a continuous presence in addition to adding content.  Other than tweeting, my blog posts every other day have been the majority of my content.

A little vulnerability I’d like to share with everyone: it has been a bit a let down but only because I think my expectations were too high.  I get way more spam comments (all of these I have to go through and mark as spam behind the scenes of my website) and I see no real evidence that I am gaining consistent followers.  This could be for a number of reasons (everyone’s got a blog nowadays, especially writers, so I get that there are a lot of options) and the one I keep coming back to is I’m still at the beginning stages of this season of being “present”.

This is not to say I do not appreciate the comments I do receive from real people.  I love being able to read them and respond.  If I don’t respond, I apologize.  I am trying to be better about it.

Even on Twitter, I’ve come to this hovering number of followers and wonder what I’m doing wrong.  Am I tweeting the wrong things?  Am I hash tagging wrong?  Am I focusing too much on writing and not other interests I have?  If I tweeted more about sports, music, food, etc. would I risk losing the followers I do have?  These are questions I continually wrestle with and have yet to find an answer.

Please don’t take this blog post as a rant or complaint.  It’s not.  I’m processing my actions and the steps I’ve taken over the last five months of going all in.  I trust that I am very much in the early stages of this leg of the race and need to merely slow to a steady pace whereas I was sprinting and have started to hit the wall (I carbo-loaded on the Twitters).

In my mind, the experiment during the last holiday weekend was to see what it “felt” like to unplug.  I decided to step away and not have my laptop in front of me with a Twitter tab open the entire three days.  It was difficult at first because there’s this odd sense that I will miss something by not staying connected.  But then, I have to ask myself, why do I feel the need to stay connected at that level?  It was ultimately draining and I suffered from something I truly don’t want to fall under the pressure of and that’s always being connected through social media.  I can easily let my posting habits become more organic than forcing myself and putting myself on a strict schedule.

If not, then I will burn myself out.  I’ve done so in other areas and through different seasons.  Trying to constantly put out content and interact through social media is too much for me.  I have so many other interests and priorities that I don’t want to let slip away.  These “others” are what fuel me and give me joy.  Constantly tweeting and trying to come up with content that would attract readers and followers is exhausting and it’s not how I want to live my life.  What I want is to write and share the stories I have in me with the world.  Writers have done that for centuries before we ever got to this place of instant-connectivity.

This is not to say technology and our current culture of content intake is bad but I think I need to take a step back and refocus.  I can do both but I cannot sacrifice my relationships, writing, and interests for the sake of building my brand when I’m not quite there.  At least not at the rate I have been trying to.  It’s too much weight and I’ve been putting it all on my shoulders.  I think once I have “Dim the Veil” ready for release or leading up to the release, I need to step back.

Call to Action: No, I’m not going to encourage you to step away from your devices today, lol.  We get that from all over now.  While I do think it’s healthy, I want to encourage everyone to simply consider what they’re putting out there.  What’s your involvement?  What content are you pouring out?  Is it about sharing your life and being encouraging or dumping your trash for the world to see?  We should strive to be better than the negative ninnies out there.  Let’s be better.  Let’s be uplifting, honoring others wherever they are at in their journey.

The Benefits of Writing Flash Fiction

My experiment of writing flash fiction since January has been one of invaluable joy.  While it started out as a way to flex the writing muscles and provide additional/different content through the blog, it has turned into something that I believe will thrust me into a sea of possibilities in the future.

I hope you all have enjoyed the flash fiction posts at the end of each month.  The next is fast approaching and I truly enjoy writing these little glimpses into the Shoals to the Hallowed world.  (Side note: My goal is to provide several viewpoints–a new one each month–and then continue on in those viewpoints by next year.  So that means you’ll have twelve distinct viewpoints introduced this year and next year, I’ll be continuing from those twelve.)

My never delving into flash fiction was a result of not really having a platform to explore and release those kinds of stories.  The blog opened the way for me and I’m glad I took those steps.  The benefits have helped me in many regards but I want to focus on one single benefit for this blog post.

Flash fiction forces the writer to value each and every word, choosing only the ones that matter most for the current story told.  What I mean by this is, I try not to exceed 550 words in a flash fiction story.  Some that I have written over the last few months have been too long and I had to whittle those down.  Parameters aren’t always a bad thing when telling a story.

This practice forced me to pick and choose, editing finely, so that the story could be told in full without what I like to call “fluff”.  This makes the story in its glimpse form edged and to the point.  Too often when writing in larger word counts, the propensity for fluff leaks through.  I chalk this up to the desire to add detail in a first draft more for the sake of the writer, setting reminders for themselves, more so than for the readers to need at that time.

As you can probably imagine, I notice the fluff as I go through the revision process with the longer works like book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  Both good and difficult at times, I definitely struggle with knowing what is sometimes fluff and what is important to the details of the narrative (that’s the continued process of becoming a better writer).

The flash fiction stories serve multiple purposes for myself as I continue to write and gain experience.  You all are involved in the experimental process I’ve set in front of me.  I know there are other lessons I’ve learned but being able to take notice of detail in word count forces my hands (ha!) to be patient and considerate whereas in past cases I’ve acted very loose in how I frame the narrative and each scene within.

Call to Action: It may be years down the road, but I do plan on compiling all the flash fiction stories for the Shoals to the Hallowed.  I’ve even started planning and thinking about the bigger picture for the series though it may be many many years down the road.  I’m curious to know what people think so far.  Let me know because I’m interested in getting feedback.  Thanks!

The Bolder the Better

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 3

There’s this desire within me to be bold as a writer.  I have to ask myself what that looks like and after some reflection and processing (that will take place as a I write this blog post), I’ve come to a few conclusions.

Bold doesn’t necessarily mean crass or of high opinion to the point where I am obstinate.  Let’s say courage instead.  I think there’s a measure of courage needed to be the writer I want to be.  When I first started (here’s a bit of transparency), I thought I had to be a type of writer and write to a certain audience who shared the same religious views as I did.  Yikes!  (I’ve come a long way since then.)

This is not a bash to my beliefs (my convictions and beliefs are very much my own and I hold to them still but I have no interest in forcing them onto others).  No, rather, I realize now that I was a young, very green writer who did not know how to write without inserting this part of my life into the story.  As I look back, this is not in my opinion bold or the example of courage.

My train of thinking has definitely shifted since then.  A writer’s courage does not necessarily look like inserting ideals and doctrines of belief (whether they be religious, political, or cultural) within the narrative of the story.  No, in my mind, courage is knowing your beliefs but willing to explore the alternative options or opinions that others might have.

For example (I think I could write several more blog posts on this topic), I believe in a single God who created and loves humanity and wants a relationship with His creation.  Very basic description.  Yet, in the Ravanguard series, I have multiple religions (quite different from each other in some instances) that are important to the development and growth of my characters.  I cannot (in good conscious) write a character who has a belief in a monotheistic deity similar to my own and treat them in any superior manner over another major character who believes in a polytheistic system of religion.  Neither can I try to have one character convert another to deliver some subconscious agenda!  If I do so, I’ve made the story something (or at least the interaction of those two characters) that I don’t wish it to be.

I hope that makes sense and my words are coming out clear.  It would not be bold for me to treat my writing (this particular fantasy series especially) as a means of forcing my personal convictions down the throats of my readers.  There’s a different kind of book one could write if that was the intention.  Rest assured, my friends, this is not my heart in reality or in fiction.

For me to be a bold writer, I have to be willing to explore ideas (through characters and cultures) that don’t line up with who I am and what I believe.  This should not be a scary endeavor but a vulnerable and mature one that in my mind makes me a better writer in the long run.

Call to Action: As I was writing this blog, I thought about the current model that Pixar is utilizing in their movies.  My wife and I watched Moana and man we loved the movie and its exploration of that culture.  It was different from what we believe in terms of religion but the beauty in it could not be denied.  I think its worth celebrating these different cultures and in no way wrong to want to learn more about them.  Honor looks like loving others no matter their differences.  I encourage everyone to do this!

Suffer Long for Patience Paid

posted in: Writing | 0
If there’s anything that is both beneficial and frustrating at the same time for a writer, it is the practice of patience.  My own experience has been a bit of a roller coaster of rises and falls.  Hopefully, this can bring some comfort to other writers and/or creatives while at the same time help me push through my own bit of frustration (it’s just one of those days).  But, there is a payoff to it all.

When I started out writing, I was the fat kid at the buffet line–wide-eyed and salivating.  My mind was full of new ideas that needed to be put down on “paper”.  But first I needed to consume all that I could to help me learn to write well.  It was beneficial in so many ways but I vividly remember thinking I wouldn’t have to wait long to have my name out there in the world (jaded to the max!).  There was patience back then in the sense that I had to not only come up with all the elements necessary to tell the story but write and write and then finally, write some more.  Editing never crossed my mind.  I had friends and family read what I wrote and good on them for not laughing in my face and shattering my dreams.  To think I was ready back then after my first go just wasn’t feasible.

Over the years, I definitely learned patience.  You don’t write two failed novels that don’t meet what I now consider to be a standard of quality and excellence and think I’ve succeeded.  I measure my success in this current season by believing I finally learned the skills necessary to write a quality novel/series.  My patience to write the bad until I found the better story in my imagination came at a high cost.  I think a lot of writers just starting out do come into the game jaded, believing they’ve got the next big thing on their hands.  It might be that way for some but the majority (myself included) have to slog through the mud of years of bad writing to reach the end of the track, building the muscles necessary to push through and come out on the other side of the bank.

I’m thankful for my journey.  I used to compare mine to others and think I had to switch things up in my life in order to find success by the same route.  I hope I can convince other writers that it’s far more beneficial to your character (not your characters) and legacy to blaze your own trail to find success.  I’m not convinced there is true joy and satisfaction in your writing if you don’t exercise the patience required.  If I have to wait another twenty or thirty years before my stories are published and released to the world, then I know it will be worth it.  That’s true patience!

Call to Action: I recommend checking out the bios of writers you enjoy reading.  I don’t mean the small blurbs at the back of their books but look for interviews where the writer actually gives a detailed story of their journey.  It’s fascinating how different one is from the other.

There’s Nothing Romantic About War or Writing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

Something that I think is misconstrued about being a writer is that it is a glorious affair in which the heavens rejoice over poignantly illuminated prose writing.  As if all existence can be summed up and shared with the world in a way that would eradicate hunger, sow peace between rival nations, and/or make immortality attainable.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Writing is romanticized much like war was during the times of the Greeks in epic fashion.  For example, Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  This is probably one of the most romanticized ways of describing writing if ever there was one.  I’ve done it from time to time too.  Neither writing nor war are romantic.  I’ll be speaking to the former here (I don’t think anyone is disillusioned when it comes to the horrors of war in this century).

Here’s the truth.  Writing is both easy and hard depending on the day.  I’m not sure it is romanticized like it was in past eras when books and plays were all the rage for entertainment.  I kind of wonder if there is maybe a growing eagerness in the younger generations to write because there’s a belief that it’s a lost art (though it’s not) or that it has been raised on a pedestal in society to be another way to have your voice be heard and recognized among the masses.  (Just some random thoughts I’ve had.)

What I want to convey today is that for me, writing is difficult–but also easy.  Life does not sit back and say, “Tell you what, I’ll pause for a bit–take a siesta–and let you have a few hours to attack that scene you’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks.”  Ha!  I wish that were the case except I don’t.  My writing itch would be like one of those medical monitors that tracks heart rates.  Up and down, up and down.  That incessant beeping must stop!

Take this last week.  I started working on the film treatment for the movie idea I’ve had clattering about in my mind.  I’ve worked on it and felt good about it (so far…) but I’ve struggled to keep consistently working on the revision of book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  I would love for my desire to work on both to be of equal fervor but that’s been a bust.  And often is to be honest.  The creative juices go tepid from time to time and I’ve had to learn to be okay with it.  Sometimes I grumble and sit in solitude but I roll with it.

All this is to say that writing is fluid and should be recognized as such.  Maybe there are writers out there that can be disciplined to monk-like standards and write whenever they want and produce exactly the content they want but they are few and far between.  The biggest challenge for the rest of us (whether you write blogs, articles, poems, short stories, novels, screenplays, technical manuals, etc.) is to find a balance, give ourselves grace when it’s needed, and by Jove, continue to have fun!

Call to Action: Find that happy medium when it comes to feeling overwhelmed by things.  Take a walk, garden, cook, watch a movie, play music or even just sit back and read.  These pastimes should be integrated into life.  I know a lot of people who are not writers but would love to write something.  I always encourage it to be done but definitely don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the thought that it is too big a goal.  It’s really not.  You sit down and bleed on the paper.  Ha!

My Cup Runneth Over

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Music, Review, Writing | 2

Couple of things to go over first before I get into the trappings of my mind today.  This is going to be kind of subject to subject type of post but a good overview of the happenings in my fun-filled life.

Business first.  There may be some changes coming to my blog posting schedule.  If you’ve paid attention, I post on every even day of the week (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) unless the “On This Day” post lands on an odd day.  Roughly, that means I’ve posted about 14-15 posts a month.  After five months of this, I’m beginning to wonder if I can keep up that kind content production for the foreseeable future.  So, starting in June, I’ll be switching it up.  My plan is to begin posting every three days instead of every other day.  That means blog posts will likely be on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and so on of every month.  There will be variances of course depending on when the “On This Day” post falls (maybe that will be a bonus post for the month).  Everything else will stay the same though.

Still nothing on the book art for “Dim the Veil” but I’ll let everyone know once that happens.  No progress on the method for savings towards the professional edit either.  I’m going to be looking into some options soon though and hopefully come to a decision.  Again, I decided against gofundme and kickstarter because if someone decides to give anything over $5, I fear that I cannot offer them anything in return besides the novella once I release it and I don’t believe that’s ethical.

Viewing pleasures.  I recently watched the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I have to say I truly enjoyed the film.  It did not quite go in the direction I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by the more sentimental parts and its focus on family.  It hit the heart strings on a few occasions.  And the music was awesome of course!  No other movies I can think to bring up but I am watching the new seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo.  Both are great television shows that continue to hold strong in their narratives and character explorations.  I’ve wanted to get into the American Gods show based on Neil Gaiman’s novel but I haven’t had the time yet.  I can’t say I loved the book so I’m not uber-drawn to the show.
Soothing Sounds.  As both a writer and musician, I’m naturally drawn to music.  My musical journey has been interesting to say the least.  I may have to do a separate blog post on that soon because I’ve gone from genre to genre over my life and settled recently on pretty much a place where I didn’t think I would.  One of my favorite bands is Cold War Kids and their latest album “LA Divine” has been a constant whenever I have music on in the background (heads-up, I’ll be working on a blog post soon going over some of the lyrics from that album in a sort of semi-review).  Also, freaking Paramore (probably one of my top-five bands ever) has released their fifth album “After Laughter” and that will be played out in no time between myself and my wife (her favorite band).

