Man, the high from finishing a story can really carry for a few days. I'm feeling GREAT today. Knocked out two game reviews, finished the short story / novelette / novella (really depends on your word count preferences) and had a really good wrestling practice this morning.
If I may gush over my students for a moment... they are doing awesome work. Pro wrestling is physically demanding, mentally straining, and frankly, it can be scary. You're hurling yourself into the air and trusting that someone you meet once a week is going to keep you safe. I'll tell you this, pro wrestling builds friends faster than any other interaction I know of. Once you've put your life in someone else's hands, you better be friends.
Anyway, now that the story is out of the way, you know the drill. Each day for the next week or so I'll post the story. It's unlikely I'll post an entire chapter as they're about 2000 words on average, but you'll get a good chunk with a satisfying conclusion each time. I'll probably take a break in the middle of the week to do another Paladin Playlist, but then we'll be right back into it.
Guys, I'm super excited about this story and I hope you enjoy it. It was written for one person specifically, but I hope you'll all take the same enjoyment from it. So with that said, I need to get the story cleaned up and ready for your eyes. Watch this space, as they say.
Don't Forget to be Awesome!
Read the title, man, I'm swarmed. Swarmed and I love it. I've got a few tweaks to the main manuscript for The Paladin, of course, but I've been blazing through the short story I promised this last week. Inspiration finally hit, and I've just been knocking it out of the park every night. Two thousand words here... fifteen hundred there... it's been great. In fact, I'm pretty certain once I get this posted that I'll be able to completely finish the thing! Finally!
Add to that two game reviews I'm knocking out tonight with a request for a third one due in a week and I'm just swimming in opportunities to write. Yeah, I'm doing other stuff, too. I mean I filmed some chuckleheads this morning like I do every week and of course I have my university job that I find quite fulfilling, but having so much stuff to write and such different things to write about... it's just amazing. I guess really I just needed today's blog to vent how satisfied I am at the moment.
For a writer, satisfaction is an elusive beast. If we have only the one topic, or worse, no ideas at all, chasing satisfaction and happiness with your work can be difficult to say the least. If all I had was The Paladin, I'd be poking holes in it that didn't need to be there. Sure, there's certainly some edits that I'll miss and need to be addressed, but that's what editors and agents are for. I'm talking about seeing stuff that isn't there. Destroying good, quality work because all you can do is see the negative. But with all this writing work around me, I just don't have the time to focus on the negative.
If I can take what I'm doing today, the amount of writing that swirling around me waiting for my personal touch, and just inject some more money into the scenario, I'll be golden. But writers rarely become rich. That's why you know the names of the ones that do; its a rare occasion. Still, if can just make a living off all this writing, I'll be more than happy.
I'll be satisfied.
One of the best feelings in the world is the first time you write a character in any depth. That's when you really get to see what they're like. You know what their traits are, you know their background, but for the first time, you get to see it all unfold. It's a unique experience and can be really, really fun.
In case you're wondering, yes, I got to write a new character that I hadn't played with before. It was invigorating. Watching her match wits with the main character, move about her space, interact with her world, it was enlightening. It told me more about her and now, more than when I created her, I know how she's going to act when the end of the story rolls around.
You know, it occurs to me that this must seem really weird to people that don't write. That to take such enjoyment, such entertainment even from just writing. And even more that different subjects produce different reactions. Well, I don't care if it's weird. I like this new character. I enjoyed writing her and seeing where she went and I just might find a way to use her again someday.
So should you do this for every character? I mean... you don't have to 'pants' everything. It's good to make sure you've plotted out your characters, played with their characters, and thought about their backstory before you ever write with them. But I think there's a difference depending on what you're writing. In a short story your characters won't be around long enough to really draw out a long plot. Discovery writing there I think is definitely permissible. But in a novel? Something with a lot of ins and outs? Maybe have that person researched a bit before you start.
Is it coincidence that I laid out suggestions that excuse the actions I took for my novel and short story, thus making them both permissible though contradictory? Look over there! -smoke bomb-
Be Excellent to Each Other
There's something about sitting down to write something that's grabbed your attention, something that you're excited about, that really gets me jazzed. When you write and write and write and then look to see that it's 4:00am... that's a special kind of feeling for a writer.
