I stumbled across this gif today:
This, folks, is badass. Wonder Woman (Diana) is depicted doing stuff like this all the time, too (especially in the cartoons) and is one of DC’s heavy hitters alongside Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern (and she’s cooler than Superman and Green Lantern by half, too). And yet, very little love coming her way. We should totally change that, obviously, and I submit that, while movies would be cool, I think she’d absolutely rock in a video game.
By now, the Gods of War/Arkham Asylum format of third-person adventure game is pretty well known. Diana, as luck has it, fits into this format wonderfully and would make a really cool character to use. Why?
Wonder Woman’s lasso is a really cool, stylish weapon to be wielded in a video game. You could use it to grab enemies and items from afar, swing from ledges, trip people up, interrogate bad guys, etc, etc.. It’s basically made for a video game format.
Everybody loves deflecting bullets with their lightsabers, so why not do the same thing with her bracelets–built in defense, cool effects (ricochet bullets into other targets! Re-direct the boss battle’s big attack at the crucial glowing thing!), and so on!
Wonder Woman can fly! So go flying! Nobody has done this particularly well in a game yet (to my knowledge, anyway) and she’s a great place to start.
While not as gadget-intense as Bruce Wayne, Diana has used a wide variety of alternate weapons, armor, shields, jets, pegasus wings, and so-on to fight evil. Why not put it in the game?
…Sounds pretty stock. How do you make it different?
Okay, so here’s my pitch. Keep in mind I don’t make video games and therefore the prospect of this ever coming to pass is negligible, but still.
Wonder Woman is similarly invulnerable to attack as Superman (perhaps not quite as durable, but near enough). The challenge of a video game starring a character this powerful is how to make the game difficult. Let’s face it, it’s kinda stupid if WW gets tackled by a bunch of no-name thugs, even if they do have tasers or whatever. Batman it works – he’s ultimately mortal – but you can’t do that with WW or Supes because, well, it just doesn’t make sense.
The solution is as follows: Wonder Woman is effectively immune to regular, run-of-the-mill damage (it has a slow, aggregate effect, sure, but negligible), but killing the bad guys is not the goal of the game. The goal of the game is to save people. Fighting, if done poorly, takes time. Getting shot knocks you out of the air. But the bad guys are currently in the process of blowing up buildings and you, Wonder Woman, need to get there in time to disarm or destroy the bomb. The game would involve mission-based challenges that essentially worked on a time limit. The challenge isn’t being killed by thugs, it’s figuring out a way to get past them or through them fast enough to make it where you need to be in time. Tack on top of that a couple giant monster battles or enemy immortals (Ares comes to mind), puzzles that you need to solve (can you remove the rubble in the right order to prevent the collapse of the roof onto the injured thearter goers? While being attacked by zombies?), an upgradable combat tree, new lasso abilities, new suits of armor, and so on, and BAM – very cool game.
It would also open up a slightly different style of gameplay from just killing the bad guys. I think the Arkham games did this very well, and a Wonder Woman game done in this vein might also work pretty well, too.
This is a gaming post; I know, it’s been awhile. Recently I’ve been running a D&D 5th Edition campaign (set in the Greyhawk world – my personal favorite) and, while it has been going relatively smoothly, I’ve run into a minor problem: the PCs are just too dang good at things. The lot of them are floating around 7th level at this point and every time I try to send them a challenging encounter, I have two options:
- The Encounter can end in 35 minutes or less, or will be way too easy (snore).
- The Encounter will be challenging and threaten them, but will involve tons of creatures and take more than an hour (snore).
Sometimes I don’t even get that.
Now, this isn’t a post bemoaning game balance, but it is a post about game systems and campaign theory. A lot of players like having encounters that don’t seriously threaten their character’s survival. You waltz through the dungeon, take a few hit points damage here and there (quickly replaced by the healer), go outside, take a nap, and BAM – back to 100%. If that’s the game you want to play, then fine. Personally, I think that kind of play is dreadfully boring for everybody. Without risk, there is no drama.
So, what do you do, as the GM, to create a sense of peril? When I have a Fire Giant loom on the horizon, I want my players to be actively concerned. I want them to feel like they could very well be pounded flat. Thing is, by 7th Level, a party of 4-5 PCs don’t have to feel that way about a 20-foot giant anymore, and I consider that an issue. The answer seems to be “more giants,” but soon the plausibility of the encounter begins to create problems. The image of five giants swinging giant swords at targets that stand about knee-high seems…stupid. For that reason, my current experience of 5th Ed D&D (while fun) has been mixed.
