Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: May 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

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Hopeless

Here’s an old piece of prose I wrote years ago. I think it’s post-worthy, but tell me what you think:

 

You feel the darkness around you, wrapping you like a blanket in its misty arms. Fog fills the trenches around you. Visibility is limited, you can’t even see past the sleeping for five men over. You ache from the day behind you, yet a relief has swept over you. One day gone, one more day you have survived.

Hell, that’s what we are in, you tell yourself. Every day that goes by, another day in the existence you long to free yourself from. Yet you cannot bring yourself to die. You must go on, you chant silently in your head as you force yourself to go through the motions of another day.

Now you wait in sleepless silence for the approach of dawn, heralding a new day of mortality and bloodshed. Sleep evades you, the stillness of the night an eerie contrast to the ear-shattering sounds of the day. Yet a welcome thing it is, for it signals a pause, however short, in the madness of daytime. Sleeps comes; fitfully at first, then deeply as you yield to its blissful depths.

Time stands still.

 

Morning dawns. The sound of the sun rising over the hill wakes you, nature stirring with the first signs of life. Light forces itself past your eyelids. Men around you stir, grumbling and groaning as Sergeant goes around waking people with the point of his boot.

Clutching your standard M-1 rifle; you struggle to your feet, vigorously scrubbing sleep from your eyes. Orders are issued, rations are broken out, standard procedure for waking up on a battlefield ensues. Slowly the army is mobilized, a shred of organization returns as the wakefulness returns.

Time to die.

 

Staccato bursts of machine guns fill the air around you. The air is raining lead, death following in its wake. You haven’t even jumped the wall separating you from the carnage that you are about to enter, and already the rifle feels slick in your grasp.

An errant bead of sweat drips into your eye, the salt stinging fiercely. You quickly brush it aside and adjust your helmet, tightening the straps one last time. Around you men whisper nervously amongst themselves, praying quietly or conversing in hushed tones. Each knows this moment could be their last.

The command comes.

 

You don’t even feel your legs pound the ground as you run, eyes narrowed for something to shoot. One thought fills your head: Don’t stop running. Nothing else matters; not even your friends dropping around you. The only concern you have is to not let your numb legs cease their incessant churning.

Sand kicks up in front of you, behind you, either side of you. Lead fills the sky, taking its toll on the oncoming soldiers. Out of the corner of your eye you see men falling like ten-pins, but still you force your legs to move. No time for sentiment.

Sentiment gets you killed.

 

You stare into the expanse of the sky, eyes glassy and dull. Life slowly drips out of you and fills the dust with its ochre pigment. Breath coming in short rasps, time is short. One moment you are eating up the distance with your feet, the next you are soaking up the dust with your back.

A quick punch hits you as you run, knocking the wind out of you. Suddenly your legs are no longer beneath you, but over in the distance somewhere next to Sergeant’s head. No pain, just a sickening realization: You are living dead. Though you aren’t currently dead, you soon will be.

You will never go home.

 

One thing floats through your mind in you last moment of consciousness: War is Hell.

Why Write Fantasy?

I think there is a reason why every writer chooses their specific genre.

Some people find comfort in romance because it gives them that warm, fuzzy feeling they want in their life. Others turn to thrillers and action/adventure because it’s that excitement they need. Some people love the futuristic, out of the box thinking promoted by sci-fi.

There’s always a reason behind why writers choose their genre, and I know why fantasy is the genre of choice for me.

I started the Open University Creative Writing Course last week, as a way of brushing up on my skills. I’ve come across some pretty interesting stuff, but nothing stood out to me so much as the following statement:

“Wearing a mask at a carnival can help you live out your true passions that otherwise, due to social pressures, you keep in check.”

Somehow, even though that statement was in the middle of a section on developing characters, I found that it got me thinking about why I write fantasy. After all, with all of the life experiences I have had, I should be fairly easily able to write books set in the “real world” instead of fictional universes, right?

In essence, fantasy is the mask that I wear to help me live out my true passions.

