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.
There are specific traits that I loathe seeing when it comes to books. On the hierarchy I have for these, the one whom always takes the top is the poorly written fight scene and hollow words. But if I was to give myself the time of day to pinpoint the rest of my nitpicks (let’s face it, that’s the point of this blog), the third addition to this list would be the dreaded abstraction. And this is mainly because my early writing was riddled with them.
But as with all of my rants, it will do you little good if I just go into this guns ablazin’ without giving a proper definition of what I mean. You remember back in middle-school were your grammar teacher taught you the difference between a concrete word and an abstract word? Well, of course you do, you must be an intellectual if you are reading this blog?
Alright, in case your mind isn’t feeling up to snuff today, allow me to remind you. In essence, abstract words reflect ideas and concepts, whereas concrete words refer to tangible things. For example, philosophy, peace, fear, love, and hate are all good examples of an abstract word. These words certainly do bring about images into one’s mind as to what they might mean, but these images are broad strokes rather than precise ones. Furthermore, they do not directly point to a tangible object. Bricks, trees, table, and meat, are all examples of concrete words. These words bring about a more specific image, and they also refer to something that can be touched.
Now, when it comes to vernacular, you’re allowed to use these words without a care in the world. Unfortunately for you, you decided it would just be splendid to become an author, which aside from boosting your low self-esteem, is going to set restrictions on how you use these words.
As I’ve said in the past, there are only a few objective goals that prose must reach, among these is to make words as precise as they can possibly be. And by this I mean that you must use language in such a way to convey the idea that’s bubbling up in your head. Abstractions, as the name implies, are a direct obstacle in this core desire. But before we get too technical, I’ll pass you an olive branch and start of with an example.
The woods were a lonely place and a deathly quiet had settled there. Ronnie walked forward with a fearful step.
This kind of sucked, but that’s kind of the point of it, so let me be kind enough to explain. Let’s tackle this in parts so that we don’t go crazy, starting with the first sentence. Firstly, comes the use of the word woods. This, is not that bad, however, there is no doubt in my mind that it could be tweaked to produce a more specific image. However, the word does a good enough job at conveying an area, so we can let it slide. What is not forgivable is the use of the word lonely.
This is another case of failing with show don’t tell. You see, while the author is telling me that the forest is lonely, he’s yet to explain to me how it is lonely. This just makes it all the harder to immerse myself in the words being presented here.
As for the second half of the sentence all I can say is that, although it’s not a bad piece of description, it doesn’t really use the necessary sensory details to give me a crisp picture. The final sentence is too on the nose, and the use of the phrase fearful step is another example of shoddy description. I know what is going on in these sentences, but I don’t understand it. So let’s fix it.
The grove stood in silence. Not soul tread about it, down to the chirps of birds that had gone mute and the foxes whom had ceased rustling the shrubs. Ronnie’s legs trembled, but despite himself, he hauled his feet to take a step down the old dirt path that led into the heart of the forest.
Now this is healthy. Notice how every sentence is capable of telling you more details due to the use of concrete descriptions? In the piece I gave before, it felt as though each sentence existed only to convey very little detail, but with the use of precise wording, I was able to kill two birds with one stone.
My descriptions of the lack of animals was enough to get across the idea that the forest was both silent and empty of life, while the final sentence I use to describe Ronnie’s movements give a clearer idea of what he’s actually doing. And this is all because I got rid of Abstractions.
And you can too!
In essence, Abstractions are words that give across big ideas. As with all big ideas, these can be torn down into a number of smaller, and precise details that get across the original message while enhancing immersion. It’s all a matter of asking yourself how? If you say that something is lovely, then how is it lovely? If you say something is irritating, then how is it irritating? While just stating the idea in vernacular conversation might be enough to get across your message, you have to remember that you are writing a novel. As a result, you need to make it easier for a reader to understand what you mean without much effort.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes children’s books use abstractions to avoid complex language that will put a kid to sleep, other times, using a simple abstraction can work to get across feeling. But remember, this post is in reference to most description you’ll find yourself doing. And I think my guidelines should be helpful in most circumstances. So what do you think of Abstractions? Do they have much merit?
