Weekly Writing Roundup: Aug 2022

Something I enjoy about these posts is looking back on my ‘saved’ posts and re-enjoying them!

LINK

The post above is a common challenge (so much so I had to double check if I’d posted about it before Sort of)

It’s totally understandable to feel unmotivated by catching an idea similar to yours, partly its the shock that you aren’t as original and unique as you thought you were, but also the worry that your own work won’t live up to the standards of similar works.

Like many things writing I think its useful to confront with a mix of arrogance and humility. Arrogance that even though ideas are a ‘dime a dozen’ (and cliche’s are hard to avoid) your work will still be worth enjoying, and humility that the goal of good writing/art isn’t to be so unique but rather to just authentically contribute.

That said a very painful part of writing in particular is being aware of your genre, and being fairly up to speed with current fads, tropes and ‘market bubbles.’ I’m not actually sure what’s “in” right now, but generally you want to time your Harry Potter clone to maximize marketability etc etc. I say this can be painful because it usually involves keeping an eye on what’s being published in your genre which can turn a passionate hobby into a dry and exhausting day-job.

tl;dr – don’t panic about originality but don’t be oblivious either.

This is a very interesting one – Also posted about before – and like the originality issues kind of a ‘rite of passage’ for new writers. I should probably do a whole 2nd post about the topic because its kind of fun to dissect and poke friendly fun at ourselves around this subject. But its honestly very difficult. Often new (and let’s face it old) writers haven’t actually reflected much on feedback and critique and its cringingly (wow kinda surprised that’s a real word) bad when things backfire. In the meantime here are some key points I try to follow.

  • Feedback is a massive effort on behalf of the feedbacker (not a word) respect it as such.
  • I can think of literally no basically no situation (for an amateur) where you should rebut feedback. If you don’t agree, thank the person and politely move on
  • Feedback is for the story on the page, NOT the one in your head OR of you personally

In a similar vein another good one from Jenna Moreci – whom I should really read a book of sometime:

In publishing news it looks like ‘The Big Five’ might become the big ‘four.’

That’s probably enough for the week that was – I need to get back into Sandman! So far sooo good.

On Writing: Touching on Dialogue

You either Speak as a Tree

I stumbled across an r/writing post that was worth linking to all on its own blog post rather than just a weekly list

Comprehensive Guide to Writing Dialogue

I’m not going to do injustice to the post by trying to summarize it here – but its a very interesting take, dividing dialogue into 4 categories:

  • Realistic
  • Perfect
  • Heightened and
  • Snap

to describe the various ways dialogue can be used, and can be misused by combining them awkwardly.

My own thoughts

Dialogue is a very interesting subject firstly because its one of the few techniques that actually carries between screenwriting and prose almost the same, however there are some important twists. Television dialogue obviously has visual cues from the actor and setting to carry meanings whereas prose dialogue needs to be supported by written words.

It’s one area where it can be very useful to study film to better dialogue but not to get too complacent thinking about the differences in medium.

The second interesting thing about dialogue is actually a bit of a head scratcher:

Dialogue is one of the only (and the only common) way that action is directly taken from your story. That is that stories are composed of various descriptions, metaphors, action sequences, narration and summary. Dialogue is a direct transcription of character’s words and as such has some special properties.

(just for fun the only other direct examples like dialogue are onomatopoeia ‘for literary effect’ such as BOOM!)

I find a useful way to understand dialogue is to consider its effects.

Because dialogue comes direct from characters its a very grounding technique. It forces the imagination of the reader directly to the speech of characters at hand. Compared to other literary techniques dialogue leaves the least to the imagination.

In that vein dialogue can be very useful for marking key points during a scene, novels often have a lot of narrative summary, and scene setting so dialogue is a highly effective way of pulling the reader into immediate events.

Similarly dialogue tends to increase pacing, in part this is due to practical properties of dialogue such as usually being shorter sentences and more clipped than general prose. Also because the natural (or rather imitations of natural) rhythms of speech and conversations.

In terms of story Dialogue is typically more direct and thusly fast paced.

So dialogue can be useful in grounding a scene and manipulating pace what else?

