Category: Writing (page 1 of 76)

From the Vault: Write Angry

Today feels like it’s going to be a big change for me. Which is good, I have needed it. But I have also been struggling with a lack of inspiration, so while I head downtown for what is hopefully the first day of a new endeavour, here’s a reminder to myself – and to you – about the best time to write. Even on a Monday.

Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

Mondays can be difficult. Yesterday especially was a trial. The days in which I am legitimately frustrated, angry, or stressed about a project in front of me have been few and far between, but this was a doozy. I drove home from the office hours after I’d usually leave, thinking about how tired I already was, the level at which I was enervated, and keeping the fury from informing the hands on the wheel.

It occurred to me that it was the perfect time to write.

Neil Gaiman has said you need to write when you’re uninspired. This is true. Chuck Wendig’s advice on when and how to write tends to be condensed into little profane gems like “Art Harder, Motherfucker!” and I agree with him, as well. Indeed, it applies no matter what emotional funk you might be in: a dark one, a dour one, a sad one, an angry one.

If you’re a writer, it’s important to keep writing. Remember that the words you don’t write will never be read by another person. That world in your head will never really come to life. Just keep that in mind.

From The Vault: Let Your Characters Speak

I’ve been completely off of my rhythm for the last few days. I’m trying to get back on track and focus up on the important tasks in front of me. While I do, here’s a piece on showing and not telling.

“Because I say so.” How many times have we heard that phrase? Parents say it to children. Employers say it to their employees. Unfortunately, writers also say it to their characters. When a character does something that seems entirely unreasonable, or makes a sudden change to their behavior based on little more than impulse, or there is a drastic change in an adaptation between the original character and what we as the audience experience now, it’s because the writer says so. The plot or the writer demands it.

To me, there are few things lazier.

Letting the plot dictate the actions of your characters robs them of their agency. Without agency, your characters become even more difficult for the audience to engage with on a meaningful level. If your audience is disengaged, how are they supposed to care about the story you’re trying to tell? Just like a good Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons acts more like a guide for their players than a dictator, so too does a good writer gently guide their characters rather than imposing themselves upon events, undermining the characters’ wills and reducing their significance.

Even more egregious, to me, is the writer who seems to preserve the agency of a character but railroads them into something that goes against their development for some author-centric reason. If you ever find yourself saying “This character wouldn’t do that” or “Why did this scene happen in this way? It makes no sense for them to do this,” you’ve seen what I’m talking about in action. I’m avoiding specific cases in the name of avoiding spoilers, but that’s what the comments are for! Let’s talk about some of these things, especially ones that piss you off.

We need to be on the lookout for this sort of thing. There’s no excuse for lazy writing. Not even a deadline is an excuse for a story that makes no sense or does not engage us. If you are writing to inform, to inspire, or even just to entertain, it is worth taking the time to get the words right, set the scene just so, and let your characters speak for themselves, rather than cramming words into their mouths that don’t necessarily fit.

Your characters are more than pistons in your story’s engine. Remember that, and your story will be that much better for it.

From the Vault: Theorycrafting

I am giving some serious thought to jumping back into the mix of tactical planning, visceral satisfaction, and utter frustration that is League of Legends. To that end, and since I’m not quite back on the review train yet, here’s a relevant post from back in the day that reflects what I’m doing now: planning builds and investigating new Champions. I am, once again, theorycrafting.

Courtesy Riot Games, Art by Akonstad

In this blogging space I’ve talked about writing and gaming in tandem. I’ve tried to give each a fair amount of time, but I’ve never really examined the connection between the two. Other than the overactive imagination, I think a big part of my inclination towards these activities is my tendency towards theorycrafting.

I haven’t been playing Magic: the Gathering that often in the last couple of weeks, mostly due to the hours I’m spending at the office lately. But I do love deck construction. I like seeing the cards available to a particular set or format and trying to find ways of putting an effective threat together, especially if it’s in a way that’s been unexplored. They don’t always work, of course, but that’s part of the appeal of experimentation: taking a chance to see what happens. I try to plan as many contingencies as I can before the game even starts.

The same could be said for the way I approach League of Legends. I spend some time looking over the abilities, statistics and build orders of various champions, toying with different sequences and combinations. When Nautilus was released a few weeks ago, I found his art, story and kit so appealing I picked him up and started toying with builds immediately. In fact, I’m still doing so, in order to find that balance between taking punishment and dishing it out. I may go more in-depth at another time as to why doing so in this game feels more satisfying to me than, say, StarCraft 2, but like my Magic decks, crafting and tweaking a champion’s progression long before I fire up the game is rewarding, especially when I manage to help the team win.

