How to Explain Complicated Stuff

Don’t.

To clarify, I’m talking about information that you spent hours and hours on coming up with, researching, and world building, but these things aren’t directly related to the plot. This information isn’t required for the reader to understand the plot of the story, but helps make the world in which its set original.

Explaining this is a tricky situation, though. You don’t want to go too far and rove into Navel Gazing; where the characters sit and stare at the wall, contemplating how society is structured from top down and how they fit in that place. What normal human being honestly does that? Seriously, even introspective types don’t go that far.

Another option is to make use of an audience stand-in. Such as the Village Idiot. Gourry from Slayers is an example, and he’s used for comedy. He gets told things so the audience knows and then called an idiot since he really should have known this to begin with. But he is an idiot, so its ok.

Another common plot device is “From Another World” wherein the stand-in is from another world for real. They are legit confused about the landscape and what’s going on, which gives the author an excuse to explain. But this can easily be abused. Too much detail can kill your story.

That’s the boring way to get information to your readers.

The more fun way to do it is not to!

I get that you did spend hours and hours on world building, but having your characters simply exist in that world and not question the weird things that happen – to me, that’s fascinating. It’s like light switches. Someone from mediaeval times, reading a story set in our era would be mystified by the idea that someone walks into a room and the light comes on, filling the room with brilliance that was not from a candle? That isn’t something we would question because its so normal.

So let a lot of your weird stuff be unexplained. You know the reasons for it to be that way, and as long as its consistent in how it gets treated throughout the story, then your readers will pick up on it from context clues.

For me, I write aliens and their cultures and biology, by definition, are not Human. I can’t take 3 pages to have Vathion explain what Scent Bonding and Widow Syndrome are since he doesn’t have reason to explain that kind of thing to himself. I would need someone from outside the culture to ask questions about it. However, that’s still not a subject that would come up in casual conversation. The only way to get across the information that Widow Syndrome is a death sentence, fraught with dementia, is to just show it happening.

Writing a book is like constructing an iceberg. Only the tip – the story that ends up in the book – is visible, with all this other stuff lurking under the surface that supports it.

Plot Building

There are different methods of doing it others have discussed at great length; from the 3-Act, to character-driven, or events-driven. If you want more info on the nuances of each, I’d suggest listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast.

My plots don’t really confine themselves to definitive and easy labels. The most I can say about my plots are that they’re character-driven for the most part? I have elements where horrible things happen and they aren’t any one person’s fault, but all everyone else can do is just watch the dumpster fire roll down a steep hill and into a petting zoo. 

Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) splits people into Plotters or Pantsers. I’ve discovered I’m more of a Pantser. As in, writing by the seat of them. If my plots fit into any kind of structure, it’s mostly a happy accident at the end.

When I begin a new project, I start by asking “What If?” This is Phase 1, as mentioned in my Phases of Writing Post.

I have another post where I talked about Creativity, so I won’t go into that at length here. I usually pick several and smash them together. For example:

  • What if there was a world where wishes came true?
  • What if a girl ended up switched into a guy’s body?
  • What if no one can tell the difference?

As it is now, the above example doesn’t have a clear ending other than maybe she gets her body back, but what then? Is that worthy of being the end of the book?

  • What if the guy whose body she is in Wished to end the world?

There we go. Now she has to remain engaged in the story past getting her body back. This addition will usually get me another 80,000 words, at which point, I’ll have to begin doing my rereading process to remove anything that no longer fits from when I first began the story.

I also look for places where I skipped scenes and begin writing those. By this point, I’ve got an ending in mind, which I will begin bending the plot towards. As I said before, I’m a Pantser, so I let my characters have some free reign to avoid the plot if they want, although doing so doesn’t always end well for them. Interesting diversions will stay in the book, whereas things that don’t serve any real purpose except for being neat will eventually be cut. (Refer to Cutting Darlings, which I’ll probably write about later.)

Once I’ve got 3/4ths of a story together is when I begin savagely destroying scenes that don’t fit the direction I want to go. This also ties into the Separating Scenes topic… which I’ll also write eventually.