Characterisation and Conflict

Probably the most common uses that are so intuitive that the tendency is to naturally just do this, is dialogue as a tool to reveal character and conflicts between. Exploring this element is probably a whole book to itself, but the interesting challenge is to use dialogue in a way which intrigues and is enjoyable for the reader while fitting the book (which brings us back to the linked post).

The final challenge of dialogue is to ensure a good balance with other elements of narration. Too much dialogue can start to feel little ‘talking heads’ but stories with little dialogue can feel very lofty and out of touch. Probably my last thought is that like fight scenes dialogue shouldn’t be used simply because characters are in the same scene together and just interacting, it should have purpose and a use.

To conclude – dialogue is interesting! I confess I’ve never dived deep into whole books devoted to the topic so maybe I should!

What are your thoughts on dialogue, is it easy? Difficult? Weird?

Any interesting insights?

On Writing: Examining My Destructive Writing Habits

Alrighty – watching this vid as I write, let’s do some reflecting…

Not Letting Others Read Your Writing

Hmmm interesting, I don’t really mind this. (Am I the Narcissist?). I think doing a lot of music in my younger years helped with this – I don’t technically share a lot of writing, but its more because no-one has asked for it! Thankfully I’m aware that my writing can be flawed without me being flawed and/or even great writing won’t be for everyone.

Holding Unrealistic Expectations

Well, damn. Went right from confident to being an absolute problem of mine. I don’t really focus on external goals like best-seller lists etc, BUUUUT I am very very bad at imagining a lofty goal around word-counts and or amount of material I should be doing. Exactly as our expert says it undermines real progress daydreaming about hypergoals.

Doubting Your Abilities

I don’t so much doubt my writing abilities – more my short term memory and ability to resist procrastination abilities.

Being Impatient

Feel like this links into expectation – really good points from Alyssa. Strangely I feel I’m OK with the patience part, uh but since I procrastinate maybe I actually need to be less patient? LOL

Distancing Yourself (from others)

This is an interesting one – since most of my writing interactions are online I don’t think I’m too guilty of distancing myself. Although I have noticed by habits come and go over time. For example I used to be every day engaged with r/writing on Reddit, but the past few years I’ve just visited rarely and this year again starting to stop off. Similar habits with Twitter, some years I’ll be frequently liking and commenting and chatting with people some times less so.

Despite being fairly succinct and straightforward I think this video is really sensible – especially if someone is struggling in their head a wee bit.

Thoughts – how did you do on the destructive habits?

Do you have any other habits you’re comfy mentioning?

Any pro tips to avoid habits?

Weekly Writing Roundup (End of July 2022)

I have spent FAR too much time this week reading AITA and BestofRedditorUpdate posts.

The funniest/light heartediest is by far (whoa whole thing cut and pasted – bonus points for the ‘can’t waits’ at the end)

Speaking of awesome – Sandman is out this week, I’ve been waiting for this for what seems ‘Endless’ (get it?). Although with a definite sense of anxiety. I’ve actually become very open minded with adaptions lately (I even watched a few episodes of The Watch without barfing) but I feel like Gaiman’s Sandman does not deserve a bad TV show, and being somewhat more niche I don’t think its going to get 20 reboots every decade.

Anyways point is – from the trailer the show looks absolutely killer, and I’m excited. I will of course review on here so if you’re not interested this is fair warning.

On that note – what you do you think is worse, a bad adaptation OR a good series going bad?

In more writerly focussed resources I found Alyssa Matestic’s channel, above you can see a review of the Querying Trench right now. To be honest I haven’t thought about querying for years or really tried too hard to keep tabs on publishing as my main focus is having some material worth publishing before I worry about how to go about it.

It’s kinda funny, I don’t know if other writers have gone through the same experience, but when I first started writing novels in the dark nostalgic ages of the late 00s I of course believed that my first manuscript was going to sell and be the best and most especially lead me to not needing to work fulltime anymore. So I had been all over Query Shark and other such sites and learnt quite a bit about query letters. Absolutely still useful information to have stored away but not something I’ve been too worried about most of the time.

