Write badly

Hey peeps! What’s the single best piece of writing advice you’ve got, and why?

Like, imagine you’ve got a moment alone with a budding writer. Also, let’s imagine you’re not a murderous bastard and don’t stab them to death then and there, to cull the competition. Let’s imagine, instead, that you want to give them the best chance of survival in the shit sea of the writing world. You can give them one piece of advice. What is it?

Mine is, “Write badly.” As in, aim as low as you can. Set your standards as far beneath you as possible. Imagine the shittiest piece of writing in existence, and then write a bit more badly.

Why?

Because the biggest obstacle in writing, now and forever, no matter how well seasoned a veteran you are, is resistance. As in, that small voice inside of you that says, “I’m not gonna write today, ’cause I gotta pick the kids up from school, cook, clean, and wrassle with a grizzly.” The unholy adversary, the Great Excuse. That’s resistance.

Aiming low helps deal with resistance, because, now that you’ve already set yourself up to fail, neither failure nor success hold any fear for you. (Well, that’s the theory.) Aiming low doesn’t negate resistance – nothing ever does – but at least it’s a small zap in the ass.

All right. I’ve shown you mine. Now will you show me yours?

Advertisements

Alice’s Idea Giveaway Sunday, vol. 8

Hey peeps! This is Alice. Can I have a round of applause for another bloody Sunday, with its bloody pile of ideas, free for all? That’s the spirit!

If you haven’t been here before, the deal is simple. These are my writing ideas. Take them. Everything is free.

You know, in my previous giveaways I’ve presented my ideas in a highly structured form – in units that are well on their way to being stories. And that’s as I like it. Ideas aren’t usually worth jack by themselves. I’m only calling them worthy once they collide with other ideas and form those delightful train wrecks called stories. Before that, ideas are just dust.

Sometimes, though, a spark can ignite that dust.

Now, to celebrate that conflagratory quality, I’m presenting y’all with a slapdash list of random things, flecks of thought, what-ifs, dark futures, and talking animals of all flavours. Here you go!

Alice’s Random Ideas

  • What if you had auditory hallucinations (i.e. you heard voices), and the voices are mean, and know the future?
  • What if there was an objectophiliac sword-fighter, who was in love with their sword?
  • What if cannibalism was state sanctioned?
  • A protagonist who suffers from a disease, which isn’t cured during the story, which isn’t about the disease
  • A medium who can’t see ghosts, but has a miraculously keen eye for the workings of the human heart
  • A house where the walls have ears, and mouths, and they chat, argue, and advise
  • Everybody knows berserkers, but did you know there were said to be “boarserkers” as well? Look it up, that stuff is hilarious!
  • Related to that, anybody ever write a woman berserker (as in, a professional warrior employing ritualised fury) and didn’t turn her into a beer-guzzling, bar-brawling, masculine woman? And none of that “bear mother defending her young” stuff either, we’ve seen that. I want femininity and fighting not to be mutually exclusive. (Seriously, why does this point still need to be stressed?)
  • Also, more flaming gay fighting men that can be taken seriously, please!
  • What about a perfect wishing amulet? Unlimited wishes, interpreted in the kindest and most reasonable manner possible. Take that to its logical conclusion and see how long it takes for its owner to become miserable!
  • What if tokamaks started to work and we had commercial fusion by 2050?
  • Did you know that in some shamanistic cultures, women generally did not become shamans because they were too busy with householding and child-rearing? But as they aged and left the chores behind, they could discover the latent power within themselves! I WANT A STORY ABOUT A POST-MENOPAUSAL SHAMAN INITIATE!
  • A character who takes better care of their boots than people, but this isn’t treated solely as a fault
  • Cool animal companions? Sign me up! How about a badass ranger accompanied by a talking cow? Also, do not make it into a joke. Cows deserve a thoughtful, many-sided treatment.
  • How about another stock character who always seems to be out of stock? The heroic clown – a character who is ridiculous and weak, but also acts bravely and efficiently, and neither of these sides negates the other
  • Okay, plasma guns, amirite? Anybody ever played a videogame with a plasma gun and thought, “jeez, what a limp-wristed effect”? Starting with Doom’s plasma gun: it’s a stream of weak-looking blue blobs. HOW CAN EVERYBODY GET THIS SO WRONG? Kids, plasma is ten times hotter than lava. Plasma is nature deciding, “Imma take this stuff that insulates electricity and heat it up until it doesn’t!” Plasma is God frying up giants with a snap of His fingers. Please, somebody write a plasma weapon I can actually believe.

