He’s Got Them There Writing Hands


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Someone recently asked me if I like to fight. When I asked them why they asked me that they said, because I have fighter’s hands. After looking at my hands for a moment, I had to admit they were right.

I’d like to say, that while I don’t like to fight, I’ve had to fight for much of my life. I also like to think that I have writer’s hands.

Later, thinking on what this person said, and my own view of my hands, I came to the conclusion that the two weren’t mutually exclusive. I can be a fighter and a writer. There are many paths on the way to becoming a writer. I’m a fighter (though in the sense I’m using it is a synonym for survivor). Jim Carroll, writer of The Basketball Diaries, was homeless and an addict. James Frey, writer of A Million Little Pieces, is a lying, prick. William Shakespeare was the sickly son of a sheriff. Junot Diaz, writer of This is How You Lose Her, lived without a father for years while his father worked in America to earn enough money to bring over his mother and four siblings; once in America he lived less than a mile from the largest landfills in New Jersey. Stephenie Meyer, writer of Twilight, is a Mormon (take that however you like).

As you can see the path to becoming a writer is a winding and, often, unintended. So, if you’re reading this thinking you can’t/shouldn’t/couldn’t be a writer because you’re poor/bad with language/not good enough/left-handed then you’re in good company because most writers have thought or were those things at one time or another.

My point, as always, is: if you want to be writing, then you should be writing.

Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

Oh, What A Wonderful Corner I’ve Written Myself Into


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Hey, all!

So, you’ve written yourself into a corner. There are three things (well, four, but I don’t think living in the corner for the rest of your characters’ lives is a real option) for you to do. The first involves (what I’m going to call) “going up the wall.” The second is the Uncle Karl Fix (-ish). The last is rolling with it.

Let’s go over “going up the wall.” I want to state here and now that “going up the wall” is the least preferred of the methods of getting yourself out of the corner (by me anyway, others can/will/should have their own opinions). What I mean by “going up the wall” is this: essentially you break the rules of the story, the rules you established for the world you’re writing in. I, personally, don’t like this because it can feel like you’re pulling one over on your readers. You’ve taken the time to make believable characters, to get them to like the characters. You’ve put them into a world of wonder that they’ve gone into willingly. They trust you, and you pull the rug out from under them by having something they thought was impossible happen. Now they don’t know what to think. They’re entire world has been turned on its head. It’s the easiest way to get yourself out of a corner, but it costs you more in the long run (I think).

DISCLAIMER: Breaking the rules of your world can be done, and has been done, in a controlled and planned manner to add tension to your story. What I’m talking about here is breaking the rules to fix something—essentially it’s like telling someone they were never able to walk, because they’ve fallen and broken their leg.

The second method is the Uncle Karl Fix. Those of you who are long time readers know what that is. It’s a lot to explain, so if you’re new you should probably go read the two other blogposts about it. Now the Uncle Karl Fix is waaaaay more work than “going up the wall.” It means looking at your whole story again (seriously, go read the other two posts). In the long run, though, I think this is a much better approach. The Uncle Karl Fix lets you keep the integrity of the story, of the characters, and as a writer. And, let’s be honest, if the story didn’t need an Uncle Karl Fix, then you probably (PROBABLY) wouldn’t be in a corner right now.

The third method: rolling with it. This solution might not be as much work as the Uncle Karl Fix, but it can be more exciting. Think of rolling with it as knocking down the wall to get out the corner, or to be more precise, writing your way out of the corner. Basically, you keep writing until what put you in the corner becomes true, the corner becomes a door.

As always, here’s an example from my writing group. So, this colleague of mine wrote a story with characters with magic powers. One of those characters had precognition—they could see the future. The character was introduced to the story by saving the main character from an attack that hadn’t happened yet. Which I thought was cool. Eventually, though, relying on the character’s precognition, they make a decision and get ambushed. At this point the story, thus far, ended, the colleague was stuck. I never saw the story again; though the writer brought other stories to be workshopped, and since then we’ve both left the writers’ group. So I don’t know how she reconciled the ambush with the rest of the story.

For some fun let’s look at how using each method of getting out of the corner can resolve this.

