World Building – Part 2

So, I’ve written about this before, here to be precise.  Last time I started with the words, world building is hard.

In retrospect this was inaccurate, it isn’t hard, it’s challenging.  There’s whole world of difference between the two of those, because as it turns out I quite enjoy world building, it’s exceedingly rewarding.  I never knew deciding on how the passage of time works and working on religions could be so interesting, but then seeing it leads to whole load of reading I should have known really.

I think the problem was that I didn’t totally have the themes of the world set in my head, I knew what they were, they just weren’t organised.  After some organisation, I have managed to get some key things sorted.  I have now decided that time will pass at the same rate as the real world and have worked out that the city the first story is set in will be an atheist state.  Next, I need to address language, does everyone speak the same language or will that differ from one nation to the other?  If they do speak different then how am I going to represent this since I only know my mother tongue?

At one time, I might have considered this too daunting a challenge to tackle and looked for an easy way out.  These days I can’t wait to take the challenge on.

Exciting times my friends.

Strong Characters

You’ll have to forgive me if I waffle a little in this one folks.  I couldn’t seem to keep it as short as I wanted it and I’ve always been a firm believer in the philosophy that something is finished when it’s finished.  Though I am assured that rather than it waffling, it’s more conversational.  I’ll let you be the judge.

What makes a strong character in a story?

This is not an easy question to answer.  Ask ten different people that very question and you would likely get ten different responses, it is a question that has plagued storytellers for many a year now; it is has also yet to be answered definitively.  I ask this question as while writing my own stories I always try to have a diverse cast of characters, without making it seem like tokenism; whether I have succeeded I suppose is for other people to judge.

I think diversity in story telling is important, I think people enjoy fiction more if there is something or someone they can relate to.  Whether that be a group or a person, stories are better when there is something for the reader to connect to.  Whilst this can just as easily be an event, maybe something they have experienced in their own lives, I feel relatable characters are better.  Maybe I’m projecting my own preferences here, but I always enjoy stories more when there are characters around that I can connect with and/or root for.

The difficulty for writers however is how to write said characters, how to include them in a meaningful way that adds to the experience of the reader.  It is not simply enough to include a woman include a woman in a story, expecting women to relate to this character or indeed include a person from any under/poorly represented group and expecting them to relate to them because they share a gender or race with them.  I am a white man, yet that doesn’t mean that I automatically relate to all white men in stories because of that.  It’s about strength of character, and that brings me back to my initial question.

What makes a strong character in a story?

I write in the fantasy genre and should I ever change my genre, any future stories will likely be action oriented.  The reason for this aren’t so important as the reason I mention it.  There is often (in my opinion) a common misconception that because a character is in a story that would if the writer chose, allow them to be a fighter, that this is what makes them strong.  This is to misunderstand how we measure character, do we feel that a person is strong because of their physical capabilities, their ability fight?

If your answer is yes, I would advise you to take a long hard look at yourself.

Strength of character comes from all sorts of things.  For example, I feel a person’s sense of morality is a cornerstone of their character, do they have a sense of justice and fair play.  How do they treat people?  A person’s sense of decency and compassion is important in the character of any person.  What about their strength of conviction?  One could argue that a person’s willingness to stand up for what they believe in, to bring naysayers to their side is important.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  What’s important to people in life is important to them in fiction.  Characters in stories can be role models for people, they can be sources of inspiration or cautionary tales, templates for the best and worst in people.  One of the worst things a writer can do is write boring and bland characters, stereotyped two dimensional bores that make you want to gouge your eyes before you read any more of their ‘adventures’.

Am I being a little harsh here?  Maybe, but you get my point.

I suppose really what this blog is about is representation, representation of people from all walks of life.  Men and women, people from under represented ethnic groups or people with disabilities.  Perhaps your hero is homosexual.  Perhaps one of the characters is transgender.  On and on the possibilities are endless, but it’s not just about box ticking.  One of the most overused tropes in fiction is the concept of a damsel in distress, a flaky woman in need of being rescued by the plucky hero of the story.

Unless your story is specifically built so that one or more of these groups is barred from consideration then why can’t your characters be neutral.  A hero that could be a woman as well as a man, be from an ethnic minority group or any of the other groups I mentioned earlier.  Have them be strong, not just because they are physically strong, but strong in any way you can think of.  Strong in the ways that matter to you, there’ll be someone out there who thinks the same as you.  Besides, you never know what you might find out in the research process.

So, for the record, I am not planning to go on a kill crazy rampage with a Warhammer.  I just needed to read about them for my book.

Character Development

Is it best to create bespoke and ready to go characters or should they grow organically?