Of course, you can go the other way entirely. Consider the game Riddle of Steel. It boasts of the “most realistic combat system in all of RPGs” and, honestly, I have to think they’re right. The problem, though, is because it is so realistic, people die all the goddamned time. Like, seriously – one goon whacks you in the temple with a two-by-four and your character is down for the count and likely permanently disabled. While this certainly ups a sense of risk (one guy pulls a knife and shit gets real really fast), it also forces players (who are inherently conservative folks, anyway) to start acting like real people. Everybody becomes more polite, they don’t do stupid things like “storm the castle,” and, hell, if I gave them the option, about half of them would settle down with a good woman in a town somewhere and sell dry goods. Adventure wouldn’t happen.
There is that sweet spot, though – right in-between “too easy” and “too deadly” – that spot where really, really cool stuff happens. Old school Shadowrun was like this: get shot, and you felt it, but otherwise you were awesome and it was really hard for mooks to shoot you (though, it should be noted that recent editions of the game have really made it safer to run the shadows, even with bullet wounds). Of course, this isn’t just dependent on game system – I firmly believe you can make a game ride this edge with enough forethought and planning, though it is harder in some games than others. In every game I run, that’s the goal: keep things dangerous enough that the players feel the risk, but keep them safe enough that everybody doesn’t die of dysentery or are knifed in an alley by a pickpocket and bleed out. Of course there are variations, too – some games, depending upon concept, are more or less fatal and that’s fine – but the edge between the two is the golden sweet spot, for me.
I can expand this idea, by the way, to include fiction, too. Good adventure stories need to find this zone, as well. Stories where everybody is worthless and dies are usually just dismal whereas stories where the proverbial “Mary Sues/Stus” just gaily tramp to victory with no cost to themselves or others are pretty dull. If you want players or readers on the edge of their seats, you need to work them up to it. It takes some doing, but I’ve found both in writing and gaming that anytime this is done well it makes for a memorable experience.
It ain’t easy, though.
I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire today, so I’m digging up an old post I wrote a couple years back. It still holds true, even now. Patience is an essential virtue for a writer.
I currently have two novels and six stories submitted to various contests, publishers, and agents all over the place. Some of them are on their second or third rounds of editorial review, some of them have been in the slush pile for nearing four or five months now. I just finished and sent off another story today (to Clarkesworld, which gives lightning quick responses, so they aren’t really part of this conversation). I always have my line in the water, waiting to catch the big one.
In keeping tabs on my submissions, I often stumble across folks writing comments on discussion boards or whatever exclaiming their overriding impatience to hear news, either bad or good. Their nerves are getting the better of them, they say, and they just need to hear, no matter what. I commiserate.
I also feel, though, that these folks need to move past such feelings if…
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We’re getting into SF/F awards season. Nebula and Hugo nominations loom on the horizon, and a bunch of writer friends I know are eligible. Also of note: I am eligible. That’s kind of mindblowing, but it is nevertheless true: I am eligible for nomination for a Hugo or Nebula award for several things I had published last year.
But how to proceed? My writerly friends are putting each other up on lists, trumpeting each other to one another, and so on. I feel as though I ought to do the same (even though, to my shame, I really haven’t read very much of my friends’ work – my perennial resolution is to read more each year and it doesn’t quite happen. I digress, though.). I also feel as though I should be plugging my own work somehow. Not because I feel, deep in my bones, that I deserve an award at the moment (I think my work is very good, mind you, but how does anyone honestly look at their work and say “hot damn! That shit should get a Hugo!”), but because, as a writer who garners relatively little attention from the world at large, I would just like to wave the flag and say “me too! I’m here too!”
So, okay, here’s what I have eligible for the Hugos and Nebulas this year:
Short Story: “Adaptation and Predation” on Escape Pod (December 11th, 2015)
Novelette: “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” in Writers of the Future Volume 31 (May, 2015)
Novel: Well, I’ve really got one novel, but it was split into two halves and then put back together. So let’s just call it one book and give you the title of that compilation: The Oldest Trick, Book 1 of The Saga of the Redeemed from Harper Voyager Impulse (August 2015)
Now, given that my novel was released in halves and is, therefore, damnably confusing to explain to people, there’s barely a snowball’s chance in hell it will get nominated for anything. Likewise for my Novelette, which already won an award and should count itself lucky on that score. And then there’s the short story – I’m very proud of it. I think it’s some of my best work. You can read/listen to it for free. Will anybody notice it? Eh, who knows?
