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).

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.

Pulp Diction: Writing Dialogue

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

I cannot tell you how to write dialogue.  There are some standard rules and basic principles attached but in the long history of writer’s writing dialogue for their characters, there is a spectrum of style and usage.  This is not an instructive attempt by me or “how to” post.  Instead, it’s more about how I have come to learn to write it.

A story without dialogue is…well, let’s just say not impossible to write but in my mind difficult and not really necessary especially in fiction.  Readers dive into fiction to experience the lives of the characters in the narrative.  The best way to do that is through the dialogue (external and internal) and actions of the characters.  I cannot for the life of me think any modern story would be a fun read if dialogue were removed.

(Actually, something tells me Tolkien could have done this but the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings would have been a fantasy history rather than an epic.  See the multiple appendices for Middle Earth for reference.)

When I started out, my dialogue writing was less than stellar (as it should have been by an eighteen year old with no experience).  It has taken years for me to learn the discipline to do so.  And I’m far from being what I’d like to be when it comes to dialogue.  I think my current venture into writing the film treatment/screenplay for my movie idea will help since dialogue plays a huge role in the telling of the story (no interior monologues included and all visual storytelling methods are used).

It’s easy for me to say all my characters in the beginning of my writing journey sounded the same (that’s just an easy way to describe it).  What I mean by this is, I did not understand how to write the “voices” of different characters very well but that’s because I did not have the practice or skills of diving deep into the characterization of each speaking person.  In my mind, this was not an important element.  Back then, I just wanted to write and create new worlds.  Start at the beginning and work my way to the end to see what I come up with.  The voices of characters was sort of tossed in the side bin labeled “consider adding later”.

Characters who do speak in the story have to be differentiated by a number of things.  Where were they born?  What were their experiences growing up?  What was the culture like in which they lived?  What is the extent of their education?  What religion, if any, did they practice?  What are their dreams?  What are their fears?  Did they suffer from any abuse or disabilities?  All of these factors shape people into who they are!

Now, you can go over those questions and easily say, “A writer has to know all of those for each speaking character in order to write dialogue?!  That’s crazy!”  Yes.  Yes, they do and yes it is.  Maybe this is why non-writers are so mystified (I embellish a bit by using that word) that writers (especially fantasy writers) can create so much and hold of it in their heads and write full epic stories from start to finish.  We’re not wizards ourselves, I assure you (or are we?).  What we possess is a strength in creativity that is just different.  I can easily admit I’m mystified (I do mean to use that word in this case for myself) at the creativity and ability of artists who paint, sculpt, sketch, compose, etc.  It’s something I envy and wish I could do!

When I start writing the main point of view character and begin to have them speak, I learn so much about them.  I wish I could explain it in a way that is academically profound but the truth is, I learn who they are as I write the words coming out of their mouths.  How they speak to others is just as enlightening!  Developing a relationship between them and family, friends, strangers, and/or enemies is part of the magic.  It’s writing interactions between my characters that gives me the most joy.  I could not write scenes upon scenes where dialogue is absent.  Some writers can and I applaud them but I need to write dialogue for the sake of keeping my characters and their journeys progressing forward.

Differentiation between characters and giving them their own voice in the story is difficult and takes practice but it can be done well and in a way that stands out to the readers.  This is important and I stress that to anyone who wants to write or has recently tackled the art of storytelling.  I cannot tell you how to master this but I can tell you it’s worth mastering.  There are plenty of resources out there that can help and I encourage looking for them, studying them, and putting those methods to use.  Stories should be vibrant in their descriptions and in their use of dialogue.

Call to Action: Listen to people and how they talk.  Pick a few you know and really keen in on the differences from you and from those you know well.  It’s amazing the little nuances people have in the way they speak that makes them an individual.

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!

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?

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.

Nothing to Write

posted in: Writing | 0

As I write this blog post, I am sitting in the dining area of the house we are staying at in Redding, Ca while at a leadership conference at Bethel Church.  This is the first chance I’ve really been able to write anything since we arrived and have been busy each day attending sessions and panels.  Going to these events and eating and resting while we have breaks between really hasn’t allowed for time to sit and write.  So, when I get the chance, I try to take full advantage.  Like now!

