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Writing Advice

The Double-Edged sword of Ambition

I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble writing something that’s short. Believe me, I’ve tried and it’s a skill that I would love to have, but it’s never fit me as a writer. The last time I tried to make a short novel ranging around 90,000 words, I ended up creating one that was closer to 220,000 words. I’d taken every care and measure that there was to take, but the wild fancies of my imagination ended up overpowering me.

After completing that first novel of mine, I realized it was a natural thing for me to up

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Imagination is not always as smooth as we’d want it to be

the scale on the projects that I worked on. Due to my background as a reader of primarily epic fantasy, I find myself falling into this trend every time I work on even a short story. But when I came to accept this undeniable aspect of my nature, there came a rather pressing question. Why was it that I wanted to write something that was short in the first place?

It struck me as odd how I’d so willingly chosen to limit myself and my potential work. Especially when I was so early into my hobby.

One would think that it is the youthful writers that have a tendency to be the most fiery, passionate, and reckless when it comes to their novels. And for the most of our tiny community, this proves to be the case. Not a single peer of mine that has ever spoken to me about writing has deliberately chosen to lower the scale of their work. They would always go on about the ideas and concepts that were bubbling up in their heads, and as a novice myself, I can’t blame them. There are times when I fantasize about being able to go back to the first time I tried writing a book. Not so much to actually finish my endeavor, but because I can recall how giddy it all made me.

 

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It hits us when we least need it

 

I too was obsessed with dozens of ideas that my mind could never hope to keep track of. I wanted to make the next big thing when I first started, and I was many times more obsessed with originality back then than I am now. Which is natural.

Being introduced to writing is, quite literally, being brought to a whole new world of information. There are so many routes that one could take, so many options between genres to write, and so many stories that we want written from the get-go. But when I was still early in my passion, I’d decided to tone down the scale so that I could actually finish the next idea I set my eyes upon. By this point, while my friends flaunted about with their ideas and how they kept “mental” outlines, I had written a detailed outline of my work and had struggled to maintain a grounded view of it.

As a result, those friends of mine had long ago given up on their work. And I remain here today. Originally, I had meant to ascribe my success to this slightly more cynical view of my work that I had taken on. But as you can see by how the work ballooned to the point of reaching 220,000 words, that there was no doubt that I’d let my imagination get the upper-hand.

The sweet prospect of being able to add depth to my work was unavoidable. There were just too many ideas waiting to be written. And while I’m glad that my first draft is larger than those I’d seen from other authors, I would be kidding myself if I said it was all rosy.

While it brought a smile to my face to see that my work was growing, the stress

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The chance to extend my story was as repulsive as this cheesecake. As in, not at all.

that came with writing intensified to the proportion that I had added length to my work. I had come into my project expecting to be finished in two months but I ended up getting sucked in for four months and a half. When I knew that the burden on my shoulders was, it only increased the stress that came with every sentence that I put down, it really made me doubt myself. Every writing session was one that, should mistakes happen, could lead to the whole plot imploding on itself. I was afraid. I was convinced that there was no way that I’d be able to tackle such a large project. A part of me that was filled with self-doubt was convinced that I should have stayed with my 90,000 words. Yet it only grows more confusing.

In a strange way, that doubt also served to inspire me at the same time!

While I knew

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For me, when my ideas started going further up and further up, that only increased my desire to chase them

that my scope was growing far beyond what my mind would be able to process, deep down I knew that a 220,000 word book was just the length I’d longed for. While the writing sessions I participated in had no shortage of stress, while my inner-critic grew even more dubious of my ability, and my plot seemed about to explode, I didn’t want to have it any other way. One of the reasons that I continued on my novel was because I loved writing it the way that it was. I intrinsically knew that the story being told just had to be that length, and that limiting myself would have only proven a detriment to me.

But I’m not going to take the idealistic route and tell you to chase your dreams and everything will be fine. From an objective standpoint, my writing sessions proved to be a greater strain on my mind because of what I did. I had to ditch my outline and make up the latter half of the plot as I went along, and there was an entire story arc that I added. For all I know, I could have only been a rare exception.

Yet there is certainly a case to be made for ambition. A person working on something that they truly enjoy will undoubtedly produce a work that is of higher personal enjoyment to them, but at the same time, the price comes with doubling your workload to chase ideas that you might not feel ready to take head-on. I’ve done my greatest efforts to remain neutral with regard to ambition, and this post should only be a cautionary tale. As I’ve stated previously, we need to be aware of the limits of our skill if we want to grow in our craft. So I can only say one thing to those of you with big ideas. Yes, it’s possible to follow through with them, I’m an example myself. But don’t be like me and trick yourself into believing that chasing your dream won’t come at a price. It might just make the path that you tread narrower than you could have expected. But, hey, some men prefer to walk a narrow path that they enjoy versus a wide path that they’re indifferent to.