I've taken a little time away from my main projects to focus on the short story that I've been promising since, like... May? Jeez... Well, as long as it gets done and you all get to see it, it's worth however long it takes. And I'm really enjoying working on it, too.
Like I've said before, it's something I haven't done before and I'm really excited to see your reactions to it. So you know what? I'll let a little bit slip. This upcoming short story is going to be a low fantasy / mystery. Magic will be present, but not important, and the main thing is solving a mystery.
Now, I've definitely written fantasy before, but mystery is something completely new to me. I've had to do a lot of research into how to write one, how to keep things exciting, how to lay hints, and so much more. It's stretching my writing ability since my other works like The Paladin aren't really mysteries. Sure, there's some mysterious elements and a few instance of trying to figure out who did what, but all in all, it's no mystery.
The other part of this, much like Wolves and Wild Roses and Val's Blog is that I'm playing with someone else's character. And world, really, but mostly it's an intriguing main character that I'm thrilled to mess around with. I think that's something that all writers should try at least once. Find someone who will let you play in their toybox for a bit. Whether its a one time thing or something you set up with a writing partner. It's almost like fan fic, but with a bit more respect in the writing community.
So, once I knock this short story out, I'll have it up for you guys to read and enjoy and, really, I'm excited to see what you guys think. So make sure you keep an eye out.
I've mentioned it before, but I don't bring music into my playlist, or really my life, in albums. I hear something in passing. I catch something in a movie. An anime or video game plays a killer track. That single song gets Incorporated into my playlist because it does something to me.
Soundtracks are the best. The composers for soundtracks are already looking to elicit a certain feel. To make you feel brave. Uncomfortable. Romantic. Scared. So, knowing that I'm dealing with a story that involves monsters and demons, it's only natural that when I need to get myself in a certain brainspace, the soundtracks for some of the most famous thrillers and horror movies would be a good start.
The Exorcist. Probably one of most classic horror films there is. I mean, if you break it down, it gets a little silly and some of the lines and effects haven't aged well, but there's no denying that it still has a presence. Just the mention of the movie can evoke certain feelings. Heck, it was good enough that people demanded a series based on it. And the string that ties all of it together is that haunting melody, the main theme. It's simple. It's quiet. It gets your blood moving, but remains in the background just enough to let your brain wander. To let it fill in the gaps. Was that a shadow? Maybe just the house settling? The song doesn't guide your imagination by the hand like some songs do, but it certainly give it suggestions on which paths to follow.
So, please enjoy the theme from The Exorcist.
It's that time again. Once more my friends over at Smash Fiction asked me to step up to the mic. So this week, if you head over to the Smash Fiction podcast (you can listen here or grab it on any pod catcher) you can catch yours truly advocating for the one... the only... BEOWULF!
Yes, this week we have a four way dance with Beowulf squaring off against Lancelot, Odysseus, and Cu Chulainn. It was a heck of a battle to research for, especially on top of everything else I was already doing. Trying to figure out what the most pertinent weak points of my three opponents might be and what to stress about Beowulf (I mean... what isn't impressive about Beowulf?) was quite the challenge. I had a blast, like always, and I look forward to the next time I'm called to Court of Geek.
But since we're talking about epic heroes, let's take a closer look, shall we? What makes a character an epic hero? At first this sounds like an impossible question to answer, but thanks to the good people at Writing Excuses I have an answer. They refer to them as "iconic heroes." It's not about the magnitude of the adventure or the historic nature of the text. It's about the character themselves and, basically, your epic hero is one who isn't changed by the events of the plot.
Lancelot, Beowulf, Cu Chulainn, Odysseus, Hercules, Conan the Barbarian... they don't change. They don't come out on the other side of their grand quest a better person. Or a worse person, for that matter. They come out as they entered. They are a rock, an archetype that we can rest on for stability. They will always be as they are and no hardships will alter that. That is what makes a hero and an epic hero.