The competitive side of me wants an award, I’ll admit it. I keep reminding myself, though, of the collected wisdom of the greats bestowed onto me during my trip to LA for the Writers of the Future Workshop. Eric Flint perhaps said it best (and here I paraphrase):
Winning awards doesn’t mean sales. Sales doesn’t mean winning awards. If I had to pick one, I’d take selling books over winning awards every time.
He’s right. I’ve had an enormously successful year and gotten more attention heaped on my writing than at any prior point, so I should be content. I hope that some of my very deserving friends receive recognition for their work, and hope that I can help them in some small way. As for the rest, I leave it in the hands of capricious fate.
Good luck everyone!
I’m in the process of trying to write a synopsis for book 3 in The Saga of the Redeemed in order to try and secure an agent to represent me for that upcoming project. For those of you who have never written a synopsis and, blessedly, may never be asked to, a book synopsis is basically a 1-3 page document that details the entirety of your novel’s plot to an agent or editor. The whole thing, more or less, from beginning to end, soup to nuts.
No, that’s not enough. Let me rephrase:
There, that about covers it. The “why” of their suckitude is largely due to the fact that you’ve got to condense 80,000-100,000 words into 750 or less without failing to convey the awesomeness of your work somehow. It is summary, but it needs to be a bit more complete than that – while you can’t bog down on the details, you also can’t leave out all the details or the book will seem boring or even confusing, and that isn’t good. So, you’ve got to figure out which details to convey. To do that, you need to know what makes your story great on a fundamental level. As the artist, who is so close to his or her work that everything seems both great and awful at intervals, this is a very challenging task. Synopses are why I laugh at my students who complain about summarizing a twenty page nonfiction article into a one page summary. (I know, I shouldn’t laugh, but in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m kind of a bad person)
There are a lot of resources out there on how to go about writing a synopsis (this is one of the better ones, I think), but I think it is probably easier to see it done than have it described to you. Also, in order to see it done, you need to be familiar with the thing being synopsized or you won’t fully understand the choices the author made when doing it. To this end, I recommend reading children’s books.
Not just any children’s books, mind you – children’s book versions of full-length movies, like Toy Story or Brave or The Empire Strikes Back. Now, if you’re like me and have kids and have watched Tangled a hundred thousand times by now, you know that movie inside and out – you can sing the songs, you know every expression on every face, you can recite the lines, and so on. Then you break open the kids version of the story and you read the story of Tangled, but with hardly any words at all. And the crazy thing is, for the really good kids books, the authors do this spectacularly well. They are simple enough so that a two-year-old can understand it, well written enough to adequately convey the story, and fast enough that the kid will sit through the whole thing. It can be really pretty amazing.
Now, obviously they leave things out, but what they leave out is very telling. For instance, in the broken-down version of Tangled my daughter has, Pascal (the pet chameleon) goes completely unmentioned. I think there’s (maybe) one picture of him sitting on her shoulder, but the writer never bothers to explain what he is, who he is, or why he’s there. Why? Because, while the character plays a useful supporting role to the character of Rapunzel (as sounding board for the lonely girl, as conscience, as a kind of Greek chorus, as comic relief), he has zero to do with the things that make the plot work. You fundamentally don’t miss him, even though if he were missing in the film, you’d be forced to watch about twenty minutes of Rapunzel talking to herself, which would be weird.
Children’s adaptations of full-length movies can also very quickly expose weaknesses in those same movies. My other daughter has the golden-book version of Attack of the Clones and, I’ll be honest, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Why? Because the plot involves everybody running around doing things for reasons that are largely unclear and, in order for it to make any sense at all, they have to leave out the parts of the movie that people seem to like, which is most of the lightsaber fighting, monster wrestling, and giant battles. Could it be synopsized better? Yeah, probably, but boy is it going to be hard to do.
Take this page from a Cinderella adaptation:
Those two pages cover about fifteen minutes of film. The only reason there’s as many words as there are on the page is because of the need for dialogue. Cut that out, and the page becomes “the king was upset because the Prince wasn’t dancing with anyone. Then Cinderella arrived and she was so beautiful the Prince danced with her.” There you go – the ball scene, in and out. Throw in one more sentence for color.
