Sunday, March 18, 2018


One of the ideas I've held onto for a while is the idea that to become a great writer I should be reading great literature, the Classics. And this isn't untrue. Reading well-written books will certainly benefit me, giving me inspiration for how to write my own stuff as well as letting me pick up little gems and stylistic traits that writers of the have.

I have recently challenged this convention for myself and made a decision. If a book is known for being great, and is great for the talent of the author, the time it took to put the book together, the skill with which it was written, and the deft hand by which it was edited, I have no reason to disagree. But because a book is great in the eyes of those who know and study literature, does this mean I should necessarily read and study this book because it is great?

With these thoughts in mind, I was at a bookstore about a month ago, and I saw a copy of a classic, well-loved by many and well-known by more - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Now I've seen film adaptions of this before, and I enjoy the story and the characters. The fiery clash of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is entertaining.

As I dove into this book, however, I realized more fully that Pride and Prejudice is a historical novel. I have a bad track record with historical novels. I read bits of the book on and off for about a week, a week and a half.

And with reading history in general.

So, after a visit to my library, I picked up a copy of the first book of the Michael Vey Series by Richard Paul Evans. I consumed the book in less than 48 hours. Just today I finished reading it a second time.

So what makes the difference? Is it 'wrong' that I read a YA sci-fi novel and not a Great Work of


Books of fiction are written for our enjoyment and our entertainment. I've been studying writing for a while now, and as I've read articles and book about writing, there are lots of people who like to give lists of the most important rules for writers. Many of these arguments approach writing from different directions.
"Stick to the three act form."
"Don't use the passive voice."
"Show, don't tell."

But beyond these, there is something even more basic that must be met. A book could be well-written, but if it breaks this rule it will have failed in its basic purpose. I've boiled this idea down to four words.

Don't Bore The Reader.

As I said, people come to books to be entertained, to escape from their world that they're living in. The primary purpose of books is to provide an escape. A synonym of 'Entertain' that we use sometimes is the word 'Amuse', as is "Go amuse yourself." The word has two parts to it - "A-" which is a prefix to suggest the opposite or contradiction of something, and "-muse", which means "to think." If we put the two together, 'Amuse' might mean, in a sense, to stop thinking.

And that's exactly what we look to do sometimes. We're tired of decision-making and problem-solving. We want to see how someone else - the underdog that we're rooting for- solves the next problem that is set against them as they try to accomplish things that we dream about.

This is why, I'm sure, I struggled to get through "Pride and Prejudice" and soared through "Michael Vey". When we read a book we look to escape, but it's easier if it's escaping to something we know. I don't connect nearly enough with 19th century British culture to find the plights of Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy as engaging as Michael Vey.

So while you're consuming media, whether the latest novel, blog post, youtube videos, or entertainment in other forms, don't get caught up in the game of the "Next Greatest...". After all, "Classic" isn't a title that will stick if quickly bestowed on something. It's earned with the test of time. So let's leave that naming process to the literary scholars.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


If I say 'Archetypes' I'm sure you know that I'm not talking about architecture. An archetype is something that is used to characterize, well, characters. Archetypes are typical examples of things, in this case characters. They help us to understand how characters function in their world, and how they relate to each other. They are a kind of quick reference guide.

Character archetypes go almost as far back as storytelling - the damsel in distress, "all brawn and no brains", the sneaky, conniving one - these and others make up a roster of characters found in all kinds of stories. Despite negative connotations, some put with these 'stereotypes' and 'label'. But the first step in understanding anything is knowing what it is, so names are the game.

These archetypes appear in an old kind of Italian theater, Commedia dell'arte, translated "Comedy of the profession". Commedia is an old kind of improvised theater from the 16th-18th centuries. Besides the use of stock characters, masks were used to differentiate characters from each other. Each character had his or her own characteristics, such as a large brow, a long nose, or other distinct traits that each possessed.

For example, one of the characters is Pantalone, a miserly, self-serving merchant whose love of money is his motivation. Others are the Zanni (from whose name we get our word "zany"); Arlecchino is one of these, the servant with an enormous appetite. These are a few of the charactes that make up the cast of these Commedia productions.

