You Know Those Feels, Bro?

Fellow writers, ever get these weird feelings, both good and bad, that spring up from time to time? I do, and sometimes they happen over the course of a week. For example, the other day I just felt…well, sort of silly. I mean, my career choice is basically telling made-up teenagers what to do by pressing buttons on a keyboard. Note that it wasn’t a serious feeling, but just one of those things, you know. Of course, I just dismissed it, because, first of all, I don’t tell my characters what to do. I simply introduce situations and they act as they will. Second, writing is fun, so screw you, strange feelings that come back from time to time.

A few days later, I just got this feeling like, this was the most awesome job in the world. All of the writing I did that day just clicked. Those are days I work for and what I wrote was probably one of the more solid pieces of writing I’ve ever done on a rough draft. Everything actually got on the page pretty close to what I had in mind. I actually try to keep the experience of reading my books as cinematic as possible, but more. I try to include all senses so that a person “experiences” my stories the same way a person “experiences” art at one of those weird art shows where people light themselves on fire because art, apparently.

And while I’m on the subject of cool things, aren’t long drives in the car awesome? I don’t trust the doctors in my city after they screwed up two diagnoses with my wife. One diagnosis in particular was excruciating as they misdiagnosed a kidney stone as a UTI and sent my wife home for three days with no pain medicine. Speaking from experience, kidney stones suck hard. So, my wife and I drive out of town an hour for doctors appointments. I’ll be having several tests done over the next few weeks, so that gives me a chance to just drive and let my mind wander. No matter where I start, it always ends up on writing, and it’s awesome to just sit and thing about things, isn’t it?

The same city is also the halfway point for my wife’s sister and her husband, and while visiting a few days ago, I somehow stumbled across the fact that, in the last few months or years, I hadn’t come up with a new novel series and that I’m always thinking about series I have planned. Isn’t not a bad thing, because I have five series planned, including Godspeed, each no less than three books, so I don’t really need a new idea.

Well, I had one of those weird dreams that evening. I was flying an airplane and learning how to drop bombs. Long story short, I had to follow a lighted path and just increase my altitude to reach my target. And in those awesome pre-waking hours, I somehow came up with a new story idea. Very, very early, but I think it’d be cool to shove some teens into some modern aircraft and let them fly and shoot people down Top Gun style. My wife suggested the group’s dynamic be similar to “The Runaways,” one of her favorite comics series, and that’s a pretty awesome idea. Now, how in the heck do I get teens inside the cockpits of fighter aircraft the likes of F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolts II’s and F-14 Tomcats when A: most of these aircraft aren’t used any more and this series is somewhat in the future and B: teens probably don’t have the thousands of hours of training are required to fly these planes competently. Also, there’s the whole writing a dogfight about modern aircraft. Basically, they don’t dogfight any more and most pilots never even see the planes they shoot down. I have to make that interesting, somehow.

But hey, that’s what I love about writing. If this is really something I pursue and don’t just file under the “ideas” part of my writing folder, then I’ll figure it out. it’s what we do, after all.

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P.S Also, it’s awesome to be part of history with the same-sex marriage ruling by SCOTUS. But am I the only one that’s a little worried that the vote only passed by a measure of 5 to 4? Regardless, progressive ideas always win in the end. We still have a lot of inequality to stamp out in this world, but it’s nice that we’re starting.

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Don’t be a lazy ass writer #2

Spoiler warnings for My Little Pony and The Graceling By: Kristen Cashore. Before we begin.

So, my daughter is still on her pony kick. Actually, she’s been wanting to watch “Let’s Plays” about Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, so I set up the laptop and let her watch part of a 2 hour speed run since she was good and finished her lunch. But, the other night, and for the past few days, she’s wanted to watch the “Animals” episode of My Little Pony.