You’ll find that children’s books do all of the things that Jane Friedman suggests in the article I linked to above:
- Don’t get bogged down in minor character names/details.
- Don’t break down/explain theme.
- Avoid/Economize character backstory.
- Cut Dialogue (This is the one these stories often violate, as they aren’t expressly intended as synopses)
- Don’t Ask Rhetorical Questions. (The kids provide those on their own, believe me)
- No Subheadings/subsections.
- Simple, direct prose.
The good children’s adaptations will do this very, very well. You will feel as if you watched the movie, even though you totally didn’t and it took exactly eight minutes to read. Reading them has honestly inspired me to see how tight and yet, also, compelling a synopsis can be. So, here I go – off to write my own.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
So, time for a writing update!
Thing have been going very well, lately. Lots to update everybody with, so I’ll start with the short fiction news and move into the novels.
Short Fiction News
Galaxy’s Edge Sale!
My short story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac” was just purchased by Mike Resnick over at Galaxy’s Edge. This is a great market with a typically stunning table of contents and edited by the man who has won the most Hugo awards in history, so that’s pretty damned sweet. No word yet on when my story will appear, but I’ll keep you all posted.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Sale!
I mentioned this a few weeks back, but I’m still pumped that I sold a story to CC Finlay over at F&SF.
My story “The Mithridatist” (set in Tyvian’s world, Saga of the Redeemed fans!) went on a heck of a journey through the pro-markets, garnering personal and, dare I say, glowing rejection letters from places like Tor.com before finally earning itself a home. Again, no word on release yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
I also recently sold a story to Escape Pod podcast about a month ago. It’s free and in audio or text. “Adaptation and Predation” is a space opera-esque story set in my Union of Stars world and has received a very positive response. I’ve even gotten some fan mail! Yay!
Then there’s this as-yet-untitled Time-Travel anthology over on Chappy Fiction, which bought/will buy my story “The Day It All Went Sideways” dealing with two-bit gangsters and fifth-dimensional time. I’m being called an “anchor” for the antho, which is a great compliment and I’m excited to see what Zach Chapman puts together!
Beyond that, I’ve got another five stories or so on submission to various places on and in various stages of review and another two I need to spiff up and send out again. Pretty good haul for a guy who spends *most* of his time writing novels!
The first book in the Saga of the Redeemed, The Oldest Trick, and its two halves (The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood) are currently selling very well – particularly the two halves – thanks to a price promotion and a BookBub at the end of last year. The Iron Ring peaked at #115 overall for Amazon (#2 for Fantasy) on the day of the BookBub “Book of the Day” promotion, which is mind-bogglingly awesome. It and Iron and Blood have been selling in the low 5-figures in rank ever since, which, in Amazon terms, is really goddamned good. So thank you, all of you, who have read!
That said, I could still use more reviews! I have ranked up a few over the past month or two (all very positive – thanks!), but you can never have too many reviews and, given how Amazon’s algorithm works and how important word-of-mouth is for book sales, more reviews is essential! If you’ve read any of my books, I would be ever so thankful if you left a review (even if you didn’t like it very much!).
Now for the kinda-sorta bad news. My editor at Harper Voyager has left for another publisher and, as a result, I have a new editor (hi, Rebecca!). Since she has just been saddled with a lot of my former editor’s old workload, she’s had to delay the publication of No Good Deed again. Bummer. It’s new release date is June 21st, 2016. This is disappointing, but at least now it seems like that date will be firm. I’ve also seen the cover art, which is really pretty awesome. Not time to reveal it just yet, but very pretty, trust me.
So, yet, Tyvian will be yet a few more months before he arrives in his second adventure. Of course, that’s typical Tyvian – never arrive on time when you can arrive late and make a splash. This also gives people world-wide more time to read the first book and be ready when the second comes out, so silver linings abound.
Overall, then, a great batch of news. I leave you, Tyvian fans, with the teaser text from No Good Deed, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet. I hope it sounds as intriguing as I hope it is:
Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.
That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody plays a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part.
The worst part is that somebody is his mother.
There’s been a kerfuffle on the Internet today, specifically on Twitter. It was launched by this tweet by the esteemed Niel Gaiman, who said:
http://clarion.ucsd.edu is where you apply to go to Clarion. If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion.
