Monday, February 15, 2016


Professional authors no doubt spend time thinking about which of their books are selling the best, how they feel about their agent, the kind of demographics their stories are marketed towards, and so on. This blog has nothing to do with that. Let’s talk about the things that are inevitably on the mind of the beginning, amateur writer. More specifically, what are the problems or benefits of certain ways of thinking? What kind of Mindset is most likely to yield a better writing experience?

First, it needs to be said that there are a lot of very common pitfalls that we will encounter that won’t be avoidable – neither should we attempt to avoid them. For example, you dive into your creative writing project, and after 50,000 words or so, you’ve realized that your technical ability for writing prose has increased so much that the first few chapters are now on a much lower level than your most recent few. And if you muster enough willpower to actually go back and re-write them, it will probably take so long that now they will have left the latter half of the story in the dust. It might be a mess. Don’t worry about it.

Second, if you’ve embarked upon a reasonably involving and lengthy project, you might have found yourself more inspired or side-tracked by other story ideas that are now more appealing to you – but you haven’t got anywhere near finishing the first story you started! Don’t lose any sleep over it. Just make the judgement call to give up on your existing work, or persevere with it, but keep writing either way. Your first dedicated attempt at a serious creative writing project will likely be viewed later as merely your lesson in what not to do. Such a cold truth, I often wonder whether new writers would be better off not believing it until they experience it.

You’ll find that the more you develop and add to a fictional universe, the harder it becomes to keep it consistent, you’ll find more things you don’t like about it, you’ll wish you’d made alternative creative decisions (because there was such a sheer number of them, you can’t get it right every time), and there won’t be any way to unravel the whole thing, because as soon as you start backtracking and trying to reverse things you did, you’ll just find new problems to solve. This is natural, and not a problem that is unique to your writing approach. Just get the story across the finish line and then start something new (and way better), or make what changes you can without getting to a point of diminishing returns relative to effort.

Note that all of this has to do with process and perceived result. Let’s now look at two very different Mindsets, commentary included.

The wrong Mindset – in Luke’s opinion

“It’ll be great to see my first book finished and on the shelf.” I think it’s important to have goals, even ones that are only there to motivate us forward. Writing is very hard, so it can be useful to have some visual, emotional reward waiting for you. Something like this can work against you though. What if the finished book goes up on the shelf and just sits there as a reminder of all the things you got wrong when you wrote it? If your main measurement of success is getting a whole book across the finish line, is your motivation for writing going to take a nose-dive if you can’t get anywhere that goal?

“I just want one person to read it and like it. I’d be happy if I sold even one copy.” No you wouldn’t! If you really did finish it and that was the result, you would mentally shift those goalposts. You’d be pushing to find more people, if that’s really the attitude you had starting out. Also, you’d be giving up the result of your efforts to something you have little control over. 

“I’m gonna keep trying/keep working on it/keep submitting it/keep editing it until it gets published, then I’ll be happy.” As stated in a previous blog post about getting a work published, publishing isn’t really about you. Besides, how would you feel if you accomplished that (rather empty) goal, only for the publication itself to deliver a result that was the opposite of what you hoped for? What if it only attracts negative reviews, low/no sales, and actually makes it harder for you to get anything else published in the future due to the impact on your reputation? Again, such a cold and cruel thought for any aspiring writer, but consider the world we live in. Ask yourself whether such a thing happens to other people who have been published.

A better Mindset – in Luke’s opinion

“Writing gives me the chance to directly exercise my skills when it comes to creative, correct, and tasteful use of the English language. It’s satisfying to observe great use of grammar, and writing gives me the chance to be in direct control over whether a piece of writing succeeds according to technical criteria or not.” Luckily, the rules of language are there for everyone to understand and use, and with this approach you are in direct control over your relative success. Actual effort and perseverance will be directly proportional to how much literary ass you kick.

“I’ve read a lot of stories and explored a lot of other people’s fictional universes. I want to get the most out of developing my own one. The most enjoyable part of a creative writing project is coming up with and developing the really interesting story ideas that propel the writing as a whole. Physically typing out the prose is almost like a homage or tribute to the fact that I love these ideas.” This is a focus on one of the main positives of writing, and centralizes everything on process and person. At a later stage your mission can be to effectively communicate the value of these ideas to an audience, but your passion and drive for the conceptual side of it should come first.

“Solving a crossword puzzle isn’t about writing up a tally of how many crossword puzzles you’ve solved, or being the person who has solved the most of them or the hardest ones. It’s about the pleasure of solving the puzzles. Once solved, it’s not worth anything anymore. In the same way, writing is about the joy of finding the best word to use, inventing the best character for the role, building a world that is worthy of your imagination. Writing purely for the purpose of getting the piece done and on a shelf is like doing a bunch of mundane chores without being paid.” Let’s not kid ourselves too much – we do want completion, accomplishment, and recognition. But we’re more likely to get there, and less likely to suffer if we fail to get there, if we are doing it for the sake of the journey.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Plume and the Pistol (1)

I've been really into a computer game called Darkest Dungeon. It's heavily inspired by the writer H.P Lovecraft. If you play computer games on Steam, check it out. In fact I've started writing some fan-fiction for it:


The Plume and the Pistol (1)

