Basic writing tips: heroes


Yeah, okay, let’s do this one today.

You get a lot more leeway when it comes to the motivation of a hero. It’s a lot more justifiable to have heroes out doing good for the sake of good because, at its core, humanity is basically good. Most individual humans, despite their flaws, would probably step up to proper evil if they had a chance to do so. At least, this is what I choose to believe when I’m writing because I tend to go for worlds that haven’t been totally mashed by jackbooted authoritarians or corporate shitheels or the like.

But what if you are building one of these worlds? In a world where oppression and misery are the norm — think 1984 — then a hero for the sake of being heroic won’t work. They need a reason to fight against the bastards that are grinding them down, something more than just them being subjected to a horrible way of life. This horrible way of life is all they know, so there needs to be something else to push them to fight. Again, in 1984 this is Winston’s love for Julia, but it can be anything, so long as it gives the hero a look behind the curtain.

Of course, just because they don’t live in a hellscape, doesn’t mean your hero doesn’t need these reasons. The way to make a hero interesting is to give him flaws, cracks in the veneer. The reason I can’t get on board with Superman as a hero, for instance, is because he’s so bloody perfect. The big blue boy scout. Truth, justice and the American way. That’s flat, dull, and for me not very compelling. Contrast that with the dude at the top of this post, John Constantine.

Constantine is best described as an arsehole. At his core he’s a good guy, but he’s selfish, often cowardly, a chain-smoker, rude and downright abrasive. He has a habit of sacrificing his friends if it will give him an advantage in a fight — which happens a lot — and never speaks plainly when a lie will do. This is a man that recently vowed to let the world burn and let billions of people die if it would let him save his own life and that of his ex-girlfriend.

But he is, ultimately a good guy.

That is the sort of hero I can get behind. Conflicted. Everyone has doubts about what they are doing, if your hero doesn’t then he’s not a person.

Basic writing tips: villains


I was playing Titanfall last night, that heady bastion of drama that it is, and was talking with someone about how poor the attempt at a storyline is. It’s your basic evil moustache twirling corporation of English and South Africans against the valiant rebellion of Americans. Not offensive, just utterly pointless. It does nothing that hasn’t been done before.

Then, naturally, we started talking about Brink, and the topic shifted to what made that a compelling world if not a compelling game. The answer was relatively simple: the baddies worked.

This *is* basic writing theory, so if you already know this, don’t take offence. You’ll already know a great deal of writers can’t do this properly. For those that don’t know what I mean, here we go.

As a rule, your bad guy should not think he’s the bad guy. He can act like a total dick, but his motivation must be because he thinks what he’s doing is the right thing to do, otherwise it feels remarkably fake. They can still be monstrously evil, to the point of moustache twirling if you like, but because they think it’s necessary.

Taken to its logical extreme, you get this article from a website that will devour your day, but it doesn’t need to go quite that far. But really, all you need is a reason for them to be evil. Whether heroes need a reason to be good is probably something I’ll write about later if I remember — it’s got a whole article of its own there — but villains always need a reason to be evil. They are the source of your drama, your conflict, so they must be fully realised by you, even if a lot of it isn’t used directly in the story. You need that knowledge on hand for writing how they act, knowing how they think.

Just, you know, give your characters some character.

Being your own boss is awful/amazing and I hate/love it.


I worked in an office once. For three weeks. It didn’t last.

The guy I worked for directly was cool and all, and even if the job itself wasn’t really that fun it wasn’t awful. It was the two hour commute that made it untenable. That and the way offices work.

If you read my books, you might notice there’s a general disdain amongst my characters for the dynamics of “office people”. Having remembered that this is a thing that I do, I thought I’d take a moment to differentiate between “office people” and “people who work in an office”, because they are not in fact the same thing. Most notably, they are distinguished by one being able to use the phrase “by the close of play” unironically.

Anyway, this is neither here nor there. The important thing is that, being essentially self-employed, I get to set the pace for how and when I work. Which is awesome. I can get up at midday, slob around until 3, then smash out my daily quota of words and have a sandwich. LIVING THE DREAM.

