razieltwelve

Because writing should be fun

Writing Short Stories Is Not The Same As Writing Novels

One of the most common misconceptions I’ve heard is that short stories are easier to write than novels because they are shorter. I don’t agree. In fact, I think short stories can be as difficult to write as novels, sometimes even more difficult.

A novel’s length is certainly imposing. Putting together upward of 60,000 words of coherent prose is not easy. But that length is also a powerful advantage. A writer that has tens of thousands of words to develop the plot, characters, and setting of a story has much more room to play with than a writer who only has five thousand words.

Consider how a reader develops a sense of a character’s identity. A reader might look at things like the character’s history, how they interact with others, and how they speak. The more examples of each that a reader has access to, the more pieces they have of the puzzle that is the character’s identity. Shorter stories cannot offer as many examples as longer stories. As a result, the examples they do offer have to be better, on average, than those of a longer story if they want to develop equally strong characterisation.

The same can be said about the plot or the setting. Think of some of the complicated plots that run through political thrillers or epic fantasies. These plots often require huge amounts of groundwork before they can come to fruition – groundwork that simply wouldn’t be possible with a much shorter format. Likewise, portraying a rich, engaging setting is easier when you have more room to talk about that setting. Shorter stories have to do more with less.

But, as I’ve mentioned, novels come with their own difficulties. A novel’s greater length means that people have greater expectations of it. Readers expect deeper plots, more interesting settings, and deeper characters from novels than short stories. Keeping a consistent tone and style throughout a novel can also be difficult, especially when that style is somewhat ornate (see e.g., novels written in the style of Lovecraft or Tolkien).

Novels and short stories are both forms of fiction, and they have many things in common. But the skills required to be good at one are not necessarily the same as those required to be good in the other.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

The Wood of Endless Night is now Available on Amazon

The Wood of Endless Night is now available on Amazon! It’s set in the same world (albeit far in the past) as The Burning Mountains. If you like fantasy with rich prose, terrifying dragons, and ancient evils, give it a try. You can get The Wood of Endless Night from Amazon here. And below is the blurb:

Far to the west, beyond the Burning Mountains where only dragons live, there is a place where the sun is always warm and the winds are always kind. It is called the Pleasant Wood, and it was there that Tareon, a blacksmith’s son, and Valeia, a nobleman’s daughter, met for the first time.

Despite their differences, they become friends and eventually fall in love. But the days of peace in the west are ending. War has come, and the carnage and ruin of the battlefield have summoned a winged titan from the south. Black Death is a dragon unlike any the west has seen. His scales are adamant, his wings blot out the sun, and his cold fire burns as black as the dead of night.

Nothing mortal can kill such a dragon. Instead, the people of the west must turn to a place beyond even the Pleasant Wood, a place whose name echoes darkly in the hearts of all who look upon it: the Wood of Endless Night. It is a place of evil and despair that was created countless years ago when the gods slew one of their own that had turned traitor and cast his broken body from the heavens.

And it is said that the weapon the gods used still remains there, lost in the Endless Night.

The king of the west has offered honours and riches beyond counting to anyone who can bring back the weapon and slay Black Death. It is Tareon’s only chance to prove himself worthy of Valeia’s hand in marriage. Yet no one has ever returned from the Wood of Endless Night, and if something should befall him, Valeia will surely go after him.

The Wood of Endless Night and the shadow of a traitorous god await them both.

My First Story

I can only vaguely remember the first proper story that I ever wrote. I was either in kindergarten or first grade, and the story itself was rather more violent than was probably appropriate for a child of that age. I believe it involved space pirates, grenades, and a great deal of poorly described violence and explosions.

Regardless of whether or not that story was good (and I suspect it was, even for a child, not particularly well written), what I remember most clearly is how my parents reacted to that story. They could have asked me why I felt the need to include violence and explosions in a story that was less than a page long, or they could have asked me about all the factual inaccuracies the story contained.

But they didn’t.

Instead, they told me it was good, and that I should write some more.

A child can be so confident about some things and so insecure about others, so having other people tell me that my story was good mattered a lot.

Writing is a lot like pushing a boulder down a hill. Getting started is the hardest part, but once you get it going… well, it’s almost impossible to stop.

My parents were kind enough to get the boulder rolling for me.

A Conversation

“I have often wondered why so many endorse plain speech in writing,” said the first writer. “Should writers not aspire to greater things than mere colloquialism? Should they not seek prose that overflows with both eloquence and sophistication?”