I’m a father to four awesome kids, and I’ve got a nice house, a steady job, and plenty of things that make life wonderful. However, it’s the same life day in and day out, and that gets to be a bit stale after a while.

My escape from the social pressures keeping me in check isn’t to go partying, take hard drugs, overdo it on alcohol, or do crazy things. My way just happens to be writing, and my writing allows me to go crazy–but in a safe, productive way.

In a previous post, Do We Read Out of Schadenfreude, I talked about how everyone is a bit sadistic inside. There’s a lot inside each of us, things that we’ll never allow others to see simply because it’s not socially acceptable.

However, those things actually make for a great story. Weird thoughts strike you at the most random times, and being able to write those things into a story actually helps you to get out those things that live deep within you.

Fantasy offers a limitless method of creation. If you wrote a real-life story, you couldn’t do half as much as you could when creating your own fantasy world. If you can think of it, you can write it down. It’s why every author has their own unique system of magic, their own worlds, and their own way things are done. Fantasy is boundless, and only the imagination of the writer limits where it can go.

Take those hidden thoughts and put them down on a piece of paper, using the limitless framework of fantasy to guide you, and you have the perfect “mask at a costume party”.

Chat

Writing Mistakes: He Said, She Said

The point of writing is to snag the reader’s attention and get him/her interested in your character and story. Once you have them hooked, you want them to identify with the main character, hero, heroine, villain, and so on. The way to do that is by using dialogue.

Unfortunately, dialogue can be either very confusing and unclear or very annoying if it’s not done right. Why is that? It’s all thanks to the “he said, she said” tags.

Importance of “He Said, She Said”

When you’re reading a passage of dialogue, you have to know who’s talking in order to know what’s going on. One of the weaknesses pointed out to me in the first draft of In the Days was that it was hard to know who was saying what.

Here is a passage from the first draft:

“Do you even believe that the gods exist, Historian? Is it possible that mankind is truly controlled by a higher being—either male or female—that forces them to submit and do as ordered with no argument?”

“The gods provide mankind something to aspire to.” My logic was simple and sound—or so I thought.

“But is it really necessary to aspire to become something that destroys, maims, or kills?”

I had to agree.

“The gods of Atlantis are sanguinary in nature, I do admit. I have always preferred the Oriental belief in reincarnation according to one’s actions in life.”

“It does seem much more humane, Historian. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to submit to the practices made popular by the masses. Those promoted by that repulsive creature, Orgas.”

She shivered in disgust at the thought of the corpulent high priest. I had to admit that he was no favorite of mine, either.

“So, we are left to follow the polytheistic teachings of the masses, and the empress must be a devout follower for appearance’s sake. And yet, I question what is truly in the heart of the Immortal One when she is alone.”

“That is for your empress to know, and her Historian to wonder.”

“My liege.”

It’s not entirely clear who is saying what and when. The exchange–between the Empress and her Historian, the main character Deucalion–kinds of flits back and forth between characters without really making it clear who is speaking.

That’s why the “he said, she said” tags are so important. If I were to use them above, it would make it easily apparent who was talking:

“Do you even believe that the gods exist, Historian?” the Empress asked. “Is it possible that mankind is truly controlled by a higher being—either male or female—that forces them to submit and do as ordered with no argument?”

I responded after a moment of thought. “The gods provide mankind something to aspire to.” My logic was simple and sound—or so I thought.

“But is it really necessary to aspire to become something that destroys, maims, or kills?”

I had to agree.

“The gods of Atlantis are sanguinary in nature,” I admitted. “I have always preferred the Oriental belief in reincarnation according to one’s actions in life.”

“It does seem much more humane, Historian. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to submit to the practices made popular by the masses. Those promoted by that repulsive creature, Orgas.”

She shivered in disgust at the thought of the corpulent high priest. I had to admit that he was no favorite of mine, either.

“So,” I continued, “we are left to follow the polytheistic teachings of the masses, and the empress must be a devout follower for appearance’s sake. And yet, I question what is truly in the heart of the Immortal One when she is alone.”

“That is for your empress to know, and her Historian to wonder.”

“My liege,” I said with a mocking bow.

