Back in May, I heard fellow fantasy writer R A Smith talk about conflict in games and stories at Nerd East in Durham. Here are a few notes from that talk – really more of a relaxed chat with the audience – that I found useful:
The protagonist is either the lens for the trouble around them or, more often, the person going out and causing the trouble.
They never start by just wandering the world, their intentions just a blank sheet – they need to have an objective.
When talking about conflict in roleplay games we often start by thinking about fighting, as that’s what the characters are statted for.
Jim Butcher writes good blog posts on writing. He recommends focusing on the story question – what’s the book about? what’s driving the main plot?
When it happens, fighting should progress the story in some way.
How characters behave in a fight shows their personality – for example, do they disregard civilians?
Character and anticipation are important. This is why professional wrestling is successful – the draw is the soap opera element that makes fans anticipate each match in advance.
The Princess Bride has great storytelling fight scenes – for example the early fight between Wesley and Inigo Montoya, showing their motivations and styles.
When I did the IC Publishing blog tour a couple of weeks back one of the people I tagged in was fellow fantasy writer and resident of the Greater Manchester sprawl R. A. Smith. He’s a busy man, and didn’t have time to write his post then, but he’s done it now and it’s worth a read.
One of the most useful points he makes is the importance of networking. As writers it’s never just enough to put your words down on the page or screen. You have to get out there and let people know about them, or else how will you have readers?
Plus R., like me, enjoys the London Underground. I know lots of people, my wife Laura included, hate that place, but I find it endlessly fascinating.
This blog tour has been pretty fascinating for me – learning about other writers’ processes and how easily we can make connections with just a little extra effort. It’s a nice reminder of the benefits of our beautifully interconnected world.
Fellow writer J H Mae recently invited me to take part in IC Publishing‘s writing path blog tour – an opportunity for authors to connect up with each other while talking about their craft. That seemed like an interesting thing to do, so here I am, touring from the comfort of my living room. Thanks for the invite!
Seriously, it’s really comfortable here. I’m sitting in Laura’s big armchair, set up perfectly to face the flat screen TV. For her, this is the Skyrim setup. For me, it’s how I write.
Speaking of which…
1. How do you start your writing projects?
Brainstorming. Whether the project’s a short story or a novel, whether it comes to me in a flash of inspiration or comes after trawling my notebooks for hours looking for the right idea, I go from there to brainstorming. I note down ideas relating to the central concept, looking for inspiration for characters, setting, plot and thematic elements that relate to it. Sometimes ideas connect back in with each other, which is great. Sometimes not so much.
Then I develop the main characters, often using Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters, because I find templates helpful. I think about background, motives, desires, conflicts. Based on the conflicts I plan out a plot, usually using Dan Wells’s seven point story structure because, again, I like templates – they remind me to put important things in. Somewhere in all of this I’ll do some research, usually at the brainstorming stage, to give me interesting and authentic details to bring my setting alive. If it’s about an alternate history Baghdad I want the history convincing. If it’s about an alien race then I might want tribe formations to seem anthropologically convincing. A few good details will provide a lot of inspiration and a lot of grounding for a story.
Then it’s time to write.
2. How do you continue your writing project?
I’m lucky. Because I work at home as a freelance writer I can mix my schedule up to try to create a balanced life. So writing six hundred words of fiction a day is just part of my routine, to be slotted in wherever it’s convenient between other writing, household chores, a bit of mindfulness and maybe a trip to the gym. Sometimes I do a lot more than 600 words, but having that routine is what keeps me going. If I get stuck I use the Write Or Die word processor to force myself to put words on the page, but these days that’s seldom a problem.
I’m usually thinking about my projects between writing them. Many of my most vivid ideas have sprung to mind while driving over the Pennines to visit family.
And no, getting distracted by plot isn’t why I crashed my car, though it was on that route.
3. How do you finish your project?
For most short stories I get a first draft written pretty quickly, then do one or two editing passes (one with input from a friendly reader) and then send them out into the world. But that’s seldom actually the finish. I have about a 5% acceptance rate, so my average story gets rejected nineteen times before it gets accepted. And a few of those rejections come with useful feedback, which I use for further re-writes. So really, a short story is finished when someone accepts it (or I do the edits they request after acceptance) or when I decide that it’s never going to see the light of day and stick it in my ‘abandoned’ folder.
It’s a big folder.
That means that by the time one story’s done with I’ll have written a dozen more, so I don’t really struggle to let go – I’m writing so many things, I get to endings all the time.
4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
The best inspiration comes from other creative fields, different disciplines sparking new ways of thinking. So go take ten photos of different sorts of boundaries, or dance around the room like your character, or watch a video about how computer games are structured and see what you can learn.
Now I get to pass the tour on to some other fine writers, who will answer these same questions in a week’s time.
First up is Russell Phillips. Russell is an award-winning author of books about military technology and history. His articles have been published in Miniature Wargames,Wargames Illustrated, and the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers‘ Journal. He has been interviewed for the American edition of The Voice of Russia. And you can read my previous tribute to the awesomeness of Russell here.
Next is another fantasy author from my neck of the woods. Manchester-based R. A. Smith is an occasional time travelling historian, a keen gamer and a wannabe petrolhead. He counts war gaming armies and several bears amongst his extended family. Authors the Grenshall Manor Chronicles, Oblivion Storm and Primal Storm out now, book 3: WIP 🙂
Last and by no means least comes the blogger whose beard and enthusiasm I most envy. Josh Stanton is crazy about steampunk. When he’s not reading and blogging about it, he’s writing it. He is currently working on a steampunk horror, called Choke City.
Go check out their blogs, and look out for their blog tour posts in a week’s time.
A friend of mine, who is far more lucid and well read than I am, recently started a blog about stories and her experiences of writing at http://everwalker.wordpress.com/ . Almost every day she posts brief, intelligent snippets about stories and writing, and it’s well worth reading.
This reminded me that I know quite a few people who write stories. Unsurprisingly, they’re all writers of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Most of the people I know socially live knee deep in Buffy box sets, ten-sided dice and dog-eared copies of Tolkien, and with that come particular literary tendencies. So, in no particular order, here are a few of them….
The aforementioned everwalker – ridiculously creative – poet, costume maker, crafter of epic fantasy, and the person who kept me sane during my brief, ill-fated career as a teacher.
Charlotte Bond – primarily a horror writer, her recent novella Hunter’s Moon is available from Screaming Dreams. Charlotte’s the one who inspired me to actually get on with writing, rather than just thinking about it.
R. A. Smith – another dweller in the greater Manchester sprawl, I think there’s something about this place that inspires a particular sort of escapism. Has just started a facebook page, and has a blog as well.
Jennifer Kirk – sci-fi novelist and proof of what you can achieve through self publishing.
Zoë Robinson – writer, cartoonist, video blogger. How anyone finds the time for all that I’ll never know. I suspect she doesn’t sleep.