The second writer laughed. “Are you an idiot? What’s the point of writing something if nobody can understand what you’re saying?”

Yet the first writer was not amused, saying with a stern expression, “Why should a writer mollycoddle the reader? If the reader lacks the wit or wisdom to follow the prose, then perhaps the fault lies in them, not the author. Certainly, no other artist is expected to accept the follies of their audience. Should the painter lay down his brush because the viewer sees only lines and colours, never grasping the whole? Should the the sculptor carve only simple things that feeble minds can grasp? No! And thus the writer should not simplify for simpletons.”

“Simpletons?” the second writer rolled his eyes. “The word you’re looking for is ‘idiots’, and the only idiot is you. Writing is something to be enjoyed, to be savoured, and no one can enjoy or savour something they don’t understand. You act like using big words and fancy phrases is all it takes to make a good writer. A good writer is someone who can puts words on a page and bring dragons to life. A good writer can bring a world to life in their readers’ minds. And if you need to write a book to explain to your readers how good your writing is, then maybe it’s not very good at all.”

“I would write such a book for the readers that needed it if I believed they could understand it.”

“I hope you’re joking.”

“I am not.” The first writer took from his satchel a voluminous tome. “In fact, I have a copy here. I would give it to you, but I doubt you could appreciate it.”

“Give it here.” The second writer took the book and then whacked the first writer over the head with it. “How’s that for appreciation?”

Some Thoughts On Character Development

Characters are one of the most important parts of a good story. Having interesting and engaging characters can go a long way toward capturing the attention of readers. Indeed, readers may even ignore a story’s flaws if they like the characters enough.

One way to create better characters is through proper character development, which occurs when characters change as a result of their experiences in the story.

Perhaps the best examples of this occur in coming-of-age stories in which a child grows into an adult, leaving behind their childhood in favour of the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood. A similar process occurs in heroic tales or quests. Typically, the main characters undergo many tests and trials throughout their journey, which changes them in many ways. They may become more cunning or more heroic, or they may falter and lose hope. In any case, they change.

But character development does not always have to occur under such grand circumstances. Life is a series of experiences, some small and some large, and all of them play a role in shaping who we are. Likewise, a story can shape its characters through events, great and small.

An aspiring hero can take inspiration from legends about the heroes of old, but they can also draw strength from their parents and siblings who confront the challenges of everyday life with quiet dignity and fortitude. Likewise, a wise man might find himself learning things from a fool he meets on the road to a city of scholars.

The key is understanding that people are affected by their experiences, even if sometimes the effects are very small. A moment’s kindness to a little boy might be forgotten until the boy becomes a man and finds himself in the same situation, but with the roles reversed. Likewise a villain might take his first steps down a dark path because no one stopped to offer aid when he needed it.

Character development thus occurs on both a small scale and a large scale. On a small scale, every one of a character’s experiences has the potential to change who they are. On a larger scale, a succession of experiences can influence a character’s personality and choices, solidifying their path through life. One moment of misfortune might not convince a person they are unlucky, but repeated sorrows might be enough to convince them that not only are they unlucky but also that the world is a cruel and unjust place.

So when you think about your characters and the story they play a part in, ask yourself how their experiences might shape them. How will they develop? How will they change? If you can answer that, then your characters will be much more interesting and engaging.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Everton Needs You!

  • Do you have special abilities that could potentially end the world or usher in an age of unlimited woe and darkness?
  • Have you ever set an entire forest on fire by accident and then tried to blame it on somebody else?
  • Is re-animating zombies and unleashing them upon your hapless enemies your idea of fun?
  • Can you melt a mountain and conquer a country all before breakfast?

If any of the above describe you, then you are almost certainly a wanted criminal, and  Everton’s law mages are probably on their way right now to kick your ass and throw you in prison.

But it doesn’t have to go that way because Everton needs you!

War is coming to Everton, and the Council needs every patriotic criminal it can find to help fight off Everton’s enemies! Do your part to win the war, and you can look forward to a full pardon. No more looking over your shoulder, wondering when our law mages will turn up and arrest you. No more worrying that you’ll be captured and executed.

Fight for Everton and escape prosecution!

