The Inner Workings of Speculative Fiction

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Today, and in the next few posts, I want us to discuss the modern genre. More specifically, I'll be focusing on the fantasy genre, as I have the best grasp of that material. Let's first talk about: 

The Inner Workings of Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is what we define as an umbrella term for fiction that contains elements that do not exist in the real world. This is why we can find Horror, Sci-fi, and Fantasy, all under this same term. Not only that, but Speculative fiction dates back to mythological stories, but I have some quibbles about that, which I will touch on more when I do a historical article. For the most part, we have a genre that tries to encapsulate the nonexistent into one term. Listed below are some examples that go under this term: 

  • Fantasy

  • Science fiction

  • Horror

  • Utopian

  • Dystopian

  • Apocalyptic

  • Post-apocalyptic

  • Supernatural

  • Superhero

  • Alternate history

Already, you can see that there is going to be a lot to cover. And rather than write for the next two years on one subject in the same format, I will do my best to condense or take the time it needs to get it done proper. 

So, next time, we will begin this epic journey into the genre that is starting to take over the popular media platform. 

A Quick History of Drama

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Today marks the next step in covering the earliest of the literary genres. We went over the Epic, which as we all know now is the earliest form of storytelling that we have uncovered. So now I want to take a step forward in time, to where we now get to talk about Greek influences on this whole genre business. Today I want to talk about:

A Quick History of Drama(s)

I rarely ever get an excuse to use the parentheses in my titles. Anyway, let’s talk about the drama’s, and the oldest of we have access to. But first, we have to accurately define what the genre is. Drama is the term used for a play that is neither a comedy or a tragedy… Yeah, I don’t feel good about it either. That all being said, before the term “drama,” the standard word was play. Until Shakespeare’s time, this was the norm. This is why someone was a play-write, and they worked in a play-house. Modern terms have more defined the genre as time has gone on.

The theatrical culture began in Athens, Greece, and was the origin of the three forms of drama (tragedy, comedy, satyr play (and yes that was what it was, these would later become the satirical forms, but satyr plays were the “uncouth” or “irreverent” sort of plays that were like our more modern day burlesque plays)). We only have a few works from this period, and only from five major dramatists of the time. Aeschylus’ tragedy The Persians is the oldest surviving complete text we have dating back to 472 BC.

Once the Roman republic started to expand into Greek territory, it encountered the Greek drama and quickly adapted it. By 240 BC, while Greek drama was still flourishing, the Roman drama had started to take over. The Romans were turning it into a much broader form of entertainment than the previous full-length dramas performed by the Greeks. By the second century, there were established guilds around writing for theatrical performance.

The Medieval period was the time frame where the drama and theatre started to spread further east. During the Roman period, it had moved through most of Europe, and during this time between the 10th and 11th centuries. By the 11th century, it had moved into Scandinavia, Russia, and Italy.

The Elizabethan period (16th and 17th centuries) is where many may be most familiar because of Shakespeare. This is the time where there was a great upsurge in the theatre, and its popularity soared. However, as rich and extensive this particular part could be because of Shakespeare’s works, we could dedicate a whole month or two just on some of his works. So I will have to glaze over this section for the time being. Maybe in the future we will touch on it more.

Between 1660 to 1710, we have the restoration of comedy movement, which primarily regarded the English comedies. It was common for these comedies to take elements and plot-lines from older comedies, some dating back into the Greek and Roman plays. They would make the older plot-lines more modernized and would bring the stories into the modern theatre to help reinvigorate the comedy plays. There was a second wave in the 1690s that tried to be more socially aware and would appeal to the middle-class viewer and were even written to appeal to women as well. 

The modern and postmodern drama was a massive movement in the 19th century, much of which was using theatre to incorporate new and innovative ways. Many focus on modernist and realist forms, while using formal experimentation, meta-theatricality, and even integrated social critique into their plays.

We also have several different forms of drama performance that we didn’t cover, as I focused purely on the literature side. We have opera, ballet, mime, pantomime, etc. Since we are focusing on the literature side of things, I most likely won’t cross over into these fields as they are a much better medium for visual rather than written expression. Perhaps a video discussion, I don’t know, but writing about it would not do that sort of thing justice in my mind.

So there we have it, for now, a quick rundown of the history of drama and some neat facts to take in and spit out at your next dinner/work/family event. Next, I will start to evaluate where to move on from here. Do I move over to a new genre, or do I expand? I will go over a few things and see what fits best. So, until then.

Goals: How Being SMART Works

Work-Life Balance: Part 3 of 5

Written by Karyn Patterson

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In our last post, we talked about habits, and what’s the point of them as a writer. Now, I’d like to talk about goals. The purpose of a goal is to get something done, but more importantly, it helps someone in the creative arts stay on top of their work. Without these, original work tends to happen on an “as you feel” basis. This doesn’t work, which is why goals are paramount. 

Lemme be honest. I have never set Goals (with a capital G) until very recently. Sure, I would have a specific thought (wish) that I called a goal: I want to be a New York Times Bestselling Author. But then I’d be lazy about setting deadlines for myself. If you read my blog on fear, you probably realize my hesitation to set a limit on my “goals” comes from my apprehension of what could come of a project.

But then, one day not so long ago, I ran into an oddly magnetic stranger at Starbucks. I’m not talking physical attraction here, in spite of the magnetic quality. No, it was more that I thought he might be an actual angel or some other supernatural messenger-on-a-mission. 

The conversation started quite naturally at first, and after learning more about me asked, “May I speak boldly?” 

I stammered, “Yes, very boldly, please,” as I scrutinized him for signs of normal humanity, like blood vessels and such.

After he honed in on my biggest desire RIGHT NOW, he said, “Okay. I want you to stop researching how to write and start writing this project. Start today, and give me a deadline.” First of all, how the heck did he know I used research as procrastination? And secondly, he was pushing me to set an actual date. This stranger. At Starbucks.

Most of you are familiar with the acronym for goals, which is SMART. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or sometimes called Attainable), Relevant, and Timely. It didn’t take me long to realize the guy at Starbucks walked me through this whole process. 

1- He made me get specific. He asked: What is the thing you need to do most, right now? It took me a minute, but I was able to narrow it down to one thing that was more urgent than the others. 

2- He asked me to contemplate how long it would realistically take and asked me to set a deadline (measurable), not accepting generalities. He wanted an actual date.

3- Achievable: He asked questions to judge whether I was giving myself too much time to slack off. Indeed, I was. But some important things to ask yourself are: how much time do I really have to put into this? Do I have other priorities that I need to give time to? Or can I “treat this like a crumb on the table” (his quote) and put all of my focus on this one thing until it’s done? Push yourself--but be realistic. When he told me, “I know you can do this by the end of August,” I felt a stir of excitement. I believed it, too.

4- To determine whether something is relevant is important. It means asking yourself if this truly is your highest priority and the direction you want to go. Remember, you are building the map of your life (more on that in the next post), so make sure it takes you to the destination of your dreams.

