“What if it doesn’t work out?”

At my local Dunkin Donuts, I’m sitting at a small table, a friend and former coworker swiping over it with a napkin.

“So, I’m just gonna talk to you a minute–just a short thing about the company I work for. It’ll just take 20 minutes, tops.”

The table clear of crumbs, he pulls out a laptop, setting it up between us. It’s an old Mac Book. A strip of tape over the camera makes for interesting characterization.

I’d already realized this hangout was a mistake, but the gravity of that mistake becomes clear when he boots up a presentation for what is obviously a pyramid scheme.

I wonder, How did I let this happen?

You were excited to hang out with someone new, that’s how.

Oh, right. I had just been at a party with coworkers the previous night and that was pretty fun. I was expecting to ride out my hangover with some coffee and a chat. But now, I–oh God, he’s talking.

“. . . your plans for the future?”

I send this half-sentence to the Forensics Department of my brain. There’s an awkward pause; all departments are working on a delay this morning. Finally, results come in from the lab: “What are your plans for the future?”

“Oh. Well, I’m going to keep working the promotion at [my current job] for a year, then try for another promotion or get a job somewhere else. At this point in my life, that’s what I have to do.”

“Right, right. What about your writing?”

Huh. I don’t know why, but it’s always been difficult to talk to coworkers about my writing. There are some who are genuinely interested, others who pretend to be.

As this is a pyramid scheme presentation, that question–like all questions–is obviously a calculated tactic. Still, there’s no easy way to opt out of answering.

“Yeah. I’ll still be writing.”

“Okay. Well, what are your plans for the next five years with that? What’s your goal?”

“I need to get more short stories published. Then keep working on novels and get those published. Realistically, in five years, I’d like to have at least one novel published.”

“Ah. I gotcha. And what if it doesn’t work out?”

For a heartbeat, I’m just staring. I remind myself that this is a pyramid scheme. He’s asking because he wants you to think about your dreams failing–make you desperate enough to sign up for whatever company he’s with.

But still . . .

I imagine him sitting down with a painter, smiling as he asks, “What happens if your work becomes unpopular?”

A doctor: “What happens if your license gets revoked?”

Anyone: “What happens if you fail?”

I blink. I want to say, “I promise you . . . that whatever you’re selling? I’m not buying it. I will never buy it. I’ve been working my ass off for years, writing bad novels, writing bad short stories, trying to figure out how to make work that’s actually good. I’m still trying, still working on it, and you sit me down to throw that in my face.

“If I’m still not published in 5 years, I’ll still be writing. I’ll be doing something else for the bulk of my money, but I’ll still be trying to write good fiction, because that’s just a part of who I am. I don’t do it to make a ton of money–I know that I’ll probably never be able to live off of my writing–but that doesn’t matter. I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was ten. I will continue writing it, in whatever capacity, until I’m dead.”

But I don’t say any of this to him.

To a degree, I don’t want to offend someone who I still consider a friend.

But also . . . I realize that sitting there, getting a full pyramid scheme presentation, unsolicited, would be fantastic research.

So, instead, I look wistfully into the distance, and shake my head. “Ya know, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.”

~~~

Thanks for reading.

By way of update, my Memory edit is over its dream sequence hump; the rest of it should be done by the end of the week. Then it’s on to rewriting one short, editing another, and submitting both.

Also, just a heads up for any regulars, I may start posting on other days of the week, instead of just on Monday. Some Mondays (like yesterday, for example) I like to go out, so posts may start coming later in the week.

For anyone new to the blog, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I am now officially late for work, so I have to run, but thanks again for reading. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #4 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Disclaimer: Man, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life in recent times. Nothing life-alteringly horrible happened, but plenty (like too many) small things went horribly wrong. There was the having-a-long-heated-debate-with-a-friend-about-why-I-don’t-date part. There was the discovering-the-spot-of-grease-that-was-smeared-all-over-the-foot-of-the-stairs-in-my apartment-building part, during which I took a comically bad fall and landed on my hand and hip. There was also (after the grease) the “Oh-cool-it’s-a-thunderstorm-now-that-I’ve-hauled-my-clothes-out-to-the-laundromat” part; I had an umbrella, thankfully, but it wasn’t big enough for me and my clothes. 

So, all of that is to say I got home, had gelato, watched Luther, and refused to write this post until today. Sorry it’s a little late, but enjoy.

So, last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Wonder Woman is out and I still really want to see that, but my order of interest in comic movies will always start with Marvel, then go to DC. Because, after Batman V Superman, and how many people swore that movie was good, I’m just inclined to believe all DC movies are worse than everyone makes them out to be. I still want to support Wonder Woman, sure, but if Marvel suddenly released a Squirrel Girl movie on the same morning the new Batman came out, you better believe I’m watching Squirrel Girl instead.

That said though . . . man was Guardians 2 disappointing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it overall, but it feels like the end of the road for the “fun Marvel movie” formula.

That formula being “Jokes! Jokes everywhere!”

Granted, there were parts of the formula that didn’t crop up, like “the completely non-threatening, zero stakes villain” that plagues a ton of Marvel movies, but Guardians 2 still absolutely failed to balance its action and humor. That’s often a problem with comic movies . . .

. . . but Guardians 2 fails to make that balance in the worst way: by sacrificing good action . . . for a ton of unfunny jokes.

And that lack of balance is what I took from the movie, writing-wise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with the Guardians fighting an inter-dimensional monster for exposition. You think to yourself, “Oh, sweet. This is going to be some awesome exposition!”

Nope. That action scene is immediately undermined . . . by baby Groot dancing.

It’s supposed to be cheeky irreverence for the action scene, making the high stakes into a joke.

But, no, it doesn’t work. Because that kind of joke only works when it’s used to undermine something the audience doesn’t want to see. Namely, any scene that an audience can fill in the blanks for — something they don’t need to see to understand.

But the Guardians were fighting a tentacle monster that was vomiting rainbows everywhere. Why the fuck would I not want to see every second of that? More to the point, why would I not want to see that instead of more dancing Groot?

That intro sets up a really bad joke climate for the entire movie, making more of its humor start out at a deficit, which means that the best parts of the movie are its genuine action and drama.

I wound up loving Nebula, which I didn’t expect; I also wound up wishing that one of her best lines wasn’t undermined by yet another joke without legs.

One of the better parts of the film was Yandu’s escape, an action scene that almost went uninterrupted by a recurring bad joke.

I liked the villain and felt like the climax of the movie was high stakes . . . although it also tried to break its own intensity with another joke that reminded me of Pixels (so, ya know, the worst kind of joke there is).

What I’m saying here is . . . Guardians 2 made me realize that the delicate balance between action and humor works both ways.

When a story should have levity but doesn’t, that’s bad.

When a story should have levity, but it has way, way too much of it, that’s also bad.

And that matters to me especially because there was a point when Memory had way too much levity.

When I originally sent it out to friends, some thought it was great and didn’t need any huge changes.

Others were honest about how annoying they felt the protagonist was.

My Friend: “He does a lot of thinking about doing something bad, then doing it anyway. And that’s annoying.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

My Friend: “It’s like reading a Silver Age comic, where they talk about — ”

Me: “Omfg, dude, okay. I get it. I swear I’m horrified and I get it.”

They went on to explain that some of his moments were cringy, and, on my next read, I absolutely saw what they were talking about — a lot of placeholder jokes that I just dropped in and forgot because I was trying to hit my NaNoWriMo count for the day.

Now, Kole Buchanan is the same character, but with his bad jokes fixed or excised altogether. He’s also more capable, less whiny.

What I’m saying is, fixing the balance between humor and action in my own novel was an important first step on a road I’m finally nearing the end of.

So, watching Guardians 2, seeing Drax laugh really hard at something for the umpteenth time, I had a quiet sigh of relief.

Thank God for honest friends.