The premise of the episode is that all of the Mane 6 have an animal friend except for Rainbow Dash. She then decides to hold a tournament to find the “coolest” pet. Her selection includes butterflies, falcons, bats, eagles and hummingbirds. But Fluttershy insists that a tortoise participates as well. He’s the exact opposite of everything Rainbow Dash wanted, but ends up being her selected pet because…The Plot Demanded–no wait. Not quite. But almost “Because The Plot Demanded It.”

I know it isn’t fair for adults to critique a show designed for 8 year old kids. But this is one of the episodes that’s always been bothering me. A particular plot point in that episode is so…off-putting and so glaring, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. It was the third time hearing it in the background that I finally formed it into words. I remember icanhazcheeseburger had a page. I dunno if it’s still there, but it was called “Oddly Specific.” That’s what’s wrong with that episode. An arbitrarily, oddly specific point or saying that the entire plot hangs on. And using devices like this, is quite frankly, lazy.

First, the specifics. Rainbow Dash has the final competition to decide the coolest pet. A race against her down a dangerous gorge. Now, here’s the laziness. Announced as a race, Rainbow Dash states “The first animal to cross the finish line with me wins.” Later on, Rainbow Dash gets trapped and the tortoise, later named Tank, saves her by carrying her on the back of his shell. With the Falcon being the first one to cross the finish line, it looks like Tank won’t be Rainbow Dash’s pet. But wait! Rainbow Dash said whoever crosses the line “with her” is the winner. The oddly specific part is “with her”

First off, if it’s a race. That means first place is the winner. Wouldn’t that also be the best way to determine a pet? Why should a pet keep up with her and cross the finish line with her to win? True, keeping up with her is a considerable feat, but if an animal kept up with her, wouldn’t that just mean the animal is in first place anyway, since we see Rainbow Dash dominating the race for 90% of the event. Why such an oddly specific rule to reach the end goal of having Rainbow Dash learn a lesson and get a new friend?

Making up oddly specific rules is, in my opinion, lazy. Especially when said rule carries the bulk of the plot. This was always the problem I had with The Graceling. I know everyone loved that book, but I thought it was average at best, and my wife didn’t like it at all. She stated it was a mediocre fantasy book that had been done a million times. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to put an end to laziness.

Spoiler warnings again for The Graceling. You’ve been warned.

Ok, so people in Cashore’s world have “Graces” Think of them as mutant powers ala The X-Men. Katsa’s (Ugh!!!! Another “Kat” character who fits the stereotype of EVERY OTHER “Kat” character) mutant power is killing. But she meets a man who’s grace is “fighting.”

When I read that, it immediately jarred me out of the story. That’s oddly specific. That fighting and killing are two different mutant powers. But we see Katsa “fight” and subsequently kill a lot of people. So, does this guy, whose name I forget, lack all aptitude to kill a person once he’s beaten them by “fighting.” Or, is the writer using a lazy technique to carry the plot? I think it’s the latter.

Of course, that’s not his grace. It’s something else, but he uses his super hearing to fight and keep up with Katsa or something. The point is, the a bit plot point hinged on something that comes dangerously close to a red herring. Yes, I realize red herrings are nothing to be trifled with in fiction, but its obvious by the way the author has framed her world that Katsa’s boyfriend isn’t want he seems. Fighting and killing are the same thing in this world, so why is fighting treated differently? I would almost call this a red herring because we’re told fighting and killing are two different things, even though Katsa’s grace is killing which makes her apt at fighting at the same time. People can only have one grace, mind you.

If you need something to happen to make a character make a decision, first of all, it’s probably not good for the plot. I’m against “making” characters do stuff in a vast majority of cases. But if you decide it’s right for your plot it, don’t be lazy and pass off oddly specific things as generalizations for the “big” plot reveal. I have no idea how it could’ve been handled differently in The Graceling save the whole “fighting is a grace” mechanic had to be removed and replaced with something else. But in the case of MLP, Rainbow Dash recognizes that all of the other animals leave her behind once she becomes trapped. Let’s not forget, her Element of Harmony is Loyalty. Tank was Loyal to her to the end, and once she realized that, she could’ve chosen Tank as her pet, regardless of who won the race, as they weren’t “Loyal” and thus shouldn’t be with Rainbow Dash. It works and reinforces a character trait that’s not seen a lot, adding weight to Rainbow Dash’s element.

