My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.05 – Villain, Antagonist, Obstacle

After what felt like an episode that wasn’t for me, this one fell much more into my wheelhouse. Villains, antagonists, and obstacles.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

This topic continues the discussion that main crew had going about heros/protagonists/main characters and quite obviously was recorded at the same session.

The humor played into that fact. And with how easily they were referring to an episode from “weeks” ago. It’s not like the podcasters make any big secret about doing multiple shows in a session, but this episode it seemed especially noticable.

And I like that – I like moments when the wizard is a bit visible behind the curtain. It reminds me that people who I admire and respect aren’t perfect and let’s me be a little more gracious with myself when I don’t pull something off as smoothly as I might want to.

Self compassion aside, I loved this episode for the topic it covered.

In my reaction to the heros episode, I mentioned that I have a dislike for using that term to describe my main character. But I will admit that this episode might be changing my mind. I really like the definitions they came up with for the three “opposite” roles and it’s changed how I think of the roles of hero, protagonist, and main character.

Here are my particular paraphrases of those definitions:

  • obstacle: a person, situation, or event that blocks or opposes the desire of the hero/protagonists/main character
  • antagonist: a character who actively works against the hero/protagonist/main character and/or competes with them for their desire.
  • villain: antagonist who is actively evil

It’s the villain one that impacts me the most on my thinking about heros. I have no issues with how a villain is described in the episode, even though “evil” isn’t a hard and fast trait. We feel like we know it when we see it, but it is a difficult metric to quantify. But in my subconscious, it makes sense: that’s what a villain is.

Combine that with the hero episode where the podcasters posit the question of when should you (in storytelling) have the hero, the protagonist, and the main character all be the same, and when are they different.

Per that episode, the hero is the one who takes heroic action. Again, heroic action isn’t hard and fast – but just like I grok “evil” within the context of villain, stated this way I understand what heroic action would mean within the course of any particular story that I tell.

The other thing that I like is that I can have multiple characters take heroic action for different things, in different scenes, and in different amounts.

I’m not limited to one hero, one villain. And that may be why I have a hard time with referring to the main character as the hero. That concept just doesn’t fit for the kinds of stories I like to tell.

Example time.

Let’s break out Star Wars: A New Hope just because.

During the course of the film, no less than 4 characters take heroic action and could be considered heros in that light.

  • Leia never breaks under torture or duress, but maintains her secret knowledge of the rebel base in spite of pending death.
  • Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to ensure that Vader and company are distracted enough to let the Falcon escape.
  • Han returns to a suicide fight in an undermanned freighter, risking getting blown out of the sky to help a friend.
  • Luke stays in the trench and risks his life after all previous pilots doing the same have been killed.

Only one of these heros was also the main character of the film.

So with this same idea in play, I think it really does come down to what type of story is being told to figure out who the protagonist is and who the antagonist is and if these roles even make sense in the course of storytelling.

For me, I like my heros less iconic and I like my antagonists less villainous, but I definitely have a better feel for using these ideas in my fiction.

Incidentally, that brings me to my final thought. I think the main antagonist of Star Wars: A New Hope was Han Solo. Granted, the villains of the film are Tarkin and Vader. But I think Han is closer to the true role of antagonist.

He actively opposes the protagonist’s (Luke) desire on most every front – he mocks Luke’s desire to buy a ship, he refuses to give into Luke’s desire to rescue anybody, he doesn’t let Luke grieve (Come on, kid). He competes with Luke for Leia’s perceived affections. He confronts Luke and tries to dissuade him from going to battle against the Empire. It is only at the end that Luke overcomes Han by attacking his cowardice and convinces Han to return to the fight.

To me, that all says antagonist.