~~~

Hope you enjoyed that one. As a man who has only recently found his way through the Marvel-nurtured struggle of levity VS drama, it’s good to be on the other side. Assuming that I am on the other side and the jokes in Memory are actually funny and well-timed . . . Yeah, I’m-a get back to editing now.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I’m actually going to go grab a breakfast burger and Advil for my hip. Then I’m going to eat, bing-watch some more Luther, and then edit. That’s my sick day plan, and I hope your plans for today, whatever they are, are awesome.

Thanks again just for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

A Good Dream

Disclaimer: This is going to be a short one; just a little update on my editing. I’ve been incredibly busy lately and, although I’m not offering that as an excuse, I’d just rather do a low-impact post for this week. Not trying to teach anything–just venting.

So, I’m up to the part in Memory when one of the main characters has a nightmare.

And, when it comes to nightmares, Memory has had a strange journey.

At first, there was one nightmare that actually read like a nightmare.

But then, on future edits, I decided there should be two nightmares . . . which both wound up being edited into flashbacks.

Flashbacks, or, as they’re often called, the worst things ever.

I know that my original intention was to give the world of Memory a little more body–to show off more of the Capital of Panthius, which is seen in passing otherwise. I also wanted to give the audience time with a character who doesn’t pop up until much, much later in the story; one of my protagonists talks about her a lot, so I thought it would be good to actually show her being great instead of just talking about her being great (because, of course, I also fear what I call the Jean Grey Effect: when a character seriously never shuts the fuck up about his love interest to the point that you just . . . don’t care).

The thing is though . . . a dream flashback is kind of a double whammy. Doing a flashback in the first place is lazy story-telling, but making that flashback into a dream is also ruining the potential for a good dream.

Because dreams are awesome when they’re done well. They’re great character-building tools; dreams tell us so much about the dreamer–how they feel about themselves and others. They’re also awesome because they have the freedom to be completely bizarre.

All of which was made incredibly clear with recent viewings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and–especially–Twin Peaks.

But, despite knowing these things . . . I’m struggling with Kole’s dream in Memory.

In part because I realize I’m over-editing; in this run, I cut out one of the dream sequences . . . meaning I’m back down to one dream, which is where I began in the first place. That’s a little exhausting, but also comforting; assurance that I’m definitely at the end of the editing cycle for this book. It’s also a lesson in trusting my instinct for pacing and the strength of minor additions (an extra paragraph here and sentence there painted enough of a picture of the world that two dreams felt superfluous).

But I’m also struggling because I don’t have a well established ensemble to play with in this dream; Memory is very much a Buddy Fantasy novel, focusing on one mismatched pair of protagonists. Doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to work with there. In fact, I’m still using this dream to visually introduce a key character. That makes the whole thing a weird pain in the ass.

But, whatever. I’m at least certain that this is the last major change I have to make to this manuscript. After this, it’s a straight shot to the end.

And the unbridled joy of submissions.