So, that’s my take on those oddly specific things that hold up huge segments of plot. There might even be a word for things like these, I dunno. These are fine in your rough drafts. But don’t let them survive to the finished version. It’s lazy. We all have trouble with this, and I’m no exception, but once we start asking more of our fiction, we’ll probably get more out of it.

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Tone Deaf. And why reading is important for writers.

Oh man. This week has been busy. My freelance writing job has been increasing the amount of available work for me, and I’ve had no choice but to accept as much as I can. February and March were rough, so I need to catch up. The result is that I’m just so dang tired of writing after I’ve met my quota that I don’t feel like writing at all. I’ve actually missed two days of working on my fiction because of laziness. I share that because we all have down days. I’ll make up for it later, though. But this isn’t want I really wanted to talk about. Instead,Β  want to talk about what I call “tone.” And note here, that my definition of tone is a little different from textbook definitions (I don’t need your labels, man!)

Tone, for me is the feeling of the book. Some people call this “Mood” some people combine mood and tone with style to get what I’m defining. But the overall feeling of a book, both for my characters and readers, is what I describe as tone. For me as I’m writing, tone varies.Β  I’ll have an overarching tone that ties in to the theme of the book, but I’ll also deviate from this tone where appropriate. Again, note here that what I’m defining as tone is probably wrong, but hey, this is how I write, you know?

But I’ll always go back to the overarching tone. For me, tone ties into many parts of my book and could be likened to the string that binds everything together. Tone for me includes my pacing, which can easily affect what a person feels. It also includes the word choice I use and how I order particular words in a sentence. It also affects what my characters are going through and how they react to what’s going on. In short, tone, for me, is pretty important.

But how do you improve or build upon this concept that I’ve labeled as tone? Well, if you call yourself a writer, you’ve no doubt read a lot. At least, I hope so. I personally think the reading a person does can be in the past or ongoing, but the point is a lot of books have to have passed under your nose. Regardless of what definition you use for things like tone, style and mood, if you’ve read a lot of particularly good fiction, you understand tone.

It’s one of the benefits of reading a lot. I think reading a lot helps writers develop a kind of “sixth sense” when their own writing is concerned. For me, I’ll find passages in my books that just don’t feel right. Or are just weird. I won’t be able to explain it, but they are often weak points in my storytelling that need correcting. It might me small, like using too many words, or itΒ  might be big, like atonal dissonance, but the point is reading helps writers identify parts of a book that work and parts that don’t without having to put too much thought into it. My definition of tone is one of those. I have confidence, that if you read a lot, you’ll start picking up on things like that. And if you’re not, then maybe you should add an hour or so of reading to your daily writing schedule. I find reading is also an excellent place to generate fresh ideas, and also make myself feel better about my writing when I read something stupid (Really? The only way to defeat the sword of darkness is with the sword of love?)

So, that’s it, really. That’s a little bit into how my mind works while writing. Will it translate to tons of sales and hundreds of thousands of sold books? We’ll see. If it does, I’ll revisit this topic. If not, well I’ll admite that too. After all, one of the reasons I’m here is to share my opinions on writing and see what other people think. And this is my opinion of tone and reading. I hope it helps.

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Amazon and E3 2015. Some major announcements!

All right! Over the past few days, I’ve been privy to some major announcements that I’m really excited for. So let’s get right down to it. I’ll start with the most important, as it affects what a writer gets paid when enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, and as Homer Simpson so aptly put it money is important because, “Money can be exchanged for goods and services.” The change is only for people in KU, but it’s ramifications may be felt in the industry for a while.

I am, of course, talking about the change in pay for writers in KU. KU is a program where readers can borrow books to read for free and when read a certain percentage through, the author of said story gets a tiny share of a pool of money. At least, those were the old rules. Oh, writers still get a share of money, which looks like to be around 11 million dollars, but now instead of getting paid if a reader reads 10 percent of a book, it looks like this new model proposes to pay the writer by the amount of pages a reader reads.

