On Writing

  • Character Study: Ripalst Mansion Females

    August 18, 2014

    Today I’ll talk about the head of the household, Madeline Fensworth, and the three girls under her tutelage, Jamie Follet, Melanie Cooks, and Rachel Dulce.

    Madeline is the voice of reason in Jenner’s life. She does her best to make sure he stays a responsible and thoughtful man, though it doesn’t always take. Originally she was going to be Alfred to Jenner’s Batman, but I realized i wanted a much more robust and lively manor, and since Jenner has no secret identity to keep from the world, it was very easy to make his mansion a warm, active place, with Madeline at the forefront.

    She’s been with Jenner all his life, serving with his parents before he was born. She is a prim and proper lady who keeps her greying hair in a tight knit bun at all times, with no strand ever out of place. Her appearance is impeccable and demands nothing less from those around her. She has seen Jenner grow up, patched him up when he gets hurt, and hands out lectures and advice when he needs it. The manor would probably fall apart if she ever left.

    I originally had much grander plans for the three maids. Love interests, back stories and general humor and entertainment to lighten the story. But I found when going back that I gave the maids a bit too much life, and the story at the Ripalst manor slammed to a screeching halt as it became the daily lives of maids.

    There were some interesting story arcs there, but in the end, it needed to be cut so Khristian and Aerika could get back on track. They each retained some of their character, but only Jamie retained much of her original arc. The other two lost most of their side stories. I do plan to have them visited again further down the line.

    While Fatima is in Jenner’s employ, and she has but a brief time in the story, I feel she deserves her own entry.

  • Character Study: Colette

    August 15, 2014

    Ah, my favorite shapeshifting, no-nonsense assassin. Colette first formed in my mind back when I heard of something called a clone war in Star Wars. The name instantly formed an epic war in my head. It was only later where I would find out what I pictured a clone war to be was nothing like what happened in that galaxy far far away. Clone war to me summoned up some world at war with beings who could mimic the looks of others, so you never knew if someone was friend or enemy. I liked my idea so much I decided it should be in my book.

    And so Colette was born. The war between Ramza and the shapeshifting Oblin was decades ago, and the Oblin haven't been seen since. Colette is the lone survivor as far as anyone knows. And Colette has been around far longer than the war. She didn't even participate. Colette is hundreds of years old. She has seen everything life has to offer. She tried being good, bad, polite, sadistic. She's runt he gamut of emotions. She cares about people a little less than she used to. She's known loss more often that not. All her friends have died. She also has no real need for money. She does a job or activity as long as it interests her, and then once it bores her, she moves on.

    Colette is probably the deadliest woman in Grey as far as Fallen Throne is concerned. Both Jenner and Gregor consider themselves competent men with blades, but they are both put back on their heels whilst fighting Colette. Between her collection of knowledge over the years and her unnatural healing, she can go all in on every fight she's a part of. I don't foresee her taking a big role in the next book, but she'll be back for the finale.

  • Building Grey: Pacing

    August 13, 2014

    Pacing sets the speed at which things happen. It also can be a slightly more literal movement of events in the form of chapters. I want to talk a little about both.

    I once read that in scripts for action movies, they want an action beat about every 20 pages. Something big needs to happen every 20 pages. At a page per minute, page to film, that's about every 20 minutes in a movie. A fight, something blows up, a chase, etc. It helps to keep the audience engaged and it meets the expectation of what they came in for. There are of course, exceptions to these rules, but I find even drama and comedies have these beats, where every so often something dramatic or funny occurs, relatively speaking.

    When your pacing is off, things seem to slow down. I felt the second season of Walking Dead and the third season of Game of Thrones had some pacing issues, that were handled much better in their written counterparts. Too much time at the farm. Too much time with Theon. I think shows like Breaking Bad or 24 are some excellent examples of good pacing.

    For Fallen Throne, I feel it's an adventure book first, so there better be a lot of moving about and exploring new places. Originally Aerika and Khristian spent a lot more time in Jenner's mansion, and later, in Balthwell. Dozens of pages worth of extra time. But nothing was really happening. It was idle banter and sightseeing. Nothing was really happening. I realized the story was slowing to a crawl.

    I also tightened up some of Jenner's investigating arcs. At first I thought it was adding depth to Jenner, but I realized upon repeated readings that you get the gist of Jenner's acting chops within a few beats of that first fight in Caulmont. And each additional outing revealed a bit less. So those got toned down as well. Always be moving. The last arc of Fallen Throne where they are in Arcturus took a lot of refinement because I was trying to find the right amount of time for them to be spending in Krugeth's camp.