Don’t believe me? Here are some testimonials:

  • It’s better than getting executed, I guess. But it’s not like they could actually execute me. Those limp-dicked bastards wouldn’t last ten seconds if I actually fought them for real. I’d murder those sons of bitches in less time than it takes me to rob a bank. – Avraniel
  • I’m pretty much doing the same thing I’ve always done, except now I get paid by the Council to do it. Oh, and I can now claim a tax rebate on my zombies whenever I used them to crush Everton’s enemies! – Timothy Walter Bolton, Grand Necromancer
  • It is nice not having to worry about law enforcement, and the missions the Council sends us on are interesting. I wonder if they’ll let me access the Council’s official library once we get our pardon… – Katherine Juliet Morrow, trainee necromancer

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Note: Everton is the setting for Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf and Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord. Avraniel, Timmy, and Katie are all wanted criminals earning a pardon by working for the Council to help crush Everton’s enemies. As you can imagine, they leave a fair bit of havoc in their wake, no matter what their mission is.

Using The Rules To Your Advantage

Over time, each genre develops its own rules and customs. Identifying these rules and using them to your advantage can make your life as a writer much easier.

The rules and customs that govern a genre range from the subtle to the famously cliche. In the case of something like fantasy, readers have come to expect things like magic and adventure, and they will generally react positively to writers who can deliver those things. However, these rules and customs can also be restrictive. There is a reason that so many fantasy stories read very similarly. It is because too many stories adhere slavishly to the customs of the genre at the expense of telling a good story.

But what sort of rules and customs are there? If we look at how stories are written, we can divide a story into several components: plot, characters, settings, ideas/themes, and technical composition. Rules and customs can evolve in all of these areas, so let’s take a closer look at each of them in turn.

The plot of a story is one of the most important components. A thrilling and engaging plot can go a long way toward disguising shortcomings elsewhere (e.g., a genuinely thrilling plot can often hide the fact that the characters are fairly wooden or that the writing itself is quite basic). Each genre tends to favour plots that follow a certain pattern. In fantasy, there are several commonly occurring plot lines:

  • Coming of age
  • Hero’s journey
  • Battle for a throne/objective

Stories that adopt one of these three plot lines tend to have a similar narrative structure, one that readers typically enjoy. Indeed, many popular fantasy stories either pursue one of these plot lines or combine them.

As a writer, these plot lines can be of great use. They can help you construct a plot by providing a rough scaffolding into which you can insert characters, settings, ideas/themes, and your own writing style. How many stories have you read in which the characters go off on some quest to retrieve a legendary artefact? Yet readers continue to enjoy such stories because the basic plot line is extremely sound and provides writers with ample opportunity to distinguish themselves.

Characters are another crucial part of a story. Good characters can make a boring plot seem interesting, and there are some stories that can only work because the characters themselves are so engaging. But a close examination of almost any genre will reveal that there are certain character archetypes that occur with great frequency. In the case of fantasy, here are a few:

  • The wise, old man/mentor
  • The reckless youth who must mature
  • The grizzled veteran
  • The naive child
  • The wicked ruler

These character archetypes exist for a reason: they meet vital needs in a story. There must be a reason for the protagonist to leave their comfort zone. A wicked ruler often provides such impetus while a wise mentor or a grizzled veteran helps the protagonist find their feet. Yet these archetypes are not completely set in stone. The wise mentor may have a wicked sense of humour, a mischievous streak, or simply be a rather ornery person. Writers can make use of these archetypes to help develop their characters while still leaving adequate room to make each character unique.

The setting of a story is often key to its success. When a story has an intriguing setting, readers want to find out more. This is why many fantasy stories begin with exposition that sets out the lay of the land, complete with maps and references to places and times that the characters may not ever actually encounter. It is easier for readers to suspend their disbelief when an alternate world exists around the story.

In most genres, the settings for stories tend to share some similarities. In the case of fantasy, this may include some of the following:

  • The existence of magic
  • The existence of non-human races
  • A medieval-type setting

Again, these conventions help writers by guiding their thoughts and freeing them of some of the (considerable) mental burden of creation. That isn’t to say that writers can’t distinguish themselves. Compare the worlds of Tolkien and Martin. Middle Earth and Westeros could not be more different despite sharing all three of the traits listed above.

The ideas and themes that run through a particular genre can be surprisingly consistent. A close survey of genres like science fiction, fantasy, political thrillers, and even Westerns reveals that each has several dominant themes that shape the genre as a whole and dominate for decades on end (see e.g., the massive trend of epic fantasy inspired by Tolkien versus the current zeitgeist toward darker, edgier fantasy). Understanding the ideas and themes that shape a genre aids a writer in establishing a rapport with their readers. Readers of a particular genre expect the stories they read to have meaning, and they often crave familiarity or a twist on a familiar idea.