Please – argue it out in the comments below. I’d like to see what you come with.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.04 – Protagonists Who Aren’t Sympathetic

So, there is always the possibility of stumbling when you’re trying something new and for me this is the episode where things just didn’t work. I’m not sure exactly why it didn’t – perhaps for the same reason books sometimes don’t work: I’m not the target audience.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟

The discussion was lively and the new guest host Valynne Maetani was fine. But it’s possible the subject matter just wasn’t for me. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t yet tried to write, or even felt the desire to write, an unsympathetic protag. In fact, I’ve have hard time writing an antagonist or villain that isn’t sympathetic in some facet.

So, my reactions are going to focus more on what I could take away from the episode rather than riffing on anything in particular the episode itself said.

Brandon spoke again about his “sliders” or “knobs” analogy with regards to protagonists – you can make them likable, competent, and/or active, with levels of each varying from character to character. So, I’ve been trying to think of different protags that I like and seeing what levels their various sliders were set to.

In Person of Interest, John Reese starts out very much as hyper-competent, but not active (has to be pressured into doing the work) and not terribly likable. We find out his past is checkered with darkness and not nice things. As the series goes, those levels change. In the media I consume, he would be the closest to being an unsympathetic character that I personally enjoy. And in reality, he’s only partially the protag – it’s definitely a team protagonist and John is balanced by Harold who is competent in a different realm, likable, and active. If you haven’t seen the show, none of that likely makes sense, but oh well.

In the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, perhaps Sam Vimes is – to an extent – unsympathetic in his first appearance in Guards! Guards! A world-weary drunkard, Sam though is inherently honorable, as the book shows him to be – he isn’t unsympathetic through any real fault of his own except his drinking. Everything else is somewhat circumstantial – his life isn’t one of ease, so he’s had to grow hard enough to deal with it, but isn’t in himself hard. In fact, the whole point of his growth throughout the series centers on the fact that he doesn’t let his honor or basic character be compromised through eventual marriage, money, prestige, or rank. So again, not what I’d call unsympathetic.

Where have I seen unsympathetic characters work well? In making a very unlikable antagonist.

Steve (Edward Norton’s character) in the remake of The Italian Job is wonderfully awful. He manages to be unlikable, relatively un-active – it’s even a plot point as they make him re-active – and he’s not overwhelmingly competent. And every time I watch that film, I enjoy seeing him get it in the end. Ed Norton did spectacular in that role and it’s part of why I like watching him in other roles.

I think the big take-away for me would be similar to any advice about writing something new – consume it first to make sure you know how it works. If you’re going to write unsympathetic protagonists, be reading and consuming media that use them. Learn how those feel before trying to go down that path as a writer.

I’m quite convinced I would muck it up as I don’t consume media that uses unsympathetic protagonists, so I don’t know why they work. They aren’t something I particularly like and so don’t particularly care to understand.

Which is why I enjoy Writing Excuses so much – they give plenty of opportunities for writers of all stripes to find something useful for them. So, while I may not be in the target audience, perhaps you would be.

What unsympathetic protagonists have you enjoyed? Perhaps I’m just missing out on them. Share below in the comments.

Also, if you’re listening along and want to share you own reactions to the episode, feel free to drop them in!

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.03 – What Writers Get Wrong

More new hosts!

This week’s episode introduced a new type of episode for the podcast and I’m anxiously awaiting its return next month. The What Writers Get Wrong series is exactly the kind of leveling up material that I’ve been needing and didn’t ever know it.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

The concept for the series is to use these episodes as individual looks at the ways that writers fail – perhaps with writing the other or common traps that people fall into.

The approach is to use the podcast as a way of SHOWING rather than telling about craft and if it goes anything like this first venture, it will be great.

I’m loving the new host, Aliette de Bodard. I really enjoyed how quickly she seemed to fall into place with the existing crew. I think this series will be one of the most useful to me going forward.

While the exact topic of motherhood and pregnancy is not one that is currently needed for the stuff I’m writing, it did get me thinking about where I could make some changes to my research process.

Factual vs Subjective Subjects

One of the big changes I will need to make in my approach to research and beta readers is coming to a better grasp of subjective topics.

