HOW IMPORTANT IS ENVIRONMENT?

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Picture this: Your characters are in a gun fight. Bullets flying through the empty air. Nothing but white space all around them. No people running out of the way. No glass to crash through. No busy streets with gridlocked traffic to trap the fight and build tension. No buildings to jump off to avoid the inevitable explosion from a well hidden bomb. No breeze. No season of the year,(Colored leaves scattered over the ground, knee high snow drifts, or sweltering heat from the never ending laser beam of the sun.)

Your environment paints a picture of your world. It pulls the reader in and says to them, “This feels real.” Leave it out and you have the above white space floating around in their imagination; nothing but white space.

How do you choose environment for your characters? That depends on genre of the story. If it’s sci-fie, you might consider a spaceship or an alien world. Romance, Paris or an empty park filled with flowers and colorful trees. Action, I prefer environments we can relate to in everyday life. Offices are not a bad choice. The bank you pass every day. Maybe the school or college you attended.

Pictures are very helpful. Google has a wonderful source of reference, just remember not to use them for commercial use. Then you get sued and you end up like the guys in the first paragraph. (Maybe you take less drastic measures.)

We’ve established that environment is connected to Genre. It is also connected to character type. For instance, You might not find the homeless man who witnessed a murder hanging out inside a jewelry store. You might not find the well dressed assassin hanging out at Walmart.

Where you place your characters tells us a lot about them. How they live. What kind of money they have. What kind of friends or enemies they might have. How they might live. All of these things play on each other.

We humans have been building places to exist since the beginning. We’ve thrived in every environment from the deserts to the swamps. In the mountains and even underground. It’s our job to put our characters in a place they belong.

Can these rules be broken? Yes, break these rules. Maybe your character being in an environment they don’t belong in is part of your story. Maybe they don’t know they don’t belong there. Maybe part of their journey is coming to know that fact.

Weather is definitely important. Is it raining? Is it cold outside? If so, can we see their frosted breath? (Little kids at a bus stop pretending they’re smoking, pushing their breath out with their fingers holding imaginary cigarettes.)

When writing about your environment, remember your six senses. (Yes, SIX) Smell, touch, hear, taste, see, sense. Have you ever walked into a room and had a weird feeling like you’re being watched? SIXTH SENSE.

How do you use the senses. You can use them all but It’s not necessary. A few should be more than enough. Some author’s like to write a paragraph or two and set the scene before their characters interact with the environment. A great example of this style is used often in a book called: Of Mice and Men, a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. It is also a great example of writing accents.

I prefer to layer my description between dialog and action. I find it makes for a story that flows and is never interrupted by a constant output of information. The last thing I want is to push a reader out of the story to talk about a tree for three pages. Total overkill will make someone close your book.

When writing, try to find your own path. Use the method that works best for you and if you’re ever unsure how to handle your environment. Step away from the computer and go take a walk, environments are all around you.

DON’T LISTEN TO LAZY WRITERS!

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Unfortunately there are some authors who are lazy and really don’t care anymore. They will say things like: “I never describe my characters. I leave that for the imagination of my reader.” OR “I never describe my environment because I want the reader to picture the story anywhere in the world.”

The above is what I like to call a big unhealthy load of lazy writing. Don’t listen to these people. They are obviously dead inside. You can call them out on it and say, you don’t describe these things because you can’t picture it.

The market of Independent authors is full of people who just don’t even want to try, which makes it harder for the rest of us. I urge you to imagine your characters and locations.

I don’t know what your method is when you write but My story unfolds in my mind like a movie. I see very vivid scenes and people who are alive and struggling in the world. You should feel like these characters are important to you. These places have to mean something to these people you are breathing life into. They live in that world, give them somewhere to exist.

These lazy writers will tell you to only use “he said, she said,” as dialog tags. That is incredibly boring. I don’t care for those kind of books. That tells me that the author couldn’t be bothered to imagine their characters actually speaking or what their mannerisms would be. What a snore-fest.

They will tag all these stupid rules onto your art with no purpose other than to draw a line in the sand. Your words are a warhead, blow up their sand into oblivion, having the whole beach rain down over their lazy heads in white hot sandy grains and jagged shards of fire forged glass.