While the material from show to show may change, the characters will be consistent in their behavior. Arlecchino will always choose food first, to feed his insatiable appetite, as Pantalone chooses money.
But how do these archetypes apply to writing? Can they be used to any benefit for writers? Archetypes can be a great place to start for building a story from the ground up. as the story develops ad the characters become entrenched in the plot, they will certainly deviate from the typical examples of their archetype. Every character is different and each one will be shaped by their circumstances.

A good example is the rich philathropist, perhaps. While two of a kind may be similar, their circumstances may change them drastically. Remember, it's only when something goes wrong that the story begins. Readers don't read about a walk in the park. Let's take, for example, Tony Stark from the Marvel films. From the first time we're introduced to him, we don't see much of his past life. Again, the story hasn't started yet. But whatever relative bliss he was living in is interrupted when he is confronted with the violence that his company's weapons are used for. As his story progresses, it becomes clear that he is haunted by this knowledge and he sets out to seek peace, fueled by regret.

This could be a very different story-line than many others considering the character's backstory and position in society. Tony Stark could have about anything he wanted out of life, but his experiences drive him to make choices that threaten his life and put him in situations facing over-powered villains looking to abuse or misuse the kind of technology that he is using to try to promote peace.

And now, in two paragraphs, we've gone far from the rich philanthropist whittling away his days with parties and charities. Archetypes are useful for understanding character. They can give us a good grounding as either readers or writers to understand stories. But as far as being used to write with, they can only go so far. So the writer must work to flesh them out as they enact the story he sets forth.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How we write

     I've been doing some work recently, and picked up a few books on writing. Almost anyone who has set out to write a novel is familiar with the argument - to outline, or not to outline? The slang I've heard for this is "Plotters and Pantsers".
     On one side you have the 'Plotters' (those who set out to outline the entire novel before they begin) on the other, the 'Pantsers' (those who start with only a vague idea of where they want the novel to go.) The Plotters would say "I couldn't 'pants' it! How could I write a book if I don't know what's going to happen?" The Pantsters retort with "I don't wanna outline my book! That just ties me down."

     In almost any discussion or book about how to write a book, with plotters or pantsers, I've heard the same arguments -

"A novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end.",
"A book is written with three acts."
"A book has an introduction, rising action, a climax, and a denoument."

- and so on and so forth. While all of these are true, I'm here to disagree.

    This is not how to write a book.

     Now before all of you writing students and literature buffs get yourselves upset, keep reading. As I said, these previous statements are true. But they are NOT how to write a book.

     These arguments are how you Analyze a book. Let me explain.

     When someone talks about the structure of a book, they're talking about a book that has already been written. When a book is finished, if it follows some of the basic structures of storytelling, it will naturally have a setup, a development, and a finale.
     But writing a novel is a lot messier than that. At least for some people.
     Some writers (like myself) have little to no idea what's going to happen in their book, except for a few key plot points. But they know that things will have to be set up, that things will have to get harder for the protagonist, and that they will have to wrap up the book in a satisfactory fashion. When starting a story no one says "Hm, what kind of structures of classical struggles in literature can I use as a basis for the next scene in my novel?"
     At least not many of us.
     ... at least not me.
     What happens is a writer says something like "OK, my hero is trapped at the bottom of an old well that's filling up with dirt, and he can't escape. His girl's gone, so he's distracted, but he has to find a way to stop the mad scientist from throwing the country into a panic with a mutated virus." (Cooties are a thing, apparently.) "How do I get him out of this mess?"
     When a writer follows the natural progression of their story, they're not thinking about the structures of successful novels, they're working to tell a good story.