I just . . . can’t wait.

~~~

Thanks for reading. Apologies to anyone hoping for a long talk about theory, but I just don’t have the energy this week. Summer has officially kicked off here in New York and it’s already so hot that I’m dead inside–not to be dramatic. And work is just . . . really, really dominating my time (I worked six days last week, including a double shift). I’m finding it more and more difficult to get home and transition from day job to writing. But, hey, I’ll figure it out; as with everything else in my life, my drive to chip away at my WIP is, itself, a WIP.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

At any rate, I am now going to go allow myself to pass out. Even if you just passed by, thank you. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #3 – Twin Peaks

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

There’s a very specific way that I say, “What the fuck, dude?”

In the TV show of my life, that would absolutely be my catchphrase.

And, as in real life, I’d sigh it when I’m watching, reading, or playing something that thoroughly fucks my mind. To the point that “What the fuck, dude?” takes on a new meaning.

I remove emphasis from everything but “fuck,” the “dude” shortened to a half syllable, as if, in that moment, saying the sentence clearly is too much to ask for. I’m just that tired. That ready for things to go back to normal.

Which is exactly why I muttered, “What the fuck, dude?” at the end of Twin Peaks.

No spoilers here, of course, but just . . . dude . . .

Twin Peaks is, at its heart, a soap opera. Which, of course, is immediately strange because, of all the things I expected Twin Peaks to be, a soap opera was not one of them.

It is also a mystery/thriller, for sure.

And a heavily supernatural, surrealist day dream/nightmare?

Side Note for Gamers: Twin Peaks is also completely responsible for Deadly Premonition. If you’ve ever played that game and thought, “This is so original!” Nope. It was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. The two are different for sure, but the comparisons draw themselves.

But, whatever; my point is, at its heart, Twin Peaks is actually a soap opera.

And, in being a soap opera, it answered one creative question I’ve had since I was young: “What would happen if I wrote a thing and paid a ton of attention to every single character in that thing?”

The answer: that’s what a soap opera is. Obviously, there are other factors that make a soap opera a soap opera, but I don’t know another word for a huge ensemble piece that tries to captivate a large audience with a mix of relationship drama, intrigue, mystery, and popular fiction elements, regardless of genre.

It doesn’t matter if it’s set in a hospital.

It doesn’t matter if there are witches and little puppets who come to life.

It doesn’t matter if it centers around the mystery of a murdered girl.

Whatever it is–even if it’s a story with a cast full of dinosaurs–if you give each dinosaur their own subplot, what you wind up with is a soap opera. Even if you’re only trying to tell a bunch of individual stories based in one town, in order to do each story justice, you’ll have to add the relationship drama, the intrigue, the mystery, the popular fiction elements, and a bunch of other things anyway. Because, hey, the fact that the kids down the block are trying to save their buddy from the Underneath has nothing to do with Becky Terwilliger (I just made her up [I know, hard to believe]), but Stranger Things doesn’t show us what Becky’s up to, because it’s not a soap opera.

What I’m saying here is, giving a large cast of characters a lot of attention and complexity is what Twin Peaks does . . . and that’s why it’s basically a soap opera.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that’s bad.

But watching Twin Peaks made me realize that unwittingly writing a soap opera . . . is something I never want to do.

Because, in the end, I’m not sure if I liked Twin Peaks or hated it.

I can tell you that I absolutely loved a lot of what it did. The main plot lines were intriguing, Dale Cooper and most of the characters were great. Some of the subplots were fun and exciting. Lots of the surreal imagery was bizarre . . . and awesome.

But I also just . . . hated some of the characters. Hated them to the extent that I didn’t care what happened to them.

But, unfortunately, the show really cared about all of its characters, including the ones that I didn’t like, which means–in true soap opera fashion–it refused to let them go. And, hey, I’m not saying Twin Peaks didn’t kill people off, but there were two cases of people just not dying when they should’ve. And one case of a character leaving the show . . . without actually leaving the show.

In one of the pretend-death cases, the writers did something new with a character, and it wound up being weird–and the best.

With the other . . . I mean, there was no reason for [REDACTED] to stay alive. I sensed hints of the ol’ Game of Thrones switcheroo, where we were supposed to start caring about a heel, but nope. It didn’t work. At least not for me.

In the last case, a character I genuinely disliked left the town of Twin Peaks, not sure when he’d come back . . . and Twin Peaks followed him. And started a new storyline just for him, with completely new characters. Yes, a spin-off of a show . . . in the show it’s spinning off.

. . . Why?

But, whatever. What matters is, I still enjoyed watching the weirdness of Twin Peaks. And I still learned a bunch from it:

  • Massive stories with large casts are guaranteed to have characters people don’t care about. Because that’s just a symptom of soap operas.
    You have to cast a wide net.
    You have to make the pirate man with the burned hand, because, hey, some people like pirates.
    In the same fashion, Twin Peaks had to make the robotic biker dude, because some people like robot bikers. Also (wow, I actually have to say this), disclaimer: there is no robot biker on Twin Peaks; I was being sarcastic. Just a really whiny biker who managed to super emote . . . while just staring blankly 90% of the time? Whatever–I hated him.
  • Charming characters can get really annoying if their subplots go on forever.
    One subplot involved one of my favorite characters deciding who the father of her child was.
    Twenty episodes later, when she still hadn’t made up her mind, I stopped caring really hard.
  • Incredibly annoying characters can become a ton of fun when they have drastic role reversals.
    The example Twin Peaks provides is really, really out there, but it worked. And, even though it was silly (even the reason for the personality change was pure camp, oddly born from tragedy), I absolutely loved it.
    It’s a thing that can work.
  • High-level character alchemy can backfire. It can backfire really hard.
    “Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll get if we combine a tough biker . . . with an incredibly fragile, emotionally-underdeveloped baby.”
    The answer: Literally the worst character ever.