5- Timely: He suggested I cut my deadline back again and again, saying he knew I could do it faster, that I was holding back out of fear. It gave me a sense of urgency, and when he told me to treat it as a “crumb on the table,” he was essentially telling me to quit overthinking the HUGE IMPORTANCE of doing it “right,” and the more essential matter of getting it done so I can move on to bigger and better things rather than having spinning wheels that take me nowhere. 

So while I thought I had been setting goals all my life, I had not gone through the real, nitty-gritty homework until this guy pushed through my reluctance and made me start thinking about it. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Be SMART.

“Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world.”

-Nelson Mandela 

The Epic - Because One Blog Wasn't Enough

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Today I’m back with a more in-depth discussion surrounding the Epic. Soon enough, we will move on, but I wanted to cover some of the other elements of the genre by looking into the oldest recorded Epic we have available to us. Now I picked this one because generally, most people are unfamiliar with it. A significant number of people know about the Iliad and The Odyssey, mostly due to movie adaptations or history class. But many of you might not know another, older Epic. So for today, I’m going to go over some of the elements of…

The Epic of Gilgamesh

So quick history; the Epic itself was a compilation of episodic stories rather than a whole singular piece. Essentially, this story takes place over 2000 years, with all parts adding to the tale as time went on. The Epic of Gilgamesh originated from Ancient Sumeria, but was later picked up by the Babylonian and Akkadian cultures. The first modern translation came about in the early 1870s by a man named George Smith, who then made further discoveries related to the Epic, which extended the story further.

Another interesting fact? There is proof from some artifacts that Enmebaragesi of Kish, who is part of the Epic and is the father of one of Gilgamesh’s enemies, may have lived, which gives some real-world credibility to the story.

As for the story itself, I will be referencing the Akkadian version, which is one of the more dominant versions available.

The story begins by introducing us to Gilgamesh, who is 2⁄3’s god, and 1⁄3’s man and his reign against his people. His subjects are living in anger and desperation against their king, and pray to the gods to help them. The gods solve this problem by sending someone who would be an equal match to Gilgamesh. When they do meet, there is a fierce battle between them, and the two acknowledge that both are mighty and strike a friendship over it. Thus begins Gilgamesh’s desire to go out into the world to accomplish great deeds alongside his newfound friend Enkidu.

They travel and go through all manner of the tropes that Epics are about, dreams, conversations with gods, finding a fierce monster that they have to battle. Gilgamesh defeats a great forest guardian and is cursed before he kills the beast. The gods have decided that the curse means that one of the two heroes would die, and Enkidu dreams that it will be himself. Over 12 days, his condition worsens, and he does die, Gilgamesh denies it until he sees larvae come from his body.

After this, Gilgamesh starts to wander the forests and the world in fear of death, and so he embarks on a journey to try and find eternal life. There is a reference to a great flood of the world, similarly, and predating the bible. The few survivors from this event are the only ones granted eternal life by the gods. Gilgamesh lays lions and meets with more monsters that allow him to pass through a tunnel that no man has ever been inside. He completes the trip in under a day and emerges into the garden of the gods.

Through his folly, Gilgamesh destroys the objects that would have allowed him eternal life. He is then ordered to do a task of cutting down 120 trees to cross the river of death. When he arrives, the god there reprimands Gilgamesh for this effort, saying that fighting against the fate of humans diminishes the joy of living. Gilgamesh asks how some others have obtained eternal life, and he’s told the story of the great flood. In this story, the survivors were told to build a boat to exact dimensions and thus survived the flood.

This is the story (in a nutshell, like uber condensed for space and time). And there is the chance that despite my research and sunken time, I may have missed a few details. That just means that you all have to go and read it on your own at some point. Educate yourselves.

So, back to the previous discussion, we had about Epics. We can see through my quick explanation that it does fit several, if not all, of the needs of the list. That list again:

Medias res. (Latin for in the middle of things)

Large or vast setting

Invocation to a muse

Begins with theme

Epithets

Epic catalog

Long speeches

Divine intervention

Heroes with values of the civilization

Hero’s descent into hell/underworld

Our story starts in Medias res, where we are introduced to everything already in full swing; including several parts of the world and the realm of gods. The story begins with the plight of the people and their plea to the gods to help them. The theme of the story is not to force a fate and learn to love life for what life offers you. The vast catalog of characters is among gods and humans that rival the gods, monsters, and beasts who do battle or banter with our characters. Not only that, but the gods intervene on the characters and their actions, through dreams or direct interactions. And of course, we see Gilgamesh going into the underworld to find the answer of eternal life.

Bam, we did it. Not a bad run down if I do say so myself. So I hope that this was an exciting introduction into the world of the Epic, and that it has helped feed your desire to find out more in the upcoming articles.

(Also, I know, I didn’t cover number 9 from the list very well but give me a break, I’m only one man.)

The Epic - History of the Oldest Story Form in Under Five Minutes

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Last time we went through a brief and broad explanation earlier about literary genres. Today we get to talk about one of the genres but in more depth:

The History of the Epic

If you are a reader or an advocate for literature, you have probably come across this type of story in passing, either in class or movie (at least a Western one). We’ll talk about a few examples of this and why we tend to love this story-type so much. But first, we have to talk about composition and history of the genre itself.

The Epic came from preliterate cultures, meaning these stories were spoken rather than written down. Make a special note of this, since storytellers knew these tales by memory, and the grand size of some of these is absolutely daunting. But the way it would work is that a bard would compose the story using rhetorical and complex metrical schemes to make the story easier to put to memory. This was the traditional form of passing along the story between bards and performers. These systems allowed bards to add to their own performances and adapt the story and grow it as time went on. Chances are, the original stories that were sung and performed have grown in scale as time went on.

Oral tradition was the prominent form of entertainment and transfer of news and culture. The way that the Epics were constructed is that they were composed into episodic fragments; each of them were complete and equal in scale and size of importance to the story. This form would make it easier to facilitate the memorization of the Epic as a whole. This has led many to contend that the written forms of the Epics, namely those by Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey), were dictations from oral performances of this type.

Composition of the Epic is also of much discussion, but people have come up with ten different pieces to attempt to dissect the form of the Epic:

Medias res. (Latin for into the middle of things)

Large or vast setting

Invocation to a muse

Begins with theme

Epithets

Epic catalog

Long speeches

Divine intervention

Heroes with values of the civilization

Hero’s descent into hell/underworld

In regards to the poetic form, that fact alone seems to be the only real similar factor where the Epic is concerned. For instance, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh is not formed by meter or line length as many other poetic forms but uses a rhythm of constant repetition with slight variations from line to line. Whereas, Indo-European Epics rely on the poetic meter and consistency in their structured lines. Old English and Norse Epics use the alliterative verse that usually didn’t rhyme at all. And Greek Epics, the ones we are probably most familiar with, all use hexameter in their structures.

So there we have it, history in a nutshell. Not a bad look I’d say, and a good allotment of interesting facts to go along with a discussion for next time when I decide which epics to talk about.