Speaking of, feels like #pitchmad literally came and went without me ever actually taking a crack at the slightly alternative pathway to traditional publishing. Hmmm wonder what’s next PitchTok? (sounds potentially problematic)

Once again we have an r/writing poster who wants to write but doesn’t like reading, post kinda blew up a bit though. Funnily what was a bit different about this OP is they genuinely liked writing and simply also genuinely didn’t enjoy reading, they were perfectly open to studying texts and learning they just didn’t have a general enjoyment. This is a bit different to the stunted individuals who want to know how to git gud at writing without having to read.

Over to r/books an interesting thread on books at people enjoyed at first but came to loathe later on. I have to confess I haven’t really had this experience with books so much, but it’s definitely something I get with movies quite often. My goto example is the Original Suicide Squad movie, at the time I enjoyed watching the movie and thought it had some pretty funny gags “ya ruining date-night bats”. It was only every-single-time I gave the movie even an once of reflection I’d be like ‘wait a minute the whole purpose of the squad was senseless’ ‘what did croc actually contribute under-water’ ‘Why is Harley Quinn so pro-child murder?”

Quest for Glory Book

So in case you’re not aware of my nostalgia tripping for Sierra games and most especially Quest For Glory, something amazing is brewing in this area where the Coles and helpers are putting together a book about the original games and will be looking at crowdfunding publication.

It’s pretty high on my list of things to look forward to 😀

Weekly Writing Round-up (July 2022)

Funny how quickly a weekly commitment comes around

How’s everyone’s side hustles going?
https://www.reddit.com/r/books/comments/w4d7ud/anyone_feel_like_death_of_the_author_has_become/

I didn’t have much to add to this commentary – just that the title made me laugh a lot. I have Posted on the topic before, but the short version is that I do think works can take on a life of their own, but author’s perspective is an interesting and valid interpretation to consider. After all you don’t want to end up being someone who misunderstands Rage Against the Machine:

Link

This quietly understated issue – while I’ve often said that not all plot holes are created equal there is an ironic truth to the fact that mo’ story you get done the mo’ problems or potential problems arise. It’s usually more of an editing problem (which for me means a never actually fix problem).

Just a timely reminder to anyone reading this that there are any number of writerly scams out there. “Publishers” that defer all costs to the author OR ask authors for payments are one of them. Unfortunately its probably quite a lucrative market, in that there are many young (in age and author years) folk out there who may not have simply heard of the scam and/or many an author just excited to get a bite from a publisher and figure that putting their own cash forward is just a worthwhile.

For anyone wondering how the scam works – basically in genuine traditional publishing a Publisher will purchase your book, and cover all costs of distributing the thing in the hopes of making some money off of your work. The publisher may do more or less of each element depending on what kind of deal etc and the most they’ll expect of the author is to do some promoting (of your own work mind) which is totally reasonable.

Self-publishing is basically taking on all costs and work yourself.

Scam Publishing, often called “Vanity Publishing” and in the case above “Author-Invested” basically tricks authors into thinking that the publisher will do all the things of a typical publisher but basically charge the author for them. What they really do is just provide a service to do the mechanical part of printing and binding your book, and usually just dump however many you paid for on the author. This is why they’re called “Vanity” because you can legitimately use them if you literally just want some physical copies of your book and you can wave them at friends (that said I’m not sure I’d trust them even do to that).

The real trick though is making it seem like traditional publishes, only provides costs for editors and printing presses, etc. When in fact the real merit of traditional publishes is distribution, an ongoing royalties relationship and invaluable contacts. Even if you thought it was worth paying various costs yourself to get a book in hand, you almost definitely could just look at those services yourself for less cost and probably less head and heartache.

It’s a bit like fraud education courses that just assign reading material from legit courses. You might be fooled into thinking they are helping by directing you to said sources, but the cost of using them is way higher than just putting some effort into finding those sources yourself.

What is the piece of writing advice that has helped you most, personally?

Not going to lie – don’t have any comments for this – just one of those generally helpful threads – more focussed on good writing habits (which I probably do need to pay attention to).