Bookworming.  Recent reads include a bevy of books.  A couple of fantasy tomes were “Heroes Die” by Matthew Woodring Stover and “Shadowmarch” by Tad Williams.  Both were good for what they were but did not blow my hair back.  “Heroes Die” was more an original idea with sort of a pseudo-sci-fi element to it.  “Shadowmarch” reminded me of “Game of Thrones” and some of the other books of that ilk.  I also finished Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I will probably review in the next newsletter.  Definitely a fun “read” as I listened to the audiobook.  I’m a little behind in my reading challenge over at Goodreads so I need to get on it and read some shorter books I think.  It’s these 500-600 page fantasy epics that really slow me down :/

Fun Stuff!  So, we’ll be going to Colorado to visit family in September and I was lucky to find that my baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, will be in Denver playing the Rockies while we are there.  So, I jumped on the chance to see my team play  for the time live and bought tickets for one of the games!  Super excited!  I haven’t been to a baseball game since I was in my early teens.  Should be a great experience with my dad, uncle, cousin, and brother-in-law.  The great thing about baseball games if that they don’t cost an arm and a leg to go.

And that concludes your quick update of my life.

Call to Action: I’m curious to know if anyone has any thoughts on how often I post blog posts.  One every other day was really a challenge to myself to see if I could do it but also provide enough content to gain readers.  I can’t say for sure if this has really gained people interested in reading my content though.  I don’t get much feedback besides from friends and family (am I even doing this right? lol).  Maybe switching it up will help.

To the Screen

posted in: Film/TV, Writing | 2

As I’ve stated before, I’m a big fan of films.  Movies and television shows are a pastime I truly enjoy.  Whether visual spectacles or great characters, I continually gravitate towards that medium to experience storytelling.  I actually think I get a bit jaded because of this.  There are movies that are not necessarily good or praised by critics but I love because there’s a story element that grips me.  If you look at my Blu-Ray wall, you would definitely wonder why movies are there to which I enthusiastically explain why I love it.One of my desires as a writer is to write screenplays.  Now, it might be just for fun at this stage in my life but I do think I have stories that could be told and translated to the screen.  I often think about this and the embers are usually stoked once I’ve watched movies I have a special affinity for (anything by Cameron Crowe is often the instigator).

If I wrote a screenplay (something I may start working on just because I need one more thing added to my writing buffet), it would explore people in such a way that I identify with.  People love, hurt, and have dreams that satisfy their joys and desires.  In this, I would want to explore flawed characters who need to learn or have a revelation about themselves or others to find healing, peace, success, etc.

We can blame my recent viewing of Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” on today’s blog post.  I know it’s not his most acclaimed film but there is something about it that draws me in and makes me want to tell a story both visually and with the accompany of music.  I often joke that Crowe is my patronus (a little word play Harry Potter humor thrown at you).  He tells the stories I think need to be told.

I actually do have an idea for a movie that I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a little over a year but it needs a lot of work.  I have the resources to write a script but I don’t have a process for developing the story yet.  I’ve thought about doing it in novel/novella form first so that I know how it will go from beginning to end but I’m not quite sure if that’s the right method for me at the moment.  Maybe…  I don’t know.

If anything, the idea for this story that could potentially be developed into a screenplay just reinforces my desire to tell stories and explore new characters, settings, themes, etc.  There’s no way I could go day to day and remain sane without writing.  Even blogging has helped me keep up my imagination because I’m always thinking, “What should I write about next?”  I think exploring this movie idea may be something worth investing my time in.  More stories!

Call to Action: I’ll throw a couple of movie recommendations at you that are not Cameron Crowe films.  To name a few that I absolutely love and recommend you watching are: Little Miss Sunshine, The Hollars, This is Where I Leave You, and The Way Way Back.  Each of these inspire me to explore what I want to write as a potential screenwriter.

True to Self

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 3

Something that I continually come up against each day (I’m sure you do too if we’re being honest) is staying true to self.  This extends beyond my writing.  Everything I’ve given since starting this blog has been my genuine voice.  Thoughts are legit, lessons learned are still gripped tightly, and humor is straight from my wacky brain and how I view the world.  I admit, I hold some things back but for the most part, I keep it level.

I know I’m not alone in this because I see so many people everyday whether in my day to day or on social media expressing these practices of self.  Sometimes, you can tell people are still not all the way there but inching closer to understanding who they are, what they believe, and what their purpose is.  One thing I’m forever grateful for is my own journey in this regard.  To look back at my life just ten years ago, I get a little embarrassed knowing what I did and said to others and even what I thought about myself.

You can’t go back but you can learn from mistakes.  It’s only by these mistakes that I am able to shake my head and thank God I’m not there anymore.

(At this time, you’re probably saying, “Oh, it’s one of these blog posts.”  Yes, it is.  I dare you to keep reading!)

How this relates to writing is simply you have to write what you know and like.  I’ve tried writing stories set in another genre but not even I can push through the struggle.  Now, I don’t think I will forever write fantasy (I truly hope not) because then I’d be limiting myself.  My hope is that I can get these stories that are fresh and inside me out and off to the world, making way for others that might stray to different audiences.  A great example is Stephen King.  Love or hate him, he actually has stories that are not horror/thriller.  Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both his and wonderful stories!

If I wanted to have success in the literary world (or just a better chance at it), then I’d chase whatever fad is happening at the moment.  I tend to joke that I may do that just to see if I can get published faster but I’d feel too bad for selling out.  (No vampire meets werewolf gets locked in a game to the death dystopian future will be found in my books.  Ha!)

Again, in order for me to be able to push outside the boundaries (and comforts) of writing fantasy, it will require me to expand myself in new ways.  I don’t know what that looks like at this time or even how it will come about (probably naturally since that’s how most major changes in my life take place).  My climb out of the places of immaturity and naivety in my early twenties took quite a while (they do say boys take longer to become men and there’s definitely truth to that).

Perhaps a lot of people struggle with or are not willing to admit to their shortcomings or falls in youth but I love that I can share that journey.  I’ve had the opportunity to do so a few times with others and it’s therapeutic to be genuine and honest about that part of my life.  Even now, I have this sense of peace being a bit vulnerable and transparent with all of you.  I write and I consider myself a writer but if I cannot be true to myself in that aspect of my life, how could I expect to anywhere else?

Call to Action: If I did write the vampire meets werewolf after getting locked in a game to the death dystopian future story, I’d call it “Fang Games”.  Uh oh… I might have a fun little tongue-in-cheek story prompt I should throw out there to the interwebz.  By the way, if you are one who wastes time on Pinterest (I say that light-heartedly of course), then follow my writing board where you will no doubt be entertained by my pins of what I enjoy and find inspiring to my writing.  Find here: https://www.pinterest.com/adamhenderson49/my-writing-board/

More Than a Writing

posted in: Writing | 0

I’m writing a lot.  And I mean a lot.  I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now as I move into the fifth month of this blogging venture (I always hear a pirate’s voice in my head when I type that word…).  While it has been a challenge and beneficial to my writing muscles (buffing out!), I am not one of those writers who works well at scheduling a “writing time” every day.  I thought I’d kind of use today’s blog post to explain how I remain sane and not burnt out.

Some writers have put themselves on a strict schedule in order to keep writing and finish what they set out to do.  I commend this discipline and think it is of great benefit to finish whatever story you start.  Kudos amigos!  I, however, am in a bit of a different canoe than these folks.  I have finished novellas and books and have added short stories and flash fiction pieces to my mantle.  I’m very proud of this but I’m discovering that I work best by scheduling my writing with some slack.

I strongly recommend writers (this applies elsewhere too) to find a hobby or two that is not related to the art and/or creative outlet they partake in.  I definitely used to play video games as a hobby or pastime but that has since become difficult for me for reasons I cannot nail down quite yet (if I do engage in the old Playstation and/or Xbox break, I can only play for an hour at most otherwise, I feel I’ve wasted too much time of my time).  For me, I’ve found that playing music not only helps me be creative (drumming especially allows me to be creative) but keeps me entertained just as much as videogames.  Also, and not many people know this about me but I’m a sports fan and a collector of sportscards and have been for most of my life.  It’s a hobby I enjoy and allows me to take breaks when necessary, being part of a distinct online community.

This is all not to say I don’t have a schedule for writing.  I do but it’s fluid.  I work on blog posts every day, writing or revising, and planning ahead but I also work on upcoming flash fiction, short stories, and the Ravanguard novellas and novels.  I like to have this wheel of projects to choose from because I don’t feel bogged down.  However, if I was working on the first novella or novel of the Ravanguard series, then I’d be focused completely on that.  I’m further along in the process, so I don’t feel the rush or need to devote all of my effort on that one project.

Sanity is key.  I believe in pace when writing and I believe in letting yourself have other interests otherwise you will get burned out.  I’m not convinced that if I did it differently that I’d be the same writer I am today.  To each their own but my own is a way of marathon runner.  I applaud sprinters but I wave as they pass me by.

Call to Action: Let me take a moment to talk about the newsletter sent out.  I hope everyone who has signed up enjoyed it.  I’ve received a little feedback so far and appreciate the kind words.  If you signed up but did not receive it, please let me know.  There’s always a chance I messed up the list and I want to make sure everyone who signed up gets what was promised.

The Disposition of Exposition

If there’s anything in writing fiction that needs to be done well and balanced throughout the arc of the story, it is exposition.  The inserting of background information for the sake of explaining characters, history, setting, culture, etc. is tricky for first time writers.  As with many literary devices, this is especially difficult in fantasy.

In works of fiction set in the real world, in real places, during real eras, most of us can draw from our education and/or experiences to fill in the gaps.  If I’m reading a book set in the United States during the 90s and certain people, places, music, and events are mentioned, it is very likely I’m able to draw from my time growing up in the 90s (I was born in ’84, so I’m well-aware of the decade).  Yes, I was a freshman in high school by the end of the 90s but as the years go by, I know more about the global conflicts, major historical events, sporting events, etc. (lots of etcetera’s in this blog post, right?).  I think you all get my point.

Fiction set during this era doesn’t need a lot of exposition.  If you grew up or were starting a career or nearing retirement during the 90s, then you knew the culture.  If you are reading a book (let’s say a John Grisham novel set in this time), I guarantee you don’t need much background explained on a national level.  If we are talking about Grisham’s “The Runaway Jury” then we are looking at Mississippi in the 90s.  Exposition here would focus on the setting the story takes place in and the region and those cultural nuances that would be prevalent.  That’s very little to expound upon to the readers because one would be able to presume the majority of readers in the US would be familiar with the time period, social issues, etc.

Now, let’s jump to fantasy.

In fantasy, you are being introduced to an entirely new world with its own history, society/culture, foods, religions, conflicts, and more!  One thing I’ve run into when speaking with people who are not the biggest fans of fantasy is that they struggle to immerse themselves in a world that they are so unfamiliar with, filled with ideas and things that are not explained in detail.  I get this.  So much in a fantasy world needs to be revealed in order to understand the roles and complexities of the world the plot takes place.  However, we as fantasy writers (I being one of them) run into a problem if we try explaining every new thing that is unlike something in the real world.  We slow down the action of the narrative if we do this.

The problem in doing so takes the reader out of the story and they are forced to read paragraphs of information that almost acts as a pause button.  I’ve seen fantasy writers tackle this problem of exposition a few different ways.  The first is a glossary or primer (I’m a fan of this method) that usually can be found at the back of the book where people, groups, events, etc. can be explained and defined.  The second way (I’m not a fan of this) is adding footnotes at the bottom of the page.  I have struggled reading books using this method because I always feel I have to drop my eyes to the bottom of the page when I come across that footnote letter or number within the prose.  It’s very inconvenient.  I’m curious to know how many readers prefer either method or could care less.

My preferred method in my own writing when dealing with exposition is looking for ways to explain background information either through the dialogue or inner thoughts of the characters.  The problem with this method however is that the reader has to wait for it and be on the lookout.  For example, in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction series I post at the end of each month (I hope you all are enjoying them and my promise to create a primer is still in the works) I am giving you all very little information about the world due to lack of writing space.  Flash fiction in its desired format limits the amount of words I can provide, so my goal (and this is a bit of an exercise for me) is to give you hints of things, reinforce them from time to time in each new story, and allow you to make important connections.

It is my feeling and belief that if I just explained the Wielders and the Shoals they are able to access and harness the power of, I would be denying you the joy of the small windows of story provided.  Now, maybe that’s my own ignorance and you all are just like, “What the heck is going on here?!  Just tell me!”  If you are, there’s your call to action, hahaha!

Seriously, though, I understand the struggle to not have exposition in new, unknown fantasy worlds.  I truly do and my hope is that I can give you the answers in ways that do not slow the story or act as a distraction.  It’s my belief (and preference to be honest) to learn as I read and trust that the writer will explain things naturally without inundating me with info dumps every other page.  I’d like to think I’m not alone in that.

Call to Action: Show of hands.  Who’s completely lost in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction stories and would like a future post or a working primer to be added to the website so some things can be explained?

Recommended: Breaking Bad

posted in: Film/TV, Review, Writing | 4

Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” is by far one of my favorite television shows ever.  But not for the reasons people might think.  So, let’s jump into it.  I should note that this is not an effort to convince people to watch the show.  It is wonderfully written, acted, and produced in so many ways but it also deals with some very difficult subject matter.  I’m simply explaining why I enjoy such show.

For those who are unfamiliar or only slightly so with the show, I will try to provide a basic rundown.  It follows the transformation of chemistry high school teacher Walter White to the notorious meth cook, Heisenberg, who is diagnosed with lung cancer and sees the end of the tunnel, which would leave his pregnant wife, unborn daughter, and teenage son without much once he’s gone.  Working a car wash job in addition to his teaching gig, Walter is put up against a horrible situation and is desperate to not only pay for treatment but leave his family with more than debt and hospital bills.

By chance, his brother-in-law, a DEA agent, shows a video at Walt’s birthday party where the DEA has busted a meth lab where the evidence gathered reveals a stash of cash to which Walt instantly wonders about.  It’s this event that eventually leads to Walt’s being on a ride along with his brother-in-law to bust another meth lab where he sees one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, avoiding arrest.  Yada yada, Walt and Jesse join together to go into business and embark on a whirlwind of danger that affects them all in sorts of ways that have them constantly making choices that would keep them safe and out of jail.  Unfortunately, they do not come out unscathed all the time and suffer both physically and relationally throughout.  Whether its the DEA or rival drug lords, Walt and Jesse have to trust each other and their wits to keep ahead of the danger.

Suffice it to say, this show is never dull (even the bottle episodes are great).  It explores characters and the transformation of said characters in ways most shows avoid or don’t know how to execute.  Obviously, no spoilers here but you will often be conflicted, not knowing who to cheer for from season to season.

The reason I love this show and recommend it purely from a storytelling aspect is that Vince Gilligan and his writing team are famous for stating that they purposely wrote Walt and Jesse into corners just so they (the writers) could find a way out for the pair.  Storytelling is the best part of the series while the characters are a close second.  (Aaron Paul’s performance as Jesse is amazing.  He is my favorite character throughout the show.)

Again, this is not an easy show to watch.  It deals with very real subject matter from family drama to the high cost of drug usage.  I do not take these things lightly and never want to insinuate that.  I have spoken with friends who have actually dealt with others in this regard and it’s sobering to hear the stories.  I am not disillusioned by this to say the least.