And…I’ve got nothing…

Ha!  Isn’t that the worst!  You all dropped by thinking, “Oh, I’ve got some time to see what Adam wrote today.”  Then you drop by and see this nonsense.  I’d apologize but I can’t.  You see, sometimes, writers have nothing new to say.

No, I’m not suffering through writer’s block or lacking inspiration.  No, to be honest, my brain has been in full process mode as my wife and I learn about leadership.  I guess that doesn’t mean it won’t translate to something in my writing.  It’s the opposite.  I have leaders in my writing but I don’t quite have the words to present you with this great thought-out expose on leaders in my writing.

Instead, I’ll just say that it’s really interesting to attend a conference like this and begin to process your life and the things you do in that context.  We do act as leaders in some aspects of our lives but we are also surrounded by them at work and church.  I honestly am more interested in how to be a better leader myself rather than compare others to whatever principles are being taught.  Everyone is on their own journey and I’d like to work on myself, not comparing or judging.

Now, if you actually come to me and ask my opinion of you as a leader, then I’ll give you a truthful assessment and hope you receive what I say and take it for what it is: just an opinion.  I could be wrong (but there’s more than likely some truth to what I’m saying, lol).  And, I’d hope others are willing to tell me where I stand out and where I lack in a leadership role.

Sorry about this being a little different blog post but I like to think people are curious to see and read some other things.  Not everyone is a writer, so I definitely understand that a lot of what I write might not be relevant.  My hope is that I can offer up some more general things for you all to read in the future.

Call to Action: We’re less than a week away from the newsletter!!!  Expect it on the 30th.  You can sign up when prompted on my website or use the contact form.

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.

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.

Don’t Start at the Beginning

posted in: Writing | 2

Today I’m focusing on where to start a story.  I think about this often, especially now that I’m working on flash fiction every month.  Due to the length of these stories being anywhere between 300-550 words, I have to approach them in a way that instantly grabs and holds the attention of the reader.If I started one of these flash fiction stories in a place just before the action, giving you only the lead up and then cutting it off…  Well that is precisely a cruel tease by definition.  That’s not my goal though.  My goal is to offer you a gripping glimpse into a space of conflict.  Obviously, the limitations in word count force me to get to the nitty gritty of the story of the main protagonist.

Hence, my approach is to give you, the reader, a short, concise scene of intrigue and information.  I do have the advantage of working within the confines of a series (see Shoals to the Hallowed) where I am progressing a main narrative but by providing small vignettes instead of robust chapters of detail, theme, dialogue, action, and plot.  All of these are given to you of course but not to the degree you might prefer (that’s coming.  Trust me).

Starting a story in the middle of conflict is (in my opinion and that of many others) the best way to grab ahold of the readers by the eyes.  For myself as a reader, I’m not interested in being thrown into a story where it’s a slow build up to the first bit of action.  I often come across advice encouraging writers (especially new ones) to begin at the middle of the first bit of conflict.

Immediate conflict reveals a great deal through the eyes of the main and supporting characters.  How they react and respond to whatever the current trial is, opens the reader to who they will be spending a great deal of pages with.  Go back to some of your recently read books.  Where do they start?  Does that work or would you rather have seen it start before or after?

As a writer, I want to present every story with the promise that if you keep reading, you’ll continually be turning the page because there’s more forward progress coming.  I think there was a time in literature where a slow burn approach worked and paid off but the trend has definitely shifted.  How many stories start with some form of misdeed, violence or realization that instantly affects the life and belief system of the main character?  I’d argue quite a bit.  It’s in these places that we want to begin a story and go until resolution if offered.

Call to Action: We’ve reached April!  That means the newsletter is coming at the end of the month.  As a reminder, this is the first and could evolve over time but you’ll be getting lots of good stuff that I don’t necessarily share or expand upon here on the blog.  At the very least, you will be getting an exclusive Ravanguard short story I wrote especially for the newsletter.  Sign up if you haven’t yet!  You can do so when prompted on the website or jump over 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.  Thanks again for stopping by and reading!

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

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

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.

Viewer’s Storytelling Recalibration

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

My wife and I watched the latest Disney animated feature, “Moana”, this past weekend and while I loved the movie, there was something that made my creativity gears start working (this happens alot when I watch shows or movies) and I wanted to share a bit of this…processing I possess.

This is not a review of the film.  Honestly, there is no reason not to see it.  Great music, story and humor throughout.  Fun for everyone!

