People of the Shadows

I love this image.

I love this image.

A year ago I started a segment called “Inside Idasia,” addressing some of the facets key to the world of The Hollow March. Religion, Politics, and a touch of good old fashioned geography, to paint a few pictures (and I really do need to set down and write out a few more of those, with At Faith’s End just around the bend, but silly me, anytime I find myself wanting to write about my world, I find myself inherently writing more for the world. Short stories: my anti-drug.)

Well, that’s all fine and good for worldbuilding, but today I thought we would take a few moments to address another key facet of that gem: the fellows in the shadows.

“Let’s get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!” ~Gwen, Galaxy Quest

For any book, we tend to know our characters. They drive the story. They set us on the path. They’re the fellows in the spotlight! Good-good, very good. But what about the other guy? You know, that fellow actually doing the work, fighting the battles, offering life and limb to the king sitting back on his horse and musing on the morality of war. I suppose in Star Trek terms, they would probably be called the Redshirts. Poor, sweet redshirts.

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed...

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed redshirt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your heroes have trainers. Your kings have soldiers. Your armies have blacksmiths and tailors and who knows how many other people there to keep the greater machine going. Even the farmer is key, though his screen time is likely faint, for the food he provides that keeps hero and army alike moving through the motions.

These are the figures that add layers to your stories, dear friends. Even the people we don’t see should be key to the tale—we should know they are there, and be able to piece out what they do. It adds layers to your world to have the personality there. The society. The living, beating heart of your creations. Not everyone can save the world, but everyone—young, old, mother, father, son, daughter—plays a part in its continuation.

I’m not saying you should stop the pace of your book entirely and slap us with the biography of every Tom, Dick, and Mary Sue that happen to be crossing on the trail, but there should be fleeting glimpses of the world beyond your characters. Let their eyes see it, fleeting, unconcerned perhaps, but let those glimpses in—the light it can shed on your world, even in the span of a sentence, can be telling.

Essentially: make your world feel lived in. Your main character is there to drive us forward, but let us know there is more than his own soul. After all, if we never see traces of the thing he/she’s fighting for, then how do we feel the connection to that fight? Make their world our own.

Gryphon gargoyle, Bryn Mawr college

Did you know that in The Hollow March gryphons are not only alive and well, but utilized as beasts of burden and scouting steeds? Do they play a huge role critical to the story of the plot? No. But they are there, lurking, moving, pecking at the dirt for grubs and grass and the like. Glimpses appear. Nonchalant entrances into otherwise focused scenes. But just those glimpses tell us something we would not have pieced together of the world otherwise. (Also, there will be more of them in the upcoming At Faith’s End. A few faces may even be eaten—but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Insight—it’s a beautiful thing, no?

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Hero and Villain

“So Dawn’s in trouble…must be Tuesday.”
~Buffy (of the Vampire Slaying variety)

Forever (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Buffy and Dawn. “Forever” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Heroes. Villains. The great ones live on in our hearts and minds for decades after the pages have grown still in our hands. They give us something to root for and rage against—reflect hope and terror and keep our eyes glued long after the shadows have crept into our dens.

But what do the good stories need from these figures?

Personality, first of all. If TV is to be consulted, the world is filled with megalomaniac villains bent on destroying the world (which they live on, mind you) simply because someone ate the last pizza roll. Or snubbed them too many times in the theater. Just as it is filled with Mary Sues there to stop them because it’s what they were born/trained/facebooked their way into doing. And we’ll love them for it because they did what no one else would. Well. That’s a thing.

Pizza rolls appetizer

Pizza rolls appetizer. People have been killed for nomming less. (Photo credit: Burger Baroness)

In fantasy in particular these days, such simplistic stereotypes seem to be getting moved away from. While good vs. evil can be at the heart of the story (it’s at the heart of some of the very best stories!), characters are windows into the world, and to one another. Give them layers. Give them neurotic tendencies, intricate motivations, hopes, fears, reasons—there’s no reason they can’t have heroic traits, or evil superpowers, but give them at least a little ground as well. Hell, give your hero some naughty leanings (oh you smuggler you—always shooting first). The anti-hero is ever popular. Why? Because he’s layered.