Turning to a Fantasy Specific Post:

Link

This is such an interesting topic – a lot of people worry about specific rules, when really the challenge is understanding your own work and how it all fits together. For example, in Lord of the Rings there is a lot of exposition about the One Ring, and the odd explanation about magic, and this very much fits with the style of the book(s). Other stories have slow discovery phases, and as the OP mentions they want to just explain briefly how things work.

All of these things can work, but basically you just don’t want to clash, a fast paced exciting action heavy fantasy story is probably not going to do well with Gandalf taking up half a chapter explaining the history of Middle-Earth, but that might be the perfect story to have some sort of short exposition.

My thoughts are to always keep the interaction of character and reader in mind, you don’t want to upset either and what will keep the story running as planned.

Finally something Deep and Meaningful

To be honest as a psychologist and writer I’d probably say “ackshully neither really”

Its an interesting post – writers are kinda tasked with revealing something significant about human nature, but to their advantage they don’t have any lousy restrictions like ethics, peer-review, or scientific consensus to deal with. And there is a kind of survivor bias with literature – in the sense that if books get human nature wrong no-one will probably mind if they pen a great story nonetheless and/or if what the book is saying is liked by people as deep and meaningful.

Whereas psychologists don’t necessarily have a deep understanding of human nature, what we have is a scientific perspective, which is really only as deep as the evidence allows, while the stereotype is a (coke-fused) grey-haired shaman sitting next to a couch who knows all about what it means to be human, the reality is more like a person who knows this and that and usually more about what isn’t legit in psychology.

Anyway my practise of drawing clients with my psychology registration but just reading them my own writing has not taken off so I guess the discussion continues.

That is the week that was – take care team and link me into any great sources for next round-up!

Weekly Writing Round-up

This week NZ has been cold AF – but hope people everywhere around the world are taking care:

I assume they mean of the book

Fairly quiet this week, but a few topics of interest:

LINK

The above post about evil authors. I think I’ve discussed this on the blog before but its always a topic worth updating. Generally speaking I don’t research authors much, and most of the time I’m probably going to be oblivious to personal controversy. If I do become aware of something for me the main judgement is just how bad is it – would addressing it in a review suffice or am I literally supporting a Nazi if I buy the book?

The linked post is more about support through purchase but the other common question is whether is OK to simply like or enjoy a book from an evil author. My stance on this is that artwork can be separated from artist. Probably the worst offender in my liked works is I LOVE HP Lovecraft’s works but MY GOSH the man was despicably racist.

Aren’t Writers Group a Contradiction

This is a familiar topic and one that I always feel the need to comment on. OP asks aren’t writer’s groups going to be a hot-bed of plagiarism??

To be fair I think in 2022 where online writing is much more prolific and Fanfiction (IMHO) has grown from a cringey niche to a valid and widely enjoyed genre, the internet is a risky place for copying especially in freely posted and shared forums. The most embarrassing scenario (wish I saved the link) was a poster saying they’d been outright plagiarized and it looked like they even had proof…

Until it became apparent they’d posted their word on Wattpad and well within Terms of Service another website had posted their work fully accredited to the original author.

Back to the original post, typically people are going to groups to get their ego’s stroked for their own ideas not steal others, and I think most writers at this point know that ideas are not the valuable part of stories, nonetheless the fear persists.

Does Flowery Prose Make Better Writing

Last one from Reddit, always asking the real questions. Flowery Prose is a funny one because most advice givers will suggest not to go there, but this is usually in the interests of getting a newbie author’s book over the line with an agent and publisher and erring on the side of plain-speak prose.

Flowery prose is I guess also inherently more risky in the same way elaborate gymnastic routines are – there is the potential for more points, but also more points to mess up.

Fight Scene Tropes

Over on youtube we have Jenna Moreci with a really funny takedown of Fight Scene Tropes. Jenna is a published author with a tonne of writing resources which are both hilarious and educative. I totally agreed with #1 which (spoiler alert) is Heroes deciding that not killing the villain is ‘good’ – just don’t worry about the 6,000 henchmen who where slaughtered on the way. It’s about the Journey.

