Monthly Archives: December 2015

Answer the Question: What Happens Next?

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens taught us an important lesson. The power of story is within answering the question, “What happens next?”

For those of us who are ancient enough to have seen the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), we dreamed of new Star Wars movies for years. What happened after the Empire fell? Were there other Jedi? What happened with Han and Leia? We wanted to know one simple thing, “What happens next?”

A story that is a “page-turner,” a story that engages the reader or viewer, is a story that constantly has us desperate for “What happens next?” Even if the story comes to a conclusion, a satisfying one as it did in Return of the Jedi, we still want to know what happens next.

Because we love the characters and struggled with them.

For those of us who were hungry for more, we had to read Star Wars novels and comic books, some of them amazing. Some not so great.

When Lucas announced he was making more Star Wars movies, we cheered. When we heard he wanted to do the prequels, we went, “Well, okay. I mean, yay!” And the prequels never engaged us like the original trilogy. Why? We knew the end of the story. We knew, for the most part, what happened next. We knew Anakin would get together with Padme, turn to the dark side, and have twins. We knew Obi Wan and Yoda would survive. We knew Palpatine would become the ¬†Emperor.

Some bad writing and acting and overuse of special effects and visuals, and the sequels didn’t catch on with fans of the original trilogy. Some of the younger generation, some kids, whose first introduction were the prequels, they love them. But for those of us who cried on the way home from Empire Strikes Back, freaking out about what happened to Luke’s hand and Han Solo, we went, “Cool lightsaber battles, but otherwise, meh.”

The Force Awakens is what we wanted. I’ll be honest, without giving any spoilers, the movie isn’t perfect and could have been a little more creative, but the reason why people are so excited about this movie is that it continues in the spirit of the original trilogy and it makes us ask the question … what happens next? There are more unanswered questions at the end of the movie. And we’ll come back to get the answers to those questions.

As a writer, we should remember to set up a story so that the reader is desperate to know what happens next. The further we go in the story without creating that desperation, the more likely it is that they give up on the story. How do we do that? We do it with strong characters people can relate to, a goal we can understand and then epic struggles to get to that goal. Every story that sucks us in has those elements, from simple to complicated.

And I think I just learned … don’t do any prequels …


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Getting Inspired to Write Again

Now that I’m beginning to recover from my book grief, I am trying to get inspired again for the next project.

The Eres Chronicles take a lot out of me. The Living Stone was five years before I got started, then another two to actually write the thing. The Blades of War took more like a year and a half. Why does it take so much out of me? It is a world I have created, with a story and characters I have created, but my goal is to make it all as real as possible. In order to do that, I have to immerse myself into that world. It is different than having a scene take place at the Dairy Queen down the street or even a generic fast food place. I can conjure those settings up in my mind with ease. With the Eres Chronicles, I have to reacquaint myself with Asya and Taggart and the political and social and religious systems. Takes a good bit of creative effort.

Oh, and then I have to tell a cool story with it all.

And then I have to kill off some of my favorite villains and heroes. Yes, the villains, too. They aren’t good villains unless you love them.

So how do I get inspired for all that? I consume a lot of media. I read as much as I can. I watch as many movies as I can.

I have to be selective and intentional about what I watch, however. I’m not reading or watching to simply be entertained. I read new books, new authors, sometimes ones I’ve already read and know I love. I watch new movies. I particularly watch foreign movies. They are stories told from different perspectives and with different endings and arcs that American stories don’t have. Gives me new ideas rather than the same old formulas.

If you want to be a writer, to some degree you give up the right to be mindlessly entertained. You have to know what inspires you. Because if you don’t figure that out, how can you hope to inspire others? Inspired people inspire others. And writing is a great outlet for that. And being consistently inspired is hard work.

That’s my hard work for December.


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Book Grief … It’s Lame but it’s Real

My wife looked at me last week and said, “Well, you’ve been in a funk the last couple days.”

Now, you might think she meant I listened to a lot of James Brown and Marvin Gaye, which is always possible, but no, she meant I was moody.

I knew what she was talking about, yet I didn’t know why I was in a funk. I started thinking about it and it came to me: book grief.

I had heard of it before, and I probably experienced it to some degree a couple years ago after I finished the Blades of War, but honestly, I didn’t really believe in it. It sounded lame.

And to be honest, it is lame. Like most of you, I’ve experienced real grief. Real people in my life have passed away, whether after a long illness or suddenly. And that hurts like crap.

This isn’t near as bad as that. But there is a type of grief that happens.

For the last two months, and a little more, I tried to write 2k words a day. That’s a couple hours a day. On Saturdays or other days off, that might be more like 4-5 hours of writing up to 8k a day.

If I’m a good writer, and that is up for debate, then my characters should live and breathe like real people. They have pasts, they have desires, hopes, dreams, fears, all of it. I saw them in my head and lived with them. I don’t think I would say they were my friends, but I knew them fairly intimately. Now they’re gone. Poof.

There was no grief after Make a God. I went right into The Pack, like a rebound, I guess. Now that I’m taking a break, I miss the story. I don’t miss the work and the sacrifice, but I miss the people and the story. And in some way, since I wrote The Pack less from an outline and more in an organic flow, it was even more personal and real. Maybe the grief is worse for that reason, too.

I’m getting motivated and inspired for the next book. I want to start it in January. There’s work to do. But the motivation for the next book, The Fire Reborn, is I want to revisit the story and the characters. I want to see Caleb again. I want to watch Aden continue to grow. How will Eshlyn react and act in the war to come? I want to experience the battles and the struggle with them. And I want to share it with you, the reader.

I know. It’s lame. But it’s why we write.


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Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

So I finished the book. I literally wrote a book in a month. I wrote 71k words and 211 manu pages in 28 days (I started a day later and finished a day early).

I rewrote an older short story and made it into a novel. I should do this more. I enjoyed it. The Pack is a werewolf story with my own werewolf mythology in a modern, young adult setting.

Advantages. I had finished Make a God just before, in October, so I was in the writing groove. I had already written it as a short story, so the feel, the voice, the general idea was all there. I could just write. Last, there was Thanksgiving Break to sneak in a few more hours of writing.

Obstacles. I traveled the first week of November and started a little behind. I got caught up, though, that first weekend, and kept writing every day. Some days, also, I just didn’t want to write. Forcing myself to anyway was therapeutic and instructional.

Next for The Pack is beta readers. After a few of those come in, I’ll work on my first major revision/proofread. Then I’ll send it out to an editor.

Then I’ll shop this one, I think, to agents. We’ll see, but I think this has potential in a lot of ways to be something a publisher would be interested in.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again? I thought it taught me a lot, and it was a bucket list kind of thing, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again. We’ll see next November. I might …



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