In the end, I aim for Murphy’s Law. If things can go poorly, I’ll make sure that they do. You can have a plot without conflict. Coffee Shop AU’s are still popular. However, they’re hardly satisfying if there was no original trauma for the character to escape from.

And traumatizing my characters gives me life.

Recently, I bashed out the chapter by chapter plot for Shaxia. I did that by beginning with the ending. I know where I want the ending. Then decided that I needed more tension at the beginning.

I then focused on the pieces in the middle that I knew I wanted to happen and asked myself if they were Darlings that needed killing. Some of them got killed, others got promoted and fleshed out.

I connected the dots with some broad strokes and BOOM. Outline done.

Now its a matter of writing the scenes, but they’re loose enough that I can still find surprises for my Pantsing self.

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Killing Darlings

I’d mentioned before how my writing process is a lot of ‘write a lot’ followed by ‘cut a bunch’. Sometimes I really like the pieces I’m cutting. That’s what the phrase ‘cutting darlings’ means.

This isn’t the same as killing off a character.

A notable example of an idea that didn’t make it into the final cut was the NPRP: Natan Personality Replacement Program. He was awesome. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit him in satisfactorily. I tried to revive him for Phoenix Emperor as the personality of Natan’s clone body, but still, that didn’t work, and he got cut entirely.

In the following deleted chapters, there are elements that I kept, such as Vathion playing with his new ship and his conversation with Bibbole. However, everything else in this excerpt was ultimately deleted because it didn’t work. As such, if there are spelling and grammatical errors, that would be why.

Here’s the best scene NPRP was in. And a drawing I did for it.

Continue reading “Killing Darlings”

Killing Characters

Is FUN AND EASY!! :D

I touched on this some during my live video, but I’d like to go more in depth on it now.

Killing characters isn’t all fun and games. Though it may seem like I casually toss off characters, I always have a plot reason for doing so. I don’t go into it thinking “I’m gonna kill SO MANY CHARACTERS!” and giggle gleefully (although I do giggle gleefully when I find a good spot that requires a character death). Knowing I was going to kill everyone from the start would just take all the fun out of discovering who my characters are in the first place, followed by them making stupid mistakes and ending up dead all on their own.

My rule of thumb when it comes to writing? Murphy’s Law.

Spoilers ahead for Playing the Hero and Symbol of Hope: Continue reading “Killing Characters”

Audio Drama

I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for a short audio drama to do for Natan Fleet Show. I’ve got a few ideas, but not sure which one I should bother putting effort into writing.

 

idea 1:

Vathion getting picked to play the lead in the school play before the beginning of book 1.

characters: Vath, Mirith, Jathas, Lisha, Paire, Carf, random students

 

idea 2:

a scene on the bridge of the Xarian after Vathion has taken over as admiral.

characters: Vath, Erekdra, Codas, Bibbole, Chira, Ahri, Gatas, Paymeh

 

 

idea 3

NFS episode.

characters: Natan, Erekdra, Codas, Bibbole, Chira, Arih, Gatas, Paymeh

 

anyone have thoughts?

Phases of Writing

Currently I have multiple projects I’m working on. Well, this is more of a thing that’s always going on, rather than just something that happened recently.

My projects go through a few phases.

Phase 1: Zero-Draft

This is the version of the story in which I do what I want, regardless of whether it makes any sense. This can happen during NANOWRIMO, or not, depending on whether I have ideas or not. In this draft, I write all the fun stuff I had the ideas to write about, skipping anything that may have been boring, and just enjoy the process of writing. This draft looks like crap thrown against the wall and includes not just the stuff that stuck, but whatever slid down and piled up in a stinking mess on the floor.

Phase 2: First Pass

In this phase, I begin by leaving my Zero Draft alone for a while, then coming back to it after a few months to do a reread. I figure out the parts I liked and mark them for keeping and ruthlessly delete whatever is just stupid. This is the version that actually sees the light of day. I’ve got a few people I allow to read this version and they give me feedback. At this time, I specifically ask my alpha-readers to ignore grammar and such, since if a scene is no good and needs to be cut, there’s no point in making sure the commas are in the right place.