When I am creating a character, I will often type in a description and download a picture of a stranger from the internet. I will look at their face and decide what kind of person they are. Then, I will look at cities, pictures of towns, bus stations, busy streets, and create their environment. You need the steam rising from the manholes. The grey sky smothered in gathering clouds. You need the faceless strangers, heads down, pushing through the traffic, just trying to get to work. It’s our world, don’t let lazy writers take it away from you.

Authors, The Ritualistic Creature

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What complicated creatures we are. Most don’t even know it, but we practice rituals every day. Each person is different but they carry their little ticks and oddities with them where ever they are. Some rise early, have to have that tea, coffee, etc… Maybe you have to have your theme music playing. Often, and especially when I’m stuck in a story, I will listen to music, any kind really. Some kind of sound that speaks to me and says, ‘Ivan, this is the scene, quick, write it down before it’s gone.’ That’s how it feels doesn’t it? We are like photographers trying to catch a moment before it slips a way.

Some of us need to be around people, we get in our cars, on the bus, or walk to where ever it may be. We plant ourselves near them, the norms, the ones who are out there struggling, living their surreal lives. They are fighting to climb the corporate ladder, or maybe driving a cab. We gotta watch them.

Our friend the notebook in hand, coffee close by. We wait, capturing that moment. Maybe that beautiful woman, she’s mature, but strong, glowing with power, striding through the street and the sea of flesh parts for her because in her world, she is god. We need these people, they drive us, they are part of the ritual.

Sometimes, we can be deep. I find that a lot of people have lost that spiritual connection to their words. Our voices are power. We need to collect the mana that thrives in our cities, in our little towns, in our schools, our businesses, we need that life essence, that force that connects us all to breath into our characters and make them real.

My eyes open, sometimes it’s still dark. I roll over and take a look at the red numbers on my clock, a little blurry but they soon form. It’s four AM. What the hell am I doing up? I roll over and toss and turn until somewhere between six and seven thirty. My many little worlds on my mind. Will I work on Lasalle’s story today? Maybe Carver, the Bounty-hunting cowboy, out for revenge. Perhaps I will try my hand at something new, always so exciting.

Nice shower, a little colder than I’d like but it will wake me up. Catch up on a little news while I devour my cereal and the coffee brews. What is it about that brown nectar. I don’t drink it every day, nor do I have more than half a cup but it’s part of the ritual. I let the dog out, by the time I come in, it’s time for coffee. Two sugar, three cream, sometimes just hot and black. I take that cup down to the office, my Mac beaming back at me. Then there’s that first sip, is it good? Too sweet? Bitter? No, perfect.

It’s a proven fact that it doesn’t really do much to keep us awake, some can sleep right after having a cup. It’s that smell, that texture, that sinful little desert in a cup. It does something to me, it says ‘Time for work.’

If my brain is still foggy I hit Youtube and type some keywords from my story to see what kind of music comes up, any genre, I don’t sway to one specific sound, music for me is like souls talking to each other, the artist to the listener. Sometimes I can pull an image, or a mood from the song, it sets my tone.

My word-processor comes alive and my fingers dance across the keyboard, perfect. Lasalle is a fun character to write, her power, her naive mind forging like a great Japanese sword-master. Her gun ready, her heart on her sleeve. She tries to be sly and save the world. She cares that much that she would risk all for you and me.

Our rituals prepare us to enter another state of mind, they free us from the mundane and take us into that place we need to reach to see everything. They open the third eye and magic begins to flow, our passion rises like a burning white fire up from our bellies, and we blow it like majestic dragons over our blank screen or in our tattered notebooks finding that peace, that nirvana we all search for. In those hours that hole that’s in us all is full, that empty ugly spot has light and it’s shining bright for all the world to see.

Where would we be without our rituals? We are ritualistic creatures.

Fatigue & Writer’s Remorse

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One of the worst things to fight during story building is fatigue. If you’re too tired when you’re creating your master piece, you run the risk of ‘writer’s remorse.’ You will create tons of pages, maybe some will be good and you can bet that some will not. You will find yourself writing ‘double paragraphs.’ Two paragraphs, usually one after the other, saying exactly the same thing but in different ways. You want to avoid this.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that you won’t be able to use any of your work that you create during your foggy minded typing. What I am saying is that you won’t be able to tell if it truly is good or if it belongs in the bin, as Gordon Ramsey might say. It’s underdone, put it back in the oven.

