Friday, February 22, 2013

Some (Potentially Interesting) Updates

So a couple things have recently happened for me and I feel like they should probably be shared with you guys.

The first is that the webcomic Cyanide & Happiness is launching a show. For those of you who have not heard of C&H, check them out here. They are absolutely hilarious and their show should be amazing. They have already made a few shorts over the last few years that are worthy of literally rolling on the floor laughing. They have decided to launch their show through funding on Kickstarter and hae already made their base goal! Additional funding never hurts, and if they get enough additional funding, they will offer even more episodes and shorts. If you like their work and are willing to throw them a few bucks, check out their Kickstarter here.

I recently stumbled across a website called 750 Words. The basic idea of the site is that every writer needs a way to get rid of all of the random thoughts that pop up before any real writing can begin. A normal page in a novel is approximately 250 words (more for description heavy pages, less for dialogue) and having to write at least 3 pages of stuff forces you to dig a little deeper than just the surface level distractions and forces you to actually dig down to the underlying imagination which will then allow you to actually write more effectively.
I was a little skeptical at first, and since the site is shortly switching over to a pay site, I was definitely not going to join simply to pay to write when I can write for free with the same outcome. I began trying out the exercise this week, and although I have not had time to write much since I have had a very busy week at work, I have been able to get through the 750 words every day and have actually even come up with some interesting ideas during the writing. The 750 words isn't meant to be cohesive in any way, and it's not meant to be shared with anyone. It's just a way to get your ideas out and the creative juices flowing. I have been feeling pretty unimaginative recently, and writing those 3 pages a day has really helped keep me on the right track.

The last update I have for you guys is something that I'm actually very excited about. Recently, I was involved in a Word Master Challenge to write the worst possible intro to a book. If you haven't seen my entry, here it is. I got a couple of comments on it saying that I should try to actually make it into a real book (without the hilariously bad writing of course). While at first I just laughed to myself and dismissed the idea, it stayed in the back of my mind and nagged at me. No matter how hard I tried to forget about the idea, it kept coming back, asking me to take it seriously. I eventually got fed up and decided that I would actually listen to its pleas and it turns out, there is a decent premise hidden behind the insane ramblings of a toddler on a sugar high.
When considering actually writing the book, however, I decided that it was not likely going to be feasible. I already have a major project that has been going on for years and is not going to come to a close any time soon. I'd rather not be distracted by another project, especially since I've actually been making decent progress on it recently. I was pretty bummed out, but shortly after realizing I couldn't write the book on a normal schedule, I stumbled across the National Novel Writing Month website. Being realtively new to the writing community, I had never really heard about it beyond blurbs on TV that I had completely ignored, but it immediately intrigued me. Here was a chance to actually write a book in a condensed timeframe and therefore not distract myself from my main project too much. It seemed perfect.
After doing some more research on the site and going through the "who the hell can write a novel in a freaking month?" phase, I decided that it could definitely live up to expectations assuming I could stick with it. As such, I am currently planning on writing a book based off of my joke intro and will hopefully have a rough draft by the end of November!

So with that, I bid you adieu until I once again think of something interesting enough to share (it may be a while, I'm not that interesting). As always, I'm interested in any thoughts you may have. What do you think of how Kickstarter is changing business? How do you motivate yourself when the ideas just won't come? Think you can write a novel in a month? Why don't beavers tapdance? Any thoughts on anything are more than welcome.

Friday, February 15, 2013


When writing, I tend to get pretty easily distracted. When I say distracted, I don't mean the typical distractions that take you away from your work like surfing the web or hanging with friends (although those happen also). I get distracted by other random ideas so my writing gets pretty heavily tangental quickly. If I don't have a definitive topic already decided before I get the urge to start writing, it all goes to hell.

That being said, some of my tangents have turned into the more interesting aspects of my story. allowing myself to immerse myself in the world I'm creating may lead to a mixed-up bag of random thoughts, but some of those thoughts (through sheer statistical probability) end up being really fascinating to me. I'd like to briefly share a couple of these ideas largely because I think they are cool.