In my mind, compelling stories are best when they deal with true and difficult aspects of life.  Sure, a lot of the scenarios of “Breaking Bad” are embellished for the small screen to be dramatic and hold our viewership but in reality, life is not easy and we face difficult decisions every day.  I pray it not so for everyone but things happen and livelihoods are put to the test.  Walter White’s livelihood and that of his family are tested so much so that you truly wonder if his choices were worth it in the end.  He makes his choices in order to see his family taken care after he is diagnosed with cancer.  However, his dive into the criminal underbelly costs him a great deal and affects his personality in ways that make you wonder about his overall psyche.

There’s a quality of storytelling here that provokes me as a writer to not just be the gardener but push more towards being the architect when planning and writing my books.  Honestly, I’m drawn to great writing and it’s hard for me to stay away or ignore it when it’s in the form of a show like “Breaking Bad”.

Call to Action: If you’re willing, check out the pilot episode of the show.  If you get through it and are kind of interested to see where it will go, I’d recommend trying another episode and so on.

Developing Characters

Short of being able to properly and coherently write sentences, characters are by-far the most important aspects of your story.  I’ve wrote on this to some length over the last few months and wanted to get into some specifics.  This will be a post about developing characters and I’m going to do it in a way that I hope makes things fun for you the reader.  How?  Well, as I write, I’m going to develop a brand new character for you!  (This character will be in a future short story–maybe in the next newsletter!)

Have at it!

Alright, there are “aspects” I want to consider first and you’ll just have to roll with me as I do this.  I want to create a character who is distinct.  What does that look like?  Well, I need to decide a few things that will be both somewhat general and differential when it comes to others.  (Just as a heads-up, all of these characteristics we’ll be developing are subject to change but I am going to try to keep everything the same so that when you come across the character in the short story, you will feel like you know them!)

Back to the distinctity (yeah, I know, not a word but it is fun to write and say!).

Let’s say the character’s name is Avroes Toal.  That’s a random name if ever I came up with one but let’s roll with it as we move on.  What will make him distinct.  Let’s say he is younger but has early signs of graying hair, making him self-conscious with the ladies.  One lovely lady in particular (this is a bit of a plot element so we’ll leave that alone for now).  Who is this man named, Avroes?  If he’s self-conscious about his hair, how else would that affect his personality?  I imagine him as being a bit of an over-compensator.  He looks for opportunities to prove he’s not older than he is and therefore has adopted more childish or immature ways.  This also affects his relationships both personally and professionally.

How are we doing?  Are you staying with me?  Good!  Onwards!

So, Avroes Toal is a young man (mid-twenties) who has prematurely graying hair and over-compensates this by acting out in ways to prove he is young and not old.  We’ll stray away from specifics because we don’t want to get too close to plot points.  Let’s also throw in some other details to round him out.  He likes the outdoors and would prefer pursuing a profession that allows him to see the world (cliché a bit, I know), but let’s say he wants this because his father and grandfather were both men perfectly fine with living their lives as scholars, devoted to studying and page-turning.  This is not Avroes the Gray (poor guy has a nickname he hates too!)

He’s a man looking forward and beyond the confines of a study or library, wanting nothing more than to see the world and prove he is not like his father and grandfather who have paved the way for him to have a good-paying occupation that will allow him to marry, have children and carry on the Toal legacy of ink stains and paper cuts.

Also, he hates heights and the library he would have to spend all of his days in is at the highest story of a building with many stairs and no banisters.  He seizes up anytime he actually has to approach a tall staircase, afraid his footing will give way and he’ll stumble to his death.  In fact, let’s say his grandfather fell and died and his father fell and lived but became crippled by the horrible circumstance (a little too tear-jerking for you? Misery is drama, ha!) and Avroes has to take care of his father.  Even better dramatic tension!  It’s so sweet, it drips.

There are many more (is that correct grammar?) things we can do to round out who Avroes Toal is and maybe that can be explored in the short story (guaranteed it will) but this is just to show my process for creating a character somewhat on the fly.  Who are they, what do they do/want/hate/love/etc.?

Call to Action:  Anything we can add?  Seriously, throw out a detail!  It doesn’t have to be too precise and can be a bit vague.  What’s his favorite color, food, idiosyncratic ticks, bad habits, etc.?  I’ll be able to add that into the short story and you’ll be able to say you had a part in it!

No Naturals Here

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

While I don’t necessarily like long road trip drives, I do enjoy them so long as I am with someone who’s enjoyable to talk to.  My wife is one of these wonderful kinds of driving companions.  We truly do find the hours a great time and opportunity to talk and discuss a bevy of topics.  Some of course are private (you won’t get access to those) but we do talk about music, writing, and art a lot of the time.  We’re creatives and are able to explore are our likes and dislikes pretty easily, encouraging each other along the way on the highway of asphalt and lines.

Something she said during our most recent drive home was that she boasts about me being a writer (a nerd writer to be precise, lol) and that led to her talking about how impressed she is that I can do what I do and she feels nervous writing anything and letting me read it.  I do the thing where I tell her she doesn’t need to be nervous and that she’s a good writer herself (she really is) but that led me to think about something I’ve encountered a few times: perception of writing abilities.

Let me be brutally honest and a bit transparent for a few seconds.  I really am not a natural talent.  If I was, I wouldn’t have two shelved novels that no one is allowed to see.  I’m not sure if there’s a misconception out there about writers as a whole or something else.  Our ilk is one often labeled with fine descriptions of neuroses, depression, inebriation, etc.  You know, those darn clichés.  Yes, I like sipping whiskey and I own a pipe but I’ve never used it (not yet and probably not ever).

In my experience and what I’ve been able to glean over the years is that if ever there was a “natural” when it came to writing, the closest specimen might have to be ole Bill Shakes-the-speare.  Even then, there are many who believe the persona of WS was fabricated and that his great plays and sonnets were in fact written by another’s hand and mind.  Could be, I don’t know.

My point is that writers are just like any other who is or becomes proficient in their craft.  They work at it.  Practice and exercising the appropriate muscles are a requirement in order to find any semblance of success.

I think where there’s any natural talent is just in the imagination gears of the minds of writers.  For me, to be able to create a vast world (fantasy definitely lends to being able to create more and bend some rules) filled with characters, nations, cities, cultures, flora, fauna, magic systems, and all the other little nuances that make the world come alive is purely by imagination.  I did all this as a little kid playing with action figures way before I was able to put words to paper.

Where others may be intimidated to show me or other writers their own writing, just realize I would be completely wrecked to try to play drums or bass with a bunch of professional musicians.  I would be a knot of nerves so tangled together that it would take way too long to undue.

Everything worth doing well takes time, experience, mistakes and maybe a hundred other things to get it right.

Call to Action: Just to continue with the topic, I would encourage you to keep at whatever you love to do when it comes to your creative outlet.  It’s absolutely worth it once you reach a level of proficiency.

No Dragons, Dwarves/Elves, or Dreams/Prophecies: Access Denied

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0
Something I continually encounter when telling people I’m a writer and they ask, “What do you write?”, is I have this sense that they have preconceived ideas when I answer, “Fantasy”.  I can see it in their eyes.  “Oh, so dragons, elves and magic.”  Not a question but a definite statement.  To which I silently in my head respond, “I should have said fiction…”

I don’t blame people for this assumption.  I get it.  All you have to do is look at the main cultural references we have in our society.  Lords of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and most recent, Game of Thrones.  These big ones have set the stage and have planted the seeds one would expect from fantasy.  (Wizards, dragons, and elves, oh my!)

Unfortunately, I do not have the means or assignment to correct people on how vast and wide the fantasy genre has come since Tolkien laid the modern foundation.  I wish I could have that job, trust me! (King of Correction!  Hear me!)  Alas, I do not have that honorable title, but thankfully, I have a blog and I can voice my knowledge and experience in the genre to better help people who may not be big nerds like myself.

Three tropes or elements you will not find in my writing: dragons, dwarves/elves, or dreams/prophecies.

I’m going to dissect each of these somewhat quickly.  These are not tropes like my previous blog posts on magic but rather ones I have intentionally avoided because I choose not to employ their function in any of my stories.  None of these are intrinsically overdone in the genre and I often enjoy them when done in a new way in the books I read.

Magical creatures and or races in the traditional sense simply do not play any significant role in the worlds I’ve created.  If you’ve read any of the series I recommended in my fantasy reader’s guide post, then you know that I have a preference for worlds and stories that read more “human” in nature.  This does not mean there are not other kinds of races in these books (Stephen Eriksons Malazan series is chalk full of different races that are awesomely imagined) but there’s a bit more creativity and imagination involved.  For myself, I’ve created races that seem familiar to the reader but in the end are their own.

I’m actually not big on books or stories involving dragons as major characters and/or plot elements.  There are plenty out there but I’ve truly never been a fan.  Smaug in my mind is one of the best examples of a dragon in fantasy.  Robert Jordan does not use dragons but actually calls his savior-of-the-world main character, The Dragon, which I really liked because it called to the fantasy element instead of including it in the Wheel of Time series.

Dreams and prophecies are elements I have avoided on purpose.  I could easily throw these into the narrative of the Ravanguard series but I consciously did not because I did not like the idea of using them as a crutch, which I think some series utilize to that advantage.  These are seemingly always used as a means of foreshadowing and installing the hero as the savior to all mankind (again, a bit overdone in the genre).  I prefer to use foreshadowing without these because I find that it’s more difficult and a challenge.

George R.R. Martin actually does this very well despite his use of dreams and prophecies.  He explores foreshadowing by use of language and visuals, which is what I have tried to emulate in my own way.  In fact, if I were ever to use dreams or prophecies as a literary device, I’d probably try to do it in a way that has not been done before.

For anyone who is looking forward to reading my stories, I hope this is helpful and lays out what to expect or in this case “not expect”.  Fantasy is not restricted to these few common/popular elements.  If that’s what you like, there’s plenty of options out there!  Trust me.  The vast coffer that is the fantasy genre overflows with different worlds and subgenres that have their own mix of devoted fans.  Sometimes, I wish there was another way to describe what I write but my use of limited technology, magic and swords kind of puts me in the barrel.  That’s probably why enjoy the genre so much: it’s not constricted but goes as far as the writer’s imagination can stretch.

Call to Action: I admit, there is one series of books that involve dragons that I am interested in reading.  Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is an alternate history fantasy that has dragons in the Napoleonic Wars.  That just sounds like a fun read.  If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!  If not, then it may be worth exploring.

Working With an Editor

I’ve just completed my first experience with an editor for the short story that will be included in the newsletter.  Just to lay out some first impressions and give some general thoughts on the process, I thought I’d share.

It’s a new experience to actually communicate with and hire an editor for their services.  It did not really hit me right away but I think I’ve been able to marinate in it for long enough now that I can actually express my joy and sweet release of held breath.  Mind you, this was just for a short story but to receive the manuscript back and see the redlines (corrections) and read the comments included is almost victorious.  Obviously, I have a long road to go.  The novella, “Dim the Veil”, is the big goal–the true launching point (more on that in a bit).  But there is this overwhelming sense of, “Wow, what just happened?  What does this mean?”

I have no satisfying answer except to say I recognize the road I’ve been walking for several years and feel I actually know the destination it leads to.  I do not measure success by signing a multi-book deal with a major publishing house.  While that would be a dream come true and very much still in my aspirations, I feel that success is writing and completing this Ravanguard series.  It started as a few pages of three characters in a tense situation and has now become a short story (with more to come; I’m already thinking about the next one), multiple novellas and just as many books.  If anything–if I am able to accomplish one thing as a writer–I want to see the Ravanguard series finished.

And I assure you, those stories will be released in one form or another.  I know the cost of editing now and while it may be a slow process, I will absolutely see them all released as ebooks.  I’ve told my wife that to hold an actual printed hardback and/or paperback book of my story in my hands would be nothing short of amazing, I have long since been willing to settle for digital formats if that’s my only option.  I’m okay with that and I know, so long as the story keeps progressing until I put that final period in place on the last page, I’ve reached my first goal.

Back to the option of starting a gofundme option for the editing price of the novella, I think I’ve been leaning in a slightly different direction.  There are plenty of options out there for crowd funding projects.  Plenty of people do it and find success.  After talking to my wife about this at length, and I think she has raised some very good points, I need to consider more than the simple funding of an edit.  There’s this question of “then what?” after I get the novella back, edited and polished, to my satisfaction.  Well, there’s this thing called marketing that I have little to no experience or knowledge in.  Apparently it’s important and requires money.  Yay…

Hahaha, I kid.  But seriously, it’s a viable and essential step.  Sure, I could post on social media that I have a novella for purchase over on Amazon but is that truly effective?  I don’t know to be honest but I have a sneaking suspicion it might not be.  So, I’m now thinking of doing a kickstarter that would actually enable me to raise the funds for launching not only the novella but my brand as a writer.  I have no interest in being hasty (words of wisdom from Treebeard if ever there were some) and I don’t want to be slow either.  This is simply more to consider and requires some additional research and preparation.  Wish me luck!

Call to Action: I recently finished a book worth reading, especially if you like witty writing that’s quite meta if you enjoy literature.  It’s called “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde.  Very good and clever.  Check it out!

Doubt and Fear

Being that April 10th was National Encourage a Young Writer Day, I have continued to think about my time when I first started writing and some of the negative thoughts I often had, believing I might not have what it takes to write something worth sharing to the world.  Some transparency is coming at you today (jab, jab, upper cut!).

What I struggled with the most early on was this belief that I could not come up with anything original.  Mind you, I was focused on epic fantasy from the start and if I were to look back on my first attempts at a story, a lot of what I wrote could easily have been clones of some other element in the books I was reading back then.  In retrospect, this makes sense to me now.  It also makes sense why I had to write two “bad” novels before I found my way to the projects I’m currently working on and excited about.

Doubt in myself was an all too familiar face I stared at or found looking my way as I would sit down and do my best while typing away.  That’s what I did: my best.  I think for young writers, they need to make mistakes and struggle along the way before they find their footing.  I have experienced this kind of grind and forming of ability in another area.  Playing drums.  Those first years had their very own level of difficulties and growing pains.  The same can be said of writing.

There were some years that I barely wrote at all because of this struggle.  I was going to school and working but as I’ve said, writing has to be made a priority in order to find success.  I’ve battled with bouts of depression and none were so bad as when I was living in Seattle going to school.  I could easily say it was because of the weather (a little cliché but there is some weight to that but strictly from a lack of vitamin c).  To be honest, I just didn’t like myself and what I was doing with my life.  I was there for school at a legit university and I struggled to find motivation to go to class just about every day.  I ate poorly, gained a lot of weight and barely slept because of horrible restless leg syndrome.  Not fun.

In all this, I kept trying to write despite not really knowing why I was writing.  I think at that time I was editing my second book, which has since been shelved and only returned to when I need a good laugh.  Trust me, it’s not good.  It was too much like trying to be something you’d find in a Final Fantasy game and honestly, it just wasn’t genuine.  I restricted myself too much because I didn’t trust in my abilities and mirrored a lot of characters and world elements to these popular games.