Conflicting personal, religious, or political motivations can add all sorts of layers. Such could put limits on them, or just the opposite. A member of the Spanish Inquisition, for example, is not exactly likely to shy from a bit of bloodshed to achieve what they think a greater good. Because it’s what they feel their faith commands. A chivalrous knight, however, might refrain from torture, because he would see it as a sully to his honor—or his lord’s honor.

People turn to fantasy for an escape, often enough, but to truly draw them in, we need a living, breathing world—and that means characters that are more than the central goal.

Daenerys Targaryen

Oh, hello Khaleesi! “Daenerys Targaryen” (Photo credit: tr.robinson)

Daenerys Targaryen (or most characters, honestly) from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a wonderful example of this philosophy. The woman is driven, almost relentlessly, by her desire to return to Westeros and crown herself queen. But she is distracted often. The duties of a khalasar bind her as well, while the safety of her dragon children binds her to otherwise illogical action, and her hatred of slavery pushes her to root out those that would push it forward. She is learning.  She is growing. But she has clear morals, a layered personality, and conflicts that result from both.

Intelligence. Far too often I’ve found myself screaming at main characters for some of the…well, stupidest decisions I’ve ever seen. Those moments you cannot help but think: who would ever do this? Characters, like people, need to think, and this means both the good and the bad. So Melvin the Dark Lord wants to take over the world. Fine. That’s great. But how? And why? He has to know it won’t be easy. Likewise, if he knows there’s a hero out hunting for him, why would he think monologing over a slowly moving chain-prison is a great way to off the fellow? Have the intellects clash between your characters. Play them off one another. Make them adapt—not one-trick ponies.

Struggle. Be it with their own inner demons, or with one another, the hero and villain should struggle as much the notions and outcomes of their conflict as with the conflict itself. Each should be working toward a resolution. What will they do to achieve? What will the struggles force out of them? Does morality factor in?

They, and their struggle, are what should be moving our story along.

Setting the Mood

The writer is an oddity in this world for a simple reason: he is more than the personality of self, but a soul that must be capable of tapping into a hundred different personalities as the pen may guide him. The writer, matched perhaps only by actors, artists, and spies, must have the capability to tap into the inner workings of the mind and breathe life into characters that are nevertheless nothing like him.

Vampire

Biting. Sparkling, drooling, or just plain snarling, it’s still not cool. (Photo credit: virginsuicide photography)

Remember that little detail the next time someone sneers and calls your labors child’s play. Also refrain from biting. People don’t like biting very much.

Yet the problem with this arrangement is that, often enough, we find ourselves at the whimsy of moods. Fickle things, really, but they can be the key difference between a well-written scene and a downright enthralling one. I would never council a writer not to write simply because he doesn’t feel quite into character—that’s the beauty of editing, of the multiple drafts we must insist upon our craft—but it can make things difficult. Some characters may be so inherently different—perhaps so dark, or so flamboyant—that our own minds cannot begin to connect with them on a regular basis. The mood—their mood—may strike us once in a month, once in a year, and if we do not throw ourselves at their scene in that time, we may never capture perfectly that essence for which we so strive.

I know, I know. You’re thinking: Chris, why are you making this sound almost spiritual? Are you high?

We are notoriously fickle people, us writers, and this is the reason. We have to be. Our moods roll with the wind, and our writing with it. Though we can train ourselves to perfect the skill of our pen, the creativity behind it ebbs and flows as the storm upon the sea—we never know quite when and to what means it will gather.