~~~

A part of me feels like I should’ve watched the new season of Twin Peaks before writing this, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

At any rate, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this one. But if this was lost on you because you haven’t watched Twin Peaks, I . . . recommend it? Ugh. I’m not sure of anything anymore. If you like being really weirded out, watch it; making you feel weird–especially by showing you strangely human moments–is the very root of what this show does.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, either way, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Make: A Fantasy Story Shop — Lucky’s

It’s been a while since I did a Let’s Make, one of the many series that fell to the wayside when I stopped posting every day. Still, I love this series, so I thought I’d sacrifice one of the more recent, bloggier posts for another installment.

And, this time, I thought I’d solidify something I’ve been slowly gathering details for in my day-to-day: a fantasy shop.

See, the weird thing about “shops” in fantasy is that they’re often . . . samey? Basic? Maybe “convenient” is the right word, but what I’m getting at is that they’re usually thrown together based on simple standards (not so much tropes, but basic, established ideas of what fantasy shops are, how they work, what they sell). DM’s running D&D games might try to give shopkeepers a bit of charm, but fantasy, in general, makes the average shop a little simple. A little too perfectly named.

A shop in a town known for its thieves, for example, might be called “The Rusty Lockpick.”

In a seafaring town, the shop might be “The Bronze Spyglass.”

And, sure, both of those would be charming, acceptable names.

But, today, I want to offer a different approach: how about a shop built by someone who wasn’t cute about naming it?

How about just a no frills, mess of a store on the side street of a fantasy city?

Yeah. . . Yeah, let’s make that!

Step 1 — Choose a Name

A little backwards this time, but choosing the name of this shop first will help sell it as a hastily chosen name, or perhaps one that’s lost its meaning.

What I’m looking for is something charming — of course — but also something simple, memorable, and easy to say. Basically, I’m looking for a nickname for this shop, because I’m getting the feeling this rundown little place has been in business for generations.

Off the top of my head, I’m going with “Lucky’s”.

Step 2 — Figure Out the Proprietor

So, of course, I don’t want to go crazy giving a ton of backstory for a side character who won’t be a main part of Rainwater, but I do want to give the proprietor of Lucky’s a believable, charming personality, with just enough backstory to build off of. Because, as I’ve learned the hard way, if I don’t give my characters room to grow in my stories — if I hammer everything down in an outline — my details will be ridged when it’s time to write.

So, instead, I’ll jump into whatever smaller details come to mind.

  • The proprietor’s name isn’t “Lucky.” My initial thought is to make Lucky his grandfather, but I love the idea that Lucky was a mascot — maybe a dog? Maybe the proprietor’s grandfather’s dog, who used to be his companion on adventures?
  • Not sure yet what the proprietor’s actual name is, so let’s just go with a placeholder: Rosco.
  • If you walk in, see Rosco, and say, “So you must be Lucky,” he is guaranteed to gouge you for whatever you want, no matter how small.
  • I can’t fight the idea that Rosco has an eye patch. It seems incredibly typical somehow, but when I try to think of a notable shopkeeper with an eye patch, I come up blank.
    Actually, I think the stereotype for a proprietor in fantasy is literally “barrel-chested.” Inn keepers, smiths — whoever they are, whether they’re jovial or gruff, they’re always “barrel-chested” men.
    So, I think I’m alright on the eye patch.
  • Rosco lost his eye in . . . okay. I just brainstormed it for 10 minutes and found a bunch of possible ways he lost it. However . . . I’m also getting the strong, aimless curiosity I always get when I don’t know enough about a story/world to hammer down details with confidence.
    I’ll decide on his eye later.
    Although, I always love the idea of characters having countless stories for how they got scars/nicknames/etc., so everyone in Errsai has a story for how Rosco lost his eye.
    Rosco himself has several favorites.

Step 3 — Decide on the Merchandise

What does this store sell? General goods? Potions? Considering real world possibilities (my favorite thing to do in this situation), is this a pawn shop? A purveyor of refurbished swords and armor? There are countless possibilities, so don’t get stuck on the standards for fantasy shops: Items, Armor, Weapons, and Magic.

Lucky’s is pretty obviously a low-end thrift shop for cheap, second-hand goods. Naturally, it offers everything — at least everything that can be made cheaply and imperfectly. Finding those things, from flawed daggers to frayed novels, is undoubtedly Rosco’s calling.

Step 4 — Decide on the Look

What does this shop look like, inside and out? How is its merchandise arrayed? Does it have dominant colors — a clear aesthetic maintained by its owner? What’s the overall vibe of the place?

Lucky’s looks like any good antique shop — a densely packed nightmare of stimuli. Of course, the difference is that Lucky’s is lined with broken things you don’t actually want — things that you’d only buy at the worst of times, in the direst of needs. Lighting comes primarily from grimy windows, the lights inside of the shop too obscured by Rosco’s bent and breaking merchandise.

Step 5 — How Does It Make Money?

I guess Lucky’s actually pulls in enough of an income to survive in a fantasy city?

Actually, no — scratch that. I love the idea that Rosco found a loophole that keeps Lucky’s open forever; some kind of legal motion that locked it in government-funded perpetuity. Something starting with a petition to have it made into a historical landmark, which spiraled way out of control.

The point is, this junk heap is government-funded, somehow. And I love it.

Of course, I think Rosco still needs to make enough money to eat, so there’s a backroom lined with lock boxes, all available for rent — to people Rosco likes. Because that . . . is just the right amount of “shady.”