    The other bit of pacing I wanted to mention was where your chapters fall. I personally feel chapters that are roughly even in length are strongest. It can help you as a writer set the pace for the chapter when you know how many pages you have to setup the arc of events for that chapter, and I feel as a reader, if you read chapters at a time, you feel better when you know how long you're in for when you tell yourself, one more chapter.

    When I looked at Fallen Throne after the first run through, my chapters were all over the place. Some were 5 pages, while others were 40+. I spent a lot of time looking at the content and trying to find better break points, and I could also manipulate which bits of information I wanted grouped together. Most chapters ended up being in the high teens or mid twenties by the time I was done, which made for a much tighter story.

    After a little work, you'll find the right pace for your story, and it'll be better for it.

  • Building Grey: Getting it Done

    August 11, 2014

    More often than not, a story has three parts. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes they are told in that order, and sometimes not. What's important when writing, is that you don't need to stick to the same order.

    When I wrote Fallen Throne, I had some very solid visuals in my head. The fire at the R.A.T. The fight on the coach. The battle at Hallon's Hold. Umbrunzwe's daring escape from the castle. I had these set pieces cemented in my head. I didn't have every bit that connected these moments together planned out. And what I learned was that it was okay.

    I never had writer's block when I wrote Fallen Throne, and that's because I let myself jump around in the story. If I got to a moment where I wasn't positive what the characters should be doing next, I skipped ahead a few pages and told the next thing I knew they were doing for sure. Then a few days later, I'd come back to where I was stumped. Often times, the act of writing ahead helped clear up the earlier problem. I would make a decision I could use to help pave the way in the past.

    I'd say the single most important thing I took away from writing Fallen Throne was never stop writing. If ever I was confused, or frustrated, I would write about something easy. I'd write up descriptions of characters, or add to the encyclopedia, or maybe compose a poem or song for the world. I would always craft something.

    Another important step, and this will sound a tad cliché, but setting goals is important. If you're a bit intimidated by goals, it's okay to start small. When I first started writing Fallen Throne, I told myself, three pages a day. After a week I told myself five pages a day. By a month in, I was sailing steady at ten pages a day. On a good day, those ten pages came in an hour. Sometimes it took two. But you have to stick with it. Sometimes this means missing a TV show (I didn't have a cable box that recorded shows) or cutting out some video games, or not eating out for the Nth time that week.

    Writing is a commitment like any other. Even if you love your commitments, you still have to devote time to them when sometimes you might want to be doing something else. That doesn't mean you're not a good writer. Everyone likes to do different things, and only a few special individuals can do the same task day in and day out.

    Get committed to your writing craft, and you have the first major obstacle behind you.

  • Character Study: Roland Cross

    August 8, 2014

    Today is the first day that I'm going to talk about some of the inhabitants of Grey. Eventually I plan to get to everyone, to delve a bit into who they are. Today I'd like to talk about Roland Cross.

    Roland Cross, previous captain of Geddon's army, and current knight in service of the One God. I've always been drawn to the concept of paladins. I admire their faith. I love their unwavering devotion to ideals. I wanted Roland to be a hard man to like. He fights for what he believes is right. He wields some of the most powerful weapons and magic in Ramza. But with anything one can follow blindly, Roland can also miss important things that happen right in front of him.

    Big plans are in store for Roland. His faith will be put to the test, and he among many will question how much power a god actually has. The one god is a bit inspired from christianity. Except in Grey, it's on the wane, as other religions move in. Roland is viewed by many as a remnant of an old way of life. Many do not like the man for that very reason. They feel he stands in the way of progress. And personally, I've always wondered if, hundreds or thousands of years from now, will people look at the religions of today like we view the roman and greek gods.

    I had originally planned to have more interaction between Roland and Jenner, but it's been moved to a later date. I fell in love too much with Khristian, Aerika, Jenner, Mao, Havelin and Umbrunzwe. I felt six characters were enough to focus on, so Roland took a bit of a back seat. I did make sure to give him a grand entrance, as the battle at Hallon's Hold showcases. I'm excited to work in more of that friendly rivalry between Jenner and Roland in future stories.

  • Building Grey: The Right Time

    August 6, 2014

    This is more of a pep talk than a tool, but everyone can use a pep talk from time to time. I call this topic the Right Time, but in actuality, I feel it's a myth.

    I've been writing for years. Decades even. I can recall at a young age punching away on my mom's typewriter. I can faintly recall the smell of whiteout and ink. I think I was 7 or 8 at the time, writing about the adventures kids in grade school were having. I spent many years writing short stories, all the way up through my college days. But while I often thought about it, I never took a crack at a full blown novel.