The History of Literary Genres: What and How in Under 10 Minutes

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Literary Genres: What and How

Today marks the day where I begin to talk about all the different genres out there and what to look for when wanting to investigate those genres. So, here is the trouble I had: choosing where to start. I wanted to start with my favorites, and I will unashamedly say that I am a huge fantasy and sci-fi fan. I wanted to start there, but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I? Well, I had to look at the beginning. What is the absolute baseline for nearly all of the greatest works ever written? That was where I had to start this whole series. So today we are going to discuss:

Literary Genres: What and How

This one will be an interesting discussion, because not only was this the first real definition to the break up of what made a story, but it is the most bottom-line descriptions of anything else. As stories or the written word progressed, things got much more complicated, but the initial categories were very simple and had only a few offshoots from there.

The Epic

Comedy

Tragedy

Creative Nonfiction

And that was it. I know, that little list used to comprise the entirety of categorizing stories. It didn’t take long for people to expand on this, and before that, stories were mostly word of mouth and memorized stories. So let’s take a quick look at these and a few examples.

The Epic was a poetic form, and many of you know already what an Epic is. These are stories that most everyone has been introduced to, if not read entirely, but you know them. Here we have some of the timeless stories; The Odyssey and The Iliad, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Beowulf, Rāmāyaṇa, Milton’s Paradise Lost. That is quite the list, and many of those are highly recognized by lovers of stories.

Comedy--now I don’t think I have to define this one for you. This is still a prominent category of most any form of performance, from story to theatre. Comedy in the written form is probably most famous in their early days by Shakespeare, and later to one of my favorites, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. I can spend probably the least amount of time on this topic, only because so many people will know what this is without my explanation.

Tragedy is a form of drama that is built to invoke a sense of catharsis or pleasure in the audience. A bit vicarious if you ask me, but these stories are the ability to cover any sort of community and social drama going on at the time. I’m not gonna lie, I have a way to explain it, but I’m gonna go to the source and say what Aristotle said on the subject:

“Tragedy is, then, an enactment of a deed that is important and complete, and of [a certain] magnitude, by means of language enriched [with ornaments], each used separately in the different parts [of the play]: it is enacted, not [merely] recited, and through pity and fear it effects relief (catharsis) to such [and similar] emotions.”

— Poetics, VI 1449 b 2–3

(I prefer his over mine)

Creative Nonfiction is often the one we can see in movies most often. The whole “inspired by actual events” and all that malarkey. Basically, it’s anything that defines a story that happened, but with the creative liberties added in for flavor. Shakespeare again is the dominant force in the early stages (pun absolutely intended), where he uses his historical plays as a form of a story. King Lear is my favorite of the histories.

For now, we will leave it at that. A brief intro to the basics of the genres and next week I want to expand on a couple of them. I’ll talk about a few of the stories, some of the examples I had up above, etc.

And thus begins the expansive exploration into genre...

Habit - A Proven Tool for Success

Work-Life Balance: Part 2 of 5

Written by Karyn Patterson

Habit - A Proven Tool for Success

I want to talk about habits, and why you should care. As a writer, or anyone in the content creation field, a habit can either make or break your success. One of the biggest hurdles with finding your “balance” is to know when to start and when to quit a habit.

Easier said than done, right? Developing new and good habits are hard, and harder still to quit bad ones.

But it’s worth the effort, because habits are like a magic key. If you can develop a new habit and stick to it, something that was once difficult becomes easy, and you have managed to do what most people never will—increase your productivity and become exponentially better.

But if a habit is a “magic key” to success, why doesn’t everyone utilize it? Here’s why: When things get tough, we want to run to our comfort zone. Our brains are literally wired to go back to the known path.

I hope instead of frustrating you, this understanding will help you take a deep breath and realize why it’s so hard. You’re fighting a real battle. But armed with knowledge, you might realize there’s hope, and you can win this war.

Someone influential once described developing habits to me in a visual way that was more helpful than anything I’d learned previously.

So, allow me to share her story.

You just moved to a cabin in the mountains, and it’s winter. You’re out gathering firewood when you notice a well-worn sledding hill among the trees and brush.

You set down your stack of wood, pick up the old, sturdy sled, and perch it at the top of the hill. You gather up your courage, get the sled in position, and sail down.

The wind pleasantly rushes your face, and the smell of pine is strong. You pick up your sled to have another go. You ride, over and over, having a blast.

Many would be content sledding on that hill forever. But say you’re different. You have a strong sense of adventure. After a few months of the same hill, you look around and realize there’s a world of possibility around you.

The mountain is a little steeper over here, you think, peering another direction. You could add even bigger twists and turns, maybe some exciting drops.

Forging a new path through powder that’s not smooth will take some work, not to mention removing rocks and dead brush along the way. Plus, after building it, you’ll have to sled down it many times to even begin to reach the sleekness of the other path.

When she finished her analogy, she had some questions for me.

“So After long hours of work creating this new path with no immediate payoff, what happens?”

I shrugged. “You could get discouraged?”

“Which is the easier path?”

“The one that’s already there.”

“What do you think most people will do?”

“Probably take the easy path.”

“At least for a while, right? Hopeful as you are, you get tired, and it isn’t as much fun as just cruising along. You want a better path eventually, but you think, I’ll just take a break, for now. I’ll take this old path a few more times. Pretty soon, though, that’s all you’re doing. Once in a while, you remember your grand vision about the path you wanted to create—but now, when you look over on that side of the hill, the path you tried to build is buried under piles of new powder.”

I liked her analogy. It made sense to me, and for some reason, having that visual in my mind whenever I wanted to go back to my comfort zone gave me the strength to push on—if I determined it was the right path for me (more on that in a future post).

In the beginning, developing a habit is a lot of work. But if you forge through and recommit every day or week, it will eventually become routine.

And I have a secret for you. Are you ready? Habits are easy. With practice, the new wiring becomes your autopilot, and your brain can take the “lazy” route (which it wanted to do anyway).

Even better, the more new habits you make, the easier it becomes to make them and stay committed.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” –Robert Frost

Entry IV - The Life and the Tellings of Everard the Tavern Keeper

Written by Chris Jorgensen

It happened. The conflict between all the different factions finally came to its boiling point. I keep coming back to this book and trying to find words that are supposed to be about me, but I only ever see the desire to write about the things that have happened around me.

So, the battle. Really the two major players were the knight squires and the legion. They were the two that had the most numbers, and their conflict started the whole thing. The bandits finally lashed out like a rat in a corner and tried to move against the legion in the night. The justices from Esperia were the last ones to join, and they seem to have suffered the least.

It should be said that I am not a man who has any real idea of what military actions or service are all about. The closest I ever got to being part of any sort of military was with the town militia, and that is purely a formality in this town. Most men who are capable are part of the army in case of emergency, but even the Baron doesn’t require us to be part of it. So my account might come across as uninformed, or basic to say the least. I’m trying my best here, and It will be a better account than anyone else in the town could give you. At least I know how to write, but perhaps the priest would have done a better telling about what happened. He at least is very well read and can write very neatly.

The battle. I’m sidetracking again.