Now, first off, I don’t really think Gaiman meant that the only way to become a writer was to go to Clarion’s writing workshops. I think he meant to endorse them as a good place to go to help you become a writer. I think, perhaps, the 140 character limit got the better of him and it came off sounding a bit elitist. I mean, Clarion is no doubt wonderful, but the subset of people in the world who can afford to spend $5000 and ten days to attend a workshop in San Diego is, let’s say, somewhat circumscribed.
I don’t mean to suggest that Clarion isn’t a wonderful opportunity and a great program – it seems to be both, by all accounts, by those who can manage to get there. However, you don’t need to go there. There is only three things I would argue you require in order to be a writer. They are as follows:
1) You Must Write
This should not be revolutionary, but if you do not write things you cannot be a writer. How often should you do this? Hell if I know. I think this little piece of advice from by Daniel Jose Older is a good start. But however you do it, you need to do it. If you don’t do it, you aren’t a writer.
2) You Must Take Your Writing Seriously
If you define your writing as a hobby, I would argue that you are a person who writes, but not necessarily a writer (i.e. somebody who is a professional at this trade). If you intend to be a professional, you need to take your work seriously, strive to improve it, and push yourself to do your best.
3) You Must Strive to Publish Your Work
Again, speaking professionally and defining “writer” as a profession, you need to intend to release your work for public consumption, ideally for compensation (or, provisionally, for the purpose of securing compensation in the future). You do this by publishing it, either yourself or through more traditional means (publishing houses, etc.).
That, friends, is it. Now, the above three things don’t make you a good writer, necessarily, nor do they guarantee you to become a successful one. I would say, however, that the above is the bare minimum for entry. A writer writes, treats their work seriously, and strives to publish it. That’s literally it. You don’t need an MFA, you don’t need publications, you don’t need to go to Clarion – none of that. Will those things help? Sure, probably. But they are not requirements for entry. There is only one person who controls whether or not you are a writer:
Today, in a discussion with fellow writers over Tor.com’s decision to close to unsolicited fiction submissions, I said the following thing:
Well, they’ve got a story from me that they’ve been sitting on for seven months, so here’s hoping!
No less than eighteen seconds after saying this, I went to my e-mail inbox and found a rejection from Tor waiting for me. For some people – perhaps some of you reading this – this seems like some kind of cosmic karmic response to the vocalization of my hopes. “Ah-ha! You should never have said anything! Then it wouldn’t have happened!”
Now, as I’m presuming most people are (loosely) rational creatures, I think most of us understand that the real world does not operate like this in any way, shape, or form. My decision to speak or not speak some combination of magic words does not alter space/time; that rejection was coming to me one way or another. Still, it is very tempting to think that way. “If only I did X and not Y! If only I hadn’t told anybody! If only I had told more people! I should have crossed my fingers before I answered the phone!”
“Rejectomancy,” or the collected term for the superstitious habits of authors seeking to make sales and avoid rejection, happens all the time. It happens because publishing is a world predicated on failure – for every successful submission, there are dozens of rejected ones (probably). For every author that “makes it” there are a hundred who don’t. This process is hard on the ego. If you want to be a writer, you need to face rejection and failure with two unblinking eyes: it’s coming, so figure out how to deal with it or find a different profession. The thing is, rejection letters often seem so arbitrary and you so often seem to have no power over them. We authors are victims of the capricious whims of editors the world over! Woe is us! If only there were some mystical way we could feel that we have agency!
I know! Wear those lucky socks! Don’t start a story with rain (ever)! Only check your writer e-mail on Wednesdays! Only submit stories on a Tuesday afternoon! NEVER WRITE IN ANYTHING BUT COURIER! Etc., etc, etc..
The thing is, though, all that stuff is total bunk. It does not, in fact, give you any power. If it makes you feel good, fine, but don’t go around pretending the world operates on supernatural principles that orient themselves solely around the arbitrary choices of one individual. We merely write fantasy, we ought not live there.
If you want to feel like you have some control over your writerly destiny, the first thing to do is work on getting better at writing. That story that got rejected? You can do better. You should do better. Go out and learn how to do better. Write a new story. Send that one out. Repeat.
