Because writing should be fun

Good Writing Is Like An Iceberg

Good writing is a lot like an iceberg. The vast majority of an iceberg’s mass and volume is actually underwater. In the same way, the vast majority of the work that goes into a good piece of writing is hidden from the reader.

Consider a typical fantasy novel. The world the characters exist in needs to be engaging, self-consistent, and immersive. The characters might only spend a chapter or two in a particular location, but the author has to carefully develop the background and setting for that location. This might include things like the appearance, culture, and history of the location. Many of these details will not find their way into the final version of the story, but they will still be necessary for the author to write a good story.

Characters themselves are another great example of this phenomenon. Just imagine a scene in which two characters are talking in a cafe. The scene will probably be fairly unremarkable. There’s only so much you can do in a cafe. But what the characters say to each other, how they say it, and why they say it will all be influenced by their personalities, histories, and other factors – things that, again, the reader will probably never know but which the author must devise.

I think that one of the biggest mistakes that people make when they first begin writing is to look only at the end result. It’s true that all a reader usually sees is the end result (e.g., a published novel). But what is more important for someone who is learning to write is the process that leads to that result. Focusing only on the end result but ignoring the process is akin to looking only at the part of the iceberg that is above water and forgetting about the rest of it.

Every writer has their own way of doing things – their own process. But it is important to develop a process that works for you. Without a process, the odds of writing something good are slim. It’s more of a fluke than anything else. Developing a solid, consistent process will improve the odds of writing something good.

Four key areas in which good processes are particularly important are:

  • Character development
  • Plot development
  • World building
  • Technical improvement

Each writer will have different processes in these four areas, but good processes in these four areas will make it so much easier to write well on a consistent basis.

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.

Improving Your Composition On Multiple Levels

Composition refers to the process by which a text is written, and it can occur on multiple levels. A writer can be skilled at one level of composition but unskilled at another. How well a text functions is a product of its composition across all levels.

So, what are these levels?

  1. Word level. A text is made up of words, and the simplest level of composition is choosing the correct words.
  2. Sentence level. The purpose of words is to convey meaning, yet how words are arranged into sentences can dramatically alter how effectively they perform this task.
  3. Paragraph level. A group of sentences, all of which relate to the same point, form a paragraph. Well-constructed paragraphs are essential for clear, purposeful writing.
  4. Text level. A text is made up of a collection of paragraphs, all of which are related to expressing a particular message, idea, or story. A well-written text reflects this and can entertain, inform, or persuade as needed.

In order to improve as a writer, it is necessary to improve across all of these levels. However, the steps required for improvement are not the same across each level.

Improving at the word level is arguably the easiest. What is necessary is a larger vocabulary, and this can be developed through both indirect means (e.g., reading more) or direct means (e.g., studying word lists and using a thesaurus regularly). Other ways of increasing your vocabulary include reading a wider selection of material (e.g., newspapers and magazines instead of just fantasy novels) and talking to more people.

The important thing for improving at the word level is consistent effort. It simply isn’t possible to massively increase your vocabulary overnight, but most people can handle learning one new word a day. Consistent effort is also required to master new words since it is one thing to know what a word means and quite another to use it in a skilful and nuanced manner.

Constructing better sentences is something that many writers struggle with. Part of this is undoubtedly due to style. Some writers naturally tend toward more ornate and complex sentences, and there are some schools of thought that maintain that such sentences are somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. Personally, I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with ornate or complex sentences. To me what matters is whether or not the sentence is intelligible and whether or not it reads well.

An intelligible sentence is one that makes sense. More importantly, it is one that makes sense to the reader. In other words, a good sentence is one that the reader can make sense of without further assistance. If a sentence needs to be explained to the reader, then it’s entirely possible it isn’t a very good sentence.

It is a little more difficult to define what it means for a sentence to read well. To some extent, it is very much a qualitative thing. When you read a sentence that reads well, it flows smoothly, either in your mind or when it is spoken aloud. It is one that feels right. If the reader reads it more than once, it is because they want to savour it and not because it feels clunky and necessitates a second look.

The best way, I’ve found, to get better at sentence construction is through practice. The first draft of something is usually fairly horrible, and bad sentences are a big part of that. Go through your drafts and work through the sentences one by one, working on each of them until they are better. They don’t have to be perfect, just better than when you started. If that is too difficult, then simply start with one paragraph and tinker with the sentences in it until they improve.

