Tag Archives: writing advice

Unholy Trinity: Alien and the Three Stages of Fear

It’s the fortieth anniversary of the release of Alien. In its honour, I’d like to try and breakdown why it’s arguably the most effective horror movie ever movie. Much like how the xenomorph has different evolutionary forms, so too does horror

In the introduction to his short story collection Maps in a Mirror, Orson Scott Card identifies three stages of fear: 1) Dread 2) Terror and 3) Horror. Continue reading Unholy Trinity: Alien and the Three Stages of Fear

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Plotters vs Pantsers: Prior Planning Prevents Proper Piss-offs

I liked the Game of Thrones finale. Fight me.

Much like the last episode of Lost, it couldn’t absolve all the sins of the final season(s), but the episode in itself was satisfying. In my last post, I was critical of the last two seasons of Game of Thrones, arguing that the writers were prioritizing spectacle over storytelling. And now, looking back over how it all went down, it’s really perplexing to me that they didn’t use all this time to better set the ground for Dany’s heel turn.

In a post that’s gone viral, Daniel Silvermint suggests that the series has moved away from the “pantser” ethos of GRRM towards the “plotter” approach of showrunners D&D. Silvermint does a great breakdown of what these terms mean, so I suggest reading it, but I’ll do a brief summary for you: “plotters” are writers who list out the major plot points of a story before they start fleshing it out; whereas “pantsers” discover the story as they write it, they fly by the seat of their pants. Tolkien is often referred to as the ultimate plotter because he designed the maps, languages, and lore of Middle Earth before writing LOTR. Conversely, GRRM is the ultimate pantser because he claims that he loses interest in a story once he learns the ending. Continue reading Plotters vs Pantsers: Prior Planning Prevents Proper Piss-offs

Final Fantasy Foiling: Sephiroth vs Cloud

One of the great challenges writers face is creating a compelling conflict between their protagonist and antagonist. Too often the hero and villain exist within in their own respective vacuums. The hero saves the day because that’s their job while the villain twirls their moustache and exists as the hero’s make-work project.

I think a truly great hero/villain dichotomy is when the antagonist is a foil to the protagonist. That’s when the comparison goes deeper than their goals; their character traits are similar but differ in some striking ways. Moreover, by creating a strong contrast between your hero and villain, you can develop the themes of your story.

To illustrate this point I want to talk about the characters Cloud and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7. I chose FF7 because I want to show that this principle transcends media. And also because that game kicks ass and Sephiroth is the ultimate badass. FF7’s story is pretty bananas, but I’ll do my best to streamline and focus on the salient points.

*Spoilers ahead* Continue reading Final Fantasy Foiling: Sephiroth vs Cloud

Watch Your Reviews | Writing & Publishing Advice with Engen Founder Matthew LeDrew

It’s been a long time since I wrote an ongoing series of articles on this, or any other, website. That’s weighed on me. Since graduating I miss the exercise of penning essays. I’ve even encouraged my fellow Engen authors to write ongoing writing blogs (namely Ali House, Brad Dunne, Kit Sora, and Jon Dobbin, all of whom you should check out). But I never have myself. Writing advice is one thing, all our authors can offer that… but publishing advice? Marketing advice? Social Media advice… that comes with a different set of expectations, and a lot of hurt feelings.

Part of my anxiety around this has become the subject of today’s piece, because I want to address the evident hypocrisy in it right off the bat.

Today’s advice is: don’t post negative reviews, especially of authors at (or near) your current level of notoriety. Continue reading Watch Your Reviews | Writing & Publishing Advice with Engen Founder Matthew LeDrew

Write What You Know: A case study of Tom Clancy | Dunne Blog

One of the most confounding pieces of writing advice that gets thrown around haphazardly is “write what you know.” On the surface it makes sense: draw from personal experience so that your familiarity with the material lends a sense of authenticity and verisimilitude. However, when you think about it a little, it would seem to preclude a vast amount of possible stories. If you’re supposed to “write what you know” then how are you supposed to write fantasy, sci-fi, or even historical fiction. Moreover, many of those genre writers seem to do just fine without having personally experienced their own settings; Tolkien never set foot in Middle Earth.

