The Craft/Skill/Art of Writing Well

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The craft of writing well is a fickle and elusive skill that can always be improved upon, which means even the most masterful writer stands to learn a thing a two. The craft or art or skill of writing well is such that, even after decades of honing it to a fine and deadly edge, it can still be honed further, made even more deadly. It is almost predictable how, just when you think you’ve finally earned some skill with words, you are brutally and humbly reminded of just how much more there is to learn. 

Imagine with me that you live in a small town, Wordville, USA, and you just discovered your new favorite restaurant. The Flavor Flinger is a hole in the wall restaurant you’ve absolutely fallen in love with. It’s open, bright, full of other locals, has a nice bar, and always provides great food. You spend every Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday there for the next two years, with little exception. Yes, it’s THAT good. And the people are wonderfully friendly there, staff included. 

Then, one odd Monday night, you take a seat at the bar next to an older gentleman.

The bartender greets you both. “Great to see a couple of locals in here. Warms me heart, it does. You two belong here. What can I get’cha?”

The old timer turns, looks at you, and says, “You’re a local, huh?”

Proudly, you say, “Yes, I am. Been coming here three times a week for two years now. I know the owner, I know the waiter, and I know the cooks. I know what’s fresh, what’s reheated, what’s expensive, what’s the best. I love it here. I know this place as well as anyone.”

“Wonderful, wonderful,” the old man says. Then he leans in and asks, “So, what do you think of the basement?”

“The… what?” 

“The basement? You must know about it. The door’s right over there.”

But you don’t need to look because in that moment everything makes perfect sense. The odd rumblings and shouts you hear occasionally from the floor make sense. The door that waiters disappear behind sometimes makes sense. The extra food being cooked in the kitchens makes sense. 

After feeling like a complete fool, you devote the next year of your life just to the basement of The Flavor Flinger. You learn their exclusive menu, you learn the tricks of each billiard table, you learn where the remotes are for all the TVs, you learn the best times to go and the worst times to go. 

When a year is up you decide to head upstairs for a change, and you find the old timer from before sitting at the bar by himself. Your eyes met and you head over to take the empty seat next to him.

“Thanks for telling me about it,” you say as you sit down. “I’ve learned the whole basement now; the dartboards, the billiards, the karaoke machine. I’ve got it all. This whole dang restaurant now.”

The old man nods. “Impressive. You’ve put your time in. But, I haven’t heard you mention the third floor cafe yet. What do you think about it?”

Your eyes sting as you blink rapidly. “The what?”

“The third floor cafe. It’s right above the second floor dining hall.”

“THE WHAT?!”

Two floors, two years of your life. You spend the next two years only visiting the upper floors of The Flavor Flinger, which you should’ve known existed the entire time. There are reflective windows, which you always assumed were merely for decoration, lining the walls above the restaurant’s first floor. The stairs in the back of the restaurant led up to more than just the attic, it seems. 

After two years you enter The Flavor Flinger’s main floor on a mission: where is the old man? You find him, as ever, sitting at the bar. His hair is quickly disappearing now and there’re more wrinkles, but it’s the same old timer. This time you don’t take the seat next to him, you grab him by the shoulders, spin him around, and look straight into his eyes. 

“Tell me,” you say with the wisdom of defeat and experience. “Tell me all the other places I don’t know about.”

“Well now, let’s see,” the old man says. He counts off on his fingers, “You know the main floor.”

“Obviously.”

“You know the basement.”

“Yep.”

“You know the second floor dining hall.”

“Sure do.”

“And the third floor cafe.”

“Indeed.”

“And the deck out back.”

“And the… the what?”

“And the patios.”

“Patios? Plural?”

“And the rooftop tiki bar.”

“Excuse me?”

“And the kid’s playground.”

“Where?!”

Ten years. You spend the next ten years learning all about the places you never knew of, which were right under your nose the whole time. You learn everything this time, not a single corner or suspicious looking locker goes beneath your attention.

You are now much older and much wiser than when you first entered The Flavor Flinger. After ten years, you decide it’s time to finally enjoy the main floor again. You find a familiar face behind the bar. The bartender looks older as well, but he’s still smiling. You take a seat and he pours you a drink. 

“Where’s the old timer?” you ask. 

“Oh, he passed away. In his sleep I heard. A few years ago now.”

“That’s too bad,” you say, and you mean it. “It would’ve been nice to discuss this place properly.”

Before you can raise your glass to your lips, the diner door bangs open. A bright-eyed, young woman enters the restaurant like she owns it, sauntering past the tables towards the bar, nodding and high-fiving people as she goes. She sidles up to the bar and takes the empty seat next to you. 

“Ah,” the barkeep says with his patented smile, “it always warms me heart to see a pair of locals sitting at the bar. What can I get’cha?”