Most of the Knights’ squires got wiped out. They were the one that got hit by the bandits in their flank. There’s a handful of them left. In the days after the battle, a handful of knights came to see the results. Most of us in the town thought they would be displeased at the results. Turns out, they really didn’t care too much about it. They were just happy that there was an end to it all. They gathered up the squires and left. Turns out most of the stories around those types are true. Too high and mighty for even the step below them.

The legion hung around a few days after. They fortified their camp a bit just to be safe. From the stories we got wind of from the few who were willing to leave camp and talk, they suffered only minor losses and were the piece that did the most damage to the bandits. They used the squires as an anvil to their hammer, they said, though it might not have been very mutual in their excitement.

The justices stayed clear of the whole thing for most of it. They had their horsemen run down the straggling bandits and a few of the legion in their minor skirmishes. They suffered the least and were the ones willing to showboat it around the edge of town. Chances are, that was the reason for the legion putting up their small palisade. The justices made a big show about themselves but didn’t parade too much about it through town. They came in and spent a fair share of money before finally leaving after the legion left. They took the day to gather their rocks and be on their way.

Overall, not the worst thing that could have happened. It brought in money, that’s for sure. The town is no worse off, aside from a few bruises and some minor house damages from the bandits. But for the most part, all seem to be on the mend. Hopefully, all this news around this place might attract a crowd. Who knows what could happen. The council will want everything to go back to normal again, but news and events like this never stay quiet, and they never truly go back to normal afterword. You won’t hear me complain much, a few extra coins in the coffers will do me and this town some good. Maybe even drive up a bit of industry. I’m always looking for a way to make a bit more. We will see what the future holds.

Entry III - The Life and the Tellings of Everard the Tavern Keeper

Written by Chris Jorgensen

We have a bit of a problem. Word must have gotten out quicker than we had thought. The bandits have barricaded themselves in the forest now. The town council has decided to leave it to the now four groups to deal with themselves as they see fit. That was the initial hope anyway. Now, we are watching a standstill between the legion that was sent by the Baron, the knight squires from the Earl, and a band of roving justices from Esperia in search of their workers. Turns out, those masons were bringing in new stone to work on some new court building that was going to be equal parts of temple and justice. All in all, we are now on the outskirts of a possible conflict between people who all have orders to deal with the bandits. But rather than just deal with the bandits and let it be done, they are now squabbling between each other as to who has the proper jurisdiction.

The legion claims that they are the first responders in these lands. They must bring about order in this region, and by the name of the Baron, they will bring about justice. They demanded that the knights stand down or lend their resources to this cause.

The knight squires are making their stance by saying they owe no fealty to a lower ranked division. By their own right under the Earl, they will be the ones who are the hand of the righteous according to the laws of the land. They have told the legion that they are to stand aside.

All of that and the roving justices are claiming the defense and the return of the goods from their merchants and manual laborers. While the banditry happened in foreign lands, the people and the material belongs to them. They claim the right of agreement with the kingdom to allow passage through these lands and have already paid tariffs to allow for safe passage. Now that they find their people under attack in another kingdom, the agreement provides for them to retrieve their property.

Needless to say, there is quite a bit going on that we would rather keep our heads down about. We have seen representatives from each group already, and each one has told the council that they are the power that will protect the town in case things get messy. They have each demanded that we give them aid in any way we can. Of course, the council has agreed to each of them. So that means we have three groups all the demanding assistance in case of a problem. We really have found ourselves in a predicament.

My guess is that now that they are all occupied with each other, the bandits have had time to scutter off. The five days the three groups have all been camped facing each other, and the bandits could have easily made a run of it. We are just hoping that there isn’t any major conflict between them in the meantime. If there is a fight; well, I’m not exactly sure what will happen. Better that they all figure it out on their own.

Malith, one of the council members, has been coming in and ranting about the whole situation night after night. Thankfully, he is the owner of a few large wheat fields, and so his money is always welcome, and he never rants or argues without a glass of drink in his hand.

Not to sound awful, but conflict is good for business. That and a harvest. Nothing brings people together quicker than a hard day’s work or the group mentality that pits us versus them. Business is going pretty well. I still worry about the different groups causing trouble eventually, but for now, the best thing to do is keep our heads down and hope the whole thing blows over.

Moby Dick - The Great White Whale

Written by Elizabeth Suggs

Moby Dick! The great behemoth of stories. If you’ve read this one, then you’re probably at the cool classic’s book club table. This book came to me from my father, and for a long time I was reluctant to read it for one excuse or another: it’s too long, there are whales in it, etc. etc. But when I finally got around to consuming those wonderful pages, I was enthralled--enchanted.

What really struck me with this particular classical book is how beautiful Herman Melville writes-

Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form. Ahab’s full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab’s broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished. That before living agent, now became the living instrument. If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any one reasonable object. (Melville, page 196).

Or something more silly-

“At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there, though a dim consciousness of knowing something about me seemed slowly dawning over him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no serious misgivings now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a creature.” (Melville, page 30).

Another point I love is how identifiable the characters are, and how their problems, their thoughts are more sincere and “real” than some of the stories we read now. In today’s world, it seems that there are very specific types of characters, with particular ways of thinking, and if you diverge from that you diverge from an entire audience.

Which is one of the reasons I love classic books--they’re unique, yet just one of the many folds in our literary journey as humans.

And one of those beautiful journeys is Ishmael in Moby Dick. Ishmael is a wonderful, slightly comedic character, whose first scene in the story is him trying to get a bed at a Harpoon INN, and winds up renting just part of a bed, the other half went to a tattooed man who’d been selling heads during the night. His name? Queequeg. He’s hilarious and one of my favorite characters. For instance, at one point, he sits on a sleeping man because he needs a chair. Another time, he rises from the dead because he decides he’s not going to die--not yet.

But what I love the most about the book? That this whole time, we’re on a journey with the mad Captain Ahab, a crazed, legless man, who’s dead-set on finding the “white whale” or “Moby Dick” at the expense of his crew because Moby Dick got away from him the first time, and took his leg in the process. This white whale, I believe, is the symbol of all whales and why whaling should be ended. The reason I think this is how Melville paints a picture of this beautiful beast. This white whale, not only remembers his attackers but can attack back. We move away from being whale-oil lovers to realizing that maybe--just maybe--whales are worth more than just their blubber.

Moby Dick starts with Ishmael, but it’s so much more than just his character. There is Pip, Ahab, Starbuck, and so many others who endear us into this story.

Surprisingly, this book didn’t become popular until after Herman Melville’s death. However, since then has stood the test of time, and continues to be a striking story with an appropriate ending. Despite the constant hunts, the captain doesn’t get his revenge. In fact, it’s the white whale who gets his revenge.

“At that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to simultaneously feeling that ethereal thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-grasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven with her, and helmeted herself with it.” (Melville, p. 613-614).




