|Like the kind of guy who makes a steampunk 20-sided die.|
|Rolling dice in this game would only slow down the awesome.|
|Like the kind of guy who makes a steampunk 20-sided die.|
|Rolling dice in this game would only slow down the awesome.|
|Amazingly, Google Image search already had an image of my dream on file.|
|It was a tangled nightmare, and it kinda felt the way this looks.|
|It was quite relaxing having an orderly mind.|
|Is it offensive that they used shades of brown to denote "Spanishness?"|
|I can't prove it, but I suspect this book had a lot to do with it.|
If you've been writing a while, you probably have a style you like to write in. Whether that be an emulation of romance novels (“Her eyes burned with passion”) or you exclusively write nonfiction (“The American Civil War was a time when...”), you'll find that you've settled into a style that's comfortable for you. Even if you try to break away from it, it's going to creep back into your work, like how your slouch creeps in while you're trying to stand up straight for a prolonged period of time.
...Which is really difficult for some people.
I noticed that I was style stuck when, of all things, I was watching Cinemassacre's video detailing his trip to Sleepy Hollow, NY. He begins by reading a passage from the actual Sleepy Hollow book, which was one of the most beautifully written things I've recently heard. The particular passage reads,
“Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of the land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail of tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquility.”
I already know that some of my readers will be all too happy to tell me about all kinds of books with beautiful writing, and if they do so, I encourage them to hunt for it in Google Books and mention some page numbers.
Now, this isn't something that I can just analyze and explain why it's pretty. It's like describing a painting; the most I can do is list some subjective reasons I had for liking it. In lieu of a detailed explanation, here are some things that jump out at me.
Washington Irving was going to great lengths to describe what he thought of as an idyllic place, and so he uses language that reflects the relaxation he (probably) felt when he was there. He uses somewhat uncommon words for things, like saying a brook “glides” through the valley, and that it “murmurs.” If I had been trying to write something like that, my subtlety would have been much more hammer-like.
“A river flows through the valley. The soft sound of rushing water is all you can hear over the woodpeckers.”
It doesn't sound relaxing at all! Of course this is a tongue-in-cheek example of my own writing, because I'm sure I could write something relaxing if I really tried, but Washington Irving makes the whole paragraph feel effortless, as if he wrote it in one dip of his pen with a single, flowing movement of his hand. He didn't even have to think about why he loves Sleepy Hollow.
How can I use this to improve my writing? I'll stick with my usual advice and say, it helps writers (especially me) to read as many books as possible, by as wide a variety of authors as possible, as much as possible. I haven't read anything in a while, which might explain this whole “no blog” situation I've been stuck in. As always, it also helps if you like what you're writing about. It's even better if you love it.
Your brain has its own nefarious purposes. It likes to waste time doing dumb things. I should know; mine spent all weekend in front of the computer managing nothing but the muscles it takes to kill Germany in Civilization.
For most people, their brain is attached to them; they don't seem to leave home without it. This is unfortunate because most people's brains don't have that person's best interests at heart. No, these crafty brains settle into a comfortable non-thinking state that keeps the population from doing several things, one of which is critical thinking.
Now, if you're anything like me, you're outraged by your brain's enslavement of your body. “I'm not going to stand for this,” you might be saying. Don't say it too loud: Brains hear everything.
“But William!” you begin, “how will I ever escape the tyranny of my own lazy brain?”
Fortunately there are many things you can do to keep your brain under your thumb (metaphorically). You see, brains aren't nefarious by themselves; they're kind of like dogs; they're really quite friendly as long as you feed them, but as soon as they start starving, BAM! You're eaten. The problem these days is that people have gotten into the habit of not feeding their brains (and in some cases their bodies too.) You see, while America has continued to get fatter and more rotten (myself included), their brains have followed that exact diet (myself included again).
Fortunately, because you and I are both writers, our brains are already miles ahead! You've always known you were more cunning and sly than everyone else, and that's exactly why. But lets not rest on our laurels!
If you're starting to wonder if I'm ever going to get to the writing tip, you're almost in luck. You see, there are several things writers can do to keep their brains full and happy (but nevertheless ungrateful): Writing (of course.) But not just any old writing.
Particularly I find that finding new and exciting ways to approach a story, or ways to combine things into one, are quite fun. New words are fun to make up. Although I'll probably never use them, I find myself specifically identifying interesting words or even phrases as names or titles for some yet-uncreated character for a future story. For instance, when I was waiting (and waiting and waiting) for my car to get smogged, I got to watch a documentary on the Blue Angels (looped literally three times). I learned that there is such a job as Flight Surgeon for these Angels, and even more interesting, it has nothing to do with medicine. This got me thinking, “what other conventional words could be used in unconventional titles?” I came up with a few like Water Conductor and Thought Soldier. My brains likes me when I do these things, mostly because it's less of a brain exercise and more of an imagination lap (in the sense of physical exercise), and I've already written a blog about this.