Going up the wall: The most obvious “going up the wall” is that the ambushers found a way of blocking the precognition, or of sending the character a false vision. This isn’t so much a breaking of the rules, but it does bend them quite a bit. It can raise questions like: if the bad guys—who they’ve been fighting for years—can block the precognition of the good guys why don’t they do that all the time? What good is precognition then? Why is that character even there? Of course, you can keep writing, adding scenes to explain this, but it can interrupt the story (in the case of this story, it was pretty time sensitive, end of the world type stuff). It can cause more problems than it solved.

The Uncle Karl Fix: Okay, so you’ve looked back at the story, you’ve looked at what the character has accomplished in the story. Here are a few ways to Uncle Karl this: 1) the character sends them a message about the attack, but is a coward and is in hiding so they aren’t with them to make the decision that puts them in the ambush’s path. It’s quick and we lose the character for the rest of the story, but it accomplishes the exact same thing without making the problem later on. 2) Have one of the existing characters get the vision, then stay behind to ensure the main character’s escape. This is a classic, and would put more tension and emotion into the story. 3) Don’t have the character with precognition. This does two things, one it gets rid of the character, and two the story gets a massive battle scene (because no one warned them it was coming). This was the path I advocated in group. I’m sure there are other Uncle Karl Fixes, but these are the ones that come to mind.

Rolling with it (writing until the corner becomes a door): There are a few ways to write yourself out of this particular corner. 1) Of course the precog character saw the ambush, but they had to get ambushed for the next part to happen, and the “next part” is what’s important. 2) The precog character didn’t see the ambush because they saw something that happened after the ambush (like the first one, but slightly different. The first solution makes the person less sympathetic, but more guide/one-with-everything-y. While the second one keeps the character sympathetic but makes the power useful but unpredictable/unreliable.) 3) Of course the precog character saw the ambush, but they’re a traitor. Oh no! World rocked! But, in this case, in a good way. This third choice is another one I advocated for in group.

As you can see, writing yourself into a corner isn’t a death sentence for a story. There are multiple ways to make a corner into something else. You just have to be willing to do the work, and look at your story from different angles.

SECONDARY DISCLAIMER: I would like to mention that this specific example had multiple ways of “rolling with it.” Not all corner problems will be able to be written out of. Some—I’m going to go with most—you will either have to “go up the wall” , or do an Uncle Karl Fix.

Until next time: remember that a corner is only a corner if you stay there, and: Be you, be well. Write you, write well.

So Little to do and so Much Time to do it in…Wait…Reverse That


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Alright, so we live in a golden age. We have access to media that makes sure we are never bored. We have movies, television (more television than anyone is watching), video games, we have movies about video games, we have “let’s plays” where we can watch people play video games (a guilty pleasure of mine), we have computers and phones where can watch T.V., play video games, or watch video of people playing video games, we have social media, reality television, podcasts…

…wipes drool from face…

Okay, where was I? Yeah, so we’ve got a lot, A LOT, of things to keep us occupied. Lots of things to get our attention, distract us. Lots of things to be a fan of, to enjoy and love. At times I think we have too many things to find, and fall in love with, and share with our friends so they can love it too, and then we can love it together.

Here’s what I’m trying to get at, don’t let all the things overwhelm you.

A couple years ago, I was watching a show—I forget what it was now—and I just stopped in the middle of the episode, and never went back to it. In fact, I completely stopped watching several shows that I’d been obsessed with at the time.

Why would I do that, you may be asking yourself.

Well, for one, it was just too much. I was keeping track of…let’s call it…an embarrassing amount of shows. My brain felt heavy keeping all the storylines and characters straight. The second reason was it was keeping me from writing.

There’s only so much time in the day, in a week, in a month. What with kids, jobs, and sustaining human contact, and then loving things like shows, and games, and podcasts, everything eats away at that time. So if you want to write, you’re going to have to draw lines, cut out the things that you absolutely can do without. Some people might decide it’s the kids and human contact that have to go, but I’m talking about the shows and games.

Does that mean you’re going to miss some things?

Yeah, probably.

If it’s any consolation, you’re creating something for people to discover and love. And isn’t that a nice thought?