Some things that bug my in my reading are when writers get things that are factually provable wrong.

Giving external safeties to guns that don’t have them. Using the wrong type of engine on a get-away car. Having a setting of tall, rickety structures in an area of the US with 70mph straightline winds (regularly) and tornados. One or two target readers who are even reasonably familiar with the weapon/car/area would have fixed these problems. in stories that I’ve read.

But with something like the topic of the podcast, there are a multitude of ways to screw that up.

One of the items I remember from Brandon’s YouTube series on worldbuilding was the concept of the iceberg – that you have to do enough worldbuilding to show the top of the iceberg that you can convince your readers that there’s so much more under the surface – even if you haven’t actually thought of those things that are beneath the surface. Because as writers we can’t always spend the time (years – decades) creating things that intense.

With these kinds of subjective experiences, I think you’d have to do the same. You need to show enough clear, concrete details that your readers believe you’ve looked at all of it.

And as a writer I need to be cogniscent of where my personal experience with a topic won’t suffice. I have at least some experience pregnancy and motherhood as I’m married and we’ve had kids. But there is NO WAY I would try to write pregnancy and motherhood based on my VERY LIMITED experience as an outside observer. It’s just not something I would be competent to write at this time, and I know it.

And there are myriad topics that are the same way. Being willing to acknowledge that I don’t know is where that first step starts. Feedback from readers can clue you in if you’re getting enough of it.

So what things have you seen as readers that you had to just sit back and laugh because the writer got them so wrong?

Share below.

Current State Report and Writing Excuses 13.02

Things are going to be a little different this week. Between the holiday, some bad sleep, more stress at work, and bad timing, I haven’t gotten all the writing work done I wanted to. I have gotten the book work done I needed to, but not the blogging. So, you get one this week. Maybe two if I’m able to finish up some stuff.

Current State

I’m 25% complete with the current revision of my novel Betrayed. That is the part of writing that has been going well. I also got back a response from a beta reader which pumped up my enthusiasm a lot. So, I’m quite hopeful that the book will be in the right shape for querying agents when I’m all through with it this round.

Once I get to 50%, I’ll start really working on the pre-writing for my next novel. Which means between now and then, I need to do some research on pets and AIs. Fun stuff.

In physical tool updates, I ADORE my new keyboard. I’ll be trying to get some questions addressed that folks have asked, so please be patient. But my hand pain is completely gone, and I’ve been pushing pretty hard the last few days. So, it was expensive, but so far, worth it.

Last, today marks the start of a new habit forming session which I’m doing with my youth at church and with my writing group. My young men wanted to learn about how habits work and so last night was a chance to explore habits, and the result was me realizing that my recent writing approach has been killing my sleep pattern. I needed to make a change.

So the new goal is sleep early, up early, with my writing spread throughout the day, rather than all writing done in a rush at night. Day 1 feels pretty good so far.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.02 – Writing Active Characters

This week, the hosts looked at writing active characters and first reaction out of the box for me: “Holy cow! New Chicago team!”

Yes, it looks like the crew changed up this season. I’m sure if I followed the podcasters on anything more than just the podcast I would have seen this coming, but it was surprising to me. It makes a lot of sense. What a great way to keep things fresh. It’s too bad in one regard, because I really liked the old Chicago crew. Looking forward to getting to know the new folks!

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

So, perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of revisions rather than drafting, but this doesn’t feel quite as useful to me at the moment. For a passive character, Brandon gave the example of having someone who always stands around and watches important events rather than being in them.

Current project – not an issue.

Book I just finished in November ? Might be an issue. So, not as useful at the moment, but it may be something I’ll need to address in future stories. I might have that tendency.

Overall, though, a good episode, though because of the new team who haven’t answered this question previously, the answers seemed at surface level. I hope they find their legs as the season goes and give good, meaty advice. Good enough for the very early writer, but I think they can all dig a bit deeper.