Phase 3: First Draft

After some brainstorming, I’ll begin combing out tangles and adding more things to flesh out the setting and characters. Again, since this is a Drafting phase, I continue to write whatever makes me excited, rather than sticking entirely to what might or might not make sense for the story as a whole. This allows me to remain entertained and interested in the story, and to discover new things I might not have done otherwise. It’s this phase where my characters really start talking to me and taking over the story.

Phase 4: Second Pass

Hopefully by the end of First Draft, I have an ending. It may not be the perfect ending, but it’s an ending of some kind, making it a full draft that I can seriously start massaging into better shape. This is where I really take out the pruning shears and begin cutting stuff. At this point, anything can get removed, from characters, to entire plot lines. I also start cleaning up the flow of information that the characters get, making sure they don’t jump to the right answer before they’re supposed to. It’s here that I make sure that I challenge the characters and rewrite scenes to create more obstacles.

Phase 5: Second Draft

By now, I’m pretty set on what the story is going to be about, so I start editing for grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. I’m still on the look-out for scenes that could flow better if something were changed/added/removed. I go so far as to read each sentence out loud to see if it’s too long for the emotion I’m attempting to evoke in the scene. I’ll let my beta readers have a go at the manuscript at this point and make changes based on their feedback.

Phase 6: Chopping Block

I decide, roughly, how many words long I want this story to be. Then I reread the story again for the purpose of cutting words. Usually, my Second Draft is around 160,000 words. I try to keep my end products around 110,000 words. I find that’s long enough for me to get all my plot threads wrapped up sufficiently. Anything that I like but doesn’t belong, I’ve got a special file I put them in. Maybe those ideas will get used later (probably not but it makes me feel better about deleting the scene). I look for places where conversations can be combined, or information could be revealed elsewhere. Then I give it back to my beta readers and ask their thoughts.

Phase 7: Polishing

Now I dedicate an entire reread to looking for grammar and typos. Any changes I make at this point are usually small-scale, consisting of rewording things for clarity.

I do that a few more times until I’m sick of looking at the thing.

Blockages.

Writers frequently have them. I am no exception.

There are three types of writer’s block for me. First is the kind where I actually cannot think of anything to write. The second is the kind brought on by procrastination. The third is the kind brought on by listening too closely to my inner editor.

Can’t think of Anything to Write: This usually happens when there’s a problem with my story that needs to be figured out before I can proceed with it. Sometimes, I just need more input from other sources in order to put the pieces together in new and interesting ways. Other times, there’s a logistical problem that I need to work around; such as, my character is smarter than me and I have to come up with a complication or problem he wouldn’t see coming or easily find a way around. When I come across these things, I just set the project aside for a while and work on something else. I give my brain a little time to turn what I’ve got into slush and reconstitute it into something else. My next strategy is to find something I’m actually interested in writing… Instead of beating my head against a wall that isn’t moving, I’ll just do something fun. After all, if writing isn’t fun for me, then why am I doing it? I am the first person I aim to please when it comes to my stories. However, this form of blockage frequently devolves into the second type, Procrastination, if I don’t at least try to write something. Even if it’s garbage or not related to my preferred projects.

Procrastination: This usually happens when I know I should be writing and I have some ideas, but just can’t find the time to make myself write it. It usually ends up sliding into the third type… I currently have it on my projects for Shaxia and Foreseen Champion. They’re supposed to be my next books in the Natan Fleet Show series but while I’ve had ideas on them, I haven’t been able to collect enough together that’s worth spending time writing. Instead, I’ve been working on another project. Procrastinating writing these projects until I have a better idea of what I want to do with them. I will also supplement with finding a good sound track that encapsulates the general feel of the piece I want to write. I listen to a lot of game sound tracks and game remixes.

The Inner Editor Rears it’s Ugly Head Again: This type is the worst. The first two can be gotten around by just finding something I AM interested in writing. However, when the Inner Editor crawls out from beneath its rock and begins spewing poisonous vitriol, it’s a bit harder to ignore. When this happens, I find I have to take better care of myself and take careful stock of what I’ve been allowing myself to think. There’s a time and a place for the Inner Editor. It helps make my stuff better, but not at the initial writing stage. Sure, that scene I just wrote is crap, but that doesn’t mean I should stop writing forever. My go-to strategy to deal with this is to put down the writing for the time being and take some time to myself. Focus on something I know I can accomplish, such as cleaning. Decluttering my surroundings helps remove the trash talk from my brain and gives me the strength to go back and look at my work with fresh eyes.