Also, just because some editor didn’t like your story doesn’t mean that story is bad. Not in the least! Once you get to a certain level of skill (what I would loosely term “professional quality”) – once you are writing stories that are on the same level as the stories you read in the major publications – well, then, sometimes it’s just plain old luck that decides the rejection or acceptance. Sometimes the editor isn’t grabbed by the ending – not that it was a bad ending, they just didn’t really like it. Sometimes the editor just bought a story very similar to yours. Sometimes you’ve caught them on a bad day. Sometimes they have in mind a theme for the next issue and you don’t really fit. From our end, there is often no way to tell if this is the case.
So, if you get rejected, by all means give the story a once over. Ponder on whether or not you can improve it. If you can’t – if you know this is your best work (at the moment) – send it out again. Turn it around. Rejections might sting, but that’s a sting you need to learn how to deal with. Now, if wearing fuzzy socks every time you send a submission helps you, then go right ahead. But always remember: publishing isn’t magic, it’s a business, and a tough one. The best way to win is to keep playing and up your game, and no superstition will ever trump that.
Innumerable are the reviews and commentary on The Force Awakens, so I don’t want to pile on. Overall I enjoyed the movie, though I readily concede it was hardly spotless nor was it terribly heady. I do, however, have one thing I think needs explaining: Rey and the Force.
I would caution you against spoilers here, but the movie has been out for a month now, so if you’re that worried about having the movie spoiled, you probably should have seen it by now.
A lot of folks out there seem to have a problem with Rey and how Rey goes from “junkyard girl” to “OMG jedi badass!” over the course of the movie, seemingly on her own. Just a brief sampling of comments I’ve seen:
WTF? How does Rey figure out how to use a Jedi Mind Trick when it takes Luke THREE MOVIES to get there?
How is that Kylo Ren, who can stop freaking blaster bolts in mid-air loses to some chick who is just picking up a lightsaber for the FIRST TIME?
Why is it, all of a sudden, Rey can fly the Milennium Falcon better than Han and fight with a lighsaber better than Kylo and…(rant rant rant)
It goes on like that for a while. Now, this could turn into a post about the double standards for male and female heroic leads in action movies and how the objections to Rey are, at their heart, a basic rejection that a girl could be that badass. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to explain to you all why Rey’s sudden, amazing skills are not only totally believable but entirely in keeping with Star Wars mythology.
How does Rey magically go from nobody to proto-jedi without ever having instruction?
BECAUSE SHE JUST FUCKING DOES IT!
The Force is not a correspondence course. It’s not like working towards your bachelors or studying for the SAT. It is not a quantitative entity. What does Yoda tell Luke on Dagobah over and over and over:
You must unlearn what you have learned! Let go your conscious self!
Do or do not. There is no try.
Feel the Force flowing through you!
Luke: I…I don’t believe it!
Yoda: That is why you fail.
This message is carried throughout the series, even in the prequels. The Force is not some kind of thing you earns points in, like an RPG (and I feel RPGs have really messed with our heads about this.). It is not a linear model of progression, where you master simple stuff first and more complicated stuff later. There is no simple or complicated stuff. It is all just stuff.
The Force operates on instinct (Obi Wan: “Let go your conscious self and act on instinct.”). Instinct is not something you necessarily have to learn. Granted, instinct can be learned (through exhaustive repetition) and can be improved through discipline, hence why a Jedi Academy ever existed at all, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, a lot of people in the Star Wars universe go around using the Force all the time and never realize it. Consider little Anakin Skywalker and his superhuman pod racing abilities, or Luke’s capacity to bull’s-eye womp rats with his T-16. As for Rey and her “sudden” abilities, they really aren’t so sudden at all. She can do a mind trick because she’s already done one before! Remember this scene:
She just up and takes a valuable droid from a scavenger and tells him to scram. What’s he do? He scrams! THAT’S A JEDI MIND TRICK, PEOPLE!
Rey is able to become badass at the end because she actually starts to understand how she has been able to do things she has always done. It takes the stress of the New Order’s pursuit of her to unlock that potential. Then she does exactly what Obi Wan and Yoda and Qui Gon have been telling their students for ages: She acts on instinct. That’s how the Force works, folks.
I know this sounds implausible or counter-intuitive to a lot of you, but you really have to listen to the teachings of the Jedi Masters we have in the films. The Force is counter-intuitive! That’s what makes it so hard to use – you can’t think about using it, you should just use it.
Just like Rey does.
Over the past three or four weeks, I’ve written four short stories. Ordinarily I would spend my semester break writing a novel, but I was waiting on the edit note from my editor (fun story there – see the note appended to the bottom of this post) and, rather than get deep into a long-term project only to be torn out of it by a more pressing long-term project, I opted to fill out my stable of short stories to have on submission at any one time.
