On Writing - Topic - Writing Tips

  • Building Grey: Races

    October 13, 2014

    I was reading a thread on reddit where someone was asking who to make the races of the campaign world they created feel unique, as all his ideas kept feeling recycled from other stories. I gave some tips on making the history of your world first, and then try to shape your races from those historical events. But something occurred to me while I was putting my post together.

    I love fantasy. I basically learned to read from old TSR forgotten realms novels, which was bread and butter elves, dwarves, orcs, halflings, etc. You couldn't throw a stone without hitting a demi-human race. They had long storied histories and age old conflicts. They paid homage to folklore, and Lord of the Rings.

    However, it didn't occur to me until I finished writing that reply, that I hadn't really placed any within the World of Grey. At least, not on the main continent on which Fallen Throne takes place. There are different races of humans, and the Dark Fey are the closest to another civilization, but they are still monsters at best. No dwarven warriors, elven archers, smallfolk thieves. It was never even a topic I discussed or plotted out.

    There's nothing wrong with fantasy races. I spent plenty of my formative years pretending to be them while rolling dice across the floor in grade school. But I felt like the story I wanted to tell did not need them. It was already a tale full of interesting individuals, magic and adventure. I did not need to add depth or complexity for complexity's sake.

    Whether you're writing age old tales or science fiction of tomorrow, make sure to think about what adding a particular race brings to your tale. Don't think you need to add it because that's what all fantasy novels do. Just make sure it feels natural, and that they are there because they are meant to be there, not because you feel they're supposed to be there.

  • Building Grey: Writing Again, Part 3

    October 8, 2014

    So, what I’ve been telling, my journey from starting my first book to putting the finishing touches on my digital releases, was for a reason. In all this time, I have been doing lot of polishing and promoting of my first book, but I had yet to sit down and start writing the second.

    For a while, I was just so busy with editing and learning the aspects of trimming my work down, and figuring out the ins and outs of formatting. Then I told myself I might not write a second book, if the first one never got off the ground. I think part of it was, the first book, I pretty book had written in my head, and I just needed to get it on the page. The second book was just a rough outline, and the third book is little more than a summary.

    Full disclosure, i have 9 to 5 five days a week job. Writing has been my hobby. I also maintain a pathfinder roleplaying game, like to watch TV and play video games, and hang out with my friends. I do all that, and made time to continually clean up and tweak Fallen Throne. It was hard to motivate myself to also flesh out and start writing book two.

    But, i’m here today to announce that”s exactly what i’ve done. I’ve been chipping away for the past three weeks, and while rough, it”s a great feeling to be back at it. I’m getting the band back together.

  • Building Grey: Writing Again, Part 2

    October 6, 2014

    So last time I had just described what I spent three years doing after I had written Fallen Throne. Along the way, everyone kept telling me I should publish digitally. I would hear things like, “Oh, it’s easy” or “Writers really hold all the cards these days” or “Everything’s going digitally anyway” and other similar suggestions.

    The first goal was to convert the story to a format that could be uploaded for digital conversion. I had written Fallen Throne on OpenOffice, and ran into a little bit of a problem. The commas and quotes didn’t seem to translate well, or paragraph indents didn’t always indent. I had just used line breaks between chapters instead of page breaks. I basically had to go through the entire story again for digital conversion edits. Even after, I would have to upload the story to a preview mode and double check.

    Next was trying to find the right approach to monetize my book. I wasn’t confidant enough to throw up everything at once. Plus, I hadn’t really done any kind of promotion. I hadn’t made any social media pages yet, I hadn’t been spreading word of mouth, and I didn’t have a website. If I put it all out there like that, I knew it would go nowhere.

    You see, while people say getting published digitally is easy, what I found was that’s probably the least important job of a publisher. Promotion and spreading the word about your book is what a publisher is really doing for you. I love writing, but I’m not an advertiser or marketing strategist. I was always more of a spectator on Facebook and never even used twitter, outside of redeeming some freebie in a game or monitoring contests.

    Know that when you self publish, you take on every role. You can no longer be just a writer. After much thought, I decided breaking my book up into four parts, and selling it over the course of a year would be my best bet. I felt comfortable charging that magical 99 cents that seems to be the go to price for digital goods, it would give me time to promote each part, and build interest, and it gave me time to work on side projects like social media pages and a website, so I could build a history.

    Wow, five more paragraphs, and I’m still not done getting to the end of my tale. I look back and the time I spent constructing the finished novel seemed to fly by, but by my own account, that’s clearly not the case.

    This article will conclude next week, so stay tuned, fans.

  • Building Grey: Writing Again, Part 1

    October 3, 2014

    It took nearly two years to write Fallen Throne. For the better part of 11 months, I wrote 5-10 pages a day 6 days a week. Then I went through a move and some writer’s block and it took nearly that same amount of time to get the last few chapters done.

    Then I spent about a year editing. Well, that’s not entirely true. I printed out 20+ copies to give to various people to read and get feedback on, and took 6 months off to forget about my book. Then I came back and spent 6 months editing and reflecting on the feedback I got back from the people that managed to finish. It was about 1 in 5.