Chris Jorgensen's Lesson Plan and What To Expect

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Last time we spoke, we got to talk about audience. Now, while there is more to be said about the audience and where your target should be, that is going to fall very well into genre discussions. And so, to start to introduce a set of genre study styled lessons, I want to take this time to go over what I have in store for the future of the discussions surrounding genre and writing around those particular styles. So while this won’t be a completely formal rundown of topics like the previous posts, I think this will help to sort of guide and precisely identify what it is I will be writing about for the next while. So let’s get into it.

Genres Studies and What to Expect

My basic formula is going to be something similar to a listed out sort of discussion. I want to touch on each topic for each genre and then do a follow up on style and writing for that particular genre. So I would list out all the things you might need to know to help you sort out these genres and give some background. Perhaps do a book review, or an author bio, or something to that effect to help lead you into the particular style you are looking for. So an example might be something along the lines of:

#1 History

#2 Well known names/authors

#3 Books to reference

#4 Differences in style

#5 Audience expectations

The list of things could be short, it could be longer, I’m still in the working phase of deciding what I want to go through. But from my experience, when you are introduced to a subject, it helps to give some background and lead in when tackling a new field of study before just jumping into the deep end. Now, after a piece about this list, I would do a follow up on each subject to try and isolate the primary points when it comes to the writing aspect. For instance, if we had discussed short story writing and I made a list in the previous post, I might now take a step into another set of points or just general discussion on “How to Write…”, and include whichever subject I was covering.

This can all be intermingled with what I was talking about before, perhaps some author bio’s, some book reviews, some particular writing examples, all to help lead into the discussion about the genre itself. It may also turn out that I could make an entire post dedicated to the history of a particular genre if I find it interesting enough. Or the whole post could be about the audience and where their expectations lie. There have been books written about each of those I listed above, and we can try to narrow down a few bits and details to try and condense the information as best we can. The limitations are not exceptionally strict, and we can take our time exploring as much as we need to to get a firm grasp on the subject matter.

So, that’s the plan going forward for now, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can go over soon.

Blog Series - Finding Your Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance: Part 1 of 5

Written by Karyn Patterson

Balance, the Great Enigma

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” – Alain de Botton

In this blog series, I’d like to talk about work-life balance and why it’s important for you, as a writer. For me, it has always been genuinely challenging to schedule writing into my life—or other interests I wanted to find time for but couldn’t. Since there were no deadlines to these “hobbies,” more urgent things kept getting in the way. I woke up every morning for years with a newly refreshed hope that today would be the day everything would get done early, and I’d be left with the rest of the afternoon to write.

I’m kind of a slow learner. Or hopelessly optimistic—take your pick. Either way, I want to save you years of frustration and simply tell you what I’ve learned.

Writing is never going to find time for itself. There was never going to be a bright beam of sunlight illuminating a straight, flower-lined path of an empty afternoon.

What I realized instead was kind of scary. This beautiful idea of balance is not really a thing, but something nebulous. Just when you think you can see a hint of its sphinx-like form, it changes again, and you have to change with it or get lost in its strange and enigmatic game, never accomplishing what you really hoped to do.

Unless, like Oedipus, you are ever vigilant and clever enough to outsmart the sphinx.

And I assure you, you are. Do you know what the answer to its riddle was? Man. The answer of “man” made the sphinx crumble and die. But a man (or woman) still needs to use all our wits and tools. In the next four posts, I will share some amazing tools I’ve learned to achieve balance and even increase productivity. But first, some tips.

Tip one: Carve out time to make your dreams happen. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve learned; unfortunately, it actually does require some brain. Carving is a skill that’s more difficult than, say, chopping. Carving requires tools, expertise, and patience (and, of course, balance comes into play). But, no worries, I got you. I have the tools that might just carve your golden ticket.

More on that later. But for now, suffice it to say you can’t just pencil “writing time” into your calendar and hope it will happen. It won’t. Trust me. Not unless you are amazing and have already forged your own tools by hand through a fiery furnace of try-fail cycles.

Tip two: Quit making excuses. I have ADHD and many other struggles that have presented constant obstacles on my path. I’m happy for them because a clear, accessible way ahead makes you—believe it or not—lazier.

This lesson first sunk into me when I used to run outside. Outdoor running appealed far more to me and was, ironically, easier than running on a flat, unvarying treadmill in a pleasant, temperature-controlled environment. I think the mixed bag of nature stimulated my ADHD brain by providing a variety of challenges such as hills, obstacles, weather, and wind.

The real light-bulb moment happened when I was running on a hilly path against a slight wind. Paradoxically, I found it easier to run than usual, and with greater joy both during and after the run.

On the other hand, I’d be running on fumes during times of no wind and a flat slope, urging every step with enormous willpower. I wanted to collapse. Why? It should have been easier, right? I pondered on this irrationality as I ran day after day, and had a sudden revelation one day: we might actually need challenges to drive us.

Think about it. If you have a day packed full of essential things, you jump at the sound of the alarm, full of fuel and energy (or at the very least, you resist pushing snooze too many times), and soon you are active and efficient.

But…if you have nothing planned and decide to indulge in a full day of relaxation, it’s nearly impossible to roll out of bed before noon, let alone accomplish anything. Even making dinner seems like too much of a chore to manage.

So, never use challenges as excuses. Instead, embrace them and let them fuel your drive. In fact, I think of trials as the price I have to pay for a superpower. The people who accomplish the most in life are usually the ones who’ve had to overcome the greatest obstacles.

Tip three: The power of habit. Since there’s a lot to say on this, I will make it the subject of my next post. For now, I just want to say HABITS ARE HUGE.

But let’s circle back to balance.

Say you’ve overcome your fear enough to begin. No more excuses, you say. Maybe you’ve managed to carve out the time and even stuck with it!

Well, good for you. You’re freaking awesome. But…

Is all well? Do you have any other questions? What about the ever-nagging thoughts of: Am I taking too little time for this? Not enough? Am I making the right priorities? Finding the exact right balance?

It can get way more existential, as well: Who am I? What am I here for? Do I realize my true potential? Do I imagine I have more potential than I do? Am I being too selfish, or am I not taking enough time for myself and my dreams?

This is why I said balance is enigmatic and sphinx-like. There is no bulls-eye, and anyway, the target moves.

I picture a yogi holding a dangerous and tricky pose of extreme balance at the edge of a cliff. As still and calm as that person may seem, you can bet he or she is working hard, continually adjusting this muscle or that against the pull of gravity to stay in alignment. If this person were to relax, he or she would undoubtedly fall.

Balance is constant work, yes. But do not be discouraged. Once it becomes a challenge—a game of sorts—it can actually become fun. And I promise you will accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

In the words of author Brandon Sanderson, “Somehow, we will find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be. But for now, we simply have to be satisfied with who we are.”

Writing Series - Your Writing is Not for Everyone

By Chris Jorgensen

Today we get to talk about something that is almost as vital to your writing, as the writing itself: your audience. Your audience is on an equal level with how well your book/story/anything is going to go. The writing could be phenomenal to its core, but if there is no one to connect with it, it won’t be read. On the flip side, the writing could be very average and nothing special, but if the story is targeted correctly, then suddenly it becomes a massive hit. However, to find that right audience, you need to know that:

Your Writing is Not for Everyone

Too many writers want everyone to read their work. I’ve seen this in all genres, from fiction to self-help. And the problem is that we frequently run into the issue of who this book is for. So we need to focus on what it is we are doing, and what it is we are trying to accomplish. This goes hand-in-hand with writing specifically for your audience because when you don’t, you lose readers.

