Tag Archives: writing

It’s Great. So What?

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

Lately, I’ve been prereading/editing many works.  I’ve also finished several books and have more things being juggled for publishing.  I’m finding one of the worst forms of feedback is “it’s great!”

You’ve had that experience.  You tell some writer, “it’s great” and then the questions come – why, how come, are you sure?  Didn’t you give enough feedback?  You just said it’s fine!

Then it strikes you since you’re also a writer – “it’s great” means nothing.  It provides no details on what to do right, what to improve, etc.  “It’s great” is useless to writers because there’s no way to improve.  You may have written a novel that will stay in the public mind for centuries, and you don’t know why.

Even if you should change nothing, you want to know why you shouldn’t change.  If you don’t get feedback on what you did right, you might stop doing it by accident!

It’s almost easier to give negative feedback because we can probably go on in detail if we dislike something.  We forget the easy and pleasurable read, but the flaws prick our minds and the pain stands out.  Negative feedback comes easier.

I take this as a reminder that giving feedback on what’s right is a skillset all its own.  It takes work to notice why things are good, what impressed us, what even taught us.  A smooth ride of a read can become so smooth we don’t realize why it was smooth.

The best answer I have is to be self-aware.  When a story flows through your mind, what is it that worked for you?  What did you feel in your gut as your eyes took in the words?  Your reactions are the key to tell you what makes a thing great.

If we listen to ourselves, we help others do better – or keep doing the good things.

Steven Savage

Media, Message, Mismach

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

When creating a piece of a media we need to ask “did I choose the right form for my Bright Idea?”  Should it really be a book, comic, movie, game, or is it better suited for another form?

Some readers may be nodding, others may be curious.  Let me explain by examples.

I’m no fan of the Twilight series, yet I found the lush-looking movies beautifully overdone.  When I saw the manga it impressed me as more interesting than the books.  At least to me, Twilight seemed better suited to a visual medium.  Yes, it was a commercial success, but I can’t shake the feeling that had it been an anime/manga there might have been more to it, and maybe some useful artistic lessons.

As a less personal example, consider an issue that I discuss with fellow authors – those series that seem to be Open World games or RPGS in novel forms.  As much as I love worldbuilding myself, I know 800 pages of “it really picks up by the second book” doesn’t interest people.  Some novels or series seem best – or became – things better suited to games or fictional guides.

If you’re a creative, especially a self-published one, you should ask if your story and setting fit the medium you chose.  Some people might be fortunate enough to get away with a “media mismatch” (see above), but ask if you can beat those odds.  A marketing machine can get someone to read a five-book series far easier than you may – even if people forget it afterward.

This doesn’t mean you should give up on an idea – you need to refine it for your chosen media.  If you have a book that is an RPG-in-disguise, you can refine it into a more bookable form.  If you want to make an RPG, but it comes from a story, maybe you can expand the worldbuilding.  It’s OK to rework your idea so the audience can enjoy it in the form you want.

Making a piece of media accessible requires many things – the right wording, rules, art style, etc.  However, we should ask as if we’re doing the right thing in the right form of media.  There may be a mismatch here.

To give an example in my Avenoth series – which is worldbuilding heavy – “A Bridge to the Quiet Planet” was a romp across worlds, and had overly “worldbuildy” moments.  I tightened up the focus in “A School of Many Futures” which made it more intimate, which made the setting more accessible.  A tweak of perspective improved the story.

Consider the right media for what you want to tell and how to make what you want to say optimized for the media you’ve chosen.  It’ll help you reach people, which we all want, especially in a crowded market.

Steven Savage

Those Important Days In Our Stories

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

I was discussing Serdar’s upcoming worldbuilding-intense novel Unmortal.  It’s a setting with many stories, but his philosophy is one novel a setting, so he told the most important story to tell.  I commented offhandedly, “In a 1000 years find the most important day.”

What story do you tell in a world is a powerful question.

We usually build worlds for a reason because we have some idea of what story to tell.  But if you’re a heavy worldbuilder (like myself), questions arise as you write the first story or plot the next.  You have to ask “what is the story worth telling?”

Without spoiling my plans, my Avenoth novels originally focused on college students and faculty in a techno-mystical world.  Without spoiling my plans, my initial plot was not as interesting as asking how did we get here.  In a way, I ended up writing prequels to a novel that may never be – exploring what kind of people teach in a world of internet-using gods and mystic technology.

The second novel, “A School of Many Futures,” was a similar experience.  Originally the story was a mix of murder mystery and parody of conventions and trade shows.  It would see my collection of hyper-competent but oddball heroes try to shepherd a group of students through rolling chaos at a giant convention.  It was amusing, but the story was just “an idea,” and it didn’t have reason to exist.

As two of the characters are freelance teachers, the notes that became “A School of Many Futures” fit far better.  It fit my themes, fit the characters, and let me further explore the themes mentioned above.  It also fit my greater goals of deconstruction, and it was a pleasure to take on the “magical school adventure” trope.

What about my unused ideas?  My extensive notes have been used in a world guide for readers and may be used in an RPG.  Avenoth is a large setting that plays with tropes – perfect for a game.  Your unused ideas may find similar life in other places.

As writers, we must remember our audience only has so much time, and we have so much time to write.  Asking “what is the story worth telling?” is a question we can’t avoid.

Steven Savage