Category Archives: Writing

The Ability To Know The End

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

While editing “A School of Many Futures” last night, I realized I could see the end in sight. For a minute, the world froze as I knew the book would be done. It’s strange to have the bolt of inspiration not be “the start” but “oh, good, this’ll be done.”

Sometimes it seemed I wouldn’t complete it – and the Pandemic didn’t help. I had written the book, rewritten it, had it edited, rewrote it during editing, edited it, and took prereader input. It seemed like it’d be forever, even as time ticked down on my well-constructed timeline.

This lightning bolt of understanding led me to another realization – the ability to know something is done is a skill.

I work in the software industry, where many people advocate for a “Definition of Done” for parts of projects. The idea is that you should know what means a program, update, etc. is ready to go. After all, if you don’t know what “done” is, when do you stop?

(I’m sure that sounds familiar to many writers and artists.)

I know people who are just good at done. They can assess end states, itemize needs, and figure out where you need to go. I’m sure you have something you’re good at where you can know done. That skill might not exist in every part of your life.

In the case of my novel, between the Pandemic and challenging myself, I hadn’t asked what “Done” was. In fact, I hadn’t done it for my first novel as well. Clearly, this was a skill I could develop.

I don’t have this problem with my nonfiction work. Perhaps I find such ease because it’s very technical, or that fiction has much more potential. Perhaps my return to fiction is showing gaps in my knowledge. Either way, I’ve found a skill to build.

Perhaps I can start by creating Definitions of Done for my work.

How good are you at figuring out “done?”

Steven Savage

Stacking Stories To The Stars

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Lately, I’ve been playing Wildermyth, an RPG game about emergent storytelling. Playing a set of characters (and maybe guest stars) one adventures around, while choices, semi-random events, and so on come together. Characters become unique, complex individuals, small moments building to broad strokes – and may even become a “guest star” in later games.

I will probably write more on the game later, but I want to focus on how this game reflects good writing.

In Wildermyth, characters have a set of personality traits and abilities. As you play, these traits and other opportunities come together to give you narrative choices. These tiny moments create a grand epic – though there are “campaigns with plots,” you can also just play randomized games and let your own story emerge.

As I played the game, I realized this reminded me of good writing. Writing is about stacking stories atop stories to make a bigger story:

  • A book is a story.
  • The chapters of a book can (and should be) their own tiny tales.
  • A good scene is also a story, albeit one in context.
  • A single paragraph, done right, is a small story, leading from point A to point B.
  • I could even argue, in the right mood, a sentence is its own story. But I might not be sober.

It’s stories all the way down – and all the way up. I would say good authors realize most of this, and excellent authors understand this completely.

Think of how a truly delicious tale feels. Every part of it makes sense and is engaging, from a bit of backstory to a “just like them” piece of character quippery. Epic motions of the world make as much sense as the tiny pebble-starts-the-avalanche moments.

Less satisfying works lack this element, among others. Scenes exist without reason (and, “hey, cool backstory is a reason.”). Cause and effect have given up on a committed relationship. It’s a Frankenstory, without the spark of life.

The lesson I take from this is to remember the stack of stories that make up any one tale. Pay attention to the parts and the whole because you can’t separate them.

If you want a good example, well, I have a game to recommend . . .

Steven Savage

Writing Advice From Non-Writers

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Serdar did a lovely post on non-writing influences on his writing. I decided to do my own – and challenge you to do your own! We ought to share tips (send me your posts).

As for me:

Agile Methodology

(Yes, I post a lot about it, but it’s worth hitting the high points)

  • Success is in what you don’t do. The more you make unnecessary, the more waste you avoid, the better.
  • Value comes first. Know the value of what you’re doing – even if it’s just “it’s fun.” Learn not to do things that have no value.
  • Fail fast and learn.

Movies (especially indies)

  • Persistence pays off. Many amazing movies are the results of willpower.

Role-playing Games

  • Find ways to make “systems” for your writing – outlines, checklists, ways to rank characters, etc. They help you see your work anew.
  • Story and mechanics (what causes what) are inseparable.  

Software

  • Make things modular. Understand how small parts make larger things and how they connect. It also lets you “swap” things around easier.
  • Doing things right on a small level ensures success on the larger level.
  • Prototypes and rough drafts help you evaluate ideas and learn quickly. It’s also better to have something, no matter how flawed, than nothing.

Stage and Television

  • One interesting character with the right dialogue can hold a person’s attention for hours.
  • Budget lets you invest for success, but it can’t replace talent or passion.

Video Games

  • Keep up a sense of immersion at all times. Stepping out of your world should be a choice, not an accident.
  • Lore brings people into a world, but it has to be hands-on and visceral. Lore must matter and connect to deep emotions and experiences.

Steven Savage