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

 

 

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Flow? The Hell is That?

In writing circles, we tend to develop our own little dictionary of concepts and phrases that could only ever apply to weirdos like us. I mean, who in their right mind could coin phrases as oddly specific as “Writer’s Block” or “Worldbuilder’s Disease”? When you see weird crap like that, you just KNOW it was some pretentious author type that had to invent a phrase just to express his personal frustrations.

But hey, I’m not complaining.

It’s really one of my favorite parts of this community, all the peculiar slang and implications that come with being a novelist. It let’s you know that you’re a special snowflake in a community of special snowflakes. Which would imply that we’re not that special to begin with.

ANYWAY, it goes without saying that I love to dabble in the art of coining “pointless” terms and other such time-wasters. But today’s pointless term is not as oddly specific or precise as the one’s I’ve mentioned earlier. In fact, if you were to ask your standard author what they thought of it, they’d tell you it was more ambiguous than a starfish’s gender.

And whom is the recipient of this finely tuned metaphor? Well, the concept of Flow no less! But before we get down to the nuts and bolts of this headache waiting to happen, let’s see what the ever-reliable interwebs have to tell us about this.

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For some reason, the dictionary is obsessed with telling us it has to do with streams

 

Okay, so ignoring the fetish that the internet has with using streams as a definition, let’s see how we can apply this to writing. Flow, is a type of movement, but as you’ve already guessed, it’s very specific in how it works. To be true to the internet definitions, let’s use the stream as an example.

A stream always moves in a winding, smooth fashion that is seamless in its execution. There are barely any abrupt stops when it comes to them, as they would rather curve around in a flawless pattern. If we were to abstract this definition from its natural and concrete conception and place it in the context of novel-writing, we could replace the pattern of the stream for a word that novelists are more familiar with. Consistency.

So, Flow in a literary work would be the measure of how consistent the aspects of a novel are to one another. But what does this even mean you ask? Well, my dearest readers, a HELLUVA lot of things.

For starters, to the superficial mind, Flow’s use could seem very apparent when it comes to the style of writing or language in a book. If you want to find out how a book’s prose is consistent, you can see it in a variety of areas. When it comes to word choice, a similar pattern of word “categories” can be seen. A novel won’t usually contain complex language unless all of it is composed of language on the same level, and the same goes for the opposite. But this is obvious.

In the literary device department, it can come off as more nuanced. For example, I find that whenever I use alliteration, it’s almost always in a lighthearted scene. To contrast this, I usually only use metaphors during heavy sessions of description and in moments were there exist no words to express an emotion. But either way, these literary devices crop up at a consistent rate during these specific portions of my writing. Of course, this is different for everyone.

So yeah, now you know everything there is to know about Flow in your narrative. Bye, bye, everyone!

Did you seriously expect me to just end my diatribe right then and there? I haven’t even gotten to the DEEP and EDGY portions of this post. So what if I told you that Flow had a whole other level of complexity attached to it? Would you believe me?

Of course you would! This is the internet, where misinformation and gullible spectators abound! But yes, as you MUST have guessed, the plot does thicken.

You see, while it is true that Flow’s most apparent use comes in the form of language, there’s another use of flow that doesn’t come to mind as often. Yet this one is just as important, if not, more important than the Flow of your prose.

And this is Narrative Flow.

Narrative Flow is a whole other can of worms that opens up so many subtopics that I won’t be able to capture the entire idea in this one article (foreshadowing!?!?!?) but to me, it boils down to just a few things.

The Flow of your plot, the Flow of your themes, and the Flow of your characters. Inside of these one could get into all sorts of detailed micro-categories, but since I’m not fond of giving my readers headaches–usually–but let’s shoot down the simple ones first.

The Flow of your plot is basically your pacing. I’d use that word, if it wasn’t for the fact that it wasn’t enough of a vague definition to cover all of the topics listed in this article. Both have to do with the order in which events in your story occur and the speed with which they are dealt with.

See? That’s already one down. Only two more to go.

