yeah, maybe, i dunno

Consistency, that’s what I originally was going to call this post, but then I was like, “Bluh, that’s so boring. Who’d want to read a post titled that?” Ironically, this post will be incredibly inconsistent. Earlier this week, I had a really great idea to cover tonight. And then I forgot it. So this one may also be a bit… meh.

After work today, I went shopping with my mom. She likes vegetables and seems hell-bent on getting me into them, too. I like vegetables fine. Just umm, not a lot of them. There’s a lot of weird ones out there. Anyway, my mom wanted to know what I was going to write about, too. I told her about consistency, but I was at a loss for how to relate this to writing. Aside from repeating what I’ve already mentioned previously about having a schedule and keeping it, I just wasn’t sure what to say.

But I think I have something now. More than once, I’ve heard about a writer’s voice. I read it in reviews, other blogs, group forums, but I was never really sure what it meant. Hell, I’m still not 100%, but today I take it to mean a writer’s style and syntax. How do they put the words on the page? How are scenes organized? How do characters develop? Almost like a pattern. If that’s the case, then most of the writers I read don’t have a distinctive voice. But there are some who I believe possess a unique storytelling voice. Steven Erikson, Frank Herbert, Tolkien… uhh. Hah. Like I said, I don’t read much. And I don’t want to bad-mouth any authors by name (particularly since they’re published and I’m not!). This isn’t a literary review blog. So yes, I know there are other really awesome, unique voices out there. Don’t rip me a new one.

Characters in a story should be consistent, from the big details to the small ones. Part of this is knowing who your characters are. Your main characters need to be as familiar to you as your own family. What they like, hate, eat, watch, wear. What they do on Saturday night, what they believe in, what sort of education they had. Can you get by without this? I guess. Probably. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But writing is a lot of work, and your characters are an essential part of the process, maybe the most important part. Don’t skimp! So let’s say that you do all this work. How does it help? It informs you on how your characters respond in situations, to people, to other words. It affects what they say and how they say it. It affects the relationships in their lives.

Syntax… well. Sometimes I think maybe I over-emphasize the importance of that. Maybe because I’m protective of my own skills in that area. I want to believe it’s important to write well. Going with the word “rancid” instead of “putrid.” (And never, ever settling for “fetid!”) Moving one pronoun over a few words, begin with the prepositional phrase, avoid semicolons at all costs. They don’t impact the story in a direct way, except maybe the way a reader experiences it, and I’ve read a lot of books that don’t seem to care how the words land on the page as long as they form a coherent sentence and cover the beats. Hm. I guess I’m making it sound like that’s terrible. But some of the stuff I’ve read lately… man. I could’ve sworn a teenager wrote it!

(If you want to check out my Goodreads to see what I’m talking about, click here.)

How do you assemble your story? Do you use first person POV? Third person omniscient? Do you devote an entire chapter to one character? Or do you scene break to other characters every few pages? And my personal favorite, do you use flashbacks? How do you use them? These are all recurring tools that authors like to use from work to work. I am a huge fan of flashbacks. They convey (ideally) crucial, eye-opening information without taking over the story or making you start the story before your story actually starts. I hate first person. Reading it is fine (though it took time for me to get to that point, too), but I just cannot write it. I can’t take myself seriously, but I tip my hat to those writers that can manage. And I love to throw multiple POVs into each chapter. And I really love to insert worldview into the description. (Umm, if you don’t know what I mean, you really should check out Erikson’s Malazan series. It’s pretty much the hallmark of the series.) Anyway, once you settle on a style for putting your story together, you should stick to it. If you do flashbacks, do them consistently. (Note I didn’t say a lot.) If you do first person, do not switch to second or third. Tonight, I watched a pretty decent episode of Arrow on my DVR. It’s an entertaining show that often makes use of flashbacks. Tonight’s set of flashbacks, though… really bugged me with their inconsistency. Were they Moira’s recollections? No… I’m pretty sure they weren’t. Were they Oliver’s? Maybe, except he wasn’t even in all of them. So were they just objective flashbacks detailing something that happened? It appears so. But I think the show does it differently, and so I was really thrown.

On the bright side, tonight’s DVR episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t confuse me once. 🙂

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let’s take a moment

I’ve heard it’s real easy to start a habit. It’s real hard to break one. Eating junk food. Going to church. Lying. Working out. Sleeping around. Writing everyday.

So last week I said some things about the size of your dramatis personae. Less is more, I think was the gist of it all. And that’s true. But maybe I swung too far in that direction. I certainly started to think so when I took another look at my own writing. Confession time. I’m a big fan of big cast lists. I enjoyed Lost (in the beginning) mostly because it told a really fascinating story with a lot of characters.

Maybe I need to back up a little bit. Don’t be gun shy when telling a story. Go balls to the wall. I think most of us already know this. Storytelling isn’t a timid art form, fiction and non-fiction both, across all mediums. My favorite author, Steven Erikson, recently completed a series that takes “epic fantasy” to a new level. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a ten book set, with literally hundreds of characters. Like him or hate him, he (and his partner Ian C. Esslemont, who wrote the A Tale of the Malazan Empire series) have developed a massive world and a mind-blowing multi-arc narrative to go with it. I was truly in awe when I first read it, and I knew that was the kind of story I wanted to tell. Erikson just proved it was possible. For those of you who don’t know him (and I wouldn’t be surprised), then let me say he’s a lot like George R.R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire books when it comes to big stories. Times two.

As I may have said some time ago, I’m working on a book. It’s the first book in a, oh, three or four (or five) part series. The cast list is… eh… about the middle of the road. A little less than Game of Thrones but a little more than Gravity. Like any good writer, I’ve gone over it again and again. Have I cut any extraneous subplots? Does my narrative have a beginning, middle, and end? Do I have too many characters? Well. That’s the question. At that point, I look again and ask if every character serves a purpose. In my head, they seem to. Sadly, my beta readers have been all of two people, and I’m not even sure I’d count one of them as a valid choice to begin with (my mom). So the jury’s still out on that.

Speaking of moms, me and mine went to see the new Captain America movie. It was umm… I don’t know. I didn’t dislike it, and that’s about all I can say right now. My mom, however, had an interesting reaction, and it’s one that seems to speak to this particular topic somewhat. After we left the theater, I asked her what she thought. Her response was something along the lines of “It’s gotten a bit kooky with all the characters. Was all that really in the comic?” Me being the guy that loves ensemble pieces, I didn’t really understand where she was coming from. Like, really, Mom? You watch(ed) Once Upon a Time, and that has a ridiculously large cast. Some might even say woefully large. Now that I’ve had a few hours to reflect, I sort of get it now. My mom’s the type of consumer that enjoys movies, TV shows, and books as individual, independent entities. She understands that the Captain America films are based on comic books, and she gets that it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but none of that matters when it comes to this one film. And I get that. Each film should be able to stand on its own and not confuse the hell out of people just because it’s trying to provide some continuity to the next film. (If you’ve seen the post-credits scene after any Marvel film, you know what I mean. It’s a pattern.)

Alas, my book follows that same pattern, for better or worse. It tells a story, but it also has elements that work toward setting up the next story. But that’s a convention of the genre these days. Epic fantasy likes to set down deep roots that occasionally take some time to fully bloom.

Anyway, I wanted to try to clear things up, because just a few days after my last post, I’d started to wonder if I’d just become a total hypocrite. It’s not beyond me to do something like that. I’ve definitely done/said some hypocritical things. I just don’t want my writing to be one of those things.