Now, people would have you believe that the best way to keep your brain active is to do daily arithmetic and reading. While some of these people have this thing called science on their side, I like to think that there are ways to stretch your mind without having to invest in a Nintendo DS or have an education.
What I'm getting at is critical thinking. My favorite way to improve my critical thinking is by reading really horrible stories. Where can you find such stories? Everywhere, including Hollywood. Even terrible movies and television shows can help you start thinking about the who and why of a character or situation. This kind of critique has become uncommon in the minds of most people, which is why so many people's opinions usually boil down to “liked it” or “hated it.” It's not that they're dumb, it's just that they're out of the habit of really thinking about why things are good (or terrible).
To really improve, you need to learn how to take a story apart and examine its parts. Just like how a good mechanic would know how to take apart a faulty engine to find and fix the problem, a writer should know how to examine the parts of a story that have fallen flat, or sometimes more importantly, where the story succeeded. This is why there are some stories that were good overall, but upon rereading it, you discover lots of nagging little things that diminish the story. Or conversely, a story which has excellent parts but is overall quite poor.
Here's where I'd like to say, “I once wrote terrible stories, but once I learned what to avoid, I never wrote a bad thing again!” But I'd be lying. Every writer occasionally writes something that turns out weak; even the highly-paid professionals. The key to good writing isn't learning to never make mistakes, but learning how to recognize and repair mistakes once you've made them.
If you're half as nerdy as me, you might have tried to write stories that take place inside your favorite video games. If you're really nerdy then the games in question are probably really obscure, and if that's the case then this probably isn't the blog for you.
I'm not talking about old video games like Pitfall or Pac Man (cough), but rather more recent games (circa 1990 at least). At first glance, a video game with a good story or good universe can be quite appealing to write about. If you remember games like Decent, Commander Keen, King's Quest, Space Quest and Cosmic Cosmo, then you're old enough to appreciate the tender deliciousness of games that helped stimulate the imagination of my childish mind.
Ur, childish because I was a child when those games came out. Literally childish.
You have to remember that most of those old games didn't have much in the way of story except maybe a screen or two of poorly-written narrative set in some grainy 16-bit font.
Even if I could have read the story, which I couldn't, I would have found a rather thin excuse to have the player collect the Red Key Card or kill snails or defeat Mordak. Well, King's Quest actually had a pretty good story. There was actually a pretty good reason to defeat Mordak.
As a young player of these games, I was interested in making the characters from the games have additional adventures. I wasn't trying to make an expanded universe or add impressive self-inserts of myself; I guess I just wanted new levels. I could kind of reach that goal via writing. It always turned out awful, but thad whad Id ecpect frm a chlid hoo culdn't spelle very well.
Fast forward to Christmas 2004 when my family finally got DSL and I got a new game for Christmas called World of Warcraft. You know where this is going.
Long story short, I played the heck out of the game, and eventually tried my hand at writing inside the universe. It's not the worst thing in the world; I'm definitely not the first person to try this kind of thing. After all, Warcraft has enough story to fill several hundred books and enough fans to fill a convention center.
Like at Blizzcon.
For anyone who has tried to write a story inside the universe created by a video game, there are a few things to know:
The designers make gameplay decisions based on how fun they are, not on how accurate they are to real life.
The world is sized to make it fast to walk from place to place, not to make it as big as a real planet.
Everything is streamlined.
For a person trying to write a story inside the game, they're going to encounter these weird hurdles in their storytelling process. If I were just starting out writing a story, lets say it's in Warcraft and I set it in Stormwind, I'm not picturing a real city when I write; I'm picturing the city from the game, which is laughably small compared to a real city. There's no infrastructure. There's no economy; heck, there aren't even people living there.
Now let me just clarify: I don't want people saying, “you just like getting bogged down in the minute details of stupid crap like this, William! It's not relevant to the story!”
I'm not trying to say that you're supposed to add all of the boring things that I've just mentioned, but when you're picturing Stormwind, again, you're picturing the one in the game. If you want to write a more authentic story, you have to imagine a real medieval city, though one that contains magic and stuff. Lets make an illustration.
Lets say that I'm writing a story that's taking place inside a universe that I'm making up. It's completely my own. When I tell you that there's a huge city in the story called Whirlgate, the capital of the Highland nation of Men. It's built on top of a mountain and its buildings scatter down the cliffs, which have been quarried. As they descend the mountain, the buildings become smaller and smaller; the downtown area near the top gives way to residential hovels made of white stone toward the bottom. To keep the wind down, there is a massive twenty foot wall surrounding the entire city. It zigzags up and down the cliff in a strange, random-looking layout.
If your imagination is working properly (and if my writing isn't garbage), then hopefully you pictured something that might exist in the real world. Maybe it looked a little bit like something from Lord of the Rings, but still, it was real. When I say Stormwind you're going to be picturing that location in the game. Static. Polygonal. Video game. This is why I always prefer to make something up from scratch instead of fanficking myself into the corner.