I know a bunch of writers who don’t bother with short stories – either don’t write them at all or don’t really take them seriously if they do. I also know a fair number of writers who seem to write exclusively short stories and quail at the prospect of tackling something as big as a novel. I’m here, today, to make the case for writing both.
Why Novelists Should Write Short Stories
I know what you’re thinking. “Do people even read short stories?” and “You’ll never make a living writing stories all the time!”
Well, in the first place, yes people do read short stories. Not a tremendous, vast multitude, maybe, but certainly a hell of a lot more people than, say, read your blog. Some of those people happen to be editors, reviewers, and professionals in the genre you’re writing in. Making an impression doesn’t hurt. In the second place, I have to break something to you that you’re probably not going to like hearing: you probably aren’t going to make a living writing much of anything, novel or story. Most writers don’t. We all have day jobs, and you should think about keeping yours (or finding one that affords you time to write) rather than dreaming about making a mint writing the next Hunger Games. Who are you to turn your nose up at a hundred bucks for a story you wrote over the course of two weeks?
And anyway, neither exposure nor wealth are reasons you should write short stories. You should write short stories because they make you a better writer. At worst, they can be seen as practice runs for plot, character, theme, diction, style, and the lot of it. You get to work your writer muscles at a more rapid pace than you do writing a novel. You take a beginning, a middle, and an end and you paste them together and see if it sings to you. If it doesn’t, you break it down and try again. You can do this over the space of a few weeks or days or even hours.
The short story is an unforgiving form – it doesn’t permit indulgence or dithering or random tangents. You’ve got to stay on target, keep it focused, and make it magical. That’s a challenge. The thing is, though, if you can do it in 5000 words, you can certainly do it in 10,000 or 100,000. If you can’t do it in 5000, how are we to expect better from you with more space? I mean sure, you can do it, but while novelists you can’t write stories do exist, somebody who can do both things is usually better off. Or at least I think so.
Why Short Story Writers Should Write Novels
Say you are a master of the short story or, hell, even the short short (flash fiction, under 1000 words – bing, bang, boom, you’re out). You’re comfortable there, in your little story writing niche. You’ve gotten some publications and so on and you figure “yeah, this is nice.”
Well, far be it from me to suggest you vacate your micro-fiction utopia, but the novel is out there, waiting for you to call. Short stories can only do so much – we all know this. They also struggle for readership and, while very flexible, lack the weight and pathos a staying power a good novel can provide. And if you can write a good story, you can also write a good novel. It requires a different set of gears, yeah – a bigger scope, a broader picture, a more populated world – but it also gives you the opportunity to really see what you can do as a writer. To paraphrase Stephen King, you can “dig something big outta the sand.”
You can do it, too. You know you have it in you. I feel we mostly think in terms of novels – the stories of our lives, the stories of our families and our towns and our nations are novel sized stories. They always have been, though we haven’t always told them as novels (there were epics and romances and myth cycles, and so on). I think every writer owes it to him- or herself to make the attempt. To seek out the mountaintop. You’ve been honing these skills – take them out of the yard and see what they can do.
But don’t abandon the story, either. Do both. Write both short and long.
Notes on the Saga of the Redeemed and No Good Deed
I’ve gotten some fan mail recently (fan mail! w00t!) that has been prodding me over book 2 (or 3, or whatever) in Tyvian’s story. So, here’s the deal: book 2 (No Good Deed) is finished and on my editors desk. It has been since May of 2015. I’ve been waiting for her edit notes so that the book can be polished and revised and then be ready for print. I have been waiting since May and the release date as been pushed back twice now (from Jan 21st to February to now April 12th).
My editor is leaving my publisher for a different publishing job (and good for her – she’s great and I hope she’s happy where she’s going). This means, though, that I have a new editor. This new editor needs some time to get familiar with the book before she can give me notes and she also has been slammed with a good number of other writers from my former editor, so things might take a while. This means the release date might be moved back again (though I really hope not). None of this is really my fault (so far as I’m aware), and I’m every bit as anxious to put the next book in your hands as you are to have it there. I promise.
Oh, and I just saw the preliminary cover art, and it looks really, really cool. Can’t share it just yet, but soon. Very soon.
Thanks everybody, and I’ll keep you posted!