The Lies Writers Tell

If you think about it, writers are natural born liars. It’s basically our job description.

We craft worlds from our words and fill them with living, breathing people who never existed outside of our minds. We imbue them with life and embed pieces of our soul throughout the story.

We twist your expectations to fit where we want you to think the story will end only to turn everything you think you know on its head with a few, well-placed words, leaving you wondering how you did not see it all along.

We have the unique ability to make the familiar seem strange and the strange feel familiar. We can make you question some things while blindly accepting others.

The lies we writers tell are loved by the world because we make people think about things they never really thought about before. We are holding up a mirror that shows the world not the way things are, but the way they could be.

These lies help people become better versions of themselves. They help people connect with others and with themselves in a way nothing else can.

In a way, we aren’t really lying. We are just showing the world a different truth.

The real lies, the dangerous ones, are the ones we tell ourselves.

I can’t make it as a writer

This is often tied to the lie that ‘writing is not a career’ and ‘I am not good enough’. Both painful lies that the world around us has a nasty habit of reinforcing. People look at writing as a hobby. Something frivolous that people do in their free time that is of no real value.

If you are a writer, you are going to have to get used to this. You are going to have to get used to people pushing you towards other careers that they view as more attainable. They are genuinely trying to help. They just don’t understand how painful that kind of job can be to think about. To have people constantly telling you that you will never be able to make it in life doing what you want to do.

It hurts even more when you begin to believe it yourself.

The truth is, you can make a living as a writer. It isn’t easy and is going to take a lot of time and effort, but it is 100% possible. Keep chasing your dreams and you will find a way. You may not be the next JK Rowling or Stephen King, but you can still make a living telling stories.

So-and-so is a better writer than me

First off, ‘better’ is subjective. Trust me when I say there is nothing good that comes from the comparison games. There will always be people who have been writing for longer than you, who have more experience in a certain genre, and who have published more books than you have.

I know some people who can churn out 10k words in a single day. I average about 500, maybe 1k if it is a really good day. When it comes to the quality of the content, there really is no comparison. Different people have different tastes. Your style will never match anyone else’s and vice versa.

You have to learn to be comfortable with your own progress and your own style. Lean into what makes you unique. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are a bad writer because you don’t write like someone else. Keep writing. Hone your craft.  

No one cares what I have to say

This is perhaps the most painful lie of all and it is one I still struggle with on a regular basis. I know what causes it too. When people talk over you when you try and tell them about your new story idea. Their eyes glaze over. They zone out, cut you off, and totally change the subject.

Couple that with the sheer volume of novels and novellas and poetry books already in existence, and the fact that most people do not consider writing to be a valid career?

It leaves you feeling like you have no chance. No one is going to like your book, no one will read it. You are just wasting your time.

This is complete and utter nonsense. There are people out there who need to hear what you have to say. They need to hear your story just as much as you need to tell your story. Words have power far beyond what most people will ever realize.

Every single one of these lies ties back to one thing. Imposter Syndrome. That voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are not enough.  The fear and anxiety that keeps you from chasing the life you want.

The important thing to remember, though, is that they are lies. They are the lies we tell ourselves because we fear the unknown of what happens when we take that leap. What happens when we leave behind everything the world tells us we should want in the pursuit of who we truly want to be.

Words have the power and we were born with words at our fingertips.

It is time we use them.

It is time to change the world.

Meet the Monomyth

Strap on your seatbelts and hold on tight, because I am about to take you through the plot of every story ever told.

It is all laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Published in 1949, this book dives into the pattern that all stories follow in some way. I was first introduced to the Hero’s Journey (or the monomyth, depending on who you ask) in the lead up to my first ever NaNoWriMo. The Hero’s Journey is broken into 12 main stages set in the Ordinary (1-2, 10-12) and the Special World (3-9). Picture it like a clock.

Once you know this basic structure, you will never be able to unsee it. You are welcome.

1: The Ordinary World

This is where you introduce the main character and begin setting up the main conflict. The hero wakes up, eats breakfast, and goes about their day to day life. This is where you get to meet the hero’s friends and family and see what their ‘normal’ is. You watch them go through the motions of a regular day while longing for something more, something better (because rarely is a hero 100% happy with where they are in the beginning). There might be some hints of the coming conflict, but nothing that really catches the hero’s attention.