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Writing, my friends.
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 oneoccasion. 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.
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.
You would believe that being a writer would make the act of reading easier. Perhaps you would think that our proficiency at wordsmithing would allow us to enjoy challenging works. Perhaps you would believe that our knack for storytelling would leave an insatiable desire in our stomachs to devour every paperback novel in the nearest neglected library. Or perhaps you might take a more practical approach, and assume that an author ought to read more than the average person, if only out of a desire to better his oh so sublime prose.
You would also be wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, most authors are not the quiet intellectuals whom have acquired a keen sense of what it means to belong to the human experience. Hell, I’d even venture to say that we have an even harder time understanding it.
For you see, the common author is not some street philosopher whom has been through hell and back. In most cases, authors are pretentious, mean-spirited, and snarky individuals whom only consume dark coffee in a fruitless effort to brag to their peers about it. And being the flawed individuals that we are, we’re often prone to having a difficult time reading books.
Maybe even moreso.
Alright, so maybe I’m just projecting (probably), but in my case, I’ve found that the act of cracking open a worn tome and sitting down for an hour or so to read has become rather laborious for me. You could make the argument that due to my juvenile age of 17 and the encroaching influence of the interwebs into our daily lives, that it’s a matter of external factors causing this reaction. And quite possibly, you could be right.
Being the fragile age that I am, patience is not exactly something my age-group is known for. Stereotypes, more often than not, hold more truth to them than what the outside world will tell you. And the stereotype of the lazy teenage boy whom is hasty and reckless and isn’t passionate about anything unless it happens to deal with leisure or the opposing gender is no exception. Of course, I pride myself as being more patient than others in my time of life, and as evidenced by this blog, my passions are not just limited to leisure and women.
And with regards to the interwebs, it is undeniable that the task of focusing on…well, just about anything, has become an uphill battle ever since the advent of technology and the like. With so much content available at our fingertips, sitting down to read a good book will most certainly become a chore. But even here, if you’re passionate about books, you’d easily be able to circumvent this. So my reading conundrum must be the cause of another factor, and if you’ve read the title of this post, you already know what I’m about to say.
Being a Writer makes Reading Harder. Does it sting? I hope it does, because the truth always stings.
Everytime I sit down to crack open a story, I’ve started to take on some really nasty habits. For quite literally EVERY sentence I read, I end up comparing it to something of my own writing. Regardless of genre, I can’t spend a second of my time without passing judgement on an author’s prose to see if it’s better or worse than mine. Naturally, this is followed by acknowledging the simple fact that they are published and I am not.
Suffice to say, this is something that really annoys me. There was a certain juvenile and fantastic aspect to reading back when I first started. Immersing myself was as easy as just finding a quiet place and letting the words flow as I read them. My mind would cease all thought, distractions would become a blur, and I could rest easy as I was taken away.
But after I became a halfway-decent writer, getting this feeling became harder. Slowly but surely, the amount of books that could truly grip me dwindled with every passing read. My mind was no longer silent when I read, it was a din of judgments and criticisms, followed by comparisons to my own storytelling abilities. I couldn’t relate to the characters I read about because the characters I wrote about were constantly lingering in my mind, refusing to let my imagination wander into the shoes of another.
And occasionally, these can be good feelings. I don’t regret becoming a writer, nor do I regret constantly thinking about my characters when I read other stories. It pumps me up for my good writing, but at the cost of making immersion in the works of others a fleeting luxury.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy reading, and this is all probably just a phase. There are still plenty of books in which I can lose myself in the narrative, it’s just that these grow fewer and farther between as time passes.
Whether this will last or not, I don’t know. But what I do know is that becoming a writer had a profound effect on the way that I read stories, for better or worse. What effect did it have on you?