Step 6 — Add Some Regulars

No establishment is complete without regulars. Here are the first few ideas that come to mind:

  • A tall man with a deep voice stands outside, hawking Rosco’s wares. He does this rarely and is even more rarely paid.
  • When there is hawking, a much younger woman leans on the front of the shop, accompanying the large man’s cries with flute music. She seems to be a descendant of the shop’s original owner, begrudgingly attached to it.
  • Two old men visit Lucky’s almost every day, setting up whatever ramshackle table is available, playing whatever old, broken games Lucky happens to have.
  • Once a week, Mr. Olimpaie comes from Rainwater Archaic to browse for enchantments. He has never bought a single thing.

And, with that, Lucky’s is as finished as I dare to make it in the worldbuilding phase. I was going to add a “Give It Some History” step, but that actually worked itself out over the course of the build.

Anyway, thanks for joining me for this short bit of brainstorming! I hope you enjoyed!

~~~

To all of my regulars, thank you guys, once again, for reading. I’m not able to post every day, like I want to, but the site is still slowly building up a following, and that’s incredible. In the last few months, I’ve almost doubled my number of followers, and that support actually keeps me going. I’m not exaggerating — if not for you guys, it would be so hard to stay positive on the totally blind scale of writer self-doubt. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

But also, of course, thank you if this is your first time visiting. My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: Endgames

Ages ago, I spoke to a friend about “endgames.”

He blinked. “What do you mean? Like, when you can play the credit roll during a video game?”

“No. It’s just a term of mine, used for an ending that’s really . . . like, well done.”

I don’t remember how he replied or how the rest of my explanation went, but I remember his eyes narrowing.

Because it was ages ago and I wasn’t making sense, horrible as I was (and still am) at talking to people in person.

What I should’ve said was, “Endgames are endings for anything — movies, games, novels especially — that are given a ton of gravity and romance.

“In my mind, these endings lock you in; a good endgame starts well before whatever story you’re playing or reading has ended — and, by sheer will of its awesomeness, it keeps you watching/reading/playing, everything else be damned.”

At the time, I’d offered the end of Super Metroid as an example; the moment you reach Tourian and start destroying metroids (particularly the moment you reach the hatchling), there’s no going back.

And, now, I suppose that’s the best definition of “endgame”: a well-executed conclusion, beginning well before the credit roll or final page, from which there is no return, as the endgame is perfectly crafted to keep you playing/watching/reading.

As opposed to a normal ending: a final boss and a credit roll for a video game, a simple conclusion for a movie, a traditional climax and epilogue for a novel.

For a movie example, I can’t help being a predictable, millennial, comic book jackass and pointing to The Avengers. I haven’t seen that movie in years, but the 40-minute invasion of New York is a clear example of a movie endgame. The invasion is (arguably?) the best part of the movie, providing a ton of awesome moments that keep you watching straight through.

For a video game example, Breath of the Wild has a super epic endgame that starts when you venture into Hyrule Castle, finally ready to fight the Calamity. This one goes the full mile though; there’s unique music, journals around the castle — even a gameplay element that isn’t used anywhere else in the game. It’s a weird one because you can walk away from it, but it’s extremely hard to do so once you’re in it, and that’s what endgames are all about.

For a fiction example though, I won’t provide one great example . . .

. . . because I’d rather point out that, seriously, awesome endgames are . . . everywhere in fantasy.

Remember reading Harry Potter? Remember getting to the last 100 pages of any of those books and just . . . not being able to stop?

Or maybe you’ve read Abhorsen by Garth Nix? Ya know, the last installment of a really awesome YA fantasy series, the endgame of which has 100 pages that span 10 minutes of in-story time? And it’s amazing?

Seriously, I don’t know if it’s just easier to make awesome endgames for novels (if hooking readers for hundreds of pages at the end is second nature for writers), but I feel like endgames are a key feature of a great fantasy novel.

Because — to be clear — I’ve read general fiction novels that didn’t lose anything by not having endgames. I’m not, by any means, saying that Pride and Prejudice actually needed a final showdown with goddamn zombies.

But, when I write fantasy, with the aim of making it entertaining and actiony (my short stories are always dramatic, it turns out, so not those), I always feel like endgames are essential.

Because I’m a man who just wants to write something awesome. And, I don’t know a better way to do that than by taking all of the beats of a story and tying them to tons of non-stop catharsis at the very end. That at least seems like an awesome way to end a fun fantasy novel — every time.

Unless, of course, you do an endgame poorly.

And, I mean, let’s be real here: I’ve absolutely written a terrible endgame.

How? Well, I don’t remember how long it was, but I can say for sure that the endgame in War of Exiles was way, way too long.

In the same way that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater had a terrible endgame because it was way, way too long. Trying to make an endgame feel epic is all fine, but it’s super easy to over-stuff your endgame, making it a bloated mess (cause, seriously, why was there an escort quest at the end of Snake Eater? Why!?).

So, I guess I’m saying . . . here’s to this phenomenon that I love — so much that I made up a term for it. I’ve loved and studied endgames in all media for a long time, and I think that they’re worth examining as a writing technique on their own.

At the very least, consider this: the next time you watch, play, or read something that has a really awesome conclusion that was given a ton of love and majesty, maybe just stop and think about how much you loved it. And why.

~~~

And so it was that Louis Santiago’s blog became “LetsTalkAbout.com.”

Seriously, I’m itching to get back to other series, particularly Writer’s Workshop and Let’s Make, so look for those in the weeks to come.