    I always thought writing the story was the challenge, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Writing the story was a walk in the park, compared to the challenges I faced trying to get published. I wasted the first 8 months or so following the request most agents and publishers had, of not submitting to multiple people at a time. To wait until I heard back from one before sending out to another.

    By my tenth or twelfth rejection, I felt like it was taking forever, so I said the hell with it, and just started sending out 5 submissions a week. I figured the odds of getting 2 people that were legitimately interested at the same time were probably slightly better odds than winning the lottery. This went on for another year. I finally decided I might have to pursue other routes for publication.

    And again, I find myself at many paragraphs, and nowhere near the end of this story, so I’m going to break it here, and save the rest for next time.

  • Building Grey: From Idea to Book, Part 2

    September 22, 2014

    World of Grey has been a setting I've been working on for a while. Previously, I talked about how it was originally a game idea, then became a D&D campaign before eventually becoming a novel.

    The story has also changed a lot as well. Originally it was much more in spirit with The Lord of the Rings. There was a powerful witch, Sortia, who lost a bracelet, that a boy unearthed in a long forgotten tomb close to his village. Sortia had foot soldiers she sent after the bracelet, the boy met friends and adventurers who had a vested interest in keeping the bracelet out of her hands, and adventure ensued. It was a lot of fun, and even made for an interesting game, but I just don't think I had my heart into it entirely.

    When I sat down to start writing it as a story, I just wasn't compelled by the characters. I wasn't interested In the backstory, and it just kept feeling too Tolkien. In hindsight I think the movies had just come out and intentional or not, it was heavily influencing my ideas.

    In the end it was too black and white for what I wanted to do. The World of Grey is meant to be exactly that. Shades of morality. Fallen Throne has a bit of a black and white feel to it, but a lot of it is the setup to a larger tale. I'm hoping to explore the character's motivations and thoughts more in future adventures. The other problem with my original idea was that there was only one conflict. Sortia. Once that was resolved, the story was over. Whereas in Fallen Throne, Geddon is just a pawn in a larger game.

    What I learned from this was two parts. That your first idea probably won't be your best idea, and that it's okay to throw away ideas if they don't light your world on fire after rounding them out a bit. It's okay to invest time into something that you ultimately set aside. You'll do that a lot in the creative process. But none of it's a waste. Each bit of work will take you closer to the idea you do want to get behind, and nurture.

    It took a lot of bad ideas to get to Fallen Throne.

  • Building Grey: From Idea to Book, Part 1

    September 15, 2014

    Before 'World of Grey' was the book series I am writing, it was to be the interactive world I was going to create in Neverwinter Nights. I had spent many months writing character profiles, scripting dialogue exchanges, and creating adventure paths. For those not in the know, Neverwinter Nights was a computer game where you could create your own adventures using tools that came with the game. Unfortunately, I never quite took to the coding aspect of the game, and the project came to a halt before it ever got off the ground.

    I kept all the resources I had created though, and wanted to keep it around for a future project. I even tried it as a campaign for a game of dungeons and dragons, but quickly realized that players do not follow script like your written characters do, so that plan was scrapped as well. I did get a few more characters to flavor the setting, as I made people up as needed for the party to talk to, and a few points of interest as well as they travelled around, off course from where I wanted the story to go. But fun times none the less.

    I briefly tried a few submissions to get it made into an animated series, but had no artistic talent to speak of, and everyone wanted a picture, or storyboard. I had taken a scriptwriting class in college, and used what I had learned there to turn my ideas into a five page script, but I had nothing else. Plus I didn't even know if I was submitting my project to the right venues, or if this kind of approach even worked.

    In hindsight, writing a book was the last thing I tried, but it was probably the approach I was best prepared for. I had always loved writing, had taken courses for it in both high school and college, and had impressed teachers to the degree that they always said I should pursue it more. It only took eight years and a few failed attempts to bring me back to it.

    And writing the book came more naturally than any of the previous mediums I tried to tackle. Well, I'd say 95% of it anyway. Khristian and Jenner's adventure in Arcturus took as long to write as the rest of the book did. I actually skipped it initially and wrote the end.

    But when I was done, I felt really good about it. Even if it never gets major success, it was a journey worth taking, and I feel better about myself for having taken it. Sometimes that the best part of the journey.

  • Building Grey: Passive Voice

    September 3, 2014

    Today's topic is a bit more subjective than most. A lot of the topics I cut about are usually pretty cut and dry. Or they are optional, aimed at improving some aspect of writing or creating a story if you're unsure what to do.

    When I say I want to talk about language, I mean basic english, not the fantasy languages you might create. I might talk about that at some point, but I'm not sure I feel I even have a tight enough grasp to venture there. Yet.

    What I want to talk about today are some basic concepts. First is using the active voice when writing. Using an active voice generally makes everything clearer to the reader. Somebody does something to someone. I hit your car. He slammed on the brakes. Everyone went to the hospital.

    Passive voice would be something like. Your car was hit by me. The brakes were slammed on by him. The hospital is where everyone went. It can sound a bit awkward. It also requires the use of more words, cluttering up your message.

