Tag Archives: Jace Sanders

A Crash Course on the Best and Worst Elements of Writing

What an enlightening month November has been! If you ever wanted a crash course in what makes writing the best or the worst, this was it.

There is so much to learn about writing craft and storytelling from the masters yet we can learn equally from writing that doesn’t engage us. Deciding on the ‘best’ means we need to understand why we like what we do and what constitutes the best for each of us (Kristin Luna). It also means not disregarding other forms of fiction because the best stories use elements of both literary and commercial fiction and knowing how each works makes us better skilled writers (Susan Forest).

Elements in the best writing includes:
precision of word choice, great imagery and detail plus an author who gets right into his character’s heads (Clancy); a grasp on multi-sensory prose which like a dream, makes the fantastical normal and lifts the reader to a place of wonder (Brenda Sawatsky); cliffhangers and when multiple story lines crash together in a maelstrom of calamity at the end of a book (Evan); well executed diverse fiction that helps the reader understand the world we live in and cultivates respect (Kim May); story matters and being a good storyteller with proper pacing and resolutions is key, but before telling the story, think about how much you can tell us by each word, each sentence, and the beauty you strive for in bringing them together (Colette); it’s not just about the protagonist against the antagonist but about how every character interacts with every other character (Jace Sanders); heroes aren’t heroes all the time. They are just humans with something about them that is extraordinary, and the more flawed a character is, the more human they seem (Leigh Galbreath); the best writing has characters who strive for themselves along with sentences that soar on their own (James Van Pelt); successful prologues convey information without being an info dump and they promise a story/writing style upon which they deliver (Ace Jordyn); a consistent background which functions almost as another character, widening the options for the protagonist’s conflict along with psychological realism where characters behave consistently (Al Onia); the key to the ‘best’ has less to do with perfect prose, and more to do with story impact when what we’re writing matters, emotions rise up, and the reader can feel it (Adria Laycraft).

What constitutes the worst writing includes:
meandering prose that loses the reader and is boring and there’s no beginning, middle or end and no characters to invest in (Clancy); it’s a bad idea to mislead readers about what kind of story you are telling readers for pick up books because they’re hoping for a certain type of experience. (Mary); when writers grab hold of a culture’s cool elements—Samurai swords, martial arts, ninjas—and throw the rest out the window because the history, philosophy, sociology, and traditions are so intertwined and influential on the cool elements that you can’t separate the two and do it justice. (Kim May); it’s not possible to root for a guy who seems like a walking pity party or if the main character lacks any sense of wonder (James Van Pelt); prologues don’t work if they create expectations that the book doesn’t meet either in story content or style, if they’re an info dump or if they are used to foreshadow or tease (Ace Jordyn); when writers betray the promises set in the beginning of the book and shatter the reader’s bond with the story (Frank).

So how can we judge how we each measure up at being the best? We can compare our work to those we admire and like to read or, as Nathan Barra observed, we can learn by comparing our earlier works to our current ones and being motivated by that.

In case you want to follow up on any of the excellent points I’ve summarized, here is a list of November’s blogs. Just click on the title and the link will get you there.

Happy reading and writing!

Lee Child vs the Boring Clancy
Not What I Signed Up For Mary
The Dreamer Brenda Sawatzky
In Loving Appreciation of the Story Swirl Evan Braun
The Emperor and the Impostor Kim May
Kneeling in the Silver Light Mary
The Importance of Word Choice Colette
Learning from the Masters Jace Sanders
A Tale of Two Readers; or, Everybody Wins Kristin Luna
The Not So likeable Hero Leigh Galbreath
Pluck, Pity Parties and Prose – What I Like Best and What Doesn’t Work James Van Pelt
SSWS Writing Scholarship: Should YOU Apply?  Colette
Clive Cussler, Guy Gavriel Kay and DJ McIntosh are Masters at … Ace Jordyn
Writing What I Like to Read Al Onia
Writing Stories that Matter Adria Laycraft
Looking for Progress in a Mirror Nathan Barra
Don’t Break Your Promises Frank
Using the Tools of Both Literary and Commercial Fiction Susan Forest






Fable-01[1]A guest post by Jace Sanders.