For now though, thank you for reading. I’ve been meaning to write about endgames on here for a really long time, and I hope this post adds a little complexity to how you think of conclusions in general.

For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Everything’s Great Threshold

I started watching Parks and Recreation recently. As a man who’s genuinely terrible at keeping up with television, I’ve had this show on my Netflix list for as long as I’ve had Netflix.

Parks and Rec follows a familiar curve. Season 1 wasn’t great, very obviously lifting its joke climate from The Office. In season 2, the show finds its own identity and becomes way, way better.

But, by season 6 . . . it’s exhausting to watch.

Why? Well, that’s what I decided to make this post about. Because it’s exhausting for a reason that I’d never experienced before.

Everything . . . is just perfect.

In its earlier seasons, Parks and Rec had a lot of entertaining conflict. Budding romances that viewers wanted to see happen, goals that the department was trying to complete, setbacks for a cast of fun characters to figure out together.

By season 6, however, it’s a nonstop thrill ride of pretty much everything going well. There is one major set back for the protagonist, but, within two episodes, it’s like it never happened.

And, maybe I’m a pessimist . . . but that kind of optimism is just . . . so boring.

And it’s cloying; I’ve seen things go well for people in real life — long streaks of good times — and that’s fine, but I’ve never had to watch friends on TV, high-fiving and constantly talk about how much they love making out with each other.

I mean, sure, you can blame this on the fact that Parks and Rec wasn’t designed to be binge-watched on a streaming service. It was written to provide spaced-out doses of good vibes on NBC.

But it’s still tedious watching episode after episode of everything going great and being perfect for everyone. The cast is split up into neat, perfect pairings that fall in love very easily — sometimes unbelievably. The main characters are just rolling in job promotions — that they often turn down because they’re already so happy.

I mean . . . fuck’s sake. So far, there have been no normal weddings on this show; every wedding on Parks and Rec has been a cute, surprise wedding. Not “most of them” — literally all three of them have been surprise weddings. Every single one. Because every single couple that’s gotten married on this show loved each other so much that they just had to get married “tonight!”

Couples don’t fight; they disagree with each other, but the disagreements are always easily resolved. Which is weird because, in early seasons, relationship problems endured — as they do in real lie — instead of neatly fizzling out.

Near the end, babies start happening, and I actually sighed when one husband decided he really wanted babies . . . on the same day that his wife — in another part of Indiana and unable to reach him by phone — found out she was pregnant.

Wow. The magic of everything being unrealistically perfect.

It almost feels . . . contrived somehow.

I write this, and I think, “Well, they just wanted to write a really uplifting show by making it absurdly optimistic.”

But the question becomes . . . isn’t that just boring for everyone?

Because good stories revolve around good conflict.

And, I understand that there is still conflict and motivation in later seasons of Parks and Rec — because you can’t have a story without conflict — but, I guess what I’m trying to say here is . . . there is a ceiling to positivity in fiction. A point at which it becomes impossible to care about a group of characters, because they’re routinely handed victories.

I’m calling it the Everything’s Great Threshold, and it’s going in my personal, writing rulebook.

  • Too much positivity — to the extent of magically-timed solutions to your characters’ problems — kills any tension a story could possibly have.

Or, in other words, when everything is perfect, small problems become challenges — and challenges aren’t real problems.

When said by a character whose life is perfect, “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is not a problem. It’s a challenge.

When said by a character who’s struggling to do their job well — someone who has already gotten a warning that they’re up for review, for example — “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is pure hell. It’s intimidating, nerve-wracking, and, when it’s resolved, for better or worse, it yields a much better emotional pay-off.

At least that’s how I feel. Granted, I’m just an amateur who’s only had one short story published.

