The Craft of Writing

Perfection the Enemy of Drama

I am a naif in the ways of Amazon so today a good friend, Sage Walker, was guiding me through how to look up Amazon rankings, etc. As you all know I don’t read reviews. If they are positive you get a swelled head. If they are bad it just makes you feel shitty and helpless because at that point your book is published and there’s not a damn thing you can do to fix whatever the reviewer (or random person on Amazon or Goodreads) thought was wrong with the book.

But as I was discovering where to find one’s ranking (and I’ll never do that again) a review happened to catch my eye. Apparently this person was really, really upset with the second book in my space opera series IN EVIL TIMES because my protagonists, Tracy and Mercedes, proved to be rather flawed. They are both products of their culture, buying into and propping up a really terrible political structure, and both of them treat the second class citizens in my universe i.e. the aliens badly. This person also was very upset about how the Solar League was just terrible. Yes, that was deliberate. I wanted to talk about issues of gender, class, and xenophobia. I didn’t want the Star Trek Federation, but I also didn’t want Nazi Germany. I wanted a more nuanced society so readers could perhaps think about parallels to our current world.

But this person’s reaction got me to thinking about perfect protagonists and utopian settings. I had dealt with both when I was working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and let me tell you it made it damn hard to come up with compelling stories, and it made for ultimately boring stories and dull characters. At one point The Powers That Be pulled in the writing staff to complain about how the conflict for the scripts was being generated outside of the crew of the Enterprise. Our response among ourselves was “yeah, no shit, Sherlock” because we had been given the directive that the crew of the Enterprise were perfect, they had no flaws and they didn’t want anything because in the 24th century all want had been removed. With those strictures on the stories it was no wonder we had to generate conflict outside of the Enterprise.

Because drama is ultimately about conflict. As William Faulkner said “the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about.” We read because stories help us process our own experiences and hopes and fears.

We’re inspired by the courage of these fictional characters, we mourn when Beth dies in Little Women, wonder if we would have the courage and honor to save a wrongly accused man from prison at the cost of our own freedom as Valjean does in Les Misérables, cheer when Sam goes from faithful servant to ultimately the real hero of The Lord of the Rings, and I’m sure people can think of a thousand more examples from literature that have transported us, terrified us, or made us laugh or cry or shiver in wonder.

But if the characters in novels never suffer from doubt or fear or jealousy or despair then they won’t seem real and we can’t identify with them. I can’t help but feel that books in which the good guys are very, very good and the bad guys are very, very bad are ultimately empty calories.

A book works on a number of different levels. There’s the plot — the stuff that happens. There’s the theme — why the stuff that happens matters. And there is the protagonist’s personal journey, how they grow and change and perhaps fail, but even in the failing they (and the reader) have learned something. Joseph Cambell wrote about this in his seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces which has now been reduced to a rather trite formula in Hollywood, but Cambell wasn’t wrong. A protagonist’s journey is vitally important if a book is going to rise above being a simple bagatelle — momentarily enjoyed but quickly forgotten.

I had one interviewer tell me that they thought I was “courageous” for making my hero, Tracy, at times unpleasant. I was startled by that. I had thought he was a man shaped by his society and his upbringing but comes to question as events puncture those assumptions. I guess I feel that reading shouldn’t be like a warm bath. A good story should make us uncomfortable, make us question, think about how we would react in a given situation, and see that just as a character can begin to heed the better angels of their nature maybe there is hope that we can do the same.

Hanging a Lantern

There’s this concept in screenwriting that we call “hanging a lantern on it”.  It basically means that we point out something before it can trip up an audience.  By acknowledging that we are aware of the problem/issue we reassure the audience that we know what we’re doing and they can sit back, relax and take the ride with us.

It came up in my spec Edge script.  I had a beta reader point out that somewhere my Prometheus character has to point out that he will use any weapon in his war against magic, superstition and religion — including magic.  (It ends up having a bad result, but that’s what makes it drama).

Anyway, I’ve been looking for a place in the script to drop in that one line, but I haven’t found it yet.  The script is really pretty tight so wedging in this line it’s proving challenging.

The Magic of Longhand

Since I have a computer in L.A. I don’t travel between Santa Fe and Westlake with a computer.  I figure I can read and listen to music during travel times.  But on this trip home I had figured out the next scene and I badly wanted to get it down.