 

Whoops, getting a bit carried away here! Anyway, let’s sweep up this dust and lay low till next Sunday, okay? In the meantime, why don’t you give me a sample of your best ideas? I’m greedy and want them all!

Princely advice

Hello! This is Alice. Do you guys know Queen Elizabeth’s consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh? He said a thing once that’s loyally served as my guiding star.

To paraphrase, he said never to talk about yourself. And why? Because nobody cares. Deep down, everybody is interested in themselves, and nobody cares to hear who you are, or what you do.

I’ve always thought that was kinda comforting. Y’know? Don’t have to prove anything to anybody, ’cause nobody cares. I can just be me, and not be bothered by any asshole.

(Yeah, I wish… but hey, that’s not the topic for today.)

I realise that Prince Philip’s advice can be scary for some. If you’ve lived your whole life dependent on others’ good opinion, well, that kinda eats at the foundation of your being, don’t it?

Try living by it sometime, though! There’s a special kind of power in getting to decide for yourself as to what constitutes a good life.

Anyway, what I actually wanted to say is, Philip’s words may seem doubly scary for writers. We want others to hear what we’re saying, right? We need people to hear us, and we need them to care! Is there anything worse than writing a story and having nobody read it? Philip must be dead wrong!

Well, not quite. You see, when you write a story, that’s not you talking.

The story talks. You’re just the interpreter.

There’s two advantages in thinking like this, I believe. First, if your story doesn’t hit big, hey, who cares? It’s water off the bird’s back. You’re just the interpreter, after all.

Second, if your story does hit big, well, who cares? It’s nice and all – but you’re just the interpreter. What a great safeguard to keep your ego from swelling!

Heed the Prince, peeps. Nobody cares!

Alice’s Idea Giveaway Sunday, vol. 7

Greetings, denizens of 2019! I am Alice, and I come in peace. As a token of my peaceful intentions, I gift you all with some of my best writing ideas!

So what’s the deal? Simple and straightforward. Below are my ideas. Take them, piecemeal or whole, modify them, mutate them. Everything is free! Also, I always encourage you to share your own ideas in the comments. Like love, ideas do not diminish when you share them – they multiply!

What do we got, then? Let us see.

Asmela of the Night Wind

I had an idea about the invisible assassin of the gods, Asmela. Her masters, the greedy Gods of Nar, have granted her with two magical powers: she is invisible, and she can fly.

Now, how does flight work, you ever thought about that? I had a few ideas. First, though Asmela doesn’t have to flap her (non-existent) wings, her flight does consume energy – and the gods being greedy, they don’t want to supply her from their own stores. So, if Asmela wants to fly, she’s gotta eat. Also, if she flies fast, high, or for long distances, she’s liable to get tired, just as if you were sprinting, climbing, or running a marathon.

Second, since Asmela doesn’t own any invisible clothes, she has to fly naked if she wants to stay invisible, too. Now, though the Valley of Nar is fairly hot, it can get cold up there in the skies with the wind blowing, especially if you’re naked. Ergo, if Asmela wants to fly high and not freeze, she’s got to wear furs and forgo the invisibility part.

Also, since flight must consume power, it would make sense if it would consume more power the heavier you are. Like, carrying 25 kilo on a hike is a lot tougher than carrying 5 kilo. So, Asmela must avoid carrying heavy loads and should maintain a reasonable body weight, which may not be an easy task since she also poses as the feast-loving, all-wealthy queen of the Nar Valley!

Gosh, so much to think about.

The Moonlight Monastery

I’m currently reading Anna Larsdotter’s Kvinnor i strid. More fascinating than a slow fuck! Y’all know I’m weird, and have had a soft spot for Thirty Years’ War since my twenties?

What I didn’t realise before is this: 1) the armies of that time had huge numbers of women and children tailing after them, doing all the jobs, making armies more like mobile towns than anything else, and 2) pillaging was on everyone’s minds – including womens’ – but women were also desirable booty, and 3) uniforms (didn’t exist) and allegiances (changed on the fly) were far less defined than, say, two hundred years later.

Do you guys understand what a treasure trove of stories and ideas 17th-century warfare is? I’m in love, I’m in love!