So, this is what happens and I blame it on the writer in me.  I will often be watching something, and I’ll all of sudden wonder why a particular story moved in the direction it did.  Why did the character do that?  What caused that factor to play a part?  Why did they decide to shift the story in that direction?  All of these hit me from time to time and my wife knows because (only if we’re at home), I’ll pause what we’re watching and begin to tell her what they should have done.  Yes, I’m that guy but only when it comes to my wife and I watching something alone.  Don’t worry, I won’t do that if we’re ever enjoying a night in with friends in front of the old flatscreen.  I’ll hold my tongue.

Back to “Moana”.  This hit me (the most recent episode of what I’ll call “viewer’s storytelling recalibration”) when in the beginning I realized we’ve sort of hit on what a lot of Disney, Dreamworks, etc. animated movies do.  How many times do we see the theme of the main character, who has a dream, want to fulfill that dream but authority figures in their lives prevent them from doing so “for their own good”.  Without jumping on any kind of soapbox, I will admit the theme of rebellion against parents is kind of overused here and maybe not the best thing to teach children.  I digress (let’s avoid that whole mess of moral discussion for the time being).  So my “VSR” episode took place when Moana wants to sail across the sea but cannot because her people do not do that.  They stay to their island.  Guess what, she sets sail anyway.  But my thoughts went in another direction instead and wondered why they can’t explore another theme like say…conquering fear?

I paused the movie and asked my wife, “Why can’t they have her (Moana) sail the ocean at a young age but fails and then becomes afraid of the ocean?  This prevents her from even going near the water.  Then, something happens and she has to sail in order to help her family/village/island.  Why don’t we see this theme in these wonderful animated features?

Maybe I’m off but I can’t help but feel this is a great theme to explore, especially for children.  Rather than saying to them, “you’re fearless and no one should stop you from your dreams,” why can’t they say, “you were fearless, you tried and failed and became afraid but there’s an opportunity in the future for you to conquer that fear”?

These thought processes are not always fun to deal with.  As I’ve stated before, my mind wanders to my stories all the time now and I begin to “plot” or consider scenarios.  This has spilled over into the movies/shows.  I feel doomed…  No, not really.  I take it as a sign that I’m always creating and looking at stories from other angles.  The hope is that I can recognize in my own writing to avoid the obvious path.  Too often, the story takes a turn to the left when I planned or expected it to go right.  These are great moments.

Call to Action:  Am I wrong about the theme I stated in “Moana” and other animated features?  Am I missing something?  Let me know.  Thanks for reading!

Slow Burn the Beginning

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

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).

Book Art Coming Soon


Some more news to share with everyone today.  I’ll be working with a friend who is off at college and has a project he contacted me about.  This is also my friend who helped me launch the website and blog.  Major thanks are still in order for his help.

The project involves creating art and material for book promotion.  So, we’ll be working together in the coming weeks and hopefully have some things to share and use on the website.  I’ve got lots of ideas and a style I want to pursue that can spread across my writing projects.  Getting art specifically related to the different stories and worlds of the Ravanguard, Evinsaale and Shoals to the Hallowed will be quite the task.

For the book cover, we will be focused on the first novella, “Dim the Veil”.  I’m all about subtlety and minimalism when it comes to book art.  Some of my favorite are below.  This is not to say I’ll be copying these designs but looking for inspiration.  It’s these things I wish I was versed in.  I’m always thinking I should take graphic design classes but I really don’t know if I could add that to my plate and maintain my sanity.

So be on the lookout for these developments.  I’ll also be looking at making some aesthetic changes to the website/blog.  There are some features I’ve come across on other sites that I like and want to make available on my site.

The first newsletter is still set for an end of April release.  If you haven’t signed up, I implore you to do so.  With this new development and book art project coming, it may increase the content released.  I’ll definitely be exploring a newsletter art design as part of our to do.  Bookmarks?  Would anyone be interested in a bookmark gift or a brochure that serves as a primer for any of the series I’m working on?  These are all ideas worth exploring and being able to give out to those of you who sign up.  So make sure to do so!

Your continued support helps keep me going (I’d still write and release my writings no matter what.  Let’s be honest, hahaha) but I do appreciate all the kind words and whenever I get to talk to someone about my stories.  It’s fun to share and I look forward to growing my readership in the coming years.

