NO, NO, NO. DO NOT DO THAT.

stop sign

I have an idea for a story. I enjoy Battlestar Galactica, so I think Apollo or Starbuck should be in my story. I love watching Dr. Who, so the much discussed Clara will have a place. Oh yeah, the doc from BSG is great, so he will be there.

Clichés are good, yes? I love clichés, it makes the story run so much smoother.

How could I forget? Explanation for every little action any of my characters make is a no-brainer; because, duh, how will anyone know what is happening without detailed exposition for every action?

Intense action sequences must be broken up with internal narrative; and inconsistencies during those scenes will go unnoticed, so I just gotta stick to the detailed explanations.

And this, this is the most important I have to remember: the tough, grizzled guy gets the woman who instantly falls for him upon meeting him, but she must also act stern and show she doesn’t give a shit when he reacts like a silverback gorilla challenging an intruder. People just won’t find it believable if she doesn’t show a little backbone.

facepalm

Let’s break down the reasons why the above is so wrong.

STEALING CHARACTERS

It is okay to take inspiration from a fictional or real person to create your fictional person. That’s perfectly okay. Nearly every single fictional character ever created has been inspired by person(s) of myth or reality or a little of both. What is wrong, is stealing wholesale from a character someone else has created.

For example: The Chief of Medical on Battlestar Galactica is an old man with silver hair, a rough voice, slight stoop to his back, and smokes cigarettes whenever he gives people bad news.

So, if your doctor is an old man with silver hair, a rough voice, slight stoop to his back, and smokes cigarettes whenever he gives people bad news; you’re not inspired from the doc on BSG, you’re just being lazily and stealing.

CLICHÉS

  1. The soldier with a lot of tattoos is a hot head and great in a fight.
  2. The man from a country in South America, he prays with a rosary before every mission even though he’s agnostic.
  3. A settled new planet has a bazaar, homes made out of rock, and low wealth, and is, of course, settled by people from Middle East nations.
  4. The tough guy leader has a checkered past, doesn’t care about himself cause he’s a leader, and he gets the girl.

The above are called, “clichés”, although I think number 3 is also an overt racist stereotype, and number 2 makes you seem ridiculously uneducated.

I wish I could say people hate clichés, but if that were the case The Big Bang Theory would not be popular. Clichés do ensure you’ll have a ton of really terrible reviews, and not nice things coming from word of mouth because of the lack of originality. You’ll never get away from every cliché, but don’t over do it and stay away from the stereotypes.

EASE UP ON THE EXPOSITION

No. I’ll say it again. No. You do not need to explain every little goddamn thing. If you are writing a military sci-fi book, you do not need to tell the reader what MRE stands for. If the person reading a military sci-fi book does not know what MRE stands for or what a MRE is, they are in a super duper tiny minority and they will look it up.

Explaining precisely why a character is going to do something, and then having the character do exactly what was in the previous two paragraphs is called, “telegraphing”. There is no such thing as good telegraphing, unless you are using a telegraph to send a message to another telegraph. You’re not though, you’re typing on a keyboard.

Ease up on the exposition, and while you’re writing, pretend for just a minute that your reader has an iota of intelligence and can figure something out without you having to paint the Mona Lisa in every paragraph.

INCONSISTENCIES

If you are in walking with maglev boots on the outside of a spaceship in the vacuum of space and you jump off…You will not land with a thud against the ship.

THE DAMSEL

Take a moment to look at what year it is. You’re reading this on a web browser; the date is going to be somewhere within eyesight.

It’s the year 2016 CE. It is not the Mad Men era in the 1950s.

If you create a character who is a giant asshole with mood swings so violent, he has an armed guard to meetings, the woman he talks to will not instantly fall in love with his rugged handsomeness and manly attitude when she meets him for the first time. She will not tell the guard to leave the room while he slams his fists on the table because his authority is being challenged. Seriously, if you think this is perfectly okay for a story…

book and coffee

I love reading; great stories, wonderful stories, just okay stories, it really doesn’t matter. However, authors are supposed to uphold some sort of standard with storytelling. Not everyone on Earth writes stories, which means being the bulwark against terrible storytelling falls to just a small percentage of all alive.

Let’s do the world good.

Let’s create magic with words.

 

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Can’t see the story for the words – a warning against personal bias

What is the hardest part about writing a story? Character development? Creating a fictional scenario so real the reader can easily suspend disbelief? Writing a coherent story line?

I would say none of those.

The hardest part for an author, when it comes to writing a story, is getting past our own personal bias. Writing a story, be it a short story, novella, or a full blown novel, is an intensely personal experience. To create a story, the author has to live, at least during the time of writing, in that fake world. We have to see the characters as if they were our friends, acquaintances and enemies. We have to envision the world we create as if it is the world around us.

It is for that reason a bias comes into play.

For an author, the story we create, even those stories that are widely panned, is a living, breathing creation. It is part of who we are when we write it. We get anxious at parts, elated at scenarios, almost depressed at happenings; because of that, we tend to think the story we have created is amazing and wonderful and incredible.

Yes, some stories end abruptly. I have written tens of stories that never got past twenty pages. I couldn’t believe what I was writing with some. Others, I didn’t care about the characters; but for those stories that get into the hundreds of pages…Those stories take on a life of their own, and it’s a life I (and other authors who get to that point) want to believe is amazing and will find a treasured place in the hearts of those who read it.