Writer’s remorse is YOU plugging away at that amazing story and ending up with choppy scenes, unwanted characters, bad plot, flat people, no environment, maybe no reaction. REACTION drives your characters. Without it, you have flat characters. I once read a short story where a guy was stabbed and he didn’t even grunt, no cursing, no “AHHHH! You stabbed me!” Nothing. What the hell, some guy stabs you, you’re gonna make a fuss. Right?

Maybe you completely forget to mention your environment. What? Your world has no weather? No people in it except the talking heads? No obstacles? Why would you ever want to read a story like that?

Eventually, you get some rest. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, you sit at your overlord, COMPUTER and open your story, start reading what ever it was you wrote the night before to find all of the above. You’re left sitting there, staring at this mess that’s got a goofy grin staring back, mocking you, maybe the story flips you off and says, “Deal with it.”

What do you do? You suffer from writer’s remorse. Now you spend the next month, cutting, editing, rewriting, adding tons of time onto your goal. Before you know it a year slipped by and your friends and allies wont talk to you because you’ve ignored them all this time to right this horrible wrong. You could never let that story see the light of day or you would loose all face as a serious author.

To avoid all of this, get a note book. Write your whole story in it, planning it in scenes before you even type a single word. When the time comes, you write the whole thing in a couple months and call it a book. That’s life, a world you create, without writer’s remorse.

Good luck, and put you’re tray in the upright position, we’re landing here people.

Death of Good Villains

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Ever notice how they build up this amazing villain who you love to hate, only to kill them off? What’s the point of that? Some of the best stories ever told are with villains who ‘get away to live and fight another day.’

When you do it right, your reader will not only want your villain to survive, they will begin to sympathize with them. Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes is a great example of this. He is the anti-Sherlock, yet, they have a lot in common. He’s brilliant and oddly polite. Except for the fact that he’s driven to destroy, he’s just peachy. In another life, he and Sherlock may have been close friends. They kind of are, playing their little game, that’s what friends do, they play together. If you read him right, you want to feel for the guy. He reminds you of that song: ‘Behind blue eyes’ by the who. ‘No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes.’

How about Dracula? Did anyone else get this is a love story? Put yourself in his shoes. He goes to war for his faith. Word comes back to his wife that he’s dead. He bathes in the blood of the enemies of the church and returns to find she has committed suicide. He drinks the ancient blood of the black cross and becomes Dracula. Much time passes. He meets a woman who is the reincarnation of his beautiful love. The whole world is trying to keep them apart and even trying to kill him. You can’t get more romantic than that. Yet, through all this, they are the ones keeping them from finally finding peace in their embrace, two wanting souls who hunger for each other. They call him the monster, they prey on his children and murder him. In this tale, you can learn to identify with the villain.

Don’t kill off your villains, and if you feel that it is absolutely necessary then for the love of everything that is sacred to you, introduce a bigger baddy that your once big bad villain was actually working for. Another great way to tackle this situation is to make someone pick up the torch to get revenge on your hero.

Every person is capable of good and evil. Some teeter to one side or the other. What if a villain became good? What the hell is the hero going to do then? Their whole life they’ve been fighting and now it just ends? No, we make someone even worst then the previous villain.

Killing off your villains without cause or just for a simple shock effect is lame. You have to do better than that. Too many writers forget to put villains in their stories. If there is no struggle, there is no story. A great writer once said: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ― William Faulkner

I don’t take this to mean: ‘Kill all the characters you love.’ Maim them a little. Remember, scars build character. Make things hard for them. They need to struggle to get to where they need to be so they can grow to be great. If your heros never become great then your reader doesn’t become great. Get it? Creating great villains are an easy way to get them there.

You gotta reach, go bigger than your original idea. Always strive to be and do greater than you intended. Make us care about your villains, better yet, YOU gotta care about them. Don’t half-ass it and make some generic prick who is kind of snarky and greedy and expect me to like it. You better bring your ‘A’ game when you write your villains because you know I will. I pour my heart and soul into every character, good and bad. If I can’t feel something for each one, then what’s the point?

Ivan Desabrais

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