They don't change because they already embody what is most desirable, most admirable in a hero. Whether it's strength, cunning, bravery, or some mixture, epic heroes stand above the rest. Now... does that make them better heroes? Most certainly not. Flawed, human heroes are far more interesting these days, but there's something to be said for those iconic heroes. They inspire new tales even today. How many times have we re-told the tales of Arthur? How many stories took inspiration from Beowulf (I'm looking at you, Elder Scrolls.)? Would we even have Superman if not for Hercules? All I can say for sure is... you better freakin' listen to that podcast. MeganBob put us in a very weird, slightly uncomfortable lightning round and I need others to share in this and ease the stress on my poor brain!
Be Excellent to Each Other.
I spent a good portion of today working with some of my favorite secondary characters. Playing with them, seeing the subtle cues the left in the text, and wondering which ones readers will like the best is always fun. Surprisingly, I've had different betas pick just about all of them as their favorites, which is really encouraging.
So what's secret to good secondary characters? I mean, I'm flattered you're asking me, but there's better people to consult. Still, since you're here, I might as well give my two cents. And since The Paladin is loaded with secondary characters, I can give a few different thoughts about what I think and what I've done with all of them.
When I come up with secondary characters, really their personality is sort of dictated by the needs of the story, first, then fills out from there. I still do a lot of deductive character building when them, so when I figure out what role I need, I can use that to decipher what their personality might be like. If someone holds a high rank in an organized military-esque organization, it's unlikely they'd be juvenile or immature. If they are, there should be a good reason, like nepotism.
Making sure their personality fits the role they've been placed in is key to getting them started, but I think the next thing is creating something about them that's relatable. Something human. I'm sure you've heard it before, but even your villain needs something in them for your reader to grab onto. Evil for evil's sake is really hard to pull off. At the same time, you need to make sure that they're still in the wrong. If your reader decides the bad guy is right, that Thanos was right to kill all those people, then you risk losing their interest in your main character.
The last part I'll mention ties in with relatability, and that's the details. These are what really makes the characters pop and come to life. Their motivation. Their desires that aren't tied to some overarching plot arch. Does your character collect bells? You don't have to throw it in the reader's face, but if they happen to pass a bell, make sure they take time to admire it. Or steal it, I don't know. Point is, these people need to have lives outside what the reader sees. Even if you never directly reference them, knowing their interests and hobbies helps flesh them out in your head so you can flesh them out on the page.
So there's my thoughts. What about you guys? What secondary characters do you really like and why did they stand out so much to you?
So what are your writing plans? It's good to take stock of what you've done and where you're headed every once in a while. I just recently went through a lot of my boneyard stuff to decide what would help me out in my next manuscript. I'm also considering a lot of new things, too, something that preoccupies my mind a lot these days.
But beyond that, I'm most excited that my stuff is in front of agents. Pitch Wars is a wonderful opportunity that's really forced me to get my butt moving on this novel. I've been poking at it, editing, rearranging, rewriting, and just overall messing with the novel for a long time. I've never felt like it was quite ready, like there was always something I could do to improve it. I'm sure that's not a terrible mindset to have, but eventually the book has to get in front of others. Pitch Wars having such a short window of opportunity really forced me to step up. Now I just have wait. And wait.
So while I'm waiting I have my short story to work on. And a few game reviews to get in. I'm still pretty happy with the game review gig. Not every game is a gem, but I'm getting free videos and getting my name out there as a published contributor to multiple websites. Exposure is never a bad thing when you're trying to build your brand.
Also, I really need to get that short story knocked out. I'm 1/4 to 1/2 through. I could probably brute force it in a few days if I did absolutely nothing else, but I've been focused on so many other things. It's a strange little story that's been testing my abilities since it's not my usual fare. I've had difficulties matching tones and characters, but I think it's still coming out nicely and I'm excited to complete it and get it out to all of you.
That's about everything for today. I gotta get back to the coal mines, because on top of all this writing, I have a few awesome surprises I can't wait to announce. Until then.
I must've talked about tropes and cliches a hundred times now, but I had to add another one, even just a small snippet, because I heard the best analogy today. First off, I'll reiterate: tropes are not bad. Tropes are just tools and their use is what defines them as good or bad. When a trope is used poorly or just saturates a cultural consciousness, then it becomes a cliche. But tropes themselves, nah... they're fine.