Call to Action:  Follow me on Twitter @adamhenderson49, Like my author’s page over at Facebook https://www.facebook.com/adamhenderson49/, find me on Goodreads.  Stay connected!

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.

Time Will Tell

posted in: Writing | 3
I listened to a TEDtalks segment given by author, Laura Vanderkam, over this last weekend when my wife and I went out of town to do some shopping.  It was very relevant to me for a number of reasons and a bit of a confirmation because I already knew I wanted to write about time management and had the post set up to be written (I just love when that happens).

In a nutshell (where does that expression come from? Why not say, “In a conkshell…”?), she talks about setting priorities when it comes to time management for life in general.  I’ve provided a link for you all to go and listen.  It’s a short twelve minute segment but worth the time (pun!).

http://podbay.fm/show/160904630/e/1481904806?autostart=1

For the purposes of today’s post, I want to talk about my own time management process, using Laura’s suggestions as sort of a guideline.  It’s truly amazing how much time there is in a week, yet we often complain and/or think there is not enough.  I know my attitude towards it fluctuates depending on how annoyed I am that things are not getting done (this is entirely my fault too).  The key and what I’ve learned is that I, as a writer, have to make my writing a priority.  Plain and simple.  But I cannot sacrifice other priorities to make for this.  It’s a balance that takes effort and discipline to settle into.

Relationships and responsibilities are synonymous in my mind.  It’s my responsibility to make sure I put my relationship with my wife at the top of list.  Why?  Well, I could say, “because I love her,” but what does that mean?  Love is not an idea.  It’s a motion of forward progress.  Love requires action that (to me) puts her needs before my own.  And in retrospect, she puts my needs before her own.  In a perfect marriage, that means neither of us are in want.  This is extremely important to me as I manage myself and my days.

My relationships and responsibilities then move down the ladder, list or whatever you want to call it.  My relationships with my family, friends, coworkers, all require a level of responsibility that are not of equal importance across the board but require me to assign priority.  A co-worker of mine is not going to get the same attention as a friend and a friend will not get the same level of attention as a family member.  Sorry, it’s how I’ve chosen to manage myself and I choose how others will dictate that.  If you’re a friend and we have time set aside to eat, chat, or whatever, but my sister (let’s see if she reads this, lol), calls me and needs to talk, you can be guaranteed I will probably blow you off.  Nothing personal.  We’ll reschedule but my sister lives in Colorado and I miss her freaking face, voice and laugh (guaranteed she just laughed at reading that and is going to text me).

So when do I make time for writing?  How in the name of the wind (Patrick Rothfuss reference; more on him coming this month) do I set aside precious pockets of minutes to give myself to what I love most when it comes to my creativity?  How?  Well, I have a superpower where I can stop time.  Nah, not really.  Sidebar: In the movie About Time, I would absolutely do what the main character’s father did with the gift of time travel.  I would read and write like no tomorrow!  But alas, I have been denied the gift of time travel.  I trust in God’s ultimate wisdom to keep us on that solid line, never able to go back or forward beyond the point we are on right now.

My apologies for that weird rabbit trail.  Back to it then!

There are plenty of quotes out there from authors who lend us their own advice regarding time management as a writer but I know for me, writing every day is not limited to actually sitting at a keyboard and tapping away or having a journal, ledger, or legal pad in hand with pen jotting.  No, for me, writing is always a manner of thinking and exploring.  I’m always thinking about my books and now this blog.  I’m always considering where story lines can go or blog posts to explore.  Some of this is more recent but even back before I’ve stretched myself to writing more, I would find inspiration in so many things I did.  A recent development is I will actually lose focus while reading other works of fiction and start thinking about my own stories.  It’s a bit annoying but really just confirms in me that I’m in the right state of mind when it comes to what I love to do.

My writing is a priority but I manage the time spent to do it differently than I do with my relationships and responsibilities.  To me, it’s less about staring at the Word document and being conscious of each project’s status.  I write to finish the story.  My hope is that I never start something without finishing it.  Even the bad ideas, I’ve finished.  I make time because they are important to me.  Not the most important but important enough that I’ve pretty much gotten to a place where if I sit down to play video games, I only last a half hour because I lose interest.  In my youth, those things were a priority but they are pretty far down that ladder now.

