Wattpad just posted their interview with me for my Watty Award-Winning short-story, “The Omens of a Crow.” Check it out if you’re interested!
Wattpad just posted their interview with me for my Watty Award-Winning short-story, “The Omens of a Crow.” Check it out if you’re interested!
I know it’s been a long time since my last post, but there’s a good reason for that. I was at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert for a month-long field exercise. That counts as a good excuse, right?
Anyway, I returned from exile to some exciting news: My latest short-story, The Omens of a Crow, won the 2018 Watty Award The Heroes!
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Wattys is an annual contest hosted by the reading/writing website Wattpad, who selects the best stories on the site from the pool of tales posted for the entire year. This year, 60 stories were selected to receive Watty Awards from a pool of approximately 164,000. Omens was one of them! As I mentioned before, it received an award titled The Heroes.
Here’s how Wattpad describes the award:
This award celebrates the stories that introduced us to characters we related to, who made us feel for them, who showed us a new way of looking at the world.
A great character stays with the reader long after the story’s done – these stories did just that. They stand out in our mind, these characters you’ve invented. They’re flesh and blood and prose. Perhaps they’re demi-gods like Percy and anti-heroes like Achilles. They have the spirit of Katniss Everdeen, Bilbo Baggins, and the Pevensies as they take on adventure, and they instill fearlessness in us like Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they charge into the unknown. Their words mean something to us. They are our enemies, our friends, and our fantasies. They are our Heroes. They are flawed and complicated, but we can’t help but love them. We celebrate your imagination and the amazing characters that you have given us!
I consider it quite an honor to have a story of mine compared to such titans as Percy Jackson, The Iliad, The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter. Makes a man like me a little woozy. (Don’t catch me if I faint. Just let me sleep. I think I’ve earned the rest).
That’s the news. Color me surprised and flattered. If you’ve yet to read The Omens of a Crow, check it out on Amazon, Smashwords, or Wattpad! And, as ever, be sure to leave a review! (Disclaimer: Omens contains mature content and is intended for an adult audience.)
I promise I’m not dead, just busy. I’ll have some new content up soon!
1) An Analysis of RWBY Volume 5. (Yes, I’m aware it’s been months since the final episode aired. I’m going to pretend like it was always the plan to put this out for the DVD release, not the season finale.)
2) Review of Oathbringer, the third installment in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. (Also aware that it was released half a year ago.)
I’m continuing to work (very slowly, but it’s happening) through Ironheart’s sequel.
Wow. I know it’s been a long time (approximately four and a half months) since my last post, and here I am just now getting back in touch. The bad news here is that I’ve still got 4 – 5 weeks of Officer Candidate School remaining, so I can’t dive back into writing Ironheart‘s sequel just yet, but available free time is finally on the horizon. The good news is that I managed to graduate from Boot Camp in early August, and I’m well on my way to finishing OCS as well.
So there’s a brief update on what’s been going on. Thank you to everyone who’s been keeping up with me and sending mail throughout my training stages. Your letters have been a joy to read! I promise to get back on my current writing projects soon. You’ve all been so patient waiting for books that were forced to take a back seat when a chance for service took priority. I’ll keep pushing forward here, and, with a little luck, I’ll be back to writing about Primals, heroes, and villains soon!
For the last several weeks, I’ve been posting a lot of content on the nature of storytelling, so it’s high time we took a break for something a little lighter. We’ve yet to actually dig in to any individual plots, which is as key to realizing the power of stories as analyzing storytelling. After all, stories are the best advocates of their own influence.
Stories I break down on this blog will be separated into two categories: Required and Anathema. I’ll evaluate a lot of Required stories, but very few Anathema, mostly because I’m largely a nice guy who rarely thinks it proper to firebomb other storytellers’ hard work. That being said, it will happen on occasion that I detest a story enough to actively work against its creator. You can assume one of two things about the evaluations I post. If I post about a film, web series, TV show, video game, book, etc. on this blog, I either 1) love it and think everyone should partake, or 2) believe it should be mercilessly ripped apart line by line. I will indicate which at the beginning of the post. Cons that are listed on the former should be taken with a grain of salt, since I am obviously recommending the story while airing any grievances that (I believe) detract from the possible maximum impact of the tale. The upcoming evaluation I’ll have out on RWBY soon is an excellent example of a Required tale.