Something that didn’t get covered during the episode: my personal belief is that inactive characters are a warning sign/diagnosis criteria of plot problems. If your character isn’t interacting well with the events of the story, you might be telling the wrong story.

And I don’t necessarily mean redoing the story so your main character is at the center of events.

Maybe you have a seemingly passive character observing an action/adventure story, but rather than re-plot the action story, you need to be telling the coming of age story inside that adventure, of someone wistfully longing to be bigger or better than they are.

Or you have a relationship story where the a seemingly passive character can’t talk to the object of their affections. So maybe try telling the growth story inside of that problem.

In reality, this is just another variation on Mary’s favorite tool, the MICE quotient, with a story nested inside another story. It’s great because it allows you to have layers that might not come up in a straightforward tale. And it can let you keep what you’ve already worked and tweak it rather than starting over from scratch.

So, if you do find your characters being too passive, take a look at how to fix. It may be just a change of paradigm.

K, I think I’m going to call it there for the week.

I really enjoy the comments that I’ve been getting. Many thanks to those who have been reaching out. And with how busy the week has been, I’ll be responding to a couple of previous questions later this week, so hang in there.

Drop a line below and join in.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.01 – Hero, Protagonist, Main Character

A new year, a new season of Writing Excuses. AndΒ this week’s episodeΒ got my soap box nerves tingling. Hero, protagonist, and main character – which is which and how to know which to use.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

What a great episode! And it hit on one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to craft books for fiction writing – a determination to fit all main characters into a particular label.

One of my preferred craft books on structure is John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, which I love for its many insights and approaches to developing the bones of a story. But I HATE his use of the label “hero” when talking about the the character of the story. Perhaps I should explain.

I don’t write stories about heroes, at least, that’s not how I think of them. I’m much more interested in the stories of everyday people thrust into extraordinary situations. Sometimes that lets a person’s heroic side show. And often, it doesn’t. So as Truby used the word “hero” to describe how the story theme gets built and all of the way that the structure ties back to desire and need and ghosts and all these things that tie into the character driving the story, I felt put off, like his words weren’t for my story.

Until I changed my brain to substitute protagonist every time he used hero. Then it all started to gel for me.

For the pod-casters, there is a difference between a hero, a protagonist, and a main character, and Mary described them as being in sets that overlap. Hearing it that way made me change my thinking on this a little bit. For them, the main character was the person through whose eyes we see the story unfold, the protagonist is the one making choices and actions that drive the story forward and changes through story, and the hero is the one that makes the heroic action or who we admire.Β  Sometimes those are all one character and sometimes they are three different characters and sometimes any mix in between.

And that’s where things really made sense for me. I’m currently working through a cut revision of my first novel and my main character is my protagonist, but he isn’t the hero. That role goes to another, and in my story, that ends up being a trope subversion, which I really like.Β  But being able to better separate the roles lets me see just how I can mix and match them to make very different kinds of stories.

 

Ergodox EZ – Day 0

So my board arrived last night, a day earlier than expected, which is always a nice bonus. Less nice was USPS caused a bit of a kerfuffle with how they do parcel delivery if someone isn’t home to receive the package. However, even with the issues, I am much happier with my USPS experience than recent FedEx deliveries with regards to parcels that require signature for delivery.

Still, all that mixed together meant that today was day 0 with the Ergodox EZ.

I’m not going to go into too much detail and for my regulars who aren’t keyboard aficionados, there might be a lot of jargon that will be unfamiliar. Since this is closer to steam of consciousness, I’ll direct you to the comments area if you’ve got something bugging you that you want to ask about.

Unboxing and Initial Thoughts

I got to have some help in opening my package, which is always a treat. And since I received a used unit, mine didn’t come with the same experience as someone getting it new. That said, major props to the seller who packed it very nicely with plenty of space and foam. All the bits, bobs, cables, and pieces were present and accounted for.