Paragraphs are made up of several sentences that cover the same point or are in some other way related. Improving at the paragraph level requires a grasp of how sentences can fit and work together.

Consider a paragraph designed to build up a sense of unease. It is very difficult to build up a sense of unease in just one sentence. Instead, it is how the sentences in a paragraph fit together that builds up the sense of unease. The first sentence might set the scene, depicting something that would ordinarily seem quite cheerful and warm. The second sentence might point out a few oddities, things that don’t quite fit. The third sentence might imply some disturbing reasons for why those oddities exist. The fourth sentence might offer some evidence that those reasons are correct, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Here’s a brief example:

The rocking horse moved back and forth. In their beds, the children continued to sleep. The darkness in the room quivered and stretched out over them, one by one. And the rocking horse continued to move, its creaking growing louder as the darkness deepened.

The example given above shows how a paragraph is more than the sum of its parts. Individually, none of the sentences are particularly creepy, but together, they can create a much creepier atmosphere. They do this because each sentence builds upon the previous one, providing the reader with more information while guiding their imagination in the desired direction.

To improve on a paragraph level, it is important to understand that although sentences can stand alone, they are much stronger when they are connected to each other on a logical or thematic level. An argument is stronger when each sentence hammers away at the same point, making opposition impossible, and a description is much richer when each sentences adds another detail or fleshes out one that has already been given.

This is another instance in which practice is invaluable. But you can make the process more efficient by focusing your attention on paragraphs, as opposed to entire texts. Try to write a single paragraph that provides as rich a description of a setting as possible. Now, try a paragraph that inspires as much fear as possible. Regularly repeat this for different genres and styles, and you should notice an improvement.

A well-written text is almost always one that has a goal. That goal may be to entertain, it may be to inform, or it may be to persuade. Whatever the goal is, improving at the text level means learning to use the entire body of a text (i.e., every word, sentence, and paragraph) to advance that goal.

The first thing you should do is to learn the basic structure of the form of writing you’re doing. If you’re writing to entertain, then you’re probably writing a story although you could be writing a poem, a script, or a song. In any case, each of those formats has particular rules and guidelines. Learn them. Likewise, if you’re writing to persuade or inform, then those forms of writing have rules and guidelines too. Learn those as well.

You don’t always have to follow rules and guidelines, but they can be enormously helpful when you’re starting out. That’s why courses teaching students how to write essays and reports generally suggest similar structures. Those structures aren’t always ideal, but they will do a reasonably good job most of the time. That’s why people use them.

To improve at the text level, you need to understand what purpose your writing serves. If it is to entertain, you must ask yourself how you will entertain the reader. If you are writing a story, then focus on things like the characters, plot, settings, and ideas. If you are trying to inform the reader about an issue or topic, then ask yourself what you want to tell them about (e.g., what details are important, what does past research say, and what does future research need to look at). And if you’re trying to persuade people, think about how you can do that. What are the different sides of the argument? What are the key arguments for and against each side? What does the evidence suggest?

Improving your writing can be difficult, but it often helps to break it down. Working on one thing at a time – one level at a time – can make a seemingly insurmountable task much more approachable.

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.

Stay Busy

Writing is like a muscle, and like any muscle, it helps if you exercise it regularly. I do my best work when I can find a few hours to just sit down and write since it sometimes takes me a while to find my rhythm. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to find the time to sit down and have a good, long writing session. Sometimes, you have to make do and squeeze in a bit of writing here and there.

This is where staying busy is important.

When you only have a few minutes to write, tackling a long piece of writing (e.g., a novel or novella) can be very difficult. It can be much easier to just jot down some ideas or maybe a snippet or two. Staying busy with ideas and snippets is a good way to keep those writing muscles ready, even if it usually isn’t quite as good as actually spending an hour or two writing something solid.

Jotting things down quickly can have other advantages too. When you’re not worried about getting things perfect, it’s easier to just let the ideas flow since you’re not trying filter everything the way you would if you had, say, an hour or two to consider what you’re writing.

Some of my best ideas have come from things I jotted down because I either didn’t have the time or wasn’t in the mood to work on something longer and more involved. For example, Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf was something I came up with while I was working on something else. The first scene was something I wrote while I was taking a break. I wasn’t sure if it would go anywhere, but it was fun to write, so I decided to run with it.