However, in all this I tried to find motivation and inspiration where I could.  This ended up taking the form of finding writing quotes and putting them on my bedroom wall so I could see them all the time.  One quote in particular has to this day stayed with me and really is one of the seeds that kept me going (blowing on those embers otherwise buried in ash).

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” C.S. Lewis

This quote from the great C.S. Lewis gave me one simple direction to set my course towards.  Truth.  Now, this does not mean I all of a sudden had an epiphany and began to change my bad habits and fix what I was doing as a young writer. Would that it were so simple (Hail Caesar!)  My wife will laugh at that one.  Bernaners.  No, I had a new adventure to take!  What is truth?  I won’t go into that long tale at this time, but I did embark on that journey and it took a few more years before I eventually began the Ravanguard series.

To finish all this up in a neatly tied bow, young writers, I implore you to not be chained down by doubt or fear.  Embrace the bad writing because then you’ll have an example of the bad to return to and know you have eventually found success.  If good writing is simply telling the truth from your perspective, then search for truth and let that be your compass (cue the cheesy after-school special music!).

Call to Action: We’re only a few days from the newsletter being sent out!  Woohoo!!!!  I have sent the Ravanguard short story, “The Vain King and Taboo Coin,” to my editor contact and it is polished up for your enjoyment.  Sign up so you can read it!

Fun with Foreshadowing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 1

Let me start by saying I love the literary device of foreshadowing and as I revise and edit, I have thought about it more and more.  Some writers are big on allusion or theme or even setting.  I commend those who frame their writing with these aspects (really, I do).  For me though, it’s about the foreshadowing threads interwoven in the framework of the plot(s) tapestry.

By definition, foreshadowing is hinting at what is to come.  This can be subtle and apparent depending on the use by the writer.  For example, a writer could use an object noticed or used by a particular early on and then have that object play an important role later on (usually in the final act or climax of the story).  One example I continually see used as an example is if you were to see a gun on a mantle or one placed in a desk drawer. It’s very likely this element could come into play to impact the outcome of the plot.

In my opinion, the two best examples of foreshadowing used effectively in an epic fantasy story can be found in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.  I know… I know…  I reference these two a lot in my blog posts and I’ll try to discuss other works in the future but for now, these are the two that I return to whenever I think of the proper and effective use of foreshadowing.

I could use examples here but I won’t because the nature of a foreshadow is to allude to something in the future, which in our current culture is notably called a “spoiler”.  I wish I could!  But I won’t.  All I can do is recommend you read these series.  The best foreshadowing in epic fantasy is usually presented in the first book and does not come to pass until the last and towards the end of the series.  Some big payoffs definitely add to the fanfare of readers.

What has happened with me in the Ravanguard series has been beneficial when it comes to these deep details.  My method for writing the series without stopping has allowed me to see where the story has gone and then as I edit and revise, I can recall a “future” event happening in book 2, 3 or 4 and go back and then see if there’s a place for foreshadowing to work.  There’s one key though: it has to make sense within the prose.  There is a balance and trust me, I do not look for spots to drop in foreshadowing just to be cheeky (well, okay, sometimes I do but those are more for the readers who are paying attention).

I think one could argue my approach to foreshadowing is somewhat cheating but I would argue it’s just fun writing.  Sometimes, these foreshadows are quite clever and subtle and sometimes they’re right on the nose.  Both are fine and my hope is that my readers would simply consider it good storytelling.  There’s a sense of intrigue to be added too because you as the reader (and I do this too whenever I’m reading a new book.  I pay close attention to details, thinking it could be a bit of foreshadowing) are more invested in the these details.  I could never be a speed reader because I fear I would miss what I love most in the writing.

Another fun aspect I’ve run into in my own writing is that I have sometimes stumbled onto a moment of foreshadowing accidentally.  Seriously!  I have been planning the story arc of one of the next books, thought of an idea for a character and been like, “Wait, didn’t this thing happen back in book 1?”.  I’ll go and check and boom!  Slap my feet and call me Chip, I inadvertently set up a foreshadowing moment!  Now, it’s probably coincidence but I actually attribute it to my advanced internal, subconscious understanding of the world and characters.  Almost as if I know it all before I should.  (I know, you’re not buying it.)  Truthfully, though, the readers will discover in due time that I have foreshadowed some things that I hope brings delight and maybe a little shock.

Any literary device used is meant to add to the enjoyment of the reading experience.  When used properly and not in abundance to the point of distraction, these practices are worth getting better at.  I definitely encourage looking for these in the books you read.  Train yourself to look for it and see if it pays off.  Happy reading!

Call to Action: See below a video of foreshadowing in popular movies.  Obviously, there are possible spoilers so here are the movies in the top ten list:

 

Medieval Gardening Tips

Remember in my very first blog post back on January 1st?  When I said, “…I’ll be revealing more about who I am with each blog post.  Topics will include writing, books, comics, movies, video games, music, food, weather, medieval gardening tips…”  (See, I did say it.)  You probably thought I was just being sarcastic.  Well, I was but also being a little tongue in cheek with an aftertaste of meta.

The following quote comes from author, George R.R. Martin:

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

I’ve written a prior post on outlining and the value of doing so in the short and long run of your writing.  I’m more of a rough outliner now than I was when I first started the Ravanguard series.  It came out of writing a minor scene found in the first book and I liked it so much, I decided to expand on the idea, developing characters and ideas until I had a general sense of where to start.

However, as I’ve been revising a lot these last couple of weeks, I’ve come back to this idea of being an architect or gardener, which is a term I heard a few years back when listening to one of my preferred Game of Thrones podcasts.  The phrase was discussed a bit and I looked for Martin’s quote.  Back to the present and I very much consider myself a gardener despite my attempts at thinking ahead and outlining subsequent books in the Ravanguard series.

I’m currently revising chapters 6-10 in “So Speaks the Gallows” (Book 1) and I’m reading through each paragraph, cutting, massaging, polishing, etc. with forethought and understanding I have now that I didn’t have back when I first wrote these chapters.  My point (and I do have one) is that I’m able to approach this revision process with a much-needed advantage I otherwise would not have had if I only tried to outline the future books.

Years ago, I had very rough ideas of where these plot arcs were heading.  Now that may sound a little chancy and reckless (it is actually) but I had enough faith in my writing to steer the story where it needed to go.  So, the gardener writing method was at full play in the beginning but as the years and subsequent books and novellas came into existence, I can now return and trim the dead branches and dig up the weeds, able to have a bit of foresight.

All of this encompasses my writing style.  I am not convinced this is the perfect way to write an epic fantasy series and I bet I could write a counterargument that even I would be convinced of.  But I cannot shake that this is my method.  I’ve worked at this for over a decade and found many things that work and don’t work, still adapting as I edge closer and closer to releasing the first Ravanguard novella to launch the series.

My medieval gardening tips are just that.  If you are a gardener more than an architect, continue to process and write in a way that works best for you.  Be careful of comparing yourself to others.  Writers are quirky folk.  Get too many in a room discussing process and method and you’ll have a real kerfuffle on your hands.

Call to Action: I’ll be pushing my newsletter throughout this month as we move closer to the end.  April 30th is the day you will be receiving the newsletter.  So if you haven’t done so (and I don’t know why.  It’s for free), please sign up when prompted on the website or go to the “Contact” form under the “About Adam” tab above ^^^  Just make sure to include your email address and in the comment section that you’d like to be added to the mailing list.

On This Day: April 10th – National Encourage a Young Writer Day

posted in: On This Day, Writing | 0

#EncourageAYoungWriterDay

Another “National Day” is upon us and as I will focus on this from tim to time for the OTD posts, they will be writer focused.  I’m really excited about this one though.  I still remember much of my emotions, story ideas and thoughts when I first started writing.  There was a new joy that I stumbled into and could not be stopped from advancing into the arena of storytelling.

Being self-taught in many ways (I was decent at English/Literature classes but nowhere near scholar level), there’s a great deal I learned and want to use this post as a lessons learned  for younger writers.  My hope is to provide some things I’ve experienced and come to value over the years.  All of this based on my own experience and I know I’ve touched upon these in previous posts but here’s more emphasis.  When you start off writing, you truly do tread unknown waters.  There are no dangers swimming underneath you, but rather, treasures that can be found if you know exactly where to dive and search.

These are the top words of encouragement I have for young writers in no particular order:

1. Finish what you start

Depending on your level of writing, you will no doubt (it’s more than likely but not definite) write something that’s not very good.  This is not a knock on you or your capacity to be a great storyteller.  Very few have likely had an idea, formulated the characters, settings, themes, etc. and produced a product that is instantly picked up by a publisher and released to the world without much revision or editing.  Has it happened?  Probably but I can’t tell you of any I’ve ever heard of (not unless you’re Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie, Limitless, and in that case, you should ditch the mind-opening drug.  It didn’t end well for him).

I was there.  I wrote my first book, thinking it was the next best thing.  It wasn’t.  I wrote my second book and thought that was better and would surely be my launching point!  It wasn’t.  Lol.  I’ve written my third book and only now am I convinced I’ve written a well-thought out story that only I can tell.  It takes time and patience and you have to be willing to fail a few times before you find success.  So, finish those stories.  Don’t touch them for a few months and return.  If you still feel they are worth your investment, begin editing and revising.

2. Don’t neglect doing your research

This is a big one and requires discipline.  It doesn’t matter what you’re writing.  Fiction or Non-fiction.  Biography or History.  Fantasy or Mystery.  All of these require a some level of research not only to be accurate but most-importantly: believable.  When I started writing my first fantasy book, I researched everything from characterization to culture.  Clothing, agriculture, and architecture.  None of these could be ignored because as I wrote, I ran into these aspects and knew I couldn’t use modern terminology or technology.  The lack of these were an obvious sign to my being an amateur.  Readers want to be immersed in the world but if there are obvious mistakes and/or inaccuracies when it comes to the time period and setting the story takes place in without reasonable explanation, then they will not keep reading.  That’s the opposite of what you want!

3. Read

No, seriously.  Read.  You cannot write well if you do not read.  Why?  Because there’s something that takes place in the brain when you read and consume content professionally edited.  You brain picks up patterns and conventions that you may know from school (elementary to high school English classes only to so much) but are denied later in life without practice and exposure.

One thing I wish I had done more of during my early years of writing is read more.  I probably only read a dozen books a year back then.  This is not enough.  I recently joined Goodreads.com and I recommend you do so to.  They have a yearly reading challenge that you initiate for yourself and are able to update and track your progress.  I only learned of this last year but I challenged myself to read at least 25 books.  I read 36.  That’s huge for me!  This year, I set my challenge to 50 books.  I have no idea if I can do that but that’s the point of a goal.

Also, read genres you wouldn’t otherwise read.  If you’re writing horror, then try reading romance or sci-fi.  Subject yourself to styles you’re not familiar with.  I could read fantasy at any time but it’s a chore to find something more dramatic or set in modern settings.  I’m purposefully doing this more and more because exposure to these other genres helps me break away from that fantasy box.  Non-fiction is a great starting place.  Find books about people or times in history that interest you.  When you understand real people and what motivated them or real historical periods/events, how they were influenced and how they impact the future, this transfers into your own writing.

Call to Action: Do all of these things!  In fact, if you’re not a writer but love to read, you can easily do number 3.

Women and Their Value in Fantasy Literature

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

Today I’m exploring a topic that I’m continually conscious of in my writing and the writing of others in fiction.  How are the role(s) of women in the story, society and culture in which they live portrayed?  I’d also like to stress the value of women and whether or not they are used (I say that word lightly) in a cliché way or not.

Some background first.  I started reading more in high school and the book that hooked me (as I’ve stated in previous posts) was Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World” where women play a prominent role in those areas I stated.  What always intrigued me is how Jordan (being a man) was able to write such strong female characters who were all very different and distinct from one another.  As a high school freshman, this was new for me as were most aspects of storytelling.  Years down the road, I’ve come across many bad examples and good examples of women in fantasy.  Jordan did what I consider a very good job of depicting women whereas (I definitely have another well-known fantasy example that I could insert but…screw it) in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series women are often treated horribly and victims of despicable men.

(Side note: I only read the first book all the way through and part of the second but couldn’t finish the series.  If you’re a fan and you disagree, that’s fine but I’ll continue to stay away from that series.)

For myself, though, I never wanted to write women in a way that was cliché or in a way that would depict them as a means to the end for the masculine hero.  I never wanted to pack any of my characters into a box or tower so to speak to be rescued by a man.  We all know the story cliché (prominently featured in fairy tales) where a princess is the prize for the hero.  I have made it a goal of mine to avoid this at all costs and have changed plot arcs if it looked like this was to be approached.  Now, this doesn’t mean my female characters are never aided or helped by men.  They are but I make sure that is not the sole goal of the men and often have my women characters show they are just as capable of being heroes.

I planned on this post over a month ago but wanted to take a new approach.  I asked a few women close to me in life (all of whom I respect and value a great deal) what they want to see and read in fiction when it comes to women characters whether they’re protagonists, antagonists or supporting characters.  The following responses are great and will serve as references to me as I continue to write.

“Strong female character in fiction: I’d like to see a woman who is realistic. She is strong but insecure.  She is smart and loves learning and acquiring new knowledge and skills.  She is funny but an introvert who only opens up to a select few.  She has a good heart and great intentions, but can be flaky and selfish sometimes.”

“Historically, women who are strong are seen as arrogant, aggressive, or evil.  This is in both pop culture and literature (for example, Cersei in Game of Thrones).  The other end of the spectrum usually involves a very insecure woman who has been oppressed and almost ‘accidentally’ is thrust into a role where they save the world (for example, Vin in Mistborn series or Lirael in Garth Nix’s books).  For me, a strong female character that goes beyond these clichés would be a woman who has faced oppression (lets face it, it has happened and still happens) but instead of becoming self-deprecating, goes on a journey to discover that she isn’t what others have made her believe she is.  A truly strong woman has had doubts and trials, of course, but instead of constantly believing she isn’t worth it or disbelieving that she is the ‘chosen one,’ she recognizes the strength she has and continues to build on her strengths.  She becomes the wise woman who speaks up when needed and is respected as a wise woman.  She has her own hang-ups, for sure, but they aren’t that she is ‘too much,’ aggressive, insecure, or power-hungry.  Her hang-ups are that which we all suffer, to stay strong in the face of temptation, to connect with those we love on an authentic level, and to stand up for what is right in spite of opposition.”

“I want to see more female characters that aren’t the cliche trope of ‘needing’ men to help them. I want to see women that know their strengths and can be self-reliant but are also not afraid to lean on the strengths of the people around them. They are so self confident and secure in themselves that they are able to see the value in others. I’m tired of reading insecure women who feel like they have to hide their weakness and  prove themselves to the world. I want to read about women that let their biggest weakness become their greatest asset.”

I love these!  I’m gonna be honest with all of you.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  I know!  Shocking.  However, I have no delusional miscues that women are essential to the progress and benefit of society.  To limit or cast them in any role that would be lesser than would be to grant us all a great disservice.