The Flow of your themes is how consistent the message you’re trying to put forward in the book is. For example, if you want to write a book that is anti-war, chances are that you don’t want to treat your battle scenes as glorious and epic sequences. You’re likely going to portray war as something nasty and brutal. Instead of opening with a charging squad of bayonets, you’d probably prefer opening up with a man getting amputated inside of the trenches.

This of course, means that you’ll have to make sacrifices. But what’s life without sacrifices?

If you want to make an action story, chances are that you can’t dedicate too much time to that romantic subplot. If you want to make a story that deals with the evil nestled in the hearts of men, chances are that making most of your protagonists into a bunch of goody-two-shoes is also a bad idea. If you want to make a story centered around finding your identity, you probably don’t want a protagonist who is already self-actualized. So on and so forth.

Finally, there is the Flow of your characters. This deals with the kind of people who your characters are. This is centered around the idea that our characters should be treated as human beings, not as pawns that are being dragged around for the sole purpose of story. What does this mean? A couple of things.

For starters, to keep consistent characters, you must come to grips with the fact that some of the personalities you crafted will prevent your plot from moving forward at the rate you want it to. Let’s say that your MC is named Billy, and Billy is a paranoid freak. Suppose that Billy get’s an email that says he needs to write down a special code in a website in order to stop the nuclear apocalypse (this is an example for a reason).

Now, any ordinary person would just rush down to write the codes, but a character like Billy complicates matters. He’ll probably be more reluctant to write down the codes. What if it’s just a way to hack into his bank account? What if it was just spam? Or worse, what if typing down that code was the key to activating the nuclear armaments? Billy is paranoid, so these questions will have a toll on his mind. And this is a good thing.

While it might slow down the plot, it will make Billy’s character seem real. Instead of just having Billy get a burst of common sense all of a sudden, you decided to make him react according to what you had built him up to be. And readers will appreciate that far more than speeding along the plot.

So, as you take all of these into consideration, why not ponder a few questions? Are there literary devices that you use in specific portions or moments of your books? Do you find one of the types of Flow more confusing than the others? Are your characters often the reason for your story being so slow? Do you think everything I’ve said is meaningless drivel? If so, type down in the comments!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

Manuscript Separation Anxiety…Revisited

Howdy, comrades! It feels like it’s been a while, but quite frankly, it’s only been a few days. But as with all my posts, I’ve been musing on some thoughts that have cropped up in my old noggin. Suffice to say, it was rather nostalgic for me this time around.

You see, I’ve you’ve been gullible enough to stick to this blog for the six months it has existed, you most likely recall a post I made a long time ago. Namely, it was a post in which I penned a disease called Manuscript Separation Anxiety.

I’m not usually the kind of person to bring up topics which have been discussed in the past, but I find that this old post relates to me now more than it did in the past. You see, I recently scrapped my novel, and only now am I beginning to feel the after effects of my actions. This manifests in various ways.

I’ve had a harder time composing short stories, due to my development of a new writing style, I’ve been doing a lot more tinkering from behind the scenes in order to plan out my next written work, and I’ve been brainstorming on the kind of tone that I want with my story this time around. Perhaps to some of you this could seem rather negative, and to a certain extent, you are right. The process of making fiction has become a tad more cumbersome than it was beforehand–yet, for some reason, this doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

Back when I wrote that old post of Manuscript Separation Anxiety, I’d treated it as though it were a plague. As though it was a herculean task to return oneself to the story, a kind of task that was nigh impossible to perform. Yet, as is the hum-drum pattern of life, I’ve been proven wrong on this.

A story is an experience meant to be taken as a wholeso it’s only natural that when I separate myself from it, I’ll be disoriented. But the fact of the matter is that not all experiences are good. Sometimes, we have to abandon the bad experiences so that we can gain a new perspective on how to achieve the good ones.

And this was the case with my old book.

I took in a lot of stupid ideas back then, and I’m not afraid to admit it. But I came out both a better person and writer for being able to feel the dread that came through working with these ideas. I bore through the brunt of the storm that was the old book, and this allowed me to gain a new perspective on how to brave the murky waters that might lead me to a newer, and ultimately, better story.

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Brave the storm, my friends.

Characters Make Story

So sometime ago, I, being the grumpy gremlin that I tend to be, got into a mildly heated debate over the quality of the most recent Star Wars movie. Rogue One. Now, if you want my whole opinion on the movie, then all you need to know is that I found it to be a good, albeit, forgettable experience. Without spoiling too much, I found that the ingredients for an engaging story existed within the movie, I just find that how these were moved around was disappointing.