With the addition of just a few words, it’s suddenly so much clearer who is saying what. Adding those “he said, she said” tags makes dialogue easier for the average reader to follow.

Avoid Repetition

One reason many people have stopped using the “he said, she said” tags is because it gets annoying to have it after every sentence. I know I get tired of seeing it all the time, but that’s why the gods invented hundreds of different verbs to use.

Here’s a great link you can use when writing if you want to avoid “he said, she said” over and over:

219 Words to Use Instead of “Said”

You want to avoid repeating that “said” verb too many times, but don’t be afraid to sprinkle it around liberally either. You’ll find that the verb blends into the background, and you stop noticing it after a few pages of reading. However, the “he”, “she”, “they”, “the Empress”, and all the other pronouns before the “said” make it SO MUCH easier to know who is saying what.

When Writing Gets Out of Control

I know a lot of people who just spend their lives writing one book or story after another. Writing may not be their work or their lives, but it’s certainly their passion. They fill every spare moment with the clack of keys and the flow of words onto a computer screen.

Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not, because that’s how stories are told! However, it’s not a GREAT thing either. Why is that?

We all know that to become a great writer, you have to be a great reader! The great Stephen King spends more time reading every day than he does writing. Most of the best writers in the world make it a priority to read as many books as they can, as that’s how they improve their own writing.

“So what you’re saying,” some of you may be wondering, “is that I’m writing too much? How is that possible?”

Writing, like anything else in the world, can be a bit addictive. You have a genius idea that you HAVE to get down on paper before you forget it, so you spend every spare moment hammering away at it. That is very important, and you should spend as much time writing as you can.

However, addictions become a problem when taken too far, as I very well know. During the second draft of In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent, I skipped meals, exercise, and even sleep to hurry up and finish the book. There was no pressure beyond what I placed on myself, but I wanted to finish this project because it was burning a hole in my skull.

Looking back, I realize that the book COULD have been better had I:

1)      Taken more time on it

2)      Read more while writing it

Had I taken more time to write the book, I probably would have caught the few errors and typos that have been pointed out. Had I taken more time to read, I might have found that my style of writing (passive writing was my biggest flaw) could have been done better–or just been changed altogether.

For your own sake and for the sake of your work in progress, don’t get addicted! Spend at least an hour a day reading or doing something relaxing that isn’t writing.

Here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Read
  • Watch TV and movies
  • Read comics
  • Play video games

Reading isn’t the only thing that can make your writing better. Video games, TV, movies, and comics give you a fresh perspective on people, and often give you new ideas that you couldn’t come up with just by reading. Don’t spend too much time on these things, though, as you want to focus on reading GOOD books to improve your writing.

How you organize your life and your work time is up to you, but if you want to write WELL, you need to spend time reading every day!

Writing Mistakes: Purple Prose

I had never heard the term “purple prose” until a month or so ago. According to The Advanced Edit:

“Purple prose is the name given to writing — or, well, prose– that’s just too flowery and too melodramatic for its own good.”

Basically, it’s writing that’s over the top. For example:

–          Normal sentence: The sun shone down hot on the bright July morning.

–          Purple prose sentence: The sun, its face yellowed from the morning exertion and solar liver spots, shone its glorious, radiant light on the morning, a morning of summer, excitement, and July frippery.

The first sentence says something, but purple prose goes out of its way to OVERsay the same thing. It’s a horrible trap, and it makes for horrible, horrible reading.

I have fallen into this trap a few times while writing In the Days, though thankfully not as often as some others. Dave Barry is one of the few authors who can pull of purple prose properly, but that’s just because he’s a freaking genius and a hilarious writer. For any other authors out there, STAY AWAY!

How can you avoid purple prose?

– Keep it short and snappy. Describe what you need to, and add ONLY a detail or two more.
– Avoid long, flowery words. Keep the fancy words for your poetry.
– Think about your reader. Does he/she need to know every detail about your world/character right now? Can you add more detail later? If so, limit your descriptions.
– Don’t overuse the thesaurus. If you can’t think of another way to say a word, consider leaving it out instead of over-describing it.