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Writer yourself, write well.

Taking that Burger with a Side of Characterization


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Hey, all! Today I want to talk to you about characterization. For those of us who need a quick reminder/definition: Characterization is how and what we learn about someone in a story that makes them feel/seem like a real person; details about a character in your story.

Everybody got it?

Need an example?

How do we know the main character’s best friend is in love with them? Because they run out of a date to help the main character, and other “above and beyond” type of things that a friend wouldn’t normally do.

A big part of characterization, I believe (but I’m sure most others would agree with me-if I could ask them-which I can’t-so we’ll just assume), is (and here’s the phrase you’re probably tired of hearing) showing not telling. Quick reminder: the “show don’t tell” advice is straight forward, show the readers something in the story don’t tell the readers about something that we didn’t see.
For instance, if you end a chapter/scene with the main character going off to break into the bio-tech lab, don’t start the next chapter/scene after the break in and tell us it went well, show us the break in.

The same thing goes for characters in your story. Don’t have a character tell us another character is a jerk, show us that character is a jerk by their actions and interactions with the other characters. And here’s the thing, if you are having a character tell us another character is a jerk, then it says more about the character telling us about the other character than it does about the character they’re telling us about.

Sometimes coming up with what your character is like is tough (you can’t characterize your character to yourself). You just can’t figure out how your character would react in a scene. In these cases it can be a good thing to take them out of the story for moment and think about them doing something completely mundane. In this example let’s say their eating lunch. What do they eat for lunch? Are they are a fast food type of person? If they are, are they not concerned with their weight/health? Or are they a salad type of person? What kind of salad? Do they go out to a restaurant to eat lunch or have it delivered to where they work? Do they like to eat with people, or do they eat alone in their car to have a few minutes to wallow?

As you can see, when it comes to characterization lunch can be so much more than just something that happens. Lunch can be another way to show us what your character is like.

I hope this helps.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

Honestly Serious. Seriously Honest.


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Oh, it’s going to be one of those posts. I’m going to drop a chest nut on you.

I’ve brought this up before on the blog: “Write what you know.” It’s a mainstay of writing advice. What isn’t a mainstay of that advice is the reason behind the advice(I’ve never seen presented).

So that’s what we’ve got today. The reason behind the “write what you know” advice.

Okay. Now that you’ve stopped hyperventilating from excitement, keep reading.

So the reasoning behind the advice is simple, we’re trying to fill the page with honesty. That honest moment; being alone in a crowded coffee shop, or that moment when two people connect and form an unbreakable friendship. That honest feeling; the realization that the universe is too big for you, or how excited your pet is to see you when you come home from work lets all the shit from the day fall off your shoulders. Whatever you honestly know and have experienced coating the page so readers can connect with your story.

I’m going to pull back the curtain so you can see backstage of my writing. SPOILER ALERT: If you’re a fan of my other writing, and don’t want the whole thing dissected then skip to the salutation. For those of you that remain here’s some honesty for you: For a good chunk of my life, and I’m talking a solid 25 years, I’ve felt alone, like I didn’t belong, it’s something that I struggle with even now. I joke, but it really is true, that I was raised to be an outsider by a family of outsiders. So if you look at my writing it’s all, and I mean every story I’ve written, is about being alone, feeling isolated, struggling to find a place to fit. That’s the emotion I know the most, and that’s the emotional truth I put onto the page.

Now, that write what you know advice doesn’t have to consume the entirety of your stories like mine does. In the examples above I mention that pet whose enthusiasm to see you makes life easier to bear. That is an emotional truth itself, and you can use it in your writing. I would like to express the emotional truth is not the same as actual truth, so you can apply the knowledge of that moment and relationship to a married/dating couple. It’s still fiction writing after all. You see just because you haven’t experienced a specific thing, let’s say divorce, doesn’t mean you haven’t felt alone, or betrayed, and can apply it to the character in your story that is getting divorced.

