Monday, April 15, 2013

86 Things I've Said On Twitter, Part 7

Wow, part 7. This is awesome. Hope you're enjoying this series.

Before we begin, did you know I got interviewed? It was really a pleasure. And Pete asks awesome questions.

Now, to Part 7!

Rejection doesn't mean stop writing altogether. Rejection means "Change your approach, try again."

On Chuck's blog, there's been some talk about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. It's rather contentious. But then the one guy called some lady a "bitch" and everything sort of when downhill from there.

The one thing not mentioned in this conversation is that rejection exists. It's a thing that happens. It's a thing that happens that can drive people away from traditional publishing and to different avenues, sometimes without a net or an education or a plan, because they're working so hard at just not-being-rejected.

Rejection happens. I'm sorry. It does happen. You might get rejected for a date. You might get rejected by an agent. You might get rejected for a loan. You might get rejected by an audience who thinks your published book is tired or not as interesting as you think it is.

Rejection only has whatever meaning you give it. If you tell yourself that rejection is the cue for hanging yourself in the garage with a string of holiday lights, then it is. Maybe rejection is the neon sign that you shouldn't be writing at all.

But maybe rejection is a sign that how you took your shot wasn't accurate, that the method you took to build your better mousetrap was flawed, not the mousetrap itself. What I'm saying is - there's a chance that the manuscript wasn't even read if the pitch to entice readers wasn't appealing.

See, because if the query letter doesn't engage the reader, they're not going to look at the manuscript. Why should they? They've not been lured to its words by the query's siren song.

True, the manuscript might also suck. But I'm assuming here that you've done everything in your power to make it not suck.

Rejection doesn't have to be the end of things. It may be a bump in the road, but don't drive into the median just yet.

You don't have to be an "expert" in the industry in order to write a good book. You need to be an "expert" on you and what you love. 

Lots of people (especially in self-help) call themselves experts. And some might very well be. I have met people who are legit experts in their fields. I have met people who couldn't hope to be an expert, let alone spell expert without assistance.

Oddly enough, the experts I recommend are the ones who have actually put the time into the work and not the ones who toss around the word or the concept in some self-elevating (and masturbatory) way.

And everyone's an expert on two things, when you think about it. You're the best expert on who you are and what you love. Other people might have an idea about these things, but really, you're the best in that field. Nobody knows you like you do.

Use that to your advantage. When you speak about what you like and don't like, when you talk about yourself, speak from a place of authority, not arrogance. You're not "better" than anyone else, but you do know yourself better than anyone else. Let that authority permeate your writing

To tell a story, you need to tap into your own confidence and authority about who you are (though if you're on the fence about who you are, this may be a little hard), and write from that place of security and comfort. Yeah yeah, writing a thing makes you subject to other people at some point in the process, but never ever let it detract from your sense of who and what you are.

By being you, by telling the story you can tell in the way you can tell it, with the artful practice of your craft, with assistance from others, you can make your thing a reality that other people can enjoy. Really.

Readers aren't going to know what goes on in your head. If you don't paint a clear picture, don't expect them to "figure it out".

I look at a lot of manuscripts in a week. Some are for games. Some are for books. And sometimes I get a very clear sense of what's going on in the scene I read. I can count the characters, I can see their motivations. I can see game mechanics and what they accomplish. It's spelled out for me, but never in the same way that my uncle Steve always talked down to me at family gatherings.

When you're communicating an idea, whatever that idea might be, you want to be as clear as possible, without being lecture-y or a bully. You need to respect your reader's intelligence, and trust that they came to read your thing (hopefully) excited about what they'll experience or learn. Talking down to them, or worse, being incredibly vague (either because you make the assumption that everyone already knows this, or because what you're thinking/saying is so advanced other life forms won't understand it), doesn't respect your reader.

It's also a waste of your talent as a writer. People come to read your work because they want to see how you weave words and ideas together. Paint the reader a full picture on their mental canvas, and they'll keep coming back for more. Hastily scribble them a stick figure or abstract diagram, and they'll run. Often fast.

Game Designers - Ask yourself: Is there a reason you put this rule (and its text) ahead of that rule (and its text)?
When I edit games, I ask this of the designer - why are the rules in the order they're in? Sometimes it's because that's the order that the person wrote them, sometimes it's because one rule follows another. Maybe sometimes there's a third option where they're alphabetized or something. But on the whole, there should be a reason as to why one step in a process (creating a character, combat, economics, whatever) comes before or after another step, other than the arbitrary "That's how I wrote it".