I rummaged through the selection of video games at a local store, looking for the perfect escape. The week was long and my mind screamed for relaxation. I had recently reread the Lord of the Rings series and decided to diversify my entertainment fixes by replacing a book with a controller.

I’d struck out several times before. Some games had incredible graphics, but little to no plot, while others had a decent story, but the controller commands were too complicated. A young man suggested I try Fable, and my video gaming days have consequently not been the same since.

Fable begins on a beautiful day in the small village of Oakvale in the realm of Albion. The gameplay is infused with ambiance, making the experience that much more enjoyable. The main character is a young man who spends his first day performing tasks to earn money for his sister’s birthday present.

I was immediately drawn in as a participating creator of the story, as I was able to choose my own adventure in the various scenarios I came across. Without even realizing it, I was actually being taught the dynamics of the game.

Tragedy then strikes and the young man is whisked away onto an adventure of revenge and discovery as he trains to become a famous and powerful hero.

Rather than simply telling a story, Fable empowers me to help in its development. Many games have interfaces where you can design the character’s looks, but Fable was one of the first to tie a character’s features to choices made throughout the game.

The main character, known as Hero (or by other titles you can earn through reputation, like Chicken Chaser), grows from a young boy to an old man. Depending on small choices made throughout the game, the character’s appearance develops. If Hero eats pies and red meat, he will grow fat. If he travels at night rather than sleep, his skin will turn pale. His body scars if he fights without proper protection, though townsfolk wager money for the hero to increase the difficulty of a task by doing it in his underwear or without weapons.

Hero becomes a stronger swordfighter, or archer or mage, as he practices that particular skill. He can level up in an array of categories like strength, speed, and stealth.

Hero can also make moral choices. He can choose to protect someone, or perhaps steal from them. There’s no restriction in killing the innocent and then purchasing their homes and shops at the estate sale. But as the game suggests, “Every choice a consequence.”

My first time playing Fable, I naturally wanted to be a good person, and I made proper choices to ensure that I was seen as a standup hero, complete with a halo and butterflies that followed me wherever I traveled. But my second time through, the temptation proved too great to deny myself the evils of Albion. I gave into greed and gluttony, becoming a revered obese landowner with demonic red eyes and devilish horns sprouting from my head. Townsfolk fled into their homes and secured the doors as I passed by. Children screamed as I approached and commented on my horrific deeds.

The first time I played, I strived to focus on the main objective of avenging my family. Others in Albion asked me to assist them in menial tasks that I mostly ignored. My second time through, I pursued all the tangent stories and sub-adventures. I was able to grow stronger and richer. Some of that money I used to court the love of my life, or loves of my life—at one point, I had a wife in every town. Once I tried to marry two women in the same town, but I think they knew each other because the first divorced me.

I’ve spent hours exploring the corners of Albion. I found a fistfight club that met in the middle of the night. I discovered buried treasure. I went fishing, kicked chickens, dressed like an assassin, grew a beard, and got a tattoo, all while trying to avenge my family.

I returned to the video game store the day Fable 2 hit the shelves. While in line, I learned that the game was only available on Xbox 360, a console I didn’t yet own. It took a little explaining to my (real) wife that I deserved an advance on my birthday present, but that night I played Fable 2 till dawn. I don’t regret it, but honestly the second Fable was a let down. The graphics are better, but the storyline is almost the same. Rather than continue on from where the first left off, the story seems to repeat itself several years later than the first.

I didn’t purchase Fable 3; instead I borrowed it from a friend. I found it was more of the same with an extra dose of boring.

What makes Fable so powerful is its compelling story, which in some ways I help write as I build the character, along with his strengths and weaknesses. While the subsequent games have similar functions as the first in development through choices, they fail to tell a good story.

Guest Writer Bio: Jace Sanders lives in Arizona with his wife and five children. In addition to writing, he enjoys music, photography, and anything outdoors. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Utah State University and works for a biotech company.