The important thing to remember is the honest emotions you’ve experienced and apply those to your writing. The problems arise when you try to write about an emotion you haven’t experienced. Don’t be discouraged, every day you get to run through, roughly, 16 hours of emotions, eventually you’ll have enough for a whole saga of novels.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

It’s Not So Much the Girth as the Length


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Does size matter? It’s a question I ask about writing all the time. Looking at the book shelves in your local store it’s hard not to ask yourself this question if you’re a writer. It seems like every book printed today is part of a series—3 books, 4 books, 5 books, more. And each book in the series is four hundred plus pages. Even books that aren’t part of a series would take up much of the needed space in a budding writer’s apartment for, say, a couch.

So I ask myself if my stories are too short, or if they’re long enough. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same questions about your stories. It might even be on your mind while you’re writing. I know I have to shake myself sometimes when I’m writing to get those types of thoughts to settle down.

Let’s talk about your writing. Specifically the question of if a scene is long enough. Because when you boil those six billion page epics down, they’re put together just like any other story, one scene after the other. So how can you tell if a scene is long enough?

First, I want to apologize for leading you into a false premise. Whether or not a scene is long enough or not is the wrong question—all together it is so the wrong question.

The question you should be asking yourself is if a scene is working.

There are many ways that a scene doesn’t work. First, you could look at a scene, and it gets across all the information you need it to, but it’s not interesting—more like a shopping list than a scene. Another way a scene might not work is if it doesn’t accomplish anything. For example, a scene does not have to move the plot/story forward as long as it reveals something about the characters involved. So a scene could not move the plot along or reveal anything about the characters, in which case the scene isn’t working. Let’s not forget about world building and atmosphere building. If you’re going to describe the setting for a page and a half it better be doing one or the other—or the scene isn’t working.

Here’s a tip/technique, something I do, to make sure a scene is working. I don’t edit myself when I’m writing that first draft of a story. I write and write, and I don’t stop to change a word (unless I notice it’s misspelled); I don’t stop to re-read what I just wrote. Basically I don’t self-edit during that first, initial writing. Editing is for the editing process, and trust me there’s going to be a lot of that later on so don’t worry about it the first time around. Believe it or not, this is harder than it sounds. It takes some getting used to, but it helps get everything out before it swishes away. Then it’s just a matter of writing until the scene feels finished. Nine times out of ten it’s a good scene that works.

This is just one way to do it. Some people write a sentence and don’t move on until that sentence is perfect. The same rule of: write until the scene feels finished applies though.

To sum up: don’t worry about length during that first blush of writing. Write a scene until it feels finished.

I think that’s your lot. Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

I’ve Got a Krampus in My Writing Hand


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Merry Happy and a Happy Merry to all!

I hope the new year has started off well for everyone. I’m sure there are many a resolution about writing more (or taking more chances with your writing) out there.

In that vein, and in light of this Christmas’s horror movie release Krampus, I want to talk to you about taking chances with your writing and not holding back on your ideas.

All of us are guilty of falling into thinking sink holes. You know what I mean. We’ve read, and grew, up with horror/fantasy/sci-fi stories being a certain way so we think that’s the way they’re supposed to be. As a base for writing that’s not a bad place to start. Just like with anything else, you have to know the rules for something before you can start breaking them.

And that’s exactly what a story like Krampus does: it takes a subject/genre and turns it on its head. Let me ask you a question: Is Krampus a Christmas movie you can show at Halloween, or is it a Halloween movie you can show at Christmas? The answer is: yes. This is exactly the same question I have fun answering when it comes to one of my favorite movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a question I pondered when I read Al Sarrantonio’s stories Wish and Snow both take place during Christmas but both are clearly horror stories.

One of the questions you might be asking yourself right now is: Why a Christmas horror story? And I shall counter this question with a question of my own: Why not? At the core of horror is the desire to frighten, to shake a person’s view of the world, to take the ordinary and make it feel out of place, or make a person feel out of place in the ordinary. What makes movies like Krampus and The Nightmare Before Christmas scary/creepy is that Christmas is supposed to be a safe time. It’s a time for kids to learn faith, a time when your fellow people are encouraged to be caring and selfless. This makes the introduction of monsters into the mix even more frightening, it’s the juxtaposition of beauty and peace next to death and destruction that makes the destruction so much more meaningful. Look at the toys in The Nightmare Before Christmas: they are creepy as all get out! I mean, I love them, but they are creepy as hell. Their black and white design (with touches of red blood) don’t really stand out in Halloween Town, but when put next to the Christmas decorations a few scenes later, suddenly they are hideous. On the other side of the coin, everything in Christmas Town looks so bright in comparison to Jack.