This is a question I have asked myself often.  When writing my characters, I try to get into their heads, understand their motivations, what drives them on etc…   This is something I’ve always found quite easy, I’m the sort of person that when playing role play games on consoles, such as the Elder Scrolls games, I come up with a bit of background beyond what the game dictates.  It’s not something that I have ever found difficult and it helps me to come up with what are (I hope) believable characters, with believable motivations and the like.

This has a downside however.

Sometime last year, I was writing a short story set in the fantasy world I have created for the Brogan series, it was based around a character that is briefly in the first book.  As I am intending to have the character feature a bit more I wanted to write a prequel story, something to give him a bit of background and expand on his character.  I had always intended for him to feature a little more in later books, just not so much in the second book.  But what I wrote was intense, it really put me through the wringer and I had to take a little break before getting back into my writing.

I prefer to let characters grow organically, let circumstance dictate their development, decide on the spare of the moment what I think is most in character.  However sometimes a character just needs to be created from scratch, you don’t have time to develop them organically because they’re not going to be around long enough.  It could be because they are only required to serve a purpose, they do their thing and either move on or die.  As tempting as it is to keep every character around, some are just supporting characters and nothing more, you can’t keep them all.

But then, every now and then a character comes along, you’re not intending on them to be in it as much as they end up being.  It could be that they fill a hole in the story that you previously hadn’t realised was there.  These are the characters that grow organically, they create themselves, form their own motivations and you end developing their characters on the fly.  There is of course the tragic sort of character, the kind of character that you intend to go onto great things and have all sorts of plans.  Then you change a bunch of things for the benefit of the wider narrative and suddenly, they’re no longer relevant, then you need to work out what to do with them.

It’s a bit of Gladiator moment, thumbs up they live and fade into obscurity, thumbs down they die.  Either way their use the story is over and even if they do live, they seldom feature as the story progresses.  It’s a shame as well, some of those characters were good, I loved them; they just didn’t serve a purpose anymore.

Okay, so I waffled a bit there.  But it was my first major blog post in a while so you’ll have to forgive me on that score.  As usual, feel free to comment below if you have questions, critique or anything in general really.

Peace out folks, and have a lovely day.

Killer Disorganisation

I’ve been finding it difficult find topics to write about of late.

Now I know what you’re thinking, writer’s block again?  Well, no actually.  The problem is that I’ve got all sorts of things to write about, I’m just not sure whether I’ve written about them before.  Now this isn’t necessarily a problem if you have something new to write about on a given subject, but I can’t even remember whether that’s the case.  Over the last nine months I’ve written somewhere in the region of forty articles on a wide variety of subjects and I’m having some trouble recalling them all.

This isn’t an inspiration problem, so much as it is an organisational problem.

Now you’re saying, ‘But Tom, you wrote about crappy organisation and said you were going to change.’  Oh, have I?  Thanks, I’ll add that to the list so as I don’t write about it again.

Anyhoo, I’m just posting to say I’m organising my stuff and I’ll get back to posting genuine content when I know what I can post without repeating myself.  So, take heed folks, if you don’t organise yourself you’ll end up in a situation like I’m in.

Boom!  I wrote an advisory piece.  I’m getting quite good at this blogging lark.

Practice Makes Perfect

Writing, much like any other creative pursuit is a matter of practice.  The more you write the better you get, that doesn’t necessarily translate into success of course.  Being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be mega successful, it just means you’re good at it…obviously.

I have recently been a little lax in my writing, I’d like to say there’s a good reason for this; but there isn’t.  Frankly, I’ve just been lazy and playing on my X-Box too much.  This is a common problem for me and I need to be more disciplined.  I’m not going to get better if I’m not writing.

Naughty Tom!

This is all going to change, I’m re-releasing Brogan and the Bandit King and so there are many things to do.  New content needs to be to finished and inserted, artwork needs to be commissioned and an editing process needs to be undertaken, amongst other things.  I need to save the money to pay for most of the things that need doing as of course.

I’ve personally always found writing to be easy, when I’m in the mood the words just flow on to the page.  The editing and promotional process however I find to be incredibly intimidating and mind numbingly tedious in equal measure.  Talking myself up is not something I find to be a natural thing, I don’t know if it’s my inner Englishman pushing through, or whether I just lack the personality traits required to big myself up.  It’s all so very difficult.

Still, like the old saying goes; nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Self-Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is expensive.

Having attempted to self-publish on the cheap and finding out that it doesn’t work, I decided to remove my book from sale pending some extra content, a new cover, and other bits.  So, I thought I may as well consider a proper professional edit, beta readers and all the jazz that comes with properly releasing a book.  All this with a view to republishing it sometime in the first quarter of next year looking all spangly*.

The problem?