This Letter from Tolkien on LitHub

Turns out we’ve been saying his name wrong its Toll-Kien. But also of interest talking about inspirations for Middle-Earth and his quote “there is no invention in the void”

Apparently Medium is ‘Over’

I don’t really keep up enough to have much of an opinion, I usually read the odd article on Medium and apparently its various changes over the years have kept professional content creators up a night. To be Honest its a shame to see the internet continue its trend towards the ‘Big’ Social Medias but I’m not really sure what is/could be done.

That’s my round up for this week.

Any topics you want me to blog about?

Any book/movie/show/doco recommendations?

Kia Ora

On Writing: The Rule of Threes

“Little Rabbit Foo Foo, I’ll give you Three Chances to Change” (Little Rabbit Foo Foo)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Basic_Plots#The_Rule_of_Three

I’ve been thinking about this literary device/trend/trope/rule/archetype since reading Booker’s Seven Basic Plots – because it intrigues me how this is in no way really a ‘rule’ and yet seems to pop up everywhere despite that.

Three is after all:

  • The most unstable, stable shape (I honestly can’t work out how to explain this, you’ll probably either get what I mean or just move on from my crazy ramblings)
  • The number required for a LURVE triangle
  • Minimum number of things needed to form a pattern
  • Number of statements needed to form an argument
  • Not necessarily the only, but a very easy number to instantly count, and maintain in our short term memory
  • A very tidy number to use for plot-points, the literal goldilocks of numbers

Rather than get too deep into any form of archetypal metaspiritual stuff, I thought I would just expand on some of the above points:

Stability and Instability

OK so what I meant by this point is that three makes an ideal number of moving parts to create stability and instability in your story. For example, three countries at peace/war creates an ideal setup where several different dynamic scenarios can be played out, all 3 at war, 2 allied against 1, shifting alliances, tenuous peace between all. It’s not so much that you couldn’t have more countries and indeed many stories do have more factions in a conflict, its just that 3 countries is very dynamic balance. 2 v 2 is kinda boring and evenly matched, and so on.

That’s a very specific example, you can also have dynamics between characters (see next point) different institutions, different goals of the character (think of an MC having to balance family, work, and war).

The main point which is very hard to explain because its very intuitive, is that the dynamics of three moving parts has the potential of stability, but is prone towards instability all while being not overwhelming the working memory.

Love Triangles

There probably isn’t too much to say here, I know some people find this trope cliché to the point of cringe, but the reality is the Rule of Threes very much backs up love triangles. Similar to the above thesis a love triangle works as a story trope because it defies easy resolution. I’ve read a couple of stories with other love shapes (gross) and unfortunately it tends to suck (grosser) the tension out of the situation because there is always a sense that things are going to work out.

Just a quick side note I’m not saying that stories where everyone gets matched up is bad, its just when a love triangle is a main plot tension, easy matching up is boring.

Patterns

This is an interesting one – scientifically a little dubious (need more data) the human brain is quite happy to see patterns and generally three data points is all that is needed. By pattern I meant things like: the protagonist is a jerk, or the villain is strongest in the land, or the love interest actually doesn’t like the MC whatsoever. Booker, in Seven Basic Plots, points out that in this use of ‘threes’ its actually a ‘four’ situation except the ‘fourth’ is the resolution to some story tension.

Now this isn’t saying that you need to do something three times to establish a plot point, rather its saying that three is a good number to use to establish your elements. whether its how many times the MC asks the love-interest out, attempts to defeat the Dark Lord, whatever.

Arguments?

Probably in terms of stories we’re talking about typical Three Act structures. Not much to say on this one just that sometimes stories can be broken down into premises such as: IF this (character), AND this (faces this tension), THEN this (resolution).

Three and only Three?

Really important that the ‘Rule’ of Threes really is not a rule at all, but more a very interesting literally quirk that probably has as much to do with our psychology of absorbing stories than a strong writing argument. Nonetheless I think its a really useful thing to consider especially when outlining and planning a story.