My encouragement to anyone who may struggle with time management is to simply consider prioritizing the most important things in your life.  And don’t sacrifice relationships for success or anything else that is fleeting.  It’s not worth it.  I cannot imagine going through life without family and friends.  As a writer, who else would I rely on to be there to read my stories if not them?!

Call to Action: Listen to the short twelve minute segment by going to the link provided.  Hopefully, you’ll get something out of it.

Vilest Villainy Vowed to Venture

posted in: Writing | 0

(Alliteration is king.  I’m a big fan of the play on words and I hope you all enjoy them as much as I do.)

Villains.  The great antagonist exploration.  There’s a problem–or to say it better: a cliché–in fiction when it comes to the opposing force of the hero.  It’s more commonly found in epic fantasy but I’m sure it exists in other genres as well.  This cliché postulates that the villain/bad guy that brings forth the main conflict in the story is evil for the sake of evil.

Examples of this would be the White Witch (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Sauron (The Lord of the Rings), and in any other work that calls this force by any number of fear-inducing monikers (The Evil One, Chaos, Hades, etc.).

The problem with this practice (it’s not so commonly used today due to its overuse and relying on, hence becoming a cliché) is that it cheapens the story.  I struggled to understand this in the beginning because I was subjected to the ethereal essence of a dominating figure in the books I read.  This is probably my biggest gripe with fantasy nowadays (aside from the use of other clichés i.e., farm boy chosen one, damsel in distress, etc.).

How does this go away?  Well, for each writer, they have to write their own story.  My opinion won’t dictate a change across the board (I’m not that self-centered.  Remember, just a proud punk) but I can make sure I don’t fall into this myself.  For me, I look at antagonists who bleed and make choices based on beliefs/desires; those are the ones who better suit my stories.

There are many examples of this but one that I continually go to whenever I think of a truly terrifying antagonist is the Joker portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”.  The late Heath Ledger created a character–not just a villain–that was more than what we the audience expected.  I still remember sitting in that small theater in my hometown and processing what I had just watched while the credits climbed the screen.

Years later, I’ve come to think of antagonists in a very different light.  An all evil character that rests behind a wall until it can regain its form or strength is a distant threat.  Underlings are forced to bring minimal conflict to the hero until the “end” where the big bad is at full strength and the final battle takes place.  This usually involves the hero possessing some kind of knowledge, magic, or item that solely has the ability or helps to destroy the evil one.

We all know this story right?  It’s nothing new.  For me, it’s refreshing to come across an antagonist who subverts the expected.  Put me in the mind and position of an antagonist who can be crazy, self-centered and brutal but lead me through the pages in which I get a glimpse into their soul.  No one is evil for the sake of evil.  All figures in history we would label under that term became that way for a variety of reasons.

Choice is key.  An antagonist that makes choices based on their desires, needs and/or wants is far more compelling to me as a reader and writer.  It’s funny but I’m actually unhappy when I come across a villain that doesn’t meet this expectation.  I was very disappointed in Benedict Cumberbatch’s (come on, isn’t that just one of the funniest names to say out loud?!  Rolls off the tongue) portrayal as Khan in Star Trek.  I just wanted more.  Go watch No Country For Old Men and Skyfall and in those films you get amazing villains portrayed by the amazing Javier Bardem.

I know these are all film examples but I believe these are more accessible than throwing out names of literary villains that I’m not sure would be as well known.  Oh!  I thought of one.  Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes is a great literary (and film) example.  There you go, readers.  All of these are antagonists that are more than the great evil one.  They are flesh and blood.  These are the truly terrifying villains because I cannot determine what they want or will do to get their desires met.  Sauron?  Yeah, he wants to destroy everything that is good.  Sure, I’ll be rooting for the heroes to defeat him but you always knew where he was because he was trapped in his “cell” and I could not expect him to arrive at a moment’s notice.

I hope all this makes sense.  As always, this is my perspective and something I’ve learned for myself as a writer.  A truly terrifying antagonist is one who’s motives may not always be clear and their actions can surprise from one page to another.

