Writing As Workmanship

Last week I finished my second novel this year, an about 90.000 word follow-up to the previously posted Historian’s Crusade. Why is that important besides padding myself on the back? Because when I told it to a friend, who is also my editor, that within five months I had finished two novels, we got talking about output. Not so much about artistic quality, but just the general output level.

You see, for the previous three years and more, I had been tainted by NaNoWriMo and the idea that every story that needs to come out of me needs to be a masterpiece. I talked about this before in one way or another, how NaNoWriMo just encourages bad writing habits. Sure, you’ll have a 50k word novel in four weeks, but you can basically throw it away and start again. I don’t really like the idea of working in multiple drafts that way. Once my story is out, I prefer to wash my hands of it, clean up mistakes here or there sure, but I don’t tinker with the narrative anymore. Because I just know that if I start doing it, I will never stop. That hurts your output.

As artists of any field, I think we all too often want to put quality over quantity. And while that is a generally good attitude to have that will smother the next 50 Shades of Grey right in the cradle, it also stops you from experimenting and working on more. A painter could paint five works in his lifetime or 50, one better than the last. Rather than languishing between publishing any new work, or just finishing it, one could instead get it over with. Whether or not it’s good isn’t up to you anyway, that’s up to the audience. Art needs an observer to even be worthwhile.  Continue reading “Writing As Workmanship”

How To Embrace The Fact That Your Science Fiction Ideas Will Become Outdated

How will you handle the fact that all of your predictions will fail to come true?

We might as well deal with the fact now that every blog post I will be writing within the next however many months it will take something from the writing I do on the side for the final stages of the novel. Everyone good? Great. Let’s talk about science fiction becoming outdated.

Science fiction has always been near and dear to my heart, but when you’re dealing with something long-running like Star Trek, still on the air after 50 years, or are reading an older book like 2001: A Space Odyssey, you are immediately presented with two immediately outdated concepts: a Eugenics War by 1996 and an interstellar humanity with an existing cold war by 2001. What’s the science fiction in that you might ask? If it’s not in the future, then what’s the point, it immediately breaks the immersion. Why would we watch something, read something, that has already gone past the expiration date?  Continue reading “How To Embrace The Fact That Your Science Fiction Ideas Will Become Outdated”

How Agnosticism Informs My Writing

Agnosticism, critical thinking, creative writing and how it goes together.

People often say that what you are informs your writing. I would agree, it informs your themes, your characters, how you write, whom you write. One of the things that, as I have contemplated over the last little bit, was also influenced by it was the way I treat religion in my stories, both the published and yet unpublished.

For me it is usually not a big thing in writing. Characters are rarely if ever informed by what they do, even in backstory you might not read about. And while religion plays a big part in the way many experience life, it never really was for me. My favorite quote on the subject was actually by Roman Emperor, philosopher, and Joaquin Phoenix screen victim Marcus Aurelius:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” Continue reading “How Agnosticism Informs My Writing”

Writing And The Soapbox

When is it okay to soapbox in your writing?

Among writers and readers, friends and foes, the internet and that normal place where they have ice cream, I always read about soapboxing. A soapbox in a modern connotation is something you step on and give an impromptu speech about usually a political subject but also about anything that comes to your mind. At least this is what Wikipedia tells me. From many people online that have either read my writing or with whom I discuss other peoples’ works we often discuss the merits of soapboxing.

Sure, on the one hand its easy to do it. Write what you know and that usually involves our own personal opinions and fields of expertise. For me it worked out fine with my first book The Historian’s Crusade right here on this blog. I was unsure what to really write about, what was near and dear to me enough so that I could put it into a couple ten thousand words, form a narrative. And so I just did exactly that. Right now I think it’s a success, I had fun writing it and it got some pretty decent feedback on the blog.

Naturally, I decided to try the trick again when I wrote my second book on which I am currently sitting at around 60.000 words and still going strong (more updates in the future). Again I chose a subject that was near and dear to me, being a sequel it also deals with history, historicity, reception, ideas, all that theoretical boring stuff that nobody cared about and instead focused on the thinly veiled Star Trek Enterprise pastiche. With the second book though I stood before a big problem: not being able to write for all the different statements I wanted to make and this is where we get to the central crux: Continue reading “Writing And The Soapbox”

The Liberating Feeling Of Accepting Setbacks

The trick is not minding that it hurts.

As an aspiring writer, I can tell you wholeheartedly, that there is no thing we fear more than criticism. Even constructive criticism. For all writers will tell you about wanting criticism and reviews, so they may learn from it, we actually don’t. Best case scenario? We want you to go on Amazon or our website, find our books, rate them highly, share the link to your Facebook timeline and tell your friends about how brilliant we are. That’s all we really aspire to deep down in our hearts. Or maybe that’s just me, but I doubt it. The fear of not being liked after we poured our hearts and minds into a work of fiction to receive negative feedback, is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. I’m not just speaking about writers anymore, it’s anyone. We all want to be loved, have achieved something meaningful with our invested time, our work of art.

I talked about writer’s block a couple of weeks ago and how overcoming it comes down to accepting certain realities about both your work and yourself. An important element of that is accepting setbacks. Once you accept setbacks, both in terms of your writing and the critique of your writing, you will be able to move on with your career and your life. It’s something applicable even to other areas of your daily routine, from working out, to losing weight, to your experience at work, even homework and school. Setbacks will always happen, it’s inevitable. There are too many variables in our daily lives and in what we put into our art for nothing to ever go wrong with it. Even if you are on a winning streak, there is always something that may happen to end your running series.