To complicate matters, if your audience is also familiar with the game, they're going to picture the video game version of the city, no matter how flowery and descriptive your language is. This kind of thing happened to me when I read Howl's Moving Castle after seeing the animated feature; I couldn't NOT see the characters as Japanese animation in my head.
Though the movie is still fantastic.
I guess the point of all this is that I don't recommend writing stories inside games. I'm not saying to never do it; you might find you're quite good at it and that I'm full of hot air. If anything, it'll be a helpful learning experience that you can put toward your further writing successes.
(Also, since I didn't have anything Wednesday, I'm posting Friday's blog a few hours early as a sort of "please forgive me" bonus!)
No lesson today, just a reposting of something I've written before!
Seldom surrendering to sumptuous sensory sensations such as smell and sight, the seven sirens sailed southward, seeking to serve as the sheik's assistants. Subsequently, the sirens were seen by a sailor who succeeded in seizing their ship. He slaughtered the sirens and sold the ship's scraps for sixty-seven strips of silver, which he swiftly spent to secure a stable for his stallion, Stanley.
Stanley and the sailor spent their Saturdays stealing sugar from the supermarket. Sadly, they were seen by a security guard and a sailor who was on shore leave. Subsequently, the sailor was sentenced to several psychological sessions with a psychiatrist.
She said, “sir, surely you've seen the seriousness of your situation,”
“You shouldn't see me as a statistic,” said the incarcerated sailor, sighing. The psychiatrist shifted in her seat.
“Still,” she said, skimming her schedule, “it's simpler if we shoot Stanley.”
In the stables, Stanley the stallion shot shifty glances toward the street. It seemed simple, escaping, but such an exercise struck him as stupid.
“Screw it,” he said, starting to stampede. He shattered the stockade and sprinted into the street, striking several pedestrians.
Startled, Sarah Sitwell, senior assistant software supervisor, spilled cinnamon spiced coffee on her shirt, softly scalding her supple skin.
“Shoot,” she shouted, shaking herself and scanning the surrounding shunpike to see if anyone had seen her. It seemed she was safe. After a few short seconds, security soldiers arrived and shot Stanley until his body surrendered his spirit, which swerved off into the stratosphere.
“How sad,” said Sarah, slinging her shoulder bag over herself. She stalked into the sunset, sullen.
Some of you might have seen this before on my other, forgotten livejournal, but I thought it was funny, and I didn't have anything for Monday!
There are many, many different ways the world could end. Because we're more creative than the average person, we supervillains also happen to be a great deal more deranged. This means that we're quite good when it's time to come up with creative and exciting ways to make the world go kablooey. To list only a few, the world could end via:
Any number of problems relating to the Sun
Not enough pollution
Ancient artifacts (see above)
Gods (angry, happy, lazy, etc.)
...I hate that last one.
As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to dispose of a planet and all of its annoying inhabitants. It doesn't even have to be hard. During the creative process, writers and supervillains alike can plan on either starting or finishing the story with such an event. It could be like that movie 2012 where things blow up all throughout the movie, or like The Day After Tomorrow where everything happens toward the beginning and just kind of ramps up. It could also be like Ladder 49 where the firefighter dies at the end. Oh no, did I spoil that for you?
I'm so painfully wicked.
Technically I don't think that killing off a firefighter (portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix no less) counts as an evil plan. It doesn't take a mastermind to see that killing off one character is small beans compared to the main course of the evening, and that is cracking a planet in half, or in thirds, or other wonderfully evil fractions.
Sometimes it's not even the “event” that you're trying to write about. Some movies and books actually take place a long time after the world has ended. As you might imagine, it's referred to as post-apocalyptic, which is kind of a misnomer because the actual apocalypse from the Bible is kind of a one-off. Nobody walks away from that one.
I guess it's not really a (capital) Apocalypse you want; it's more like an unpocalypse. Or an apocalypse lite. Like the beer. I mean, what's the point of killing everyone if there's nobody around to notice? Sure, the reveling by the person who pulled it off would be wonderful for a while, but without civilians to look sadly toward the burned-out husks of buildings, what's the point?
That's not to say I wouldn't mind a good reveling.
The real trick is leaving enough main characters alive long enough to give the audience a (false) hope that he'll give this miserable story a redeeming ending. You would think that after the freaking apocalypse the guy's story would end, but it never seems to. If you're too cowardly to actually blow up your universe, I suppose you could just threaten to do it a bunch of times throughout the main character's journey. He'll probably try to stop it, and he'll probably win, but at least you kept the tension on him.
Still, when it's time to make like The Matrix and make the world an awful place to live, you might as well do it right. That's actually a good example of what a story can look like when the bad guys kind of win. As long as you ignore the second and third movies and all of that strange Matrix Online story stuff they threw (up) into the lore.
Someone should really try writing more stories from the perspective of the quote unquote bad guys. That's right, even though I'm writing, I still used air quotes as if I were actually talking. Into your brain.