Constantly working on new ideas and snippets also helps keep you from getting bored. It can be very tiring to work on a novel, especially when you get to the proof-reading and minor-correction stage. You’ve done the fun part of writing (i.e., the creation part), and all the little tweaks and fixes are often anything but enjoyable. Having other ideas and snippets to work on gives you something to look forward to, and it can help keep the frustration to a minimum.

Perhaps the nicest benefit of working on ideas and snippets whenever you have a few moments of free time is that there’s always something there for you to draw on if you run into writer’s block. Everyone goes through writer’s block, but if you’ve got half a dozen ideas waiting for you, it will probably be easier for you to bust out of your funk.

In a perfect world, we would be able to spend as much time as we wanted writing. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, but taking advantage of short breaks and moments of free time to work on ideas and snippets can definitely pay off.

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.

Planning and Improvisation in Fiction

Planning is an important part of writing fiction. It plays a key role in ensuring that the plot, characters, setting, and ideas all fit together to deliver an engaging story. However, it is also important to remain flexible. No matter how much you plan out everything, it is extremely rare (if not impossible) for everything to go to plan.

The main reason for this is that writing works on several levels. Someone might be impressed by the overall direction of the plot but be put off by the actual execution of the plot. Likewise, someone might like the characters but find that the way they are characterised is dull and boring. Planning almost always operates on a highest level, looking at general details and directions. In contrast, what a reader actually reads is the most basic level – the actual words on the page. A lot can happen between planning a story out and actually writing it down.

Consider something like dialogue. You might have planned for a character to have a particular kind of speech (e.g., cultured and sophisticated). However, actually writing dialogue requires the ability to improvise because it simply isn’t possible to plan out every single word that characters will say. Instead, you might plan for the characters to discuss a particular issue, but how they go about discussing that is almost certainly something that you will come up with when you’re actually writing the dialogue.

The interplay between characters can be very complex, much like the interplay between actual people. As a result, you’ll probably find that the nuances of the dialogue between characters evolve over time as you get a better grasp of who the characters are. And as you develop this better grasp, you may find that you want to change things from what you’ve planned or to add more details. In short, you’ll be doing a lot of improvising as you go from planning to actually writing.

We can also see the importance of improvisation when it comes to the plot. A plot that seems clever and intriguing when expressed in dot points or in some kind of structural form may prove to be overly complicated and boring when it is actually written down. As you become more experienced as a writer, you will almost certainly develop some sense of when this is happening. You will read over what you’ve written and something will just not feel right about it.

This is when improvisation becomes important. The ability to make the plot better from the perspective of a reader involves changing things on the most basic level: the actual words on the page. This is a process that is as much intuitive as it is intellectual, and a writer needs to be able to poke and prod at the words they’ve written until they make for a better story.

Fight scenes are yet another example of where planning and improvisation intersect. I believe that it is generally prudent to plan out the rough details of a fight scene (e.g., who is fighting, where they are fighting, how the fight will end, etc.). But the actual nitty gritty of a fight scene needs to be exciting and thrilling – it needs to be something that readers experience in the moment. I’ve found that trying to plan every last detail of a fight scene can kill the excitement that it is supposed to have. If the writer is treating the fight scene completely mechanically, how is it supposed to excite the reader?

My approach is to take the more general details of the fight scene and to run with them, to imagine the whole thing unfolding like a movie. This means that the very first time I write a fight scene, it is often very rough. But at the same time, I find it exciting because the first time I write a fight scene, even I am not entirely sure how it will unfold. I feel tension and excitement while writing the scene, and I try to bring that into the writing itself. Of course, in later drafts, I go through it, making sure that it all works by polishing it and changing anything that doesn’t really work well.

On a more practical level, there is the simple fact that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. You can plan all you want, you can research and theorise, but writing is a practical discipline, a battle to get what you imagine in your head onto the page. Planning is not enough. You must write. And some things that look wonderful from a planning perspective just don’t work or pan out when you actually try to make an interesting story out of them. Conversely, some things that just don’t seem like they make much sense from a planning perspective work because they’re exactly the kind of story that has to be improvised, to be written more with intuition than with intellect.

Much like any other discipline, good writing involves both planning and improvisation. Planning will help smoothen the writing process, but it simply isn’t possibly to plan every last detail. Being able to improvise, to adapt and change, is essential to writing a good story.

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.

Reading To Your Child

Let me start off by saying that I don’t have children. But I was a child once, and I have very vivid memories of my parents reading to me.