Everything is perfectly normal. Everyone is happy. Everything is about to change.

2: The Call to Adventure

A mysterious messenger arrives to inform the hero that, for one reason or another, they are needed to save the world. It doesn’t matter how familiar they are with the conflict or what their opinion is on the subject. All that matters is that they have been chosen. It is time for them to rise to the task of saving the world.

3: The Refusal of the Call

By the time it hits 2, the hero has point blank refused the call. Whether they are unqualified or just uninterested, they have absolutely no intention of answering the call to adventure. They are perfectly happy in their ordinary world, thank you very much (even though they were just complaining about how much they wanted something more not even five minutes ago).

4: The Meeting with the Mentor

The mentor arrives at 3 to tell the hero that they need to talk. Somehow they heard about the call that the hero refused. They have known the hero for some time or have been in the hero’s shoes at some point. They are more familiar with the conflict than the hero does and often have a greater understanding of the role the hero will play in the coming battles. They are the one who talks the hero into accepting the challenge.

5: Crossing the First Threshold

4 o’clock rolls around and the hero is finally ready to cross the first threshold. Reluctant or not, they have accepted the challenge and are answering the call to adventure. This can be a really challenging time for the hero. They are leaving behind everything they know and love. Sometimes they leave because the conflict has already destroyed the one thing they were staying for, other times it is because their home is threatened. Either way, they have accepted the call and there is no going back. Once they reach the point where they cannot return, they have crossed the threshold. The adventure is on and there is no going back.

6: Tests, Allies, Enemies

The 5 o’clock hour is divided into three things. First off, the tests. How well does the hero know the world they live in? Do they have the skills they need to survive? Are they worthy of being called a ‘hero’? Some of these tests are given by enemies who seek to impede the hero. Others are given by potential allies who are trying to decide if the hero is worth following/aiding.

7: Approach to the Innermost Cave

The approach to the innermost cave begins around 6. This is when things are starting to get dark. The hero must be prepared to face the great unknown that they have been fighting against the whole time. Think of this as the dark night of the soul. They have never faced a challenge like this before and they are going to have to use everything they have learned so far to survive this.

8: The Ordeal

The real ordeal starts at 7. This is the final test where everything is on the line. Everything they have learned over the course of the journey will be tested. This is where everything changes, including the hero. Some part of them will break. Something is going to die, whether it be a hope, a dream, or a person. It may even be the hero.

Let’s just say it isn’t called the ‘ordeal’ for nothing.

9: Seizing the Sword

At 8, the transformation begins. They have survived incredible odds and have come out even stronger (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). They also obtained some sort of prize. The prize is the thing that the hero has been searching for this whole time, whether they realize it or not. It might be an object, it might be a secret. It might be knowledge or insight into a problem. It could even be a reconnection with a loved one. Either way, there is no time to celebrate. The clock marches onward and it is time to return home.

10: The Road Back

The clock strikes 9 and it is time to return home. This is a reversal of the call to action and crossing the first threshold, a final push back to the Ordinary World. They may revisit some of the same places (which is a great way to showcase just how much the world and the hero have changed since the ordeal). Ultimately, the hero will have to choose between their own personal objectives and a higher cause. Not an easy decision for anyone.

11: Resurrection

From 10-11 the hero has one final, incredibly dangerous encounter with death. The implications of this fight stretch far beyond the hero’s existence. The outcome of this battle determines the future of the Ordinary World. All of their knowledge and all of their experiences come to fruition in this final fight. This is a chance for the hero to prove that they have truly changed.

12: Return with the Elixir

Things have finally come full circle as the hero returns home to the Ordinary World. The conflict is gone, the threat has been vanquished, and there is finally some sort of peace in the world. Yet everything is not as it once was. The hero has changed.  They have grown. They have brought what they learned on their journey home with them to help make their world a better place.

 

If you pay attention you can see this pattern unfold in all of the stories that have ever been told. We have this natural inclination to telling stories like this and I find it fascinating. I could go on about the psychology behind it all as well as all of the different variations of this journey, the different character types, motivations, etc for hours.  And I probably will at some point.

For now, I have a strong desire to watch Star Wars.

Until next time!