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
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 it. 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.
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…
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.
I would be hard-pressed to say that creating a fight scene is one of the most effective ways to convey a conflict in a story. It is far too easy to dismiss combat scenes as being the most direct form of increasing tension in your tale, but I find this to be far from the truth. A fight scene, when handled by a thinking writer, is capable of both symbolizing an internal conflict and being an entertaining read to boot.
But you might ask yourselves, why in the nine hells would I need help in creating a fight scene? I mean, it ought to be fairly straightforward…right? Mr. Hero punches Sir Villain across the face, only to be parried by Sir Villain’s fist and so on and so forth. But here’s the delicious thing about writing, especially when it comes to fight scenes.
They are so easy to mess up.
In my time, I’ve come to find a grand deal of pet peeves that I have with novels. Be it a certain character type, plot device, and anything else along those lines. But there is one peeve that stands out above all the rest. And that is the poorly written fight scene.
Never has there been anything that takes me out of the experience, more than this. And you would be surprised at how prolific this is among a great deal of indie authors I’ve read on Amazon. There’s something jarring about a bad fight scene that makes it stand out against other examples of bad writing, and I’d argue that this is due to the amount of motion that usually goes into them (or is supposed to, anyway.). It’s very easy to ignore a conversation scene that was written by a less-than-stellar writer, as it requires less energy to immerse someone in an interaction that doesn’t even require that much description. However, in a scene with a lot of movement, it requires attention into the way that it is
being written unlike any other scene, as one word has the potential to drag your audience out of the action.
So if you feel like your readers would have more fun reading the transcript of an encounter in a Final Fantasy game than your battle scene, I’ve got three tips that could redeem your prose!
Paint Broad Strokes
When a man is being hurled halfway across a bar, chances are that there’s going to be a plethora of details you won’t catch during his flight. For starters, I doubt you’ll even bother trying to discern the surroundings inside of the pub, the exact grapple that was needed to throw him in the first place, or his style of clothing—it might even be impossible for you to notice! And this ought to be common knowledge amongst all people, not just writers!
But time and time again, people make the mistake of describing EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL.
A fight is something that occurs rapidly and is hard to keep track of by its very definition! When there are two men holding each other at sword point, it’s fine for you to describe the kinds of slashes and parries that go on every once in a while during the fight, but when it gets to the point that you’re describing every gash, all the times the sword switches direction, the result of every slash, the result of every parry, the result of every thrust, and much MUCH more, then you should consider toning down a bit.
A fight is a messy occurrence by its very nature, and toning down the description will help to give this sensation. So instead of describing each jab that a boxer gives to another boxer, just say that they descended into a flurry of fists, instead of describing every stroke in a sword duel, say that the clangor of steel resounded across the whole tavern.
Your language is limited, use it wisely
So yeah, you’re fully aware of the fact that you can’t just waltz about a fight scene and describe every single thing inside of it. Congratulations on your “revolutionary” discovery. No, really.
So now you’re going to open up you’re laptop,
click on that word icon, and start getting writing fight scenes with less text than you used before. But this only solves half of the problem. When you realize that the amount of words that you should be using is now limited, it does not mean that you can just write less words willy-nilly, it means that the quality of your language must increase to exponential levels.
This is where you bring out your active voice, you’re descriptive verbs, and all that other wonderful stuff. A lot of the advice that is given to individuals whom write short stories can easily be given to anyone that’s writing a fight scene. You have to find verbs that are precise and also carry a lot of detail in them. Use metaphors that create a clear image of the slash you’re trying to write rather than just describing everything step by step, instead of saying that the enemy was slashed by you ought to be saying that the hero slashed the enemy, or even better! Instead of saying slash, you should say cleaved, ripped, sheared, pierced, hacked, or any other synonym of slash that gives a clearer picture.
People appreciate it when you shorten your text, but you shouldn’t go about it in an arbitrary manner. As always, be careful in the words that you choose and the tone in which you write them. One descriptive word can say more than a paragraph could ever hope to.