As adults, reading is often a very solitary pursuit. The vast majority of people read on their own. Sure, we often discuss what we’ve read with other people, but it’s rare for us to read something with someone else in a collaborative manner. Part of this is simple practicality. Once you can read, it’s just easier to read something yourself since you can read at your own pace and at a time of your choosing.

But children, especially young children, can’t always read on their own. Instead, they have to turn to others for help, generally their parents or older siblings. Reading for young children is thus quite often a collaborative experience and a chance to bond with others.

When a parent reads with a child, they are engaging not only with the reading material but also with the child. I remember that when my parents read to me, I spent almost as much time reading as they did. I might read one page, and they might read the next. Having them there also meant that I could ask them if any of the words were unfamiliar, and we could talk about what we were reading as we were reading it.

Because of the qualifications I have, people often ask me how they can get their children to read more. They complain that their children don’t like reading, that they aren’t interested in books, and that their vocabularies and articulateness suffer because of those things. Yet there is a way to avoid these problems: read with your children.

Children learn from what they see. If you want your child to love books and reading, then show your children that books and reading are enjoyable. Read with them. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. In fact, pushing children to read complex material too fast will likely only frustrate them. Instead, read books with them that they’ll enjoy. I remember reading Dr Seuss with my parents, along with countless fairy tales, myths, and legends. When I realised that dinosaurs were actually the most awesome thing in the entire history of forever, my mother found books about dinosaurs and read them with me. When my obsession turned to infectious diseases (yes, I was a weird kid), well, she read those with me too.

Even after I could already read on my own, my parents still made time to read with me now and then. It was nice, and it let me know they cared while letting them keep up to date with whatever topic had caught my interest. It might be airplanes one week, and it might be space stations the next.

By the time I was in high school, reading and books were very much a part of my life because they were things that had always been there for as long as I could remember. I even got into trouble in high school for not reading the books they assigned in English class (they were boring, and I had plenty of other things to read).

Reading to your child helps foster a bond between you, and it helps develop a love of books and reading that lasts a lifetime.

I Have Reached My Final Form

I have been playing video games since I was a four or five. One of my earliest memories is of playing Zelda so much on a NES that I injured my small hands trying to hold the rectangular controller.

Over the past decade, however, I’ve been undergoing a transformation from a person who games constantly to someone who games occasionally and rants about how much better things used to be ‘back in my day’. In other words, I’ve reached my final form: cynical asshole.

I first realised this when I began thinking up a list of all the games that I wanted to play. The vast majority of those games are not on the current generation of consoles or PC. In fact, I can only think of a few games on the current generation of consoles or PC that I’m interested in.

My suspicions were only further confirmed when I began thinking about all the long-running video game series that I’ve played and how I feel about them.

Mario? Bah. I remember when we all played Mario in two dimensions and we were amazed to get see a Yoshi for the first time. I remember hearing people complain about some Mario Galaxy levels being hard and being completely amazed. Hard? You think that’s hard? Back in my day, we barely had any extra lives, we didn’t have save points, and pretty much everything killed you in one hit.

Zelda? Bah. I remember the days before there were puzzles everywhere, the days when things were a top-down view. You think parts of Twilight Princess were hard? I haven’t died in a Zelda game since the NES, and I complained about A Link to the Past being too easy.

Metroid? Bah. Before Other M tried make us care about feelings, I was happily turning Samus into a genocidal killing machine wiping out threats to humanity with no small amount of glee. You like having level maps? Back in my day we had to draw our own maps or buy Nintendo Power or something.

Warcraft? Bah. I don’t know what this World of Warcraft thing is that you people keep talking about, but I remember a time when the story didn’t involve time travel and the orcs were actually bad guys who needed to be wiped out. Those were the days, back when the only real difference between the races was in the spell casting units and when the only thing we complained about was how stupid the naval units were since whoever got them first basically couldn’t lose.

Final Fantasy? Bah. I remember when it was on Nintendo consoles and when the definition of awesome graphics was Cloud’s pointy head. I remember screaming at vaguely humanoid figures on the screen when Aerith died and cursing Squaresoft to the depths of Hell when switched to Play Station. Oh, and I remember the Spirits Within Movie, no matter how much I don’t want to.