Chapter One

When the rumbling stagecoach eased to its final halt, the ruined manor had already eclipsed the twilight sun, throwing a long shadow over the hamlet. Pierrepont stepped onto the sodden earth, closing the carriage door behind him. The driver, in an obvious attempt to avoid conversation with a known criminal, made a display of tending to the exhausted horses. It had not been beneath the chauffer to accept an outlaw’s coin, yet the man no doubt prized his own dignity.
            Less than a dozen wretched buildings huddled beside the cliffs, crumbling and ramshackle, windows barred by planks of rotting wood, rooftops sagging and in some places lacerated beyond viable repair. The nearest had the hallmarks of a tavern, and indeed a sign hung above its front door, although the image once emblazoned on it had faded beyond recognition. He turned the iron handle and entered. There were only three tables inside, all unused except for the one farthest into the corner, where a man sat slumped on a wooden bench, clad in full plate mail. A helmet and broadsword lay discarded next to him, flecked with dried blood. The smell was repugnant even from across the room. Pierrepont ignored it and approached the bar, behind which stood the only other soul present—a bawdy, greying man who was not shaken by the entrance of a stranger.
            ‘A tall mug of ale,’ said the highwayman, then after glancing back at the forlorn figure in the corner, ‘perhaps with a chaser.’
            The barkeep nodded and prepared a pair of beverages, dark as bark and with an aroma that began to irritate Pierrepont’s eyes. Payment clattered on the counter.
            ‘What happened?’ He spoke in a lower voice, indicating the tavern’s other patron with a subtle turn of his neck.
            ‘He didn’t say. Wouldn’t.’ The man sniffed, his thick moustache momentarily ruffled. He looked away and began cleaning a used tankard.
            ‘He’s here alone? I heard that others had travelled here, in response to the estate.’
            ‘There were four of ‘em, yesterday. The woman—Theroulde I think her name was—she’s no doubt sayin’ her prayers at the abbey. Drinkin’ ain’t for a vestal.’
            ‘What about the others?’
            The sombre barkeep pointed at the tavern’s northern window, which afforded a narrow view of the hamlet’s graveyard, overcrowded with tombstones. A wild-eyed, bespectacled old gentleman was shovelling a plot. Pierrepont nodded, took a handle in each hand, and walked over to the slouched soldier in the corner. When he sat down and rested the drinks on the table top, the other man lifted his vacant gaze, one eye twitching intermittently, traumatized by some internal malady. The highwayman pushed one of the mugs across the musty board.
            ‘Whatever your affliction is, sire, a drinking partner may mitigate it.’
            ‘I’ve fought many battles. I’ve witnessed countless deaths. I… I wasn’t prepared for this.’
            ‘Prepared or no, I have it on good authority that what lies beyond offers rich reward.’
            ‘What lies beyond… offers only… madness.’
            There was silence for a time. Eventually, the poor wretch reached for the handle, shaking but successfully raising the vessel to his bloodless lips. It seemed to calm him a notch, though his stare still failed to regard the room before him.
            ‘Madness or not, it’s of no concern,’ said Pierrepont. ‘I’m ready for anything.’

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Storytelling

People are good at storytelling when they have a story to tell. When they are trying to contrive ‘story’, not so much.

It’s remarkable how terrible people are at creative writing when they are just starting out, or are having some kind of struggle with it as an art form. Meanwhile, these same people are posting on forums, writing Facebook updates, e-mails, and telling their friends about their lives. When they are trying to communicate something sincerely without trying too hard to embellish the facts with sensational quality, their attempts are usually successful, and resoundingly so.

There is already a lot of material about this topic, call it filtering, or whatever else. I just want to commentate on it in my own words.

Take an example.

1. Something amazing happened to me the other week. It’ll really shock you, what happened––once you hear this you won’t believe it. I don’t normally share this kind of thing with people, but trust me, this is an exception.
2. The other week, I was involved in a motor vehicle collision. Three lives were claimed, including that of a four-year-old child. The police determined that I was at fault. 

In (1), I’m simply trying to sell you on why you should be interested in what I’m talking about. In (2), I’m telling you about something, and it’s up to you to decide whether it is sensational or not. Either the content warrants merit, or it doesn’t. In (1), there’s the insinuation that the content I want to tell you about isn’t sensational enough on its own, which would explain why I’m trying to sell you on the idea of getting excited about it even though the content might not merit excitement. In (2), the content hits so hard that it doesn’t require the storyteller to further sensationalize it.

I’m a writer of fictional literature. One of the worst things I’ve seen myself doing is to write in a way that substitutes meaning and content with misplaced technique, filler material, and fluff––false sensationalism. My only consolation is that so many other writers are doing it even more than I am. Then I look back at the forums and social media posts and occasionally see non-writers imparting a matter-of-fact story that works so much more efficiently and elegantly than a piece of creative writing that has been laboured over by a dedicated author. 

This subject isn’t really ‘about’ overuse of adverbs, dialog tags, or purple prose. Writers should actually keep those things in their arsenal. It’s about the fact that: if you can tell someone a casual and verbal story, or post a concise but interesting anecdote on the internet, and if it is more interesting and readable to others than your creative writing is, then you need to need to go back and take another look at your writing style.