Fortunately, there are ways to help manipulate ourselves. To manipulate the moods and personalities we so crave. While nothing’s ever certain, they can help:

  1. Music . Why do you put the Barry White on when you know that special someone’s coming over? Because deep down everyone knows that music stirs the heart and moves the emotion to the beats. A sad song can drag us down to the deepest depths of mortal despair. A fast song can revitalize a weary body. A smooth song, peppered with those deep, low notes and reverberating bass well…be still those quivering legs. Probably also relevant to your Valentine’s Day interests.
  2. Travel. I don’t mean a road trip—although that might not hurt either. Simply, I mean get outside. Go to your favorite place. Climb a mountain. Sit down in the local coffee shop. Walk the lonely streets. Different places, different people—these things can strike a chord as sure as that picture of a sandy beach you stare every day at your work desk.
  3. Read. Watch. Listen. Tell me this is self-explanatory.
  4. Drink. Oh come now, surely you knew this was going to be here somewhere. While I’m not advising that you go out and get yourself royally bombed (be sure someone else has possession of both your keys and any Text Message-capable devices), there is something to be said for the mental tweak such beverages bring. They’re mood affecters—it’s what they are made to do. Have yourself a sip, let the liquid do its work. Don’t overdue it–just one or two. At worst, you relax (never a bad thing for a writer), at best you unlock the very best level of the creative flow. Just be sure to go back and edit extra carefully in the morning.
DSC_0043

A little trip can go a long way.

Is Poetry Dead?

The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry, oil on...

The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry, oil on canvas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me clarify: it’s not me asking. It’s the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/01/22/is-poetry-dead/

Lord Byron

Is good Lord Byron rolling in his grave even as we speak? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alexandra Petri, one of the paper’s pundits, investigated the assertion in an article last week (which I just discovered now).  And I quote: “Poets are like the Postal Service — a group of people sedulously doing something that we no longer need, under the misapprehension that they are offering us a vital service.” What’s more, the article goes on to quote playwright Gwydion Suilebhan in delivering the dramatic title of this post: “Poetry is dead. What pretends to be poetry now is either New Age blather or vague nonsense or gibberish. It’s zombie poetry.”

By her own estimation, in fact, there is “no longer, really, any formal innovation possible.”  That world-shaking revelations such as “Howl” or “The Waste Land” are no longer possible in a world where high production movies, video games, and other media are able to do everything the poet can do, but better.

Petri, naturally, was using this as a parallel point to journalism, which if any of you have been following the course of in recent years, is in very dire straits itself. If poetry is dead, then what of journalism?

Personally, I think it is exactly like journalism–in the regards that there will be a struggle for a time, a chaotic crumbling of identity whereby everyone is scrambling to rediscover just what it can be. But is it dead? Will it die? Certainly not. The identity will change. The nature of it will change, and find new ground. But I dare say–nay, I dare hope–this old dose of the literary, stalking us from the very dawning of civilization, is so engrained in us that it could never truly, utterly die.

So poets, journalists, I ask you, what do you think? What are your insights to this, and where do you think things are heading?

Realities of Writing

Depression

It can be blue, folks. (Photo credit: Hendrike, via Wikipedia)

The fact is: writing can seem at first a terribly depressing field. Believe me, I know—you tack a determination to write onto someone already struggling with depression, and you get someone already prone to the blues receiving a steady stream of disappointments. No one ever said we set ourselves up to be the steadiest sorts.

I have spoken before of endurance, of perseverance, and I will confess the notions can come out as just so many words—a wisp in your ear that is gone by the time you turn around to greet them.

The reasons are plenty…

Reason the First

Though we talk the big game about passion and art and the need to write (all true, mind you), most writers are like the majority of people in the world: in some sense, we want to succeed. It’s not even that we need the big movie deals, or a fanatic cult (ala The Following—don’t watch it, it’s cheesy and terribly predictable), but we want to be able to point at something and say: You see this work? I wrote this, it touched someone beyond myself, and I am proud. Vindication, I suppose.

I know for all my protestations otherwise, I felt it when undertaking The Hollow March–whether I wanted it or not, the feeling lurked, just out of sight.

Especially in a world where the volume of writers has soared through the ceiling, as every Tom, Dick, and Transfalmadorian are able to turn to self-publishing to get a word out, is also a horrendously difficult field in which to get noticed. Slush piles are bigger than ever. As such, the opportunity for disappointment seems to grow, and while we can point to similar stories around the world, there is always that niggling little voice telling us: yes, but that’s not you, is it?