It’s all so expensive.  For a proper edit, I was quoted a little over three hundred pounds and while that’s actually pretty good value when you consider there are some out there asking for over a grand**, it’s still a lot of money on my budget and that’s not even considering that the word count has increased since that quote.  Throw in beta readers and the art for the book and my costs are approaching the one thousand pounds mark before I’ve even set a release date.

Now sure, with suitable preparation I can save the money I need to get all this done.  But it’s going to be tight and I might have to survive on a diet of bread and water for the next six months or so, I jest of course, but you get my point.

So, I got to thinking whether there were other ways I could make money from my writing.  If I’m being honest, saying such things seem a little vulgar, I don’t know about the rest of you, but the thought of hawking my stories feels wrong somehow.  It’s daft of course, what else am I going to do if I want to become a full-time writer?

Anyway, after some thought I have come up with a potential solution to my problem that I’m hoping will enable me to make the required money, whilst also offering something of worth on a regular basis.  The solution; Patreon.

For those of you unaware of what Patreon is, let me direct you to what they (Patreon) call the magic line:

“Patreon is a membership platform that makes it easy for creators to get paid.”

I have a lot of things I need to do to enable me to my book out in a professional manner that will enable me to get it noticed.  It’s not just all the things I’ve mentioned above, but the necessary funds to promote my book to help get it noticed.  I would also prefer if possible to sell it via a webstore of my own if possible, thus avoiding the middle man, this will obviously incur further costs.  Then there’s the novellas I’ve written to follow the first book and of course the second book I would like to release no more than twelve months after the first and so, on it goes.

The work of any author is never finished, self-published authors just have a tad more to do.

I’ve not come up with a precise model for what I’m going to offer, but short stories at the very least are a given, along with a few extra rewards here and there, I’ll decide firmly in the future.  However, I feel now is the time to offer a word of reassurance, this blog shall forever remain free and I shall still be publishing Vernon stories through it.  My good friend Zog would never forgive me if I tried to charge for those.

Why am I telling you this?

Well it’s like I said sometime, to someone somewhere, or maybe in this blog…let’s just assume I said all right?

“Join me on my journey to becoming a full-time writer.”

To my mind it’s just the next step on the path to becoming a full-time writer and I’m quite excited to see how it goes.  It’s going to be a learning curve for sure and to be truthful a little nerve wracking, but I think it’s just the next logical step.  I shall keep you updated with my progress of course.  If it goes well, then who knows, maybe my experiences might inspire someone reading this blog in the future to try something similar.

Peace out folks, and happy writing!

*Super excellent
**One thousand pound

World Building

World building is hard.

I’ve often looked on enviously at fiction authors who write in a real-world setting, I’ve always thought they had it easier when it came to their worlds.  I mean sure, no -one forced me to write a fantasy series, thereby rendering it necessary for me build a whole new world from the ground up.  It was just the natural way for me to go, having long been a fan of fantasy fiction.

I digress however, the subject of my writing envy.

I think I’ve been a little unfair to my fellow fiction writing contemporaries.  In truth, we all have to build worlds when we write fiction, it is important you see to set the rules of your world in advance and then stick to them.  There’s little more annoying than going through three quarters of a book being told one thing by the story, only for it to do an about face and do something entirely contrary to the pre-existing rules of the story.  It’s jarring and few things will break immersion faster.

In any genre, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi or something a little more grounded like romance or drama, the world the story takes place in needs to be built.  If built in advance, with the author noting the ‘rules’ of the world and keeping in mind it’s lore, then as long as the author sticks to them everything should be consistent and non-jarring.

The same is true no matter what type of fiction you’re writing.  I can well imagine the fact that the Harry Potter series of books were couched in a real-world setting didn’t make it any easier for J.K. Rowling to write them.  Indeed, Lee Child will have had in mind when writing the Jack Reacher books what the eponymous character was capable of when writing them.  All worlds, no matter their location need to be built to a point.

When writing Brogan and the Bandit King and further stories set in the same world I needed to do the same.  Elves and dwarfs are a no-no, but wizards and demons are fine.  There will be fantastical creatures of all varieties for the hero and his companions to battle, but no orcs or goblins.  These are the things I need to remember as I go on.

Anyway, enough of my rambling, I need to decide where to put a city.

Looking Up

I really should lift my head up more and take in my surroundings.

As frequent readers of my blog will know, I recently changed jobs, resulting in me now working a completely different town (Runcorn) from the one I had been working in (Warrington) for the last twelve years.  I recently went to Warrington to meet a friend to catch up, before and after our meet up I spent some time sat in the shopping centre watching the world go by.  It struck me while I was this just how little I noticed in my previous twelve years of pottering around the centre of Warrington.

