Author Archives: David Heyman

< Insert amazing blog post here >

Hello everyone! Momentum is a key element for success in completing any writing project, and this month has already be loaded with lots of good advice from folks who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. Some of their advice might contradict the advice I’ll be offering, but that’s part of the joy of writing. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – just the way that works for you.

I too have some advice to offer, something that works for me. This one simple trick, you might say, to avoid getting stuck in your path. (“Writer’s Blocks hate him!”) It may work for you, or it may not. In order to give my advice context though, I have to talk a bit about how I write. It’s a brief side road but I think the trip will be worth it.

Writers seem to be broken up into two general groups: the outliners and the pantsers. I have great admiration for pantsers, those brave souls who just sit down at the keyboard and make it happen live.

That’s amazing, but it will never be me. I am an outliner and I never sit down for my writing session with no idea what’s going to happen. I do several extensive outline passes of my plot and character arcs before I start page one. I often even have much of my dialog pre-written (or pre-recorded).

Once I start that first draft, I want nothing to stop me until I finish the novel. A story finished is a story fixable. I may be newer at this than some Fictorians, but I’ve had more than a few stories die from the blank screen of death because I stopped and just couldn’t get going again.

3,000 word days? Great. 1,000 words? No problem. 25 words? At least I moved forward. The only number I don’t want is zero. As long as I’m moving in any way, I tend to keep moving. It’s when I straight up stop that the problems begin

Yet even with the best outline you can run into issues. Maybe you realize a plot hole you didn’t count on, or dialogue that sounded great in your head just reads corny now that you see it on the page. Very common for me, you knew there was a fight scene here but you didn’t block it out and now it makes no sense.

Any of these can get me stuck, lead me to a zero day where the cursor blinks at me and I simply blink back. This is the one thing I don’t want. So, what do I do when I’m stuck?

I cheat.

I simply skip where I’m stuck by using my two best friends: left angle bracket and right angle bracket.

If you look at my completed first drafts, they will be riddled with these. A few examples from my first draft of SEAS OF EVEREST, Book 2 of the trilogy I am working on:

<finish this up>

<a little more here>

<describe the city>

<she gets upset>

<insert amazing mammoth fight scene here>

Yep, I used them to summarize an entire action scene. I was very stuck on the blocking of that scene (there was a wooly mammoth in it after all) and couldn’t just sit there and work all that out. I took a shot at it but realized my writer brain was not in ‘write action scene’ mode that day. I could stop and try to force it, or I could throw some angle brackets down and move on.

Move on. You know, keep my momentum. No zero days.

That’s exactly what I use them for. So I can maintain my momentum. Gots ta keep on keepin’ on or that book is never going to be finished. I knew that fight scene would come to me later, and it did.

When I finished SEAS OF EVEREST I went back and found I had 83 angle bracketed items to go back and fill. Some were quick and easy, others were decent projects. Closing those 83 items took me all of three days and I freely admit those days were pretty long.

But the book was done. The story was complete, I had got to the end of the tale. That is always the goal for me, get to the damn end. Once you’ve been there, you can always go back and clean up those items you left undone along the way.

If you stop and hammer out each one? Well, you might never get where you’re going.

I am vengeance! I am the night! I am a fluid and moldable setting that changes to match my protagonist!

For my second post this month I’d like to take a look at one of my favorite settings in all of media, Batman’s hometown of Gotham City. The angle I’d like to focus on is how writers and directors have used Gotham over the years, changing it like clay and sculpting so that the city is a reflection of the hero who protects it.

As Gotham changes, so does Batman. It’s more that just a fun exercise- -I think there is a lot here that we as writers can learn about using our settings to better frame our characters.

CONSISTENCIES OF THE SETTING

Let’s first take a look at four elements that stay consistent about Gotham in most interpretations:

The first two are somewhat trivial – Gotham is almost always shown as a coastal city in someway, and it is always located northern enough to get snow. The first one I suppose is to allow good waterfront scenes (and sell Batboat toys), while the latter allows you to have fun winter holiday issues.