Now, yes, if your game is pretty rules-lite, then maybe the order of the rules isn't so critical. In that case, swap the word "rule" for "paragraph". Why is this paragraph ahead of this other paragraph? Where are you leading the reader? What do you want/need them to know before they go further? How are you illuminating their path from point A to point B?

And yes, there should be some kind of answer beyond "I don't know" or a passive shrug. There should be a method to the madness that is game design so that ideas flow logically and naturally, so that the reader walks away understanding the big mechanical picture and not confused by how the words just seem random coked up and tweaked out on the page.

Fun fact - You don't want ellipses in your exposition. Just don't.

This...is...incredibly...hard...to...read...after...a...while...don't...you...think...? The ellipsis (the dot-dot-dot) is a really abused punctuation mark. Like abused enough to be in one of those late-night Sarah McLachlan pet adoption commericals.

I get it, you're trying to say that an idea trails off, or pauses before it reaches a follow-up thought.

But have you considered saying "trails off" ? I know, it's more letters to type, but it actually says what you mean better than .... (That's dot-dot-dot and a period, honest) When I see ellipses, especially in exposition or rules text I assume the writer got lazy. And looking at the name of the writers who have done this on things I edit, I know they're not lazy people.

The exposition text of a document is supposed to express to me, the reader, a clear sense of what's going on. It's telling me things. It shouldn't trail off, even if the narrator is all loopy on cold meds or stoned or an Ent or whatever. Let me insert those pauses in narration mentally (or even better, leave it for the audiobook), don't force your reading-style on me. Just tell me what you need to, and do so clearly.

Not every character needs to be stand-out memorable. Sometimes they're just a barista. Or "people on a crowded street".

I went to a writing conference (actually it was the last dedicated writing conference I ever went to) and sat in the audience, waiting patiently for a writer I didn't know (and later grew to loathe, thanks to homophobic and sexist comments made at the bar) to tell me all about how characters "work in a story".  You know, as if I didn't already have an innate sense because I've been reading since I was a little kid. As if I didn't watch TV and grasp that GI Joe fights Cobra, Hulk Hogan loves America, and the A-Team is amazing.

This author said "Characters, from the lowest peon to the highest protagonist should be memorable."

Whoa, cue the siren. Flag on the play.

That's a really potent statement. Because it suggests that every character should be memorable to the same degree. Which is like saying that if we're all special, no one is special.

Some characters matter more than others. Your protagonist, for example, should matter more than the lady who made them a soy latte that morning. I mean, yes, there can be a scene all about soy-latte-lady, but on the whole, this is the protagonist's story. I might remember soy-latte-lady because of how she was described or some snarky line she delivered, but really her job in the story is to give our hero/heroine the cup of coffee and get out of the way so that the story can move forward.

I once listened to the Godfather as an audiobook. It was something like 33 CDs, just HOURS of story. And it often stopped the main thrust of the story to detour and tell me all about how some character got their start and how they eventually ended up in the scene I was first hearing about when the detour started.

That's a great approach if we're talking about a huge story, fat with details and every detail is something I need to stuff into my head because later on the story picks up steam and I have to be able to distinguish Carl from Carlo from Kelly from Craig.

But that's not always going to be the case. That's not always the best approach. Not every character should be as memorable as SOME characters - the ones that have the impact in the story you're telling.

I'm not saying they can't have names, or details about them that distinguish them or make them enjoyable, but not every character needs the full autobiography and character relationship tree that your protagonist and sidekick do.

Sometimes characters are just there, just for a purpose, or they're nameless because "the street was crowded." I wouldn't expect you to tell me the name of every person on the street as your protagonist comes out of the building and gets in their car. I'd kind of freak out if  I read a paragraph that said:

"Bob came out of the building on a mission, eager to get in the car and drive to the hotel for nap. He passed Susan and Margaret and Tommy and Tommy Junior, and Nunzio and Flor and Steve, and Stephen and Mark and Marcus, Terry, Terri and Theresa, Brian, not to be confused with Bryan who was standing next to Chris, who was talking to Kris about something Cristina said to Christina who heard it from Christine."

That's bananas. Don't do that. Tell me what's important. Also, don't forget that what you are telling me, I'm assuming *IS* important, so all those details are somewhere in my head, hoping you make use of them later. (otherwise, why would you tell me something if it's not important?)

Thus ends Part 7. Part 8 will be up later in the week. Until we talk again, happy writing.