As for Anathema, I’ll generally tell you exactly how I feel, with little mollycoddling to blunt the blows. An example of something that would go in my Anathema folder would be anything I ever post on the Twilight series.
“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet – it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” – Joss Whedon
The idea that I discussed last week – that a storyteller’s purpose is to give questions, not answers – rankles some people, most of whom are storytellers who regularly ignore this purpose, thinking themselves wiser than their audience. My post from last week does require some caveats, however. Once we accept the purpose of the storyteller, there is a second truth we must embrace: Your voice matters. It may not be your place to tell the audience what to think, but it is your job to tell a story, and one that is ultimately meaningful.
Your storytelling voice matters, and sometimes it matters in ways you never expected.
Now, I know the quote that I used this week is from a storyteller who regularly violates the purpose of storytelling. No one knows better than I the appalling number of times Joss Whedon has downright browbeaten his audience with opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when he desists from forcing a specific agenda, he is a peerless storyteller. And the discernment shown in the above quote is striking.
The first part of my point is that your voice matters, and that’s important to grasp before we move on to the next half. Your artistic voice matters. I may repeat it a thousand times in this post, but it’s an important truth to embrace as a lifelong artist. If you don’t embrace it, you won’t be a storyteller, plain and simple. You’ll give up. You’ll stop telling stories. If you believe you’re shouting into the void, how long do you think you’ll sit around listening to your own echo? Not long for some. Years for others. But, if you don’t embrace the idea that your art has unique value, you will eventually quit. Embrace this truth. You’ve got a voice, you’ve got questions to give the world, and only you can deliver them the way you do.
If you accept that, we can move on to my second point, summarized by Whedon as “interpretations the author did not intend.” Often, your work will become something you never planned for it to be. One of the greatest facts about this world is that people are different. They interpret life and experience and art in a way distinctive to themselves. You don’t always get to choose how your art affects people, and that’s okay! After all, you may be the god of your stories, but that doesn’t make you the God of this one. Your only duty is to tell stories to the best of your ability, putting 110% of your work and effort into each one. And don’t apologize for them! Never apologize for your art, whether it is received poorly because it is interpreted as you intended or not. It’s your art, and just as you’ve no call to force your audience to think as you do, they’ve no call to silence your voice. Tell your stories – without preaching, without bowing to the whims of social critics – and tell them well. Tell them with care and with meaning and with purpose, but don’t fret over interpretation. Sometimes people need something specific from a story, and yours provides it. Life influences people to equate what they see in art with their experiences, and you can’t control that. So don’t try to!
Storytelling, like life, isn’t about having it all together or being in control. It’s about doing the best we can, and trusting that something larger than ourselves will handle the rest.
Tell your stories, because your voice matters! But relinquish control, because worthy art is always bigger than the person who made it.
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. Too often, we forget that.” – Wit, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
What is the role of the storyteller? He or she brings a tale to the audience, yes, but what is the purpose of doing so? It could be to entertain. After all, entertainment is the reason most of us regularly partake of stories in the first place. In fact, a story can be said to have failed in its purpose if it doesn’t entertain, whether through humor, excitement, suspense, pathos, or some other means. I agree that a storyteller must entertain, and cannot fulfill the real purpose of the profession if he fails to do so. But entertainment is not the significant role of the storyteller.
In a world that always has been, is now, and will ever be gray, we storytellers have, by and large, abominably bungled the presenting of that fact. The present is no more polarized than times before – humans will always find reasons to break into opposing camps, extolling their side’s virtues while vilifying their “opponents” – but we are not any less divided either. Which proves only that we’ve done a poor job of learning from the past. Right and wrong are rarely what separate people and their enemies. It’s different standpoints, different perspectives. Just two sides holding disparate views about what is most important. What does this have to do with storytelling? Why, it shows that much of the time we have forgotten our role as storytellers! Many of us are as guilty as anyone of dividing the world, cutting it up into stark sections of black and white, of using our stories to cram agenda down our audience’s throats.
The reality, however, is this: The role of the storyteller is not to tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think for themselves.
We storytellers often try to influence how people think and act, though it is not our place to do so. Rather, our goal should be only to get people to put that brain between their ears to work. Questions! The storyteller’s duty is to present them with questions upon which to ponder, because thinking for ourselves, not merely mimicking what we’re told to think, is the only we grow.
So we must make them think. We coax them into evaluating life – both the big and small things – on a deeper, more personal level.