Reason the Second

Loneliness. You will hear many writers speak of it. Though some are capable of immersing themselves in sound, many must isolate themselves to work. The office cubicle may make you itchy, sure, but at least you know you can lean over the wall to talk to someone, or walk down the hall. With writing, we may spend hours in our own little world, and especially if reason the first is letting us down, that sense of isolation—isolation for seemingly no reason (so we tell ourselves) walks the dangerous line of feeling overwhelming.

Reason the Third

Too many hats. It began with a blog. Alright, manageable enough, right? You’re getting the hang of this. A blog post a week, perhaps, to connect with folks while you write. How about a Twitter? 140, alright, that’s not so bad. Have you considered a Facebook page? Well, I—Don’t forget to make two! One for you, and one for your book! Oh, and Tumblr, don’t forget about Tumblr…

ADD. It’s what you begin to feel like. Or being trapped in a bouncy castle. Writers are their own greatest advocates. At first it might seem glamorous—do what you want, when you want, how you want it—but it can wear at you quickly. Because it means you’re also out there without a lifeline. There are no promotions for good behavior. A writer can no longer be “just a writer.” He must also be a sales rep, a public relations whiz, and quite possibly, one of those fellows on the side of the road dancing around with business signs.

You are the alpha and the omega. It’s self-pub law, but even if you hit it big, the burden is increasingly being put on the writers themselves. There are no breaks, no real days off. If you’re self-conscious, or simply not sure what to say, or if the first two reasons have gotten you down, this can be (or feel) devastating, and you run the risk of a serious burn-out.

Epilogue

My, my, cheery today aren’t we Mr. Galford? Yes, I am, and I’ll tell you why: I have come to terms with these things, and what’s more, I know that everyone struggles with them equally.

Cease to abstract it. Can you point to examples of exceptions? Yes, but they are only that, the exceptions, and while you might feel surrounded to them, know that there are many of us in the same crowd, all feeling equally surrounded. You might say, “Chris, but I wrote a book and no one’s biting,” you must know that there are others around you looking at you with awe and wonder saying, “My god, I wish I could do that—you actually wrote a book? And published it even? You’re so brave.”

What you take as disappointment, other will take with jealousy. You may feel like the lowest end of the food chain, but I assure you that you are not, and there are many feeling the same way.

Take the disappointment—I’m not saying it won’t come. To look at the world as nothing but optimistic doesn’t get you anywhere either, but there’s a balance to be struck. Step outside yourself a moment. Don’t lock others out. If you’re struggling, I guarantee you there’s someone else willing to lend your hand.

Keep your fingers nimble, but keep your eyes open.

Conflict

A photograph of the right eye of an Amur Tiger...

Here’s looking at you, pal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the title made you start humming Eye of the Tiger, I tell you this: put on your boxing gloves, or turn about now.

Conflict! That is the name of the game today fair fellows. So often conflict drives to the heart of our own personal lives—a multitude of conflicting ambitions, needs, and uncertainties. From the epic struggle of man vs. toaster on a late morning wake-up sprint, to the classic struggle of two for the heart of one (THE HEART WANTS WHAT IT WANTS), conflict is, honestly, what makes the world half as interesting (and vexing) as it is.

English: Battle of Legnano

I sense someone’s soon to make with the stabby. (Battle of Legnano. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It should come as no surprise, then, that conflict is key to literature. While it could come in the form of some heavily armored fellow stomping down the lines with mace-in-hand (hello Sauron), it could also be a character’s struggle for acceptance, a war for the heart or information, from internal to external and all the delicious blends in between. Conflict keeps us interested. Conflict gives us something to worry about—something to stir hope against. We want to see how others can overcome because, more often than not, we don’t always have the luxury in real life.

We like to see people that don’t have to sit there and take it.

And what’s more along those lines: as in real life, conflict seems to exist to build character. Is your novel about the characters in it (if you tell me no, I refer you again to the boxing gloves of GTFO)? Then there should be conflict to spur them on.