All those days ago, I wondered to myself why in the Nine Hells (I’m going to start a counter for whenever I use this phrase) these ingredients didn’t come together. I mean, when I say it had the right ingredients, I’m not mincing words.

Cool spaceships, interesting landscapes in a boundless world, laser guns that make silly noises when they are fired, and a whole dose of epic explosions. Yet bearing all that in mind…

I wasn’t feeling it.

Believe me, gentlemen, I tried. I really did try. Since I’m a rather snarky person, I tend to go into all movies expecting to be met with poorly written plots, but I enjoy the Star Wars Universe, so I decided to set my scale down. This did not work.

In most occasions, the elements I stated before should be enough to leave dangling off the edge of my seat. But the opposite was true. I found a cynical text exchange I was having on my phone more interesting than the film.

But why was this?

Well, when I try to narrow it down, Rogue One nailed almost everything. The plot was on point, the visuals had my eyes bulging out of their sockets, and there was a certain visceral edge added to the film that one does not usually see in Star Wars. But there was one thing it got wrong, the characters.

I’ve stared at bricks that have more personality than the statues that starred in this movie. With the exception of a certain snarky robot and a particular naive monk whom came across as likeable, just about everyone else was bland. It took only a few hours after I left the movie for me to forget the names of most of the “Heroes”. And while people say that I’m just nitpicking when it comes to this, I beg to differ.

I don’t care what kind of twists or world-building you have on your sleeve, the fact is, if the characters through which we experience these things are bland, I won’t give a damn about the experience. When I saw all this awesome stuff panning out in the story, I wanted to care, but the lack of any immersion on the part of the protagonists made me indifferent to it all.

In the end, you can distract people with explosions for a little bit, but if your characters suck, we won’t care as an audience. The reason we like stories is because we care for the people going through them. So simply put, if you don’t have likeable people, I won;t care for the story. And this is a valuable lesson for writers.

Of course, these were just my two cents. Maybe you fellows loved the movie? Or maybe you found the characters to actually be relatable (God Forbid). Either way, feel free to say it in the comments!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Writing, my friends.

PS: Maybe some of you QuestingAuthor veterans will notice that this post is shorter than usual, and that is because I’m trying to develop a shorter style. The idea is that if I get used to writing in shorter lengths, I’ll be able to get back to daily posting in a near future. But please, tell me what you think.

 

The Holistic Core of the Story

We love discussing writing strategies down here at the QuestinAuthor H.Q., it’s sort of our thing. We love tearing through sentences and breaking them down to their most basic elements to see how they work. We love fretting over word choice and pondering on which literary device is best fit to convey the image of a scene. And while our love for tinkering with the finer aspects of will never wane, a series of insights have dawned upon us as of late.

You see, it is not a matter of what we said in the best being untrue, as to my knowledge, everything we have said is rather solid. But like all complex things in life, writing prime among them, we were reminded of something paramount. And that is the simple reality that context matters.

What’s that you say? Our language is still too vague? Well then, let me take you through some baby steps.

In essence, while everything we advised was true, the manner in which the QuestingAuthor team went about doing so was flawed. For an author such as yourself, it is pertinent that you know of the technical use of language, the use of proper figurative devices, and the most efficient rituals to help your writing routine. But wherein does the flaw lie? Well, it lies in the fact that we were teaching you about this in a void.

We alloted separate articles for each of these issues, and it was not from a malicious desire that we went about doing this. For the purpose of clarity, it was best that we introduce the ideas to our audience in a singular fashion, this way, we could stay concise on the subject at hand. But my personal gripe with this is that I feel I might have come off as being too absolute or preachy in how I went about this message. To the point where it might feel as though an individual author’s agency to deviate from my advice would seem moot.

And let me be clear, if you feel that there are circumstances in which my advice does not apply, you are by no means obligated to ignore your gut. The only truly constant rule when it comes to writing is that all standards are meant to be broken. Granted, perhaps some attempts breaking standards go too far, but even these have certain value to them.

But the last thing I would want to do is narrow all of this down to the idea that what constitutes a quality story is subjective, which I disagree with. What I will say, is that there are two different ways that one could go about looking at their story’s faults. Firstly one could take the traditional Western process of boiling everything down to be tackled in parts, which has its merits. But, this does not mean that it is the only method of analysis that a story should be subject to. A novel must also be examined as a holistic beast. This means we must also view it as though it were a whole.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that all problems in a book should be zoomed in on, but, they should not be viewed as though they exist only in their particular category. For example, one could look at an example of faulty word choice as though it were only an issue of grammar, which it is. But this faulty word choice is not limited to that. The kind of words that you use do not only affect grammar, but could affect the tone, the themes, and the intentions of a character or the nature of a location. Where you see one sentence, there is actually a minute aspect of the entire narrative.