The Arena:
I have always been a huge fan of the Romans and gladiators and the whole idea of having an arena battle, so when I started considering how my main cities would be built, I couldn't help but throw an arena in one of them to let people fight to the death. The arena I plan on incorporating into my world (although not necessarily into the story) will bear only the slightest resemblance to the classic Roman Coliseum. I have no interest in having slavery be a part of my world and I'd rather the arena be viewed as a place where warriors can go to showcase their talents rather than as a place where good men go to die.
As my story progresses and the world begins to change, so too will the arena, but for more info on that, you'll simply have to be patient!

Creation Stories:
When trying to decide how my world and the universe it resides in functions and came to be, I decided to try working out some creation stories. Although I know how the world was actually created, cultures throughout history have tried to rationalize their creation through a variety of creation myths and legends. My decision to create these stories was largely due to the fact that I thought it would be funny to see how badly I could actively misinterpret the world from a particular race's eyes and it evolved into a study in how we as people think about our surroundings. It also has the added bonus of helping me better visualize how each of the races approaches the world.

Political Strife and the Second Arc:
I first came up with the basic concept for my story in sophomore english class in high school where we were told to write a short story. We could write about anything with a few restrictions. Our character had to have a name, we had to give the story an ending, and there needed to be a specific plot. Being who I am, I decided I would try to write a piece that met none of the criteria, but was still moving and interesting. The outcome was a five page piece that ended up getting a 98% and sparked the idea for my current book. Initially all I could decide on was how I would start the book, what the ending would be, and who the antagonists were. Beyond that, I didn't have a clue and have spent the last few years trying to actually make a story out of the bare bones of an idea I had.
As I continued to work, I continued to read a variety of books and became disenchanted with the hard ending most books had. I didn't like the idea that once the hero won, the story was over and everyone was happy. I wanted something different! I originally wanted to make a second story to follow how the world put itself back together after such an extreme catastrophe. This has recently morphed into a political intrigue piece that has really taken on a life of its own.

Wait, Seriously, A Third Arc?:
One of my issues with many stories is the speed at which the MC picks up new skills and eventually masters them. The Eragon series is definitely a culprit of this where Eragon becomes immensely powerful very quickly. While the author had an explanation for it and I understand why it needed to be done, I still didn't like that he had reached a high level of mastery so quickly. I was left wondering where he would go with his training after the story ended. If the skill was so easy for him to pick up, why hadn't more people became immensely powerful?
This, combined with how I am handling the magical components of my world, necessitated that I extended the story beyond the initial confrontation so the readers could see the progression of magic as it permeates the world and what becomes of those with and without power. I have always been fascinated by the struggle between normal people and gifted people whether it was in Harry Potter or X-Men, the topic has always interested me, and being able to approach the topic in a world that has already been established was too exciting to pass up.
The Bandit's Guild:
This particular idea is probably the one I am most excited about including in the world. I have recently picked Skyrim back up and began looking at it through the lens of a writer rather than just a gamer. While the vast majority of the game is definitely not transferrable to my world, I really liked the idea of the guild system and I just didn't see why bandits in the game were always so stupid and unorganized.
I had started a document basically just to get down my thoughts on banditry without even meaning to relate it to my book, and quickly found myself considering just how perfectly it could fit and how it could rationalize some encounters I needed to have in the story. It then grew from there into an organization that spread across the continent and was so well organized they probably had a better economic system than the cities I had created.

Any time I sit down to answer a question I have, four more pop up and this world continues to grow by the day. I'm really interested to see where all of these branching ideas go, and I'm really just hoping I can rein them in and make a cohesive world without it spinning out of control.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Details... Hooray Details!

Hey all,

Sorry it took so long to update again. I’ve been crazy busy at work and it doesn’t leave much time for my mind to wander to more interesting things (like blogging).