Actions in the Thirty Years’ War weren’t often “fighting” actions as such. What I mean is, you didn’t just ride out against the enemy, intending to fight them on the battlefield. A large part of actions were devoted to food! Food was super important. Like, riding out to find food. Or to steal and destroy the enemy’s food. Also, they didn’t have supply chains back then. You ate what the land had, then and there. Which means the peasants really had shitty lots. (Most everybody else too, of course. War ain’t roses and chocolates today, far less then.)

So, what I’d like historical and fantasy writers to remember is food. Food is what it’s all about. In The Moonlight Monastery (working title), I had the idea that Aguilliere’s band of soldiers have been sent to destroy the local crops to deny the Spaniards their meals. Also, they’ve taken what they can carry with them, to bring rations back to their forces.

Alas, in crossing a river while fleeing pursuing Spaniards, Aguilliere’s band loses much of their acquired booty: chickens, grain, bread, fruit, and two lovely Italian girls. The resulting shortage of food makes them desperate, and forms the crucial catalyst of the story. They have to take shelter in the suspicious monastery because everybody’s starving. (And also because the Spaniards are on their heels.)

Now, the monastery is ruled by vampire nuns, and they offer the cuirassiers the repast of their dreams. Aguilliere tries to warn her soldiers not to eat, but the Savoyards are famished – and thus they fall under the spell of the vampires, who have power over those who accept their lodging and partake of their hospitality (i.e. their food).

Lest you think the vampire nuns are all evil – they’re not – you have to look at the war from their point of view. They eat people, after all, so what they do is just the same as a hunter setting traps for hares.

My god, war’s such fun! I mean, as a source of ideas. Not otherwise.

 

That’s it for today, peeps! What are some of your best ideas? Give them to me!

Pondering on predictability

So, the other day I was fattening my arse on the couch, browsing the wonderland of television. Spectre was on. I decided, what the hell, Imma give it a chance.

Mistake. It was like somebody drafted a list of the most likely Bond tropes, and the film cheerlessly checked each item in turn. I admit I didn’t last to the end, but reading the synopsis from Wikipedia, I see I didn’t miss a thing.

I like Daniel Craig as Bond, though, for what it’s worth. He’s hot. I just wish they’d given him better lines.

I think it’ll be decades before they make a truly surprising Bond film. I’m afraid you’ll have to thaw me from cryo to see Jane Bond. But I was thinking about that formulaic nature, and maybe it’s not all bad? Because, you know, for all my big talk, I loved Dredd.

I hate predictability, but at the same time, I need a bit of it to keep me in the loop. I think that’s the crux of formulas. When you mix in too much predictability, you get formulaic dross. But when you mix in too little, the cake falls apart.

Some of it must be connected to that Johnstone’s maxim on storytelling: you have to give the audience what it expects. I know that maxim may not make a whole lot of sense, given that I’m trying to rail against predictability here, but there’s the paradox – we gotta be predictable to be unpredictable.

Please don’t ask me how that works. I’m still trying to figure out the whole of it myself.

I should probably re-read Johnstone while I’m at it. Maybe you should, too?

Keith Johnstone. Try either Impro or Impro for Storytellers.

Alice’s Idea Giveaway Sunday, vol. 6

Behold, the year reels inexorably toward a thunderous close! Everything old will vanish, and a new, shining creation will emerge! To celebrate this festival of renascence, Alice hosts yet another iteration of her giveaway of ideas!

What is this? Well, the deal is simple. Alice gives away her writing ideas for free. If you see something you like, go ahead and grab it!

I strongly believe that thoughts and dreams are common goods. I’m sharing what I’ve got, and if you want, you can share what you’ve got in the comments!

All right, waffle mode over, let’s crack that box open!

The Moonlight Monastery

Last week, I told you about this story, in which the vampire hunter Aguilliere battles demon nuns in a cursed monastery. Despite being a vampire hunter of illustrious lineage, Aguilliere is powerless against her quarry without her demon-slaying weapon, the Sword of Night (vampires are physically superior to humans, you see).

Now, I had the idea that Aguilliere is accompanied by her trusty companion, nicknamed “Pacquet”. Destiny has brought Aguilliere and Pacquet together, for Pacquet, too, belongs to an ancient lineage, albeit darker than that of Aguilliere. Pacquet is the last scion of a family who traces its origin to Amberdin, the forsaken weaponsmith, whose soul belonged to the Devil in exchange for sorcerous gifts. It was Amberdin’s descendants who forged the Sword of Night.