The other two are more significant, and I think both tie to unchangeable elements of the Batman character.

  1. Gotham City is always represented as a very large city, both in population and geography.
  2. Gotham City is ridden with crime

I find these two very interesting, as I think they are interconnected to create a setting where Batman is a necessary element. Gotham is consistently depicted as a New York level city, in terms of population. This is as opposed to say Portland, Maine. We’re not talking about a hundred thousand people, Batman protects a city of millions of people. In a smaller city or a less crime filled one, Batman might have a chance at actually winning his battle. But Gotham City is too big and too filled with crime and corruption. One man could never win his war against crime here, which makes Batman’s quest to do so all the more compelling and tragic.

He fights a war he knows he can never win, and will someday lose.

So with those consistent elements in check, let’s look at how various media has played with the other components of Gotham City, and how those changes in the setting are there to reflect the version of Batman that protects it.

BATMAN – TELEVISION (1966)

The narration for this television show lets you know from the very beginning. Gotham is a “fair city”. Wayne Manor is “stately”. Of all the takes on Gotham, this is by far the nicest. It’s even daylight outside for most of the shots! With its blue skies and clean streets, this Gotham reflects its Batman perfectly. There is no brooding Dark Knight here. This Bruce Wayne is a fairly happy person; being Batman is a mission to him, but not a curse or burden as it is in most other takes.

It is also worth noting that this is the most generic looking of the Gotham versions I will cover. Other than Wayne Manor and Police Headquarters there are no iconic exterior locations, which gives the city a ‘everytown’ feeling. 

BATMAN – FILM (1989)

One of the primary challenges that faced the Batman movie in the 80s was washing away the image the public had of Batman a light and silly character, an image largely built by the television show I just mentioned. Director Tim Burton and his team gave us an extremely dark and fantastical city, which again reflected the much grimmer hero that protected it. While the television show depicted a Gotham that could be any city, Burton’s Gotham City could exist nowhere but in this film. It is seemingly always night there, everything is poorly lit and the architecture is gothic and grim. The setting of the movie is working hard to sell the change in the character before you even see him.

I find this to be the most hopeless and lost feeling of the Gotham Cities I’m reviewing, and its pairing with Keaton’s Batman is ideal.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992)

Batman: TAS shares a lot of production aesthetic with Burton’s film. It is a very grim place where it is again nearly always nighttime. One thing about this setting that is different though is the strong art deco design elements that are married to modern technology. Airships fly overhead while people get out of vintage cars only to type on modern computers. It renders the setting with a feeling of being lost in time, which again is a spot on representation of this series’ version of Batman. Bruce Timm and the production team of this series cherry-picked components of the Dark Knight’s history to show a Batman that was not from one era, but from all of them. The setting here helps to sell that message.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

One of the initial conceits of Batman Begins was that this was a ‘real’ movie, in that this was supposed to represent a take on Batman as he might exist in a real world, as opposed to a comic book one. To help sell this, director Christopher Nolan and his team bring us a Gotham City that looks like a real city, really for the first time. There are a few fantastical elements, such as the Narrows and a city-wide monorail system, but those are the aberrations. You see real cars driving by real buildings- -cars that look nothing like the ones in the Animated Series and buildings that would never be mistaken for the dark gothic churches of Burton’s film.

The message here is that this Batman is real and not a comic book character, the movie altering the setting to help sell that to the viewer.

SUMMARY

Obviously there’s a lot more I could mine here and I made more than a few generalization, but my basic point stands. Your setting can just be a place your characters walk around in, or it can tell the reader something about your characters. A good setting will subtly reinforce the message you are already trying to send your reader, teaching them something about your protagonists even as they move around inside it.

See you next time… or should I say: same Fictorians-time, same Fictorians-channel?

Perhaps not.

Setting is a journey

As was mentioned in Greg’s introduction post for this month, the setting is one of the major elements every writer must work out during their story building process. I feel this task is even more critical for a fantasy writer like myself, and I’ll be using my first of two posts this month to illustrate that point further. Normally I also like to use the first paragraph of my posts to work in a silly pun about the month’s theme, but I’ll be setting aside that goal this time.