Weekly Writing Roundup

Thought I’d try something a bit different from my OTHER posts today

Just sort of a round up and few thoughts of various writing related posts I’d absorbed over the week:

This quote on r/lotrmemes https://www.reddit.com/r/lotrmemes/comments/vtgmyx/ironic/if772zt/?context=3 taken from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories

“However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation and true literature is that it imposes one visible form. Literature works from mind to mind and is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal and more poignantly particular. If it speaks of bread or wine or stone or tree, it appeals to the whole of these things, to their ideas; yet each hearer will give to them a peculiar personal embodiment in his imagination. Should the story say “he ate bread,” the dramatic producer or painter can only show ”a piece of bread” according to his taste or fancy, but the hearer of the story will think of bread in general and picture it in some form of his own. If a story says “he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below,” the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but especially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.”

What I love about this quote is it captures a key difference between visual and written mediums. Basically the idea is that in writing you spark the imagination of the reader by prompting them with some element of the thing you’re describing, whereas say on television you are showing exactly what is happening on screen.

While the gist of the comments is about how this impacts people’s impressions of TV adaptations, the thought that popped into my head is that writers have a lot of variability on how they present descriptions and actions. As in do you try to capture a general sense of something and let the reader fill in the gaps, OR do you dive deep into description and leave less specifics to the imagination? I’ve noticed that the style of description is a key difference between different works.

This Post on r/writing :It truly bothers me to see aspiring writers try to write without having read anything in their entire lifes

This is such a common online question/post, people who are either curious about how to ‘git gud’ at writing without reading, whether they can still expect to be a published author while not reading, or just how much reading they might have to suck up to pass.

Understandably its quite frustrating for most writers who as a group usually read a lot but I do just have to laugh sometimes. It’s kinda hard to think of any vocation or hobby that doesn’t need you to consume the medium as well as try to create. Directors not watching movies, musicians not listening to music, artists not looking at other works.

Other than just naivety, I cynically suspect that most people asking this question actually see writing as an easier or more accessible pathway to blockbuster TV show or movie franchise fame. They know of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, or perhaps are a fan of a cult Anime, but don’t think they are able to directly create TV content and think that writing some amazing books will be their path.

Other r/writing Posts of Interest: I kind of regret self-publishing my first novel

This is another interesting problem for self-published writers. I think the comments get a little distracted by the authors potentially dumb views, but more importantly its often recommended to be careful with self-publishing without adequate care, as you can sink your publishing reputation rather than boosting it.

In this case its not that the book was a disaster, it simply didn’t sell well or go anywhere (and the author was a bit worried that his political comments might put people off). On the surface poor sales might not seem a big deal, after all don’t many authors build up an audience? The issue in this case is that if you want to pursue traditional publishing a poorly selling book under doesn’t just look bad, its that the publisher might not want to back you knowing that your previously published works might be lumped into their efforts too.

It’s not so much that the agent or publisher is worried they’re going to get pulled through the muck exactly, its more just a poor look for them right from the get-go.

A well-sold or even niche or cult popularity book is a bonus that a publisher might even consider getting 2nd rights for – but something average or poor.

As a strange side note the original poster also seemed very attached to their own name, and didn’t want to consider a pen name in case they didn’t leave a legacy or something? Possibly a poor misconception, I think ultra-fans usually find out an authors real name, I don’t think there is much risk to being unknown and successful.

An Excellent Blog from Jane Friedman’s Website: 7 Questions to Design a Better Arc of Change for Your Protagonist

I confess I only read the section-titles! But I love this approach to character creation – asking guiding questions rather than a novel structure. Something I’m still working on is shaping my characters with some sort of pre-existing problem that is resolved by the story, I have a tendency to just think up some random person/alien/insect/robot that gets dumped into a story.

Finally a Trolley Problem: https://neal.fun/absurd-trolley-problems/

Those following this blog for a while have probably seen me go on about this stuff before. I love my moral quandaries, and the linked sequence does not disappoint – let me know what your decision on the clone one was…

Anyway that’s the week that was: Let me know was this a useful way to blog, do you want more content, less, give up blogging entirely?