But, hey, life doesn’t just throw victories at you.

~~~

Keeping it short and sweet for today. It feels good to get back to writing theory though; this site has been more of a journal recently.

But, hey, for anyone who was enjoying the journaling, just know that I got through the first chapter of Memory this week, finally fixing the problems I’d had with it before. I’m going to continue editing the rest of the novel, making sure everything works with the new intro, but the point is, I’ll actually be submitting again really soon, and that feels awesome.

Anyway, thank you for reading. For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

 

The Way Forward

So, I spent about a week making sure the edit of “Aixa” was perfect. It took way longer than I thought it would.

But, as stressful and difficult as that edit was, I enjoyed doing it . . .

. . . because it felt important.

And it felt right.

It was something that I needed to do–a clear task that I attacked with very clear, realistic results in mind.

And the experience of that edit–the satisfaction I got from it–melded with a conversation I had at work last week.

Coworker: “Hey, man. How’s the writing going?”

Me: “It’s alright. Kind of struggling with the YA thing I’m writing.”

Coworker: <narrows his eyes> “That the same one you were writing back in December?”

Me: <blinks, and in that moment, he realizes that, Holy shit. I started this novel last November. And I was so sure I’d be done with in a month. Then two months. Then February. Then March. He realizes that none of this would matter if he was far along with the manuscript, but he’s not even close to half-way done. Because this has always been the “YA novel that’s kind of kicking my ass.” The one that’s “supposed to be fun, but my life isn’t amazing right now, so it’s hard to make it feel like a carefree romp.” The one that’s been difficult to write from the beginning because it’s so “comforting” and “easy-going.”> “. . . Huh. Yeah. Yeah–it’s the same one.”

Obviously, that conversation stuck with me, but it also paired with the experience of editing “Aixa”–seeing it again. They became a catalyst for a simple question: “Wait . . . What am I doing?”

“Why did I start a new novel without getting my last one ready to submit?”

“Why am I not sending out that last novel?”

“Why do I have a short story that’s an edit or two away from submission quality, but I’m just . . . ignoring it?”

“Why am I not working on any of the short stories I want to finish when they’re gnawing at me constantly . . .

“. . . and H&T just . . . isn’t coming along?”

H&T, a novel that I had a hard time even deciding to write.

In short . . . how did I let my priorities get so wildly and completely out of whack?

To a degree, I think it was maybe just peer pressure; I’m not saying anyone is at fault; just saying that I got wrapped up in the need to produce. Do a million impressive things, like participate in another NaNoWriMo and come out the other end with a new novel I love. A great idea . . .

. . . until you get to the part where I finally got a short story published. I finally have a platform–an incredibly tiny one, but it’s there; the beginnings of a professional career. And, instead of immediately buckling down and sending out the batch of other short stories I have (seriously, I’m sitting on four more good ones in varying stages of completion), I decided to . . . write a completely new novel that I knew, from the start, would be a pain in the ass.

It almost seems like . . . I’m stalling. Like I’m afraid of actually succeeding. Of putting more out in there.

And if that’s what my problem is, then, oh man, fuck that.

I love a good challenge; that was the actual reason I decided to write H&T. And, of course, my love for a good challenge hasn’t changed. But, when the way forward is full of challenges, it’s easy to get lost in them without a good plan.

So, here’s mine:

  1. H&T is going on hiatus. I’m not abandoning it–there are still scenes I’m eager to get to, but there’s also a ton of worldbuilding and brainstorming required to get it to a point where I can just write it.
  2. Finish editing and start submitting Memory. I was having a hard time working out the first chapter and that was really frustrating, but it’s been long enough–I can come back to it with a clean palette. I can get it done.
  3. Finish editing and start submitting “Lokisday.” This story is probably three editing sessions away from submission. It required a really intense addition (the one-paragraph-that-will-influence-a-bunch-of-intense-dialogue kind), but, again, I can handle it.
  4. Rewrite “A Nameless God in a Silent Realm.” A short that was always missing something. I’ve come to think of that something as “truth”–a fundamental experience or feeling that drives a story, gives it meaning. The old version of “Nameless God” drummed up feelings but didn’t direct them at anything. I know how to fix that now.
  5. Rewrite “Respawn,” my sci-fi story. Also from the drums-up-feelings-with-no-direction era of short stories. I also know what to do with this one.
  6. Do all of this while worldbuilding for H&T, so I can get back to it with a firmer grasp of the world . . . and hopefully more published work under my belt.

~~~

Well, thanks for reading. This post was a little weird for me because it feels like War of Exiles all over again. That novel was also difficult to write, so it’s hard to not compare these two experiences, even though they’re wildly different; WoE was bad and messy, but H&T is challenging and really poorly timed on my part. Regardless though, I have my plan. I just have to remember that I’m learning from my past here, not reliving it.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Seriously, even if you’re just stopping by, thank you so much. And, as always, write well.

“It has to be perfect.”

At work, Louis is trying to record a voice message on an answering machine.

“Thank you for calling ticketing services at [redacted]. We are open from–”

The line clicks.

The woman training him is smiling. “You paused too long.”

Louis blinks. “Okay,” he says, thinking, Seriously?

Louis tries again. Gets two sentences in before another click.

“Now you’re going too fast.”

There are two more attempts made, both of which are not good enough. One of the final critiques is that Louis is running out of energy.

To which Louis thinks, Yes. Yes, I really, really am. I wonder why.

This, of course, Louis keeps to himself, certain that the sarcasm wouldn’t go over well to at least one person in the room. Also because his frustration is apparent enough that the person training him takes over.

And this after having a friend read “Aixa the Hexcaster” and report that it has some typos.

~~~

It’s been a long week.

My friend telling me about those typos was actually the most helpful thing anyone has done for me in ages.

But, regardless, the world snowballed those typos, katamaried them with a bunch of bullshit into a single theme.

Being pressured to be perfect.

A theme bolstered by my managers at work. Sometimes, communication is difficult in my department, so there were a bunch of cases of managers assuming I did things wrong, confronting me for doing things I didn’t do. Individually, these things are all fine. Every day, repeatedly, they get exhausting. Especially when you work your ass off. You start to feel that, “Man, maybe I’ll never do anything right ever again.”

Oddly enough, finding out that there were errors in “Aixa” was genuinely more uplifting than work.

It was also way worse–by far–but I’m grateful for the criticism of my writing. To the extent that I had to willfully stop thanking the friend who told me about the typos.

I’d like to take a quick aside to say that, yes, she genuinely is the best person in the world. Like, literally. And, somewhere, she’s reading this and shaking her head, saying, “I hate you so much,” because she’s embarrassed.

But, whatever, she gave me criticism when I asked for it. That alone makes her the best ever.

The aftermath of that criticism was a bit messy though. I had to write to the editor of Mirror Dance and ask if I could do a quick edit. It took a bit, but she got back to me with a “yes.”

And now, as a man who has always criticized poor edits, I’m taking my time doing an incredibly thorough line edit of “Aixa.” Because I’ve had my bad editing habits made clear, and it’s taught me a bunch of important lessons.

Here is a short list of things I will absolutely never, ever do again:

  • Make changes for improved grammar and flow . . . without editing said changes.
  • Make additions for clarity . . . without editing said changes.
  • Do a rush edit of a piece before publication . . . while making changes and additions for improved grammar, flow, and clarity.
  • Give a manuscript a passing grade because “I’ve already edited it 1,000,000 times–it has to be fine.”

 

No. 1,000,000 times isn’t good enough if the 1,000,001st time has new errors.

Because nothing in my life matters more than writing as well as I possibly can. Nothing matters more than succeeding at this one thing, because it’s just about all I have.

I have to do it right.

And it has to be perfect.