We need to realize that when we tinker with any part of our stories, the effect of this tinkering always has the potential of cascading through the rest of the novel. And unfortunately, due to the very nature of this blog, I am incapable of rendering a concrete image of how you might go about doing this. As it stands, I can only tell you that you ought to do it. This is because to give you advice on how to “Holistically” approach your work, I would need to personally examine your writings. And not only am I a lazy person, but it is quite literally impossible for me to do this. However, you can.

If there was any piece of advice that I gave in this blog which I considered to be truly essential, it would be this. By all means, continue applying the advice of my posts, but know that sometimes, in the context of your story, you might have to go about it in a different way than what I described.

I hope you found something in all of this. It’s more “meta” than my usual posts, but understanding this could be the key to fixing a lot of problems that seem invisible in your manuscript.

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Writing, my friends.

A Story’s Vision

You ever had a specific image crop up in your mind when you think about a story you’re telling? Have you ever thought about very specific scenarios which for some reason tend to form the creative backbone of your story? Do you often daydream of these scenarios while continuing on your run-of-the-mill life? But, perhaps more importantly, have you ever had these scenarios shattered within that frightening realm of your mind? 😀

If so, it might come as a surprise (probably not) that you are not alone.

I’ve thought about this on multiple occassions, but due to the quirky and borderline eccentric nature of this phenomenon, I’ve bitten my tongue on it. Yet, ironically enough, this is what I would consider to be the “realest” part of writing. It would be easy to refer to it as “Vision” but I fear that that term would be downplaying how crucial this element is to our writing process. But maybe fumbling around with obtuse terms won’t do us any good, so let me back track to my personal experience with this.

One of the images that pops up into my mind when I think about my story is a campfire. Not magical flame, no prophecy being foretold within the crackling ember, and all in all, your typical fire. Just a plain image of watching a pile of lumber pop and snap with embers dancing in erratic flight. That, and my main characters huddled around it. Whenever I think on it, it brings me feelings of nostalgia for something that never truly was. I know I’m slipping into pretentious territory here, but bear with me.

Campfires are really special to me. I’m a Boy Scout, and I can personally confess that just the sight of one melts my heart. But my connection to this image of my heroes huddled around a fire goes deeper than that. I see it as a symbol of unabashed comraderie and friendship, cringy as that might be. I wonder to myself what they’re saying to one another, what stories they’re sharing amongst each other? Are they laughing? Are they crying? Or are they just gazing into the flames? When I first thought up this image, I came to a simple realization.

I didn’t know.

I didn’t know who these people were. I didn’t where these people were camping. I didn’t know their names, their desires, their stories, their roles, or their relationships with one another. What I saw before me was an image that was meant to be the purest expression of humanity that in my eyes, yet, one that was missing one thing. It’s humanity.

And it was the moment that I realized that only I, and no one else, could inject humanity into that image, I knew that I wanted to write that tale.

For me, it wasn’t so much a desire to unlock the secrets that these individuals held within them, nor was it a wish to submerge myself in these Uncharted lands of magic and mystery that motivated my desire to write. It was only that yearning to feel what those heroes felt when they huddled by that fire which motivated me to write.

And since then, it was that image that stuck with me whenever I wanted directions in which to take my story. That image burned in my mind like an iron brand on a cow’s hide whenever I was graced by the Muse’s presence. That image stood by my side when I had to slay characters or delve into dark turns in the story. When Writer’s Block gripped me, that image remained as a hazy reminder that I should power through those slumps in my creativity. It was the medal that I strived for in each instance that I wrote.

And to this day, it still is.

Frankly, I don’t if many others have had an experience like this. Maybe some of you are reading this post with incredulous expressions, rolling your eyes at my pseudo-intellectual banter. But I swear on my heart that all of this was true, and it powered me into finishing my first story. But my question is, have you ever had an image for your story? If so, please share!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Writing, my friends.

Outlining: The Dangers of Forgoing Structure

If you’ve been around the literary community or even this blog for a time, I have no doubt in my mind that you’ve already heard about the different ways to get an outline done. If you’re among the few people whom have been living under a cave, then I advise that you read this before you start with this post. Of course, if you find that you’re too lazy, I’ll lend you a brief explanation.