The Ergodox EZ is a little smaller than I thought it would be, which is good. Clean, white, and tight, I’m very impressed with the build quality. Solid as a kettlebell, though calling it equivalent to Superman’s abs might be a stretch. πŸ™‚

This particular unit has Gateron Brown switches. This is my second experience with Gateron Browns and this experience is much better. The batch of Gaterons used on my Obin Anne Pro keyboard seem much mushier in comparison. These are crisp, very much akin to the Cherry MX Browns that I have on other boards. Typing feel is very nice. I will say that the Ergodox EZ doesn’t have the “hefty” feel in typing that my WASD CODE board does, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I am very pleased so far.

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Nice nub!

Key caps are nice – the DCA profile is going to be a change that only time will reveal if I like. The nubs that comes on the F and J keys are so prominent and I love them; almost sharp to the touch. So easy to tell without looking if I’m on the home row or not. I would be very interested to try the DCS profile that the blank Ergodox EZ comes with.

Ortholinear Keys and Customizing the Layout

One of the obvious differences from other keyboard are the non-staggered rows,  and boy are they taking some time to get used to.

Reaching up from home row hasn’t been an issue, but the reaching down to the bottom row is so different, especially for my left hand. The X, C, V, and B keys just don’t sit where I’m used to and I’m way overreaching past where the keys are relative to where my brain thinks they should be. That’s going to be the hardest thing to master, I think. And since I will often be using other boards (laptop, personal Surface 4 Pro, conference room computers, etc.) I’m going to get plenty of chance to practice going from one to the other.

Getting used to the thumb cluster is going much smoother. By mid day, I had almost gotten used to the backspace key and the enter key being at thumb positions. And and I’m really getting used to having mouse control available to me through keys instead of having to reach for a mouse.

I had been using the online configuration tool in the days leading up to receipt in order to play with my initial thoughts of a layout.

Colemak layout on Layer 0 with dedicated cut/copy/paste and underline/italics/bold on the inner most column of each half and spacing/editing keys on the thumb clusters. As I haven been thinking about how I use computers each day, between work and prose drafting, I have tried to put the things I use the very most in that top layer. I think there will be plenty of tweaking to be done.

I also had a moment of consternation deciding how I wanted to deal with Ctrl-Alt-Delete (for logging into my work computer), Ctrl-Shift-Esc (used to pull up the Task Manager), and the combination of Win-Arrow keys (for moving and docking windows) as these are all things I will want to access quickly numerous times a day in my engineering work.

In playing with the configurator, I noticed what seemed like a few bugs and sent off an email to the Ergodox folks. The customer service response from them has been amazing. I kinda feel bad buying my unit used instead of buying a new one. I hope that providing some additional exposure will make up the difference.

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So what questions or comments do you have?  Leave them below.

 

 

Ergodox EZ – Day -2

Some of my real-space friends and acquaintances will know that I have a problem.

I have started buying keyboards. Expensive keyboards.

No necessarily break-the-bank types of purchases, but if your experience with expensive keyboards is a Logitech combo keyboard and mouse set, I’m not talking about those. I’ve started into the world of mechanical keyboards (which thankfully are coming down in price the more mainstream they become). My least expensive keyboard was the same price as that combo and it comes with only 61 keys – 40% fewer than a normal sized keyboard. Same price for something in a much smaller package.

Why pay so much for a keyboard? Well, I’ll actually be doing an entire series on that and reviewing the boards I have at some point later this year. Suffice it to say I find the quality, the feel, and the ergonomics of these boards much better than the wired USB keyboard that comes with your Dell or HP workstations. And ergonomics reason is the big one.

During NaNoWriMo this last November, I calculated I averaged 9 hours per day of keyboard usage (a little less on the weekends) between work and prose writing. That’s a lot. And my hands noticed. I’ve had some issues with RSI crop up in the past and the symptoms returned again in full force this year as I pushed myself to write more and faster than I have before.Β  So, I’ve been on the lookout for something that will further alleviate stress on my hands and fingers because this will likely be the state of affairs for some time – day job and night drafting. And I hope I have found it.