So I fell back on a technique I haven’t used in decades.  I took a notebook with me and wrote it out in longhand.  When I first started writing I did everything by hand and then transcribed it on the typewriter.  It takes double the time however so I taught myself how to compose on the typewriter.  Once I got a computer then composition at the machine was a breeze.  I could rewrite as I went, move scenes, make changes without the tyranny of the paper.

Still there was something almost magical about putting down the words by hand.  Cumbersome because I realized I needed several paragraphs that needed to go earlier so I had to write them, but a bracket around them and then draw an arrow to where they needed to go in the prose.

But it worked and now I’m sitting at the computer about to transcribe the scene onto the laptop and of course make changes and rewriting as I go.  It was proof that you don’t need all the fancy tech to write.  You just need the desire and the will.

As I’ve always said — writing is the one profession where you don’t have to get permission or pass an exam.  You just have to write.

Where Did It Come From?

One of the questions over on Facebook was what was the origin of the IMPERIALS series.  It was actually a reaction to the Return of the Jedi.  Certainly an inferior film compared to the first two Star Wars (though it looks like Shakespeare compared to what followed).  But I digress.

So here we are, Victor Milan and I watching Return of the Nehi… Jedi when suddenly there’s another damn Death Star, and it’s not really only half-built, it’s a trap.  I leaned over to Vic and said, “I want to see the legislature or parliament that would authorize the funds to build another one of these despite the Emperor being all evil and shit.”  I expect the conversation went something like this.  “You want how much money after you lost the last one to a hick farmboy?  Uh, no!”

At that moment a character popped into my head.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer for a galaxy spanning empire.  The more I thought about him I realized he had a taste for exotic sex so then there was an alien girl, and a revolution, etc. etc.

I actually wrote almost all of the first Imperials novel before I realized it just wasn’t working so it went into the trunk.  (Every writer has at least one trunk novel).  But George R.R. Martin had heard me read from the novel at a convention and fell in love with the univers.

We tried to sell it as a shared world anthology a la Wild Cards, but to no avail.  That’s when I took my character from the stillborn shared world and had a million ideas about him.  I wrote several stories set in the universe and featuring Tracy and Mercedes.  They sold and then the series sold to Titan Books.  George generously gave me his character who was my character’s nemesis to use in the novels.

And that is how IMPERIALS was born.

My Process

We’ve been discussing my writing process over on Facebook, but I thought I’d move the discussion over here to the website.

These space opera books are going together differently then my other novels.  I plot very carefully, I know all the big “tent pole” scenes that need to be in a novel.  I know the little fiddly bit will occur to me as a write, but on these books I finish a chapter and have often moved several chapters beyond it when a scene will occur to me that needs to be added back into that earlier section.  So I go back and add and then adjust by moving scenes forward so the chapters don’t get to long.  By the way, this is very easy to do in Scrivener  as is adding in a new scene.

I’m not a writer who can jump forward to scenes that will come later in the book even if I know what they are.  I have to experience the journey with my characters.  Otherwise I won’t know where they are emotionally and then the writing seems forced.  But I do seem to be able to go back and flesh out earlier chapters.  It’s often not something that I need to add to a scene, but an entire new scene that I realize has to be there.  So I go back and write it.

These mad insights usually occur when I’m working out, taking a hike, riding.  Physical activity really does help power the brain.  It’s also one of the reasons that writing is so exhausting.  You never stop working as long as you’re conscious.  And even in my sleep I often dream about the characters I’m writing about.

The Goblin Emperor

As I indicated on my Facebook page I really liked this book.  Primarily because it was a character study and I read for the people not for the problem.  Katherine Addison evokes the insecurities of an 18 year old who is suddenly thrust into the role of ruler when his father and half-brothers are all killed.  The elven/goblin culture is fascinating with a mix of swords and airships and there is enough touch of archaic language to ground you in the world without making it difficult to read.

There are two things in particular that I truly appreciated in this book.  The first is Maia’s acceptance that he must marry and he must marry a woman of appropriate birth and rank.  The search for a bride is handled by his secretary without any sentimentality.  Addison is willing to ignore modern conventions and attitudes when presenting her culture and the duties of a ruler.




I also loved the fact that the big win in the book is managing to build a bridge.  That’s it.  The kingdom is not threatened by a great evil, the world isn’t about to end if Maia doesn’t get up to speed and become a warrior king.  There are threats against the emperor because he is viewed as unworthy and unprepared (which is true), but he doesn’t save himself by turning into an action hero.  In one instance he is clever  and in the other he is saved by his guard.