First edition cover image by John Howe

Robin Hobb is master of character development in the fantasy realm, and if you have not yet consulted the Farseer/Tawny Man trilogies to see what I mean, go, go now. I’ll wait. (First edition cover image by John Howe. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As much fun as it would be to watch a character sit back on his farm and milk a cow for 900 pages, detailing how content he is with the cow (the cow is a lie), that scenario brings no change. It brings no growth. Nothing develops. Conflict is experience, and experience is what shapes us—we need it to add that dose of spice to existence. Likewise, by the end of a book (series, etc.) we should be able to compare character A from before the madness, to post madness, and see a notable change of figure.

Why? Because we want to have been along with them for the ride. We want to have seen the change that shaped them into the characters we know and love (or hate—this applies to bad guys too).

In my own novel, The Hollow March, we might take the character of Rurik, for example. Kind of a putz of a youth in the beginning, he is, willfully self-deceiving and heedless in his pursuit of what he thinks is best. It’s not healthy. It’s not good. He’ll theoretically have two more books over which to make his changes, but even by the end of this first outing, he is a changed character. We have seen him confront his fears head-on, walked with him through war and a very unfortunate few cases of drinking, and watched in the same horror as he to see the results of many of his actions—actions he threw himself into with the best of hopes, of intentions, only to see worse outcomes for the doing.

Will conflict always end pretty? No. It certainly doesn’t for Rurik, or Essa, or most of the other characters in The Hollow March, but then it wouldn’t be real to us if struggles didn’t lead to more struggles, and there weren’t a little pain before the breaking of the dawn.

Change will not always be for the better, but it must be.

As I said: struggle builds the character. I would say, no pain no gain, but this isn’t a sports movie, I’m not the inspirational coach, and you’re not about to win the championship game. Unless you are. Then I have to ask why you’re taking the time to read this. Bad sports person, bad.

But to do conflict well, there are also a few things we need to remember. Keep the list and hold it tight:

  1. What does your character want?
  2. What stands between them and that goal?
  3. Do any other characters want the same thing…and how will they clash in the achieving?
  4. How must they change themselves to overcome?
  5. What, in turn, will be the results of that change?
Sauron in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Ring...

“My name is Sauron. I like serious bling and to smash things on the beach.” (Sauron in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stay loose, and look for all the angles. People are layered, intricate monstrosities. You have your posers and your hangers-on, but in the end, no two people’s goals will be the exact same—and neither will the way they hope to achieve it. We all react differently to the strife in between, and rarely will all of us take the smart path. Hell, that conflict may stretch on a long while for no reason other than our own bungling. Things, as they say, have a way of getting worse before they get better.

Growth. Change. Humanization. Associate those three words with your conflicts, and you will be a better writer for it.

Writers’ Retreats

I imagine they’re like writers’ groups in general: a fabled creature, hovering on the tongues of the many and just out of reach for the majority—a sort of legend unto themselves that keep us forever guessing whether they are truly accessible, and just what we’re missing if we don’t actually bear witness to them.

Sort of like unicorns.

Gilt statue of a unicorn on the Council House,...

I’m looking at you, mythical horse-thing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every writer longs for the perfect writing set up. A place to go and relax and enjoy themselves, yet where they are able to truly cut themselves off from the world and focus on that all-important passion: writing. Which probably includes no internet. Or angry birds.

Distractions, after all, are the bane of all writers. Unless they’re the right kind of distractions. But then again, we don’t know they’re the right distractions until we’re distracted. It’s a problem.

English: Lord Clarences Log Cabin

Is it a cabin? Well, at least it’s no gazebo… (Image by: Wikipedia)

So we get things like the writers’ retreat. It’s not quite a workshop, not quite a critique session, mostly just writers writing in the same location, easily accessible so that if they do want they can turn to one another for opinions. I suppose the theory is that looking around you at all these other writers working, you too shall feel a certain amount of peer pressure to get your write on as well. Plus, a real opportunity for writers to have an actual water cooler environment!

