Writing Wednesday: Character Death (or, Of Redshirts & Starks)

Much was made recently of the Red Wedding episode of the Game of Thrones teevee show. If you haven’t seen it yet, minor spoiler: EVERYONE DIES. Actually,I just spoiled the whole series for you. George RR Martin kill characters like I kill cupcakes, which is to say frequently and messily. At first, this made me fall in love with the series- Right about the time Ned Stark dies, after essentially being set up to be the hero, only, nope he’s dead and there’s no comic-booky bringing him back.

Awesome.

But at least it’s not a Game of Thrones death.

Only, it turned into a reverse-Redshirt syndrome. Instead of knowing who was going to bite it because they were the only non-important person on the away team, you know they’re going to die because they have two lines in the book and if you get lines in GoT, you die. Points for creativity, but after a while you can’t get attached to characters because they aren’t sticking around.

Martin explained in Entertainment Weekly:

I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that.

Which is the problem with a lot of fiction- it’s a Nuke-the-Fridge scenario, where no matter what, the hero wins, gets the girl, etc. This takes away from the enjoyment for the same reason that scene from that horrid Indiana Jones movies doesn’t work- there is no possible way the hero dies. And once you’ve established that, well, what’s the point of reading?

Which has me thinking- what’s the way around it? Redshirt deaths are meaningless, except to establish this thing can kill you. GoT deaths (and lives) are much more impactful (to be fair, Martin does an excellent job of weighing what each death means in the world overall). Is there a happy middle ground?

One of the things Martin executes (no pun intended) rather well is the way he introduces and overlaps the various characters, so by the time nearly everyone you met at the begging of the series has met their gruesome fates, you kind of don’t notice, because you’re invested in all these new people (until they die horribly). Where it fails a bit is you have something like three people you need to have alive and they keep not dying, so you tip your hand a bit.

I really enjoyed Wash dying in Serenity because it was kind of pointless- the movie was over. And then, bam dead Wash. It was kind of pointless, but it speaks to Martin’s point up there- it wasn’t predictable, and hey, sometimes life sucks (or in this case, ends). It emphasizes that the universe and the issues the characters have been dealing with are larger than the characters themselves- they are given weight by the sacrifices of Wash and Book. It also draws attention to the sacrifices of the others- Zoe loses her husband, Mal lost his faith, which put him at odds with Book, but in a way that makes Mal’s sacrifice that much deeper, as someone who paid the price of loyalty throughout the series. The deaths of two characters made the lives of the others deeper.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on character death- feel free to chime in!

DESR

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Writing Wednesday: Writing Comfortably

One thing that always fascinates me is the spaces various writers work(ed) in. They range from cluttered to spotless, large and small and everywhere in between. I am always interested to hear how others space is, so please, chime in with

what you like. It interests me because I am very particular about the space I write in.

My home office

My home office

For example, I have an office at home, and while I am far from the cleanest person on the planet, I cannot write until it’s clean. Not spotless, but the desk has to be tidy and everything in the room has to be in its place (case in point: I managed to write that first paragraph before I had to clean up yesterdays notes that were left out before I could continue).

My office away from home

My office away from home

My other favorite writing spot is the Book Fare cafe in Village Books. It is wonderful for a host of reasons (not the least of which is the lox on a bagel), but there are several wonderful things about writing there. For one thing, it’s in a bookstore, on the third floor so I always find it a motivating walk up, all the books I pass serve to remind me of my goals in even being there. Of course, it has all the standard cafe tables, which are comfortable enough, but in the back corner, there is a (somewhat rickety) chair, with a small table next to it, right next to the window. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen the view- it looks over the Village Green in Fairhaven, and past that, the bay. Now, the thing you hear about Washington is that it rains here, right? The thing no one ever talks about it that it still looks amazing. Even when clouds are rolling it, or it’s pouring rain out, it’s still a gorgeous, tranquil view. To me, it’s nearly the perfect setting to write in.