Mortal Kombat? Bah. Back in my day, we didn’t get to have the blood unlocked automatically. We had to put in the blood code and hope our parents weren’t watching since apparently too much Mortal Kombat would turn us into raging lunatics. X-Rays, Brutalities? We considered ourselves lucky to have fatalities where punching someone made them explode into a badly animated pile of bones!

And don’t even get me started on Tetris. 3D Tetris? Tetris with coloured blocks? Tetris with a wide choice of music? No, we didn’t have those things. We had Tetris on the Gameboy and we were happy with it in all its monochromatic glory with a grand total of three soundtracks. And if you wanted to play against someone? Screw the internet. We used a Gameboy linker cable and considered ourselves lucky.

So, yes, I have turned into that crazy person sitting on their porch with a shotgun and screaming for the kids to ‘get off my lawn!’ while reminiscing about the good, old days. Now, excuse me. I have to go play some Sim City 2000.

A Familiar Face

Almost every Thursday evening, my sister and I go to a certain shopping centre. It’s one of the most convenient times of the week for us to just hang out. The food court there is also pretty large, which is nice since I am a fairly fussy eater. I’m the sort of person who takes forever to find something to eat on the menu. Once I know what I like, though, I can happily order that same thing for years.

We usually sit in the same part of the food court. Most weeks there is this woman there. She looks to be in her fifties, and she is always on her own. One week, she told us that she was reserving some seats for her family. She’s told us the same thing a few more times since then too. My sister and I ate dinner, but we never saw her family arrive.

Since then, that woman has taken to sitting near, but not beside, me and my sister. She always has the same shopping bag with her, and she is always on her own. It doesn’t matter how long it takes me and my sister to eat, we have never seen that woman’s family.

And that really, really bothers me.

You can see it when she looks around at the other people in the food court. She feels like she doesn’t belong. She looks very lonely in the middle of a crowd. A lot of people look at her as they walk past, but I wonder how many of them actually see her.

Sometimes, we see her buy a soft drink. I’m not sure that we’ve ever seen her buy any food. It’s what someone might do if they were waiting to meet someone. But, like I said, whenever we see her, she’s always on her own.

A couple of weeks ago, when she got up to get a soft drink, she asked us if we could watch her shopping bag (it looked heavy). Then she got up and went to one of the restaurants to buy a soft drink. On the way back, she got a little lost, which was understandable since the arrangement of the tables in the food court makes it very easy to get mixed up.

My sister and I called out to her, and she seemed so surprised that we would do that. It made me worry a bit because she seemed so grateful that we’d spoken up. People aren’t usually that grateful for something so small unless they don’t have much to be grateful for.

When we finished eating and left, the woman smiled at us. But she was still sitting there waiting, and she’d been waiting since before we’d arrived. I wonder if her family ever showed up.

It’s easy to just walk past people, but you don’t have to do something big to make things better. Sometimes, all you have to do is let them know that somebody else sees them. I really hope we see that woman’s family one day.

Technique and Creativity in Writing

It’s easy to think of writing as a creative endeavour. But that’s not all it is. Writing is also very much a technical endeavour.

Consider something as outwardly simple as describing the appearance of a house. There are dozens of different ways to describe how a house looks, but different methods can lead to very different results. A short, concise description can convey a clinical or even disinterested atmosphere. A longer, more elaborate description might suggest a more engaged or observant narrator. Certain word choices might lend an air of menace to the house, whilst other words might give a feeling of warmth and safety.

There is certainly creativity involved in describing the house, but predicting the effects of the description on the reader and actually constructing the description also involves technique. It isn’t enough to have a good idea, it is important to also know how to execute that idea and give it a concrete form (i.e., put it into words).

The importance of technique can also be seen in something like plotting. Of course, it requires a certain level of imagination to develop an interesting plot. But ensuring that the plot is consistent and properly paced requires a process of repeated improvement and refinement. It requires technique.

Just look at all the guidelines that exist for how to develop a good plot (see e.g., the three act structure that is fairly common). These guidelines only exist because a body of knowledge has developed as to what constitutes a good plot. This body of knowledge is, in effect, a summation of the technical side of developing a plot.

The intersection between creativity and technique is also evident when it comes to characters. Again, generating the idea that drives the creation of a character is an imaginative endeavour. But thousands upon thousands of novels have been written. How to properly characterise a character so that readers can engage with and understand them is no longer a complete mystery.