Zoom in on the action
I’ve spoken about the importance of an author knowing that he is writing the story from a “bird’s eye” view in the past. And this can be an advantage depending on the type of story that you are telling. However, since the most common POVs nowadays are Third Person Limited and First Person, when it comes to fight scenes, you’ll have to zoom in on the story a little more than you usually would.
What you’re trying to accomplish is to give the impression that your POV character is actually experiencing that combat. So describing with senses other than sight becomes imperative in fight scenes, and I’d argue even more-so than in scenes that just build setting. Allow me to give an example.
Example 1: Gerrick slashed his blade upwards and it landed on the steel edge of Rodry’s sword. Rodry parried the blade and sent Gerrick reeling backwards. Gerrick regained his balance and lunged forward at Rodry, pure ire burning in his eyes.
The description I mentioned above is not necessarily poorly written. On occasion I used words such as “lunge” or “reeling” which can give the reader a clearer image of what is happening. But it is still missing a crucial aspect, I need to appeal to other sensory details if I want to give the impression that this is actually a fight.
When you get hit, you never pay that much attention to how the strike looks like while it’s coming in your direction. What you would notice is the burning pain in your cheek as the knuckles imprint themselves on you, or even the sweaty stench coming from the fists of your opponent. So let’s try pimping out that description with a more realistic portrayal.
Example 2: Gerrick cleaved his blade down at Rodry’s steel blade, and the two swords sounded like gongs when they collided with one another. Gerrick clenched his fingers along the frigid grip of the hilt, but his hands came reeling backwards as Rodry batted his sword away. Gravel crunched under his boots while he planted them on firm ground, and his lungs were smothered in pain. He raised his sword aloft, and lunged forward with a murderous glint to his eyes.
You see, the image presented here gives us a better sense of immersion within the POV character of Gerrick. Instead of only describing Gerrick’s actions through the use of sight, we included the sensory details of sound and touch to give the impression that we were walking in Gerrick’s shoes. And it is this kind of diversity within your description that is necessary if you wish to paint a vivid image.
Fight scenes can not only be the most exciting points in your books for the readers, but they can also be fun for you provided that you write them properly. All of it is a simple matter of employing the right tactics. As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.
Description is a prospect that brings both glee and dread to the heart of the writer–often as some muddled combination of both these emotions. It’s often touted as the most superficial aspect of the writing process, and as a result, it’s viewed more as the icing on the cake than the actual flavor or core of the novel. Yet despite this, many authors can find it to be the most mind-numbing task in the process.
And while you slave away at the arduous and technically futile task of painting an image with words, the question is bound to come up. What the hell is the point of description?
I know that I wrestled with this in the early days of my writing “career” (If being an unpublished teenage storyteller counts for anything), I told myself that my writing style was vague. And at the time, it made sense. Much of what I had read up to that point were really the early stories in the Elric Cycle of Michael Moorecock, which were fast-paced tales that left much to the reader’s imagination when it came to description. Of course, I, in all my expertise, had mistaken my garbage, early prose as being my natural inheritance from the style of stories that I read. Naturally, this all changed when I got my hands on a certain novel called Eye of the World.
But before I digress, let me just summarize by saying that I very much adored Jordan’s detailed writing style in that book. But what was also strange was that I adored the Moorecock’s writing style at an equal level. But that got me thinking, if I enjoyed both of these techniques, then why would I bother drifting my own writing style further in the direction of the seemingly more laborious Jordan style than that of Moorecock?
Why bother with that when Moorecock’s style still had punch to it AND was quicker to get done?
Well, the answer to this came to me over the course of many realizations over the course of months. The first realization was that Moorecock’s style was not necessarily “simpler” than Jordan’s. You see, my early prose was really nothing like Moorecock’s. Michael, to my knowledge, used very specific words when he wanted to convey a certain theme, and he was very effective at modifying the length of his paragraphs whenever he saw the need. I, however, only pulled out whatever word worked for the situation, with my only criteria being the more “exotic” the word, the cooler things would sound.