The point of me bringing all this up? Don’t put limitations on your stories. If you’ve got an idea for a horror story that takes place at Christmas, do it. If you’ve got an idea for a steampunk fairytale, do it. (There’s actually a popular teen series that does just that.) There are no limits to stories. That’s why I love them. And I’m sure that’s why you love them too.

Go forth! Write without limits!

And as always: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

I’d Like to Buy a Vowell, Please


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I recently read an interview with Sarah Vowell in the magazine Mental Floss. In the interview she says: “…there is no one rule. Every story deserves to be told differently.” In the interview she’s talking about nonfiction writing, but the same sentiment can be applied to fiction writing as well.

I want to start off by saying, this statement was made from a perspective of confidence and experience in one’s own writing. Indeed it could be said, correctly, that as a writer you have to know what your voice is before you try finding the story’s voice, and intertwining your voice with it.

However, if you’re struggling to find your voice, listening to how the story wants to be told can be liberating and even fun. As a way to try this out, look at a story you’ve written. Pick one at random, pick one you might be having a hard time editing-you can try one of the stories that you love, but it might be harder to see it as something else. Read the story. Once you’ve re-familiarized yourself with the story, try to see it as something else. If it’s in third person, what would it look like in first person? What would change about the story? Try writing a few pages that way. If it’s already in first person, what would it look like as a series of letters/journal entries/blog posts. Again, what would change about the story? Would you lose important scenes? How could you re-incorporate them into the story? If the story follows one character, look at the other characters-supporting characters-of the story. What would the story be like from their perspective? Take a look at a short story, what would it look like as a play? Given the limitations of space in a theatre, on a stage, could the story be played out in one setting? Do you need the same amount of characters? Look at the characters in one of your stories, what would happen if you took out one of those characters and all the information/actions they do in the story? Do you still have a story? Probably, but is it the same story? If you have the same story even though you took out an entire character, then did you really need that character in the first place?

The point of doing this is to look at writing in general, and your writing specifically, in a different way. In a way that you wouldn’t normally, but may surprise you by being a way you like.

This is also a way to take chances with your writing. I’ve been in several writing groups over the past couple years, and I’ve found that many people don’t take chances with their writing; are resistant to feedback that veers the story off the path they’ve chosen for it (I’d like to sidebar the comment: this is entirely their right to do as the author, but they may be missing opportunities for the story to grow). It’s not just stubbornness that keep a writer from changing the way a story is told. It can be fear that keeps a writer from changing a story they’ve spent so much time finding in the first place. Our profession is highly subjective, and entails a lot of rejection and questioning of motives (mainly of characters). So I can understand the anxiety ensues when it’s suggested that a story you thought was done-it just needs some tweaks-could be re-written a different way.

Oh, my God! What if I fail writing it like that?!?!

It’s true. You could fail. You could fail spectacularly. There is an old saying, that people learn more from their mistakes than their successes. It may be clichéd, but it’s true. You can learn a lot from everything you do wrong, as long as you learn from it.

Let me share with you a recent writing group experience. I read someone’s story (as you do in a writing group). I’ve read this person’s work before. They are heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. (I may have mentioned this person before.) So, they give the group their story. It’s a story about a society oppressed and a resistance. It’s set in an alternate, sub-reality, of magic. Here’s where I want to say that this person knows this genre. I know they know this genre, because this story hit all the beats this type of resistance-uprising story should. In the end that’s why, I felt, the story doesn’t work. It hits ALL the beats for this type of story. There were no surprises. There was nothing that jumped off the page as unique or special.

I want to put this simply: I’m NOT saying this was written poorly. It was written with thought and knowledge. What I’m saying is that it’s a bad story. A fan of this genre of story could pick up this story and enjoy it, but they won’t remember it. When asked about good stories in the genre they probably won’t mention this story by name.