My Dreams for 2019

2018 was an…interesting year for most people. Very little went as I had planned it, so I had to do a lot of learning on the fly and adapting to uncertain situations.

I’m not going to lie, it was tough. It all worked out, though.

I can say with confidence that I am in a better place now than I was when I graduated. I have a good, stable job. I’ve made a lot of connections. I have learned a lot about business, entrepreneurship, and life in general. I honed my writing skills by delving into game writing and completing NaNoWriMo (for the first time in 7 years).

Now I am looking to the new year. And I have plans.

First off, I want to publish blog posts more consistently. I was going pretty steady for a while, but sometimes I get busy and it throws me off. I want to be more intentional about my posting. I want to start working on posts earlier, so that not only will they be done on time but they will be done well.

I also want to write more games. While most of my focus will be dedicated to my work with the writing team for Fallout Cascadia (relatively new project), I want to work on some ideas of my own. Most of these will be simple little games, but they will be good practice. Given my desire to one day work for BioWare as a game writer, I should probably get started somewhere.

Another goal is to finish the first draft of my novel. After NaNoWriMo, I realized that while I had learned a lot about the world and the characters, what I had written was a giant mess. I learned a lot about the world and the characters, but the flow needed a lot of work. I started rewriting it about a week ago and have almost hit 1,000 words. I want to have this draft done by the end of the year.

During Thanksgiving break, I got an idea for a project that I fully intend to pursue in 2019. I want to help authors with their social media marketing, both for themselves and their novels. Whether this ends up being on a purely freelance thing or grows into something more, I’m going to do it. I am still working out some of the details, but once I’m ready to roll I will definitely be sharing it.

I know that I have said before that I would be doing a podcast. Truth is, I still very much want to do one, I just haven’t decided how/what I want to do it on yet. I have a few ideas I am playing around with. I am hoping to have one of them ready to launch sometime this year.

There are a few other things I want to do as well. I want to get better at pixel art to the point where I can create animations. I want to try my hand at graphic design. I want to teach myself how to play piano on the keyboard we for some reason bought a few years ago and never used.

For me, 2019 is going to be a year of opportunity and growth. A year to try new things. A year to chase old dreams.

Whatever this year throws at me, I intend to live life to the fullest.  

What about you?

Analyzing the Story of Uncharted 3

About a month ago I finished replaying the Uncharted series for the 3rd time (1st time streaming). They are still by far some of my favorite games. I had an absolute blast sharing them with people.

One of the questions that kept coming up is “which Uncharted game is your favorite?”

The answer to that one is easy. The 2nd one, Among Thieves. The way the story is framed in the beginning grabs your attention and the rivalry between Drake and Flynn was very well done, with Chloe as their go-between. The villain was dynamic and intimidating. It was great.

A Thief’s End (Uncharted 4) is a close second, being the absolute PERFECT way to end the story. The story of two brothers working together to finish their mother’s greatest work, intertwined with a tale of obsession and the destruction it can create.

Then there is the first one, Drake’s Fortune, that started it all. It did a fantastic job of introducing us to the main cast of characters. The treasure was one whose name everyone is familiar with, the villains had interesting personalities, and the twist was very cleverly crafted. Without its success, the others might not have existed.

The third game, Drake’s Deception, is the least favored of the games. The story was not as strong and some of the animations felt a little weird (but that happens sometimes). It was not a bad game, it just was not as good as the rest of the series.

I have been thinking about it for some time now and after my last playthrough, I have a few ideas on how to bolster the story in a way that would improve the overall experience.

The name is Drake, Nathan Drake.

This game definitely has a James Bond vibe to it. I mean, it starts in a very British bar brawl and some super sneaky tricky spy stuff. The villains, Marlowe and Talbott, are supposedly members of a secret spy organization that has been in existence since the time of Sir Francis Drake.

There wasn’t much talk about the organization itself, though. I would love to have focused more on that aspect. What is their purpose? How did they know about Sir Francis Drake’s mission to find the Lost City of Ubar? How did they know there would be something there worth finding? Why do they want it?

It sometimes felt like they were leaning too hard into the James Bond vibe while neglecting some of what makes Uncharted unique. Nate is not a secret agent. He is an explorer, an archaeologist, a historian, and, most importantly, a thief. He makes mistakes. He makes bad puns. He is goofy. I feel like we didn’t get to see as much of that, but that could just be me.