While even the most basic story will usually require a setting, I find that fantasy stories push those requirements much higher than average. There is the secondary world component to consider, if your heroes and villains exist in the Kingdom of a Thousand Mists, that setting will require more work than if they existed in Detroit. More importantly, fantasy often has a strong movement element in the story. The setting choices you make to portray that movement can do a lot more for you as a writer than just world build.

My current project is a fantasy trilogy that is set both in the Himalayas as well as multiple versions of that same setting, the same region represented in alternate worlds. I made decisions about how to represent each of those areas not just based on what I needed for the plot elements of the story, but also for what I wanted to reflect in the characters.

The first ‘Everest’ is the real one, albeit in 1950. At this point the main characters are untried, both of them unconfident and damaged by events in the real world. In climbing Everest, they encounter snow, ice and altitude as you would expect. I chose to emphasize how isolating the cold was though, with huge snow drifts that blocked their vision and towering ice pillars that threatened their path.

For the second version, I was taking one of my characters on a coming-of-age journey where she discovers that life isn’t always the fairy tale of adventure she wants it to be. Again I used the setting to help subtly communicate this progression to the reader. Initially the world she finds is green and lush, with sweeping vistas and sun dappled seas. As the story starts to darken, the world does as well. The seas turn choppy and storm filled, she ends up in a hot dry desert and so forth. When she returns to the picturesque land, she had changed from her journey and the land has too. The beautiful landscapes are still there, but they are tinged with gray now, the grass still green but not as lush.

With all the movement that is common in fantasy, you will find yourself creating a lot of different settings to help build your world and convey all that motion. Don’t forget that those settings are also a great opportunity to set tone and say something about the emotional journey your characters are on rather than just the physical one.

See you next time!

Wouldn’t you like to get away? The intimacy of small publishing

This month’s theme of small publishing is a bit tricky for me, as I have not yet published. That doesn’t make me not-a-writer, of course. At first brush, an aspiring writer like myself might not take a second look at a small press. After all, what can they do for you? The big money is with the big boys, after all.

Okay, let’s talk about big for a moment.

For many of us, much of our lives are in big situations. We work at big companies, are students at big classes, drive to work in big traffic and shop at big stores. When everything is so big, it is easy to feel small. To feel like a cog in a machine, barely aware of the other cogs and springs that work alongside you, none of you really even knowing what the machine does. While you have the safety and security of that large organization, that comes with a loss of personal relevance. At times we long for something a little smaller, perhaps without even understanding why.

In those smaller situations, I think one of the major advantages is intimacy. I was fortunate enough to intern for a small press for a few years and I was struck by how close I got to be to everything. Not just the one person I was working for, but the various projects and people who were associated with the press were very close and reachable to me. This allowed me to learn more, to impact more and (most importantly) to connect more. I felt connected to the success of this small press because I knew them and they knew me. I felt something I think I’m less likely to feel were I to be published by one of the big houses.

I felt ownership. Not just in my little corner of the press, but in the whole press. Its success was my success, because I had such a personal connection to all the other people doing work there.

This is very similar to the feeling I had when I joined a small start up several years back, after a long career at large companies. There is a relevance to your work that is just not present in the bigger situations, where your contribution is just not able to move the needle the way it does when you are smaller.

Thus were I to consider a traditional publishing option I would recommend giving small publishers a strong consideration. While the blockbuster revenue potential may not be there, there is a working experience win that I am sure would be. By its very nature a smaller press is going to be closer to your work than a major house, and your success is much more likely to be relevant to their own.

I think in the end the choice comes to what is important to you as a writer. If those mega sales and multi-million dollar advances are your goal then I can’t imagine a small press is likely to be able to deliver that in the short term. If however you are looking to be a relevant member of a small, intimate team where there’s a strong familiarity level between you and the press and your own work matters farther outside your personal margins I can see that being a very attractive option.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.