Category Archives: Creative Combat Arms

Creative Combat Arms: Your Writing Technique

You guys know how I am, I typically go against the grain of all the standard writing advice out there, my lone voice of dissent whispering “writer beware”.  It’s not that I don’t heed advice or think it’s all bad; I just don’t think it’s comprehensive enough generally.  Plus there are pitfalls to following advice headlong.  The war on was has maimed countless innocent sentences…

Unlike most of my advice columns this time, I’m actually parroting advice.  I found it to be one of the best nuggets of wisdom available for free out here in these webz, and it bears repeating.  The advice comes from Bruce Holland Rogers in a Flash Fiction Online column called Collaborating with MICE: Using Theory as a Creative Partner.  In the column, Bruce Holland Rogers talks about both the excitement and trepidation of learning new techniques to apply, and how he would sometimes feel overwhelmed by all there is to know.  It’s something I can agree with… there’s reams and sheafs and binders of writing tips, techniques and tools to employ to bring power to your prose.  How do you manage all those writerly tricks, sort them, and know when and how to apply them when you’re writing a story?

Simple: you don’t.  A writer builds these things slowly into their own writing nature as they continue to write more and more.  Granted, sometimes you may have all the theory in place before you start writing, the POV, the tense, the character arc, etc.  It happened to me with Past Tense.  Sometimes theory’s nowhere to be found; perhaps you just have a solitary idea or just a phrase that you want to build a story around.  Whether your theory’s all worked out or you’re just pantsing through this time, it’s important to not get hamstrung while you’re writing thinking about whether or not you’re applying the right techniques at the right time.  That’s what your editorial eye is for, after you’ve written your draft.  See what works and what doesn’t, if the theories and techniques you’ve put into your current draft meet reader expectation or if there are shortfalls and opportunities to increase emotional impact.

What I’m saying is unless those inspiration sparks hit you while you’re writing, don’t worry about all this stuff in the middle of the writing process.  It’ll make for a long, bumpy road to get that draft finished.  And when you finish you’re gonna do an editorial review anyway.

When in doubt, listen to my man.  Don’t sweat the technique.

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Creative Combat Arms: Foreshadowing

I don't know how he can reach for a drink when that girl's nips are showing.

I don’t know how he can reach for a drink when that girl’s nips are showing.

I figured this aspect of creative writing was safe from my roving, disapproving eye.  I mean, in my mind it’s essential to fiction like verbs are to sentences.  Maybe.  But enough of me showing foreshadowing in perhaps too subtle ways!  Advice about this essential technique isn’t exactly homogenous on the webz.  This is where I step in.

This article isn’t about me telling what foreshadowing is and how to do it.  Others have already invested time, energy, and web space doing this and I’m not about to re-invent the wheel just so I can increase blog hits from new writers seeking advice.  In the discussion of foreshadowing, I’m recommending this article on the basics and a follow-up on examples.  Instead of basics, here you’ll find a voice of dissent, and right now the voice is crying writer beware.  Some of the advice I’ve seen out there is crappy.  If you follow it, your writing will suck.  How’s that for foreshadowing?

I’m coarse, but in a fine-grained sandpaper kinda way.  My contribution to all this freely available writing advice is to fine tune your attempts at foreshadowing… mostly by telling you the things you can do without.

Weather/Time of Day Foreshadowing.  The night was stormy.  For real?  Dark too?  Man, evil must be lurking.  Some of that deep-seated, page turning lurk.  Does your sunset hail the imminent approach of something ominous?  Sure, the night is dark and full of terror, but you may want to play around in the broad, open spaces of broad daylight.  At this point, it’s hard to determine whether your weather pattern hasn’t been memorized, ingrained by readers who are subconsciously tired of seeing serial killers who got plenty of knives and no raincoats.  So defy expectations.  It’s a cold world… even in summer.