Finally, the technical composition refers to the nuts and bolts of a story: the writing itself. A casual examination of a genre like fantasy will reveal that there are several different types of fantasy, and within each type, a certain vocabulary is often at work. For example, high fantasy tends to have a more florid vocabulary than something like urban fantasy. But perhaps the most notorious example of this effect is in Lovecraftian fiction, almost all of which shares Lovecraft’s verbose, often archaic, style and prose, regardless of whether a story was written shortly after Lovecraft or in the present day.

Using Rules And Customs To Your Advantage

Rules and customs can be used to your advantage in a number of ways. The most obvious is to do what I’ve described thus far: use them to scaffold your writing and ease the burden of creation. By adhering to the rough outlines provided by the rules and customs of a genre, you have ready access to powerful archetypical plots, characters, settings, ideas and themes, and technical composition. This significantly eases the mental burden of creation and allows you to work more efficiently by operating within a framework that still leaves room for you to distinguish yourself as a writer.

However, these rules and customs also serve another purpose. Readers develop expectations based on these rules and customs, and they will enjoy the work of writers who can tick all the boxes and deliver on all the expected fronts. Indeed, violations of these rules and customs can sometimes confuse or anger readers who believe that they are getting a particular kind of story, only to receive a very different one (see e.g., what would happen if a writer baited readers with a cheerful story only to turn it into something incredibly horrific and depressing – the readers would likely riot).

Yet there are times when breaking these rules and customs can be extremely rewarding. Just as readers often prize the familiar comfort that conforming stories provide, a story that takes a different road or twists a familiar theme can seem incredibly inventive and interesting. This has led to the evolution of things like the anti-hero as well as stories that deliberately (and often humorously) deconstruct the conventions that govern different genres. Once again, fantasy is a great genre for this because its rules and conventions are so widely understood that poking fun at them is possible.

When stories break the rules, they can win readers over because readers suddenly no longer know what is going to happen. This increases their interest. Likewise, when stories poke fun at the rules, readers will often laugh along because they understand that there are rules and that perhaps those rules can be a bit ridiculous sometimes. Take the commonly used idea of a magical weapon somehow solving everything in fantasy fiction. Having the weapon backfire or operate in an unexpected manner is funny precisely because readers know what it should be doing. It’s like watching a comedy of errors.

In any case, it should be clear that there are rules and customs in different genres. These rules can both help and hinder a writer, and there are times when adhering to them is good while at other times breaking them is ideal.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Are You Looking For Perfect Minions?

Are you looking for perfect minions? Perhaps you’re a necromancer whose rivals are constantly trying to assassinate you, perhaps you’re an apprentice who’s trying to overthrow her master, or perhaps you’re a bureaucrat who needs protection from rampaging carnivorous plants. Whoever you are, a clan of ninja rats that can turn invisible is perfect for your minion needs!

These fiendishly clever and terrifying determined rodents offer a wide range of services at very competitive prices (room and board, gold, and access to the kitchens are a must, and having an apprentice who thinks rodents are awesome is highly recommended):

  • Anti-assassination and assassination measures. The rats are expert assassins themselves, which also makes them ideally suited for dealing with would-be assassins. Besides, no one ever expects invisible ninja rats. No one.
  • Culinary expertise. These rodents can cook up a feast fit for a king at a cost that even a pauper can afford. They are even willing to advise any cooks you already have, provided they can tolerate rats in the kitchen.
  • Intelligence and counter-intelligence services. Do you need spies? Are you worried about spies? Who better to spy for you and make sure no one else spies on you than ninja rats that can turn invisible? These cunning rats can infiltrate even the most heavily guarded compound to uncover your enemy’s plans. Then you can do something fun, like smuggle a hydra into your enemy’s office. If that doesn’t get their attention, nothing will.
  • Home maintenance and repair skills. Due to the varied nature of their previous employment, this clan of ninja rats are skilled in most forms of home maintenance and repair. They can trim your gardens, handle any pests, and even fix your roof. All you need to do is to supply the materials and assist with some of the heavy lifting, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone with an army of zombies at their command.
  • Weapons development and mechanical research. Ninjas need the right tools and equipment in order to succeed, so these rats are always working on something. Whether its powerful explosives, parachutes, or electrified metal wire, they have whatever you need.

So if you’re looking for perfect minions, consider recruiting a clan of invisible ninja rats. You won’t regret it.