    This is not to say you should only use active voice, but be conscious of how much you fall back on passive voice.

  • Building Grey: Editing, Part 2

    August 29, 2014

    Let the editing continue! Last time I talked about taking a break, letting yourself forget about your work so you can look at it with new eyes, and cutting parts that add nothing to your story.

    Another easy way to self edit, after having removed yourself from your work for a while is to read it out loud. I'm always amazed how many little phrases and details my mind autocorrects for me when I read silently. I also feel this is the best way to pick up little pieces that computer checks miss. Most computers can tell you when you misspell a word, but it rarely tells you when you happen to type 'of' in place of 'off', 'on' in place of 'one', 'the' for 'then' and so on. When you read it out loud, you notice a lot more about the structure of your text.

    And it's an easy way to tell if some bits of conversation sound natural or not. If I have long stretches of dialogue that go back and forth, I actually like to copy it and read it with a friend to see if the rhythm and cadence of the conversation sounds right.

    Another important part of editing is getting someone's eyes other than your own on the work. It helps if that person is a competent english major, or at least likes the genre of the book you're writing. But at the bare minimum, someone who doesn't have the whole story mapped out in their head and knows all the backstory. At one point I had Khristian talk to Roland as if they had already met, not realizing that I had skipped that bit earlier, and only going off the memory that I had planned to have them meet.

    A good editor can pinpoint all your loose ends and phantom encounters, which, the longer you spend working on your book, the greater the chances of you adding them are. Especially if you take a few months off here and there because you need a break, or life happens.

    The last part to mention is, all the above being noted, you don't need to listen to everything your editor tells you. Plot holes, yes, character tone, not necessarily. Make sure you're still telling the story you want to tell.

  • Building Grey: Editing, Part 1

    August 25, 2014

    This will have a little overlap with pacing, but editing is so much more. It's correct sentence structure, using grammar correctly, making sure points of interest and plot elements are cohesive, and can affect the general mood of the story overall.

    Fallen Throne was a much longer story in its first pass. Almost twice as long in fact. I wrote about everything. There were tons of little side stories, characters talked at length about morality and religion, pages would be devoted to describing a walk from one place to another. Suffice to say, there was a lot of rambling.

    When I first started writing Fallen Throne, I told myself I wanted it to be epic. I loved the 1,000+ page classics. I used to judge the value of a movie by its run time. And when I was finished writing, I reveled in the page count I had created. And no one wanted to read it. I wanted to get some friends' opinions of it, but they were daunted by the page count. And when I had originally shopped it around to publishers and agents, they all balked at the length, saying it should be split into separate books.

    I kind of learned a one-two punch in that, I had a terrible time cutting anything out. Everything felt important. What I would realize later is that I was too close to the material. I'd finished writing it weeks ago, and was still filling out entries in the encyclopedia. I may have sent submissions out before it was finished, because I saw what the return times were like.

    In any event, it wasn't until I got away from the book for a bit, and came back to it, that I felt confidant editing it. For we it was almost a year. When I came back, it was painfully obvious what needed cut. There was so much, for lack of a better phrase, self-indulgence. I thought to myself ‟What was I thinking when I wrote this?” when I went back over a lot of the sections. Swaths were cut. Whole chapters disappeared. In most cases, if you can remove an entire chapter from your book and nothing would be missing, it's probably something you can cut.

    I tightened it up on the micro level too. Shortening sentences, changing tense, hundreds upon hundreds of little corrections that made for a better read.

    There's more editing I want to talk about, but I realize I've already spent lots of text on cutting a manuscript down to size, so I'll save the rest for the next time.

  • Building Grey: Magic

    August 20, 2014

    I want to talk of fireballs and ice storms and lightning bolts. Animated corpses, teleportation and incantation. I am a lover of all things magical. The very first novel I can remember reading was about a girl who could literally absorb magic out of the air and throw it back in a fiery stream of death.

    I remember when I sat down to watch 'The Fellowship of the Ring' that I was surprised by the lack of flashy magic. I thought surely, in the land of dwarves and elves and goblins, that magic would drip from the scenery like rain on an overcast day. But I learned something else. Tolkien made magic precious. When you saw it, it was something special, or made a point, or was wrapped in a concept grounded in the believable. Tolkien was already telling a fantastic adventure. He didn't need to create something that might detract from the story.

    When I thought about writing a novel, I always imagined I would have skies the limit when it came to magic. Mighty wizards would topple buildings, throw the elements around like it was effortless, and the very earth would tremble. But I realized that while it might make for edge of your seat entertainment, that wasn't a story.

    I realized I wanted to make magic special too, and not put it everywhere. When Roland brings forth his sword, it's obvious it's one of a kind. Colette is a being of magic, and she is a force to be reckoned with. But magic can be a very simple thing as well, as Mao shows everyone. And I think the story is richer for it. I don't want magic to detract from a story, but help build it.

    In the end, this isn't to detract from you using magic in your own story, but just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Make it part of your world, and make it special.

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