The first thing to look at is the message of your story. You will not sell a mystery crime novel if there is nothing to solve or make your reader question. You will not write a grand fantasy epic that focuses purely on a character who has no place in the grand scheme of things. Romance readers want to see some action and emotion, not the day to day of a boring elderly couple sitting in a park. Extreme examples, I know, but hear me out.

So this topic can also go hand-in-hand with themes of your work, and you can very easily target a particular group of people to fit that theme. But the cautionary tale is that you will not get readers to be interested in your work if it is not suited to their needs. The real issue comes down to when a writer tries so hard to make everyone happy and make everyone capable of interacting with their work, that what ends up happening is the complete opposite, and they start to neglect everyone. When you aim to please everyone, you please no one.

When putting your story together, you have to keep in mind that these are critical issues. This also means that you have to take into account just what it is your story is doing and who it is designed for. That all being said, this brings up interesting paths that come into play. You write a story, and you might not know who it is for yet. Well, then that is now for the audience at large to decide. This can lead you into some interesting places because as it might turn out, what you wrote can be taken over by the audience you least expect. This is where cult classics start to form.

I like to use Terry Pratchett as a prime example of this. He wrote comedy and fantasy mixed with science and adventure. Now, these books are among such a vast range of audience that I’m almost certain most anyone could pick up one of his books and read it cover to cover and love every step of his adventure. The thing of it is that it was written in such a way that it didn’t try to please anyone, and it found its audience on its own terms.

On the flip side of that, we can look at something like the works of Seth Grahame-Smith, who many might know or not know as the author of the “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” novel, as well as other books with the same sort of themes to it. I think we can safely say that his books, while entertaining, were never targeted at the history book readers. But the books were never written with those people in mind. They were written at a very particular audience who wanted to read about vampires and the like.

So the short conclusion is this; all stories have a target, or no target, and will probably never hit everyone. Remember, when you try to please everyone, you please no one.

6 Ways To Overcome Creative Fear

By Karyn Patterson

This is a blog for all of those who want to be successful at a project, be it a book, blog, video or something else in between, but can’t seem to get over the fear of starting it. Perhaps you think no one will like what you make or worse yet, no one will care, so why even try? That’s the fear talking. The thing is, anxiety is the master of stealth and contorts itself in a myriad of ways, often preventing us from moving forward. How you get over it is by accepting fear in your life, not just something to deal with, but as your friend and guide.

It’s what I did, and I used that fear to start writing, and eventually publish my first book. It’s been fifteen years since I took fear head-on, and I can’t imagine life without it.

Read our six top fear hacks for overall success:

1. Do something scary every day.

Think tiny things. Don’t start with something huge, or you’ll quit before you begin. Examples: Compliment someone. Make a phone call. Ask to join a group you want to be a part of. You get the idea. Just make sure it stretches you by a small degree, and if you want to quit, you know your goal was too hard. Go smaller. Don’t worry about how little it is. The growing, daring hero inside you will get stronger every day, and on to much bigger and better things! (But don’t think about that right now, or it will scare you—see hack #2.) I will give you my favorite mantra as a bonus here. It’s the truest, hackiest of all hacks: SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING. You can adopt that as your own mantra. You’re welcome. Simply tell yourself that every time you think you can’t do something. You say to yourself, okay, so don’t do the whole thing, silly. Don’t even try to do a good job. Just do something.

2. Don’t think. Just do.

Does this really need to be explained? Nike coined a similar phrase for a reason. I added on the “don’t think” part, because thinking (when it comes to fear) is a lot more like overthinking, and is, quite simply, the villain trying to take you down. Do your little small thing (like complimenting someone) as fast as you can without really thinking much about it until it’s over. And then, bam. You did it. And you realize, after a moment, you didn’t die. Who knows? You might just decide to compliment people all day long.

3. Turn fear into fun.

Go to some haunted houses. Watch scary movies. Read a frightening book. Heck, read a romance novel. I don’t want to get all graphic here, but did you know that a human body has the same physiological response while reading a horror novel as it does when reading a steamy romance? Same spike of adrenaline, same endorphins. The only difference? Your thoughts. Yep, we’re circling right back around to your own brain and the control you can have over it. People love rollercoasters for a reason, even though they’re designed to be scary. The world is full of junkies that seek out that burst of adrenaline rather than dread it. But take this advice with a grain of salt. Fear sometimes really does just want to protect you, so don’t do anything too crazy…

4. Make friends with your fear.

If you’re not ready for a romantic relationship with fear, why not try just being friends? Speak to it. Think of it as one of your zaniest comrades dropping by, dutifully concerned, eager to help you out. You realize now that maybe you misjudged her by calling her a monster. This is what I say to mine: “Welcome, fear. I know you’re trying to protect me. You actually love me and have my best interests at heart. You don’t want to see me fail. That’s sweet. For that, I thank you. But right now, I’ve got this. I will probably need your advice later, so I’ll let you know.” Trust me, it works.

5. Take all the pressure off.

Lie to yourself, if you have to. I still do this after fifteen years. I say it doesn’t matter what I write because no one is going to see this anyway. And it’s not really a lie, because it’s your rough draft. Nobody has to look at it unless you let them. One thing I have found that is essential to creation is to get your inner naysaying friend/foe off your back until you’re ready to listen to what it has to say, and you’re in a better frame of mind to know if what it says is valid, or based in fear.

6. Have a deadline.

This might, at first glance, seem to be a contradiction with the above. But it’s not. You can still mess around and have fun like nobody’s watching, but do it with a deadline; otherwise, you will fumble and play forever without worrying about the consequences (which is just another way of giving into fear). Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.” There’s a time to play, and a time to get serious—but it’s essential that you separate these processes. This concept is pretty basic. With a deadline, you don’t have the time or luxury to stew around. For best results, make sure it’s a real deadline, with real consequences.

If these six hacks haven’t convinced you yet, then maybe a quote from Christopher Robin from Winnie the Pooh will:

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Writing Series - There Are Only Six Story Forms

By Chris Jorgensen

Today marks an entertaining discussion with very little criticism behind it. Yay for us. Today, we are going to start talking about stories. Yes, the thing you thought would be subject number one, and yet here we are sitting at a comfortable number three in the roster. Why is it here and not at the beginning? Well, because the first two might scare off the weak-willed and non-believers perhaps; or because I’m terrible at scheduling and organizing. Whatever the reason might be, it might come as a bit of a surprise to you to know that:

Lesson #3

There are Only 6 Kinds of Stories

You read that right, six. Every story you have ever come across has been one of only six archetypes. “How can that be?” you might ask, as you gaze at your collection of books and wonder that surely this can’t be true, there are so many books. Well, It’s more simple than you may think. What it comes down to are the six different ways in which a story moves through its plot. We have:

#1 Rise

#2 Fall

#3 Fall-Rise

#4 Rise-Fall

#5 Fall-Rise-Fall

#6 Rise-fall-Rise

And that’s it. I know, I told you it was simple. Several researchers have gone through thousands of books, and each fit one of the story forms. Even the great American author Kurt Vonnegut explored this concept and released his list of story design. He mentions this idea in his autobiography and in a short lecture.