The trick comes in when you realize this is only temporary and it cannot stop you for your own strength and willpower and insistence to carry on. As long as you can cling to this, you will have the ability to bounce back, be it from failure at school, or a negative critique to your work, or because you need to throw out your first draft completely and start again. I was reminded of Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence in this regard:

“The trick, Mr Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

Our creative and day-to-day struggles are exactly what they are, struggles, but they don’t need to rule over our process of creating art or moving forward with our life. Once you realize this, you will be able to let go of your self-doubts, you will regain the self-confidence any creative person needs to put their work forward to the public. In the end, once the die is cast, it’s on.

P.S: Sorry for butchering Caesar at the end there.

The Expanse: Adaptation & Do-Over

When you make changes to an adaptation do it right.

Last week saw the premiere of the second season of The Expanse, one of my current obsessions. In the time since the first season aired, I managed to read all six of the novels currently released and read up on the universe extensively. It was, however, the first season that got me interested in the books in the first place. Just like with A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones.

This puts me in an interesting position, in where I am already seeing more similarities between Game of Thrones and The Expanse. Both based on popular, post-modern(ish) book series, one fantasy, one sci-fi, both adapted before the series have ended. For the record, I prefer The Expanse at this point, though that is mainly because Game of Thrones is starting to wane on me a bit as it hits its inevitable conclusion. Maybe it’s been too popular and I’m just a contentious bastard. Who knows.

But following The Expanse in both book and tv form, both in the primary text and the secondary interviews with cast, crew, and authors, I have found The Expanse to be the exact way I want an adaptation to handle it’s story. The season two premiere has only deepened that conviction.

What is, in the end, always the problem with adaptations? Either they are too faithful or too far away from the source material. Fans of the source material thus have no reason to actually watch it. Why bother twice? Straying too far from the source material on the other hand, however, leads to the opposite problem of alienation and being the series-in-name-only, or at least too different to bring enjoyment to the people who fell in love with it for different reasons. But I always believed there to be a happy medium.

The Expanse is that perfect sweet spot. The Walking Dead might have been so if it wasn’t completely unwatchable for its padded paddedness (hint: clearly an amateur wordsmith). The Expanse has the benefit of being created by people deeply in love with the source material, and having the two writers on board as producers as well. This leads to them getting to do a “do-over” of sorts on the series itself. Little things, like inserting the novellas and short stories back into the main narrative, or re-working the admittedly janky first novel. For example, in this season they introduce Bobbie Draper into the series, a book early, just as they did Avasarala last year. Both characters didn’t appear until Caliban’s War where they shared a storyline of being “awesome cop, cranky cop”. It makes sense in context. Introducing Avasarala last year meant that the first story/book finally gained the political subplot it originally was missing and all the other books had. It also lead to more characterization and humanization, and the purportedly “greyness” of the character. Season 2 will attempt something similar with Bobbie Draper, the Martian Gunnery Sergeant from hell.

This is where we hit the adaptation problem of casting a 22 year old (ish? There was no official age but I extrapolated from previous roles) in the role that called for a 40 year old Brazillian Gwendoline Christie crossed with 1970s Clint Eastwood, but I understand the limitations of the medium. And to be fair, the actress does really well and as a book reader I recognize Bobbie Draper right there. Which is damn impressive. It’s the only place where the adaptation really suffers: the medium-related limitations. The Belters are supposed to be all really tall and lanky, the Martians are (mainly) supposed to have Texan accents and look Polynesian and Indian, a lot of scenes in zero g barely feel like it. Expenses and casting in Canada being what it is, they did an amazing job nonetheless.

As a writer, seeing the two novelists that make up James S.A. Corey have some creative control and an advisory position for their adaptation is just fascinating to watch as well. Unlike Game of Thrones, The Expanse immediately learned that you needed to make changes to the adaptation and decided to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this was Game of Thrones’ downfall for more than two seasons after the first three seasons were mostly as straight an adaptation as you can get. But instead of knowing beforehand that the books wouldn’t be finished in time, they decided to keep on adapting as straight as they could. It’s a credit to the showrunners, but ended up being a disadvantage after they had to make the awkward transition from literary adaptation to HBO tv show.

Overall, I’m happy the show is back, and I look forward to appreciating the series once again from the beginning from a new angle. Check it out once it hits Netflix or right now on Syfy or your digital store of your choice.

 

What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling

Rule No.1 of Writing Fiction: Have a Back-up for when you are writing crap.

You all know that feeling. That feeling when you watch a certain episode of a tv show and you are truly wondering why you are sticking with something. It happens in TV shows, comics, books, anything that is a long running series. There comes the moment when you are finally fed up with a certain program and look at your hands and ask: “Why am I doing this to myself?”

When it comes to the tv show arrow, that feeling has come to me multiple times over the past three years. All the moments when the show has jumped the shark, all the moments that were just too dumb to believe. Arrow isn’t the only one, of course, it happened to book series, comics I’ve been following, but I always come back to Arrow. And then I realized that this is something I can learn from the show if I ever decide to write a serialized story, and that is to have some live rings to spare whenever one of my plot lines goes south. I’ve watched a lot of tv shows over the past few years, most of which I have decided to quit, but the most enduring show, I have ever followed in its original airing that I still tune into watching, is and remains Arrow. The show knows when to break out of its mold and try something new. More often than not it doesn’t succeed anymore for a bunch of reasons, but the solid foundation it laid four, five years ago at this point, is still strong enough, with enough side plots and one-off ideas that it keeps me invested in at least finding out how that concludes. Continue reading “What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling”