Sunday, March 19, 2017

"The Soundtrack to Stealing Nations" Playlist

Invariably all things end, and when they end, it is important to pay homage to the things that inspired the work. As much as I am a devout lover of Heavy Metal, I must acknowledge that I have a deep and abiding love of Hip Hop.

I like it darker, preferably with a quicker beat and more aggressive political themes, though I also just like hearing a good story. The songs below were chosen because they inspired the writing of The Saga of The Panther. I hope you enjoy these artists as much I was inspired by them.


The Gem of Acitus - "Point of No Return" by Immortal Technique
The Light in the Dark - "Jigga What/Faint" by Linkin Park feat. Jay Z
By The Tears - "Party Up (Up In Here) by DMX


When Shadows Walked on Legends - "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" by the Wu-Tang Clan
Loss - "Civil War" by Immortal Technique ft. Killer Mike, Brother Ali & Chuck D
The Free and The Damned - "Forgot About Dre" by Dr. Dre ft. Eminem, Hittman


"Design In Malice" by Jedi Mind Tricks ft. Young Zee and Pacewon
"Frontlines" by Diabolic ft. Immortal Technique
"Run The Jewels" by Run The Jewels


OUT 3/21/2017!

Monday, March 13, 2017

THIEF OF NATIONS arrives 3/21/2017!

I've been waiting a long, long time for this moment...

I'm pleased to announce that the third and final installment of The Saga of The Panther, THIEF OF NATIONS, arrives on March 21st, 2017!

And without much ado, here's the cover!

Huge thanks for James R. Tuck for producing a third amazing cover!

New from Jay Requard and Falstaff Books in 2017, Thief of Nations is the thrilling conclusion to the blistering adventure that started in Thief of Shadows

Manwe The Panther returns in a battle for the very souls of the savannah! Following the devastating conclusion of Thief of Secrets, the greatest thief on the plains is alone. Robbed of the revolution he started by the conniving witch-doctor, Voduni Calla, the mad mystics designs have been revealed in their full horror. The dead have risen, stalking the the night at the villain's bidding.

At Manwe's back stands Cleon, the powerful Gypian sorcerer, and Folami the Songbird, a thief that stands the Panther's equal, ready to fight for a world the Manwe strove so hard to destroy. Wedged between the oncoming might of the Gypian Empire and Calla's undead, they will seek weird powers beneath the earth to save the innocent above it.

Trapped between death and destiny, Manwe will fight for liberty right on the edge of oblivion!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Building Character: Handling Emotion and Characterization

One thing I often find lacking on writing panels and at critique meetings is the discussion between writing emotion and writing characterization, as they are two very different things that are most often confused for being the same thing by new writers. Today's blogpost is a tiny, TINY (your hopes as well as mine) little lesson broken up into three sections on the differences and how you can bridge them together. Let's dig in!

Building Character: Handling Emotion and Characterization

So let's take this in three bits. I've prepared three chunks of fiction to better illustrate my conception of the differences between Emotion and Characterization. The first chunk (1A for short) is written with the Emotion of Panic.

"Where is it?" Solm asked.
Twilly looked up at him as they exited the dungeon. "What?"
"Where's the bag, Twilly?"
The small thief checked his wide-leather belt. Weighed in pouches galore and girded with a simple steel dagger, no bag of gems swung as he moved forward. Twilly stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh no!"
Solm threw his hands in the air. "I can't believe you left it inside! We'll have go back and get it!"

In 1A we are introduced to two character leaving a dungeon, Twilly and Solm, who just successfully robbed the underground vault of a bag that contains some sort of treasure that both of them value. However, it is soon revealed that Twilly left the bag inside by mistake, which results in Panic, which is the emotion I was going for. The problem with 1A is that the emotion tells us little about the characters in terms of who they are--we can conclude they are thieves that go into dungeons to get treasures, Twilly wears a belt, and he is forgetful. Solm is given absolutely no description, becoming a "ghost voice" (we don't know where the character is in relation to the point of view character, and even that is murky due to my poorly done Third Omniscient where the POV is not "stapled.") And notice the movements made--simple and disembodied.

So let's try something different in 2A. I'm going to add a bit of narrative meat to Solm by "stapling" my POV to Twilly, as well as giving our two characters actual human movements that I think are more life-like in the real world (which is subjective). I'll also remove an exclamation point because exclamation points are often misused and lazy. I'm also going to add two new layers of emotion born out of my own experiences with Panic: Frustration and Anger.

"Where is it?" Solm asked, towering over him.
Twilly froze every time the giant spoke, and emotionally shot from the rigors of the hellish dungeon they were exiting, the question halted him. "What?"
"Where's the bag, Twilly?"
In the shadow of his partner in crime, Twilly checked his wide belt. Weighed in pouches filled in both tricks and treachery, he thumbed the hilt of his simple steel dagger. The frog next to it should have had the bag of gems affixed. He sighed deeply. "Oh no."
Solm exploded, throwing his hammer fists at the sky. "I can't believe you left it inside! We'll have to go back and get it!"

What changed in 2A?

I provided space between the characters. Solm can almost been seen lumbering over Twilly as they leave what has been a tough dungeon for Twilly (who I made the clear POV character.) I also add some nuance to our POV character. When asked a question by a partner he might honestly fear, he thumbs the hilt of his dagger. What does that say about Twilly? Will he fight for himself if they come to blows? Is it a coping behavior?  I also did not have him express only panic, but frustration over the loss of the bag of gems, a small detail which gives our story a McGuffin. Now having established Solm's size, his reaction of throwing fists to the clouds turns simple panic into booming anger, which is further magnified by his size.

It is at this point that I need to stop and talk about Emotions. They are the ribbon that tie characters together, but often emotion is concretely established through movement and space. Movement gives blood and sinew to characters as much as space gives weight and contrast. That blood and sinew translates into the emotion being multifaceted while that weight and contrast helps you tell a larger story. Both partners are panicking because they lost the McGuffin, but look at what movement and space do to panic: So exhausted from the dungeon, all Twilly can do is stand still, small in the shadow of his giant who threatens when he speaks, and sigh. Solm, in Twilly's perspective, reacts to panic with brutish anger, throwing his fists at the heavens. Their movements, added to the emotion, provides Characterization. We want to see how characters/people react under stress in stories. The stress they carry against the plot is the foundation of what readers want to see worked out in resolving the epic I aim to tell involving this classic odd-couple scenario.

So to point it in the simplest terms possible: Emotion is a part of Characterization, not Characterization itself.

A lot of submissions that come across Falstaff's editorial desks often feature a lot of 1A writing instead of 2A writing. Publishers want 2A because 2A can be refined into something better (let's call it "publishable"), while 1A is amateurish.

The reason why 2A works so well, however, will reveal itself in 3A, which features the benefit of a rewriting the dialogue. Words from the characters should always reveal character as much as their movements and space.

Let's keep things how they were: same paragraph structure, sentences, but this time we're going to change the dialogue and remove all the exclamation points, which aren't needed if you know what you're doing. Dialogue is a key part of great characterization, because changing what is said by the characters can completely redefine them. For example:

"Do you have them?" Solm asked, towering over his shoulder.
Twilly froze every time the giant spoke, and emotionally shot from the rigors of the hellish dungeon they were leaving, the sudden question halted him. "What?"
"Did you have that bag of gems, Twilly?"
In the shadow of his partner in crime, Twilly checked his wide belt. Weighed in pouches filled in both tricks and treachery, he thumbed the hilt of his simple steel dagger. The frog next to it should have the bag of gems affixed to it. He sighed deeply. "Nope."
Solm exploded, throwing his hammer fists at the sky. "I can't believe... ugh, we'll have to go back inside."

Here I completely made Panic malleable into multi-faced characterizations, and it all came because I changed the dialogue and made them new characters.

Twilly is still our POV, but he is presented in more grey terms. He doesn't seem small anymore next to the still-gigantic Solm, who speaks in a more collegiate tone, upfront and to the point. His words are markedly more concerned, expressing keen focus on a McGuffin he and Twilly clearly wanted to take from the dungeon they endured.

Twilly has gone through a subtle but telling change as well--now that Solm is not a threatening giant, Twilly checking his dagger with his thumb might make us wonder about Twilly intent. Is he the kind of thief that would stab Solm in the back, using the tricks and treachery lined on his belt? But there is another turn because of the change in dialogue--the same words and movements were used, but instead of a downtrodden panic of "Oh no", Twilly simply says "Nope", admitting openly their failure. Is he aloof? An asshole? Has this happened before? The entire way that character responds to panic after a hellish dungeon is dulled to a fine point--what did they just walk out of?

Back to Solm--where the giant once thrust his fists to the sky, shouting about his obvious Anger, I clipped it with the ellipses and turn it into Resolution by Solm, casting him as the move active character in the paragraph, who meets Anger with a quick burst he forces down before he resolves what they will do next. Is he still the murderous giant dwarfing the helpless thief we saw in 2A?

Writing emotion is easy, but showing your characters handle them for themselves is what makes storytelling rich. The mastery of it, which I am in no way claiming, takes time and effort to create for oneself, but it can be done by considering different methods. Perhaps the one I present above may work for you--perhaps it won't. Either way I hope something is gained from this. Feel free to ask questions below or make comments!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Three Things I Wish Authors Would Stop Doing

Oh, look at this quagmire. Stepping into this would be bad, likely irking many of my peers but definitely those that are in power--not that it matters, as power is only what they can enforce face to face or through scu--I mean lawyers. The truth is that the business of publishing breeds disillusionment, rancor, and general apathy I think too many authors indulge in when there are clear ways of looking at things differently for an constantly changing, ever-evolving business that is both beautiful and terrible as the morning dawn.

You're welcome.

Plus, I've actually clawed my way out of quicksand before. Yeah, there was rope involved, but that's because you should always have rope about you somewhere.

So without further dues and weights, here are...

Three Things I Wish Authors Would Stop Doing

(It was going to be ten, but then I realized I didn't want to make my readers slog through more than they had too by repeating myself. As in writing and in life--if you can do with less, do with less!)

1. Avoid Marketing Themselves

When John, Jaym, and myself first started Falstaff, John wanted me as a writer first before I volunteered to edit. I joined Falstaff Books because it availed me the opportunity to learn about being a success in publishing from the ground-level, something that few authors avail themselves and something many do not even consider on their journey. I knew what it was like to be published and paid--at one point I could even afford to pay a lighting bill--but I wanted to know what it took to produce a print copy of a book first hand, what kind of editorial was expected out of developmental and proofreading, how marketing was best accomplished for the desired effect, and what I discovered was that the final one is often neglected.

I cannot tell you how many authors I've met utter "I don't know what to post/market about."

Figure it out. Are you a person with interests outside of writing? Do you like baking, brewing, or anything? Post about that? Interact with others beyond just readers who you want to buy your work. Support other writers, artists, musicians. Talk about the things you like. It is as simple as you want to make it, and the more you do it the more comfortable you will be with it. And yet too many authors either lack the confidence or think themselves too high for such things--which is bullshit. For 30 minutes out of my day (and yes, sometimes I wake up early to do it), I can do a week's worth of marketing just on social media. This is part and parcel or how the business has changed to where simply being published and being distributed to bookstores is no longer enough. You have to build a platform, engage with the readership and your supporters, and build.

2. Twitter, Facebook, Blog Rants

I had to learn this one the hard way myself, especially during the 2016 election when things became so heated that civil discourse degenerated and remained so since. It wasn't until I started noticing that I had less and less interactions with the people I usually interacted with that the weight of what I was posting and writing really hit home--and this was made even more evident when it came to my griping about prospective authors submitting to the slush pile, who often fail to even read guidelines. I bitched, I moaned, I shouted, and while other editors liked and retweeted, I was losing a lot of people who would have listened to me otherwise if I had just stopped to explain my points instead of hammering home with vitriol.

So I stopped. I stopped yelling about politics, or people, or about the world in general. I still talk about the things that matter to me, but I talk about them in a way I wish others would speak to me if we were face to face. Unfortunately I know and know of authors who do not do this, and while I won't take away their right to say whatever they want on whatever channel they create for themselves, it does often lead to them excluding themselves from potential conversations, interactions, and considerations not only made by readers, but people that reside in the media in general.

Perception is everything now and we no longer have the consideration of intention, only the subjectivity of what our words convey. Therefore, in my opinion, it is better for authors to start dialogues instead of disagreements, evolve the conversation instead of enrage it.

3. Not Listening to Editors and Critiquers

To be honest, this one applies to less people than I usually run with, most of them being professional authors, publishers, editors, etc. This applies more to the people I meet at writing groups, critique circles, and at cons who express the desire to be an author, yet when they do to have their writing critiqued, edited, what have you, they get insulted when that editor or critiquer gives them constructive feedback.

To be fair to those people, I was there at one point as well. Writing is such a personal thing, and to hear that something was out of place or imperfect used to drive me up the wall with anger, disappointment, and self-loathing. What changed was my mindset--I had the experience of competing in martial arts and other contact sports growing up, and what I learned there was that there is no such thing as winning and losing, but winning and learning. Once I was able to grasp this again, I started looking at thoughtful criticism, even if it was negative, as an opportunity to become the best writer. Listening to editors and critiquers while taking what they have to say into consideration, even if you don't like it, pushes you forward.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Three Things I Wished I Had Known When I Started Writing

I started writing in 2005 during my senior year of high school, having discovered The Craft in Mr. Koechling's Creative Writing class. I was going through a lot then, some of which showed up in my recent release of War Pigs, but writing found me at a low point in life and from there picked me up, cleaned me off, and set about making me a better man. My college creative writing professor, Al Maginnes, gave me confidence and some life lessons about writing that I will share here.

However, let's not confuse the issue at hand: writing, much like life, is never easy.

Unlike losing a fight, getting a rejection is often harder, and unlike working hour after hour on one low kick, sometimes I'd get so frustrated with the words being imperfect that I would scrap entire projects. In spite of that, I signed my first publishing contract for a series of Renaissance Fantasy/Vampire novels in 2009, and that fell through before we went to print for a number of reasons that were completely out of my hands. I later started selling short fiction, becoming more and more proficient at that, and then novellas, and there may be a novel or two getting picked up in the future.

This progress came from hard work, by keeping my nose to the grindstone, and my ears perked to listen and learn. That said, there were things I wish I had known when I first started, things that are not often told to new writers and, if we're all honest, things that veterans should say on panels but don't because these bits of knowledge are things that often slip through the cracks. There won't be bits like "finish your draft" or "edit with this or this in mind", but I hope the writers who are just starting out gain something from this, just as I hope that the vets who read this see my utmost respect displayed for them.

Without further adieu...

1. Mentors are important

We are often told that writing is a lonely life, filled with late nights, small sentences in the moment you can spare, and a constant grind that separates the talented from the successful--yes, you read that right, and what was said was correct as well.

Writing is about persistence, but writers don't learn this persistence overnight, nor we do learn it on our own. I had great teachers at the beginning of my journey: Kristopher Koechling taught me that I could do it, and Al Maginnes taught me that it was the persistent that become real writers. Those are two very important lessons that are hard to learn on one's own, especially the first if you were in the spot I was in where my entire identity was wrapped up in something I couldn't do anymore. But one important part of my current career is that I kept committing myself to finding a mentor.

Now, there are tons of stories of editors like Maxwell Perkins fostering writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and my personal favorite, Ernest Hemingway, but the mentor-student relationship is often these days is not confined to an editor-writer dynamic, but also relationships between writers. For myself, my mentors have been my guru John Hartness, James R. Tuck, David B. Coe, Emily Leverett, Lou Anders, and Gail Z. Martin. There are writers and editors who have I gone to, and they have taken their time to sit down provide advice on my work, the publishing industry, or support me with needed wisdom and motivation

The importance of mentors does come with a caveat: they show you the way, but you must be the one to walk it. It is important to go out and get advice, help, and direction for what you want to do with your writing, but it is also infinitely more important to listen to thoughtful criticism from them. Sometimes your mentors will tell you things you don't want to hear, but always consider the things they have to say.

2. The Moment You Stop = The Moment You're Done For

This is going to be hard to swallow, and I will not be surprised if people go "well, Jay, what's the point then?" But it needs to be said and I think it needs to be said more often for the sake of young writers getting into the business of today's publishing's business:

You are only as good as the work AND the amount of work you put out. 

There is no longer a world where a published author will be able to live off of the proceeds created by ONE successful series unless you are one of the lucky few to secure movie or television rights that actually see the light of day and the final product actually makes it to broadcast, and even then success isn't guaranteed (see: Eregon, Sword of Truth, Dresden, and on and on and on.) With royalty rates being a jungle of confusion when it applies to ebook sales and big advances dwindling across the board, the big box stores for print remain in a constant state of precariousness where they are often losing money holding as much stock as they do. Amazon has become to the go-to destination for print and ebooks outside of the cherished indie bookstores, and while those indie bookstores have seen a resurgence, the thing to remember about those indie shops is that they are not always going to carry your titles, nor can they--the margins they work on are still thin and they have to move product that moves. I saw this recently at a nationally recognized and lauded bookstore, Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, NC, where their science fiction and fantasy section took up a small section of wall relative to the other shelves, and even then those titles were either brand new releases plugged in Locus or standard titles you'd expect to see at any bookstore like Tolkien, Heinlein, etc.

And to reaffirm, there is always going to be a challenge for any new author breaking into the business: as much as it matters that you produce quality work, you also have to produce a LOT of it in a business that is rapidly changing all the time. 

Get used to never having breaks between projects, or working on multiple projects at a time. Get used to late nights with little sleep and early mornings with little in the way of a break before work, and get used to always having to stay in contact with your editor, and embrace The Grind. Writing is no longer the business of writing the "Great American Novel" and cashing a check--if you really want health insurance, or a house, or a family, and you want to write full time, you need to learn how to afford a comfortable on less than you expect to make, marry a person that knows this, and keep grinding.

Let me repeat: the business of writing and publishing is about grinding.

I knew that getting in. It is the reason I call Jishnu's mercenary company The Grinders--because this is no longer about just being the best, but about consistency, gumption, and ploughing onward. I know bestselling authors who were real hot for a good span of years, something happened, they disappeared, and then all of those gains they made disappeared with them. Now they have full time jobs outside of writing. That happens, but the moment they can get back to it, they get back to it, because time is ticking and they know the value of grinding.

Do the work and keep working. Don't worry about the advances, or the publicity, or what comes--the work comes first, and you need to work a lot. That is how you will move forward.

3. Life is your Art, so live Life

I've done a lot of shit.

I've fought grown men in rings and cages, lost a significant other, climbed mountains, drowned in lakes, been in car crashes, gotten into a sword fight with real swords, walked around with more money in my pocket than most do in their entire lives, loved for days, wasted nights, drank myself stupid, smoked myself smart, watch the sun come up, performed Sabbaths and Voodoo in midnight clearings, meditated with yogis, read the Bible six times cover to cover, lost my soul, found it again, sinned, saved myself, attended more funerals than I wanted to, watched people die right in front of me, seen babies born, got my Purple Belt, broke my neck, hands, feet, skull, and shins, ran down enemies and lifted up those I despise, started a podcast, become a beer and Scotch connoisseur, been rejected more times than I can count, and to quote the master Dusty Rhodes, "I've dined with kings and queens and lived off pork and beans." 

And I'm only 30.

Tolkien was at the Somme. Hemingway boxed in Cuba. Rowling struggled to live. Glen Cook worked in factories. Mary Stewart toiled in obscurity. Stephen King wrote in a trailer. Huxley took a walk around town on Mescalin. Writers live lives for their art, and their art is a reflection of their lives. I meet too many writers that think they are going to become great by simply writing what they know, forgetting the fact that the luminaries they looked up to wrote around everything else that was going on in their lives, and everything that went on left itself in their writing. It is why I despise the advice of "Write what you know". It should be "Know what you're writing."

So get out there. Go for a hike, eat some fungus, go to church, have a game night, go to the club, go lift weights, get in a fight, visit a library, paint, grow a garden, spend a night in jail, learn how to fire a gun or start a fire, talk to cops and criminals, whatever. And write when you're done doing this things, and write before you do something new.

Consider at it this way: in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, a prisoner walks outside a cave and see the world for being more than shadows on the wall that they've always known, yet when they go back inside the cave and tell others still looking at the wall about the world outside, the other prisoners fail to believe this person to the point of violence. While there is a very important narrative here about the nature of perception, cognition, and dissonance, what a writer does is paint pictures on the wall of the cave in new colors, showing new and different things, and sparks an interest to leave the cave and actually see new worlds. Our stories are transitory and they ease that transition from one consciousness to another--something newer, something different, and hopefully something more healthful.

How many people do you know want to go to London because they read Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter? How many people started reading Fantasy, or Mystery, or Romance, because they tasted ambrosia through the pages of their first genre story?

That is the power of writing, and to imbue your work with that power you have to deepen the Well of Experience. Go get those experiences and report back to those who have not yet had the chance to dig their own.

Now go on, get away from this blog.

Go find someone who can show you what to do, get to work, and live. These are the things I had to learn that I wished someone had told me when I first started on this dream. I hope they help you speed up yours.

Go forth and grind.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Marching from the Grimdark into the Cold Light : A WAR PIGS post

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.

The Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence (which you must go read NOW).

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard K. Morgan.

These pivotal series and the luminaries who wrote them are those that I have deemed to myself to be The Four Fathers of Grimdark, a set of Fantasy fiction works and authors that swept the world over the last two decades with roots in Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, David Gemmell, and the dark fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s, though their ancestors can easily be traced to Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard as well. To express what Grimdark is to those who are not great readers of it can best be found in the words of Richard K. Morgan himself:
"Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an elite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses." - Richard K. Morgan
With the recent ascendance to Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America, the vote to leave the European Union via "Brexit" in the United Kingdom (where grimdark and fantasy both find native soil), and the uprising of many nationalist/hate groups throughout the world, it is hard to disagree with Morgan's view on both the worlds he creates for his fantasy and the world readers like me now experience. We live in a time where the majority of our fellow human beings and alike are oppressed by religious, political, and financial elites, of whom staff and maintain a force of thugs, and through use of their media engender a willful cognitive dissonance that the majority themselves accept because of a fear, greed, or hatred that allows them to sustain their lifestyles, even bitterly, in a society that was made comfortable by its own lack of personal and social responsibility.

WAR PIGS is my first rebuttal to Grimdark Fantasy. A second one is coming in Hold Back The Day, but that will come when it comes. A third one comes in the collected Saga of The Panther. And then there will be more, and more, and more, until my dying day.

I worship the works of Martin and Lawrence, read deeply into Morgan, and truly appreciate Abercrombie on a basis of what they have done in terms of what was needed to be done for the health of Fantasy fiction--they infused it with things that were happening now, inhabited it with characters that could live and breath in our real world, and drove a real sense of consequence that many Fantasy and genre authors today still fail to embrace to their detriment. Personally speaking, Grimdark caused me to take on a meaningful view of world-building, a constant reminder that there had to be real risk for my characters, and in general made me realize that it is more important to write about what is going on, not about "the story only you can write", which is often horribly simplistic advice.

Fantasy, to me, is the journalism of the soul, the exploration of the what our world is like now, and a rebellion against the powers that would tell us not to imagine something otherwise.

While I'll never be done being in love with Grimdark, I've wanted to be done writing it for a long time. The successful nomination and victory of Donald Trump drove it home for me--there was once a time to examine all the dark corners of the earth, to explore characters who are analogous to the worst we allow to rule today. That time is over because now we have actually let one of them into the halls of power in all his unbridled awfulness with the expectation this awfulness will flourish.

I refuse.

I choose to write of heroes, of people that stand up against their own society and its unworthy rulers for the sake of others instead of themselves--and not in a self-serving manner like Daenerys Targaryen. I choose to write of places and times that are broken but can be healed with when humanity raises the cause of goodness as we have before.

I refuse Morgan's authorial view of the world.

And so does Lut. Lut is a Wag (see "orc") who starts evil, that kills for the powers-that-be and revels in his oppression of others. But he also changes, learns the value of his people and the others he once oppressed, the wonders of his land, and the importance of his time. He is simply not Lawful Evil and "that is that."

He chooses to walk out of the grim darkness of the soul and into the Cold Light of better days. It is bright out in this new wilderness, and the world will always be harsh, but there is a way forward for you, me, and everyone else. We must simply go and find it.

I hope you'll choose to walk out there with me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Battle of Words: a WAR PIGS post

One of the main challenges that I put before me when I wrote WAR PIGS was the knowledge that I would have to write multiple combat scenes in little less than 120 pages while at the same time allowing for the narrative to develop, allow characterizations to be made, and keep the story moving.

This post is a short exploration of how tools I brought in to create those intense combat scenes, whether they ranged from one-on-one conflicts between Lut and his foes or sprawling battles where thousands upon thousands spilled their blood, as each variation has its own sets of difficulties and opportunities, which I will try to explore in the most digestible way possible. There will be a lot of things to cover so I'll do my best to keep it simple.

In general, there are three tried-and-true rules that I developed and follow in keeping my fight scenes exciting and manageable, two things I find many writers struggle with at varying levels of experience. I often find that these authors, whether they are new or more experienced, tend to focus themselves in doing one or the other, which results in fights that can be fun but a mess, to clear and concise yet are prosaic because while they put the scenes together well they lack the kind of pop needed to wow the reader. That said, following these rules can help land you somewhere closer to the sweet spot of being both clear and exciting.

1. Keep fights between individuals to ONE PAGE OR LESS (in Word)

Unless you have a really good reason for lengthening the pace of your fight (be it through the device of Cat-And-Mouse, Character Resets due to injury/interference, Comedy, etc.), it is often better to keep your combat scenes quick and to the point. It reduces the pressure writers often put on themselves to be too graphic in detail or too descriptive in execution. Generally speaking, a balanced approach fits better than not. Authors who are great at this (though they sometimes break the rules) are R.A. Salvatore, Brent Weeks, John Marco, and David Gemmell, they of whom are considered masters of writing action-packed combat. Ursula Le Guin knocks it out of the park in her Earthsea novels The Farthest Shore and Tehanu. And there are some great authors out there that go even shorter than that!

Also take note: when I say a "page or less", I mean the equivalent of a page in Word or whatever word processor you use to write. Word allows up to 500 words per page, single spaced, and you lose anywhere to 25% to 32% if you double-space. Keep that in mind when it comes to this rule.

2. Smaller Paragraphs = Faster (and better) Movement

To write a good fight scene you need to know something about film making AND paragraph formatting, the latter being an art that I see is getting lost the longer I edit works for others. In fact, most of what I find myself doing while editing combat scenes for others is re-working the paragraph formatting to clarify what is actually happening. To resolve this I encourage writers to take advantage of the film making technique of blocking out their action sequences into digestible sections, as this will allow focus on what we as writers want to convey in terms of the imagery we use.

Here's another idea to keep in your "toolbox" as Stephen King calls it:

One paragraph equals one sequence of action/movement in the shot.

If you have a sequence of movement in your mind that you wish readers to pay particular attention to, then giving the sequence its own paragraph allows the scene to breath, the writer to refine, and the reader to follow in a way that is more active. Speaking as a dedicated reader of Fantasy as well as a publisher author of the genre, I have seen this play out in the opposite fashion too many times--writers will write an entire fight scene contained in a one-page paragraph (just a paragraph!) and it ends up cluttering the page. Formatting large paragraphs into small ones not only allows you to focus on the action, but it quickens the pace for the reader, ultimately drawing them in to what is going on.


Now a writer is of course free to write whatever sort of combat scenes they want, whether it is dirty, realistic bloodshed that I try to incorporate into my fiction, or high-flying, magical, wuxia-like action that you might find in RA Salvatore's later work or the work of Steven Erikson. A writer can be as simple or as intricate as they want to be, but I always offer a cautious reminder to all of this--your combat scenes are not what makes the story progress. That is what characters, plot, setting, and the other literary devices are for. That said, what can make your combat scenes unique to you is the process of what you incorporate in the write writing them.

I wrote about this previously while providing an extensive reading list, but expanding your knowledge base, taking part or observing the martial arts, and asking questions on all aspects of combat will invariably enrich your combat scenes into intense, powerful movements that will add literary impact to your storytelling. I draw on a lot of my knowledge from my experiences studying Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kendo, Iaido, German Longsword, Medieval Ringen, Scottish Highland Broadsword, and Dirk Fighting, and I added to it further by researching Sanatan Shastar Vidiya (the war arts of the Sikhs), Pehlwani (Indian Wrestling), and English Quarterstaff. You can find a lot stuff to watch on Youtube, thousands of great books, and many wonderful martial arts schools that will be happy to let you observe and ask questions to help you better form your combat scenes.

Want to see these rules in action? I hope you'll consider picking up WAR PIGS! It is on preorder for right now at $0.99 until it's release date on 11/15/2016.

Have anymore questions about writing great combat scenes? Hit me up @JayRequard on Twitter or leave a comment below!