Ever since Thor: The Dark World I’ve become ever more disgusted with the need to ramp up the stakes to outlandish levels.  In The Dark World the Dark Elves want to destroy the whole damn universe.  So where do you go from there?  Would it be so terrible to tell a small, simple story with deeply personal stakes that doesn’t require New York, the planet, the galaxy or the universe to be threatened?


Looking for Insults in the Avengers

I have to add an addendum to my thoughts about the Avengers flick.  Apparently a lot of people are very upset about Black Widow in this film because of the scene with Bruce Banner about her inability to have children.  That is not a sexist moment.  Listen to the dialog.  She isn’t saying she’s a “monster” because she can’t have kids.  She’s saying she’s a monster because she was trained to be a killer from childhood.  She’s regretful she can’t have children because of the actions of her handlers, and there is nothing wrong with that moment.  Lots of women want to have children.  Acknowledging that fact is not sexist.  Saying or even implying that it is best and only role for women that is sexist.  This was a character moment.  We learned that Natasha would like to have had children.  That just adds to the character.  It’s not an insult.

Yes Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans did a bone headed thing during an interview calling Widow a slut.  The truth is that she has never been presented as a love interest for any of the male Avengers until this movie.  It was shaded in the first film that she’s sweet on Hawkeye, but with the added information about Clint’s personal life we can also take her concern as a woman who is worried about her best friend.

One of the things I loved about Winter Soldier was that there was no hint of romance between the Cap and Widow.  They were professionals and comrades.  There is respect and they are working toward friendship, but not romance.  Yes, she kisses him.  It’s a ploy and it shows once again that she is clever.  Just as her manipulation of Loki is one of the best moments in the first film.

The exchanges with Banner are the first time we’ve seen her be obviously interested in a man.  And there is much to admire in the man, the compassionate healer.  She lacks his essential kindness, it’s been crushed out of her so she’s attracted to that.  She also sees that they both have a dark side.  It was an interesting choice to have them toy with the idea of finding companionship with each other.

If you want to talk about sexism then you need to pull way back, and look at the superhero genre as a whole.  It’s definitely a bro kind of thing thing.   We have one woman as a member of the Avengers.  The X-Men do a bit better with a large slate of women who get to play at world saving, but slamming this movie for sexism because of this one scene is silly.

I’ve been a feminist since my youth, but when we allow ourselves to insulted by trivial things, or inject sexism where none exists then we hurt our struggle to be equal participants in society at large.

Write a Script First

So I’m adapting my Edge books as a potential TV series.  There is a reason I picked a novel — in fact a series of novels — and I have George RR and the success of Game of Thrones to thank for that.  Hollywood is now eager to pick up properties based on novels, particularly novels where there are multiple books.

I’m writing the pilot now, and even if it doesn’t got as as show it’s a new writing sample for my manager which is all good.  As for using my own work — well, I have the rights to it so no options involved, and hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from yourself.

Of course I’m making a lot of adjustments.  In the novel I could have a very long conversation between my hero and the Prometheus figure, but I can’t do that in a script.  After three pages a scene starts to “creak” so I have broken up the scene and even given some of the dialog to another character.  I’m dropping bread crumbs rather than laying out the entire feast at one sitting.

And I think it’s much better then the structure in the novel.  If only I’d written this out first as a screenplay I might have seen that and doled out information in a slower and more controlled manner.  Of course THE EDGE OF REASON was my first foray back into book writing after years in Hollywood so my excuse is that I was rusty.  At least the books keep getting better when is all any writer can hope for.

Point of all this is that I am even more convinced of the efficacy of outlining first.  In a way a script is a shorthand outline of a fleshed out novel.  You do that and I think you end up with a better book at the end of the writing process.

Is It Relevant?

I want to give a shout out to Pat Rothfuss  index.asp.  There is a very valuable writing lesson in his novel A WISE MAN’S FEARS.  I had read THE NAME OF THE WIND when it first came out, and now I finally picked up Wise Man’s for my trip home to New Mexico for the holidays.

I’m very much enjoying this book.  Kvothe is a terrific character, and the framing device selected by Rothfuss works beautifully.  But today I’m here to praise a choice that he made in Wise Man’s Fears.  The set up is that our young hero is told that perhaps he ought to take a break from his studies at the arcane university because of a court case.  A friend sets him up to work for a nobleman in a different country.  There is a discussion about the dangers of a sea voyage versus a land journey, and I thought “oh no, here we go.  There will be shipwrecks and pirates and sharks and god knows what else.

And then Rothfuss surprised and delighted me.  He skipped it all.  Because it wasn’t relevant to the story he was telling.  The framing device is that Kvothe is telling his life story to a chronicler.  He is hitting the important thing.  The things that made him into the man he is today.  So Rothfuss dispenses with the journey in literally a paragraph.  He basically says there was a storm at sea, pirates, robbery, the upshot being that he arrived in the new city broke and dressed in rags.  I literally jumped up and gave a shout of joy over this elegant choice.  Because none of this so-called-action was relevant to the theme of the story he was telling.  Instead we got to see how Kvothe used his actor background to bluff his way into the palace so he could present his letter of introduction.  How his arcane training helped him serve his new lord, etc. etc.

Some may argue that he skipped over events that would have been exciting.  I don’t agree.  It’s only exciting if it’s important to the story.  Otherwise it ends up feeling like filler.  How many movies have we seen recently where you can hear the audience give an annoyed sigh when yet another CGI action extravaganza begins when all they really wanted was to see if the girl and guy get together, or if the hero finds his father and learns his identity — in other words something real that matters.  That is about human connection.

Think about the latest Hobbit movie.  The only authentic moments in that movie were the ones with Bilbo when he tries to reason with Thorin, when he takes the arkenstone to Bard the Bowman and Thranduil, king of the woodland elves.  The rest of it is sound and fury signifying nothing.

I had made the decision that in my current space opera I’m going to jump two years to two really important scenes between my hero and heroine that occur as they are graduating from the military academy.  I’m skipping two years because while I could make up some events to fill those years what happens during them is not relevant to the story.  And who really wants to read about the classes characters are attending?  I was pretty sure about my decision, but after seeing what Rothfuss did in THE WISE MAN’S FEAR any doubt I might have had about my choice was swept away.

I think the “show don’t tell” meme has been taken too far in writing and it can lead a beginner into a swamp.  Sometimes a simple declarative sentence is really what’s needed.  Not a detailed description of every step in a journey.  Or as my old boss on Star Trek used to say to me.  “Just say the words, Melinda.”

Phillipa Continues to Rule

So Library Journal has weighed in with a very nice review of BOX OFFICE POISON. I am baffled by the reaction to these Linnet Ellery books. Is it just because I broke the urban fantasy trope by having the supernaturals be in positions of real power and authority instead of hiding in the shadows? Because I had my protagonist be a professional woman who doesn’t have a stiletto up her sleeve? I have joked to my editor and my agent that when we reissue the Edge books I ought to have them put Phillipa’s name on the books. The long delay between book one and two sure didn’t help, but I also think the rather (forgive me) edgy topic that I was exploring in those books might have subconsciously affected the reviewers. I didn’t get bad reviews. I just didn’t get glowing reviews like I’m getting for the urban fantasy series.

It also appears that I have a gift for writing in first person. My first Noel story in Wild Cards was very well received and that was in first person. Of course I’ve just delivered the third book in third person. I did Richard’s sections in first person in book two, but I kind of hate the mix of first and third. All first is hard because you can’t cut away to another POV, and Richard is not as breezy and quippy and bright as Linnet so maybe his voice wouldn’t be as distinct.

All of this are interesting things to contemplate even if I have no conclusion worthy of that title.

Terrific Fantasy Novel

I just finished reading Daniel Abraham’s third installment, THE TYRANT’S LAW,  in the Dagger and the Coin series.  This is a terrific novel and just continues to up the stakes and tension from the first two novels.  I adore the characters, particularly Clara.  I love the fact that banking and the role of money plays such an integral part in the plot.  It’s rare that economics is mentioned much less analyzed in most science fiction or fantasy novels, but money is a superpower, a weapon, a magical spell in how it works — because we believe it works — and how it can reshape the world.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the lack of overt violence and gore.  George R.R. Martin redefined fantasy when he started his Ice and Fire Saga.  He made fantasy tougher, more realistic and far grittier than anything that had come before.  Because of George’s success there have been a lot of imitators, and unfortunately the took away the wrong lesson.  They think it’s the darkness and the violence that made George a best seller so they have gone even deeper into a cesspool of brutality, sadism and savagery.  I’ve tried to read some of the imitators and found them horrifying.

Daniel has taken the exact opposite approach.  He acknowledges that armies rape and pillage a conquered city, but he doesn’t make us wallow in the death, pain and terror.  He makes it clear terrible things have happened, but without celebrating the brutality.