But who can afford it?

I would imagine it’s a pricey endeavor, and writers don’t exactly tend to be rolling in the dough. The thought of renting out a cabin or part of a lodge for a weekend somewhere nice and reclusive, while dreamy, does tend to put a damper on the wallet—it is, after all, essentially a vacation. But is there perhaps a way around this unfortunate fact?

English: Camping by Barriere Lake, Barriere, ,...

Or maybe it’s more like camping… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the chance to be surrounded by others of your craft, discussing all the details the general world doesn’t much care about (literary ideas, inspirations, the state of publishing, research, and even what other writers you love or hate) is terribly appealing. If you’re in a writing slump, it could be just the push you need. Yet even more than the price, one had to admit it’s something of a gamble—it’s hard to hunt down a good one, and know it’s going to be the endeavor you were aspiring to.

So I figure the easiest place to start is to gather stories from others on the matter. Does anyone know of any such retreats to recommend? What have been your experiences with them? Any good stories to take away?

Revision

If you’re a writer, you know the word already. Hell, you probably dread the word. Time for budget cuts.

Or if you’re like my brother, every revision adds still more to the tale. C’est la vie.

“In Wilder Lands,” my brother’s book.

The fact is, at some point, we come face to face with the specter of our finished draft and we are forced to ponder: how shall I be altering you today, my sweet? Will you be carving out some of the old? Adding bits of new spices? Or simply flipping some of the meaty bits and shifting the details around?

Hungry yet? Good. So am I. Make yourself a snack when we’re done here.

The purpose of revision is, above all else, to hone what you have to…well, let’s call it the purpose of your novel. Revision is removing the extraneous and shoring up the rest, smoothing your characterization, action, and all the other good bits to flow into the heart of what makes your novel so special.

The ultimate goal is to make your novel the best it can be. Tragically, you will lose a lot of good stuff to get there—not because you found fault with the words even, no, but because it didn’t add to the book. It may not harm it, all snuggly and warmly tucked into your book there, but unfortunately in the novel business you have to do one better than “but it doesn’t hurt!”

Ruthless. Potentially with a side of crazy.

When it comes to revision, you must get ruthless.

You will lose pieces of humor, doses of character interaction that swell your own self with pride at how they shone—but if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. If you’re smart, you’ll stick these little gems into files or folders or cast them to the world for nostalgia or entertainment. But you have to realize that cherish them as you might, you may also never see them again.

Now, while some of the younger audience (I’m looking at you, reader #3) pauses to consider what that little rhyme was a reference to, I’m going to go take a scalding shower now, as I know all too well.

But before I go, and perhaps most importantly, I know that many authors look at their books, their poems, their essays and what have you as their children, their lovers, their…well, you get the sappy little picture.

Don’t.

I say this not because I’m a heartless fellow, but rather because I recognize the woes of having too much heart. Cherish your creation as exactly that—your creation, your accomplishment, but if you begin to add such words to the thing, binding it ever more dearly to your heart, then you’re going to feel the part of a bloody murderer when you have to take an axe to it.

And you will. It’s part of being a writer. You write, you chop it up, trim the fat, and shape it ever so carefully into what you truly want it to be. That’s revision. Then you watch someone else take a chainsaw to your carving and play around with what comes out.

No one likes to think they just chain sawed their kid. Although, in hindsight, it probably does explain why we drink so much. Also: why editors get such a bad rap.

A bottle of American rye whiskey

The whiskey. Coming for writers since…the dawn of whiskey? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can’t Anyone be a Writer?

One of the great questions (alright, so maybe it’s one of the mediocre questions, but it’s important to me, alright?) writers often face from a less than enthused public is such, generally delivered in a somewhat sarcastic tone: “What does it take to be a writer?”

Of course, the fact that this usually comes after someone in the room has already delivered the very much conversational bombing inquiry of: “Can’t anyone be a writer?” doesn’t make matters much better. To that, of course, the answer is at once both a begrudging yes, and still a resounding no. Anyone can write. Not everyone can take on the title of writer. Even less the title of author, but then, that’s a whole other issue that a great many blogs spend a great deal of time getting flamed about already, so let’s not get into that quite yet shall we?