I still think that “write what you know” has some currency, but we’ll have to dig into it a little bit to unpack its value. Continue reading Write What You Know: A case study of Tom Clancy | Dunne Blog

Deep Work: Why a $2 kitchen timer was one of the best investments I made in my writing

In a recent post, I talked about flow and the effort it takes to achieve it. Today, I want to talk more about that, specifically about making your writing space “sacred” and creating a “closed-loop system,” particularly with regards to distractions, vis a vis your phone.

In that post about flow, I discussed the pomodoro technique, which helps me focus. To quickly recap, I work for twenty-five minutes then take a five minute break. The problem is that I was using my phone to do this, and during my five minute breaks I’d usually check social media or any messages. Seems harmless enough, right? I’d briefly check my phone for a few minutes then set it aside and work, and then repeat.

The problem I found was that this was fragmenting my attention. I could never really give the task at hand my full attention. At the back of my mind was always whatever was going on with Facebook, messenger, etc. It felt like I was always trying to run with a parachute attached to my back. Continue reading Deep Work: Why a $2 kitchen timer was one of the best investments I made in my writing

Quick Nickel vs the Long Dollar: When to say no to opportunities

This January I was commissioned to write two short articles. It had been awhile since I did the freelance thing, and these pieces were outside the niche that I’d been carving for myself recently, but I said yes because it was an opportunity to make some quick money after Christmas. Also, the publisher has always been a pleasure to work with. And, I mean, it’s pretty hard for a writer to turn down a paying gig. However, I soon realized that taking on these sorts of projects was holding back my career. I was chasing the quick nickel instead of the long dollar.

When I first started my writing career back in 2013, I didn’t understand the value of specialization (among many other things). My passion had always been to write novels, ever since I was little kid, but I didn’t have a voice, didn’t know where to start. So I decided to follow the path laid by many other writers before me that I’d admired: journalism. I did a six-month internship at The Walrus magazine then embarked on a brief freelancing career.

I was interested in a lot of different things and figured it was all just writing. I chased after every possible pitch. I wrote articles about food banks, homelessness, women in the Canadian film industry, Newfoundland traditions, food, and immigration. I said yes to any opportunity.

This taught me two important lessons: 1) in order to be a great writer, or anything really, you have to focus on one very specific thing, and 2) to do that, you have to say “No” a lot.

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I took this from a Casey Neistat video

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown shows very simply the power of focusing on one thing vs several things. You can try to do ten things to the first degree, or you can do one thing to the tenth degree. Doing the former means you’ll spread yourself thin and only really nibble around the edges. The latter means you’ll end up actually mastering your chosen field.

There was no way I could write about immigration one week, food the next, and somehow find time to write novels in the meantime without my work suffering.

This begs the question: How do I find my niche? It’s easier said than done. Some people know from the start what they want to do. For example, you may have always wanted to be a sportswriter and every step you took from high school was in that direction. On the other hand, like me, you may have a lot of interests and can’t decide. In that case, I’d suggest doing a lot of things until you find your niche. After writing enough things that I wasn’t interested in, I managed to deduce what I was interested in.

Once you’ve reached this point, you’re ready for step number two: Saying No.

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Focusing on one thing means that you’re gonna have to say no to things that don’t contribute to your long term goals. And you’re going to have to say no a lot. Like a lot, a lot. What’s more, as you gain success and notoriety in your niche, more opportunities will come your way. You’re gonna need to parse which ones are right for you.

This is difficult for two reasons. 1) Turning down opportunities feels wrong. Like you’re being lazy and unappreciative. This requires discipline and focus. And 2) Knowing the right time to say no requires sound judgement.

Warren Buffett, who is worth an estimated $82 billion, says that the thing that separates successful people is that they say no to a lot of opportunities. Buffett owes approximately %90 of his wealth to just ten investment stocks. Therefore, there is a tonne of value to be found by drilling narrowly and deeply.

Or, consider Stephen King. After Carrie, he had to a choice to publish either Salem’s Lot, which would cement him as a horror writer, or Roadwork, which was more literary. King wasn’t afraid of specializing so he went with the former. I think that’s worked out pretty well for him.

So, whenever an opportunity comes your way, you have to ask, “Does this contribute to my long term goals? Am I chasing the quick nickel or the long dollar?”

That was the mistake I made when I said yes to those commissions at the start of the year. It wasn’t a bad opportunity, just not the right one for me. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or snobby, like it’s beneath. It just didn’t fit in with my long term goals. I was chasing the quick nickel.

Cheers,

-b