But what is a story form? Let’s take a look.

Our first archetype is the “Rise” story. There is a constant rise to the story, and things go from either bad or good, to better and it never really goes wrong again. This is typically called the “rags to riches” story. Our characters start at the bottom and make their way to the top in some way.

Next, we have the “Fall” — same concept as our first one, just in reverse, the riches to rags. I call this the “tragedy” archetype: Romeo and Juliet; Othello. The stories that go from a high point to worse and worse as you go along. There is no happy ending, and that’s the end of it all.

The “Fall-Rise” is the “man in the hole” story. A character finds himself on the receiving end of lousy fortune only to climb back up again. These sorts of stories are common in Shakespeare’s classic comedies. “All’s well that ends well” as an example.

The “Rise-Fall” is very much the Icarus story. Things are looking great until we find a point where there is a terrible consequence, and everything comes crashing down. I like to call these the “Morality” stories, or the Fables. These are the stories that are designed to teach a lesson that we should learn from the story rather than from real-life experience.

“Fall-Rise-Fall” Is often called the Oedipus story. It begins with a fall, then a rise back to power or control, and ends with a final fall. I don’t see these stories often; however, these stories are making a comeback in the modern fantasy genre. The First Law trilogy is an excellent example of this archetype.

Lastly, we have the “Rise-Fall-Rise” story, as I call it, the Fairy tale story. Think of your Cinderella’s, your classic Fairy tale types that always have a bit of a low note that slowly builds until something throws a huge problem into the mix. Then there is the happily ever after scenario that ties it all back together again. I see this as the most common of the archetypes, as it is easy to draw a reader in early, build a conflict around the middle and end with a big bang.

Now, let’s make it clear that many stories do not follow the perfect curve and graph every time. There are many cases where stories, especially in modern ones, go through a constant shift between rising and falling actions, but no matter happens, they stick to one of our fancy story categories. Think, boy starts with nothing, finds out he’s a wizard, and eventually wins the day. In the broad scope of things, that’s the story.

Writing Series - You're not the next great American Writer, so what?

Written by Chris Jorgensen

Here we are, back again with another quick word or two on how to be a better writer, editor, reader, or any other amalgamation of creative individual that requires words to make their medium flourish. This one I think is what gets to me more often than anything else, and I see this so much in young writers and readers who never really make it into the industry, and even if they do, they never take it very far. You’ve all seen them, perhaps met them, and maybe you are one of them. I’m talking about the “Starbucks writer.” So, we need to talk about these people for a few various reasons, but the general understanding of the lesson is pretty simple.

Lesson #2

You Will Not be the Next Great American Author

And that’s okay. Not every author out there is destined to write the next world-changing novel, but that does not mean they won't write a good book. With the massive influx of so many genres becoming more and more popular, and with the ease of access to books in the modern day, we have access to a broader audience than ever before. So your work might not be the next greatest thing, but it can find a very comfortable home on the bookshelves of your audience. So while I do make that bold statement, don’t despair, because it doesn’t diminish the story you can still tell. Now that we have that cleared up, we can start into the bad of this particular topic.

Really though, this is true, and we need to start accepting it. The fact of the matter is, it takes years of hard work and dedication to be on that level of great when it comes to your creative visions. The truth is that so many people treat it as a hobby or a small facet of their lives and expect the world to see their greatness. Frankly, this just isn’t the way.

Now, I label them as “Starbucks writers” because that’s where they gather. We see so many people gathering up in small coffee shops and attempt to look more trendy than they actually are. “What’s that you are working on?”, “Oh, this is my screenplay, it’s going to change film.” You all know the stereotype. These people are a real thing, and I want to emphasize that this does not mean that all people who study or work in a coffee shop are bad. I know many lovely people who enjoy coffee and the arts, but we can’t deny that these people are a thing and they are not going anywhere.

Coffee shops are a terrible place to work for several reasons, and we are going to tap into a few one at a time to really hammer in the point.

#1 You get no real work done.

More often than not, these are just places filled with distraction after distraction. From watching or eyeing the girls/guys working behind the counter, the number of different people who walk in the front door, to even just your coffee. What work actually gets done here? I use this as a number one because I used to write in a coffee shop, and realized just how little I actually did while trying to do it, and so my writing quickly shifted over to an office space that is meant for work. Which leads to the next.

#2 This is work

And so many people are going to get upset with me for that, but it is in fact work. Sure, writing can be a great way to help you through all kinds of things and can be a wonderful creative outlet. However, if you are a genuine writer who is trying to get your work out to the people, this is not a trivial thing, and should not be treated as such. This is quite literally your work that you are trying to get attention to, and it should be treated as work when you do it. Nothing is ever perfect on the first try, and it takes effort to make any of those great works to get to where they ended.

#3 You end up doing nothing

Alongside the first one, you end up not really getting anything done that is worth contributing to the work itself. After all those distractions you look down and realize that you have either done a massive amount of typing, or very little. If you are the first, you might read it over and see that not much was gained, and the distractions left you muddling through the bulk of what you were trying to say. If you are the latter, then you just spent the majority of the day sitting in a chair drinking overpriced coffee and staring at your screen (or piece of paper if you are one of those poor despicable souls who uses a typewriter for the “authentic and retro” feel. Burn in a fire). This has happened to me every time I have tried to work where there is any sort of thing that can distract me away from what I am doing, and even this laptop can suddenly take me out of the “zone” as it were. Work is not really about doing whatever and making the world change as a result.

#4 No one cares

Really, no one cares what you are doing over in your little corner. If you are in a coffee shop, some people want just to take their drink and go. They will neither look at you or suddenly become curious as to what magic words you may or may not be typing. If you are in a bookstore, people are there to read, get books, and leave to enjoy a book they felt was worthy of their money and be about their day. If you are writing at school, perhaps even a library, they have so much on their minds for their own sake that they can’t be bothered to do anything other than their own work.

So all in all, let’s drop this silly cliche of a guy sitting in coffee shop acting like he is working on the next greatest novel ever written, and acknowledge that this writer is probably just another hipster who is trying to garner your attention. I personally don’t really go for writing that I don’t see potential in, and I certainly don’t care to find writers who don’t want to put their real potential to the test and won't work hard at something. Yes, this is art, and art is about expression, but art also has a bad history and reputation of not being smart when it comes to “what is great” or not. Look up the story about the pineapple in an art museum and see just what I mean. The art world has diverged away from what art truly means, and has instead gone for the pretentious mainstream appeal. Perhaps that is also for another time.

