About My Book

Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Writing Is Like A Football Game

The NFL season is almost over and I'll admit that it's part of the reason why I haven't been as focused on my novel and blog as I should be (after all, I missed a blog post last week because my thoughts were on the NFL).

When I was younger, my thoughts about the NFL almost always focused on the Denver Broncos, because I grew up in Colorado and the Broncos were the first professional sports team Denver had that was considered part of a "major" sports league (the Denver Bears baseball team had been around longer but played in the minor leagues). When I was in my 20s, I focused more on the excitement factor of football, but as I got older, I came to appreciate the complexities of the game and what goes into building a quality football team.

Most of the stories people read about football, whether that person is a huge fan or whose interest is limited, tend to summarize every game and team as if they come down to one factor determing everything. Case in point: last week's AFC title game in which the narrative is that if Stephen Gostowski had not missed that first extra-point kick, the Patriots would have only had to kick the extra point following their final touchdown and we'd go to overtime.

The problem with that argument is that it assumes that, if an early situation had been changed to a different outcome, everything else would have stayed the same. But there's no guarantee that would have happened. Additionally, there were multiple instances in which a play affected how the game unfolded and they must be considered when determining the bigger picture. Finally, who is to say that the Patriots wouldn't have just gone for the two-point conversion anyway, because they want to try to win the game in regulation and not go to overtime?

There are too many factors involved to say that one instance alone would have changed everything. It's no different for any other football game -- it's a complex situation in which multiple factors influenced the outcome.

It sounds a lot like life, doesn't it? Or, for authors or those who aspired to be one, it sounds like our writing process.

One bit of advice authors follow is that their characters should drive the plot rather than the other way around. That means our characters make choices based on their personalities and traits. This may result in a character making a choice that somebody would point to and say, "If the character had made the opposite choice, then everything would have been all right."

The problem with that argument, though, is that the author going back to have the character make the opposite choice, does not mean that the same outcomes will follow. The author may find out that the character, from making the opposite choice, is faced with new challenges or struggles and must determine how the character will overcome those.

Writing a novel is a complex process and those who write put their characters into complex situations, and while it may be fun to go through a book and say, "If that event happened differently, everything would have been fine," there's no way to say that for certain. Like a football game, like any sports event, like life in general -- there's more to how things develop than can be traced to a single event or element.

But learning the complexities of football has provided me more enjoyment for the sport. I imagine the same applies to anybody who has learned more about the complexities of writing a novel.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Passive Voice Rule Of Thumb

One of the simplest things you can do to improve your writing is to avoid the passive voice. However, there can be a time and a place for it. The time and place for the passive voice is when you are writing dialouge.

The reason it's OK to use passive tense in dialogue is because people often talk that way. Meanwhile, the way authors describe a scene, a person's appearance or a what somebody thinks of a situation is not the way most people talk. But when you describe those things, you need to find a way to grab the reader's attention and get them to visualize things.

When you have a typical conversation, you should have the other person's attention. So when you write a conversation, your reader should understand that the people talking to each other have each other's attention. (Of course, that's not always the case, whether it's real life or when you write a conversation.) But it's OK to have your characters use the passive voice when they talk. You don't want to overdo it (unless you have a character who talks a certain way) but you can get away with it as a writer.

But when you write narration, your task is to capture the reader's attention. Some people might talk in passive tense, but that doesn't mean those people will read it. Passive voice causes readers to drift away and your job is to keep your reader's attention.

Think of it this way: Narration and dialogue are different. Narration means describing action, scenery, objects or feelings. Active voice does the best job illustrating that and allowing your readers to visualize or relate to it. Dialogue is about how your characters talk and their words do the best job of that. The dialogue itself should be enough to convey to readers how the characters talks. You can add to that with brief narration about the character's movement or posture, but the words the character says provide a lot.

If you are looking for the best way to improve your writing, eliminating the passive voice is a good first step. Just remember that your focus should be on your narration first and your dialogue second.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

So I promised last week that I'd talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which I assume most people have seen by now. The film has already become the highest-grossing film of all time in the United States and it's now chasing the all-time worldwide record.

Even so, I'll start with non-spoiler comments for those of you who haven't seen it yet (and I understand there are those people who just don't go to the movie theater) and follow with spoiler material beyond the cut.

First of all, I think the film is going to be launching point for Daisy Ridley's movie career beyond the Star Wars franchise. I loved her portrayal of Rey and how much emotion and depth she brought to the character. It may be too soon to compare her to Harrison Ford, who went on to more starring roles in films than any other actor in the original Star Wars trilogy, but I think it seems reasonable to compare Ridley to Jennifer Lawrence, in that a particular franchise brings her to greater prominence and leads to supporting roles in other films, but keeps building on that and convinces studios that more lead roles should come her way.

Kylo Ren is perhaps the most interesting villain the Star Wars franchise has had, because it's clear he's conflicted. Darth Vader certainly gave the aura of "pure evil" in the first two released films, and I don't think they did the best job they could of making him conflicted in the third film, but they are off to a good start with Ren. With any luck, it should make any forthcoming confrontations with Rey or Finn more intriguing.

I was fine with Finn and the idea of having a Stromtrooper who turns away from the First Order was a good way to show that these troopers aren't all these mindless soldiers who just follow orders. Poe was a good character, too, although his screen time was limited and I will be interested to see if he takes a bigger role in future films.

And while there are multiple nods and tie-ins to the first Star Wars film released, I can understand why that was done. The purpose is to bring back memories for people who watched the first film in theaters and fell in love with the franchise, while introducing the Star Wars world to a new audience who doesn't necessarily have strong ties to the original trilogy. And at least the nods to the first film tied in with a new story that introduced unique characters who take different journeys forward than Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa did.

Now to some spoilers, so don't go beyond the link if you don't want to know more.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book Update: In The Home Stretch

Whew... holidays were rough this year, thanks mainly to me coming down with a mild case of pneumonia. So I spent most of those days lying in bed.

I'm doing better now, though, and now comes the part in which I prepare to polish up the draft of my first novel (and this process started back in April 2015 and has gone through six drafts) and start going to the next step (yes, this year is the year I plan to not talk so much about the novel and start getting it on the path toward publication).

My book writing experience, though, has led me to a lot of changes and new experiences. I picked up a bunch of books to read, I started attending meetings of the Kansas Writers Association, I joined up with another writer's group and I've gotten feedback from multiple people about my draft. Plus I've had the chance to find out what a few other authors are thinking about through Twitter.

It's been a good experience, as it's allowed me to broaden my writing and got me generating a bunch of ideas not just for this series I'm planning, but for some other book ideas as well. Once I get this draft polished and sent off for consideration among agents, or perhaps smaller publishers if an opportunity comes along, I can start writing the first draft of my second planned book.

In the meantime, I have some other plans in the works, but won't start talking them up until I actually do those things. But I do promise that I should be a little more active here at the blog (as I have mentioned, the plan is to update every Sunday) and hopefully I'll get the chance to explore more writing of other authors out there (and there are a lot -- there are more than 300 authors who I follow on Twitter and I'm sure that's just the start of the list of authors out there).

Yeah, a lot of things I hope to do -- it's just a matter of following up on them, particularly on this first book I've written. With any luck, I'll get to the point that I'm not just talking about my writing and that I'm talking more about that there will be published material you'll get a chance to read.

Next week: I'll sit down and talk about the new Star Wars movie. By then, everyone who wants to see hopefully has done so and there's no worries about discussing spoliers!