On Writing: Managing Goldilocks Rules

Getting things juuuust right

This might seem like a bit of a left field topic for writing, however I find there is a common thread in writing questions that go a little something like “how much is too much sex/violence/rock’n’roll” and the answer typically being “how long is a piece of string.”

While Goldilocks isn’t typically, specifically brought up, I feel that its usually implicit in most writing advice: “not too much, not too little”. of course such advice is much easier to follow in a fairy tale where the middle ‘item’ is presented before the protagonist (I literally just realized the mild conundrum/illogical of the porridge, first of all mother’s porridge is medium sized, yet is the coldest.)

Anyway the point is that writers are often tasked with finding just the right amount of something, and sometimes I feel that there isn’t really much guidance or discussion about how to hit the sweet spot. To be fair I do believe there is an element of not necessary needing to hit the exact right spot all the time, but in a hyper-competitive publishing environment I feel there is some merit to thinking about this.

Clarity is Key

I’ve been a bit cheeky so far, haven’t really talking about what elements I actually mean. To explain better there can be any number of aspects or elements of a story that a writer wants to portray but isn’t sure how much. This could almost anything – however common issues are: how much/many terrible events for my MC are too many? How many sex scenes are appropriate? How angry/sad/brilliant should my character be?

What I’m trying to say is there are many parts of a story that will obviously be terrible if you overdo them, but they are significant parts of the story, no need to feature heavily or at least noticeably. I’m going to try and use random examples throughout to better clarify.

How to cook porridge

So I think first and foremost, as with any piece of writing you do need to consider the ‘why’: Why is my character angry – and I don’t mean what in the story made them angry – I mean what’s the purpose in the story of them being that way, is it for character development, is it a fatal flaw, is it to antagonize other characters.

Point is if you know why you’re writing about X you’ll have a better idea of how much of it you need in your story.

Variation

Probably the best lesson I learnt from an editor years ago is that anything within a story that doesn’t vary gets boring quickly. In this example I had an MC that had some anger and resentment, and basically every other character they interacting with was in an aggressive confrontational fashion. I of course had made the rookie mistake of assuming that ‘conflict’ meant conflict and so made my MC that way, but even within moments of hearing that advice I realized how much more interesting it became to mix it up a little. Without losing the character’s personality they became tight-lipped around their boss, short and angry with their brother, and pitied their father. The MC still obviously had a lot to work out but they weren’t shouting at everyone now! (my story still sucks btw but I learnt a lot)

The simplest way to challenge the above is to check whether anything in your work is getting repetitive. Obviously there are sequences and actions that are going to repeat, but thematically and conflict-wise are the same things happening again and again?

The Law of Threes

One day I would like to write a whole post on this idea. For this topic lets just assume its a straight out law and not question anything about it. One face of the Law of Threes is that three instances of something happening established a pattern (that is often resolved by the fourth occurrence).

If I’m being a bit vague a practically example might be a question like ‘how many fight scenes between my hero and the villain should there be’. The rule of threes is a good fallback, its a tidy number for reader’s memories, it establishes patterns and if all else fails its a very ‘literary’ number.

This tends to lend itself more to specific scenes or events, but it works for abstract elements to, for example if you are wondering how to show a character trait you can devise three instances to show their trait. If you’re wondering how to show the world you are building is cold and harsh, have three events that depict this.

Colour-Coding

Ok to be honest I will probably never do this – and it touches on the previous two points already made! However a useful method of analysis is to colour code what is happening in your scenes. This gives you a very good way of visually seeing what your scenes are made up of. You can do this to assess how much description you have, how much dialogue, action and/or colour code other elements too!

I feel slightly fraudulent saying this idea even though I’d probably slack on it, but hey just because its not my cup of tea doesn’t mean its not for someone else.

Oh dear started to bit derailed there.

Anyway does anyone have some tips of their own? Does the post make sense?

