Great endings and all those others

Today I read a blog post from a fellow Hatracker. MaryAnn talks about how story endings need to reach the reader/viewer’s expectations, otherwise the whole thing falls apart. While I was writing a reply to her post I got into my rant mode and since I don’t hate her that much I’ve decided I will dump this in my own blog instead.

I stopped watching Lost for the same reason I stopped watching the X Files: a lot of promises and too little realization of those promises (for those same reasons I don’t like politics). When it comes to character vs plot, I’m usually a character man myself but Lost had a beginning that clearly promised a mystery to solve. That was what I expected of this show. The character development was a great part of it but it wasn’t why I watched the series; I wanted to see if they are indeed lost in Jurassic Park or not.

Instead of a mystery to be solved, all I got was more twists and eventually I figured out that there’s too much smoke and lightning for it to end in an interesting way. So I saved me some time and went to watch Battlestar Galactica instead.

Speaking of endings and speaking of Battlestar Galactica, there’s another topic waiting to be violated. Sure, it was a nice poetic ending but completely unrealistic. Don’t tell me that people who use make-up, wear fancy dresses and are used of pushing buttons all their lives will voluntarily choose to live in the wilderness, wearing animal skins and reproduce with the monkey people they found on some alien planet. Was that why we fought for? I’m not sure what ending would be more satisfying but “God did it” really wouldn’t be what I would go for.

That said, yes, endings do need a lot of work to be good. That’s why I usually come up with an ending early so all the twists I invent after are in sync with the ending. Sometimes I will even plot the story backwards, from the ending to a beginning, always looking for the reason something happens, not the consequence.

And MaryAnn, don’t try to find a perfect ending. Find a suitable one and get to work on the next story. Trust me, we’ve all been there.

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Upgraded?

I believe I’ve made a major breakthrough in honing my craft of writing. After finishing Clockworks Warrior, I tried getting back to Arena and it proved very difficult. It seems I’ve upgraded significantly because the style in Arena seems very tacky to me now. This doesn’t mean I plan to abandon the project, it just means that I will need to put much more work in it than I previously imagined. Maybe it’s time to make up another deadline…

The major problem with Arena is that I wanted to use 1st person present in it. Since a lot of it is physical action, 1st person present works perfectly. You don’t get to hear a report of it as in past tense but get to watch it unfold in front of you. 1st was chosen because there were so many comments by my POV chacter that half o fthe text would be in italic. So 1st person present feels like the best way to go at it and yet I have a very queasy feeling about it. So I said to myself: just write it down, you can alway rewrite it later. True, and yet not completely true. I have to feel the text as I’m writing it, otherwise I can never make a story that would be good enough to publish. I can’t write in gloves, so to speak. It has to be genuine or it’s not worth doing it.

If anyone reading this blog has any suggestions, I would be happy to hear them so send them my way.

Death of characters

Lots of times it seems that writers don’t dare to look a dying character in the eye, as if afraid to be blamed personally for the murder. When it comes to killing, a writer needs to be a monster; no emotions, just every gruesome detail. George R R Martin never forgets to make the dying of his characters personal, no matter how minute they are. To me, every death scene in Song of Ice and Fire is a tragedy (and there’s plenty of them), even if the character was made to be hated (you all know which characters I mean). There’s also one line in the HBO series Game of Thrones (yes, I’m nuts about that show), delivered by King Robert about killing men: “They don’t tell you how they all shit themselves. They don’t put that part in the songs.”

To that purpose, I love Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Not because they are quirky and don’t even have to make sense to be awesome but because the killing is always personal. It’s important to show the dying as well. That character wasn’t just a prop, it was a person. The least we can do is say farewell to them, not pretend like they never existed in the first place.

Battle scenes

It seems many upcoming writers have trouble with describing action scenes. This is something I’ve been working on since forever and there’s still much and more to learn. But here are some things I’ve figured out.

First of all, a battlefield isn’t a playground. The Narnia books/movies have battles where the main fighters are children and hamsters. Excuse me? Grown men return from a battle broken and ruined and you want to see a 13-year-old charging a minotaur head on? Oh right, it’s fantasy.

With that mini-rant out of the way, I can finally concentrate on the important stuff.

Make your characters fight dirty. It gives you a whole new way of showing their true nature. Who thinks about fighting honorably when they are actually fighting? Most people think about surviving through a battle, not how they must remain pure and noble. A decent character can be ashamed of it later.

There are some authors who are good at action scenes and one should strive to learn from them. Steven Pressfield writes gripping battle scenes and in his books you can see that most of the battle isn’t fighting but the waiting, the emotional and physical stress. Concentrate on those if you want to make a battle scene realistic. For instance, Aragorn in Two Towers just went through the Warg fight scene, fell off a cliff, nearly drowned, rode all night to reach Helm’s Deep in time and then calmly put on a 20-kilo suit of chainmail and fought for another night without stopping. Not realistic one bit, even for fantasy.

If you’re writing from a single person’s perspective and your character isn’t sitting on top of the battlefield, forget about the zoom-out feature where a reader can see everything that’s happening.

Don’t forget to show physical fatigue of prolonged fighting. A round of canne de combat lasts 90 seconds. The fighting stick weighs 0.15 of a kilo, practically weightless. Before half of the round is done, your arm feels like a ton of lead and you’re clawing for breath in that plastic helmet. Now imagine fighting four hours non-stopping, in a 10-kilo suit of armor (if you’re lucky) with a 4-kilo sword or spear and a 5-kilo shield on top of that. In a closed metal helmet, weighing another kilo or two.

Show your character conserving his/her energy. Show the exhaustion. Show your character taking rest in the middle of a battle. It’s genuine.