There was also not as much focus on the history and lore surrounding the lost city and treasure itself. The game focused more on the competition with Marlowe and less on what they were hunting for. That could have played a part in why people did not get as invested in the story as they did with the other games. 

Who is Marlowe?

Marlowe, Marlowe, Marlowe. Where do we even begin?

She is very enigmatic, very British, and very lacking in a background. We catch a glimpse of her relationship with Sully in the flashbacks to how Sully met Drake. There is no explanation as to why she needed Sully to help her get the ring, why she wanted it, or even how she and Sully know each other. Throughout the entire game, Sully doesn’t tell us anything about her that we didn’t already know, even though it was pretty clear he knew her well given their embrace during the flashback. We also learn that she knows about Nate and how Sully took him in. Yet we are given very little information on her.

We also have Talbott, who is her second in command and obviously very attached to her, given his anger at her death (spoilers). That is all we know about him and their connection.

I want to know more about their position in the organization as well as their connection. I want to know why they have been sent on what is basically a wild goose chase. What are they hoping to accomplish?

If the ring fits

We know that Drake and Elena were together. They both have rings. They are obviously not together anymore.

I have two questions about this. Were they married or engaged? Some people may say it was married because he had a ring, but sometimes the guy gets an engagement ring as well.

Second, what did Drake do?! Things are definitely tense between Drake and Elena. He screwed things up somehow. We don’t know how long it has been since they broke up. I just want to know what happened!

All in all, it was not a bad game. The puzzles were fun and challenging. The scene with the plane was a lot of fun to play through. The Lost City of Ubar was absolutely gorgeous. And the ending was satisfying as we see Drake and Elena reunited once more. I just wanted more of the story and the culture and the mythos surrounding the lost city and the treasure.

I really did enjoy this game and I absolutely love the series. Analyzing the stories is a great though exercise and a good way to study story structure.

Think Before You Retcon

If there is one thing readers can’t stand, it is a retcon. Whether you are changing an inconsequential detail or something big, they will notice and they will not be happy.

Now, there are lots of reasons that a writer retcons. Stories can change a lot as they are being told. Sometimes this results in the writer wanting to go back and change something. If the work is unpublished, this can be easy. When the work is published, though, it can be tricky.

It can be very easy to do, especially if you are writing a series. It can be detrimental, though, to your reputation and your story. Here are a few reasons you should think hard before you retcon.

It irritates the reader

When you go back and change something that is already established in the story, it annoys the reader. If it is a small thing, then they might be able to overlook it, but if it is bigger…it’s not going to be good. At the very least you are going to throw your reader for a loop, and they are not going to like that.

You want your readers to be focused on the story, to become engrossed, attached to it. The last thing you want is to have them raging against your retconning.

Sometimes a retcon can undo the significance of an event, or damage a character arch. This can tank your story. Retcon something your audience loves, they will not soon forget it. If it messes with the arc of their favorite character…let’s just say you don’t want to go there.

You also run the risk of confusing the reader. The plot should have twists and turns, yes, but it should be solid. Steady. It should not sneakily rewrite itself (unless you are doing this intentionally, but that is another conversation).

It makes your writing look weak

When you retcon, it reflects poorly on your skills as a writer. Even if it is something small, such as a character’s hair color, your readers will not be impressed.

Retconning something small makes you look like you are forgetful, neglectful. Now, I know how much planning and crafting goes into telling a good story. It takes even more to write that story. So I get that it can be easy to miss the little details. There are some details, though, that you need to keep straight. Otherwise, the readers might think you don’t care.

Drastically changing your plot, despite things you set up earlier in the series, makes you come across like someone who has no idea what they are doing. We have all seen this happen in shows and movies. It either leaves you confused or frustrated, and wondering why the writer couldn’t pick a plot. They look like they either did not plan ahead, have no idea what they are doing, or both. Probably both.

There are a few other, smaller things that can cause a big impact. Changing how a character’s name is spelled, either partway through the story or every so often. Switching up how the characters are related. The first one is easy to do and, depending on how odd the name is, can be forgiven by the reader. Heck, they may not even notice. But with the second one, they are a lot more likely to catch on. This will not end well for you.

 

The moral of the story is don’t retcon. It can be annoying for the readers and it makes you look like a bad writer.