    I always said I was waiting for the right time. I'll have more time to write in college. I'll have more time when this semester's over. I'll have more time once this project is done. I'll have more time once I move out. Once I find a better job.

    These sound like excuses, but I honestly believed them at the time. I thought there'd me some magical moment that felt right for writing my story. Maybe some people have these moments, but I realized that I wasn't going to. I had to make my moment.

    I'm telling you this because, if you are one of those people waiting for the right moment, you're missing it. I'm not saying Fallen Throne would of taken the world by storm instantly had I written it ten years earlier, but I feel like there was a period where publishing houses took more risks on first time writers. When book stores were flourishing. And I missed it. And that's on me. And now that I've written my story, I know that there was no magical time that made the story just flow. During the year I wrote Fallen Throne, I worked full time, moved, and had my appendix removed, among other things. I still made time to write. You have to make your right time.

    So if you are waiting to write your story. If you're waiting for your life to be less busy. Don't. Write it right now. Start today. You're never going to get that magical free time in the ideal spot to start your story. Start writing it now. The journey will take longer than you think. You have to make the time to do it.

  • Building Grey: Inspiration

    August 4, 2014

    Today's topic isn't a tool per se. I wanted to talk about inspiration. Ideas can come from anything. Sometimes I think your best ideas can come from subjects completely unrelated to the theme or subjects you are writing about. Today I want to talk about some inspiration for a few of the main characters in Fallen Throne.

    While I don't make as much time to watch anime today as I did years ago, I still enjoy the medium. I feel like I get to see genres and topics that, as a primary viewer of western television, I don't get exposure to regularly. One show I enjoyed early on was a show called Fullmetal Panic. Not to be confused with Full Metal Alchemist, which is another great show in it's own way.

    Fullmetal Panic is about a straight-laced soldier who is sent to protect a girl with mysterious powers. He's serious, no-nonsense and loyal to a fault, while the girl can be a bit silly, gets tired of his over-protectiveness, and is generally a lways giving hima hard time. The interaction of the two characters always intrigued me, and I loved the relationship between the two.

    When I sat down to sculpt Khristian and Aerika, I thought a lot about Sousuke and Kaname. I didn't copy their looks, or the settings, or anything else. I just would think to myself, what would they do, to help guide decisions that Khristian and Aerika make. I think Khristian is a little more relaxed than Sousuke, and I think Aerika is a little more naïve than Kaname. Even, saying this, I don't know that anyone would notice the similarities. But it helped flesh the characters out, and when the two make it through something together, it makes me smile.

    The other two characters I want to talk about are Havelin and Umbrunzwe. For years, before I even considered writing a story, I was a Kevin Smith fan. Mallrats is probably my favorite. It was the first place I got to meet the inseparable duo of Jay and Silent Bob. Partners in crime, the ying to his yang.

    I knew when I sat down to start Fallen Throne, that I absolutely wanted some comic relief. I'd read too many Terry Pratchett books. Now Havelin and Umbrunzwe are a lot more capable when it comes to survival at the end of a blade. Umbrunzwe is by far the most accomplished combatant of all the main characters in Fallen Throne, maybe Roland and Colette running a close second. And I don't think Jay is the poet and musician that Havelin is. But when Havelin and Umbrunzwe chide each other and play around, I have these two notorious drifters in mind, and it brings a smile to my face.

    May you find inspiration and write characters that are always bringing smiles to your face.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy

    August 2, 2014

    I realized that now that I have my own website, I can talk about less serious stuff from time to time.  Not every post needs to be a writing lesson or an insight into The World of Grey.

    Tonight I went to see the aforementioned marvel movie with some friends.  I knew very little about gotg going in, having only read the first 6 issues of the most recent relaunch of the series.  Needless to say, everything you've probably heard or read was true.

    The growth of the marvel universe was something I never dreamed I'd see as a kid, and not only have I gotten to see that universe unfold on the big screen, but it's also making a cohesive universe and an ongoing storyline.  One I'm not worried they are going to reboot every five years.  And through that lens that the people at marvel have constructed, I'm excited about a series that I never really cared about on the page.

    I laughed a lot during the show.  I think I laughed harder in this film than in any movie I can remember in recent history.  The uncontrolled, unreserved belly laughter that makes me start coughing and catch my breath.  I won't spoil anything, but needles to say, just almost every character is someone you can fall in love with, becoming instantly memorable.

    Which brings me to my only disappointment with the movie.  I had my doubts about the approach to this particular character during the first action sequence among the to-be guardians.  As the character developed over the course of the run time, I only grew a little more disheartened, but I didn't say anything.  I figured it might just be me, and I was curious what my friends thought.