Why does this matter? Because writing, as a profession, isn’t bagging groceries- that is to say, it’s not something that you just go do (maybe for some people it is). It’s creative, and temperamental (as writers themselves frequently are). So in much the same way a solid routine will help writing to flow, a space you are comfortable in will limit distractions, allowing you to focus on writing itself.

You might not have space or money for some of the things some of those writers have, or even for your ideal space, but here’s the fact: you don’t need your ideal space, it just has to function. The majority of my first release was written between midnight and 2AM while working between 50 and 70 hours a week at a day job that was sucking my soul dry. The situation was far from ideal, and goodness knows I wasn’t as in tune with what I even wanted out of a writing space, but it worked. You might not be able to have exactly the space you want, but work with what you have, and it can be perfectly comfortable.

What about you? Where do you write? What’s your ideal space?

Writing Wednesday: The Safety of Routine

Routine has been on my mind lately. My schedule has changed dramatically the last few months, from when I started work on 3024AD I was working well north of 50 hours per week at my (former) day job, to now when I am, well, not and I have positively gobs of time, but a lot more going on than just writing. Whereas the writing process is fairly straightforward, and I am pretty good at getting through edits, etc, now I run the business of being a self-published author as well, which ads a whole mess of balls to keep in the air.

Ben Franklin's Schedule

Ben Franklin’s Schedule

Any number of challenges and time sinks face the modern writer. I can cite a myriad of examples, just from the authors I follow in Twitter- kids, jobs, second jobs, cooking, cleaning, other projects, not wanting to write, drinking, Game of Throne, the entire goddamn internet. There’s a lot out there, which is why a good schedule and routine are so valuable. Since each situation is unique, I’m not going to tell you what to do (not like you should really listen to me anyway), but rather, what I factor in and a few things that have worked for me.

Buy 3024AD: Short Stories Series One now: Kindle | Kobo | Nook

But before you even set a schedule, there are some things you need to take into consideration:

A while back, I talked about goals; setting them, reaching them and some stuff in the middle. This is really the first thing you should look at when developing a routine- what is your goal with it? Is it to have a book out- or several? Will you be content with it being published, or do you want it to be a career? These will determine what your schedule even needs.  The person who wants to finish a novel is very different than the person who wants to publish three or four per year, who is very different than the person who wants to publish them traditionally versus self. You get the idea. Set definite goals for your writing, as well as all the business-y things that go with it.

Buy 3024AD: Short Stories Series One now: Kindle | Kobo | Nook

You also need to know where you are at as a writer- one of the things I have noticed in my own small journey has been the ups and downs my writing has gone through. I can write 1,000 words on any of my current projects without breaking a sweat, but put a metaphorical gun to my head and ask me to come up with something new? Pull the trigger, son, it’s over. So if you can sit down for two hours and crank out 2k words guaranteed, that makes it simple. But not everyone can do that, and even those who can can’t necessarily do it all the time. Plan accordingly.

History is littered with writers who lost families, jobs, homes, etc for a whole slough of reasons- you don’t have to be among them. Set priorities, and don’t let things that matter slip (this concludes the hypocritical portion of the blog post).

On to the schedule itself (or, physician, heal thyself):

I’m not going to cite any one in particular (other than ol’ Ben over there), because if you want to read about routines of famous writers, just Google that- they’re easy to find. For your routine, you need to know all the things listed above, as well as where your limits are, and how you work best. One author I know works in fifteen minute intervals, takes a break, does it again. Another writes for two hours a day- and that’s it. So figure what works for you, and build from there.

Last, but far from least, the thing I shouldn’t have to tell you, but have to tell myself every day- limit distractions. This used to be much easier- every interesting person and bit of information never appeared on anyone’s typewriter, or in their notebook, but now it’s just alt+tab away. So however you do it, do it. Don’t check twitter, facebook, tumblr, i09, whatever else. Bribe yourself if you have to (one author kept Hershey Kisses on her desk; every 500 words, she got to eat one, which opens a whole new world of self-control issues, if you ask me).