It’s coming but I’m going to dote on my wife a little here.  I have often said that in marriage, every day is about learning for me.  I am constantly aware of who she is and the way she views the world, which is very different from me in many respects.  Her interests and passions travel along lines that I don’t always follow or have a grasp of but I make it a goal to show interest because its what she loves to spend her time doing and learning about.  I’m not always good at this and I often have to process things before I’m able to share in her enthusiasm (thankfully, she forgives me for this delay in response) but my desire is to know her better.  This is the same for the women in my stories.  I want to know them better so that their story is one worth telling.

My wife asked me on one occasion if I based any female characters on her.  I had to chuckle because there’s an adage in writing that says to never base a character on any people you know in real life.  It just doesn’t turn out well.  What I told her is I base all my female characters on women in my life whom I admire.  Their qualities can be found in each of the characters you will read about in my books.  Even the so-called “villains” and that’s not a slight.  Far from it because I don’t write antagonists from a stand point of being solely evil.  The best villains are those that are complete, having desires, fears, experiences, etc. separate from any other character.  Their motivations are based on these factors (see my prior blog post on writing believable villains).

I’ve had several beta readers who are women and I’ve gained a great deal of feedback from them about my women characters that has been beyond beneficial.  I loved being able to read their comments, converse when I had questions and taking their suggestions to heart.  Plus, I learned a butt-load of things about women I did not know and I’m all about learning when it comes to people and what makes them who they are.  Understanding the value in someone breaks away any misgivings or misconceptions and as I do that in real life, I can do it even better in fiction.

Call to Action: This one’s for the guys.  Whether it’s a friend, sister, mother, girlfriend or wife, I recommend talking to them.  Ask them questions.  Don’t be inconsiderate or selfish and seriously talk to them about what they think of things in our society.  Take it from me, you’ll learn something and that’s never bad.

On This Day – The Name of the Wind Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0

This month’s OTD post will focus on a work of fantasy that really enraptured me as a reader.  I had heard of Patrick Rothfuss’s book, “The Name of the Wind” for a while but I was reading other books from my stack of “to reads” (you know that pile of fresh hard/paperbacks without the spine crease and that pleasing aroma of untouched paper).  It was a book I knew very little about but saw it recommended a lot of places.  I want to say I finally got around to reading it in 2011 during a six-month period where I was unemployed (I read a lot of books during this time).

I love to read.  Honestly, if you’re a writer but you struggle to read or find time to read, drop some time-wasters and make this a priority.  Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write.”  This just harkens (such a great word) back to my previous post about time management.  Priorities are key in our lives.  Reading should be up there near the top if you’re a writer.  If you’re not a writer, then reading should still be something you do because studies have shown, you are smarter by doing so.  A post of quotes coming at you.  Mark Twain said , “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

There are few books I’ve come across that kept me fully engrossed in the pages.  I love my sleep but every once in a while, I come across a book where I’d happily forego sleep to keep reading.  “The Name of the Wind” was such a book.

I’d love to give an in depth review of the book as a whole but I never want these blog posts to become long-winded and full of smoke.  And just like my first OTD post about Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World”, I want to focus on one aspect of the book and share how that has impacted me as a writer.  Here we go! (Dang…the “Raising Hope” theme song is stuck in my head.)

Language.  Yes, language is what still lingers with me whenever I think about “TNotW”.  Rothfuss has a great story about the years he spent crafting this book that would introduce him not only to the fantasy genre but literary world as well.  There is what I can only describe as a lyrical flow to his writing that makes the book easy to start and urges persistence to finish.  Music is a theme throughout the book and every bit a part of the main character, Kvothe, as his wild red hair and quick wit.

How has this affected me as a writer?  Well, I think the obvious answer would be, I learn from what I admire.  I don’t write like Rothfuss but I appreciate his ability with words, which lends itself to my own writing.  Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time with what I wrote years ago.  Doing so has been an “experience” to say the least.  I can easily take those old words and rewrite/massage and find a better flow because I’ve been far enough removed that I can recognize stale sentence structure better than before.  It’s not Rothfuss’ writing alone that has helped me grow but also time and maturing as a storyteller.

Clunky writing is distracting.  Anytime you’re reading and just get stuck on a certain sentence because you can’t understand what’s being said is usually because the words chosen don’t work or fit.  Rough and early drafts often have these problems.  The best thing to do is consider revising.  Obviously, those sentences have to be flagged or called out.  Beta readers are the best option but you have to find one who pays attention to detail and doesn’t gloss over these alarming sentences.

Writers depend on words.  We take what’s available and construct them in such a way that the reader comprehends and envisions the characters, world and conflict with ease.  That should be our main goal.  You can have a great idea, character, magic system, etc. but if you fail to construct a coherent framework of sentences, paragraphs and/or dialogue you will not attract readers.

Rothfuss is an avid learner and student who spent a great deal of time at university, tutoring and teaching.  This translates to his writing because he actually treats his readers like students.  He wants to teach you about the characters and world they inhabit.  All of which are fleshed out very well.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a vast world introduced and mythos that serves as the main mystery and conflict that drives Kvothe in search of knowledge.  It helps that Kvothe spends a great deal of time at a university himself and takes classes from the very best of teachers.  Flow of phrase within the prose and dialogue come through in all of this in a way that you’ll be surprised when you read twenty to thirty pages without noticing.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.  Even if you’re not fond of fantasy.  You’ll enjoy the flow of the story and Rothfuss’s ability to pull you into the current.  I wish I wrote more like him to be honest.  I feel that my writing can get clunky at times and therefore requires me to spend extra time revising, but I’m satisfied with my style as I’ve matured and polished my voice, hoping I can solidify myself as a respected author.

Call to Action: Come on.  You know what I’m going to say here.  Read “The Name of the Wind”.  You won’t be dissatisfied.

My Essentials for World Building

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World building in fantasy is almost like writing a full story in itself.  All fantasy authors I’ve researched and read about on this topic usually have the same process.  You have to do it.  In order for a full-fledged world to come alive in the pages, the reader has to believe these are real places that the characters live in.

I’m going to go over a few essentials that I highly recommend all writers develop, especially in fantasy.  All of these are aspects I’ve written extensive notes on and should not be overlooked or put to the side.  You’ll actually be surprised how much your story rounds out when these details are included.

1. Culture

What is it that makes the country/nation/island/region what it is?  History, customs, holidays, government, religion.  These are musts.  Think about whatever country you live in or are native to.  How did that country come into being?  What foundation was laid and at what cost?  Did it face conflict in order to maintain its statehood (is that the word?)?  What has each generation brought and caused to evolve?  I would not say you need to write an entire history book but the most important details should be explored and be a part of the characters.

1a. Religion

This is a big one that I never paid too much mind to in my early days.  I usually left it to a monotheistic deity that encompassed a wide range of belief or unbelief.  Honestly, I was a bit lazy and didn’t think it was worth exploring further.  Now, in the Ravanguard series, I have five dominant religions that are very different from each other (with the exception of two that are closely related but different in some respects).  I found after fleshing these out and applying them to characters that they were much more interesting and their choices were reflected according to their beliefs, which is very much what we do!

2. Landscape

This kind of seems like an easy one.  Oceans, rivers, mountains, etc.  All needed to give the appearance of a convincing natural setting but there’s more than these staples.  Bays, copses, ravines, hills, etc. to name a few.  Study these.  Look up pictures to get a good grasp of what they look like and how they form.  THEN, look at how they are utilized by civilization.  Boom.  Full circle.

2a. Ruins

Are there ruins?  Would there be historical sites?  What significance do they play?  Not everything has to be to the level of an Indiana Jones adventure but unless its a new civilization, there are usually signs of prior populations where artifacts are left behind and/or preserved.

3. Dialogue

Maybe there’s a fantasy or just fiction novel that uses no dialogue to tell its story but I’ve yet to run into it.  We speak just as characters should to reveal who they are and their understanding of the world in which they live.  Giving characters their own voice can be a challenge especially if you have a large number of speaking characters within the story.  If I had to make a rough estimation of speaking characters in “So Speaks the Gallows”, then I’d have to say there are anywhere between 60-80 characters who speak.  Those who speak more than a sentence or two shaves that list down quite a bit but I’m still writing the voices of a large number of people who I am telling you, the reader, is an individual and has their own history, experiences, beliefs, convictions, humor, dreams, etc.  Try handling all that and remaining sane!  I do and as I’ve spent time with these characters (some for the better length of three novels), their voices are as clear as crystal.

3a. Dialect

As I said with the religions above, that also means I’ve developed multiple forms of dialect, which includes vocabulary and slang.  This takes practice.  When I started out, all my characters talked the same as if they were all born from the same village.  It has taken years of writing and years of practice writing dialogue to be able to distinguish the speech of individuals from the place they came from.  I wish I could say I studied and did research to a great extent but I didn’t.  I’ve done a little but most of any differences you will find in speech between regions, nations, etc., is purely organic on my part.  I have those places and the people in them developed enough that they speak in a manner that I know how they would be differentiated.  The hope is that it translates onto the pages.

All of these elements are important in fantasy literature.  From Tolkien to the more modern writers, we can find great examples of worlds given great consideration.  Even in the fantastic genre, readers want to believe the world is real enough to be lived in.

Call to Action: Are there any other world building elements you think are just as important?  I’m sure there are.  I’d like to eventually write blog posts devoted to some of these and my experiences with them, especially since in my three major series that I have in the works, there are vast differences in the worlds.  Those may be in the writing queue.

Slow Burn the Beginning

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I recently finished a book that started off in a way that I just didn’t prefer.  While the book as a whole was fine and had some interesting concepts and characters, I could not shake the way it started.  So, I figured I’d share and discuss this a little (this is just my opinion and in no way a rule).

The book, “The Garden of Stones” by Mark T. Barnes, is fantasy that leans towards the “epic” sub-genre.  This means there’s a vast world inhabited with diverse cultures, languages, magic systems, etc.  I have no problem with this and often gravitate towards these stories as a whole (I’ve widened my range of reading considerably the last few years though).  My problem and this was evident in this book, is when within the first ten pages I am inundated with names, places and things all at once, I automatically have to push through, trusting the story will shape itself into something I will enjoy.

(Just in case Mark T. Barnes ever comes across this blog post, I hope he knows I respect his style and enjoyed reading, happy I finished the book.  This is not a review.)

My preference and the way I choose to write my books is to start small and let the world as a whole expand in a gradual but evenly paced track.  Short of like a narrow passageway that becomes wider and wider until the whole of the cavern is open.  There are advantages to this approach that I’ve found to be more appeasing to the reader who is already trusting you to take them on a journey.

The number one advantage to not throwing the reader into a whirlwind of information is that you give them time to get comfortable with the writing style and initial characters introduced.  The world should be shown through the eyes of the main point of view character.  The reader should not be told anything that the main POV would not themselves know.

For example, if Frodo had been introduced and already knew about the One Ring, its history, Sauron, the Nazgul and so on, then we would have been denied his natural reaction and learning of these forces.  Let’s take Harry Potter next (I know I use these two different sources to make use of my examples but I feel they are the most widely known along the literary spectrum.  Having the movies helps too, hahaha!).  Harry is naïve to the wizarding world as he should be.  How in the name of He Who Shall Not Be Named is he supposed to be aware of that hidden world!  Discovery.  This is the key (and second advantage).

This is more prevalent in the sci-fi/fantasy realm of books and may cross over into general fiction, but discovery of the unknown is the greatest asset to the story!  As a reader, I want to discover who the main protagonist is most of all and that includes the world they live in and all that entails from society to the more ethereal aspects.  Show me these things through their eyes and understanding.  I prefer a slow burn at the start.  It’s what keeps me engaged.

Now, you may be one who likes a rush of the world thrown at you (find Barnes’ book if you do) and that’s totally fine.  No fault on your part.  I simply think it’s more beneficial to learn as a writer not to set out all ten courses on the dining room table rather than going from course to course.  You savor what’s put in front of you in the beginning rather than ignoring it, only to be told it was really good but now its cold and stale if you dared try to return it.  Stories are an adventure.  We shouldn’t be given a straight shot to the end.  It should zig and zag with small and great surprises along the way!

Call to Action: Are there any books that do this?  Were you turned by the method of storytelling?  Comment with examples.  I’m curious to see what’s out there (not necessarily to avoid, just as a reference).

It’s Not a Rewrite…sort of


A bit of news for everyone in today’s blog post.  I realize those who come here to read my thoughts don’t necessarily want to always read “how to” posts.  I get that.  I’m still finding my stride.  However, I do have a new development for book 1 of the Ravanguard series, “So Speaks the Gallows”.  Is that name in your head yet?  I’m hoping that it and “Dim the Veil” get more and more affiliated.

One of my good friends, David, and I have been hard at work the last few months going page to page in SStG (a little acronym action for you).  This involves us meeting up once a week and going over whatever he’s read since the last time we got together.  This has been an invaluable time for me for several reasons.  David (we’ve been friends for more than twenty years, which is crazy to think about!) is an avid reader.  Not just of fantasy but all kinds of genres.  He has an amazing memory and attention to detail in what he reads, which means he’s the perfect beta reader for me.  He sees things that I as the writer and editor gloss over.  It’s sort of the problem a writer runs into after they’ve been working on a story for several years.  A new set of eyes does wonders!

Now, I’m onto my fourth draft of SStG and that means I’ve looked at all 38 chapters and 450+ pages of the story a lot.  So much so that it’s difficult to remember the smaller details.  I have a glossary I’ve kept over the years but it’s in bad need of an update.  This is extremely difficult to maintain but necessary with the scope of the Ravanguard series (remember, I have written three novellas and books set in this world with more coming.  It is expansive).  I say all of this because it’s led to a wrinkle that I need to attend to.

I added the prologue of SStG last year after not being satisfied with the way the book starts.  David had already read some of the book before I added this small insert.  As he’s continued to read the book, though, he has made it clear (and I appreciate his honesty) that my style of writing is not consistent from the Prologue to the later chapters.  I had a suspicion of this early on but wondered how much of an issue it may be.  Lo and behold, it’s evident now that I need to do a deep edit of the book.

Consistency of flow and style are essential and very important to me as a writer.  I have my own style and with anything, I’ve grown in my skill (mad skills).  As an exercise, I took the first five chapters of the book and from paragraph to paragraph, I massaged everything from details to dialogue.  I was extremely pleased with this practice and know this is my next step moving forward.  My hope and goal is to finish the entire deep edit before this summer.  Priorities take precedent (as I stated in my previous blog post about time management).

I’m bringing this to light because I want my readers to be aware of my journey and process but also because I want my writer brethren to not be disappointed if they discover their growth may force a rewrite/deep edit.  Don’t be disheartened.  Take a breath and trust in your abilities.  Don’t rush the process.  It’s more important that you write the best possible story only you can write.  Put on your gloves, lace up the boots and climb out of the dense forest that is your story.

Call to Action: Pray for me, ha!  It’s okay.  I’m not upset like I might have been ten years ago at the thought of having to rewrite my book.  If it’s about getting published one day, then I need to be willing to make this a priority.  As for the real Call to Action, consider your creative passions.  Can you think back to when it was difficult and now it all comes with ease?  Settle into that growth and be thankful you’ve grown and matured to such a degree that you are no longer struggling with the smaller things.  That’s the goal!