In essence, outlining is a struggle between two opposing methods. There is a school of thought that says that an outline ought to be flexible in order for the author to have liberty in how he handles the story, and there are others whom say that an outline ought to be firm so that you can guarantee a reliable structure for your plot. Both of these methods have their merit. In this post, I’m not trying to indicate that one methods is better than the other, rather, I want to give you fellows a glimpse into how I am personally dealing with it.

I’ve mentioned before that I had problems with my past Writing Project, problems that I failed to acknowledge on more than one occasion. Suffice to stay, I’ve cast my hopes of finishing that pile of garbage out the window, and have moved on to greener pastures since then. As we speak, I’m in the process of outlining a cleaner, shorter work.

But I decided that before I rushed into the caffeine-addicted and anxiety-ridden endeavor of writing a novel, it would be wise to look over the horrendous techniques that led me to scrapping that previous book. Now, aside from the list of issues that I compiled in the third link within this post, there is one thing I didn’t expound upon. When it came to making my outlines, I was not as detailed as I should have been. You see, what I usually do when I’m planning a novel is to try to make a summary of every chapter within the tale, but feeling lazy, I skipped this step that time around.

What happened instead was that I tried to explain each chapter in a single sentence. Now, while this might work well if I’d been writing some cheesy teenage romance novel, this method was probably not ideal when it came to fitting into the scale of an Epic Fantasy that went just beyond 200,000 words of length.

Naturally, being the naive youth that I am, I told myself that my creativity would be able to fill in the gaps that I left out in the story. And in the early stages of writing, this proved to be true. I came up with interesting tidbits of world-building, characters I had no plans of introducing came out of nowhere, subplots sprouted to fill sections that would have otherwise been filler, and so on.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s sounds wonderful!” “That’s what the process of writing is all about–good job!” or for the small percentage of drug addicts whom read this “Yeeeaaah, maaaan. You gotta let those creative juices floooow, maaaan, like the ocean.” And to all of these comments, I must pay my gratitude. Yet there is a but.

A big but.

While imagination certainly is a wonderful thing, like all other wonderful things, there is such an issue as imaginary overdose.And, boy, this last novel was drowning in it. Concepts came out left and right, character backstories were introduced every few chapters, magic systems were revamped until they no longer made sense, Cthuludoid monstrosities showed up out of the blue only to never be explained again…I wasn’t joking about that last one.

If my ideas were all planes, they would have been hijacked by terrorists and sent crashing into the monotone dunes of the Saharan Desert. After a while, I threw out so many ideas without developing them, that I scarcely had the necessary creative fuel to keep me chugging on ahead to the end of the story. I was left so indifferent to the story I was weaving that I quit when I was halfway through the 3rd arc, and maybe a month or so away from finishing it. I wanted to move forward, but my mind was spent in every sense of the word. Combine that with the realization that I was just going to reboot the whole series that sequel belonged to, and you get the recipe for an abandoned novel.

Suffice to say, while the imagination should be given leeway to do as it pleases, that leeway should be monitored by a leash. Writing a novel is like driving. Creativity is the fuel that keeps you moving, but the last things you want to do is use it up in one huge go and run out of steam to finish the rest of the ride. There is a difference between losing the Muse on a specific day and just running out of passion for a project in its entirety. And this is an example of the latter.

For my future novels, I’m going to be careful and try to be more restrained with the chaotic powers of Poetic Licence that I have as an author. If there is a lesson to be learned from my experience, let it speak thus.

“Creativity without structure or development is only one step above insanity, but at least insanity can be entertaining.”

– The QuestingAuthor

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

 

 

The Ending is Essential

I’ve yet to make any mention of it inside of this particular blog, but I’ve recently abandoned my previous writing project. Before any of you behead me, allow to clarify that this was not a decision I took because I was feeling negative about my work on a specific day. Believe when I say that I gave both my heart and soul into that piece of fiction, but as I’ve stated in the past, that WIP was a sinking boat which I was foolish enough to board in the first place.

That being said, I’m by no means hysterical due to this result. In fact, as blasphemous as it might be for me to admit, I’m excited about it. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and casting aside whatever creative pursuits I held in my mind up to that point, I decided to go back to the drawing board. You know how it is.

Starting from scratch, doing some neat brainstorming, smacking my head against the wall while trying to fine tune a new story…it sounds painful, but that’s just life.

So in my nascent endeavor to go back to my roots I saw that there was no better way to do this than start off a novel in a whole new world, with a darker tone, and (hopefully) a shorter length than the 200,000+ word monstrosities I’ve written up to this point. And while I’m in the process of world-building and trying to see what kind of characters would fit this new setting, I decided that there’d be no better time to talk about outlining on this blog.