I know it’s odd to say that someone who didn’t do anything wrong wrote a bad story. (If you’re totally confused about how this happens; you clearly haven’t read the last post.) But they did do something wrong: They didn’t take any chances. They stayed exactly inside the lines for this genre of story. They didn’t think about this story in a new way, and because of that it is destined to fall into the background noise of the genre.

This is sad to me, because I like this person. They are very passionate about writing, and about what they write. They’ve reached the point where they’ve modeled/molded themselves into a writer of the horror genre. Now all they need to do (What all of us need to do as writers), is break the mold.

That’s the thing to take away today: think about your stories in more than one way. Just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Remember, at the end of the day it’s your writing. If you don’t like the way your risk turned out, trash it and go back to the original.

Well, I think that’s it for me. Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

The Expectations of Failure


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Oh yes! We are still on this topic. I could mine this topic for the lifespan of this blog and probably never run out of things to say about it. I probably will too, but this is the last one in the series for a while. I just figured we’re on a roll here.

So today I want to talk to you about my failed novel.

Oh no, not you! You don’t have a failed novel. I don’t believe it! You’re awesome!

Stop. You’re embarrassing me. I’m blushing.

Ahem! Yes, it’s true. I have a failed novel. Most writers will have a failed story, possibly more than one during the course of their careers. I’d like to talk to you about my first failed novel, because I learned a few interesting things during the whole process of writing it.

First, I’d like to introduce you to my novel: Endgame. Those super fans of mine might recall me mentioning this book a few years ago. I’m sure I posted about it on here; so if go back into the archives you’ll find the post about it coming soon (I’m a bad blogger because this is the first time I’m ever mentioning it’s not).

For those of you who don’t know it, let me give a synopsis of the novel. Endgame was supposed to be my third novel set in the Superior Universe (for those of you drawing a blank on that: go right not to the works page and read the synopsis for Superiority Complex and The Man with the Invincible Gun. Go ahead. The rest of us will wait. All caught up? Good.). So Endgame was about a superpowered game show like Survivor. The main character, one of the main characters, was a guy who started out as a scientist who studied superpowers as a possible next step in evolution for humans. He invented a laser that gave people temporary superpowers so he could study the physiological and genetic changes. When his funding got cut, a friend of his who worked in entertainment thought it would be a good idea to have a TV show about giving people superpowers. That turned into a show like Jeopardy only if you lost the question round you had to fight your way to the next question round with crappy superpowers. This became a hit and was on the air for a couple decades. Then a new company came in and fired the main character. He then sunk his money into building a more powerful laser that could grant people permanent superpowers and took his Survivor-like show to the TV company. Basically they give normal people superpowers, put them on a deserted island, and have them compete in superpowered challenges to gain points until one comes out the winner. The prize being they get to keep their powers. What could go wrong, right? Well, lots. The book deals with the people coming to grips with controlling said powers and what it truly means to be superhuman. There’s also a thing where one of the contestants goes crazy and kidnaps another contestant to torture (and eventually kill, but the other contestants band together to save her). Then there’s the religious group that thinks the show is an abomination, hacks the feed, and sends armored zealots to kill the contestants. Then there’s the gang that kidnaps the creator of the show/laser and forces him to build them a superpower bestowing laser, which doesn’t work because the guy isn’t crazy, but really the only way he can escape is by giving himself superpowers. Then the show airs and does so well that the company renews it for a second season.
Whew! Still with me?

Okay, so some of you may be saying: Wow! How could that be a failure? That sounds awesome!

I want to assure everyone that the novel was, indeed, epic. I mean this in every way, even the sarcastic sense.

All told the novel (after a couple rounds of editing) came out to be four hundred and twenty-five pages. Yes, I finished it. And I will tell you, it was not a hot mess of a novel (which is bad-good phrase which implies bad execution but good potential in the concepts or vice versa). What the novel was/is was/is a nuclear meltdown.

Oh, don’t worry. I’ll tell you why.