So what does it take to be a writer, then? After all, every school thrusts an English class at you at some point, and if you have to write creatively for them, doesn’t that make you a writer? No, class, but thank you for asking. I took years and years of mathematics, and that didn’t make me a mathematician, so I’m sad to say that an English class or two isn’t enough to hand out the coveted (Yes, flattery, dang you—give me something) heavy weight title.

The fact is, you’re probably not going to pick up the skill that is writing successfully from school. If you’re a writer, the passion is already there—school and the works offered therein merely provide you with further evidence for said love, and a means to hone it. That said, there are really only three main ways to actually perfect the skill, and begin to call yourself a writer:

  1. Write, damn you. Without practice, your writing will be as flaccid as…an airless balloon. What did you think I was going to say?
  2. Getting it out there. I don’t mean hitting the publishers right off the bat, kiddo—chances are, especially these days, most of them wouldn’t give you what you need anyways, and that’s a critique. Show your work to friends, to teachers, hell, even hire yourself some beta readers or find some eager reviewers. Hunt down a writers group. But get insight—good or bad, it’s the only way you can get opinions to advance your work beyond the confines of your own noodle.
  3. Study. What, you thought this was the path of the indolent? A good writer reads, be it fellow writers of his genre or theories of the same. Immerse yourself in language, and skill, and the lessons they teach will gradually rub off on you. Knock heads with a teacher or fellow writers you admire, and see what they can help you learn. Grow, or stagnate, friends.

Most major writers don’t have a Masters in English; hell, there’s plenty of writers out there without even an English degree in the first place. It doesn’t mean it’s not a path for you, but that’s the thing—it’s only a path for those that know that very specific brand of learning will work. The facts that hold true, no matter the soul, though, are the above.

No man is an island. Don’t make it so. And see what works for you within those boundaries—every person learns and grows differently.

Of “Petals,” and Things to Come

A preview of things to come… Set in the same world as The Hollow March, this story will take readers to another corner of the world, and a young woman’s struggles to right a festering wrong. Though the characters shall indeed be new, some events may strike a chord, and it will certainly shed more light into other shadows of the world Lecura. Idasia, after all, does not have a monopoly on turmoil.

And so, in the midst of a girl’s journey:

The tavern keeper was a thin man, but thick-necked and coarse, with bright eyes. If she were another woman, she might have found him handsome. Tragedy.

His voice was heavy, but it barked her own tongue easily enough. The fact surprised her, but then, in border lands such as this, she supposed it shouldn’t. “Loraci. Lovely.” He grunted. “Looking to lose your head a while, or just wet your waggles?”

At home, her father’s credit might have carried her, even if her pockets could not contend. Here, she was as good as a beggar.

She looked him in the eye, that each could understand the other’s worth. The trader’s way. “Much as I should like, I come hunting bobbles for another drink.” She paused a moment, waiting for some sign of care or annoyance in the man, but he was as a blank slate. “I seek the petals of the Starlit Bloom. Do you know where I might purchase it?”

If her abruptness did him wrong, the tavern keeper was practiced enough not to let on. “Blooms. Maker’s balls, girl, you best be saying where the plague’s gone to tits now.”

“Where?” She demanded firmly.

“Well there’s no chord to strike in me, girl. No place to buy it, neither. A might bit rarer than gold, I’d say.”

“Then where does it grow?”

Pink rose petals

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Curiosity tweaked? A teaser of a thing, I know, but it will be a long tale at its end. When finished, “Petals” will also be one of the myriad submitted to literary mags across the country. Hopefully one of these days I will be able to point you on its way. Beyond that, it, like so many stories, will eventually be packaged in a series of tales–anthologies–that should serve to further flesh out the world.

In that same regard, I have to ask: readers, potential readers, and stumbling guests: what facets of this world would you like to learn more about?