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Setting the Tone

Setting the Tone

I have always enjoyed super hero stories. One of the first films I remember seeing at the cinema was Tim Burton’s Batman, and as you can probably tell if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I am a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Although super heroes originated in comic books, I have never been a big reader of them. I have tried a few times in the past, but it has never really clicked. I’m not sure why. For me, the best place to enjoy these stories is at the cinema or on television.

Last night, Tamzin and I watched the first few episodes of Extraordinary. It’s a comedy series, but not in the way I have seen comedy heroes done in the past. Most of the time, the superpowers aren’t played for laughs, but are taken seriously. The comedy comes from the characters.

The closest thing I can think to compare it to is Discworld, a fantasy comedy that still takes the world it has created seriously. Being in such rarified company suggests this isn’t a straightforward thing to do, and it got me thinking about my writing and whether I could manage something like that.

It also got me thinking about another super hero film we watched recently: The Marvels.

The Marvels got a lot of hate online, but we both really enjoyed it. Same with Thor Love and Thunder, which I would put as one of my favorite films in the MCU. But many people didn’t like them and it makes me think some people take these films too seriously. They are, after all, about people wearing costumes fighting crime. There has to be an element of fun in that.

But I think a lot of it is down to setting people’s expectations. And I think that’s an important lesson to take away from them for my writing. A show like Extraordinary is no less silly than Captain Marvel visiting a planet where they communicate by singing, but it was established in the very first scene that Extraordinary was a comedy, whereas The Marvels and Thor have dozens of films set in the same continuity establishing a very serious tone.

That’s what I’m taking away from this: set the tone quickly and make sure it is maintained.

Heinlein’s Rules

Last week I put an index card on my desk, which I see every time I sit down to work. On it are Heinlein’s five rules for the business of writing:

  1. You must write
  2. You must finish what you start
  3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order
  4. You must put it on the market
  5. You must keep it on the market until sold

I first became aware of these rules on Dean Wesley Smith‘s website. He has a lot of great thoughts on them.

Yesterday I wrote about rule four, but the only one of those rules that I have consistently stuck to is rule 1: You must write.

In recent years, I have found finishing what I start to be a challenge. My computer is littered with incomplete manuscripts.

When I put index card on my desk, I made the commitment to follow those rules. I didn’t think that it could make much difference, but I am glad that it has. My current story went through a challenging period, and I was beginning to convince myself that I needed to start it again, or give up on it completely.

Having the rules as a constant reminder helped me push through those doubts and once again the story is flying. I wrote over 3,000 words on it today.

I have a lot more thoughts on these rules, and how I intend to apply them, but right now my focus is on sticking to rule 2 and finishing everything I start.

Consider This A First Draft

Or why perfection is the enemy of trying

It’s commonly accepted that the first draft of every story is going to be rough. There will be spelling mistakes, grammar errors and, even if you are a planner like me, there will be plot-holes you hadn’t considered. It’s something you know going in, but you know you will get a chance to work on it later to fix those things.

If you thought you had one chance to write the story, only a single pass to make it perfect, that would be scary. Aiming for that level of perfection would make it hard to even start.

So why do I let it stop me with other things? Why have I waited until now to start blogging again? Because I wanted everything to be perfect before I started. I didn’t consider the fact I would learn much faster by writing and publishing these blog posts than I would by just thinking about it.

The same was true of publishing. I haven’t done much recently for reasons that I will write about one day, but ten years ago I just started putting things out, trying different platforms and methods and I learned a lot in the process. But I never felt like I could do the same with the other aspects of publishing and marketing and all that fun business stuff.

I think that for me, part of it was worrying that people wouldn’t forget. That I would make one mistake and never get a second chance. Which is pretty crazy. I’m a normal person, I’m not going to do anything that would upset people. Realistically it’s far more likely that no one would notice what I’m doing.

Which is why I’m trying this new thing. Considering everything a draft that I can work on and improve and get better at. It’s going to be better for me to try stuff and fail than to never try because I don’t think it’s going to be perfect.