I want to talk briefly about depth when writing, but more specifically depth of background information. It is obviously important to create a generally cohesive world as it relates to the characters and the story being told, but what about going beyond that? Too many books have the central aspects of the world nailed down, but keep changing background information to suit their needs. Continuity errors upset me greatly. I am an auditor and the fine details are what I get paid to scrutinize, so when minor things are changed or omitted I tend to lose connection to the story. There are entire websites devoted to the extensive mistakes made in Harry Potter books. I understand that bigger you make the world the more likely it is for small mistakes to slip through the cracks, and at the end of the day I’m going to focus on the story, not the minor flubs but I still do notice them.

Before I start ranting about all of the continuity errors in my favorite books, I’d like to actually get to the crux of this post. Building a deep world is incredibly time consuming and most of the information you may come up with will likely never be seen by your readers, but that doesn’t make it worthless. Creating extra background information fleshes out the world and even if the reader doesn’t see all of the work that’s gone into making that depth, they will still get the final product which is a better written book. Does the politics of a particular area matter at all to your story? Maybe not, but it will affect how locals act and react to the main characters. Will understanding the need for crop rotation help the characters prevail over evil? Hell no! Does that mean readers like me won’t freak out if a farmer casually mentions that he always plants wheat? Absolutely not. The small things matter even if it is something so small and stupid that it’s potentially a mark of mental imbalance if the reader notices it.

Having a cohesive and deep backdrop does more than just eliminate the minor discrepancies that make me lose my mind. It also allows for more realistic and appropriate encounters and situations. If guards are harassing people on the streets, don’t just have it be because they are assholes. Some part of how they were trained or how they are supervised gives them the flexibility to bully people. Furthermore, if the party was to encounter the captain of the guard and he ended up being a decent person, the guards wouldn’t be doing that unless someone else was pulling the strings. If it’s really not that important to you, just make everyone a bunch of d-bags and call it a day, but it’s not going to have any depth and it’s going to seem like it was just written off.

Having a deep background also allows for more variety in the instances being written on. Too many books focus only on plot-central characters and yet still expect you to be surprised when Johnny Nobody gets offed five pages after he’s introduced. Have the readers get attached to the world they are reading about, and not just the one guy (or girl) who’s going to end up saving everybody. If your readers don’t care about the people around the MC and whether they die or not, then who cares if the MC wins or loses? As far as they are concerned, your hero just saved a bunch of mannequins and stand-ins rather than a living, breathing, vibrant world full of people who deserve to keep living.

One easy way to create depth is to make some history for the people around your MC. Don’t only look at the world timeline as it pertains to your story, but look at how the people around your MC got to where they are. Rather than crafting a separate personality for every single side character, give them a regional personality (with a couple of personal touches added) based on where they are and how they and their family got there. If their family has always been from the same village and never plans on leaving, they are going to react to wandering travelers very differently from someone who just got to town and is trying to start a brand new life. Historical implications are very important when crafting believable dialogue, and knowing where a character has been can and should be a major determinant of where they are going.

Another important way to create depth is to give background characters jobs and other such real-life goings-on. Knowing that someone your MC is talking to is a farmer or an accountant or a cop can give them a lot more depth and realism even if the description of their job is nothing more than a title. It gives you the ability to write from a very specific point of view rather than trying to rationalize their actions without a basis. Knowing what a side character does in their free time can also give you some insight into how they view the world around them. This is really only advisable for important secondary characters who will have enough speaking time that something as minor as a hobby could actually affect their interaction with the MC. Knowing that the barista at the local Starbucks also really loves yoga isn't going to be of particular importance, but you knowing that the chief of police is an avid Republican could help you when deciding how to have him interact with the MC. Him being a Republican doesn't need to come up in the story per se, but you knowing that could give his reactions a bit more substance.

The most important thing to remember when creating any part of the world your MC is in is to not look at it as simply a backdrop for the MC. This will lead to an incomplete world that no one will care about or be interested in reading about. Create the world, not just the character.