Tag Archives: writers

ON STORYTELLING: Why Answering Everything Isn’t the Best Way to Go

28 May

Lost

I had a few readers ask me to do something very interesting recently. Well, perhaps not so interesting to you as it is to me, but the pleas I received definitely did lead to a line of thought which I wanted to go over briefly, and before I get to caught up in digression, let me give you a summary of the request I was given:

Can you answer my questions?

Sci-Fi Bloggers is of course the notable online magazine I am the Editor-in-Chief of and it is our goal to provide original content of our own to include with our (mostly) daily reports on current goings-on in the world of science fiction and fantasy. One form of this we adopted some time back is our Friday Fiction category. There we feature the work of several authors, the two most prominent and frequent being Brandon Scott and myself. We recently did a “Double Feature” special which included a tale I have been criticized for and praised for entitled “Jars”. The thing for which it was criticized by the way was the same thing it was lauded for: its confusing nature.

I was asked to add on to it, to continue it, to make certain it didn’t end on more than one occasion. More specifically, I was asked to “fill in the blanks.” For those who haven’t read it, it’s five pages, so it shouldn’t be too hard. Take a looking by clicking here.

Please read that before continuing. It is quite brief.

Now, here we have a case wherein I believe that I shouldn’t add anything more to this tale. I think the entire thing is perfectly encapsulated by the self-contained incident (or rather couple of incidents). Nothing more needs to be said. And I was asked about adding more and then someone had a proposition, and I smiled and asked to hear what the proposition was. He went on to delineate a storyline in which the woman and the monster chasing her were both servants of Hades, Lord of the Underworld. After learning of numerous atrocities committed by Hades, acts that harmed and ended the lives of millions of human beings in the world above, she joined the ranks of mortal men, committing espionage against her own kind. She was arrested for her crimes and, after breaking out of prison, tried to “lay low” and remain hidden from her newfound enemies.

In the intervening time between then and my story, she has children, mortal children. The creature, the beast that’s after her, is a bounty hunter, and in order to protect her offspring from the horrors of the Underworld, she kills them, for they are without sin and wouldn’t end up there as a result. The bounty hunter, through physical contact, manages to scramble her memory, and thus, “Jars”.

Now, let me make this point crystal clear: I didn’t write any of that. Or at least I didn’t originate the idea myself. Perhaps I reconfigured it in a form that was more consumable, but it was one of my readers who thought of it.

I told him right then that that very thing, what he just did, is why I didn’t answer all of the questions in a tale such as “Jars”, because the purpose of some stories, many of them in fact, is not to solve but inspire. If I had told him my concept of “Jars” and what think the monster is, he wouldn’t have thought of that brilliant storyline, he wouldn’t have created anything. And the funny thing is, the same thing happened to me just two weeks later.

Brandon Scott wrote a story called “Small Town Games”. You can read it here. I immediately thought a whole movie should be made around the concept. Perhaps I was right, but perhaps Brandon was in suggesting that the manner of his construction, his storytelling, led me to the creation of my own idea of what “the games” were. See, that’s an interesting thing.

The single most powerful thing a creation can do is cause further creation. If the actions of one man, woman, child, what have you, can cause another to do something else, that is real powerthat is influence.

I am suggesting that other writers look at this as a possibility. Instead of criticizing Lost for not answering all of your questions, maybe look at it the way you might a show like The Leftovers, where answers are no longer necessary, or like The Sopranos, where implications feeds us the answers, the truth. I know it sounds like I’m excusing authors and directors from solidifying their visions and ending their tales, but perhaps we could be a little more forgiving when they don’t hit that last note on the piano, because sometimes the precipice is all we need. Sometimes, we don’t have to dive into the water below. We can create our own pool, our own interpretation, our own art.

~D.

 

Building a Better Story: Names

26 Aug

You and I, together.

Sometimes I advise, sometimes I don’t. This was one of the times I did.

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Question: How important is the name of a character?

Answer: It doesn’t matter and it DOES matter.

It doesn’t matter because, frankly, there are plenty of stories where names that mean complete gibberish are used for lead characters, and they work fine. I’m sure you can think of many examples, especially in the fantasy department.

On the other hand, it DOES matter because if you have 100,000 people read your book, and only 50 to 100 notice, “Oh my God, his name means _______! HOLY CHRIST-MUFFINS! THIS GUY’S A GENIUS! Brah, brah, brha…” then it was worth it. Especially if you run into one of those “elite” fans later on in your career and they’re like, “Hey, hey….I noticed it.” You guys will high-five the $#!* out of each other’s hands at that point.

So, I guess it depends on whether you want your hands to be hurting a lot.

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~D.

Building a Better Story: Characters

21 Aug

Poison and cheer!

Building a character and building a person are, relatively speaking, the same thing. Just go ahead and start designing the character, and then, at intervals throughout their creation, ask yourself, “Is this what a real person under these circumstances would do? Is this how they’d act? Would Iact this way in the same situation? Would anyone I know act this way? Is this the kind of character who would even have a ‘human’ reaction to these events?”