You turn to the young woman and give her a critical eye. “You’re a local?”

“Damn straight,” she says. You can tell she’s proud. “Been coming here four times a week for a little over a year now. I know the cooks, the waiters, the owner and his wife. I know this place like the back of my hand.”

Slowly a smile grows across your face. “Is that so?” You lean in a little closer. “Well, you must tell me, what your thoughts about the basement?”

“The… what?”

 

The Flavor Flinger may not be the best analogy for writing well out there, but it works for me. Just when you think you’ve put your time in and you’ve got some knowledge, you’re embarrassed and shown otherwise. Of course, this doesn’t apply to poor writing. You don’t need much to pull that off. 

Endeavor to write well now and always and you will find limitless uses for the skill/art/craft. 

Darksaber

We’re taking it back to 1995 with this week, folks. Another forgotten classic of the Star Wars EU that outshines anything from the new canon, this In My Opinion review is about Darksaber, by Kevin J Anderson.

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Darksaber is part of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, a New York Times Bestselling series written by the ridiculously prolific Kevin J Anderson. This novel reads like a standalone, but also does a good job carrying a larger story through it all. This novel came at a time when Star Wars fans were still shunned from the majority of society, long before any whispers of Episode I began. Which is why it’s so special. It comes from a time when Star Wars was shaped, not by George Lucas, but by the writers who were playing in his universe. Writers like Timothy Zahn, Aaron Alliston, and Kevin J Anderson were the gods of the Star Wars universe then, and their words were what fans stayed up night after night reading and rereading. Therefore, when this novel was written it had a lot weighing on it. It needed to be a good read. 

The good news is, it most certainly is a good read. It gives off the same feelings, preserves the same values, and totes the same feel-good humor the original trilogy of Star Wars movies had. Kevin J Anderson does not disappoint. But then again, look at him. How can he disappoint?

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Just look at that glorious, word-weaving bastard. God bless him.

PLOT: There’s a lot going on here plot-wise, but the premise is so good it’s hard to forget any of it. Druga the Hutt, a crimelord who’s stepped into the vacancy left by Jabba, is finally putting his considerable wealth and greed to work. First, he gets his hands on the Death Star plans. Then he gets his hands on the engineer who built the Death Star. Next, he builds a Death Star. But not a gaudy, moon-sized thing. All Durga wants is the laser, the most powerful super-laser in the galaxy, so he can hold entire planets hostage for ransom. Meanwhile, the de-facto leader of the Empire is marshaling her troops for an attack on the infantile Republic. There are even more plots, actually, each weaving into each other to tell a masterful tale. Each scene unfolds as its own story. 

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Durga, the slimiest, low-lifeiest Hutt of ’em all.

 

SETTING: Anderson, a learned scholar of sci-fi, really flexed his creative and imaginative muscles in this novel. Anything that was inconsequential to the main plot he seemed to take liberties with in order to make the story a unique sci-fi experience. Aspects of space-yachts and interplanetary casino gaming that have never been seen before popped up for the first time in this novel, thanks to good ol’ Anderson. He still manages to capture the essence of each familiar planet and setting from the movies, making readers squeal with delight when they find themselves in memorable places. But I love Anderson’s ability to bring in new elements of sci-fi never before seen to a long running sci-fi series, keeping it fresh and new. 

CHARACTERS: So, so, so, so good. The old favorites are always close at hand; Luke, Leia, Han and the rest. But the new characters are who really take the stage. There is a character in this novel whom I will never forget. I truly wish Disney and the story group at Star Wars decided to make this novel into a movie, or at least this character. His name is Bevel Lemelisk, and he’s the engineer who designed and oversaw construction of both Death Stars. But Bevel didn’t create the moons of doom by choice. You see, when he first disobeyed the Emperor, the Emperor killed him. Had him eaten alive by beetles, actually. But just before Bevel’s last breath, the Emperor transferred Bevel’s consciousness into a clone. A clone who happened to be watching its original self die. Once Bevel was safe in his new body, the Emperor would give him an order, and if Bevel didn’t obey, he would be killed and cloned again. And again. And again. And again, until he finally did obey. 

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Daaaaaaaaaamn!

How crazy is that? Bevel is one of the most unique characters I’ve ever read, because he’s died at least twenty times. His mind, his memories, his inner monologues… are so interesting. 

VERDICT: If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re a Star Wars fan. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan you should totally read this book. If you’re not a Star Wars fan but want to know what damn good sci-fi writing is, read this book. If you’re a hater, don’t read this book. If you have no imagination, don’t read this book. In my opinion this book should’ve been made into a movie long ago. If Disney is focused on making Star Wars profitable, this right here is how you do it.