We know, for example, that how a character speaks is important since their speech can give clues about their background and upbringing. Likewise, we know that actions and speech can conflict, and showing how a character’s speech and actions match (or don’t match) can give readers further insight into how they think and feel. We also know that how a character behaves can change depending on the company they keep. An outwardly cold character may warm up when around their family, and this sort of contrast can add further depth.

Techniques like those outlined above constitute a body of knowledge that a writer can take advantage of through careful study and practice. Creativity is important, but mastering these techniques is important too.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that overwhelming creativity is necessary for writing. It certainly doesn’t hurt. But it isn’t the only thing, and it definitely isn’t enough. A good writer must be both an artist and an engineer, harnessing their own creativity and mastering proper writing technique.

An apt comparison, I think, is that between a writer and a sculptor. Both disciplines require creativity, but both also require technical proficiency. The most creative sculptor in the world will never have more than a lump of marble unless they know how to carve that marble. Likewise, the most imaginative writer in the world will never be able to put into words that they dream of unless they have mastered the technical side of writing, and that isn’t a bad thing. With enough practice, anyone can become more technically proficient, so there’s no reason not to try to improve.

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.

An Amusing Observation About My Hand and Signature

I haven’t been able to completely reproduce the original version of my own signature for years now, ever since I broke my right hand (I’m right handed). The one I use now is similar, but not quite the same. I just can’t get the writing to look exactly the same since the geometry of my hand is different, something that becomes obvious when you compare my right and left hands to each other.

It could be worse.

The knuckle of my little finger on my right hand isn’t quite in the position it should be. When I first broke my hand, it was at least a centimetre or more out of place. At the time, I didn’t actually think it was that bad. I just threw a bag of frozen vegetables on it and went to sleep. I thought I had just bruised it (yes, I’m aware of how stupid that makes me ^_^). The next morning, my hand was nice and swollen, and I was off to the doctor for an x-ray.

On the upside, they didn’t need to put pins in although they did tell me they could do that if I wanted it to look completely symmetrical with the left hand. Frankly, if the worst thing in my life is that my hands don’t quite match, then I’ll have lived a pretty good life. Besides, it’s kind of cool… my twin has almost the exact same thing (although she got it in a slightly different way).

The Cutting Room Floor

One of the most fascinating things about writing original fiction is the drafting process. During that process, one that typically involves some combination of planning, revision, and improvisation, it’s almost inevitable that not everything makes it into the final version of the story. There are all sorts of reasons for that.

Perhaps the most common reason is that some aspect of the story changes in a way that makes part of the story obsolete. Imagine that you’re writing a story in which the main characters have to visit the birthplace of the villain in order to uncover secrets about the villain’s past. If, for example, you decide to change something about the villain’s past during the drafting process, then it’s highly likely that the visit to the villain’s birthplace will have to change too.

I can give you a more concrete example from The Last Huntress. In some of the earliest drafts, I had the titular huntress, Scarlett, adopt a much colder and ruthless approach to Rose’s training. Quite a few of those scenes were either altered or omitted entirely as I got a better grasp of who I wanted Scarlett to be. The final version of Scarlett isn’t so much someone who doesn’t care about living (as the earlier versions were), as she is someone who isn’t quite sure of how to live because being a huntress is all she’s ever known. In fact, some of the last scenes to be added were those in which Rose asks Scarlett about what she plans to do in the future, a question that Scarlett cannot answer to Rose’s (or her own) satisfaction.

Things also get cut from stories for mundane reasons, such as brevity and clarity. Contrary to what some people may believe, simply making a story longer does not make it better. In fact, a longer story is usually only better when that added length is put to good use. Simply adding more scenes to the story is pointless unless those scenes serve some sort of purpose.

I’ll be honest and admit that this is something I am guilty of, especially when it comes to writing something humorous. I’ll often throw in some scenes that have no bearing to the plot, characters, or setting simply because I think they are funny. When I go through the drafting process, however, I typically try to either cut these scenes or make them relevant to the story. I might, for instance, alter these scenes to introduce important plot points or to help flesh out the way the characters interact with each other.

If you look carefully at Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf, you’ll find that even the craziest scenes do at least one of the following:

  • Move the plot forward
  • Provide details about the setting
  • Give the readers a better grasp of the characters and how they relate to each other and their world

Take the opening scene in which Timmy the necromancer is forced to club to death one of his aberrant creations with a shovel. The scene is deliberately written to be humorous, yet it manages to get across details about the setting, the plot, and the characters. Even the amusing way that Timmy grumbles about his apprentice, Katie, gives the reader some idea of what to expect before she make her first real appearance.