Doing the above gives us a sense of reality in relation to the character, regardless of whether they’re a man, a machine, an alien, or whatever. When we can observe the character realistically, no matter how strange they might be, they’ve been designed properly.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: designing a character purely for interest is not interesting. We’re not interested characters because they’re interesting. We’re interested in characters because they themselves are interested in the world around them, thereby becoming “interesting.” We are interested in the interested.

Realistically Designed Characters: Han Solo, Andrew Detmer, Commissioner Gordon (BEFORE The Dark Knight Rises), Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, President Josiah Edward “Jed” Bartlet.

Characters Designed for Interest Alone: Jar Jar Binks, Mudflap and Skidds (from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), the Catalyst, Gurgi (until the later books that is).

In short, make people, not characters. And don’t force them to be interesting, because that’s not interesting.

~D.

The Word of the Day

19 Aug

Logs, just logs.

Complexity and nuances aren’t what make great stories, that’s depth’s job. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, depth can be simple, and it can also be natural.

Let’s examine these points individually in reverse, starting with that word “natural.” What does that mean? Well, in terms of stories and their telling, I’d say it means “anything originating without being engineered or contrived.” The natural parts of a story are the parts that come about as though they were entirely consequent of earlier events. Natural events appear real to the reader, and to the reader, the person, any person, things that are real tend to have depth, whether it’s made apparent right away or not. When things are natural, they’re real, and when they’re real they have depth, which is what readers love; not merely complexity, but depth, layers, levels.

Now, we also have this fascination writers have developed lately with creating “nuances” and “uniqueness” in their stories. This is becoming the new cliché, as such forced uniqueness and nuances lead to overly complex tales that nobody can keep up with. It’s fine for things to be original, and even unique, but these things again come from depth, which comes from how real the story is, which comes from how natural the story is. It all comes back to being natural, originating without being engineered or contrived.

And now we come up to complexity, which should never, in my opinion, be the goal of the writer. Intentionally making things complicated will always lead to contrivance. All of these things are connected and they, again, go back to how natural the story is.

So yeah, just keep everything natural and you’ll be fine. Have I used that word enough times for it to sink in?

 

~D.

Unique Characters: A Necessity?

11 Aug

Depth

I gave a fellow on Reddit some advice:

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Question: How unique do characters actually need to be?

Answer: There is no degree to which a character MUST be “unique.” Uniqueness isn’t necessarily the problem one faces when creating and developing a character, rather depth. See, when a character has multiple levels, it gives us, the reader, a little game to play: Dig to the Bottom of the Character (or DBC, as most people call it). We want a mystery to solve, a puzzle to reconfigure, a game to win. We want to be involved with who we’re reading about.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should make every character as confusing as possible. Levels can be SIMPLE. Luke Skywalker isn’t just the farm boy who became an intergalactic hero. He’s also a son who’s been lied to by his mentor, betrayed before birth by his father, kept in the dark about his sister, and torn between light and dark paths his whole life. Honestly, Luke has more depth than people give him credit for, but he isn’t COMPLICATED. See the difference?

Uniqueness isn’t something that can be forced. It naturally arises from a character’s depth.

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So yeah, try that out some time.

 

~D.

Well, I’ve done it…

24 Feb

So, you like to waterbend?

…I’ve now realized I can’t make one viewer jokes anymore. Know why? This is going to sound weird, but it perpetuates the idea that I only have one person reading these, and my stats have gone down since I’ve been saying it. I won’t say by how much, but it’s enough for me to take note of it. So now, I’m going to do something very strange: I’m going to act as though I have a million viewers. I noticed that that seems to work. If one acts as though they’re already successful and it’s all already done, things move right in that direction. And so now, my three billion readers, I want to talk to you.

I want to tell you how thankful I am that you’ve been following me for all these years. I want to tell you how much the trillions of emails I get from you warm my heart and make me laugh so often. Even the hate mail gives me a smile, since I get to say, “Oh, you crazy kook,” every time I read them.

I want to tell you how thankful I am for the gifts that I can’t find space for in my room. I’ve been stuffing a lot of them in my office, controversially placed in Geneva, Switzerland. I especially love the bust of Aaron Sorkin, who is, incidentally, one of my favorite writers. Thanks, Tom, for that one. Oh, and whoever anonymously sent me that map book of Middle-earth, massive props. Please comment you name below so we all know who you are.

I want to tell you how thankful I am that you and I have an honest connection, even with so many of you there. It’s good this way, it really is. I like transparency, and I like to be as personal as I can with you.

My friends, it’s a good day today. Tim Tebow’s going to the Super Bowl, the U.S. is in a surplus and we’re about to establish a colony on Mars. Please, keep reading my stuff, and I’ll keep reading your stuff, too.

~D.

It’s Coming…

1 Oct

I’ve entered my new story into the Writers of the Future contest! I hope all of you fans who have remained faithful wish me luck in my endeavor. I can’t tell you the plot, since that in and of itself is a mystery, but I can tell you that it’s entitled Beginning. I really hope the judges enjoy it!