Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t...

Making it Easy for the Villian

I recently read Temple of a Thousand Faces. I really enjoyed the setting of Angkor Wat and the culture. The story takes place about a thousand years ago and is based on historical figures and events. The king of the Khmers narrowly escapes death by the conquering Cham king. The story follows four different sets of characters as the Khmer king rallies his people and plans a counterattack to retake his throne. I liked all the different characters and their stories, I liked learning about their beliefs, but ultimately, what made me lose interest was the fact that about 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the way into the book it started to bug me that things were just too easy for the villains. Everything fell their way and I realized that even though that made the villains a powerful threat to the protagonists, because the breaks all fell their way, it felt manipulative. Not much is known about what really happened all those years ago beyond that fact that the Cham king invaded and the Khmer king ultimately defeated him. Therefore, all the breaks happening for the villains in the novel were author manipulation. The villain needs to struggle a bit, too, not just the hero. Everything can’t go their way. When it does it makes the villain unrealistic. You want a proactive, smart villain, but at the same time, they can’t be a super-villain who wins every round. If they do, they become cardboard—a bwa-ha-ha villain. The Cham king wasn’t quite that bad but he did get all the breaks until the end. Villains needs to be strong, proactive,...

Setting Goals Part Three

I didn’t make my writing goals this week. I had wanted to rework the middle of my first PowerForce book to add some tension and up the life and death stakes. I only managed to get one scene reworked instead of the three I wanted to do. I guess some goals can be too ambitious. I’d forgotten how hard this type of writing is for me. The first PowerForce book Attack of the Dinomatrons has gone through several edits and it’s a pretty tight manuscript at this point. It’s so much easier to write a first draft. Or at least it is for me. I’m not constrained by things I’ve already done. But when I have to take apart a polished scene and only keep bits of it while adding new pieces, it’s like taking a jack hammer to a sculpture—It’s really hard to end up with something beautiful. It takes a lot of work and control to get that jackhammer to make refined shapes. It always takes me much longer to do this type of writing than a first draft. In the end I know it will be worth it. And I know eventually these changes will be seamless. But until it’s finished it’s tortuous. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just write it fresh. I have done that with other manuscripts but usually it’s because I want to change something major, like the tense or the POV. I only need to change three scenes in this story and maybe do some minor tweaking in others to maintain continuity. How hard can it be? Judging by...

Setting Goals – Report back

As I mentioned last week, three of my writing buddies and I have formed a writing support group. We’re setting goals each week and then checking in with each other. Last week I met my goals, but then I set very modest goals. They, on the other hand, set goals that would push them. Most of them either met their goals or came close to it. I’m wondering which is the best approach. Setting modest goals that I know I can reach or pushing myself by setting a more difficult goal(s)? My thought has always been to set something that I know I can do and then if I exceed it, that’s a bonus. But am I being too easy on myself? If I set a more difficult goal would I make it? I know if I didn’t I’d be hard on myself, so that can be counter-productive. But I’m thinking that maybe I’m being a bit too easy on myself. Maybe I should challenge myself more. This week I’ve set a higher goal. I’m going to rework the middle of a book to add more tension and action. I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do with it for some time. I just haven’t taken the time to do it because I’ve started a new first draft and that’s more fun to work on. Plus I’ve written two books since this one and it’s hard to get back into that world when it’s been three years since I last worked on it. I got some feedback from editors on it last year which had a common thread. They turned...

Setting Goals

I’ve just made a pact with three other members of my critique group to set writing goals every week. We’re all either starting novels or are partway through first drafts. I’m just starting a new novel. It’s actually going to be the first of a trilogy. I never thought I’d write a trilogy but I have so much story this time I can’t do it any other way. I’ve made a lot of notes for all three books and  have outlined all the major plot points, but now I need to go back and flesh out the in between scenes for the first novel. I started writing the first chapter because the dialogue was so strong in my mind that I had to get it down. Next week I want to go over my notes and make sure I’ve stacked my scenes the best way and that there is a strong progression in the story with an escalation of tension. I also feel like I’m missing some scenes in the beginning so I need to pay attention to my instinct and think about that. It’s good to take time to just think about your story. Usually writer’s block happens because you haven’t thought about your story enough. Or at least that’s the case if you’re an outliner. If you’re a pantser, then you’re writing by the seat of your pants and planning isn’t necessarily part of your process. I need to know where I’m going before I write a scene. Next week my goal will include more thinking time and less writing time. Once I’ve worked everything out in...

Sacrifice

I had an interesting talk with a writing buddy about whether or not a main character must always make a sacrifice in order for it to be a satisfying story. We finally decided that it depended on the type of story. For simple stories like early chapter books and some picture books it’s not necessary. In those sometimes the character just learns something or experiences something—like the first day of school. There’s not a lot of character growth in those kind of stories. This is also true of series mystery characters. There isn’t a lot of character growth in a continuing character. The detective or amateur sleuth figures out the mystery and catches the bad guy, but doesn’t change a lot from book to book. They often don’t even age. They are stuck in a time warp. For me I see characters changing the most in middle grade and young adult novels. In order for the characters to grow they have to make choices and learn from those choices. And in the climax they are going to have to make a sacrifice. They have to give up something they want or have  in order to achieve the better good. That sacrifice forces them to change, to grow, to mature so they aren’t the same person they were at the beginning of the story. If they don’t have to make a sacrifice then the change doesn’t feel real. They haven’t earned it. And once they’ve made the sacrifice, they can’t get back what they gave up. Janie gives up her place in the cool kids’ clique in order to help...