I also have to give a hat tip to the terrific structural shape of this novel.  Daniel delivers a “second stage rocket” halfway through the book that is just perfect.  It’s the kind of thing that makes the reader realize that things just got a lot harder and that nothing was what you expected.  It was structure jujitsu and it was gorgeous.

Anyway, go buy and read this book.  Read all three of them.  Now I have to wait another year to read book four.  It’s going to be a long eleven months.

Water Not Sand

“They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

So says Lewis in Aaron Sorkin’s wonderful film The American President. In the movie they’re talking about leadership, but I realized that this quote can apply equally well to creators. Thinking about this quote made me realize that writers are leaders, taking their readers/viewers/players on a journey where that audience is dependent upon the leadership skills of that writer.

The consumers of entertainment rely on us to lead them safely, not to take them down blind alleys on pointless side quests that don’t further the plot or reveal character in some fundamental and meaningful way. To create deep characters that illuminate the human condition and speak to shared experiences. And perhaps most importantly to bring the story to a conclusion that leaves a reader/viewer/player satisfied, emotionally involved, maybe cheering even while they weep.

Sadly, I think we are failing, certainly on the film side. The three Transformer films were less then junk food. They were insulting to people’s intelligence, and emotionally sterile and meaningless. Thus far this summer’s crop has been equally empty.

There was the unfortunate failure of the Mass Effect trilogy and Dragon Age II on the gaming side.

And how many fat fantasies have left readers frustrated and unsatisfied? Tolkien took us on a journey that ended in sorrow and joy, and has kept generations of readers contemplating the truths he dramatized.

I believe that George will take his legions of fans to the ending that people have been promised — Dani, Tyrion Jon Snow and the Stark kids will save the world from Winter. And who knows, maybe old Jamie will lay to rest the stigma of Kingslayer and redeem himself.

I think about that a lot in conjunction with my Edge books. For anyone who has struggled to satisfy a demanding father, who has doubted their abilities I hope that my hero’s struggles speak to that and will give people some hope. And I’m determined to deliver the ending I promised.

I think it’s too easy in this world of self-publishing, and always trying for the blockbuster whether it be film, book or game to give people sand, empty calories. That doesn’t mean we should be preaching. I think that’s death to a writer and when a writer takes that path they fail in their primary job — to entertain. But we ought to be treating our subjects and our audience with respect and sincerity.

My Musing About Myth

A few months ago I had sent out a tweet about the power of myth and how you deny it at your peril.  My off-handed remark was read by Aidan Moher who runs the website A Dribble of Ink.  He contacted me, and asked if I would do a guest post for his site jumping off from that one throw away line about myth.  I was both flattered and intimidated, but I tackled it, and it forced me to really think about stories.  Why I like them.  Why I tell them.  What about them makes them work.  Well, my thoughts are now up and can be read over on Aidan’s site.

A Dribble of Ink


I’ve spent three days in the company of brilliant writers and I am humbled and inspired, and educated all at the same time.  The past few days I was in Portales New Mexico, site of the Williamson Lectureship.  The Lectureship was founded by Jack Williamson, Grand Master of science fiction, and man who sold his first story, The Metal Man, in 1928, and his last novel, The Stonhenge Gate, was published in 2005.  Other little facts about Jack;  he added words to the English language by inventing them and using them in his fiction — terraforming, genetic engineering, humanoid, psionics, — and I’m probably forgetting a few.  For those of us who knew him he was also the kindest, wisest, most modest, and most gracious man I’ve ever known.  Anyway, he took to inviting famous science fiction writers down to Eastern New Mexico University to speak on a variety of topics.  In total 7 grand masters of science fiction have shared their knowledge with students and colleagues at ENMU over some 37 years.

This year was no exception.  Grand Master Joe Haldeman was the Guest of Honor with Grand Master Connie Willis doing her usual perfect job as the Mistress of Ceremonies.  Also present were Steve Gould, author of Jumper, and Reflex and Impulse to name just a few of his books.  Ian Tregillis author of the Milkweed Triptych, Ed Bryant.  And me.  I was there soaking it all up.  I was also trying to work on the final big scene of the Wild Card movie.  A scene in which I new what had to happen, but I hated how it was going to happen.  As always happens when you gather a lot of writers in the same place we talk about writing.  Connie who is a huge Primeval fan and got me hooked on the series talked about how the show always avoided being sentimental or too earnest by using irony.  She mentioned specific scenes and I knew exactly what she meant, and in that moment I knew how to write this scene.  I had to use irony.