While I don’t write every day, like I probably should, I write often enough to make me happy.

..

For a chance to win a free physical copy of Playing the Hero, let me know how you get around blockages?

Wu Wei

I have suffered from depression for most of my life. I don’t want to really dwell on how that felt, or what it was like. I feel like there are plenty of people talking about that. I want to talk about beyond. I want to talk about coping. My major tools for surviving were reading and writing. 

One thing that’s always stuck with me was a phrase from the Death’s Gate Cycle. In the last book of the series, the protagonists are being swallowed by chaos and trying to bring balance to a set of interconnected, but dying worlds. The key to doing this was found in the words “Let go, take hold.” As he’s walking a hallway that simultaneously drops from beneath him and crushes him into its walls and floor, releasing expectations of what his surroundings are supposed to be allowed him to find a central point of balance within himself.

In the midst of my depression, I’ve fought against the feeling that I was failing to achieve what I thought I should have been. I was failing to control my surroundings and accomplish my goals. This disconnect between what my actions should have resulted in vs what results I was getting was one of the sources of my pain. The fact that the world kept thwarting me at every turn when I thought for sure I was doing everything right; I’d performed all the correct rituals and steps and side quests. Why was I not receiving the rewards as I’d been told I was supposed to?

“Let go, take hold.”

I’ve wanted to describe what kind of comfort that phrase gives me for a while, but I still don’t know quite how. When I get anxious and feel like I’m drowning, I tell myself that, and it helps me find balance. It lets me accept that things are chaotic, but clinging to my interpretation of what order SHOULD be is only driving me insane. In order to rediscover balance, I have to let things be chaotic for a moment and decide the things that actually need to be held onto.

Recently I came across a YouTube video explaining Wu Wei and it clicked. I’d been practicing this for years without realizing that there was an actual definition. That in essence was “Let go, take hold.” Or at least my interpretation of Wu Wei. 

I know that I get uncomfortable when I don’t know where things are going, and don’t feel stable. I like to have an idea of a path ahead at least. It makes me anxious to leave things unfinished – be that a conversation/argument without a resolution or a story. Thus I annoy people until I’ve gotten what I feel is a resolution to the situation. But life isn’t so clean. Sometimes things just end, or the best option is to leave the mess and walk away. Not everything can be fixed and not everything should be fixed. It’s like being the leaf floating on the surface of a mountain brook. Fighting the current will only exhaust me and is pointless anyway, I haven’t got the power to swim. But I can lean with the flow; I can redirect my path and avoid getting stranded on a rock. Thus taking some of the weight of responsibility and fear off me and placing it in the hands of a higher power. I am just left with the freedom to make my preferences known to Them and otherwise enjoy life.

Some days its hard, though. I still have trouble with anxiety from time to time, mostly because of things outside of my control having power over my immediate health or well being. I’m learning to expand “Let go, take hold” to a broader context of my life. I can’t control everything that happens around me. The world is made of chaos. The interplay between the order I create and the inherent chaos is what makes it interesting. However, to properly enjoy the ride, you have to accept that you won’t always end up in the destination you thought you were going.

School of Life

Representation

I’m making more of a concentrated effort to include more kinds of people in my books. Beyond being aliens, I want to have disabled characters, Queer, non-binary genders etc. Mostly because for one, they’re aliens and why should they be exactly human? Two, why not?

Thus far in my representation:

  • Da’Itta, of the Natan Fleet ship Cinnamon Rolls, is a lesbian.
  • The Serfocile have a pronoun to call people whose gender you don’t know (Sheh).
  • Vathion has depression, is demisexual, and later has PTSD, and is disabled.
  • Farynn is disabled after being wounded in battle.
  • Scheerahis is bisexual (as are most of his people).
  • Hyphokos don’t actually have genders, they just let the Gilon call them whatever, or prefer to be called male or female on an individual basis. Admittedly this one hasn’t been made clear during the writing of the books.

But I feel like I need more, so I’m working on it. Suggestions?