I love the idea of dead ancestors returning from the grave to instruct their living descendants. I also love the idea of “fleshy” ghosts – unlike the corny, translucent staple of movies, the fleshy ghost looks and feels akin to a living person, until they do something that proves their otherworldly nature. Now, I wanted to combine these two ideas in the person of Amberdin, who, at a climactic moment, returns from the dead to instruct Pacquet in creating a sword for Aguilliere, so that she may fight the vampire nuns. Aguilliere tests the sword, but alas, despite Pacquet’s best effort, it cannot harm the nuns’ supernatural bodies!

In a fateful twist, Aguilliere falls in love with one of the vampire nuns, Arienne. Arienne is scorned by her sisters, and when they find out about her and Aguilliere, Arienne is doomed. Aguilliere and Pacquet try to save her, but it is too late: Arienne meets an inescapable death!

As Arienne’s body lies before them, dead as stone, Pacquet feels compelled to somehow console the grieving Aguilliere. So, Pacquet ends up performing dark magic, and binds Arienne’s spirit into the sword she forged with Amberdin’s help. This sword takes on the name “Arienne”. Charged with its namesake’s vengeful spirit, the sword finally harbours power enough to destroy the demonic nuns – and Aguilliere goes to town!

Under the Mountain

I’m a sucker for the “king in the mountain” motif. I’m also a big fan of the Master Chief from the Halo franchise, although I think the games and their stories kinda suck otherwise. But the idea of having a super soldier in storage, and then cracking open that storage in a time of need, gets my wellies super hot!

I was thinking Lord Eva would combine these ideas, but now I’m having second thoughts. It just doesn’t click. What about you? Have you written or read about kings in the mountain, or super soldiers in storage? (Ideally, both!) If so, what was it like? All ideas appreciated!

Asmela of the Night Wind

I had an idea about an invisible assassin, Asmela, who is the puppet of the gluttonous Gods of Nar. Asmela has two chief, god-granted powers: she is invisible, and she can fly.

The invisibility thing is a bit tricky for Asmela, however. See, it can’t be turned off, so she’s invisible all the time. Have you guys ever wondered what that really means?

Like, if Asmela’s midriff and gut are invisible, does that mean you can see the food she eats, and the poop that travels through her colon? That would be very awkward for an invisible assassin of the gods, so the answer is no. Well, how does that work, then? Does food magically turn invisible when it goes into her mouth? The answer is: yes, it does.

Well, what does that mean, then? Simple! Anything Asmela puts in her mouth turns invisible as well! Imagine the difficulties if you were her, and trying to send a letter. You lick the stamp, and lo! It disappears! Thankfully, the Gods of Nar don’t maintain post offices, so Asmela doesn’t have to deal with that. But, surely the power could be used for interesting effects – or better yet, cause interesting problems.

Any ideas?

A writer’s fears

A few days ago, a local journalist hit the streets to ask folks about their fears. It got me thinking about my own fears – what do I fear?

Well, a number of things.

I fear the dark, the climate change, somebody attacking me, I fear rapists, driving over somebody, or that people will laugh at me. I fear the spiny plumage of pineapples. I fear death, illness, horses, large pigs, and inexplicable noises when I’m alone in a big house. I fear that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. I fear the fall of civilisation. I fear that one day I’ll accidentally cut off my fingers with scissors.

Yes, I fear a fair few things. But what do I fear as a writer?

Well, to start with, I fear that I’ll never write anything good. (Yes, I fear it even though I know that I’ve already written something good. Fears aren’t rational.) I also fear that all of my writing sucks on some fundamentally inescapable level. I fear that all of my writing is boring, that I’m boring, and that I and my writing don’t have the right to exist. I fear that I won’t ever get published. I fear that when I do get published, nobody will read my works or like them. I fear that once I’m published, everybody will soon forget all about me, and I’ll never get a second chance.

What else? I’m afraid that somebody will write exactly what I’m writing at the moment, but do it infinitely better. I’m afraid that people will read my works and tell me I suck and should never write again. I’m even more afraid that people will read my works and tell me I’m mediocre. I’m afraid that nobody will read my works ever.

That about sums it up for now. Some repetition there, I’m sure. But I’m wondering – do all writers fear these things? And if not, what do they fear?

Are you a writer? Please, tell me about your fears.