So I’m burbling about this to a friend on Facebook, a very talented, aspiring writer name Eric Kelley, and one of his responses implied that he wasn’t quite sure in what context I was using irony.  That’s when I realized that I needed a definition of how it’s used in writing rather than an amorphous, well I know it when I see it/use it definition.  so, at breakfast this morning at Mark’s Grill I asked Connie what does irony mean?

She said she had struggled with it, and it was a professor at Greeley who gave her the best definition.  This is how I condensed what he said.  “Irony is the gap between expectation and the actual resolution.”  In other words — it’s when expectation does not match the resolution.  There are also other ways to inject irony.  When the tone doesn’t match the words.  That probably works better in a screenplay then a novel, but it can be pulled off with the right dialogue tags.  Going back to Primeval.  There is a scene where Cutter has managed to escape from the distant past when it was feared he had been lost forever.  He and this woman are starting to fall in love, but are resisting it both in their own minds and in how they deal with each other.  And in the moment Cutter says something like “Did you miss me?”  And she replies in this rather snarky way “Devastated,” and they go their separate ways, but in that moment the audience realizes that they have just told each other how they actually feel.  But it doesn’t come across like soap opera.  Irony strikes again and saves the moment.

So thought I’m physically tired from teaching and being on panels and laughing and talking with fellow writers, and driving hundreds of miles I have returned from this time far more informed and inspired to do better, to improve my writing in some small measure by the help and example of these other professionals.

The Tightrope

I’ve been dithering over a scene in the latest novel, THE EDGE OF DARKNESS.  In the interest of efficiency and moving the story forward I wanted this to be a simple set of actions.  People get locked up so hero and his Scooby Gang can escape. Eventually locked up people have to be freed, and take their nefarious actions.  Which had me reflecting on cell phones.  If you leave them with phones they call the cops and claim they are being kidnapped/illegally detained, and my hero’s lead gets cut down to mere minutes.  Or he takes the phones which makes this a longer action sequence, and then he has to call and have them released once he’s safely away, but that’s sort of dull, and he has planned for this….. Aaaargh.  What had been a simple three sentence description had suddenly become a circular brain lock.

Bottom line.  Protagonists need to protag, and they need to not seem stupid or the reader gets kicked out of the narrative.  On the other hand a hero can’t be perfect.  Every plan can’t work.  Every decision they make can’t be the exactly right decision.  If they are there is no drama and your lead character is boring.  Mistakes and how characters recover from those mistakes does two things.  It keeps up the tension, and it tells you something about the character of this person.  Because you need scenes to do at least two things or that scene probably doesn’t need to be in your book or your screenplay.

All of this had me sitting up too late last night thinking about the craft of writing.  How it’s a delicate balancing act, or juggling act if you prefer that metaphor.

We are balancing having enough action and excitement to keep people reading  interspersed with quiet moments that tell us something about these characters, how they view the world, their relationships with others.

We need the dialog to be crisp and compelling yet individual enough that all the characters don’t sound exactly alike.  And no, that doesn’t mean writing in dialects because that very rarely works, and is often just embarrassing.

We need sufficient description to put the reader in the setting, but not go on for so long that they become bored.  They aren’t reading your book for the furniture.  They want an adventure, a story.

As a writer you can never lose sight of that A story that is the major plot.  You need to keep it moving forward, but to have more than a novella you will probably have at least a B story, and sometimes a C runner in the book/screenplay.  Those lesser stories need to  echo back to main plot, but they can’t be too obvious or on-the-nose or the reader/viewer begins to feel like they’ve been beaten over the head with the theme of your book/screenplay.

And then there’s theme versus plot.  Theme is the bigger issue upon which you are reflecting.  It never gets stated in so many words during the course of the story, but when you finish you go — “Ah that was a meditation on loyalty, or unity through diversity, or the perils of doing good, etc. etc.”

And endings.  You by god better “stick the landing”, and made the climax worthy of the journey or people will not love you, and they probably won’t buy your next book, or watch your next movie, or play your next game.

These are just a few of the issues we wrestle with each time we sit down to write.  It’s endlessly fascinating to me.  I love to discuss the craft of writing, and it never bores me.  I can’t say that about any of my other careers.  I intended to write as long as I’m drawing breath.  And if I can’t manage to fall-down-dead-all-at-once while riding a horse, I hope I die at my computer writing.


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