I don’t need to tell you how childish this notion was.
To this day, in my opinion, the closest I’ve gotten to writing something similar to a Moorecock story is “A Disciple of Zarathustra”, which coincidentally, still does not match up to Moorecock.
My second realization was that description in stories tended to have only a few “core” objectives that it needed to fulfill in order to work in a story. And even then, there have been many occasions were these have been subverted. But here are the ones I view tend to crop up.
1. Description must give an idea of what the writer is trying to convey (this one is obvious)
2. It’s length must match the flow of the particular moment in a story where it is utilized
These right here are the components of the QuestingAuthor’s Do’s for Descriptions! (Better name pending)
What I’ve presented are guidelines that I found helpful and continue to find helpful in my attempts to establish my own unique style of writing prose. These are meant to serve as the foundations of your prose, but you must understand that the majority of a prose’s uniqueness comes from those flourishes and embellishments that we add to the way we write. While these are by no means technical, these embellishments are what allow us to inject a piece of ourselves into our stories.
These can come in the form of many things for many authors. For example, Clark Ashton Smith tends to have a preference for using outdated terms and esoteric language to give an alien feel to his stories. Robert E. Howard is fond of using metaphors that compare Conan to the likes of predatory beasts while in combat. Moorecock has this very particular thing in which he uses three one-sentence paragraphs in succession when he highlights a fight scene.
And then Elric loosed Stormbringer.
And then Stormbringer moaned in ecstasy.
And then they bathed in the blood of their assailants.
Something like that, and whenever I spot a paragraph structured in this fashion, it instantly reminds me of Michael Moorecock’s snappy writing. So as you can see, an author’s embellishments can range from a certain penchant with using specific literary devices down to the very structure of the sentences! It all depends on what aesthetically pleases you and how it fits with the kind of scene you want to describe.
Description can easily be seen as the most technical aspect of writing, and whether or not it is, is entirely up to you, but I will say one thing. Be it the most technical aspect of writing or not, the fact remains that there is still a very clear art in the way that one composes it.
So in essence, description’s technical purpose is to accomplish the guidelines which I mentioned above, but one would be mistaken to limit it to this. Description should also be viewed as a way to add your personality to the story.
So what are some of the prosy quirks that your favorite authors use? Have you picked up any of your own? Feel free to talk about it in the comments!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.
This an unfinished story of mine I decided to polish up and release over here. I was trying to go for a dystopian aesthetic, and I thought that I’d be enthralled by the prospect of writing something other than fantasy. However, the Muse being the cruel thing that it is, I was unable to be invested in this for too long. I still think another writer would be capable of doing something with it–but that writer is not myself.
“Ja—Jason? Can you re—read me?” Tim’s voice came sputtering from the walkie-talkie that Jason had strapped to his waist. This had been the sixth time on that day that his friend had bugged him over the old contraption.
Tim came on again, and again, and again. Jason rolled his eyes, and decided to give in to the protests of that annoying friend of his. It was in days like this that Jason often pondered cutting ties with the people he considered closest to himself, but he knew he’d regret it later. It was still good the toy with the thought on occasion, at least it provided a form of entertainment. With the static from the walkie-talkie still present, Jason reached his hands around the back of his waist.
For a few moments his hands had caught on to nothing, save for the chill that came with early morning around the suburbs. He grinded his teeth when it proved difficult to get a hold of the talking box. In truth, it was not speaking to Tim that really bothered him, any conversation was better than wandering the streets alone, it was just that he had the habit of placing the walkie-talkie in areas that cost him effort to reach. This had been one of the good days, where he’d been smart enough to strap the leather belts across his waist rather than around his shoulder. He could only shudder at how stupid he appeared on those times that he’d strapped the walkie-talkie to his back, where it would take him a good five minutes to reach. Five minutes of his free time.