Speaking for me personally, this is awesome. Godspeed is in KU right now, and is somewhere around 230 pages. If a person borrows the book and reads the whole thing, I’ll get paid a little over $2.30. That’s more than I’d get paid if they outright bought the book. So, all you people that want to support what I do can read the book for free and I’ll get paid a few more pennies. That’s win/win for everyone in my book.

Well, not everyone. A lot of people make their money writing short stories and novellas. If a person borrows a 60 page book and reads it, it’s only 60 cents versus $1.35 of the past, which is going to eat into people’s income. And it’s still not clear what the pay out per page will really be. However, we’re a resilient bunch and I’m sure we’ll compensate somehow. I still feel really bad about the shorter story writers, but this does deal with the problem of publishing a 9 page book on KU full of click-bait terms and as soon as a person looks at the thing, they get paid 1.35. Now, writers get paid on content, and content that keeps pages turning. While still important, keywords and search terms are only going to get a book so far in KU. It’s going to be the story that keeps people turning pages. So, go out there and turn some pages in the coming weeks for your favorite authors. They’ll appreciate it.

And now I come to the part I’m most excited about. Sure, a little money is nice, but it’s not like we authors have a choice in the matter, even if pay were being lowered. But this year’s E3 is shaping up to be one of the best. It’s been a long time since E3 has been worth my time. However, with bombshells like the HD remake of Final Fantasy 7 being announced, I had to take note.

FF7 is probably the game I’ve spent the most time playing in my lifetime. I did absolutely every single thing possible in that game. I could beat the hardest bosses by starting the battle and then putting the controller down, that’s how powerful my characters were. And ever since the tech demo released to show off the PS3 way back when, I’ve wanted a remake. Well, it seems like Sony is actually trying to sell PS4s now, because I’m on board. This is Hyrule Warriors level of game we’re talking about. Actually, even higher than Hyrule Warriors, as the HD FF7 remake has just sold me a PS4. If I can’t get it before, my income tax refund will purchase me one. It’s a done deal. No compromises. I’m getting a PS4 now for the same reason I bought the PS One. Becuase of Final Fantasy 7.

But let’s not forget stuff like Star Wars Battlefront 3, which looks super cool, despite being all scripted gameplay, and the newest Fallout, Fallout 4. I wasn’t excited about FO4 until I learned that you can build and manage your own settlement. Those familiar with mods will have probably heard of one of the most popular ones for Fallout 3 and Fallout NV, which was Wasteland Settlers. While really buggy, it let people do just that. Build and customize their own settlement. And it was a blast. Honestly, Bethesta games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls have always been a big sandbox for me. The only Bethesda game I ever beat the main storyline on was Morrowind way back in the day. Ever since, I’ve always just goofed off on games like Oblivion, Skyrim and the Fallout series. And I intend to do just that on Fallout 4.

There are a lot of other games that look cool too, but I probably won’t pick up. But FF7 remake is tops and is possibly my most anticipated game of all time, for all years to come. No, there is no “is possibly” here. It is my most anticipated game ever. Even if its being developed my Square-Enix and not Squaresoft, I’m still buying it. I can’t wait to breed chocobos and slaughter Emerald Weapon like I used to when I was in middle school. I can’t wait to spend hundreds of hours grinding materia to build the most OP materia system of all. And I can’t wait to get the Omnislash limit break, Cloud’s most powerful limit break, on the first disk(they probably won’t be divided by disks, but this is earlier than reasonably possible) and let Jenova: Synthesis really have it for that whole…well. Spoilers. But she deserved that butt kicking, trust me πŸ™‚

Writer or hobbyist?