Symbology.  Red is hot, like anger.  Blue is cold, like revenge, you know–when its best served.  Wait… isn’t vengeance red too?  But if you do it again, you get revenge, which is blue.  And you may have to do it again, because the adversary ran away the first time cuz he was yellow.  I’m not saying symbology and metaphor don’t have their place… they certainly do.  I’m just saying you may be wasting your time with obtuse people like me. Symbols mean different things to different people.  I only caution you to proceed carefully if you assign heavy weight to symbols for your story to carry impact.  Worry about having a killer plot and awesome characters first.  You do that and guaranteed readers will be interpreting symbols out of everything you wrote, whether you meant it or not, and flaming each other on the Internet cause the other fans aren’t true fans.

Snitch Narrator.  “Naturally, she would’ve never gone down that street if she knew what awaited at the end of it.”  If she don’t know then I shouldn’t know.  Stop snitching, narrator.  Doing this is absolutely criminal in first or third person point of view, and unless done super genius cleverly, it’s a pretty cheap trick even in omniscient POV.  The narrator knows enough to tell me something’s a-coming but won’t cut to the chase and tell me what it is already.  Not cool.  We can’t even be friends if you do me like that, storyteller.  Just in case the nuance of this example didn’t register, here’s another:  “If the narrator only knew how much their disembodied commentary annoyed the reader instead of stoking interest, narrator would’ve just shut the hell up and let the story play out.”

Again, these are things I think you can do without.  I know I’m tired of seeing them.  And who am I?  I’m just a dude who reads a little, writes a little, not the Chosen One of Prophecy.  Unless… you believe in The Prophecy…

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Creative Combat Arms: Infoglossing

Emphasis in the original

Creative writing is both an art and a science.  Most online help focuses on the science of it, because science is definable, quantifiable, measurable… you know, easier.  So you’ll see a lot of scientific formulas for good writing on the webz, sometimes taken to the extreme as in the case of the “was” witch hunt.  You hardly ever see the art side broken down and analyzed… it’s just a bit harder to define art.

Attention, small yet loyal fanbase, I am about to reveal one of the most powerful tools in a creative writer’s arsenal.  I guarantee you’ve never heard of it because I’ve coined the term myself, but nevertheless it’s there, in virtually all powerful works of fiction.  I don’t know if it’s the perfect term for what I’m talking about, but I like it.  I call it infoglossing.

The reason you don’t see this function of creative writing addressed is because when we happen across infogloss I think a reader is generally too busy appreciating the fact they were moved by words to look at why.  It’s that subtle yet powerful.  The first time I became truly cognizant of it was in a poem, Pinero’s “Seeking the Cause”.  This is the line:

“his body was found all over town… riddled with the police bullets his tax dollars bought”

The second time I became aware of infogloss was while reading a literary book called “Candlemoth“.  Forgive me ahead of time, because I know I’m about to screw up the exact wording, but the protagonist said something akin to this of the Vietnam War and the draft he was dodging:

“Someone out there was reaping children.”

In the first example, we all know police equipment’s paid for with tax dollars.  Here the information we don’t know until we read it (that the guy was shot by the police) is presented with information we could extrapolate (he indirectly paid for the bullets that killed him).  Just because we can extrapolate this information doesn’t necessarily mean we will, hence reading this nugget that we already inherently know presents a keen analysis of the situation we might have missed as we continued on with the poem.

The second example stood out to me because most everyone knows the Vietnam war had a horrible death toll, coupled with a draft that ensured many of those deaths were youths.  The author here equated these facts to a macabre harvest (youthful deaths in Vietnam) orchestrated by a sinister individual (the government through its draft).

Infodumping and its sexier sister Incluing are all about presenting a reader with information he or she doesn’t know.  Infoglossing is decidedly different.  Infoglossing is presenting information the reader already knows (or could know through extrapolation) in an impactful manner.

I know, what the hell is “impactful manner”?  Well, that’s where the art of infoglossing starts to take over and its a matter of subjective taste.  One person may find taking a bedazzler to a jean jacket to be horribly gaudy while another may love the punchy whimsy of the glittering plastic jewels.  Likewise, a guy eating at a restaurant may hate garnish cause it’s getting in the way of his meal while someone else appreciates the presentation.  What’s impactful to you may not be impactful to another.  Furthermore the type of impact can be varied.  The impact of  the line in Seeking the Cause was the irony of the man’s demise.  Candlemoth’s impact lay in the protagonist’s succinct assessment of the world events that swirled around him.