Best Supporting Role

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

For me, rich stories involve a great deal of detail, forethought and most of all believable supporting characters.  Focusing on the latter today, I’m always thinking about the characters I consider to be placed in the “support” role.  Some are bras and some are jock straps (I’ll give you a second to consider that and all the nuances entailed, lol).

Sometimes, these characters can be glossed over, especially if they serve more as place holders than actual aids to the main protagonist(s) of the story.  There are clichés (plucky sidekick or daft henchman) and we can often locate those with ease.  The best, however, are those that actually play such a role that if removed, the story arc would suffer!

Where would Frodo be without Sam?  What about Harry if any of the many supports he had were gone (not counting Hermione or Ron because frankly, they’re more quasi-protagonists than supporting)?  There are countless other examples of this that I could go into but I think you get what I’m throwing at you.

The absolute best advice I’ve come across when it comes to writing and including supporting characters is that in those characters’ minds, they are not secondary. In other words, they have their own history, experiences, virtues and vices that make up their persona.  All of these should be included and evident during their scene(s).  Obviously, you will have stories where there are nameless, stand-ins who serve a broader role, especially if they make up the collective of a population, mob or army but those that actually speak and lend action to the story must be more.

Whenever writing these supporting characters, I always envision them having qualities both in physicality and personality that are unique to them.  For example, I recently started the fourth novella of the Ravanguard series.  The main protagonist is a woman who hires the service of a somewhat ruffian type who swears, loves to gamble, but hates to drink and has an extra pinky on his left hand, which has earned him the nickname of Two-Pink Simm.  That’s the most basic description I can give (you won’t be seeing him in readable form for a few years.  Sorry.  I’m working on it) but it gives you a lot of information.  The question automatically is: Why doesn’t he drink?  What’s the story behind that?  That’s a good question to ask and one that lends depth to him that may or may not be explored.  It’s a wrinkle of character that in my mind needs to be there.

Supporting characters should also be voices of dissent, challenging the main protagonist from time to time when there’s other options not yet explored.  No “yes men”!  What’s their personal agenda?  This is something that should be at the back of our minds when reading and coming across a portion of story where the supporting character says or does something that seems a method of contention.  This doesn’t mean they are a rival/antagonist but an opposing voice.

Let’s consider our own lives.  Do you have a friend (supporting characters are often friends, maybe an acquaintance) that you love and trust but they challenge your words or actions from time to time?  If yes, then keep that person in your life!  If you have one that is the opposite (remember what I said about the jock strap type), then don’t get too attached.  I have a few friends who I know I can be honest with about all kinds of things and know that if they disagree or have another way of approaching a situation, it’s not because they want me to fail.  They want me to succeed but not be hasty or irrational.

True support lends itself in beneficial ways that does not necessarily mean they benefit from the outcome.  I hope this all comes through the way I intend.  Stories are far more envisioned when the people whose point of views we, the readers, are denied but are ones we would love to peer into the minds of!  (This is actually something I struggle with because I would love to write from the POV of some of my supporting characters from time to time.)

Call to Action: Find those supporters in your life and thank them!  Go one step further and buy them a Starbucks gift card (I fully expect a full slew to be sent to me, ha!) and let them know you appreciate them.

Identity: Theme Explored

Write what you know.  That’s what they tell you (I don’t know who they are…still looking to be honest).  For whatever the reason, I’ve struggled to really explain to people what my books are about.  Seriously.  If you asked me in person to tell you what the first Ravanguard book is about, I would struggle to do so without going into vast details in order to make sure you are tracking with me in what I consider a complex tapestry of interwoven major and minor story lines.  In short, I’ve had to narrow it down.  The book is about identity.

I’ve done this recently on a few accounts and simply saying identity helps me focus the vision.  The story follows the viewpoints of the three main characters and their struggle through identity.  All of these are explored through different methods.  One has their identity stripped away and must establish a new one, the second strives to make a name for herself in a predominantly male order, and the third (the youngest) has little knowledge of his family and their history, only to be introduced to secrets that make him realize who he is.

I like to think that you could take any of these three quick descriptions I’ve provided and apply them to a number of stories in all kinds of genres.  That’s the beauty of the theme of identity.  It is not restrictive or limited.

This is all very organic in my writing process.  I did not write these out and go from there.  No, I started with the character and their conflict and the theme of identity grew.  Imagine the smallest of frames–better yet, a bare Christmas tree.  I set it up and throughout the process of writing, editing, re-writing and editing some more, I’ve placed the ornaments, ribbon, tinsel (not just for decoration), etc. in their proper places to give the tree–or characters–identity.  Muscle and skin added to the skeleton once again.

Write what you know.  Well, much of my main point of view characters in everything I write has one underlying theme of identity.  My writing focuses on this because I truly believe individual identity is the key to success.  A character’s journey to discover/re-discover their identity and purpose in life is the quintessential most important conflict in literature (at least I think so).

So, I relate personally because I spent many years unsure of who I was, what my purpose was, etc.  Same old story…  It took time, patience and putting myself around people who saw the gold in me.  This righted much of the upside down thinking I struggled with as a young man.  Once I found what I was looking for, though, I settled within myself to be okay.  Were there things that could still use work?  Of course!

The theme of identity will likely be what I write about the rest of my life.  My hope is that this will transcend the pages and help people.  Obviously, I cannot tell every reader who they are but hopefully, through my characters, readers will find tools that make sense to them and lead them to discover what’s most important.

Call to Action: If you are struggling with identity in any capacity, I would encourage you to not lose sight or hope.  Don’t merely look for others to tell you who you are.  Do not seek acceptance or relationships because someone else thinks you should be this or that.  Ask questions.  Pursue the truth of your convictions.  These will better guide you in the long run.

Kill the Cliché, Twist the Trope: Magical MacGuffin

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

There are conventions in fantasy literature that we know well, maybe to a lesser degree if you’re not an avid fan or reader, but you can recognize them with ease.  You can be reading/watching a story unfold, snap your fingers and say, “That’s so and so in this story…” or “I bet that’s what’s needed to solve…”  How?  Why?  Because you’ve seen it done so much, your brain does its magic and the dots are connected, always aware and finding the patterns.  These conventions that are easy to call are often clichés or tropes.

I relied too heavily on these clichés/tropes when I first dabbled in the genre and to be honest, it was good because it helped me understand and know what I wanted to avoid later in my journey as a writer.  For today’s post, I’m going to explore another one (don’t be surprised if this becomes a monthly post-type by the way).

The Magical MacGuffin.  What’s this?  Well, it’s the One Ring in Lord of the Rings, the Holy Grail pursued by Indiana Jones or King Arthur, and/or most recently, any of the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A MacGuffin in literary terms is a plot device pursued by the protagonist to form the basis of the plot.  Now, these devices don’t always have to be magical.  You could literally take any story (from a book, play, tv show or film) and find the MacGuffin.  It could be a goal, dream, desire, object, idea, etc.  All of these fill the role.  Honestly, I don’t have a problem with the device as a whole but in fantasy, it is (in my opinion) a cliché/trope worth avoiding.

In the second book I wrote (one that has been shelved for the time being), I actually tried to take this trope and twist it.  I asked the question, “What if the magical objects in the world suddenly quit working, forcing the societies that relied on them to deal with the resulting conflicts that would naturally ensue?”  A malfunction of the MacGuffin if you will.  Now, this is an idea worth exploring and I may still do it to a degree but on a lesser scale.  Maybe a standalone novel…  There are elements in that world that I created and quite like a lot and don’t completely want to abandon.  Hmmmmm…  Yep, you’ve read it here first.  I may have just realized I do in fact have another story to put in my queue!

Back to the topic.  I struggle to get behind the idea of a Magical MacGuffin because its played out in fantasy.  Tolkien did it the best with the One Ring.  We have a magical item that is in fact filled with the evil of the main antagonist who wants it back.  The goal of the protagonists is to take that item to the only place where it can be destroyed (which happens to be in the most dangerous place in Middle Earth) all the while having to avoid its influence and the desire of others who want to claim it for themselves.  It’s actually a very good device used by Tolkien and plays better in the story as an item to destroy rather than attain.  Kudos to the master!

What we see since then is a lot of stories that drive the plot forward with magical items being the end goal (a sword, crown, horn, bowl, knickknack or patty whack).  Once attained, it usually gives the hero the power to overcome the evil one.  There are usually obstacles that bring lessons learned and help the character grow but for me, both as a reader and writer, to form an entire plot on the magical device, just doesn’t hold my attention.  When looking for new books to read, I actually check to see if the synopsis includes a Magical MacGuffin.  If so, I set it aside.

Thankfully, there is a wave happening in fantasy literature that doesn’t rely on this particular device.  Maybe there are magical items in the world but they are not the bones to hold everything up.  In my Ravanguard series, there are things that could be considered magical but play no major significance to the overall conflict.  I do introduce something that may look the part in the early chapters but as you read, you realize I’ve twisted the expectation of the convention.  The story centers around the three main point of views and their inner struggles to cope with a world that is turned onto its side.  They must rely on themselves and those they trust in order to survive.

I should be clear and say I’m not opposed to a Magical MacGuffin entirely in a story so long as there is a twist or subversion.  Let there be a price to pay in order to use it.  The One Ring actually does this.  Using it makes the wielder dependent and a slave to it.  That’s good!  To compare, consider the Goblet of Fire in the fourth Harry Potter book.  It’s a magical item that is the goal to attain.  Why?  Harry has to because he’s in the contest but what else?  I won’t spoil the book or movie but at least there’s a twist at the end that does extend the overall saga as a whole.  This is also good!

Maybe you prefer this convention for whatever the reason.  Not a bad thing.  We’re just different and have different tastes, which is great, fine and dandy.  Hopefully, that won’t keep you from reading my books (Ha!).  Happy reading!

Call to Action: Do you prefer Magical MacGuffin’s in stories?  If so, share them with me!  I’m always curious to read other people’s preferences and opinions.  Are there any that have been twisted and subverted that you enjoyed?

On This Day: National Tell a Fairy Tale Day (US)

This a bit of a fun OTD post.  So, here in the US, it is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day.  What I’ve decided to do is give everyone here a little treat.  In my Ravanguard series, there are fairy tales or rather, “night tales” as I call them in the series.  I don’t explore them in the actual novellas or novels but they are referenced.  Hope you’ve got your coffee and cake ready while I share the tale of the “The Lamb in the Hill”.

The boy from the Prenian hills loved little but cared most for his lamb whose snowy coat never faded.  Charged by his father to watch and protect the lamb from all possible threats, the boy took his responsibility serious.  He believed if he kept the lamb safe from wolves and other predators, his father would grant him a new responsibility at the family’s farm where he would learn to sheer and spin the valuable wool.

On a day where there was nothing to distinguish itself from the rest, the boy lost sight of the lamb as it grazed upon a hill.  Fear did not find itself in the boy, having come to trust the lamb and its willingness to stay close.  As he approached the other side of the hill, a song hummed to celebrate the day, an odd fellow waved at him.  The boy rarely met others in the fields of Prenia but waved in response.

“A beauteous day is one not to forget, young lad,” the odd fellow said.

The boy did not respond at first, taking in the odd clothing of the odd fellow, garbed in trousers and shirt made of black and silver silks.  Baubles of gold glittered at the ends of his shoes, wrists and the triangular hat upon his head.  The truly peculiar thing about the odd fellow, though, was his great height, slender frame and rock-like features of his face.  What first seemed to be wrinkles were in fact rocky crags.  From brow to chin, the odd fellow’s face marked him a creature the boy did not know.

There was some sense of danger as they stood across from one another.  The boy came out of his scrutiny of the odd fellow and noticed his lamb missing.  “Sir, have you seen my lamb?  He has the whitest coat one could imagine.  Snowy and brilliant, shining in the daylight sun.”

The odd fellow scratched his chin.  “I’m afraid I’ve taken your lamb, boy, for I have been traveling a great many days.”

Tears did not cease from the boy’s eyes at the horrible reveal.  His fear induced by the realization that his father would surely punish him both by word and hand.  The lamb was his to protect and he failed before he had known there was a problem.

The odd fellow took notice of the boy’s distress and quickly felt the need to repay for his misdeed.  These were his ways unlike some of his misguided kin.  “Good lad, do not cry,” he pleaded, “for I have a rare and magnificent gift.  I can find the greatest of treasures in the earth.  Come and see!”

The boy stood in place, heart broken but watching the odd fellow scan the earth of the hillside at their feet for several seconds.

“Aha!” the odd fellow exclaimed.  He dropped to his knees and with ease placed his hands into the earth like he was dipping his fingers into the water of a lake.  Out his hands came and in them he held a great sword.  It was unlike any other.  Old but gleaming made by a long-dead blacksmith.  “Here,” the odd fellow said, sword extended.  “Take it and you will cast down great enemy hordes with a single strike!”

The boy did not dare take such a weapon for he did not trust the odd fellow.  “Sir, I am untrained.  How could I face a rival but fail to control such a heavy blade?”

The odd fellow considered the sword.  “I see you are frail in the ways of a warrior.  I agree and will offer another gift.”  The odd fellow placed the sword on the ground, stood and roamed until he dropped to his knees again.

A second time, the odd fellow pressed his hands into the earth as if it was cream, easy to separate and search through.  His hands came out again and he held in his hands a flute of ivory.  The odd fellow brought it to his lips and blew the excess dirt from its core.  “Here,” he said.  “Take it and control the clouds above, able to bring rain or sunshine whenever you need it!”

The boy did not take the flute.  “Sir,” he said, “I am untrained.  How could I learn the notes to control the weather and make better my days?”

Once again, the odd fellow felt a blow to settle his debt.  He laid the flute down and looked all around the hillside.  “Boy,” he confessed, “I am at a loss.  What do you require to be satisfied by my misdeed?”

The boy considered the question and found only one answer to satisfy his desire.  “Surely, sir, you did not take my lamb for its coat.  Surely, you can give me that at least so I can return it to my father.  At least then, it can be woven and sold so that our investment will not go wasted.”

The odd fellow rubbed his pointed chin.  “A fair request.”  He turned to where the boy had first laid eyes on him and reached into the earth.  Out came his hands and in them he held the lamb, the animal shaking but alive as its coat was dark from the earth.

“That is not my lamb,” the boy said.  “For that one is not white.”

The odd fellow shook his head and searched all around him with the lamb in his arms.

In the moment of opportunity, the boy took up the sword and swung its mighty blade, cleaving the head of the odd fellow, having saved all his strength to make one attempt at the creature.  The lamb fell to the ground and ran to the boy, snowy coat smeared with the dirt of the earth.

The boy walked over to the flute, hummed as he always did and played notes until the clouds formed overhead.  Rain fell and washed the lamb clean.  The boy considered the body of the odd fellow and left it to wither, serving always as a reminder that the lamb could not be left out of his sight.

Call to Action: What’s your favorite fairy tale?  Post a comment and share!

