Architect or Gardener: Approaches to Writing

Architect or gardener. Which approach works for which story?

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class,  talked with friends who also had aspirations to become a writer, or read an interview with some famous writer in the Stephen King/George RR Martin mold, you inevitably come to one point:

Architect (Martin) or Gardener (King)?

This has, unfortunately, nothing to do with exterior decorating of suburban houses to make your daily two hour commute less of a macabre preamble to your inevitable stay in hell for all eternity, but one of approaches to writing a story.

I talked before about my disdain for creative writing classes in colleges and universities, and a lot of that has to with with having to put grades on your work, which leads to many professors and teachers encouraging the creation of outlines.

Writing with an outline is not necessarily a bad thing. It essentially gives you plan, more or less detailed, from which to draw in the creative process. This can be anything from a simple list of characters to full character bios, from short diagrams outlying the relative distance between places to full topographical maps of the region.

When done well, it it s a great crutch in longer projects to keep the draft you’re working on on point. It can most definitely cut down on the time you have to spend working on reworking the story once you are done with the initial draft.

When done poorly, it can lead you down a rabbit hole of world-building from which there is no escape. Guess which experience made me swear of this approach? Continue reading “Architect or Gardener: Approaches to Writing”

Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply

A look at the interplay of historical accuracy and authenticity with the realities of today.

I’m in one of those moods ever since I saw Wonder Woman last week and did two posts on it, so we might as well talk about historicity in films again while I’m on a role.

When it comes to film making (and art in general), historical accuracy is often fighting an uphill battle against the workings of the narrative. I’m actually quite glad that I have degrees in both History and English as historical films often fight an inner battle over my enjoyment of the craft and the implications of sacrificing truth on the alter of the three-act structure.

I admit that I have muddled the terms in the past, especially when talking to people without getting my thoughts sorted at first, but historical accuracy and historical authenticity are really two different things that apply in different situations. Getting them right might help both critics looking at these films and general audiences in what to look for in a film. Pretentious to think this will have any influence on anything, sure, but self-deprecation aside:

Historical accuracy is a term that I prefer to use, when I remember to order my thoughts first of course, on films that are directly based on a true story or depict historical events. In a film that generally means that the story is presented as it happened, that the people behave correctly, and so on. Something that is very much fact based and can be proven by historical records. If your movie (or any form of media in that regard) gets this wrong, you immediately fail because you are perpetuating lies or spreading them. Portraying “the truth” is a tricky business as well, as there really is no such thing as a singular truth, only different narratives of which a majority of people agree in their interpretation and framing of. In regards to how far you can bend the truth to service the bigger picture and narrative cohesion in service of, I’m more forgiving of this than others, I often find (shocking, I know) because I believe this applies to the big picture much more than the small one. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a good example of a film so accurate to history that it becomes a slog to sit through for a casual audience. It’s a great piece of art, but I can see where it may overreach for a general audience. Of course, in the case of the small picture this can often lead to a snowballing effect where the historicity suffers a death of a thousand cuts. Best is to let reality speak for itself and make minimal changes.   Depending on the story you wish to tell, I will often prefer to fictionalize the story as is. This perfectly leads into:

Historical authenticity is something that will go hand-in-hand with historical accuracy when you are portraying the actual history on film and are trying to be as faithful to the truth as you can. When working with a fictionalized story, it is of the utmost importance to at least get the framing right. This is something that makes, for instance, The Last Samurai very interesting to look at. Based on real events, it does fail to portray the actual history, but at the same time manages to immerse you in the world and the end of an era that the samurai represent when the last of them die out. This is not accurate to actual history, but will at least convey the feelings and values of the era. Had the film fictionalized more events and tightened its focus a bit more, I believe there would be less to criticize. Authenticity can range from portraying the values of the era, to general politics and events happening in the background which inform the actual events. It’s what differentiates history from historical fiction.  Continue reading “Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply”

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”

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”

How To Overcome Writer’s Block

How To Overcome Writers Block in some easy snake oil salesmen-esque steps. Promised.

I thought I might as well get back to writing on the blog more often, if only to keep the fire stoked until the book hits, but also in some way to be my own private little therapy session once a week, so here goes:

If you’re a writer, you probably spend your time in one of three stages 1.) writing 2.) not writing and 3.)thinking about maybe getting back to writing on Tuesday in three weeks fingers crossed. I find myself, more often than not, in stage 2 and 3. I think this is why 2015 is such a blur to me, I have honest to god no memory of that year, it went by way too quickly.

If you’re in any way like me, then you know that writing isn’t the hard part. That’s easy. The Historian’s Crusade was written over the course of seven weeks and edited over the course of another five. The big problem will be overcoming the periods where you are in-between stories and in-between ideas. Maybe something else is going on in your life, maybe you have a new job, or school obligations. What you need to understand right then and there, if you ever want to get back to writing, is to forgive yourself and not martyr yourself on the altar of the writing gods. It happens, learn to move on from it. Just because you are a writer and want to publish your stories, or not, doesn’t mean you have to think about it 24/7. I guarantee you that the people who do hit burnout by 45. I wanna be popular and adored like Hemingway,  sure, but I don’t wanna go out in an alcohol binge or with a bullet in my brain either, so learn to relax. The more you fight your writer’s block, the worse it will get. Once you are in a state of mental ease, your confidence will return.

Continue reading “How To Overcome Writer’s Block”

What I Learned from Writing A Serialized Novel And What’s Next

It’s been eleven weeks but today I published the final chapter of the serialized novel (or novella, I suppose, thanks arbitrary length limits…). I learned a lot of things over the past three months and I’d just like to ramble about that for a while so bear with me please.

First of all: Pick a title beforehand that isn’t a mouth-full. I mean, “The Very Model of a Modern Starship Captain” is a nice little homage to Gilbert and Sullivan, sure, but once you’re done writing it, the entire tweet will already be done and it makes for one lousy hashtag. Also, it doesn’t really tell you anything. So I have since decided that I will rename the book to “The Historian’s Crusade”, though I’m sure it will probably be “A Historian’s Crusade” at some point next week and then “Crusading Historian” once this is picked up as a limited superhero book by Darkhorse or some bullshit like this… yeah, self-publishing is truly a backbreaking job.

All joking aside though, the past three months have taught me more about writing than the previous ten years combined, I believe. Back in 2014 I took a creative writing class during my undergraduate phase that tried to teach you how to write for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The goal? Write 50.000 words in four weeks. This has ruined writing for me for two years. As hard as it may sound, but I just can’t bring myself to ever vomit up 50.000 words in a month. In the end, you will not be left with a halfway decent first draft on which to build a successful book, you will be left with just that: alphabet diarrhea. What is the point of wasting four weeks on a novel when you will have to completely throw it away afterwards. And that’s exactly what I did, I threw that script away in mid-2015 and only kept a basic premise tangentially related to “What if Archer from Enterprise was a tragic character?” and instead went with: “what if there was a Star Trek history book?”I mean, John Scalzi can do brilliant post-modern Star Trek pastiches and he is only one of the most gifted writers of the last decade so I might as well give it the old college try.

Continue reading “What I Learned from Writing A Serialized Novel And What’s Next”