First off, it’s over four hundred pages long. It’s not a book of short stories that compiled gets to four hundred pages; it’s a novel whose themes (humanity, being superhuman vs. superheroic, dealing with that level of power, addiction in this case the feeling of being powerful) never let up. For four hundred pages. While there is action-we’ll get to that in a moment-there’s a lot of discussion about the ethics of superpowers, and reality TV, and what they could be doing with the power instead of beating each other up on a deserted island. I really wanted to talk about those issues. At some point in the writing, the novel became my dissertation to all those writers who write “superhero” stories that are from a normal human’s perspective living in a world with superpowers and the implications of that. I’m sorry but those stories are supremely boring to me. If you’re going to the trouble of writing in world with people with superpowers why would you write about a normal human? We know how they feel: weak, irrelevant, impotent. Not to be too conceited, but I think my version (giving said normal humans powers to deal with) is much better. So there’s a lot of that type of philosophical talk in the novel. I think it comes off well, but if the contestants weren’t beating each other up over the challenges that’s really all they were doing. It’s more than a bit much for four hundred pages.

Now let’s get to that action I mention earlier. Here’s where my wife (my first, sometimes only, editor) came close to giving me a compliment about Endgame. She described the action as being almost hyper-realistic. This too was by design. I did my best to make the action of the book less action-y and more like violence. What’s the difference you may ask? A Summer blockbuster starring Will Smith, Bruce Willis, or Jeremy Renner-more likely than not-is an action movie. A Lifetime movie of the week about an abusive relationship depicts violence. So even though people were getting hit with fireballs conjured out of thin air, a laser eyes, or shadow knives, I describe it happening in such a way that took all the comic-y awesome stuff out of it and left the festering, gruesome aftermath of the wound in. I did this to show the absolute destructive power of superpowers. I wanted the reader to dread the next challenge for the contestants because they got so hurt during them. I succeeded, but I have to be honest with you even I have to admit after doing the third read through of the novel it was getting to be a bit much for me.

Then there’s the superpowers. I wanted to show that there is more to having superpowers than just being powerful. I wanted to show that just because you have powers doesn’t mean you’re automatically great and happy. Don’t get me wrong every one of the characters started off feeling great, but by the end of the book that was a different story. Let me give you an example from the book. I gave one of the contestants super speed. One of the coolest powers in my opinion. Except the power was killing her. She had to consume massive amounts of calories to keep her body functioning. Which was near impossible on an island with limited food sources. She scavenged as much she could of the fruit and nuts, and the network did weekly supply drops, but it was enough to keep her going. Throughout the book she wastes away, even going so far as to stop using her speed to keep herself going a little longer. She ends the book in a coma as her body shuts down completely. That’s one of the extreme cases, but all the contestants had to deal with unforeseen side effects of having their powers. Mission accomplished, I made having superpowers a depressing responsibility.

Here’s the last thing I did with the book that I’m going to bring up. One of the things I hate about some books and movies is missing out on the action. The biggest perpetrator of this, for me, is the last book of Harry Potter. Where-SPOILERS-at the end several of our favorite characters are dead, and we don’t get to see how or why. You just read along, you turn the page and-BAM-eight people are dead. Another book series to do this is The Hunger Games (don’t get me wrong I love The Hunger Games), but we miss so much of the war and the world it’s set in because it’s just from Catness’s point-of-view. So what I did was have the novel with fifteen characters have fifteen viewpoints. That’s right. 15 VEIWPOINTS! Every contestant got at least one scene from their point-of-view. I made a deal with myself that I would go backwards, all the scenes would move forwards, but that means the reader got at least two perspectives for each scene. I think during one action scene I change viewpoints five times. It actually made a really good patchwork of an entire scene. I liked it.

There still may be some of you out there thinking: Yeah! That sounds great! Where’s this novel?

It’s sitting in my file box, dead. All the things I described above, while not bad in and of themselves, just don’t work as a good novel when I put them all together. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s the truth. You could read it, but I doubt you would enjoy it. Many would walk away very confused. And some (the biggest sin of all) would think they don’t like superhero literature, or reading in general. It just does not work as a novel. It doesn’t make a good story.

This isn’t what makes it a failed novel. Remember, a “failed novel” is one that you’ve stopped working on. As it is now Endgame is just a bad novel. Anyone can fix a bad novel if they have the will and the drive to keep working on it. I’m not working on Endgame, and I doubt I ever will.