Part of this may be due to my experiences as a Dungeon Master. I delve into rulebooks and supplementary material, draw up maps, lay out stats and even stories for the NPCs and so on. I used to lay out elaborate and somewhat linear stories to lead my players down, but I realized quickly players want elbow room and freedom to choose for themselves. While this undermined my desire to tell a specific story somewhat, it also allowed me to plan more of those contingencies I like to ponder. DMs and players share these stories in equal measure, after all, there’s no reason for one side of the screen to hog all the fun.

This thread does carry through to my writing. It’s been said that writers are either ‘plotters’ who plan things out before pen hits papers (or fingers hit keyboard), ‘pantsers’ who fly by the seat of their pants, or a combination of the two. You can read more about the distinction here. For my part, I’m definitely more of a plotter than a pantser, with a great deal of time devoted to outlines, character sketches, expansion on background elements, and research relevant to the story. The problem with all of this theorycrafting, though, is that getting wrapped up in it can take time away from the actual writing that needs to happen. Then again, I know that if I don’t take the time to figure out where I’m going in the first place, I will hit a wall and sit looking at it for just as long.

Do you indulge in theorycrafting? Or do you jump right into things?

Midnight Oil Doesn’t Burn Clean

Courtesy Wiki Commons

It’s pretty much a romantic ideal. The dedicated writer or the voracious student hunched over a desk, illuminated by a single light source, in the dead of night. I’ve pulled all-nighters myself, in the past. And there are times, these days, where I am up working on something past midnight. But they are becoming fewer and farther between, which might be a good thing. As much as it might sometimes be necessary to burn the midnight oil to meet a deadline or solve a problem, this solution is really only a short term one.

Midnight oil is a fuel source that certainly helps in closing the gap between where you are and where you want your work to be, but it also burns you out. Provided you are sticking with the sort of schedule that sees you being productive throughout the morning and afternoon with the evening off, the morning after burning the midnight oil can be extremely challenging. Your levels of energy might be lower than normal. Some people are more irritable. Others will be much less productive, in opposition to the productivity that came about in the dead of night.

I probably shouldn’t speak in sweeping terms about the reactions other people might have. Individuals, after all, react to things in many different ways. Like I said, not everybody follows the same schedule. Third-shifters and folks who pull double shifts burn the midnight oil all the time. I guess what I’m driving at is that disruptions of the schedule by which you usually operate can throw all of your rhythms off.

Writers take a lot of different fuels and convert them into words: caffiene, cheese, positive reviews, sunshine, whiskey, angst, and so on. Midnight oil, while another possible source of fuel, in my experience it doesn’t burn as clean as some of the others. I’m curious as to what others have experienced, however. How often do you burn the midnight oil? What sort of residue does it leave on your systems? Do you enjoy pulling an all-nighter when you need to, or do you dread it?

500 Words on Remakes

Courtesy LionsGate

I’ve taken it upon myself, on multiple occasions, to take tales told since time immemorial and put them in modern context. Greek myths in space, Norse myths in the Old West, and so on. So, as a rule, I have nothing against remakes. I think they can be good, if they are done correctly and with respect. I

Consider Dredd and the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian. In both cases, the title character eschews a great deal more towards the material from which they were born. Karl Urban as Dredd never takes off his helmet, doesn’t go for bombastic declarations, and the atmosphere around him is gritty and realistic rather than grandiose and covered in shiny metal or neon lights.

As for Conan, while the 1982 version is a lovely classic of good old-fashioned high fantasy sword-and-sandals adventure, the 2011 version had a title character who hewed closer to Robert E Howard’s text. Conan was never a man of great words or deep letters, but Arnold’s nearly silent performance was a bit too stoic. Jason Momoa, in addition to being closer to the description Howard gave us, speaks often and echoes the original tales. I will admit, the statement of purpose we got from Arnold in 1982 is pretty killer:

“Conan! What is best in life?”

But in 2011, Conan boils himself down this:

“I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.”

These words come from arguably the most well-known Conan story, ‘Queen of the Black Coast’.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

I for one would love to see Jason Momoa star in a depiction of ‘Queen of the Black Coast’, or ‘Red Nails’. I’d like to think there’s potential for an adaptation of one or both of these tales. Especially with the way Mr. Momoa broods, sneers, laughs, and fights when we saw him playing Conan. Basically, I’m adding this idea to my “future content creation” bucket list.

Hey, a man can dream, right?

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