It’s just that simple. Not everyone prefers short, snappy writing, but your readers will thank you if you don’t get lost in Dickenzian descriptions of that small flower that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with your story!

Setting a Work Routine: Productivity vs. Slavery

I’m a bit of a slave to my routines, so perhaps I’m not the best one to discuss this topic. However, this is something that all writers–and all freelancers, to be honest–need to be a bit more serious about.

Working a regular job at an office is VERY different than working at home. At an office, you go in, you sit down, and you do the work that you are told to do. Things are pretty cut and dry, and your work is sort of laid out in front of you. Sure, you’ve got to deal with bosses and coworkers and policies and all that stuff, but there’s a certain comfort in knowing that someone else calls the shots.

Then there are us freelancers who work from home. We’re the only ones that tell us what to  do, but we’re also the only ones to blame when our income streams dry up and the bills start to pile up.

In an attempt to keep from freaking out, I’ve set a simple routine for myself:

–          Sit down at desk and start working — 7 AM

–          Puzzle break — 8:30 AM

–          Back to work — 9ish AM

–          Hopefully be done with work — 11 to 12 AM

If I can start my work at 7, I’m usually pretty much done with the writing portion of the work by noon. Then, of course, comes the uploading, the editing, and all the other work that has to be done in order to take my words and publish them “on the line”.

But I’ve heard in recent months that I have become a slave to my routine. I know that if I don’t sit down at my desk and start working at 7 AM, I feel like my day is just out of whack. My location doesn’t matter, but the time I start working is ABSOLUTELY essential. I can be sitting at an airport, in someone’s living room, or in my car, but 7 AM is something that cannot be changed.

However, this routine means I’ve missed out on quite a few mornings of extra sleep. Last Friday, my kids had a day off from school thanks to a holiday. They all snoozed blissfully through the morning, while I spent the day clacking away on my computer.

Have I become a slave to my routines? I don’t think so, but it’s tough to think about it!

As a freelancer, you kind of HAVE to become a bit more a*** retentive about your work schedule. The fact that no one is breathing down your neck makes it even harder to kick your own butt on those days when you don’t feel like working. Whether it’s writing, drawing, or crafting jewelry, there are always days when you just don’t want to work.

And that, IMO, is where those work routines come in handy. You may be a bit of a slave to those routines, but it’s the only way to be as productive as you MUST be in order to truly be a professional freelancer. For us writers, it’s kind of what helps you to push yourself through Writer’s Block and keep writing even when you feel like you have nothing to say.

You Write What You Read

They say “you are what you eat”, and I’m willing to say that “you write what you read”.

I’ve noticed that my writing style changes according to what I’m reading, and I think it’s something that happens to most writers. It’s a subconscious shift, but it can definitely affect the way you write.

For example, when I was writing In the Days, I was reading the latest installment of Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. series, Wicked Bronze Ambition. The book is very film noir in style, but there is a lot of sarcasm and humor in it.

Well, reading back over some of the chapters of In the Days, I can see a lot of attempts to mirror the same dry humor that Mr. Cook uses in his writing.

However, when I read over my latest work–The Last Bucelarii: Blade of the Destroyer–I find that the tone has changed drastically. The book is filled with description and tension, and it’s a much more somber story. There’s almost no dry humor, even at parts of the story where a few jokes or quips would work. Why is that, I wonder?

Oh yes, it’s because I’m reading both The Riyria Revelations and Words of Radiance–the latest offering in the Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. Both of these books tend to be fairly solemn, with a writing style that is much more…serious, I guess. There is humor, but only in the dialogue. The rest of the book is solid description and narrative.

I’m willing to bet that all of the other writers out there have been influenced in their writing style by a book or books that they have read. I know that Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series definitely changed the way I view characters and their actions, and took me from the world of epic fantasy into the realm of dark fantasy in which my new character The Hunter lives.

What’s the point of all of this verbal meandering? Simple:

“You write what you read, so read books that will sharpen your writing.”