Therefore, when it comes time to polishing and editing, just to the point it is good enough for a professional editor or agent to look at, we are fighting an uphill battle against a fearsome adversary. That adversary being: personal bias.

We read the book through. Then read it again. Then again. And again. Each time, trying to tell ourselves to be outside the box. Look at it from the perspective of a person who has never heard of any part of the story. To be frank and honest, it is damn near impossible.

It is the multiple readings that cement in our mind the story is wonderful, if only I could add just another scene here, tweak a scene there, it will be wonderful! Thus, we get to the point we can’t see the story for the words.

Talking from personal experience, I recently completed a story I thought was great. I didn’t think it was wonderful and that should have thrown a red flag, but it didn’t, because at over 400 pages I was too invested in the work. I read the book multiple times, each time telling myself another reason why I enjoyed the book.

“It’s fast paced.” “It’s easy to read.” “People don’t like complicated story lines.” “People want simple stories to follow.”

Multiple reasons I gave myself why the book is great, all because of the bias I had towards my work. As I look back on it, I realize I should have threw up my hands and relegated the story to the folder “Stories that will never see the light of day”. Hindsight is 20-20 right?

I actually gave the story to my agent. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why the story didn’t work, it just didn’t. I got all uptight when he told me that. He must be wrong, I told myself, even though he has a penchant for picking stories that sell a lot of books. So I went on Goodreads ready to find some readers for the story and…I couldn’t think up a summary for the book. I have a detailed synopsis, but I couldn’t condense it down to a few paragraphs. I tried for a week, and couldn’t get more than one word written down. It was then I realized my personal bias prevented me from actually seeing what I wrote.

I learned a great lesson from this. If you are writing a story and have to tell yourself multiple reasons for why it is good enough to be published, it is not good enough to be published. A story you believe in, needs no reasons (excuses) for why it’s great. You just know it is.

I felt that way with ANDROID HUNTERS, and I still do. I can honestly say, I have never once told myself a reason for why ANDROID HUNTERS is a great story. I know it is. I know without a doubt it’s a wonderful story and the series is going to be phenomenal. I just know it. I don’t need to tell myself it is because of reasons x,y, and z. I love the universe I have created, the story I have written, and I find it is a joy to write.

So to all of those who are writing their first story. To all those who have written many and are writing a new one:

If you have to give yourself reasons why your work should be published, and find yourself concocting new reasons nearly every day…Well, I guess now is a good time to shelve that story and move onto something else, personal bias be damned.


ANDROID HUNTERS

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Why Neil Gaiman isn’t exactly right on why physical books will last

There is a marvelous article on brain pickings titled Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last. If you are wondering why this man is a literary genius, read the article, listen to the SoundCloud recording. His speech is amazing. He seems to live stories. Not, he seems to live for writing stories. No. Gaiman lives stories; it is as if it is the core of his being. He has an understanding of stories, of how they affect the lives of people, which very few people on Earth can grasp.

I do have one little, tiny, itty-bitty nit-pick about one of his responses. It’s about Douglas Adams explaining why physical books will last and Gaiman offering his thoughts agreeing with Adams. This is an I agree/I don’t agree scenario.

Ebooks are absolutely fantastic at being several books and a newspaper; they’re really good portable bookshelves, that’s why they’re great on trains. But books are much better at being books…

I am positive the physical book will last forever. HOWEVER. There is a however.

Yes, ebooks are fantastic at being books and so is ink on paper, bound with glue or whatever else you can, bind paper together to create a book. The thing is, one day in the future, I won’t even guess at how long into the future, the only physical books left in the world will be like the Gutenberg Bible. They will be behind glass in a museum somewhere for future people to admire, and think how amazing it was that someone went through the hard work to print something on paper and bind it together.

Eventually the only way to read something will be in electronic format.

I don’t think that people who disagree with that statement are foolish, not at all. The people who are staunch physical book supporters, read on paper because they enjoy it. However, economies of scale and generational shifts will move the written word off paper and solely into the electronic realm.

When mobile phones first came out, most everyone thought it was so cool. You can talk and walk around wherever you want, but they also meant you were always available. There was no saying you were away from the house that’s why you couldn’t take the call. Suddenly mobile phones were not very great and would never be as ubiquitous as they are, but there was a generational shift in attitudes that leaned towards people wanting an always-there connection, thus landlines are quickly going the way of the dinosaur. Eventually, there will be no more landline phones simply because corporations will all eventually move to computer based VOIP, leaving not enough people wanting to use landlines, forcing the economies of scale to say there is no reason to continue producing them.

Now, I do love paper books. I love ebooks. I think both are fantastic.

I do believe physical books will eventually go away; when eyestrain of looking at an electronic screen is abolished and batteries change to some sort of kinetic energy storage device, or something else that makes lithium-ion batteries look like two potatoes with wires in them. When that happens, there will no longer be a compelling reason for companies to print books. Sure the physical book will hang around for a while after the eyestrain and battery problems are abolished, but only because there will be people too old to want to change or people who like to go against the grain. Eventually all those people too old to want to change their reading styles will leave this life, leaving only a tiny segment of society too small for publishing companies to cater to.

The wonderful thing about all this is I truly do believe the book will be around forever. What format that will be, if humanity is still around in a thousand years, who knows, but people will always want stories to be entertained by.

As Neil Gaiman says in the article:

But stories aren’t books — books are just one of the many storage mechanisms in which stories can be kept. And, obviously, people are one of the other storage mechanisms.