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The Ergodox (source ergodox.io)

It’s called the Ergodox. It’s a open source (code and design) split keyboard that has started to become popular in the keyboard enthusiast community. It uses programmable layers to allow for much greater functionality and efficiency in typing and by being split, each half can be placed and oriented to be the most comfortable. There are a lot of other differences, both visible and invisible.

The problem with it? I don’t want to mess with the software/firmware side of it. I can program, but only out of necessity, which all of this lovely flexibility would require. The other? You have to build it yourself from a kit of parts, which again, I could do, but I don’t want to spend the time and money acquiring all the tools I would need.

Thus enter my eventual choice – the Ergodox EZ. A manufactured, customizable version with a web-based configuration tool for programming all the layout changes.

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Ergodox EZ Shine (source ergodox-ez.com)

The big problem with both? Price.

Both units cost well over $200, with the EZ (with the accessories) going north of $350.

As I said, expensive. But I finally have gotten to the point where if I’m going to spend that kind of time typing, I really should make sure I have something that is going to help me, rather than hurt me. And if this can do it, it’s a bargain, even at those prices.

So, I found a used Ergodox EZ (same version shown) that a fellow enthusiast tried and didn’t end liking, selling it to me for a significant drop in price compared to new. Will it be worth it? Will I see a reduction in pain and strain in my hands? Will I be able to handle all the changes?

That’s what I’ll document over the next while – at least the next month – as I try out this new (and quite different to me) keyboard. That’s why this post it day -2; the board is due to arrive later this week and I’ve been started to wrap my brain around how I might actually make this thing work for me.

Next week I’ll post some unboxing photos and talk about my first brushes with the unit.

If you’ve got any questions, post them below and I’ll try to answer them.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.53 – True Confessions

My podcast app didn’t download the episode from Christmas Eve, so I’ll have to play catch up on that one. However, while driving to attend a write-in with my writing group of amazing people, I was able to get caught up on this week’s episodeΒ and it was a humdinger. (I’ve been rewatching Psych on Amazon Prime, so my language may be stranger than normal).

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟🌟 🌟 🌟

True Confessions was all about things that the hosts have attempted that they failed at, and not just old trunk novels from the starting days of writing, but more recent. For most of them, that was within the last year.

Listening to them postmortem their way through these failed project was inspiring and hilarious and made me feel in much closer company. These are all people whose works I have read and admired. And having just completed another novel where I pushed myself to do something I’ve never tried before (multiple POV), I can say that I also failed.

That story is a bit of a mess plot-wise and interest-wise (boring start and plodding), but as I have already mentioned in past posts, I learned a ton from writing it. That failure showed me what to fix the next time I work on a multiple POV story.

Learning to be okay failing at something is a challenge for me. I’ve been a perfectionist my whole life and frustration is my natural response when I don’t get something right within the first few iterations. I’m used to figuring stuff out quickly. But in the last decade or so, I’ve been getting better. Having a child who has a similar frustration response certainly helps make me more aware of it in myself as I try to remind and support him when he doesn’t get something right immediately.

Dealing with failure also has helped me work on my self-compassion. I recently read an article from Kristen Wong on the New York Times about self-compassion and how it can help with being confident.Β I am definitely one that needs to better learn good self talk; failure gives me a chance to see my weaknesses and acknowledge them within the context of my strengths. Yes, my story may have been a hodge-podge and not very good, but my story structure and plot-weave were so much better in this book than previously. And I tried something new that I also succeeded at – I balanced several story threads and gave them all appropriate weight and tied them together well. So, yes I failed to make something that I would publish (at least right now), but the bones of the story are correct.

So in the same spirit as the podcasters, please take my true confession to heart – you can and should fail frequently.