Writing Series - How to Give Good Feedback

So, to begin, I have decided to take the chance to use this place as a means to help other writers with writing and feedback. I will write out a series of blogs to help new writers, as well as older writers. Basically, this is just lessons worth knowing if you want to be part of this little subculture. Now, I know what you’re saying: “who are you and why do I care?”. Valid point. Well, I was a University student who learned writing, and during that time I got to intern for a fiction literature class. Since that first internship, I was asked back to give short lectures in topics like fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, Shakespeare, poetry, editing, and writing, while earning my degree. Now, I have graduated and have gone out into the real world. And so I thought I would bring some of that here as well and get it all written out. Now that you know that, and if you trust me thus far, we can begin.

Lesson 1

Your Feedback is Wrong

The first lesson is how to give other writers feedback, and what you should be looking for when they provide feedback to you.

Most everyone hates being told that they are doing something wrong. Believe me, I was there too. And, to be fair, being wrong is never fun. However, I know first hand that this one comes up a lot. In fact, this is the first thing I had to put my foot down when I was still taking classes. At first, people didn’t much care for it, but once they saw the reality of the reasons and the methods, every student backed my way over the professor's.

The problem comes from the idea that we need to give detailed feedback to other writers. We spend so much time reading something that we feel we should have lots to say on the matter. This is just not the case. Writers like to bounce work off of each other, they want to get other people’s opinions. Naturally so, we crave the validation of our peers. But the issue is that we always run into the same problem. Say a writer friend comes up to you and asks you to read a short piece for them, sure, you say, easy enough. You read through the text and find very little wrong, or maybe you find whole parts to be unreadable. In either case, you end up saying far too much.

Say there is very little wrong with it, you feel you have to find something to say about it, so you start to nitpick every detail. This is not good, and it never feels natural to do it. On the flip side, say you find lots of issues; well you naturally start to try and fix it to suit you. This is also not the right approach. So you get put in a place that makes you feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t, right?

Well, here’s the thing, while both are expected of you, and both are very wrong, there is a straightforward way to learn how to give good feedback to writers. The thing you should be doing is simply circle items. There is a paragraph that feels out of place, circle it and write “out of place.” Done. Move on. A sentence pulls you out of the story, circle the whole section and comment as much. On the other end, say there is a paragraph that really strikes you, and you love it, circle it and comment. It really is that simple.

What it comes down to is this: you are not the editor. You are there merely to give a reader's feedback. What writers want to hear is where the story is good, and where it is clunky. We don’t need someone to tell us that we used a comma wrong, it happens, a lot, but those simple things get picked up in long term edits, not in the reader's feedback. I have yet to ever hear someone tell me that a comma splice has pulled them out of the story or ruined the narrative. It just doesn’t happen between writers. So the way to give really great feedback to someone is to just circle it and make a short comment. That is all. If they ask for more details on a comment, you are now free to give them the detail, but generally you are looking for the parts that make or break the flow of the story to a reader.

This also goes hand in hand with another point that we will probably touch on later in this series, but it can be said here as well. Nothing is ever perfect, and no one submits a perfect manuscript. So as a writer who is trying to help out our friends and fellows writers, the biggest help you can be is to give them the short of it and let them fix their story. That is another major issue we might have a whole blog dedicated to, but more on that in the future.

For now, I hope that this little lesson can be taken to heart and understood. It is for them to do with that feedback as they will, and all you can do is to help guide them in the right direction, not write it for them. So take a step back and just keep everything simple.

Entry II - The Life and the Tellings of Everard the Tavern Keeper

Written by Chris Jorgensen

After a week and the first entry, I never thought I’d have anything worthy of writing in this book. Turns out, I was wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it. So I guess this makes for a decent means of writing down the news that happened. Before I was concerned that anything I wrote here would be dull and uneventful. This week though. Let’s start from the beginning.

I put up this book last week after I wrote what I guess could be a quick introduction. The next day we had word that there was some trouble on the roads. Randall, he’s the resident merchant if you could call him anything, came back into town to report that bandits had taken to thieving along the road between here and Brightwater. Bandits, in all my years we’ve never had an issue in these parts. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. They had begun waylaying travelers going out from Brightwater to the various outer towns. Randall says he was just ahead of a group that got attacked. Everyone thought he was spinning tales or some such for a laugh.

Two days later, there are riders out in the street at night. I didn’t get a count of them myself, but most people were saying between five and thirty. I doubt the thirty. Realistically it may have been only the five or so that came into town. Regardless, they started hollering and causing an uproar and ransacked a few places before throwing torches at a couple of houses. Edmund got his house burned out. He’s the thatcher. The whole house caught up real quick with the pitch and materials in his workshop on the back end of his place. That was the thing that scared off those bandits or whatever they were real quick. A whole blazing fire three times as big and bright as you wanted it to be? That got people out.

Still, it was hard on Edmund for a time, but the town got together and started helping him with getting a new place set up. People around here know the value of such things, and we’d rather have someone that can fix our roofs before winter comes than not. So it is all working out in one way or another.

It’s funny how most people think we can’t afford the homes we have. Rubbish. Hell look at me, I’m just past my thirty-third year, and I already have a good house and a tavern to go along with it. The idea of some strangers coming into a town and thinking we are worthless without the world outside. Strange I say.

I’m rambling. So, the bandits. They did some damage, stole some goods, fled the town and have been out on the roads ever since. So far, no word from Halvershen or Brightwater on if they are sending anyone to do anything. Usually, we would see tax collectors and the like from Brightwater, but that stands to reason where it lands in the whole pyramid of things.

Baron Gregor rules Brightwater, so he would no doubt want to send someone to take care of the issue. However, if he doesn’t give anything, then that leaves Halvershen which is a full Earldom. And Gregor gives fealty to the Earl, Merek deGrey. I’m almost certain that it won’t ever escalate to that point. If the Earl had to send troops to take care of bandits, he wouldn’t care what his soldiers did here. He would want the issue resolved. Hopefully, we see some word soon from the Baron.

A few of the stragglers from the companies have come into town, seeking refuge after all. A few people are well enough to do that they have made all kinds of demands of us. They haven’t gotten much sympathy from the townsfolk. The others are mostly workmen, and they have been much more agreeable. Most of them are masons who were on their way north to Espiria. Some fortification work or the other. The bandits did little to them in regards to stealing anything, but they did break the wagons that had all of their stones in them. So now here they are with not much else to do. Until those bandits are run out and they can get back to their stone can they continue on their way to whatever project they got.

I’ll hope for some resolution to all of this soon. Whether it’s soldiers from the east or militia from the west, or maybe the bandits get bored of this place and leave us. Either way, all these people are heavy drinkers, and they are running out of coin. While I’m no stranger to people trying to do a runner on their drinks, the solid wooden cudgel I keep under the bar usually deals with any problems well before they start. So far, I haven’t had to hit more than four people in all my years. More often than not just the sight of ol’ Matilda is enough to make them decide it's worth paying me rather than having a cracked arm or skull.

So I’m now just hoping we have some form of solution sooner rather than later. For their sake, they better hope it comes before there is trouble.