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.

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Canned Wisdom #3

Canned Wisdom #2

I believe I said I’d post this one today, so here it is:

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Previous post here.

The above statement is true as much in writing as in life in general – at least for me.

Also – and I’m not kidding here – I wrote a fairly long piece elaborating on the above. About halfway through I decided the words on the pictures speak for themselves, so I cut it.

I saved the words though and I will use them for another post in the future, probably something about info dumps.

Canned Wisdom #2

From Idea to Finished Story

Front Cover - OnlineI’ve got a new article up on Mythic Scribes. It’s a piece about how I took Emma’s Story from a vague and fuzzy idea to a finished story ready to be published.

It was a long journey and while the article skips a lot of the details, I think I managed to fit in all of the most important parts. Have a look, and don’t hesitate to leave a comment or ask questions if you have any.

Also, if you’re a fantasy writer, do sign up for the forums and join into the discussions. It’s a great way to meet likeminded and to discuss writing with a fantasy backdrop.

From Idea to Finished Story

Canned Wisdom #1

Yesterday I wrote about doing a series of post with some basic writing advice.

I won’t be doing these every day, or I’ll run out of steam real soon. I figured I’d start off with the first part right away though – while I’m still excited about the idea.

Here goes:

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Yesterday, I mentioned Show, Don’t Tell as an example of catchy but overly simplified piece of writing advice. This image basically covers that rule, but it also tries to trick you into figuring out the reasoning behind the advice.

I very firmly believe that no matter how well I describe something, or how many words I use, I will never be able to communicate the exact image in my head to any of my readers. Fortunately, I do not have to.

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This morning’s sunrise. Completely unrelated?

Instead, what I want to do is give my readers the tools they need to create their own images. As long as their image matches what’s required of the story, it doesn’t matter if it’s not the same as mine.

If I give my reader the tools to build their own image they become more invested in it. By adding something of their own to the image it becomes more real to them than if I try to force my vision upon them.

Beware

There is a warning hidden in the message in the picture. It may not be obvious right away, and it’s probably worthy of a picture of its own, but I’ll mention it here anyway:

Do not mess up the reader’s own image.

What I mean here is that you need to keep track of what you have described and what you haven’t. For everything you describe, there are millions of things you do not mention. For every single one of these things, the reader has the option to imagine something other than what you are imagining.

2018-02-07 19.32.24If you return to your description at a later time and add more details, it is very likely that you will contradict what your reader imagined. This in turn has a very high probability of breaking their immersion and bringing them out of the story. I don’t want that to happen to me when I’m reading, and I don’t want it to happen to my readers.


That’s it for this time. I’ll probably do next post in the Canned Wisdom series on Wednesday or Tuesday next week. I may post something or other about my book, or about whatever else comes to mind in the meantime though.

Finally, do you have any comments or questions or opinions on what I write above? Please feel free to leave a comment below. :)

Canned Wisdom #1

Canned Wisdom – Introduction

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Today was a beautiful, but cold day.

In the writing communities I’m part of, the discussion about The Rules of Writing, keeps popping up at irregular intervals. The general consensus at the moment seems to be that there aren’t really any rules, but that there are plenty of advice of varying quality.

The way I see it part of the issue with a lot of these pieces of writing advice is that they’re summed up in short catchy phrases that cut out a lot of the nuance.

The most common example of this is probably Show, Don’t Tell. It’s not a bad piece of advice as such, but there’s a lot more to it than what’s said in these three word. For starters, it doesn’t tell you why you shouldn’t tell, and it doesn’t explain what’s meant by show (or tell).

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I went for a walk…

That isn’t something I will go into any detail about today. It’s just an example to illustrate the problem with The Rules of Writing.

I’m bringing this up because I want to do a series of post with my own take on some of the more common writing rules. It stems from something I’ve done on instagram for a few weeks, where I post pictures with a few words on writing written upon them

Again, these are short sentences, just like what I said was part of the problem. What I’m trying to do is phrase my advice in such a way that it requires the reader to stop and think about it.

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…and I saw some horses.

The pictures are nice (even if it’s me saying so myself), but instagram doesn’t really leave much room for elaboration, and I often find I’m fond of elaborating. To this end I’ll begin sharing my advice-images here on the blog as well.

I’ve decided on the title Canned Wisdom for this series, because in a way that’s what it is. Each image is a can that holds a little bit of wisdom. It’s small and easy to grab hold of, but it’s also a can of worms in that once you’ve opened it, it’s hard to put all of the contents back inside.

To start with, here’s a piece of rather generic advice. It’s not related specifically to writing, and it really isn’t particularly complicated – at least not in the way I just described above. It’s an example of what I’m doing though:

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I’m well aware that there are countries with very strict censorship laws, and where art is forbidden or restricted.

That’s it.

When I first posted this, I made sure to point out that this advice is to be taken in the context of impostor syndrome, which is something I was reflecting on a lot at the time.

This is for those of us who want to make things, and who can make things, but who worry that we’re not doing it right or aren’t good enough, or that others will think we believe we’re better than them.

In short, it’s for those of use who worry and overthink, and who let that worry be an obstacle we struggle to overcome.


There is also a certain symbolism in putting this text on top of a picture of a cup of fancy coffee, but that’s a different topic of discussion.

Canned Wisdom – Introduction