Yea, it’s been a while. I caught some sort of really weird cold that I’m just now getting over. It was pretty bad. I had so much drainage that I was choking while I was trying to go to sleep. After that symptom went away, it was a nagging cough that kept me up. I started feeling bad last Friday, and I just now am getting over it. Pretty much, I spent the entire of last week sleep deprived, only getting four hours of sleep on Wednesday. Every other day, I only clocked in three or less. Needless to say, not a lot of writing got done during that time, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

However, laying there awake, staring at a dark ceiling gave me time to think. I’m sure all of us writers have a lot of writer friends that we like to share our craft with. Now, this post is sort of a “calling out” to the rest of my writing friends, but it should be useful to anyone else that fancies themselves as a writer.

But rather than just saying, “Just write, dammit!” I’m going to go a little further. Basically, a person must first, before writing, determine what he or she expects out of the experience. What I mean by that is, why are you writing in the first place. What’s the purpose? Do you just enjoy it and see it as a fun hobby? Do you feel yourself particularly skilled in the craft and want to make a few bucks? Is the driving factor of writing a combination of many factors that culminates in your desire to provide for your family? Figure out what you want from your writing, and then work accordingly.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, or to publish a book six years down the road. But I don’t think that’s being a writer. That’s just writing. However, my goals are a lot loftier, so I’ll be talking to those among us that want to turn writing into a source of income: AKA, the writers. Here’s where I tell you “Just write, dammit!”

Seriously, I don’t get it. Like I said, I know a lot of “writers” but so far, I’m the only one that’s published.Β  That speaks volumes about not only how easy it is, but also how little a person has to know about the craft to publish. What’s the hold up, guys? Do you not have enough time to write? Well, how about this. Writing working 43 hours a week at a grocery store while looking after a three-month-old and doing most of the household chores while my wife went to college and did homework. Sure, it’s not as busy as a lot of people. But It’s busier than a lot of other people. That was my November the year Emily was born. I wrote a 50K novel in one month for NaNo. Actually, it was 53K I think. And it wasn’t finished.

It’s simple. Make time for what’s important. Of course I made time to play with Emily and spend time with my wife. But I also made time for writing. And I’m not kidding about that 43 hour a week stuff. The assistant manager really sought to put the “ass” in assistant, but as long as he was handing out overtime checks, I was gonna take them.

So TL:DR. You’re not a writer if you don’t write. Period. You’re a hobbyist who likes writing. And that’s absolutely fine. But if you fancy yourself a writer, and wish to turn it into a source of significant income, then do it! No excuses. I don’t care how “tired” you are or how much “stuff” there is to do. Even with nine hours of sleep in four days, I still wrote for as long as I could on my latest draft before nearly collapsing at my keyboard.Β  So, write. And as we continue down this road, I’ll share some awesome ways to do just that.

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Don’t be a lazy ass writer.

You know what really grinds my gears? When otherwise competent characters do stupid things “Because The Plot Demands It.” Now, doing things “Because The Plot Demands It,” is often the wrong way to go on a number of levels, but let’s just focus with this one, because it came to the forefront of my mind earlier in the week when my little girl started watching My Little Pony again.

Ok, I like My Little Pony. It’s a lot of fun and we all have fun watching it. But that first season. Geeze…it’s nice and all, but it’s way overrated. Some of the writing is so weak in that season, you’d think they hired young kids to actually write the show. Let’s start with the beginning, and what I think is one of the more egregious examples of characters doing stupid things “Because The Plot Demands It.” Also spoilers. Hey, if Aerith in FF7 can still be counted as a spoiler, then this is too.

First episode of MLP. We’re introduced to Twilight, who is researching the legend of Nightmare Moon. Worried, she sends word to Princess Celestia, who responds “Stop reading those dusty old books and make some friends.”

Now, the reveal that friendship is the deciding factor in the thing is a big deal. But the fact Celestia hides anything from Twilight, especially considering what we learn about her in future episodes, is well, stupid.