Call to Action: Pretty simple one for today.  Watch the link provided to get a great list of villain clichés:

A Writer’s View: Processing the Social Culture

posted in: Writing | 0

My friends, this is a difficult blog post for me to write for no other reason except I am processing and for me (just ask my wife) I process difficult things through writing.  I feel that it helps me collect my thoughts and examine angles and perspectives I don’t often scrutinize at face value.A lot of things will be explored in this post and I want to make my stance very clear to you so you understand who I am and how I view the world around me.  I have no interest in argument or debate.  Why?  Because I try to hold myself to a standard that honors and values people who are different than me.  I have absolute interest in conversation that makes way for speaking and listening in equal measures of respect.

I’m not always good at this practice but I strive to get better and that often means I engage in conversations with people who hold different opinions, backgrounds and experiences than I do.  If you are one of those people, I hope by the end of this post, you’ll know and feel comfortable talking to me.  I hope you’ll know that I will listen to you and consider all that you have to say.  My desire is to create communication not division.

So, I hope that’s all clear.  If not, well…shoot.

I cannot be a writer in today’s age unless I am a student of people.  History, economics, religion, culture, politics, etc.  All of these intrigue and interest me because I write about these things.  Even in fantasy settings (much has changed since Tolkien and Lewis commanded the genre), all of these aspects of humanity are explored.  There are actual subgenres of fantasy that could be called socio-fantasy.  Sure, there are dragons, magic, and epic battles but the writers in the fantasy milieu are so impassioned now with people (thank you social media) that all of these leak onto the pages.

I am included in this.  I explore topics such as politics, religion, racism and individual rights in my books because in my mind, they must be present in order for a believable world to pop out on the pages.

This means that I am paying attention to the world, especially here in the US.  Now, I won’t engage in discussion or put any posts on social media about my opinion or stance on issues simply because the climate at the moment is very divided (and 140 characters is just too difficult to have any form of substantial discussion).  When I see family and friends openly clashing in a manner that is counter-productive and does not honor one another, I see no point in throwing my kindling into the flames.

That does not mean I am one of these people who says, “get over it” or “stick to (fill in the blank)”.  That is exactly the problem I am seeing.  If healthy, honoring conversations were taking place, then I’d be happier to scroll and read but the onslaught of divisive language just doesn’t interest me.  I have made the choice to abstain and process everything on my own terms, in my own way (which includes talking to my wife and forcing her to try to understand my blabbering.  Sorry, love).

So, I am processing it all and asking questions, researching and trying to get a grip on the issues.  None will be explored in this post (not what this long read is about) but rather I want to say that I am searching through it all before coming to conclusions.

I never want to be a person that reacts out of emotion.  Again, this is just not healthy for me.  I’ve done it before.  I had my years where I openly and looked for places to debate and argue.  I can honestly say that I wish I had not gone down those roads.  They were not productive for me as a young person finding my way in the world.

Each of us has our own sense of moral convictions based on any number of influences.  Mine will be different than yours and that’s alright.  I invite you to share those with me.  If we ever do meet up, I hope you will see that I am not easily offended.  To be honest, you’d have to go pretty far to probably get me to that place of anger (tell me one more time Lost is a horrible show and I’ll make a fan of you yet!  Kidding).

I’m a firm believer in managing myself first and others never.  Sorry, but that’s just a migraine and anxiety attack I’ll always prefer to stay away from.  You manage you.  It’s a good philosophy my wife and I practice in our household.  We practice with each other and that trickles into our relationships with other people.  Add in the discipline of creating healthy boundaries and I promise you life is better by a thousand percent.

As a writer, I actually try to throw these qualities into my characters.  Some are selfish and manipulative because I know in a perfect world, not all my characters can be perfect like me (proud punk moment and I’m kidding, of course).  I believe this practice helps my writing and lends weight to my stories in ways maybe not considered all the time.

I know this post is a bit long and probably not what might be expected but if I ever explore these topics in the future (guaranteed I will), I hope you all understand that I do so as a processing exercise and you all are my dart board.  I don’t have all the answers and will never claim to.  You’ll not get preaching or an onslaught of links or statistics from me.  What’s the point?  How does that honor you?  A blog post is not a conversation.

I’m not looking for people to agree with me or convert.  I simply want you who takes time out of your day to come here and read to get to know me better.  I’m sarcastic and a bit of a dork but I’m not smug or a douche.  You are an individual who deserves to be heard and seen.  It’s my goal to make sure everyone I talk to knows that.  That’s just who I am.