On Writing: “Faceless Hordes”

What’s your stance on “Faceless Hordes”

Well not necessarily faceless – just well, maybe faceless would be an improvment

I’m not actually diving into the issue of Are Fantasy Races Racist but if you want a great video on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfGbSnGObbU&ab_channel=Vaush

Just wanted to riff briefly on the trope of faceless hordes of enemies, very common in the Epic Fantasy genre but as many have noted almost a stable of the MCU Avengers movies (aliens, robots, aliens again). Also it could be debated that the dispatch of any number of henchpeople in various action films could fit under this trope.

Now just to reassure everyone I’m not going to, like, dive deep into why this is so bad or \ making jokes about this technique in writing, I think its a fine writing technique in general but I want to talk about a random couple of points about whether its problematic OR actually pretty OK in implication.

This is Fine

To further clarify an earlier point there are many MCU and other superhero films that contain some sort of faceless army of samey humanoids or creatures that the heroes have to battle hordes of and/or substantial bunches of henchpeople type situation. In the first Avengers movie it was aliens in the second robots. I think as a trope it has many uses, adding general tension to a scene, showcasing the battle prowess of our heroes and also creating a bit of vindictive catharsis for the audience.

Something similar happens in many Fantasy (and I’m sure some other genres) where the ‘evil’ army is composed of some sort of dehumanized horde. Funnily enough this was very prominent in Lord of the Rings which kinda gave orc’s actual character and existences but didn’t really go beyond like typical bad-guy stereotypes I don’t think it was really clarifies whether these guys actually had a society or what, but in the world they were definitely intended to be evil hordes. It’s just kinda awkward really that most fantasy since then has developed Orcs beyond this (see Warcraft) so they are no longer really a faceless horde race. These days some other bestial creature, often the Undead or Demonic creatures are used to create hordes that no-one feels too concerned about slaughtering on mass.

So my first argument is that as a trope this is not too problematic in fact by purposefully creating a dehumanized army this trope ensures that no real-life group feels targeted, either by implication or (hopefully more historically) sometimes directly.

That’s a yikes for me dawg

Just to emphasize my point I’m going to bring up the movie 300. Now just to be clear I love this film, its intense, fun, dramatic, even quite sad. But I also have no problem stating that this film is racist, ablest, fetishizing, toxically masculine and I’m going to put it out there probably has other issues that I’m not aware of.

Now the purpose of this post isn’t to dig into this (would be quite happy to do so if anyone actually wanted but I feel that ground is well trod), what I do want to do is make a point that I think its totally acceptable to want some sort of story like 300s where heroic character slaughter thousands in dramatic ways what the trope of faceless hordes does is allow that to happy by reduced the problematic parts!

Even if you don’t care about the various social implications of story violence, I think you’d agree that it also removes the general ethical concerns of mass violence and death and also helps codify the heroes of a story as the actual heroes.

On the other hand

Every said above, I do worry that the faceless horde trope can actually do the opposite of what I said. When it comes to problematic interactions basically the worst thing that can happen is people of a particular group or who are different from the observer is to become dehumanized.

Dehumanization has a few features, unfortunately all of which are present in faceless horde tropes, e.g. not seeing people as people, interpreting their behaviour as a mass horde, and obviously not seeing them as worthy of the human right not to be dismembered and destroyed by Captain America’s shield.

What I’m saying is that perhaps using sort of PRE dehumanized enemies may circumvent problematic thinking OR is it just prepackaged.

I suspect as I write this (slight tangent but one reason I blog is that as I put things into words I realized stuff along the way that I never would have) that the real important part is in the details.

For an example In Scott Bakker’s fantasy series the sort of hordy enemy are monsters called Sranc. They are technically sentient and have a bit of language and tool use (largely weapons) but for the most part they are depicted as multitudes of snake monsters available for combat. Any depiction or development of the creatures is usually animalistic, e.g. showing they reproduce via laying eggs, so it would be very hard to assume that these creatures represent any group of people, whether racial, national, or political. This is also set in a pretty intense world with plenty of other potential social discussion points so I don’t think the hordes representing anyone is the issue.

IF you want some TVTropes (internet black hole warning) the sorts of tropes I’ve been talking about are listed as:

Faceless Goons

Hordes from the East

and 😀 Mooks

I’d be interested to hear others thoughts on the matter – where do your preferences sit?