Every day I had been in work over the last twelve years, I had walked different routes around Warrington to the various shops, pubs and whatnot in town.  But having long since gotten used to the town centre I would cruise around town, head down, on auto-pilot, taking in nothing of my surroundings.  So, there I was last Tuesday, sat on a bench in the middle of the mall just watching people go about their business and it struck me how little I noticed around me.  I’ve always considered myself to be a perceptive individual, very aware of my surroundings and what have you, but sat there I noticed shops I didn’t even know where there for starters.

A friend of mine often says that people don’t look up often enough, and she’s right.

There are all sorts of things going on around us, above us as well.  There are all sorts of things out there to provide us with inspiration, whether it be books or movies, the behaviour of people or random unexplained occurrences that boggle the mind.  Perhaps you’re like me and on those dark starry nights you spend time looking up into the sky wondering what’s out there or staring at distant streetlights, wondering what’s happening there.

All sorts of things drive me to write and though I don’t usually lack for ways to inspire myself, I think these past twelve years I have been depriving myself of a valuable source of inspiration.  Whatever inspires you, perhaps you might consider just sitting, looking up and around, see where it takes you.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll be like me and discover an untapped resource.

A Good End?

This blog has gotten a little of track of late, I think I’ve been letting my sentimental side run away with itself; time to correct that.

So, a post about writing, yay!

I was thinking recently about endings, specifically endings to stories.  In short, they’re hard to do.  I think the hardest thing any writer has to do is bring the curtain down on a story, especially if that story is part of a long running series that they have invested no small an amount of time into.  I’m only just embarking upon writing my own writing adventure with the Brogan books and so I don’t need to think about ending it any time soon, but the thought of doing it fills me with a deep feeling of dread whenever it enters my mind.

I think a writer has two main problems when coming to ending a story, ending at the right time and ending in the right way.

I’ll start with ending at the right time.  One of the worst things a writer can do in my opinion is to draw out a story, all stories and characters for that matter have a shelf life.  The time comes when consideration must be given to whether the best thing for them is to end it, there a few things worse than seeing a much-loved character being flogged like a dead horse to put off their eventual execution.  I get why they do it, we love them, they’re like part of the family and ending their story is akin to taking a family pet to the vet knowing it’ll be last time you do.

Overstating the issue?  Maybe, but I love my characters, even the bastards; I put too much into creating them not to get attached to them.

Whilst timing is important, equally as important is execution.  How many times have we been following a story in whatever medium we’re experiencing it, only to get to the end and be left feeling distinctly underwhelmed.  Take for example the ending to the first trilogy in the Mass Effect series of games.  Now sure it’s purely a matter of opinion on whether the ending to Mass Effect 3 was any good, indeed it is a very polarizing topic.  Much like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it.  But it doesn’t alter the fact that it left many people feeling like they had been sold a lemon.

For those of who haven’t played the games, the series was sold on the basis that the choices you made through the series would affect the ending.  I can only speak for my own experience, but I was personally feeling good running into the last half an hour of gameplay.  The story had been good, the musical score was outstanding and the characters were all behaving in characteristic fashion.  Sadly, everything north of this point was, in my opinion at least, complete and utter bollocks.

Half an hour later and the game was over.  I won’t tell you how it went, I will however say three words that should explain the situation clearly; deus ex machina.  The writers threw a curveball, and not in a good way.  It was a disappointing end to what had otherwise been an outstanding series of games, the response of the writers to criticism didn’t help matters any either, but that’s a topic for another time.  The moral of the story is this; timing and execution are key.  If you want your stories to be remembered for the right reasons you need make sure you end them at the right time and in the right way, of course having a good story also helps.

For my part, I hope that when the time comes for me to end the Brogan series, I do it right.  It may not have many fans now, but those it does have deserve the best I can do.

Peace out folks, and have a lovely day.

It continues…

This is frustrating.

I thought I had a good idea for a blog post, I was all prepared to sit down and write it, I’m past my writers block I thought.  Well, two paragraphs into it I was sat there looking at the two paragraphs I’d written, ruminating about how shit they were and wondering why I can’t seem to put two decent words together.  Indeed, it seems all I can write about these days is my inability to write, it’s made all the worse when I think about how I’ve been like this since the beginning of January.

I think I know what the problem is though, I’ve got a new job.  I’m due to leave my current place of employment where I’ve been working for the last eleven years, same employer, different job and location.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that my problems started around the time I put the application in for this, clearly, it’s causing me some problems.  The upshot of this is that if I’m right, this is only going to be a problem for another month.

This does make me think however, change really isn’t easy.  A new job is going to be good for me, but the fact that I’m going to be leaving the place I’ve made so many friends over the last eleven years is going to be tough.  It’s a big change and it’s not going to be as easy as I might have envisioned it would be, the effect it’s having on my writing is obvious.

I think I’m going to have to take my time and write my way out of this one.  In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted as to my labours.