His palm caught hold of a sharp angle on the device, and Jason maneuvered it around the tight fit that came with the two black belts he carried. He needed to jiggle it out of the knot he’d formed, unless he also wanted his knife to come clattering to the crooked pavement when he just wanted to take it out. They were not belts made to house utilities, rather they were the kind that one could spot on the waists of the pudgy businessmen of the past. With the suburbs being abandoned as they were, belts came as a useful commodity for holding on to one’s tools.
With one final grunt, Jason freed the walkie-talkie from his belts and held it up to his ear. He expected to be disappointed, it was probably just another one of Tim’s status updates “Loud and clear, Tim.” Jason drew out the sentence, so Tim would know to make it brief.
“Good God, Jason, would it kill you to get in a better mood anytime soon? I don’t like calling you a lot either, but it’s not like I’m doing it on purpose. You know how Jin can act when—“
“I get it, I get it, Jin’s going to throw a fit if you don’t call for an update every five minutes. Why can’t you just tell Jin to fuck off? The hell does he think he is? Our leader?”
Tim said something but faint static overtook the walkie-talkie for a bit. Covering one ear with his finger, Jason held out the walkie-talkie away from him. If it wasn’t so valuable, he would have wasted no time in slamming on the ground in those few moments “Ja—Jason? Damn it all, did you break yours again? Jin’s going to kill both of us once he finds out.” Jason sighed just loud enough for Tim to hear “Fine. If you’re going to act like that then fine. I just came to see how you were doing.”
“Just get to the point already.” There was a breeze that howled through the crackled tiles of sidewalk in the suburbs. Chill grazed Jason’s arms, making him wish he’d brought his jacket with him.
“Have you seen anything interesting yet? Anything worth noting? Anything you could bring back to the hideout? It doesn’t even have to be food, we should be covered on that for the next week. Stuff like board-games, dice, notebooks, you get the deal. They say there’s going to be another Sweep by next week, we need to make sure we’re all entertained while we hole up inside.”
Tim sounded like he stifled a swear from the walkie-talkie but Jason didn’t give it too much attention “I don’t even know how you can live like that, Jason. Always the same damn thing with you isn’t it? If you haven’t found anything within an hour, come back to base. I don’t know how safe it is out there.”
“Got it.” Not bothering to hear what Tim had to say in response, Jason pressed the button that turned off the walkie-talkie. He strapped it to his belts again and got a good look around himself. He had to come back with something, or else they’d skin him alive back at home.
The suburbs were that same depressed shadow of their former selves that Jason had so often visited in his spare time. Houses with faded paint that gave way to the grey colors of their actual materials, dilapidated inboxes that were crooked this way and that. The place was like a war zone for all intents and purposes, but Jason liked it that way. He found a strange kind of freedom when he strolled through the abandoned streets, when he peered into houses whose doors were almost torn from their hinges. There was peace. He didn’t have to force himself into the company of all those idiots at home and if he wanted to he could settle down in one of the houses. But the Sweep would never allow him to accomplish that dream.
But while he could be out there, he relished his time.
There where houses with shards of glass still latching to broken window sills, the manner of places in which suspicious homeowners would peer past the blinds to inspect strangers that came into their neighborhoods. Cracked lines formed on the sidewalks like a spider’s cobwebs, where children would no doubt compete on who could walk without stepping on them. There were some slender trees whose branches pierced into the gaping holes of broken construction. Nobody had ever cared about what happened inside of the suburbs. Or at least, all the people who had actually cared decided to leave. Jason didn’t know when and not even why, but he couldn’t care less. When he was alone in the suburbs, he, and only he, was king around those parts. He could run around and steal from whatever house that he wanted, but he had to save that for later. Maybe if he got lucky he could find a trinket inside one of the houses.
He scoured through any houses he hadn’t been through before, dismissing at least five until he found one that was interesting. It was a decrepit old building […]