~~~

Gonna stick with a short one today, because I have to work on “Aixa” a bit more so I can send it tonight. The weird thing about editing something that’s already in publication: I can’t edit for content. Reading it again is exactly the torture I expected, because I see so many things that are wrong with it.

But alas . . . I’m going to just link it anyway, as always.

And then make myself feel better by outlining short stories that are tighter. Better. I refuse to overhaul “Aixa” because it has to stand as a milestone in my life, but I can get something better published this year. I know it.

But, anyway, thank you for reading this more personal, frantic rant. If anything, I hope it sparked reflection about your own editing process.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Term “Mary Sue”

So, the trailer for The Last Jedi is out, and it doesn’t look like it follows Empire’s plot, which is super exciting for me. I’m eager see more of Finn and Rey . . . and I’m also just ready for a Star Wars movie I like. My reasons for disliking Rogue One could easily be a post on their own, so I’ll just tuck that rant somewhere safe–save it for another time.

Instead, I want to talk about the phenomenon that’s chased Rey around for the past year and a half.

The internet’s weird idea that she’s a Mary Sue.

Now . . . Let me start this by saying that I genuinely hate how the term “Mary Sue” is used.

Mostly from the angle of a wordsmith.

“Mary Sue” suffers from Literally Syndrome;  it has lost all of its meaning in the swirling toilet bowl of comments sections everywhere.

Currently, it’s been dumbed down to mean “an overly capable female protagonist.”

And that is absolute, utter bullshit. Because there shouldn’t be a skill-ceiling for female protagonists to make men feel safer and more relevant. And, without a doubt, men are trying to feel safer when they argue that a strong female character is a Mary Sue.

Regardless, “Mary Sue” has a definition that’s useful. It’s not flattering, but it makes sense and should persist as a term we can use–not as the go-to invective of the internet’s manlings.

My definition: “A Mary Sue is a female character in fanfiction who acts as very obvious wish fulfillment for a female, amateur author, in a variety of ways (acting as a paramour for a beloved character, being unrealistically perfect at all things, single-handedly saving the day, etc.).”

The thing I hate about that definition is that it’s not gender neutral, which doesn’t make sense; there are absolutely male Mary Sue’s, but, aside from “Gary Sue” and “Marty Sue” just sounding weird and terrible, I’ve most often seen Marty’s used as counterpoint to the “overly capable female protagonist” definition for Mary’s.

Which means that I’ve seen the comments section where people are screaming “Rey is a Mary Sue!” and other people are screaming, “Then Batman is a Marty Sue!”

And, oh man, for fuck’s sake, neither of them are Sue’s. Both of them are protagonists of long-running, mainstream franchises. Neither of them are characters created for the wish fulfillment of an amateur author.

You know who is a Mary? Deboora Solo, Han Solo’s long lost sister, who’s a better Jedi than Luke, a better pilot than her brother, and able to tear off robot’s arms faster than Chewie ever could. Good ol’ Deboora, created by Debbie Reynolds from down the street!

You know who’s a Marty? Jacen Wayne, Bruce’s illegitimate son, born and raised in secret by (fuck, I don’t know) . . . vampires! So he’s like Batman, but younger, stronger, and cooler, with a popped collar! And he was created by Jason Bertenberger! . . . Suprise, surprise.

The point is, Mary Sue’s surrogates are embarrassing, and they suck–they’re a bad habit of amateur writers–but they’re also a real phenomenon, and they deserve a good term.

But, alas–hark–I can already hear manlings chiming in, “No, I’m not done! Your definition is lacking! Mary Sue’s are obvious wish fulfillment–that’s all! And Rey? She’s obvious wish fulfillment for women!”

To which I say, “Holy shit, dude. Welcome to what a fucking protagonist is.”

“Oh my God. I just checked the encyclopedia, and, yo, it turns out escapism was the whole goddamn point of fiction–the entire time. Whodathunkit!?”

Phew . . . Okay. Breathing now.

Apologies. I try to keep a cool head and not get insulting about things here–I really do. However, the new generation–the part of it that I’m seeing (which is the “Let’s defend a YouTuber’s right to be a deluded racist!” part) enrages me. The world is full of people who say whatever offensive shit they want and then shout others down when they react. It makes me sad. For a while there, it seemed like humanity was actually figuring itself out–becoming better. But we weren’t. We were just silently getting worse the entire time.

Regardless, what I’m trying to say is, “an overly capable protagonist” is basically synonymous with “a protagonist” in most stories. In fact, unless it’s a drama, the protagonist of a story is always more capable, cunning, and/or charming than every other character. From Rey and Batman all the way back to Hercules being impossibly strong and handsome as he completed his Twelve Labors.

Denying that–and weakening our lexicon–for the sake of protesting a strong character, is ridiculous and embarrassing.

~~~

Man . . . I was working some stuff out with this one, huh? Whatever. I said something I needed to say. And, hopefully, some day, I’ll be popular enough that this’ll actually catch on. Sure, I’ll probably also get death threats, but eh.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully, I’ve given you ammunition for the perpetually burning flame wars of nerdom. I know I got pretty intense with this one, but it’ll be worth it if I gave anyone food for thought.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.