If you were to pick up books like Percy Jackson, Twilight, or Divergent I’m willing to bet your writing would soon begin to sound like the Young Adults novels you’ve been sucking down. If you read through 50 Shades of Grey, you’d soon be looking for ways to add sex scenes to your books. If you devoured the Night Angel series, you’d start to see assassins lurking behind every corner.

Not only will your stories change according to what you read, but your writing style will change as well. Those reading the Wheel of Time series will probably begin to write long, drawn-out descriptions and build elaborate worlds like Robert Jordan did. Anyone reading the short, sharp sentences used in Glen Cook’s writing will definitely find their writing becoming snappy.

My advice for the day: read only GOOD books. Don’t just pick up anything that you find. Don’t read those unfinished manuscripts your friends are sending you. Find books written to professional standards with a writing style that you enjoy reading, and let them work through you to improve your writing style!

Writing Mistakes: POV

There are far too many point-of-view options to get into here, but suffice it to say, it can be tough to keep a consistent point of view if you have a lot of characters.

Writing in first person (“I” and “me”) is fairly easy for me, which is why I wrote In the Days in that POV. Most of the story took place in one character’s head, and the reader saw the world through his eyes. It’s pretty easy to keep things straight if you write from this perspective.

Now, get out of the single character’s head and go to a narrator’s point of view, and now things get a bit tricky. You have to make the tough decision of how much of each character’s thoughts and feelings to write about, and how much you need to show through their expressions, their words, etc. Choosing the right POV is an entire manual in itself, but here are some tips to help you keep consistent with your narration and description.

Stay consistent with the POV

Are you in Bob’s head as he stares at Margery?  Don’t tell us what Marge is thinking or how she feels. Stick in Bob’s head until the scene changes or you make it very clear that the POV is changing.

Don’t expect the reader to know who is who

When you’re writing, you’re telling a story trapped in your head. You know the characters inside and out, and you know who is thinking what and when. Your reader, on the other hand, is not going to know your character from Adam, so make it very clear what thoughts are in whose head. You may hate the “he thought” tag, but it certainly makes it clear who is thinking what.

Be careful with the “he knew”

If Harvell really does know his wife Wilhelmina so well, he would definitely see the signs of her anger–the furrowing of her brow, the clenching of her cow-like jaw, and the baring of her fangs. Instead of saying “Harvell knew his wife was getting angry”, try writing it “Harvell saw his wife’s moustache furrowing along with her unibrow. Uh oh, he thought, I’m in trouble.” It makes a small difference to the writing, but makes a HUGE difference to the reader.

Separate POV scenes

Are you in the head of your amazingly seductive assassin one scene, but make the leap into the head of the poor john she’s about to kill next? It may be a bit unwieldy, but try to switch POV only when you switch scenes.

 

These are just a few helpful tips from someone currently struggling with POV issues of his own. Trying to write The Last Bucelarii in third person is pretty tough, as I do so much better in first person. Still, it’s an exercise in improving my writing and avoiding another one of those silly Writing Mistakes!

What My Life Looks Like These Days

Things are pretty hectic for me, and they look to stay that way for the foreseeable future. It’s both awesome and awful.

A quick summation of the last few months:

In the Days launched on Amazon near the end of May. It has performed about as well as could be expected considering it’s my first work.

– I attended my very first Comic Con in Anaheim, and had a blast. Turns out I’m pretty darn great at selling comic books, especially if they’re the high quality books Rothic and Co produce.

– Clients have come and gone, and the freelance writing work  has been a bit unstable. That is the way of things, but it’s always very unnerving for me. I prefer to have a much more reliable, predictable income, as I need my routines.

It has been a busy year so far, and things are only going to get busier.

Here’s what the next few months are going to look like for me:

The Hunter: Blade of the Destroyer is the new work in progress, and I’m working on it as quickly as I can. However, I’m going to go about this book a bit differently, including not rushing to finish it. If it doesn’t come out for a few more months, that’s just my way of doing my best to ensure that it is AWESOME when it finally does come out.

For my comics, the future is looking pretty bright. I hope to attend San Diego Comic Con with the Rothic crew, and I have officially been contracted as a writer. Here’s hoping we can get something published before the end of the year!