Setting the Stage

posted in: Writing | 0

If there was anything I learned in my first years of writing that I would impress upon young writers, it would be the importance of setting.  Give enough but not so much that it takes the reader out of the story.  This requires practice and you may rewrite the setting of a world and/or scene quite a bit before you settle on what works best.For myself in the early days, I think I over-detailed settings, especially interior ones while my exterior settings were very generic, lacking any visceral detail (I still come across this in published books and wonder why this flies).

Let’s start with interiors first.  Rooms were basic in their design but I did not understand that a room can tell a story, can give invaluable aspects to the characters.  Don’t limit your description to a desk/table, chairs, shelves, etc.  I know I say it a lot, but go to film to get a great idea of interior settings.  One that comes to mind is the office/chambers of Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies (try Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire or Order of the Phoenix, which all seem to feature the room at length).  Pause any of those movies and look at the room in still detail.  There’s loads to take in and don’t be afraid to make notes if any ideas are sparked for your story.  Even better, go back and watch the special features of any of the Lord of the Rings movies (you could do the same for the Hobbit trilogy but I think there’s more to be admired from Jackson’s first go in Middle Earth).  They have specific features that go over the attention to detail that blows your mind!  In fact, I think I’ll do that this weekend.

One rule I have for describing any interior setting is: Appeal to the senses.  What does a room smell like?  What can be seen?  If there’s a hint of some kind of oil in the room, what does that convey?  Are there plants?  These attributes have meaning and add color.  If there is art or books, what does that say about the room and the person who owns the room?  These are all questions worth exploring and can be weaved within the context of the scene to break up any monotony of dialogue, which is what I ran into a lot of the time.


Onto the outer world.  Exteriors are equally important and can be taken down into a smaller scale if need be.  If I’m working in a setting out in the wilderness, I need to consider whether there are roads, water sources, and/or vegetation.  If so, what’s their relation to each other?  I often consider landscapes whenever I’m driving out of town.  My wife and I take trips north of where we live, which is a high desert, and gradually turns into more of a mountainous area.  As we climb in elevation (slowly but surely), we see more green vegetation.  There are fields and road-side signs of nearby streams and lakes.  The mountains close in and if we want to remain on the main highway, we are driving up to Mammoth Lakes, where there are trees aplenty.  From brown and scrubby to green and leafy in a matter of a few hours.

My point is, for exterior setting, get a good understanding of areas around you or in the world.  Learn the features and their definitions.  How are those used in relation to populations both small and big?  All of this can add great quality to your story.  Take chances as well.  What are some features that could be useful to society and culture?  If you want to explore trade routes, then set your story in a place where there are more than roads.  Water routes were historically and still are used in many places in the world for trade.

The biggest sin when it comes to world building is that it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the characters and their conflicts, completely casting aside the greater wonders of nature and culture.  These can be shown through the eyes of your characters which also lends to characters being more than a generic physical descriptive entity that speaks and interacts with others.  Give them a sense of observation and they’ve become more three-dimensional.

I know this post is more geared towards a topic exclusively relevant to storytelling, but I hope that it encourages other writers to be conscious of something that I know from experience should not be ignored or given little attention to.

Call to Action: Look at whatever room you’re in while reading this.  Are there things–details–in it that would give a complete stranger an idea of who are?  Is there anything that would cause them to make a wrong assumption?  Your likes and preferences are likely scattered throughout.  Is it a good representation of who you are?  Just something to consider.

Keeping the Creative Juices Flowing Pt 1

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I thought it would be fun to discuss some of these and share my own methods, experiences, practices.

Let’s start with #21 first.  Listening to music is essential for me.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve listened to music and a wide range of genres over the years.  It would be somewhat embarrassing to list these phases but I will say, I try to be open to all styles, forms and expressions.  My iTunes library is a ridiculous smorgasbord of artists that drives my wife crazy.  One song is the melancholy melodies of Bon Iver and the next is thrashing guitars and drums of A Day to Remember.  We like what we like.  I gravitate towards music.  I can always listen to Cold War Kids, City and Colour and Mumford and Sons, especially when I’m writing.

#40 is next.  Be curious.  This has been my go to lately when I just need unwind.  I will often go to Wikipedia and peruse the “Did you know…” section where there’s tons of random trivia on everything from history to the arts.  Really interesting stuff to be sifted through.  I also listen to a lot of podcasts that focus on movies, sports and politics.  Every day, I seem to hear a name or term that I am unfamiliar with and research.  I love being informed about things so this definitely helps me creatively.

Last, let’s go with #5.  I try to socialize more as I get older.  I’ve never been the center of attention or wanted to be really.  I prefer smaller circles of get togethers and really build relationships one on one.  My wife and I enjoy meeting up with other couples and playing games and just talking.  So many topics are explored and we really open ourselves up to be known and get to know others.  Building relationships with others benefits creativity because to know others is to expand the mind.

Call to Action: Take a look at this list and pick some out that you want to do more.  Share if you want too!  I’d love to hear form all of you.

Criticism: Always Welcome

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

So today, I’m going to get into the mud a bit.  There’s one thing that an artist needs to be able take and take it well.  All criticism can be beneficial.  The good puffs you up and the bad lets the air out with a whimpering wheeze.  Is it a hard pill to swallow?  I mean like one of those multi-vitamins that’s the size of an ice cube and makes you think, “This is going to test my gag reflex”.  Yes, but, again, beneficial.

I admit, my experience with criticism has been on the side of easy so far.  I think that’s the natural progression of being an artist (or at least I’m jaded enough to hope so for the sake of the majority).  You create and you show your closest family and friends first.  They tell you nothing but good with some helpful suggestions and you feel like skipping and whistling around the block.  But then (ah, yes, the notorious “but then”) you take your art and throw it out beyond your trusted circle and get hammered.  I’ve been preparing myself for this confidence crippling event for a while now.  I know not everyone is going to think I’m the second coming of Tolkien (to be honest, though, I don’t want to be).

Criticism is inevitable.  Not just in the art world but everywhere.  Job performances are constantly being scrutinized and upon review time, you either get the good raise or the crappy one.  Your output determines your worth.  In our society, that’s true, especially in the work force.  In the arts, your output is subjective to preference.  That’s the good news.

If you don’t hone your craft and put the necessary effort into creating something you are proud of, knowing you gave it all, then expect harsh critics to stomp, gut, scratch, burn and view what you did as a waste of their time.  If you do hone your skills, then it’s more likely you will get the opposite reaction.

Now, as I’ve said before, you can’t please everyone.  It doesn’t even sound that good when you step back and consider the full range of that idea.  Imagine being surrounded by “yes men” who would fish your used tissue out of the trash and immortalize it on a mantle piece.  Yeah, not good.  And it doesn’t help you in the long run.  In art, you want to start but never be satisfied with just that single piece produced in the beginning.

There’s an innate creative desire inside artists that want to go beyond what they’ve done and challenge themselves to try new things, improve upon the old methods, and/or test their boundaries.  Art is daring in many respects.

Learning to take criticism is a must but it does not have to defeat us.  It should be taken but not be made a keepsake, used as an heirloom to pass down onto your children.

Here’s my diatribe: you cannot go through life afraid to be offended.  Everywhere we look, people base their entire happiness on whether or not others are allowed to say or do something that might offend them.  People outside of your inner circle are not going to be kind for the sake of keeping your feelings intact.  It’s a great disservice for us as a society to travel this road.

I’m a writer.  There are going to people who love what I write and there are going to be people who tell me I should seek another profession.  Is that hurtful?  Sure but only if I determine that another person’s personal preference, taste, and/or critique has power over my passions, dreams and desires.

A good way to prepare yourself for the future of criticism is to ask yourself some basic questions:

Why am I doing this?
What do I want to accomplish?

How do I want my art to have an impact in the world?

If any of these involve an answer of attaining money or acceptance, then I think we’ve found the problem.  Neither of these (here’s the cliché) can bring you true satisfaction or happiness.  They just leave you wanting more.  You will become an addict, getting a fix but then wanting more to meet your needs.  It’s not worth it!  Search for and find the answers to these questions that include you being happy despite what others can give you.

Trust in your abilities.  Trust that what you produce comes from a genuine place of joy.  It’s easy to say grow thick skin and you’ll be fine but I think it goes deeper.  Pleasing everyone is impossible no matter what you do in life and as we’ve all discovered in our social media culture, avoid the comment sections on YouTube.  There are a lot of trolls out there on the interwebz who seriously have nothing better to do than spread hate and horrible vitriol that somehow makes them feel accomplished.  Ignore them.  Avoid the places where you know people will purposely try to be hurtful.  You deserve better.

Call to Action: Answer the questions above honestly.  If you find that your answers have some bad motives, then consider why.  Pursue a path that changes these to what I’ve hopefully provided as helpful.

Don’t Pass on Your Passion

posted in: Writing | 2
 
Passion is the fire that burns a new trail in the wilderness of confusion and conformity.

It’s a good one today.  My wife and I recently watched La La Land and while the film itself is wonderful and worth the time to enjoy, I was berated through the viewing to think about passion.  What is it and why is it so important to have?

I won’t spoil the movie but I do recommend seeing it.  Passion is a theme that runs through the veins of each of the main leads.  I took notice of this and knew I wanted to explore it a little in regards to who I am as a creative.

All creatives have an innate desire to see their works brought to completion.  A painter or sculptor envisions the material they are using to be formed into the image they’ve fashioned in their mind’s eye.  Musicians hear the music/song and set forth in putting the notes together until it is finished.  Passion is what drives these actions.

We know what passion can lead to when left unchecked and ignored.  Violence and horrible events can easily be attributed to a hateful passion to see others harmed for ones own or a collective’s benefit.  These are not what we strive to birth or maintain.

Healthy passions though should bring about beauty and joy (and sparkly unicorns sliding down rainbows into a sea of melted chocolate).  The artist’s passion should evoke emotion and appeal to the senses.  Whether positive or negative (as in sadness or loss), this type of passion benefits rather than castigates those caught in the swell.

For myself, I have a great passion to tell stories.  I have other sub-passions like playing music or cooking savory roasts but to tell a story–one that appeals to more people than a small demographic–is my greatest desire.  Any time I allow someone to read my writing, I have this great twirl in my spirit to hear that they loved what they read (just being honest).  If not, well then I’ll just put them on the shun list.  Seriously though, artists want to be verified in what they do–praised for the efforts of their passion.

(Segway start) While this is not always the case, it’s important to learn and manage yourself if you do face criticism or scrutiny.  It’s not the end of the world when those types of feedback come.  My advice: don’t put your sense of value in the hands of another person who may or may not like what you’ve created.  It’s okay to not have fans.  There’s a lot of people in the world and I think you’ll find plenty who support and hold you in high regard for your creative output.  Passion killed by criticism is a sign of that passion’s strength or lack thereof.  Too many people are broken–dreams shattered–because of criticism.  Don’t be one of these. (Segway end)

Where was I?  Oh.  Sometimes passion is put in a sort of dormant state.  This happened to me for a few years while I struggled through life after high school (Eating Del Taco just about every day will affect more than your waistline).  I wrote but my desire to do so and to produce something I was passionate about just could not be mustered.  I think it took some of those “hard to learn” lessons in life for me to get out of my funk and re-prioritize my life.  When I did, the passion erupted and I was back on track writing like man bent on accomplishment.

(Does this increasingly come off more and more like an inspirational rant?  Yes?  Good!  Nah, I just want to be helpful where I can.  Passion is something I can articulate to you.  If you want a college classroom-worthy lecture on literature, then well this is not the place.  I must admit, I was only “passing” when it came to literature in school.  I didn’t see what the professors/teachers thought I should see.)

To close this loop, maintaining passion requires effort.  A conscious decision has to be made (maybe even every day for some people) in order to reach the goal.  Find what keeps the fires burning and be prudent to do what’s necessary to keep the heat up.  I’ve witnessed others let their dreams and desires fizzle out into an ashy heap, but the embers are still there buried beneath if you look.  Keep it stoked!

Call to Action: If you have a rejection letter or negative comments about whatever it is your passionate about, put them aside for awhile.  They can be good to keep for motivation but I think positive feedback can have similar effects on you as a burgeoning creative.  Find those praises and inspiring elements and put them up along with your personal goals.  Look beyond the tightrope, look to the other side.

Show and Tell…More of the Former

posted in: Writing | 4
When writers first start out, having had that singular idea/scene of a broader story, they set out to construct what they hope is a finished story that they can share, inspire and get praise for.  This is essentially what they want (at least I know I did).

There were many nuances of writing I did not understand in the beginning.  Honestly, how could I?  I did not have a mentor/teacher or even a writing group to help me understand some of the more basic practices of the discipline.  I sort of learned the hard way (and I’m thankful I did!)

I’m sure I’ll dabble in many of these common mistakes and missteps from time to time while blogging but one that is probably most important to me and one I constantly pursue in everything I write is to follow one simple rule: Show don’t tell.

Readers hate to be coddled when reading (we all do in just about everything.  My sarcasm erupts with a vigor unknown to mankind when I’m sensing I’m being given no intellectual credit for what’s on the page in a book).  Perhaps there are some who prefer to have their hand held while going from page to page but I simply cannot oblige.

My early writing attempts were rife with this mistake and I’ll admit, I tend to repeat some things in the first pages of drafts.  It happens more to remind myself than to inflict disrespect on the reader.  But those early writings were quite the introduction for me to learn from my mistakes.

One of the first prologues I ever wrote was one such piece.  I was very excited to have written and completed an introduction to the first world I had created.  I was a member of a popular writing forum back then and posted the prologue for feedback.  There was probably half a dozen or so responses on my forum thread and I yearned to read each one, expecting praise and wonder at what I had accomplished (there’s no other excitement like that!).  Signal…deflation.

While the responses were not horrible, I saw a lot more constructive criticism that was difficult to take in at the time but invaluable in the end.  Much of what was offered was for me to learn how to rewrite in a way that showed the readers rather than tell them what was happening.

Let me throw out an example:

“John was cold in the night.  There was a loud sound that made him scared.”

Woo… killer stuff!  That was actually difficult to write.  What I did above was tell you the scene.  Read below for showing you.

“John shivered in the dead of night, his trembling broken by the sudden crack of something nearby, heartbeat increasing.”

Truthfully, what I did here was simple but not easy to do all the time.  Sometimes, you cannot help but tell, however in this instance, showing you, the reader, John and his predicament is far more important.  I want to invoke your senses and emotions.  I want you to envision John vulnerable and out of his element.

Action words are important.  Adjectives are equally important.  Verbs like “was” and “were” are just…boring.  I am telling you John was cold but if I paint this picture of John shivering then you know (because you’ve no doubt shivered before) that he was cold!

Writers, I appeal to you here, don’t be lazy in your writing.  Learn to show and you’ll receive far better feedback and you’ll enjoy writing a whole lot more (hey, there’s a concept).  While you want to write only the story you can tell, you want to do it well.  You’ll be taken more serious as a writer from learning and getting better each time you sit down at your keyboard or writing pad.

Call to Action: A great exercise to put yourself through is to watch a movie that evokes the practice of showing rather than telling.  Film is a great resource to study because they have to show everything.  Think about how you are being shown what is happening.