In any case, however you go about it, a routine should serve to improve you as a writer and help you stay focused. I hope this helps you with yours!

DESR

Writing Wednesday: The Question

At last count, there were more biographies of Abraham Lincoln than there are molecules in the universe. This only seems like hyperbole until you go into a bookstore and see that, in fact, there are at least several gazillion of them. Now, fascinating historical figure that he is, why do we need so many books on the man? It’s not like each and every one of them contains unheard of revelations unless you count made up bull-crap.

Fireside bookmark

Fireside bookmark

But the upshot of writing non-fiction is you rarely have to draw the reader in- if someone wants to know about Abraham Lincoln, well, there you go. With fiction, you have to get the reader to want to know about it in the first place. You have to get them to ask the question in the first place, answer it, rinse and repeat.

Over to the right, there is a bookmark of the cover art from Fireside’s second issue. The question which my cell phone camera refuses to do justice to-what next– are the fundamental question of fiction (at least, to me).

From the outset- indeed, even sooner, the blurb, the ‘elevator pitch’- the reader has to be hooked, at least to some extent. There is a balance to be struck- they don’t have to be thrown headlong into action, or lead by the hand, but there needs to be incentive to turn the page.

3024AD: Short Stories Series One is out now: Kindle | Kobo | Nook

I’ve written nearly exclusively short stories for the better part of a year, and am working on two long-form projects right now. When I started writing shorts, it was mostly to train myself to be more concise- I tend to get bogged down in details and technical descriptions- and it worked all too well. I’m writing much longer works that will clock in at between 70 and 100k words, and I have to remind myself I can spare a few words I would cut in shorter work.

But it did vastly improve me in one area- and that is focusing on that question. Where in a short story collection (particularly this one), there are myriads of opportunities for cliffhangers and suspense, while teasing the reader because they have to read the next story, which might not actually resolve the last, or does so only partially. I find it much easier to apply that now, and keep the story progressing swiftly and making it much more engaging.

It’s a simple question, really, one we ask all the time in a wide variety of situations, and really it’s why we read and/or write. Ask it, answer it, make your reader care what happens next in the story, to each character, and you’re well on your way to a good book.

DESR

Writing Wednesday: Getting Over Rejection

Rejection sucks. The next person who loves haring ‘no thanks, you’re not good enough’ will be the first. If you’re a writer, you get rejected far more than you get accepted. It’s never fun, but it’s part of the business.  So what can help ease the sting of rejection?

Stitch gifs help, too

Stitch gifs help, too

Perspective: There are a few things that need to be kept in mind. One, for most publishers and editors, it’s a numbers game. They can only afford to publish so many many stories, so out of hundreds of

submissions, they can only pick a few. Your story might be fine, it might not, but look at it from their perspective.

Rejection from one place is just that- one place. Submit it to the next place- maybe they’re a better fit for you anyway! Don’t get hung up on one, or two, or three (you get the idea). Remember there are more fish in the sea, and to quote the inestimable Dory, keep swimming.

Buy 3024AD: Short Stories Series One: Kindle | Kobo | Nook

Writing: Think of it like getting out of a relationship. Do some rebound writing. Writing is a pretty emotional thing, so take the emotions you have and write another story. Being productive will make you feel better and take your mind off the last rejection. And who knows? Maybe the story you produce will be better than the one that got rejected.

Be Bummed About It: Read the rejection. Have a drink, or chocolate, or whatever, and feel sorry for yourself. For a bit. Set a time limit on it, then move on and never think of it again. There’s nothing wrong with being unhappy about being rejected. Just do not allow it to cripple you.

Get Accepted: Easier said than done, right? But strive towards that goal. Improve your writing, your stories, just work to get better and you’ll get there and it will be awesome. Keep faith in yourself and don’t get discouraged.