Next week I am going to share some tips on how to avoid retconning. As always, feel free to leave a comment if there is anything you would like to add or if you have any questions.

Until next time!

Write What You Need

Write what you know. One of the most common pieces of writing advice you will ever hear. It’s not wrong either. As writers, we draw from our personal experience to help bring our stories and characters to life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

People are always going to tell you how you should be writing or what you should be writing about. Sometimes they have good advice. Other times they mean well, but they are the opposite of helpful.

Tell the story you want to tell. That you need to tell.

The stories we tell don’t always fit into our personal experiences. Just look at fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mysteries. Literally any form of fiction. While our experiences and opinions influence the stories, you are in no way required to write within your world. Sometimes you need to step outside of what you know and step into what you need.

Writing, in and of itself, is a form of exploration. It is a massive thought experiment full of “what if this…” It is a chance for people to think through things they have always wondered about. A chance for writers to create the world they have always dreamed of. We get to live in a world that is completely our own where, for once, we are in control.

It is a form of escapism for the writer as well as the reader. We all struggle. We all experience hardships. Some of us have struggles that never really go away. We have this baggage that we just have to learn to live with. We all have to face the darkness and there will always be something we wish we could have or experience, that we know will never happen.

Some of the most beautiful stories come from what we wish for, what we want. Writing gives us a chance to hold up a mirror and show the world what needs to change. How the world can be better.

When life gets crazy and things get messy, we don’t need a reminder of how scary the world can be. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. We are all aware of this. We need to see that things can be better. That life isn’t all bad. That there is hope.

Instead of writing what you know, write what you need. Because chances are the world needs it too.

Just Write

If writers are good at one thing, we are really good at procrastinating when we should be writing. It happens all of the time. I am especially guilty of this. I wrote a story during my junior year of high school and I still have not finished the second draft. I graduated from college in December.

There are lots of reasons we don’t write. We don’t have the motivation. We don’t have the time. We aren’t in the zone. Or, my personal favorite, the story isn’t ready yet.

At least, that is what we say.

We really avoid it because we aren’t ready. There is something holding us back. We are afraid of failure, of rejection. We are afraid to try because we don’t know if anyone is listening.

I know I can’t be the only one who is tired of this. It is time for us to overcome the things that are holding us back and move past everything that is holding us back. It is time for us to start writing.

The thing is, your novel isn’t going to write itself. As amazing as that would be, it is simply not going to happen. You have to sit down, put your fingers on your keys, and get to work.

If your response is “my story isn’t ready yet”, I have something to say to that. I spend about a month prepping a plot outline for NaNoWriMo, got 64 pages through and I could not get the story moving. It was terrible. During that time, though, I created two characters who ended up taking over the story. It turns out I was telling the wrong story about the wrong characters.

My point is, no matter how much preparation you put into your novel the story will change as you write it. It will breathe, grow, take you in directions you never expected. As you write your story will improve because you realize that certain things you have will not work. You find other things that will work better. You find and fill all of the plot holes as you go.

Your story can’t go anywhere if you don’t start writing it.

Another common struggle I see among writers is “why bother writing if no one is going to read it?” We convince ourselves that no one could possibly be interested in what we have to say. This could come from getting shut down when we try and talk about certain things or just a low self-esteem. We think we have nothing to offer.

Sometimes, you just have to write for yourself. Don’t worry about what your friends will think. Don’t worry about your family’s opinion. Don’t worry about what anyone else would say or think. You have a story inside of you, and even if you never show it to anyone else, you should still write it. Get it down on paper. You owe it to yourself to prove that you are capable of writing that story. That you are capable of finishing something.

If you are worried about what other people might think because of the content of the story, you can always publish under a pseudonym. This can also be helpful if you normally write in another genre, to prevent confusion.

Something else to keep in mind if you are worried no one will like your story. Consider this. Are you part of a fan community? Do you share interests and passions with other people? Do you yourself enjoy the story you have created?

If you answered yes to any of these, then I can guarantee that someone somewhere will like your book. I’ll go more into this in a later post, but trust me when I say that if you tell a good story people will like it. They will read it. They will identify with the characters. They will enjoy the plot. They will see that you did it and realize that they can do it too.

But none of this will happen if you never finish the dang book.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some writing to do.