Call to Action: Oh, it’s a simple one this time around: take a step back, breathe and actually engage in a conversation with someone who you know views the world differently than you.  Don’t go looking for a fight.  Ask questions.  Listen, don’t interrupt and don’t feel like you have to win.  Honor and value above all else.

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)

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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.

To Outline is to (fill in the space)

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Something I’ve gone up against more than a few times is whether or not to outline when developing a story.  My history with it looks kind of like a self-assembling entertainment center.  The picture on the box catches your eye (that’s the idea of an outline) and I think, “Yep, that’s what I need before I start” but as soon as I open the box and empty the sections, brackets, screws, etc. onto the floor, I’m suddenly wondering if I’m ready to tackle the beast.

There are instructions out there for us to take in hand, study and then apply to our need.  But that requires some intermediate–let’s call them: actions!–to handle.  I’m a big believer in simply letting your creative abilities–drawing from the Well of Imagination (still not sold on the name but let’s play with it a bit more)–go and not thinking as you write/type/dream of the story you have to tell.

However, in my years of writing, I’ve also grown to appreciate the time and discipline taken to think ahead.

-This is the point in the blog where I give some history-When I first started brain storming and coming up with ideas for my very first book idea, I started with a history of the world, nations, people groups, etc.  This was so much fun as a beginner’s exercise before jumping into Chapter 1.  What happened next?!  Well…I struggled.  It was slow going, not at all fast and productive like creating the world building elements.  I cannot recall if I lost momentum or became so discouraged that I stepped away frustrated but I did keep writing and actually wrote a 400+ pg rough draft.  Huzzah!  But I was not finished.

Jump two books later–Book 1 of the Ravanguard series–and I suddenly found I could just write and let the water of the well flow with ease.  It was great and wonderful and all other kinds of happy slappy words until I looked beyond Book 1 and thought, “Crud…now what?”  I was not ready to write Book 2 but I had some ideas of where the characters and story could go next.  I had an apostrophe (Hook!).  Why not outline the next book?  The characters and world and other elements are already established so why not delve forward and let myself plan ahead and let those ideas marinate while I go back and edit the draft of Book 1?  Double huzzah!

What did I learn?  Through that process, I learned so many valuable lessons when writing and those will be explored in future blog posts.  But for outlining–or not to–I eventually came to a place years down the road where I believe there’s a happy medium–a balance of the forces–that can be employed to achieve success as a writer.

My encouragement for any new writers or even seasoned ones (I smell paprika and cumin) is to explore both fields of practice.  Write without outlining and outline before writing.  Find that balance!  Also and here’s the rub (now I want to go out and buy a roast with all this food talk), you’ll be stretching your writing muscles in ways that keep you loose and not tighter than a snare drum.  I believe in this writing method above all else.

Call to Action: What’s your favorite recipe for a roast, stew, goulash?  (Seriously, I’m hungry now)

No Plumber Can Clear That Blockage

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The subject of writer’s block is often discussed in writer’s circles (imagine a support group of creatives encouraging and tossing out their own remedies).  I think there’s some misconceptions about the term though that I want to work through here.

By definition, writer’s block is, “The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  Now, that’s a bit short-sighted to be honest.  Vague to say the least.  First of all, there’s no time attached to this or even the drastic worry we as writer’s feel when things simply aren’t clicking.  I am in no way diminishing the term.  What I’d like to do is offer up some insight.

I’ve never been one to put myself on a writing schedule or put the pressure of writing 500-1000 words a day.  In the beginning, I wrote, outlined, researched and looked for inspiration because I stumbled onto the new wonderful territory of imaginative output.  Like when you’re in a new serious relationship for the first time, I was all in.  Nothing could stop me!

And like the air let out of a balloon, my passion fizzled.  Writing became more difficult and I did not like what I had written.  I probably should not have undertaken the stressful endeavor of writing an epic fantasy novel for my first go but hey, I’m a glutton for a literary challenge.  From this came a struggle to be motivated or inspired to write anything new.  After I wrote a sizable chunk of the story, I sent it to friends to get feedback.  This was hard but I received vital critique and learned quickly I had a lot of work to do.