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Note: The clan of ninja rats that can turn invisible appear in Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf and Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord.

For The Love Of Writing

I’ve been asked on many occasions about what makes a good writer. The most obvious answer is talent. Surely, there are people out there who are just blessed with so much talent that everything they write is awesome and wonderful and good.

Bullshit.

I won’t lie to you, talent does exist, but it’s not the key to becoming a good writer, not even close. In my opinion, the thing most likely to make someone a good writer is very simple: they love writing.

But how can this be? How can simple love of writing overcome talent. Writing is a skill, and like all skills how good you become at it depends on both your talent and your hard work.

If you love writing, then you’ll do the hard work. You’ll take the criticism you get and improve from it, even if it hurts sometimes. You’ll spend hours revising something you’ve written just to make it that little bit better because in your eyes, it’s worth it. And you’ll drive yourself nuts over how to piece together a story because you love writing and can’t imagine giving it up.

If you have talent but you don’t like writing, you’ll give up when things get hard, and they will get hard. Maybe not at first, maybe not for a while, but sooner or later, every writer hits a wall. If you don’t like writing, you’re going to stare at that wall which looks higher than Mt Everest and just walk away because that’s an option for you. If you love writing, really love it, you’re going to throw yourself at that wall like a maniac and climb it, even if it drives you crazy.

Talent may trump hard work at the start, but writing isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. How much hard work does it take to overcome the advantage that talent gives someone? It take more than an hour. What about a hundred hours? Maybe. What about a thousand hours? Now, we’re taking. And what about ten thousand hours?

Is there any amount of writing talent that can’t be overcome with enough practice and hard work? I don’t think there is. And being talented won’t make you practice and work hard. Loving writing will.

So don’t get stuck thinking that talent is everything. It isn’t. If you love writing, writing will love you back. You’ll stick with it long after other people have given up, and you’ll keep on improving long after other people have plateaued, and one day, you’ll find yourself looking down from the top of the mountain at everyone else who walked away because they didn’t love writing as much as you did, and the view will be pretty damn nice.

And, remember, you’re not alone. There are plenty of people climbing that mountain with you, and they all love writing too.

Is Your Apprentice Planning To Overthrow You?

If you’re a necromancer with your own castle, beneath which are lightless chasms of endless horror and despair (not to mention beings of a distinctly inter-dimensional nature that want to obliterate the world), then you need to ask yourself a very important question: is your apprentice planning to overthrow you? If you think that your apprentice might be planning to overthrow you, here are five signs that you’re about to be overthrown:

  1. Katie She cackles whenever she sees you. It is perfectly all right if you and your apprentice enjoy a good cackle when you’re together, especially if you’ve just crushed/robbed one of your mortal enemies. But if your apprentice is cackling for what appears to be no good reason when she sees you, be careful. Your days may be numbered.
  2. She constantly talks to her ninja rats when she thinks you’re not around but stops talking to them when you make your presence known. Ninja rats are scary. Some of them can also turn invisible. All of them are handy with pointy objects. Sleep with one eye open.
  3. She offers you a mug full of whiskey right before you put together your newest abomination. Necromancy and alcohol do not mix. In fact, alcohol is one of the leading causes of zombie-related fatalities amongst necromancers. Never drink while breaking the laws of nature.
  4. She starts asking you what clothes you’d prefer to be buried in. Sure, she might say its only a precaution, but you should know better. More than 75% of necromancers who aren’t killed by their own creations, priests, paladins, or angry mobs meet their ends at the hands of their apprentices. Stay vigilant.
  5. She “accidentally” swipes at your head with shadows sharp enough to cut through solid rock. She’s your apprentice for a reason – because she’s very, very good. Thus, the odds of her accidentally doing anything are very small. Invest in some magic-resistant armour.

If your apprentice is planning to overthrow you, stay calm. Remember, they can’t overthrow you until they’re certain they’ve learned all they can from you. Appear wiser and more knowledgeable than you really are, and you’ll be perfectly fine. Maybe.

– Timothy Walter Bolton, Grand Necromancer and Lord of Black Tower Castle

*     *     *

Note: Timmy and his apprentice, Katie, are both characters from my original fiction series, The Unconventional Heroes Series. Timmy is a necromancer trying to earn a pardon for his years of fairly harmless villainy (harmless in that he usually spends most of his time going after fairly horrible people) while Katie is his precocious ten-year-old apprentice who may or may not be planning to overthrow him. And, yes, there are ninja rats. And, yes, they can turn invisible.

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