You might say: “Come now, Dakota, all storytellers build their stories around theme. Without theme, without purpose, a story is just a jumble of words or images. Themes are all about trying to influence people to act a certain way.” You may be right. Themes are important. They do provide purpose to a story. But I will say this:
Good themes are about questions, not solutions.
I absolutely write themes into my stories. I write with a purpose in mind, but always with the intention of revealing universal principles, thoughts, and feelings, never blatant conclusions that READERS MUST ACCEPT. I want my readers to see what I present in my stories and use it to consider who they are. I want questions – glorious, inspiring, dark, bitter, infuriating questions – to be the product of my work.
We all want to change the world in some fashion, don’t we? Of course we do! But consider how you do so, otherwise you may end up changing it in ways you would never wish to have done so, because the forcing of change often backfires. Don’t force it. Promote it. And more than that, accept the fact that you are not, nor ever will be, fully in control of change. Change cannot be forced on people; you will harden them against it. Change can only grow from within, as they consider things for themselves. The movie Inception is a great visual representation of this. People will often reject the ideas forced on them. But the ones that seem organic? Those ideas shape the world. Remember: The ideas you plant without rancor, without design, without insisting people should think a certain way are the ones that will be deeply and seriously considered. Don’t browbeat them. Inform them.
“Here is an interesting concept, reader. Perhaps you should consider it, and decide how it affects the world.”
“Here’s an issue we struggle with in today’s world, viewer. It’s there now, front and center in your mind, why not analyze how you see it? What you think about it? How we might be able to fix it?”
As a storyteller, think of the philosophy you champion when you try to force an agenda on others. This, in a nutshell, is what you are saying: If only the whole world thought as I do we would never have any problems! You’re absolutely right. We wouldn’t have problems. Not of a certain sort, at any rate. What we would have is stagnancy. Apathy. A world full of boring people who might as well be vegetables for all the stimulation we would receive from others, since everyone would be carbon copies. We would all be mindless clones of one another, espousing the exact same things. I don’t want to live in a world like that. Do you? Then why bully others with your stories? You’re not changing the world for the better when you tell people what to think, but you most certainly are when you help them learn to do so for themselves.
Asking tough questions is to be encouraged in storytelling, pushing agendas is not.
The example this week is going to be The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. The story, if you’ve not read it, starts out great. There are some excellent scenes that really hit you with a new appreciation for tragedy, and the early stages raise some provocative questions about rampant capitalism. By the end, however, it has devolved into a soapbox, a pedestal for what can only be labeled as propaganda. And you know what? The novel did change things, though not in the way Sinclair intended. The Jungle did not convince the American people of the benefits of socialism (the agenda which Sinclair pushed with all the subtlety of a Super Bowl half-time show), but it did expose horrific conditions in the meatpacking industry. In effect, the agenda espoused by The Jungle fell flat, while the questions raised by Sinclair’s tale inspired a generation to enact change in what had been an oppressive, unsanitary industry. What would have been the result if Sinclair had simply provided his readership with thought-provoking questions about socialism instead of cramming it down their throats? We’ll never know. Because he didn’t.
“But The Jungle is a classic!” I can hear the outrage from the peanut gallery even as I write this. “How dare you use a literary work, hailed the world over, as an example of abusive storytelling?”
The answer is simple. To a certain extent, people like to be told what to think. Life is easier that way. We can either eagerly embrace or easily reject what is shouted at us, because we are given no reason to give such blatant messages serious thought. If we agree with a brazen message? We heartily agree and move on. If we find it out of line with our preconceived notions, we either put the story aside or ignore its obvious propaganda and continue on with the story. When we are told what to do, we don’t have to go through the hassle of carefully considering life. We simply agree or disagree out of hand. Passivity is easy. Scrutiny is hard. Ladies and gentlemen, storytellers are not obliged to make life easy for the audience. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is our purpose to make certain that they never stop moving forward, never cease growing and learning and being.
So let’s make a resolution, shall we? No more agendas. Only questions. People will learn to be who they need to be without our sanctimonious preaching. Our audience, after all, is no less human, and they’ve got more to teach us than we ever could them.
Did my post about questions raise any questions? Comments? Rants? Do you find it ironic that I used a post about not using stories to tell people how to think to tell people how to think? Let me know!
Go on! Go introduce the world to some questions!