Any of you little rascals that have stuck around here for a while might already be familiar with my thoughts on one aspect to this, but I haven’t had the chance to present you all to my enlightened, philosophical, and original opinion on this subject. Of course, with the coming year of 2017 and the lingering but swiftly fading presence of Christmas Cheer, consider this to be a belated present from a certain QuestingAuthor.

In short, my thoughts on the Outline can be summed up into one sentence: Know your ending.

You see, like far too many things in the literary world, the outline is a process which varies depending on which individual you ask. Some folk like to create a maze of notes in which the most riveting minutiae is recorded for the purposes of creating meaningless busywork before you get down to the actual writing, in essence, J.K. Rowling’s technique. Then on the other end of the spectrum you have regular Starbucks patrons, who, when not sipping on their seventh cup of iced coffee, don’t bother to write an outline in an attempt to flaunt about how it stifles their creative “genius”, these are your Stephen Kings. Then in the middle you have snarky teenagers whom desperately believe themselves to be a hybrid of both these Schools of Writing…I wonder who that could be?   And you guys know what? None of that matters.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though my true thoughts on this are buried under three tons of sarcasm, I sincerely believe that these methods are equally worthwhile for the equally diverse lot of author’s that exist in this world.

That being said, why do I believe that anyone outlining in any of these forms should be mindful of what their ending will be? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s explore this further.

Looking at it from a purely structural perspective, the traditional Three Act Narrative Sequence is composed of a series of events that lead into one another. Think of your story as being a constant stream of increments that will lead you into a particular goal. But we can dig into this further.

It is often very easy to mistake the climax as being the part of a story in which all the events lead up to. And in some respects, this could be convincing. Think of your novel as a balloon you want to deflate just for the spectacle. The Rising Action is in essence, just you filling it up in slow breaths. The reason you do this is because you want the balloon to grow into a specific size that is larger than its original shape, whether this side is larger by a huge or slim margin is entirely up to you. This can be seen as you pumping in tension into the story you are weaving.

The climax is the exact moment where you loosen your lip’s hold on the balloon. This is NOT when the balloon starts to deflate, this is just the precise moment that you leave the balloon to its own devices. Going back to the novel, all that tension you were pumping into the story is now going to fester until spills all over itself. Basically, this is when your tension blows up to its most dramatic extreme.

Then there’s the Falling Action, which is when your balloon zips and sputters around your room until it deflates. This is the most anticipated part of filling up a balloon, watching all that air unwind, it’s kind of like a treat for your hard work. Once again, going back to the novel, this is allowing the reader to see the fallout of all the tension that has been pumped into the story. This is the goal at the end of the reader’s journey, the point at which he wishes to see the consequences of the tension in the story unfurl to a natural conclusion.

While the moment you part your lips can seem very exciting, the reason you filled up the balloon was to see it go crazy around the room. Every action you took was with the purpose of you reaching that satisfying sensation of spectating the balloon in its erratic flight. Just like your story.

Every event you include in a story is the build-up to the ending. Why do you think we tend to tolerate books with boring beginnings, but exciting endings, yet we loathe the opposite of this? It’s because there wasn’t a waste of a reader’s investment in the tale, because at least in the former, there was a sufficient gratification for the time we spent connecting to the story, despite the bumbling start. And if you want to have an effective outline, you should have at least a semi-concrete idea of what the ending should be in order to design every event in such a way that it flows to that particular point.

But hey, maybe I’m just too obsessive about this. Do you agree with me? Or do you believe there’s something more important than the ending? If you agree with me, then what would you say is the second most important part of a story? Send me your opinions in the comments!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Writing, my friends.

 

Conflicting Histories

A massive fantasy world can have all the cool places imaginable, the most creative magic system to have ever come into existence, and a geography that leaves us stunned whenever we look at its map, but without a history to back this up, it has the potential to remain shallow. History is arguably the most important thing when it comes to world-building, because it adds the effects of the human “element” after generations have passed in your world.

A forest in the hillside can be unremarkable when left on its own, but the second you’re told that a decisive battle took place there, is the same second that the forest takes in a sprinkling of magic to it. Your mind begins to wander to a long

Richard_Caton_Woodville's_The_Battle_of_Towton.jpg
FOR NARNIA!

forgotten past and you place yourself in the boots of one of the soldiers. You can smell the metallic aroma of dried blood on the corpses of both your companions and enemies, you can see a horse trampling over undergrowth during a charge, and you can hear the clangor of steel swords being swung at one another.