My Trick to Great Writing (Shhhh, Don’t Tell)

posted in: Writing | 0

This is a bit of an admission post and a look into who I am as a person.  Want to know the real me?  Then you’re going to get these kinds of posts from time to time.  It’s related though to writing because, well, I am me and I happen to be a writer.  Shocker!

I can’t tell you how many resources there are out there with great and not so great writing help.  I’ve combed through a lot of this over the years and found some great and wonderful aids to learn and better myself as a writer.  Check out my Resources page to see the books I recommend.

What I’d like to do here is sort of explore what I’ve found to be the most critical part of my development as a writer/storyteller.

Come in real close…too close!  Back a bit up (is that rosemary?).  My secret is simply this: observe.

Confetti!!!

Observe?  Huh?  Yes, observe.

I spent a great deal of my childhood spending time by myself.  I had a group of close friends and I was completely socially awkward.  Not at first, at least, but once puberty hit, the oh so flattering changes happened (back-ne being one of my most traumatic flourishes of hormones).  I became more and more withdrawn.  I was athletic enough to pass for a decent basketball player but my lack of surpassing five and half feet in height dampened any starry-eyed dreams of playing at the collegiate level and beyond.

As I’ve said, high school was the time I first dabbled with writing.  I won’t retread that again but I realized later in life that during my adolescence, I had a knack for observing the world around me without really contributing much to it.  I watched people and who they were when it came to conflicts, struggles, joys and victories.  Those things have stayed with me!  And I continue to observe the world in this manner with more intent on paying attention to the details.

Writing a good story means you have to have great characters who go beyond the clichés and tropes of the hero/anti-hero/villain motif.  Real characters who jump off the page and seem like someone you could actually see alive in the real world only comes by observing and understanding people in real life.  I learned without trying to.

To observe is to stand back and watch unobjectively (not a word, but you know what I mean).  I have my own experiences and therefore have my own opinions, convictions, dreams and desires.  However, as a writer, unless I’m writing a story with only one character or a story filled with similar characters (dullsville!), then I need to understand people who are not like me at all.  Who honestly wants to read a book where all the characters are the hero?  I call BS because that’s not a story.  It’s barely a premise (or is it?).

My struggles in social settings while growing up helped me later in life.  I was the kid who did not care to be the focus of the room but I did take notice of the other people and studied without ever realizing I was preparing myself for my future.

I seriously encourage all people (not just writers, but you all should try this more) to take a step back and simply observe from afar.  Don’t be creepy about it; have some tact.  It’s amazing the things you learn from watching people.  You will pick up the most interesting tidbits about behavior by doing so.  And behavior is what writers work with.  When a character is put up against an unexpected conflict, their reaction or behavior is based on so many factors: history, upbringing, fears, prejudices, etc.

Observe the world before judging it.  Let this be a common practice we all take part in for our future.

Call to action: Go to a public place (mall, park, beach) and watch.  Learn some things about strangers and what makes them different based on their behaviors.  By the way, if you go to a beach, it’s less creepy to people watch if you’re wearing sunglasses.

National Compliment Day

posted in: Writing | 5


So I just learned it was National Compliment Day and I thought it was perfect to share this message from my wonderful, amazing sister.  She sent this to me recently out of nowhere and it was so honoring.

“Here’s the thing… I’m not a writer, but my incredibly talented, writer of a brother has inspired me to do some, ‘writing’….

I’ve watched him ‘tinker’ with writing and story telling from high school until now (let’s keep it brief and say 15 years’ish). But here’s what I didn’t know, that in all those years of him behind his laptop and sharing a chapter here and there with people, he was preparing and training. By training I don’t mean dabbling, losing interest, and then moving on to the next shiny thing. That’s what I do. I’m a dreamer and a visionary but I have no follow through (but this is not about me). If I’ve ever seen a man of follow through, it is my brother Adam Henderson. Without too many personal details, my brother has had a passion, for music and writing (for as long as I can remember). He’d go for it, and then be told by people that he looked up to at the time, ‘That’s cool.’ ‘It’s ok.’ ‘Cool man.’ Not what someone wants to hear who just poured their soul into something. Those times I’m sure he recoiled for a bit, but this resilient mother effer didn’t stop. He continued, took notes, when I’m sure it hurt sometimes, whether constructive or negative criticism, he kept on truckin’.

Fast forward to the present, years have gone by, life has transpired, living and existing as we do, self involved. But heres the wake up — recently he started a blog, and to say the least my jaw dropped at his first post. This fool has been seasoning… in the dark, in the shadows, when nobody was the wiser. He’s been writing and editing, and writing and editing, and researching, and researching. He’s been reading and studying all the literary legends he loves, gleaning every morsel! I had no idea the repertoire and the range he’d acquired in all these years of being my humble, sweet, and kind brother. The greatest part, is that this is just the opener, the dawning, the preface, the mist on the horizon of blowing your freaking mind. Dot, dot, dot. Though this blog (and shared passion) of his is new, and in its infancy, I’m already so inspired and motivated by the man (and incredible writer) he has become. I can NOT wait to read what happens next…”

Again, this is from my sister and such a great encouraging compliment.  She is herself an amazing creative who paints, dances, sings, and is an overall kick ass cosmetologist.  Check her out on Instagram at randacuts and be amazed!

Your Fantasy Reading Guide

posted in: Writing | 0

This post was influenced by a trip to Barnes and Noble in San Luis Obispo’s wonderful downtown area.  Both my brother-in-laws and I roamed a few of the streets, hitting a record store (Boo Boo Records.  Go there if you have a chance!), a used book store that was so irresistibly messy with full shelves and the overflow of stacked books serving as paperback end caps, and finally the B&N.

We looked around and eventually came across the fiction section and then the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section.  One of my BILs asked what would be a good book to read just to read in general fiction.  I struggled to give much of a recommendation but when we stumbled into the aisle of my preferred genre, I was quick to offer recommendations if they were interested.

That escapade brings me here.  I cannot say for certain who comes to read my blog (family and friends are quick to visit and I appreciate that greatly.  Encourage your friends to as well and feel free to leave comments), but I have a feeling (if I’m wrong, then please forgive me) that there might be some curiosity as to what I might recommend to readers for their fantasy interests.

So here we are!  Continue reading and I’ll provide some recommendations based on my extensive reading of the Fantasy genre.  I’ll also help provide some key themes and terms that (once again, please forgive me if wrong) may not be familiar.

Fantasy as a genre has been around a good many years.  Modern fantasy is a bit of a mixed bag depending on preferences.  For classics, I would be remiss to not steer you in the direction of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Both of these authors had a grasp of the genre that has greatly influenced just about every work to date in some form or another.

I can only recommend what I’ve read, so please don’t jump and claw at my face if there’s something you disagree with or don’t see.  Rather, throw out recommendations in a comment.  In no particular order of preference, length, popularity or any other critiquing factor, here we go!

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and completed by Brandon Sanderson) – If you read my previous On This Day post, then you’ve already been given some background info on this particular series.  Wonderful characters and world building with a complex and impressive magic system that plays a role in the story.  I would qualify this as a High Magic series which in general terms simply means the magic system is vast and influential throughout.

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin – I admit, I’ve only read the first two books of this series and will eventually return to it and finish once it’s been completed.  You can watch the show but be denied the complexity of plots and subplots Martin has woven throughout.  In comparison, this would be considered Low-Mid fantasy due to the downplay of magic.  It’s evident but not pertinent to the story.  The characters drive the story and are the reason to invest your time.  Note: If you’re put off by extreme violence and sex, you probably want to be wary.

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson – Epic in the sense that it feels grander in a shorter amount of total pages.  The first trilogy is where to start.  He has continued the story with a new trilogy that takes place centuries ahead of the first.  This is the series to read if you love inventive, imaginative magic systems.  Sanderson created such a magnificent system that screams of being adapted to film in the future.  Part crime caper and part chosen one story, you’ll love what he does to introduce tropes in the genre only to turn them on their head in ways that keep you reading well into the night and ignoring your bedtime.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson – Epic by all definitions.  Characters, world(s), magic, plot twists and turns.  Nothing is more vast than this series.  I struggled with it due to the complexity of the writing but highly recommend it despite that.  It’s truly mesmerizing in its scope and goal.

The Drenai Saga by David Gemmel – Hero fantasy.  Best way to put it.  The saga follows a singular hero and his many journeys in life.  The best of the best who survives against extreme odds.  There’s a fair amount of violence, some sex and even some humor.  Legend, the first book of the saga is a good introduction to the genre of fantasy.

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss – Easily one of the best out there.  Rothfuss spent years honing his craft.  There’s a type of lyrical flow to his writing that keeps you trapped in the world of Kvothe (pronounce K-woeth) who is a musician first and wizard/magician second.  Amazing writing and world explored in a first person narrative.

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie – Given the credit for being one of the forbearers of the most recent boom of what’s aptly called Grimdark Fantasy, this series is dark, violent, and depressing.  Characters are grey.  Heroes and villains are not denied vices and the “good guys” don’t necessarily win by the last page of these books.  Still, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre and would like to leave behind the clichés and tropes so many other series seem to get trapped in.

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchet – Want to laugh?  Then read this one.  Pratchett takes his readers on a ride through a witty, dry world that takes place on the back of terrestrial turtle shell (yes, you read that right).  With dozens of books in the series, you can read about the misadventures and quests of wizards, witches, Death, city watchmen and more in this instantaneous favorite.  Listening to these in audiobook format is equally fun.

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham – This ones less familiar in most circles but a very good series of Low Fantasy.  The magic system is unique and while it plays an integral role in the plot, it does not overshadow the characters.

The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook  – Preceding Joe Abercrombie, this series was Grimdark before the term was invented.  It follows a mercenary unit of soldiers caught up in a mess of twists and turns where they do all they can to survive.  Great world, characters and magic.  One of my personal favorites.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – While I was not allowed to read this series growing up, as an adult, I tried it out and fell in love with the characters and world.  I call this High Imagination.  I am not convinced this series is suitable for children as it explores very dark themes and elements throughout but I believe it’s a great work that explores the journey of adolescence into adulthood.  Whatever your feelings are towards it, it’s worth reading.


Call to Action: Recommend a book or series to me!  It doesn’t have to be Fantasy or even fiction.  Share with me something you’ve read and loved!

How’s It Going To Be

posted in: Writing | 0

Do you hear Third Eye Blind when you read that title?  No?  Drat.  How about now?!

Quick Edit: This is the last post about my transition to blogging.  Thank my wife for telling me to move on.  I apologize.  Back to the show!!!I thought I’d provide some transparency to everyone.  This blog will be an evolving entity as I continue to explore my schedule and the content I want to blog about.  I have some ideas but I know I don’t have the proven victorious method for successful blog writing quite yet.  I’m researching and probably going to take some chances and make some mistakes.  I’m okay with that and I hope those of you who continue to come here to read my words will stick with me.

That is not to say I’m newborn lamb, struggling to learn to walk.  I’m more than confident that I can undertake this new endeavor and conquer the hill.

My hope is to provide weekly/monthly posts with related topics that will appeal to writers and other creatives (new word I’ve come across and it’s going to become part of our lexicon!  If selfie can, then surely “creatives” can as well).

Other topics will creep in because honestly, I’m interested in so many things.  Some of these are best for bonding over and creating new friendships and some can be described as divisive subjects (like creamy or crunchy peanut butter–those topics wars are fought over).  These will be few and far between but everyone will learn quickly that I approach these topics at different angles than the more stringent folk.

To recap, this blog will explore from a writer’s perspective.  That’s the best way I can say it.  For example, let’s shift gears and switch to my love for writing.

Why do I write?  No better answer than to say I must.  Characters and the worlds they live within, surrounded by conflicts and desires, cannot be kept trapped in the imaginative mind (try and it gets messier than an outdoor Mumford and Sons concert in the rain).

For those who may not write, I’ll explain as best as I can while those who can and do write will be nodding in agreement.  We who write actually develop stories whether by a scene or in full as if we are playing with legos, putting brick by boring brick (Ha! A Paramore reference) into place, envisioning the final machination well ahead of the last piece being pressed into place.  There are no instructions though.

Each lego piece is a word and little by little we writers take each one and place them in the proper (not always perfect but proper) order until we’re finished.  However, satisfaction is not always there so we may dismantle what we’ve formed and add a few new pieces to make the finished product exactly what we want.  That’s all it is.  We write and form a story into what we want.  Whether or not others agree or like the final result, it’s not up to us.  It’s what we’ve envisioned and therefore created and gifted to the world–or in our case: readers.

I say all of this to bring one more point around (and I’ll explore it more in the future).  A writer should never seek to write something loved and cherished by all.  Frankly, there’s just too many damn people in the world to please!  Not going to happen.  Better yet, a writer should set out to write the story only they can tell and give it to those who’ve been waiting for it.  Seek to impact just one soul for the better and your goal will be worth it.  Impacting more than the one is just icing on the cake.

Call to Action: Legos, Lincoln Logs, or K’NEX?  I played with all and those who can somehow combine all three are gods of the playroom.

This New Venture You Be Having (spoken in a pirate voice)

posted in: Writing | 8

A blog is the diary/journal of this interwebs generation, except we actually want people to read whats cramped onto those pages and get feedback.  Same goes for me.  I have not blogged before and I’m hoping this will be a great way for me to share things that I honestly want to share but don’t always have an audience to share with.  Get to know the deeper shades of who I am (that reads very personal and…yeah).

I can’t say for sure when to expect new blog posts but they will be weekly.  My wonderful wife has already ordered me a planner so I can jot down ideas and look ahead.  This will be a great way for me to schedule my writing in a way I’ve not done before.

Writing is more than storytelling.  It’s a creative discipline.  I cannot speak for other artists like painters or sculptors or even dancers–all of whom I have great respect for.  My family is teeming with artists.  Hair stylists, dancers, painters, sculptors, musicians and even inventors.  All of us make up this smorgasbord (yes, I looked up how to spell that one) of ridiculous talent and creativity bent on taking over the world!!! Not really, but we’ll settle for changing and impacting it by love and positivity in any which way we can.

All of these require discipline.  There’s this passion coursing through our veins and brains to do more, explore more and experience more in each of our respective creative fields.  For me, I can write like a fish swims but only because I’ve challenged myself and made it a priority.  Blog writing is somewhat different but only in the sense that I’m not writing a story from start to finish.  For a blog, I’m giving you all some perspective (mine mostly) of life.  And my life is shifting.

This blog is the next step for me.  I’ve crafted and tooled my writer’s voice for more than 13 years now and it’s about time I share it beyond my novels.  For anyone who has read those, my voice is different, less personal really but here, you’ll all get to know the other side of me.  Less cursing and violence.  I kid, but truthfully: less.

So, I’ll end it here.  My new adventure is shared with all of you.  I hope you enjoy the journey and make yourselves a part of it by leaving comments and engaging in the Call to Actions I leave at the end of each blog post.  They’re meant to be fun and interactive.

Call to Action: What’s your creative outlet?  Even if it’s just as a connoisseur (gotta love those French words).