It’s just lazy writing, in my opinion. Sure, this is a kid’s show, but how often have we seen this creep into our fiction, especially movies and novels? More recently, my wife read a fantasy book where the protag gets stabbed by some sort of plant and the thorn burrows itself in his flesh on its own power. What does our brave protag do? Why, go to a party or some sort of gathering. Why would something like that even be worrisome in a world that flaunts magic and wizards? The point was that the thorn had to make protag fall unconscious just before a really big reveal. And the writer thought the best way to do that was to defy all human logic and have a dude pretty much ignoring a rather serious injury “Because The Plot Demanded It.”

I guess I could rename this post “Don’t be a lazy ass writer,” which I might just do. in fact, I just did. Not only making characters stupid, there are a number of cop-outs may writers do. I struggle to make sure nothing like this happens in my works, but I’m not gonna say it doesn’t happen, because it probably has.

So, how can a writer fix this? Well, Princess Celestia can actually act like a competent ruler. Do that and the story remains in tact, save for the “big” reveal that Celestia knew it all along, but for some reason, didn’t tell her most prized student because, say it with me “The Plot Demanded It.” But that reveal is way too forced and again, stupid, so it doesn’t matter if we lose it.

For the fantasy book? I’m thinking an assassin could’ve shot the dude with a poison that made him fall unconscious and nearly die at exactly the right time. He’s already fighting against an evil king, so it’s plausible. But, come on, guys! Let’s work together and put some thought into our plot lines. Never, never, never sacrifice characterization for plot. If you have to force your characters to do something stupid or otherwise behave in a very specific way to achieve what you want in the plot, then it’s probably not a good plot idea in the first place, no matter how great it seemed in your mind. Find another way to do it or scrap it all together. It’s tough, especially if it’s an awesome plot point. But you should see the “plot device scrapyard” I have left over after writing three books in the Godspeed saga. Maybe they can be recycled. Maybe not. But don’t burden the reader with weak story telling. And I’ll see you guys later.

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Wait a second. Amazon sells fanfiction?

Ok, so lurking around some forums, I found a post that asked what Amazon Worlds was. I had no idea, so I followed the links and found out that, yes, this is a section of Amazon dedicated to selling fanfiction. As in like I do with my books. As in both the writer and the original owner of the story get royalties.

My goodness, how times have changed.

Now, let me first state my opinion about fanfiction. I think it’s an awesome thing. Allow me to quote myself from several years ago, discussing opinions of fanfiction in saying it’s like mental masturbation. You learn a lot about yourself and it feels good. But you shouldn’t feel ashamed about it, either. In fact, it’s a great way to build a little following for when you do “grow up” and start “experimenting” with original stories and characters.

I went through a sort of slump in my early teenage years. I loved writing, but I just didn’t do it. Then, I was introduced to an anime called Ranma 1/2. Eventually, I stumbled on fanfiction and it reawakened my desire to write. I still have a few stories over at fanfiction.net. But do me a favor. Don’t look at them. They are so bad, it’s almost funny. But the point is, that was the first place I was able to hone my craft. And one of the key features about being an author is staying consistent with characters. Fanfiction gives people an easy place to practice before the real thing. It also sets people up to experience real reviews and grow a thicker skin, and trust me, I pissed off my fair share of readers all those years ago.

However, Amazon has strict rules set up, even going as far as specifying cover designs for these books. And I’m sure it’s something where Amazon first asks the creators. If its not the case, I’d totally put Godspeed up there when it was done. One of my silly dreams is to read what other people have in store for my characters. However, it’s not like you can just write any old fanfiction. There’s a set number of series from TV and books that people can choose from. Otherwise, it’s just like what I went through a few days ago. Well, maybe the reviewers are a little more harsh, since they know the characters and all. But other than that, it’s exactly the same.

Well, the writer only gets 35% royalties. I get 70% on an original story. But still, I think it’s kinda neat. Want to write fanfiction and make money? Well, here you go. Here’s a list of authors you can copy from and make money from. Although I couldn’t find out of the program was still going or not.

Anyway, my little bug has gotten a little bug and I just got an email that there’s more work for me to do as far as making money writing other people’s stuff, so I guess I’ll catch you guys later!

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