    After the movie was over, as we talked about it on the ride home, everyone loved it.  Star Lord stole the show every time he was onscreen.  I didn't expect Drax to be so funny.  Rocket Raccoon was awesome.  Groot was adorable.  We talked about all of them for pretty much the entirety of the car ride home.

    Gamora was never mentioned once.  And truth be told, I don't know if she said anything honestly humorous or funny.  She played into some jokes ( I'm looking at you, mr. bacon) but she was pretty much the no-nonsense assassin killing machine she kept telling us she was.

    Except, at no time, did they make me feel like she was any more competent a fighter than Star Lord or even Groot.  She fumbles her first on screen fight, bested by Star Lord, Rocket and Groot.  She is captured twice, and saved by Star Lord both times.  Her best moment to me was when she managed to not fall for Star Lord's suave charm, which in hindsight to the rest of the main cast, felt sad.

    Now, the movie is still great, but I just felt like they let Gamora's character become a damsel in distress.  Yes, she can knock a few heads together, but never to a degree that made me feel like she should have the feared reputation she does.  I wish her character had been better written.

    Don't let that dissuade you from seeing the movie, as you'll probably miss out on the funniest movie of the year.  And this coming from a guy that generally doesn't like comedies.
    Have a good weekend, everyone.

  • Building Grey: Devices

    August 1, 2014

    Today is another topic about keeping track of all your ideas. And it's easier today than ever. I use an iPad for it, but whatever you have available to you works; tablet, smartphone, hand recorder, notebook. Basically, have something with you at all times that you can use to jot down ideas.

    But Mr. Porthos, you say, if it's really a good idea, how could it possibly slip my mind. Well, unless it's an idea so good that it spawns its own story, there's a good chance you can forget it. I've probably forgotten more good ideas than I want to remember. Good ideas don't come when it's convenient. They come during movies, in the shower, while grocery shopping, playing games, shooting the breeze with friends, and even in your sleep.

    You have that good idea, and the next thing you know, there's a loud explosion on screen, you run out of hot water, collide with another shopper, get yelled at for stalling on your turn, laugh at a joke, or wake up, and the idea is quickly pushed aside. And you missed it. You might remember it, or parts of it, or that you had a good idea, but you might forget it to.

    It's not worth losing your ideas. Get it down as soon as you have it, or grab your recording device and say it if you need to keep a hand on the steering wheel. Don't tell yourself you'll remember it later. Do it right now. In fact, if you had a good idea just now, stop reading this and jot down your idea. No, seriously, stop, the lines of text you're reading will wait.

    Are we good? Alright. Once you have the idea, you can always flesh it out later. Maybe it works for your story now. Maybe it works for a different story five years from now. But you have it. That's the important part. I don't believe there are many bad ideas, but just ideas married to the wrong concepts.

    Until next time, may all your ideas come when you want them to. (but they won't!)

  • Building Grey: Encyclopaedia

    July 30, 2014

    Today's topic is an idea that didn't occur to me until I was almost done with Fallen Throne. But after doing it, I can't imagine writing a story without one. It'll help you remember the history you're creating so you don't repeat it later. You can avoid repetition when naming places and people. It can also serve as the place where you save descriptions for everything that don't quite make it into your story. I'm talking about an encyclopedia.

    Not a literal book, but a file where you save the bits and pieces that make up the details in your story, and I find writing it all down alphabetically helps. Every character, every place, every creature, every book or play or piece of entertainment that gets mentioned. Every time you add something to your story, make a note of it in your encyclopedia

    Not only does this serve for a quick reference if you want to flesh out a particular detail, but you'll have an easy place to store it. For instance, had I bothered to keep an encyclopedia from the start, I would have much fewer female characters that have a first name that begins with A. Aerika, Annika, Anne, Arilessca, Arlene, Alice. I love these names, but in hindsight I think I would of sprinkled in some variety.

    Keeping a reference is also handy because your memory isn't as great as you think it is. What was the capitol of M'lan? What did Khristian name his crossbow? What did I call that layered peanut butter and chocolate dessert from Arcturus? As great as searching my story sounds, skimming my encyclopedia is much faster. It also comes in handy when you name someone new, and can make sure you don't already have someone running around with that name.

    Additionally, the encyclopedia is a great place to flesh out the history of your story without bloating your book. Maybe I want to expand on the tale of a teenage Jenner slaying the great green wyrm, or Aerika's birth father, or Roland's pilgrimage with the one god. You can write as much into your reference guide as you want, without worry of ruining the pace of your current story.

    And finally, once your story is famous, you have a nice tome of information that fans would love to get their hands on, and you've already written it.

    Until next time, always be writing.

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