I have also been contacted by a number of other people interested in comic book/video scripts. No spoilers, but I will definitely keep you updated as things come out.

I’m going to invest more time into reaching out and finding new clients for my freelance writing services. I’d love to spend all of my time writing fiction, but it doesn’t quite pay the bills yet. As soon as it does, I’ll be able to make the transition properly, but for now I’m stuck with the ol’ schnoz on the grindstone.

All this to say, I’m going to fight to keep posting regularly to the blog, social media, and sending emails to friends and family. However, if I’m incommunicado, my sincerest apologies. It’s just tough to fit everything into 16-hour days.

Is Writer’s Block a Valid Excuse?

Disclaimer: This is going to sound either a bit self-righteous, a bit harsh, or both. However, that’s kind of the point of a blog, right? Being able to share one’s opinions? These are my opinions, welcome to them!

I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about writer’s block, saying that it has stopped them from writing for hours, days, weeks, or years.

But is it actually a valid excuse? Can you plead “writer’s block” when you can’t come up with something new to write.

Source: thegnomonworkshop.com

Source: thegnomonworkshop.com

In my somewhat humble opinion, I think that writer’s block is kind of an excuse for being lazy with your writing. Why is this?

Aside from my midnight jaunts as a fiction writer, I spend my days writing marketing copy, blog posts (often not unlike this one), and articles for marketing purposes. I write social media posts, video scripts, and press releases. If it needs to be written, I write it!

Check out my writing services here…

So, morning dawns at 7 AM, and I’m sitting at my desk with my projects ready to go. I open that first file, and I stare at the blank page. Do I get the luxury of claiming writer’s block when I can’t figure out what to write?

Abso-damn-lutely not! If I claimed writer’s block, my clients would tell me, “Hey, fancy writer friend, we’ve now found someone more reliable and less whiny than you. Good luck with your writing!” They would simply hand the work off to another writer who is not claiming writer’s block.

Now, translate that into your fiction writing, or my fiction writing. I came to a few spots in my book In the Days where I didn’t know how to continue. I wasn’t sure how to take the characters from Point A to Point B. Did that stop me?

For a few minutes, sure. I took a break, visited the little men’s room, ate something, or just got a change of scenery for 5 to 30 minutes. It helped me to clear my head, and freed me from the confines of the scene I had found myself stuck in.

But when I sat down to write, did I stare at that blank page? No, because I couldn’t afford to! I had a very limited window for my writing, and I had to make progress towards the completion of the 30+ chapter, 113,000-word novel. Writer’s block wasn’t something I could allow myself to have, so I approached my fiction writing the way I approached my marketing copywriting: I prepared beforehand.

Before I ever sat down to write out the chapter, I knew more or less where it needed to go. I am an Architect (add link) first and foremost, so you can bet your pretty little boots that I had some structure/framework in place to get me from Prologue to Epilogue.

Of course, I still had to write plenty to fill in the framework, but at least I had the place where I was going. That, IMO, is what stopped me from suffering the dreaded writer’s block.

“But,” you may whine in a nasal voice, “I don’t have a structure for my book! I’m just telling it and seeing where it takes me.” Great! Good for you! It’s a hugely enjoyable way to write, and there’s nothing wrong with doing it that way.

All I can say is: treat your writing like you would any other job. When you get stuck at work, you can’t claim accountant’s block, lawyer’s block, or street-sweeper’s block. Don’t let writer’s block be the excuse that stops you from pushing forward.

How can you deal with writer’s block?

Write gibberish. Put down the first 100 words that pop into your mind. You can often find something helpful from total nonsense.

Move on. Start the next scene or chapter. You can always figure out how your characters got there later.

Take a break. This doesn’t mean to leave it for days or weeks. Just take a few minutes off to recharge your mental batteries, and get back to hammering away at the keyboard.

Don’t start unless you have an idea of where it’s going. Gardeners may not enjoy this as much, but it’s helpful. You don’t even have to know the ending, but you need to know all the crucial plot points.

Is writer’s block a valid excuse? In my opinion, I’d say heck no!

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