Some of you might be asking yourself: why?

That’s a very good question. The answer: I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to fix it because (and here’s the rub) it’s not broken. Oh you heard me. It’s not broken. There’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, it’s all wrong, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I accomplished everything I wanted to with it. I, as a writer, succeeded. So because I succeeded I can’t begin to fathom how to fix the novel. It isn’t broken; it just isn’t good. How’s that for irony?

That’s the weird thing I wanted to share with you about the experience all the way at the beginning of this post. Even though I succeeded I came to recognize that what I succeeded at wasn’t very good. I fought with my wife several times about the novel. I fiddled with scene placement. I sent it out to agents and got rejected (nothing new there, really). After several months not looking at it I had to clear my mind, get as objective as possible, and re-re-re-read the manuscript. As an experienced writer, as someone who knows my own writing, I had to admit that the novel didn’t work.

I must stress that you have to be your own worst critic. After all, no one knows your work like you do. You have to have the maturity and the awareness to look at your work and acknowledge when it’s bad. I was convinced for months that I had succeeded with Endgame. And I had, but I was confusing succeeding in what I set out to do with making something good. I hadn’t, and it took a while to realize it wasn’t working.

Now that being said I like the concept I had and some of the themes in the story. So I’ll be putting them in other stories, but Endgame is dead. I hope this helps you through whatever you’re doing.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

The Ergonomics of Failure


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We’re back again for another installment.

Last time I mentioned failure. So I wanted to talk a little more about that. Because, you know, I don’t think life is depressing enough.

Anyway. I specifically say: “Stopping writing makes you a failure.” While at the time I was being inspirational this time I wanted to talk practically about that statement. I’ve asked several authors what is meant by the term, failed novel. All of them said that a failed novel is basically a novel that you stop working on.

I want to be clear on this. A novel isn’t a failure because it’s been rejected x number of times, or xx number of times, or xxx number of times, or xxxx number of times. It’s not a failure because it’s never published. It’s not a failure because numerous, very loud people don’t like it. It’s not a failure because, while people like it, the public misses the underlying point that you were going for in the story.

The only thing that makes a novel failed is you giving up on it.

Now I’m not talking about: I’ve been working on this novel for months/years. I’ve written it, re-written it, and re-re-written. I’m at the point that, I as the author cannot do anything more with it; I’m going to need a third party to come in and take a look at it before I can do anything else with it. So you stop actively working on it so you can focus on other things, like another novel, or eating, or your relationship (I swear I had a girlfriend/boyfriend/fiancé around here somewhere).

What I’m talking about when I say a novel is failed is: I got fifty pages in about a couple years ago and then I just haven’t had the time to pick it back up. Or, I tried writing a novel, but it just wasn’t for me. Or, I wrote a whole novel, but no one seemed to like it so, but I’m not going to change anything because they don’t get it; I’ll just focus on my porn addiction for a while.

Basically any time you just stop working on a novel, and just never go back to pick it up. The above reasons are pretty negative, but a failed novel might be a good thing too. Just let me explain. If you spend time writing you should, eventually, get a feel for your writing process, your style, and stories in general. You could have a great idea for a novel, get fifty pages in, and you realize that it’s just not working. Whatever the reason may be: the subject might not translate well, you might be having trouble organizing your thoughts, you might not be feeling the story right then. In that case you abandon the project in favor for a project that comes more easily. Or you might decide that your brilliant idea for a novel actually works better as a short story.

As a writer it is important that you’re able to identify poor writing, especially if it’s yours. Just because you have a failed novel doesn’t mean you are a failure. Apparently, John Green in the wake of The Fault in Our Stars, has started and abandoned four or five novels.

(If you don’t know who John Green is; he’s awesome. If you haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars; you should.)

The point I’m going for is this: Just because you have a failed novel doesn’t mean you are a failure. As the old saying goes: We learn more from our failures then our successes. And again: the only thing that makes you a failure is if you stop writing. So don’t let that one failed novel/story define the rest of your story, learn from it and move on.

Until next time: be yourself, be well; write yourself, write well.