plot

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Lazy River or Raging Torrent a.k.a. The Many Rights of Pacing

Pacing, pacing, pacing!  It’s one of the most vital elements to get right in a story and it’s one that I wind up commenting on often in my Starving Reviews.  The problem with reading my reviews to learn about pacing is that the ‘right’ pacing for any work is an elusive beast.  When I say in a review that the pacing was ‘sluggish’, that may mean something different depending on the book that I’m reviewing.

Pacing, maybe more than other core plot elements, is fluid.  You need to think of pacing as a river.  A river is water flowing down a channel.  You want a safe current down that river, but how much water you need to make that current depends on the channel that’s cut.  It also depends on what you want to do in that river.  Do you want to go white-water rafting or spend a lazy day fishing on the river bank?

To turn the comparison back into actual literary terms, the ‘right’ pacing for a particular piece is determined by theme, content, genre, and the plot itself.  Action pieces may call for a swift pace.  Introspective pieces may call for something steady and methodical.  It’s even quite likely that the pacing of a work will slow and speed, alongside the rises and falls of the dramatic curve.  This all serves to reinforce the other elements of the book and the all-important dramatic tension of the plot.  This is why pacing can be such a dominant force in whether a reader loves or hates a book.

So, when you put together your next work, pay attention to the ebbs and flows of your plot and use the pacing to help enhance and reinforce that plot.  The pace is the spine and the speed limit of your tale.  You need both to be just right to create the best works you can!

Questions, insights, or critiques?  Drop them in the comments below!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Life Isn’t Lived in Chapters! a.k.a. Non-standard Novel Structures

Let me start this off by saying a critical statement:

There is nothing wrong with the traditional chapter format for a book!

That’s important to say because some people think that any advocacy for new techniques and new formats in any sort of media is a condemnation of what has come in the past.  The normal chapter format is great and I’ve used it for the majority of my own writing.  That isn’t to say though that there isn’t merit in writing in a non-standard structure.

Take Dracula for example.  While there is a linear timeline, it is written and structured as a collection of journals, newspaper clippings, and other writings as opposed to a straight-forward narrative.  Likewise, a shifting, out-of-order timeline can turn conceptions of how the characters and plot develop on its head.  What about the book-within-a-book concept, utilizing in-universe fiction to inform us about the actual world and plot of the story?

Even something as simple as alternating viewpoints is a deviation from the standard narrative structure, especially if you use an approach of conflicting unreliable narrators.  Take inspiration from such famous narratives as the films Rashomon and The Usual Suspects.  There’s a wealth of options to explore in creating both a unique story AND a unique way to tell that story!

Think about what would work best for the plot, the characters, and the themes you want to explore in your works.  Never limit yourself to traditional narratives, but also never forget that they exist!  Sometimes, the old ways ARE the best!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: No Bad Guy, No Problem a.k.a. Eschewing Traditional Antagonists

Stories thrive on conflict.  There’s conflict at the core of any novel, whether it’s immediately apparent on not.  Naturally, with the structure of conflict, we expect to find a protagonist and an antagonist, the typical dichotomy of opposing forces.  However, haven’t we all read stories and novels that we enjoy where there is no obvious antagonist, no dark lord, no cruel mastermind?  How can we explain the success of these tales if conflict is the core of a good tale?

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Writing Is A Bad Habit: It’s Like Something Out of a Cheesy Novel! a.k.a. Lampshade Hanging

Last week, we talked about embracing tropes and archetypes, as well as a little bit about how to use them properly.  In the further past, we specifically spotlighted reconstruction and deconstruction as means to that end, but there are other ways to make tropes acceptable and endearing to your readers.  Get ready for some interior decorating, friends, as we hang some new lampshades on everything!