So here we go. Tropes are like vegetables. Fresh vegetables will always taste better than canned vegetables. When you use a trope poorly, we can taste the can. Howard Tayler, writer and illustrator of Schlock Mercenary, said that on a recent episode of Writing Excuses. Man, that really put things in a easy to understand light for me. Hopefully you'll get something out of it, too.
So when does a trope become something bad? Well, you could look back at my other dozens of blog posts on the topic, but since you're here, I'll see what I can come up with. A trope becomes bad when you've either done something the exact way it's been done a hundred times or when you've employed it without understanding why. When you're going through the motions, I think that's the easiest time for tropes to break down. Your plot becomes predictable, or at the very least, unsurprising. Yes, there is a difference and let me elaborate by talking about the trope I hate the most.
Ever since M. Night Shyamalan started hitting us with twist endings, people have been tripping over themselves to follow suite. They want to subvert expectations, subvert tropes. So much so that trope subversion has become a trope. I'm not lying! Here's the link to TV Tropes. I think, and this is Matias' opinion here, that whether it's following the Hero's Journey or trying to subvert audience expectations, a lot of writers have fallen into this habit of just following examples. It's weird, but, yes, seeing someone swerve the audience and wanting to do that yourself is following their lead. It doesn't matter if your characters aren't like theirs or your story is a completely different genre. A lot of people are trying to subvert tropes just to subvert them.
So here's where I talk about predictable versus unsurprising. See, when I know what the character is going to do, more or less, it's predictable. It follows the trope, so I know when the trope demands. But if the writing, not the characters specifically, follows a certain path, I can see a different trope. True, I may not know what the character is going to do, but I know what they aren't going to do. Why? I can follow the writer's path and see that they're building up to subverting a trope. That means I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm expecting that. I hope that makes some sense. It did in my head.
This can get really dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. I'm not going to go too deep because to hell with that, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Did it subvert expectations or did it just pull the rug out from under the audience? One is done with skill and precision and the other is done just to say "Ha! Didn't expect that, did you?"
I'm not taking a side because that movie is too politically fueled. There's no good side to be on and I'll be reviled regardless of which side I take. The point is, it's an excellent example of trope subversion. I'll let you guys decide if it was done right or wrong.
The point here is this: tropes are like a Lego set. We all have the same pieces. No one is going to sit down and mold and press new Legos and they're wasting their time if they think they can. But we don't have to build out set according to the instructions. If we decide our spaceship needs pink thrusters and an automatic pizza machine, then we can do that! If we decide it's not a spaceship at all, but a giant pizza flinging robot, that's great too! None of the blocks we're using are new and none of them are bad. It's what we do with them that decides their worth.
Don't Forget to be Awesome!
So I apparently don't stumble into music like the average person. My radio's broken, I don't listen to Pandora, instead I just stumble across single songs as part of other endeavors. That means my writing playlist is a patchwork of smooth jazz and bossa nova paired with death metal and J-pop. I never know where my next favorite song will come from. But there are a few "wells," if you will, that I can reliably pick new songs up from.
RWBY, specifically Jeff Williams with the amazing vocals of Casey Lee Williams, are always a good fall back. That show captured me with its visuals, but it kept me with its beats. This song, Ignite, is no different. I stumbled on it and now, much like every new song I like, I'm going to be listening to it over and over and over until I hate it. Well... until I like it slightly less and am ready for a different song.
Ignite, like a lot of the RWBY soundtrack, is meant for beatdowns. Got a badass character that needs some fleshing out in your head? Play this and write! Got a fight scene and need inspiration? Play this and write! Really, you can't go wrong with hitting shuffle on a Jeff Williams playlist. If it's not perfect for beatdowns, it's perfect for dark narrative. Or growing friendship. Or exploring the unknown. Or any other countless moods that writers, especially us fantasy writers, love to get in.
So, sit back, buckle up, and enjoy Ignite, written by Jeff Williams and featuring the incredible voices of Casey Lee Williams and Lamar Hall.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.