The earliest versions of that scene were all over the place and were written almost entirely to be funny without considering how they could help the story in other ways. Although parts of those early drafts never made it into the final version, the end result was much better because I was willing to alter, and even remove, the bits that didn’t do anything.

This isn’t to say that bits of fluffy humour don’t have a place, especially in a story like Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf, but you can’t have too many of them. It’s like adding salt to your meal. Just the right amount can really make something taste great, but too much and it tastes horrible. Likewise, having scenes that don’t really do much for the plot, characters, or setting can work, but if there are too many, then the whole thing comes across as sloppy and bloated.

Having the courage to cut things when they don’t fit/work can also have other benefits. Sometimes a scene doesn’t fit with the story you’re writing now, but it will fit with a story you write later.

One area where this is particularly relevant is in the interaction between characters. The development of a relationship (platonic, romantic, or otherwise) between two individuals can be a difficult thing to portray realistically and engagingly. Friendships, for instance, are not a one-size-fits-all affair. Sometimes, they develop smoothly. Sometimes, they develop in stops and starts. As a result, it can take a lot of fine tuning to accurately depict a relationship between two characters, so scenes that don’t fit at one point in time may find a home elsewhere.

I’ll give you guys another example from Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf and Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon LordGerald is a bureaucrat with precisely zero skill in combat and an alarming ability to get into trouble. His survival thus far is likely due to some combination of luck, the ability to run reasonably fast, and his penchant for hiding behind characters (e.g., Timmy and Katie) who can actually fight off big, scary things that want to kill/eat/mangle people.

Now, one of Gerald’s better qualities is his generally affable nature. He gets along reasonably well with most people. Hence, Timmy and Katie don’t particularly mind constantly saving him from impending doom.

On the other hand, Avraniel is the complete opposite of Gerald. She is, essentially, a walking natural disaster. When she wants something dead or on fire, it gets dead or on fire very quickly. She is the definition of someone who kicks ass and takes names because she can.

Naturally, she and Gerald have an interesting relationship. What is relevant to the present discussion, however, is how that relationship is depicted. They don’t actually deal with each other much in Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an ElfThis is largely due to Gerald’s concern about her possibly introducing him to horrible, fiery death. As a result, it’s usually up to Timmy to deal with her since he’s the character most able to stand up to her in anything even remotely resembling a fair fight. Nevertheless, I did write a lot of scenes trying to show how Gerald and Avraniel might get along if they were to interact with each other more. Almost none of those made the cut.

In Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord, however, things are a bit different. Gerald is no longer quite so terrified of Avraniel. In fact, he seems to think that’s she not all that bad. That changed opinion is what leads directly to the scene involving Gerald, Avraniel, and a giant, carnivorous plant, which was a scene that I had originally sketched out for Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf. It didn’t find a home there, but it did find a home later on, once things had changed a little bit. That scene ended up being one of my favourites because it helped establish exactly where Avraniel and Gerald stood with respect to one another.

Sometimes, things also get cut from the final version of a story because it simply makes more sense for them to be part of a separate story. This is especially true for stories that are more episodic in nature. In those sorts of stories, it is important that each story have a definite start and end point. Stories can be connected but still self-contained. That is, enjoyable in their own right, despite being part of a larger whole.

Throwing together multiple stories to increase the length of a text can actually be quite deleterious. Even in the same series, different stories can have very different tones and dynamics. Using another two of my stories as an example, I chose to split The Gunslinger and the Necromancer up from its sequel (as yet unfinished, but currently in what is likely to be its final draft) because the former featured the main character, Lizzy, acting largely on her own. In the sequel, however, she shares the story with her older brother (and favourite sibling), Matt.

The dynamic between Lizzy and Matt results in enough differences that both stories were better off being separate, rather than combined, even though both were not especially long stories.

The cutting room floor is a necessary part of writing. Barring some kind of miracle, stories typically need at least some revision. This revision often results in parts of the story being altered or even cut during the drafting process, and there are sounds reasons for why this is a good idea.

The cutting room floor can also give you a better sense of who someone is as a writer because what they keep and what they cut can provide insight into what they consider important in their writing. Indeed, I’m strongly considering posting most of the material that ends up on my cutting room floor not only to entertain my readers between publications but also to help improve my own writing.

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.

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