Canned Wisdom #6

Happy Monday everyone. It’s really Saturday on my planet, so it’s time to have a coffee and a snack and write about writing:

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Last week’s Canned Wisdom here (painting by my father)

This ties back to the advice about how strong characters carry their own stories. You don’t have to be a hero to have an adventure or go on a big journey. Sure, big powerful heroes may go on longer, more dangerous, and more impressive journeys. They face greater challenges and higher stakes, but that’s not the point.

The point is to tell a good story, and the point is that stories are about characters.

It doesn’t matter if it’s about Frodo going to Mordor to destroy The One Ring, or if it’s about my three year old niece going on a train to visit grandma.

2018-03-08 17.37.58Okay, so it might actually matter a bit, and the stories will be very different. The example may be a bit of an exaggeration. What I’m trying to say is that an adventure doesn’t have to be epic in scope in order to make for an interesting story.

I write fantasy, and within the fantasy genre, it’s very common tell stories on a grandiose scale. The fate of the entire world hangs in the balance and it’s up to the one hero to save the day (and the night, and everything in between).

It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s kind of part of the expectations for the genre, but there’s plenty of room for stories about little people too. They too have things they care about, struggles to face, and challenges to overcome. The entire world may not be at stake, but their world might be – as they know it.

Now, back to my coffee, and to my own story that still needs a lot of attention.

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Canned Wisdom #6

Canned Wisdom #4

It’s Monday morning again. It’s time for another piece of Canned Wisdom:

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Last week’s Canned Wisdom can be found here.

This it about inspiration. As writers/artists/people we’re often dependent on the right kind of motivation in order to get started with doing something. If we’re not motivated or inspired it’s easy to just mope around and waste away the time.

At the same time there’s all kinds of advice about doing what feels right and about how we should follow our hearts. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it may not be very productive. Inspiration can sometimes be hard to come by, and if we wait until we feel inspired it could potentially take forever to finish writing that book.

Fortunately, inspiration is an internal force. It comes from within us and we create it ourselves. Sure, something we hear or see or do can be inspiring, but the enthusiasm and energy that comes from inspiration is something we generate ourselves.

I often tell myself that if I just sit down and start writing, inspiration will show up on its own. It’s difficult, and I don’t always listen to myself, but I know it’s true. It may take some time, but in my experience it almost always happen.

The only times it hasn’t worked is when I’ve been in a really bad spot emotionally and I’ve had too many other things to worry about.

Otherwise, if you just sit down and go at it, the muse will eventually grow curious and show up to see what you’re doing. She may even be a little bit jealous and burst out some extra ideas just to show you she’s still got it and you still need her – or him, if that’s how you roll.

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Canned Wisdom #4

Canned Wisdom #3

It’s Monday morning again, and it’s time for some food for thought:

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Previous week’s Canned Wisdom can be found here.

What’s a strong character? Very often the phrase comes with the word female inserted in the middle, and we get the phrase strong female character.

A lot of the time it seems that those who talk about strong female characters refer to characters who are strong in a worldly sense – strong within the world of the story. They may be rich and powerful, or they may be athletic and beautiful, or perhaps they’re extremely intelligent or have magical powers. Stuff like that.

That’s fine.

There’s nothing wrong with having characters that are powerful.

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Even a little light can remove a lot of darkness.

However, I think that from a storytelling perspective there’s more to the phrase strong character than just worldly power. A strong character is someone who moves the story forward on their own rather than someone who has the story happen to them.

 

This doesn’t require the character to be physically or mentally strong, and it doesn’t mean they need magical superpowers. What it does mean is they act and make decisions, and that these acts and decisions have an impact on the story. The character doesn’t just react to things that happen to them.

Example:

In a story I’m working on, the character Roy ends up an unwilling guest (prisoner in all but word) at a mansion up in the mountains. Naturally he wants to escape from there.

In the first draft of the story, the mansion’s cheeky old caretaker suggests that Roy could go down to the lake to fish in order to relax for a bit. That would be a great opportunity for Roy to escape, but it’s also an opportunity that gets handed to him by someone else. He doesn’t have anything to do with it at all.

In the second draft of the story, Roy asks the caretaker if there’s a fishing rod available.

The flow of the story is essentially the same in the two different versions: Roy escapes from the mansion by pretending to go fishing. The difference is that in the second draft, Roy comes up with the idea and sets it into motion himself.

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Morning coffee – and there’s more than one strong character in this picture, but that’s for me to know and for you to wonder about.

I hope this all makes some kind of sense to you, but if it doesn’t, feel free to leave a comment and ask. I’ll try my best to answer as soon as I can.

Canned Wisdom #3