Out of this, I continued on my path and wrote/edited when I could or wanted but I also did not make it my main priority.  I was going to college and living life.  Now I would not classify that as writer’s block but rather a lack of desire–or wilted desire.  Stay with me here.  For me, I learned (now looking back) that any writer’s block or deficiency I was experiencing was actually just me learning and maturing through life.

Writer’s block is not a block at all (my opinion).  There is no sure fire creative/imagination plumber that can be called upon to clear those pipes.  Just do a search on Google for “writer’s block” and you’ll find all kinds of suggestions.  The key to this problem we face as writers is to be patient and find out what works for us individually.  Try the methods out there but don’t feel bogged down or broken if it doesn’t work.

Ten plus years jump into the future and whenever I feel uninspired to write or feel like anything that I put to a page is kafka, I walk away and explore my other interests.  A clearing of the mind can be attained by any number of methods.  Search for inspiration in the books, movies, songs, places you love.  Trust that you’ll find your way with fresh ideas and words.

Call to Action: If feeling blocked up (in the writing sense), go back to a surety of inspiration.  Whatever it is, spend time with it!

What even is a Ravanguard? (and how my writing journey began)

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Hello, hello everyone!  So, I’ve been somewhat active on Twitter in the last year after creating an account back in the early days of the app.  If memory serves right, I tweeting two times before going dark up until last year.  The reason?  I’ve only recently grabbed ahold of the benefits of the social media platform.  Late bloomer (but just in that regard).

I took to merely being a spectator on Twitter prior for sports and entertainment updates to be honest, but I quickly learned after following authors I enjoy reading that there really is a place and purpose to make connections with other people who enjoy the same things I do.

If you look through my timeline, though I cannot honestly understand why you would want to trudge back through that slow crawl, you can see I’ve made comments here and there about my progress with something called The Ravanguard.  Here’s where I shamelessly plug my current project.

More than seven years ago, I wrote a half-dozen page treatment of a scene where three mercenaries are crawling through high grass to gather intelligence of a town they were tasked to scout.  Now, this writing exercise was on a pure whim one day while I should have been at work shredding or scanning or some other menial task at an entry-level job that was supposed to be training me to be a technical writer.  Hint: they delivered on an empty promise but that story is for another blog post.

So, out of sheer boredom and just wanting to write something, I had an idea birthed out of the glory pool of creativity, which I like to call the Well of Imagination (Note: working name but subject to change when something better comes along).

This is often how my ideas come.  Not out of boredom, haha, but randomly and when I least expect it.  I’m then able to create and begin to form the muscles and tissue of a greater story.  At the time of this sudden magnificent birth, I had already been working on another series that truthfully faded into disappointment.  Good thing too!

Some background first (I know, you are settling into each subsequent paragraph just yearning to get to the answer to the question posed in the title!  Or, at least I tell myself that’s why you’re still reading this thing).

I have written two books since I first started writing as a senior in high school.  Both of those ideas started in much the same way as the Ravanguard series but with a lot more blackened frustration and broken creative bones as I truthfully did not know how to write an epic fantasy book.  I only got into the fantasy genre because a friend introduced me to Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World my freshman year.  The fire was lit though and I spent the next few years ingesting as much fantasy as I could.

Those two books of my own were honest efforts though and while I would only offer up samples of those to the highest bidders, I can honestly say I learned to craft and find my voice by doing what so many established writers tell us who are novices: keep writing.

Well, I did keep writing and after those two less than acceptable tomes of inadequacy, I found myself suddenly writing a new story that developed into a world with characters I actually found had souls.  The early title of the book was called The Raven Vanguard.  A delightful 200k+ romp about a motley mix (redundancy alarm!) of grey-hearted bastards bent on making life tough for people just wanting to live a simple life.

As many other writers have experienced, things changed through the process of writing.  I’ve been writing and editing this story for over five years now and with that came a tasty title change.  The Raven Vanguard became The Ravanguard (do you see what I did there?).

In conclusion, The Ravanguard is a fantasy series currently standing at three novellas and three novels with the fourth entries of both in outline form.  My diabolical master plan is to provide the first bits of the first novella, Dim the Veil, to everyone after I’ve received feedback from my beta readers.  If any of you actually want that sooner than later, I’ll provide the contact info of said beta readers to the highest bidder!

Until then, I hope I’ve provided you all with some well-deserved background.

Call to Action: What’s your favorite fantasy-based book/movie/video game antagonist?  And why?