1) Too much exposition can be boring.
If you’ve got an awesome flaming sword (or a Chekhov’s gun), you’re going to want to use it. You won’t want to listen to some NPC drone on and on for hours and hours. Yes, information is important and you’ll never solve the story’s mystery if you don’t talk to people or listen to clues, but eventually you’ll want that local farmer to shut their yap so that you can start doing some things. Knowledge is great, but if your dialogue seems to be going on for too long, toss your character a task that needs completing, even if it’s a simple one.
2) Too much fighting can be exhausting.
Fights are thrilling, but if your character is going from one fight to another to another to another, eventually you’ll get battle fatigue (just like your character). You’ll want to rest and heal up, maybe go to a hospital. Or maybe you’ll just want a quick nap and a sandwich. Either way, action’s great and all, but too much of it and you risk tiring everyone out*. Continue reading Writing Advice I’ve Gleaned from Playing DND | House Blog
This past near has been interesting for me, nostalgia-wise, as Engen Books has been re-releasing my original 10-part urban thriller series as Coral Beach Casefiles with some wonderful covers by Kit Sora. As such I’ve been taking the time to go back and tweak and adjust some goofs in the original texts.
There’s some things you can only write when you’re young I think, and last month and this month were a very anxious time for me because they saw the release of Ghosts of the Past and Ignorance is Bliss… both of which have plots which revolve chiefly around children in peril, and one in which said child meets a (spoilers) very bad end.
This is the type of thing I would rarely do today, and even looking back on it I find it… squeamish. Have I lost my edge? I went back a re-read these books with a kind of half-grimace, because all I remember are the outcomes… but then I remembered, these were actually half decent books. I actually started to like the writing again and get back into the mindset.
All this begged the question for me: why was this plot necessary for young me? Why do kids die in fiction? Continue reading Why we kill [CENSORED] in fiction | Writing and Publishing advice from Engen Founder Matthew LeDrew
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
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
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
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
Recently, I’ve become fascinated with the concept of the “flow state”; a frame of mind where you become lost in a task. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one…Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
To be sure, it’s certainly not a new or novel concept. Throughout history, people like Newton and Michelangelo would become so engrossed in a project that they’d forget to eat, bathe, or even sleep. That might be a little extreme, but I’m sure I speak for a lot of you when I say that I’d like to be a little more focused when I sit down to write. I can’t tell you how many times a writing session has been derailed by the many distractions of the internet.
When I was writing my Master’s thesis, it got to the point that I’d write a sentence, check the word count, save file, then go on Reddit. After three hours I might have written 500 words. It was torture. Continue reading New Year’s Resolution: Go With the Flow | Dun Dun Dunne