These are just two examples.  The impact could be anything really–you could do what these examples did or you could explore the motivation of a character (see Ahab’s motivation for hunting down Moby Dick in his character segment), express an epiphany of human nature or revelation about the future state of humanity.  Anything.

What you infogloss is up to you, a matter of your taste.  How do you do it?  Sometimes these nuggets are there before you even start the story, those little tidbits you thought about or turns of phrase that inspired your story to begin with.  Those take care of themselves.  But oftentimes, stories come from other places, dreams, fragments, a statement you misheard, all those random sources that don’t have the benefit of pre-glossed info.  For those stories, before you even think about the gloss, finish writing the story.  Once you’re done and you’ve given it ample time to cool, reread it.  Analyze it like you would a classic story or novel, similar to how you did back in English class.  See the characters and how their situations, their motivations, and their actions impact their world, or how their world impacts them and what that means for us in our world.  Where are places that stating information the reader already knows or could know if they thought it through be presented in a way that drives home a point?  That’s where you put your infogloss.

Finally, what do you say when you discover a place where you can apply some infogloss?  That’s truly the art of it, and the science of this article is bereft of means to explain.  But when you think about all your favorite passages in literature, chances are some of them will qualify as infogloss.  So what do you put in your own writing, something akin to those small, meaningful shards from your favorite works that moved you in such a powerful, profound way?

Put you into it.

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Creative Combat Arms: Market Targeting

How did you expect digging your own grave would turn out?

It’s getting so my Duotrope control panel is a double edged sword.  This is what it tells me:

*Congratulations! Your acceptance ratio is higher than average for users who have submitted to the same markets.

Attention-getting asterisk, excitement-generating exclamation point…  I don’t wanna lose that!  So I’ve been picking my markets carefully.  I’ve been trying to figure out editorial needs like an episode of CSI: Slushpile.  And my latest venture has me entering Redstone Science Fiction’s “Show Us a Better Way” Contest.

You would think I’d have an aversion to contests by now right?  But no, I read their contest guidelines carefully, wracked my brain, wracked it some more, and wrote a 3,200 word hard science piece that I think is a good story.  Yet it doesn’t feel like a good fit for the contest.  I don’t exactly promise a future utopia, and a big part of me wants to shelve the story and wait for the “Show Us a Slightly Better Way… Hardly Different From Our Current Way” Contest.

I was one shred of doubt away from not sending it in.  Then I realized I was self-rejecting my story.  That’s when I sent that bitch in.

NEVER self reject, guys.  There are people who get paid to hate your work.  They will tell you as much in a politely phrased form rejection letter.  Let them do their job.  Your job is to write the best story you can.  And once you do your job, send your newly drafted soldier out from your trench into combat.  That soldier may win the day, and it may not, but it can’t do anything if you keep it out of the fight.

Send it out.  Granted, targeting the market is important.  Many places have content that is free to view, which is the best way to get a general idea of what they’re looking for.  But in the absence of free content, if you’re devoid of a fricking clue on what X publisher wants, if your story is so unclassifiable you swear you’re inventing a genre by yourself, there’s only one first option.

Send it out.

They’ll tell you soon enough.  Meanwhile, the best thing you can do for your story is to make sure it falls in the guidelines.  A publisher’s guidelines can range from highly specific, as in the case of Redstone’s annual contest (which devotes a full blog page to the specifics) to extremely vague, as with Chizine’s guidelines (Dark. Well-written. 4k words or less.).

And if you interpret Chizine’s specification of “Dark” as a viable market for your upbeat, light-hearted comedy about two Black Panthers selling window tinting services while eating blackberry jam on Myrtle Street at midnight, then send it out.  I mean, it’s one way to look at “Dark”.  You let them tell you if it’s a good fit or not.  Don’t tell yourself it’s not a good fit when you’re not sure.

When in doubt, send it out.

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