And as Howard Tayler’s Maxim #70 of 70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries states:

Β Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.51 – Constructed Languages

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟

Perhaps is because of how much I enjoy the whole crew, but when it’s just some of them doing the interviews, those are the episodes that I find be the least satisfying. And I don’t think this has anything to do with the hosts, but my own expectations.

This week’s episode is an interview/panel with Dirk Elszinga, an associate professor of linguistics, and focused on using constructed languages in fiction.

The biggest take away I had was that it is worthwhile to consider language background and usage if doing secondary world fiction (which most of mine is). Even down to how names behave. While I think this is something that I should consider, I’m not certain how far the rabbit hole I’d need to go – i.e. how much is anyone really going to care?

And this is probably where I would need to examine my own biases. Small tangent here – recently, I started re-reading a debut novel from a favorite author and noticed just how much my own critical eye has changed since I first read this book. I first read it just before I was starting to consider being an author and novelist. What I’ve noticed on this re-read is how much the author uses simile compared to now where he uses metaphor. And just how much more effective the later is.

As a reader only, that first pass didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all and the “limitation” of using similar vs. metaphor was lost on me. So I wonder how much of that really matters for the general populace.

This is similar to the discussion that is ongoing in the film space – critics have the things that they look for in movies, and in some very high profile cases recently, the critical opinion has diverted strongly from popular opinion.

I think constructed languages could very well fall into the same category of things – those in the know might really appreciate it while others may not care at all. So, how much effort should a writer expend? Brandon Sanderson has talked about this in his world-building lectureΒ and I think I’ll echo what he said – Do enough to make people think you’ve done it all, but don’t do it all. Pepper little things around your story and world-building that at least let people know you’ve considered something, but don’t solve all of it.

And that’s where I think constructed languages is going to go for me right now. Maybe that can be a place in the future for some more craft building.

 

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.50 – Form and Function

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟 🌟

(for the rating obsessed types out there – these are out of 5 stars)

This was a great episode, mostly for the content and the interplay with the Chicago hosts. I really like Wesley Chu and Mary Anne Mohanraj as additions to the hosting crew – Mary Anne especially. I love her insights and I get a lot from the perspective she brings from her experience outside of speculative fiction. Tangentially, it’s likely my humor metric above will track with Howard’s appearance on the episode – we’ll see.

This week’s episode is about how form can dictate function within the realm of writing. It covered everything from writing for audiobooks to long form writing using a quill and ink to Eric James Stone’s business card flash fiction (which is a TOTALLY awesome bit of self branding – yes, I have been watching vids about marketing; why do you ask?).

My first paid project as a writer (woot woot) was writing a series for a stage production of radio plays for local theater group Main Street Radio Players – which allowed the troupe to perform a live show without the need for elaborate costumes and sets. I did a four episode crime thriller.

I LOVED doing this project even though it was so incredibly hard. Everything in that story had to be reflected through dialogue and sound effects – and even then, the sound effects got cut. Trying to tell a story that way when all my previous experience had been to only pepper dialogue through out was most challenging. Getting mood, story tone, description, BLOCKING (for crying out loud), through just dialogue was such a powerful growth experience. In that case the form of medium dictated entirely HOW the story could be told.

I couldn’t rely upon tricks like exposing a character’s internal monologue or letting silent “glances” or “looks” convey beats. I did use a narrator, but limited it to episode introductions and scene transitions. It was a fabulous experience.

Back to reflections on the episode – the gist was to use these different forms as ways to experiment, to break out of ruts, and to break through blocks. While I could see doing a different “form” for a scene just to try something out, a lot of the growth from my experience came from doing a finished work.

Do I think every writer should try a complete work in a different format than their norm? No, absolutely not. But I think there may be many writers who will treat this idea as just one more writing “gimmick” and miss out on a beneficial experience.

So, if you’ve done things like this before and didn’t find them useful, give a little more thought to doing something larger or more complete. That said, it’s not the kind of thing I think a writer should worry about. If you want to expand your craft and your flexibility – go for it.