Except for the fact that no-one ever wants to work, even if it is something they love doing, which sounds like nonsense. When you are beholden to doing something as a career, there’s always going to be that little bit of resentment, and part of the reason good writers manage to exist is because we have become a dab hand at using that resentment to fuel anything other than what we’re supposed to be doing. So we sit there and we write novels instead of doing essays, because “you’ll never make money doing that, go and get a real job”.

When that becomes your real job, this doesn’t go away.

I expect most people who are their own boss actually have some external power figure they really answer to — like a wife or dog or something — but I haven’t managed to procure one of those yet. So mostly I have to threaten myself with crushing guilt to actually get myself to start working.

Writers are weird, okay?

Steer City

Shamelessly stolen from J-Brony on deviant art.

Shamelessly stolen from J-Brony on deviant art.

I found this kickstarter on the internet last night. It is amazing. Just watch that video and then come back. I’ll wait.

Now, I’m not going to make fun of people for being so invested in cartoon ponies. Why would I? I’m super invested in urban fantasy, which is equally as alien and daft if you think about it. That these people like something so much that they can be this passionate and committed to it does not warrant derision. Perhaps a little good natured ribbing, but that’s neither here nor there.

No, what I want to talk about is the presence of a trans pony.

It’s one of those things you don’t really notice until something points it out to you, but why are we reliant on indie developers to represent the under-represented so? If you pick your way through the hundreds of indie games that lurk on the internet, you won’t have to go far before you stumble across one that contains a transgender or gay character, and — here’s a shocker — doesn’t even make a big deal about it. They’re just characters that happen to be in the game, and they happen to be gay or trans. You know, like actual people or something.

I’ve been trying to think of a AAA game that even comes close, and the best I can manage is Final Fight and its portrayal of Poison, and even that is a stretch. Not that I’m saying we should just stuff our games full of trans and gay characters just for the hell of it, but you’d think there would be some. Somewhere.

Good on you, bronies and pegasisters.

Back to work

stolen from

stolen from

So recently I had a nearly catastrophic computer cock-up, which coincided nicely with me taking a few days off to recharge my creative batteries. With both of those now sorted, I can finally get back to work on SNIDE.

It always feels a bit like a copout to take a few days off writing. I set myself a quota, and when I don’t meet it, it does tend to feel like I’m slacking. Once I get back to work though, that notion is gone. It’s hard to explain, but I can feel a change in the writing, like a great pressure has abated. Once that pressure starts building, so it feels like every word you type is being forced, that’s when you know it’s time to take a breather. Writing, for me, always feels a little like that anyway — usually because I get myself so caught up in jesus, I have so many words left — but when you start running dry it gets so much worse.

But now the reservoirs are full, and I can get back to it.

Also, in other news, I’m holding in my hands right now a printed copy of Lore and Order. It’s the preview copy to make sure it all looks good in book form, and I am pretty happy with the result if I’m honest. Hopefully you will be too, once you can get your hands on it. I’ll have more information about that in the nearish future I should think.

Finally, still planning on doing audiobooks on both Diplomancer and Lore and Order when I get a minute. Reading your own stuff aloud is quite daunting actually, especially with regards to something you wrote so long ago like Diplomancer, just need to psych myself up for that.


What does a writer do when he’s not writing?


The answer is that he prepares things he’s already written so you can get to read them!

So while I might currently be in lazy-mode when it comes to finishing off SNIDE, that does mean I can do some stuff with getting Lore and Order ready for you all. Largely, in this case, it means getting the print version all formatted and everything, which is a longer job than it sounds. To be fair, most of the job is waiting to get a prototype in my hands so I can see it for myself and know that it’s ready, but even then, I can’t release it right away. Once that’s all ready, then the real work begins.

And by real work, I mean someone else’s. That’s when all the PR mumbo jumbo can happen. I’m pretty sure it takes longer to put a book out than it does to write the bloody thing, but I’m also sure that it’s well worth it.

I’m pretty excited to see the cover on an actual book too. It’s such a beautiful cover on a screen, it can only be better on a book!