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Writing Is A Bad Habit: Impress The Readers! a.k.a. Jotun Through a Writer’s Eyes

Hand-Drawn-Art

Jotun, from Thunder Lotus Games, is an amazing game, at least in my estimation.  Now, I’ve mentioned before that I believe that video games are great and everyone should play them, but that doesn’t mean that all video games, even great ones, are of value to analyze to help a writer on their way.  Jotun is not like most games though, so we are going to take a look at what it can teach us as writers today.  We’ll take a look at the characters, plot, pacing, and style.

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Monday Musings: Inclusiveness, the Lifeblood of Creativity

Right, so the 2015 Hugos happened.  I was considering writing an article in greater specificity about what happened there, but there are far better sources of information out there than I.  Still the whole kerfluffle set my mind to musing which led to this article that wot is here now.

Variety is the spice of life, right?  It’s a hackneyed phrase, but it really is true.  If we continue in a rut or move through a continual unchanging cycle, life gets boring.  I don’t think that’s really something that can be debated, at least seriously.  The same thing connects into art and creativity.

Yes, you can create the same things continuously, using the same ideas you always have, but there are only so many configurations you can put those blocks into.  You might think this statement conflicts with some of my other articles about the core conflicts and the total number of plot lines out there and the like, but, as I also said in those articles, the way to innovate those core conflicts and plots is with new twists and new interpretations.  In other words, new ideas.  Variety.

How do we find this variety in thought and experience?  We include.  We welcome new points of view, new people, and new cultures.  This really heralds back to the terrors of the echo chamber.  Our creativity stagnates if all we listen to, all we read, all we experience comes from those with our same backgrounds and our same ideas.  To expand our creative bounds means stepping outside of our cultural bounds, to seek to understand the ‘other’.

So, if you don’t include others, don’t try to grasp the important of understanding, and never step outside of your comfort zone, expect your creativity to stifle and your writing to wilt.  We won’t even talk about the social and emotional complications.  The world is moving forward, slowly and lurchingly, to a state of equality and understanding.  I’d reserve yourself a ticket if you haven’t already.

Writing Is A Bad Habit: The Eight Deadly Words a.k.a. Creating Character Investment

“I don’t care what happens to these people.”

These eight deadly words comprise the sentence you never want your readers to utter.  It is the death knell of creative character-driven media of all kinds.  If the readers don’t care about your characters, they won’t care about your narrative either.  It’s important to note that ‘caring’ about characters does not always equate to ‘liking’ them.  A reader might like a character, but not be invested in them and, to flip it around, a reader might hate a character but be totally entranced by their actions.

So how do we combat this and avoid those eight words?  The first and most obvious step is character relatability.  Again, a relatable character doesn’t have to be liked or disliked, just understandable.  We’ve talked about this quite a bit, but it never hurts to reiterate this.  Characters need to have motivations, thoughts, and feelings that make sense.  If these things make sense to your audience, they will relate to the characters and, likely, become invested in them.  It’s the classic ‘we like what we understand’ thought in action.

There are other things we should do to create this needed investment.  Another way to create that ‘caring’ from the reader is to ensure that there is sufficient risk in the plot line, that there are stakes to the conflicts involved.  Not just stakes, but stakes that fit the conflict involved.  If there is no risk or stakes or drama connecting the plot and the characters, there’s no compelling reason for the reader to become invested in the plot, no matter how they feel about the characters.  Yes, you can have a fully character-driven scene or story, with no real tension from the plot, but that won’t sustain a full-length novel very well.

I think the ‘appropriate stakes to the conflict’ part is something that is often a stumbling block.  Not that you can’t sometimes overblow the stakes, hinging lives on a stand-up comedy routine as an example, but it’s usually best to keep them under wraps.  You especially can’t understate the stakes.  The stakes to a gunfight, for example, needs to, at the least, be the lives of the protagonists, if not more, otherwise there is no tension and no investment.  Risk, sacrifice, and threat are all vital to creating that investment we all desire, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or social.

What techniques and elements do you use to ensure that your readers care?  If you’re just a reader, what do you look for in the characters that you do invest it?  Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!