Soon enough, you’re no longer in just a forest. You’re in a battlefield in a struggle to
protect your homeland.

History can sculpt a part of your secondary world until it has endless layers of depth to it. And most settings that include a detailed history have done a decent job of using it to its fullest advantage, so I’m not saying that authors are not using their history, because there are countless books in which they are. But I think that there’s an important aspect of history that they keep on forgetting.

History has been a purely human art since its very inception. Chroniclers of ages past have been the novelists that tell the grand epic story of all that has occurred in our big blue earth. They devote their lives to telling the solely human experiences that have happened all over the globe. Yet it is this same Human Element that lends History as a discipline to have a certain nuance to itSt._Benedict_delivering_his_rule_to_the_monks_of_his_order.jpg. This is the simple fact that, like all stories, History changes depending on whom is telling it.

There is a quote along the lines of: History is written by the winners. And while I personally don’t agree entirely with this quote, it can help summarize what I’m trying to get across.

History is not an exact science. This means that it is very susceptible to modification,
interpretation, deception, and embellishment. And while this leads to a slew of headaches for historians and archeologists, it might just be the key to adding some much-needed personality and mystery to the settings of our stories.

Humans, being the pesky mongrels that we are, have a habit of conflating and adding on to the things we see occurring in our every day life. This is not something bad as it is natural and reflective of the type of people that we are. Yet in many cases, where groups of various people experience an event, this can lead to tension between individuals whose ideas keep butting heads with one another. And these conflicts can lead to effects that can alter the world’s landscape in permanent ways.

King Kalan could start a war with another kingdom because he believes that his family has an ancient birthright on the lands of the foreign monarch. In the eyes of that king’s dynasty, his claim to the other throne is justified and verifiable in every sense of the word. Everyone in his kingdom might acknowledge those documents that proclaim his as king, but the opposing monarch, King Cadwell, might have a different understanding of the events that took place.

King Cadwell was informed by his family historian that Kalan’s documents were forged by a rebellious vassal that defected to Kalan’s kingdom. In the eyes of Cadwell, those documents are utter rubbish and a poorly planned excuse to wage a war on his people. Due to this historical discrepancy, we’re awarded with two sides that have radically differing notions of what the document means. Kalan’s people believe him to be a hero that wishes to reclaim his traditional lands, while Cadwell’s people believe Kalan to be a power-hungry monarch that wishes to invade them. This mere difference of opinion with regard to a historical events ended up sparking one of the most destructive wars in the history of Phantasialand.

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Monarchs love going to war over the silliest reasons

Sound familiar? Well this because there was an actual event in history very similar to this one. The Hundred Years War was started by one of English kings having an old claim to the french throne by being the nephew of a previous ruler. Obviously, the french nobility would not want to be ruled by a filthy Englishmen, so we got a war. It doesn’t matter whether or not the king’s ties to the previous monarch (or in the case of Phantasialand, the
documents) were enough to merit obtaining the throne. What matters is that this creates a difference of opinions. Which is enough to start a…wait for it…

PLOT!

Yes, the WHOLE conflict in your story can revolve around what might be a little fluke in history. But it doesn’t necessarily have to become the plot of the story either. Maybe you just want your background history to have a tinge more substance to it, and that works too!

The conquest of a certain region of your world might be related differently in the eyes of the conqueror than it would in the eyes of those being invaded. A politician’s time in office might be viewed as being one of the best administrations in the country, or one of the most deceitful and corrupt ones in all of history. The industrialization of an economy might be seen as an opportunity from the perspective of an ambitious business man or might be viewed as the death of one’s livelihood from the perspective of a farmer. It all literally depends on whom you ask.

If you plan on creating a fantasy world with a smattering of cultures and Peoples roaming the whole of the land, then this is something that you should consider adding to your world. Aside from creating different traditions for each culture, another way to make the peoples of your land diverse is to give them different ways of viewing well-known historical events. Not only can it lead to a richer world, but it might even be that extra bit of fuel that you need for that plot point that’s been brewing inside of your head since forever.

So I’d propose a challenge to those of you that are be creating a manuscript as we speak. Is there a history in your world? If so, I would encourage you to examine it and find ways, even subtle ones, to change the manners in which different people look at the same events and figures. If you’ve enjoyed this, feel free to spread your love with a touch of the like button and get back to your novel!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

 

 

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