     So if you're trying to figure out how to tell a story, studying books on writing can be helpful. Learning about the structures of fiction, how it's put together and how successful fiction works, is great. But don't let the analysis of fiction become a recipe. Let it be something that helps you understand how fiction works so that you can be free to write the way you do.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Beta Readers

Hey Guys,

     I know that my posts here can be a bit sporadic, but I have an exciting update. I know I posted a while ago that I finished the first draft of my first novel. This a huge step forward for me. Most of my experience in writing has been for fun. I wrote for the local youth fair, short stories, or for fun.
     Late last year, as I said, I completed my first book. Now I'm going to be in the process of revising it. I've reached a critical stage, however, and I'm going to need some help. 🙂
     Now I'm looking for beta readers. I've already had some sign up to help me, and I appreciate those who have. If this is something you are interested in, find me on Facebook and comment. You can search with "Jackson Kerr fiction" and it will be a page with the same pictures as on this blog. There you can message me or comment, letting me know that you're interested in being a beta reader.
     If you haven't been a beta reader before, or don't know much about it, being a beta reader involves reading through the book and giving feedback about the story and characters, as opposed to editing. If you have other ideas or thoughts about this, feel free to share.

Thank You!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

First Draft

Hello again! It know it's been a while, but I have an exciting update. Over the past few months I've been going through some changes, so I haven't had time for writing. But things have settled down, at least for a moment, an I've had a chance to do some writing.
For a while I was stuck in my story. I had an idea of how I wanted it to end, but I didn't know the details. After a considerable break I went back to working on my novel.
And I am pleased to say that, as of last night, I officially have my first draft complete!
This is a big step for me, since having the first draft done means I have a pretty good idea of how the story will work. I know that there may be plotholes and times I will need to write characters in more or cut them, but I'm happy to say that the first major step of my novel-writing is finished.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Another excerpt - Paint

Well, as promised, here's another excerpt from my novel. It's a little short, but I hope you enjoy it.

          The table itself was crude. Workbench would be a more appropriate title. It was scarred here and there with cracks and indentations. Paint of various shades covered it. A bit of rusty orange here, violet there. It seemed worn, and yet satisfied. Like an apron passed from mother to daughter, its stains being markers of memories. Abigail pulled out a palette.
            “All right,” she said, “now the first thing you have to know about painting is that I haven’t done it in years. So, if you’re determined to do something-” she spread her arms “-now’s the time.” Robin laughed. She looked from the paints to Abigail and laughed again.
            “I can’t paint.”
“Of course you can’t. But how do you think I got started?” Robin shook her head.
“You’ve been doing this for a long time. I never-”
“Doodled in your notes? Used finger paints in kindergarten? Honey, you must realize that there was a point for me, too, when I had never painted before. Now come on.” Robin sighed, then laughed again. Abigail was squeezing paints onto a palette. Handing this to Robin, she stepped to the canvas.
            “What am I supposed to paint?” The protest was weak at this point.
“Whatever you’d like to paint.”
“Well… how about a tree?” That seemed simple enough. Abigail gestured to the canvas in answer.

Novel in Progress

     Here's a post to give you all an update on my writing. I know it's been a while since I've posted  about that 20,000 word-count.
     Things have been going very well for the last few weeks. I'm off for school, which means I can spend more time working on my current project and planning future projects. And having one of the family cats climbing all over me. Like right now, as I type this entry.
     I've been reading some new books on writing as well as pressing forward with the novel I'm working on. I still have to come up with a title. As you may already know, you can find some excerpts here on the site. I put out a teaser about putting a new excerpt, so I should probably follow through with that.
     Other reading material is made up of Christmas gifts I've received this year. One of these is The Children of Hurin by Tolkien. A bit dense, but an excellent read, especially for those who like older literature and the style of story-telling modeled by the traditional passing on of tales.
     Another book I am very excited about is The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. This is something of an autobiographical work (I believe) by Twain. He had the opportunity to travel all over Europe by boad along the coastline. My familiarity with it stared as an interpretive speech during my last year of high school. In short, you take part of a book and turn it into a ten-minute skit. No props, no set, and you're wearing a suit.
     In any case, I thought I'd let you guys know that I'm rounding the bend with my first draft I think, unless some big plot development waylays me. My current word count is now well past the 40,000 word mark, and growing steadily. As I mentioned before, most novels (especially ones by new authors) tend to be around the 60,000 mark. Some are as long as 120,000 (or more) but I'm not nearly that ambitious.
     I hope your Christmas and New Years went well. Keep an eye out for that excerpt, I'll pick one and have it up soon.
All the best!