Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouses, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs. When people communicate, they communicate with their faces, their bodies, their timing, and the objects around them. Make this a full conversation. Not just the words part.
5 Books on Writing That Every Writer Should Read
To be a better writer, there are really only things that you need to do: Read, and write. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t read about being a writer, and that having a well-rounded understanding of how writing “works” isn’t beneficial.
These 5 books were all assigned to me as a creative writing undergrad, and all have pieces of wisdom in them that have etched themselves so thoroughly into my consciousness that I feel like they’re all floating over my head while I’m writing.
While there are loads of other great books on writing, I specifically chose these because they aren’t all just saying “here’s how I write, you should do it too”—the topics of these books are very diverse!
1. Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose: Like I said, the best thing you can do to be a better writer is read. But what does that mean? What should you read? Francine Prose (yes, that is her real last name, if you can even believe it!) helps you answer those questions, and shows how looking for certain things while you read and reread can strengthen your own writing. Check it!
2. On Writing by Stephen King: This is the one book on my list that is saying “here’s how I write, you should too”. But Stephen King is basically the most prolific writer ever, so I was happy to listen to his advice. Two points of his really stuck with me: 1. Adverbs are lazy and 2. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a story is put it down for a long time—like, 6 months or a year—and come back to it with eyes so fresh that it’s like you’re editing someone else’s story. I’d be interested to know what points of his sticks with you guys!
3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: I posted about this the other day, but this book is like my writing Bible. In fact, a friend of mine who doesn’t even write got to reading it, and he loved it, too. Basically if you’re a human with a goal, this book will help you. And Anne Lamott writes kinda like this wise, kind mother who isn’t afraid to also tell you what’s up. Whereas a lot of other books on writing are about the actual storytelling, I like this book because it’s more about the writer’s “lifestyle”. Go get it now so that we can gush together!
4. The Philosophy of Composition by Edgar Allan Poe: This is actually just an essay, but considering that Poe is often credited with being the inventor of the modern short story, I had to include it on this list. It’s in this essay that Poe famously defined a short story as one that can be told in one sitting. Whereas King’s On Writing is really “zoomed in” on topics like word choice, this essay is a high level, theoretical piece on what a story actually is. You can get it for 99 cents on Kindle, or, even better, read it as part of a collection of all of his stories… ugh, they’re SO good!!!
5. Elements of Style by Strunk & White: I cannot tell you how often I’ve received this little book as a gift—for high school graduation, for college graduation, and for many Christmases and birthdays. But it’s all good because it is kinda essential for a writer to have. Elements of Style is all about—gasp!—grammar. (I should probably give it a read-through again so that I can re-center and remember my grammatical skillz, actually!) Also, there are some cute versions out now that make it seem less snore-fest-y—I really want this illustrated copy!
If you read any of these books and post quotes from them on your Tumblr, tag them #yeahwritingbooks and I’ll reblog you!
It’s what on the inside that counts
Let us number the ones which are illegal, and learn their names.
Note, there is a potential that I’ve got some of the names wrong. I’m not exactly the best person to ask about guns…nor do I particularly like them.
Hauge Conventions are the international legislations which dictate what form of ammunition/weaponry is allowed to be used during warfare. Most hollow point, soft point, and deliberately fragmentary rounds are illegal for warfare…but are allowed to be used in the civilian market, especially by police forces.
HOWEVER, higher velocity bullets (such as those common for usage in NATO country rifles) have a nasty tendency to fragment ‘by accident’ when they make impact.
Bottom row, left to right: Lead (not jacketed)- legal to own and allowed under the Hauge Conventions. The one pictured is likely for a revolver, such as the .455 British Service Webley.
I want to say the second one is a wadcutter (a form of revolver ammuntion used mostly for target shooting, as it punches really big ‘neat’ holes in things)
Next up from bottom, left to right: Glaser Safety Shot- US police forces use them, illegal under Hauge Conventions. The one pictured is copper jacketed. They’re essentially a marble capped container filled with buckshot.
Copper jacketed- Not entirely certain if it’s a hollow point or not.
Third row from bottom, left to right: Both forms of ammo seen on this row are banned under the Hauge Conventions. The one of the left appears both to be developed to be a hollow nose AND fragment…where as the other is a fragmentary round.
I’m actually interested, in the one on the right, given that you more commonly see ‘buckshot’ within shotgun rounds.
Fourth row from bottom: Rifle rounds, the lot of them. Other than that, I’m not certain on identifying them. One on the right is, once again, developed specifically to fragment, making it illegal under the Hauge Conventions.
Fifth row from the bottom, left to right: Copper jacketed- allowed under the Hauge Conventions. Likely for a 9mm pistol.
Hollow point- though given how deep the hollow is, I’m wondering if there’s not something specific to why it’s such a deep point.
Soft point- The metal at the top is thinner than the remainder of the body, the yellow ‘dot’ at the top is probably silicone. On impact, the tip of the bullet will expand out, increasing the caliber of the bullet drastically. Illegal under the Hauge Conventions
Top row, left to right: Again, this row is all rifle rounds of some variation or another.
I have no idea what the one on the far left is. It looks like a tracer round of some variation, but I’m not certain enough to say.
Fully jacketed (likely steel) bullet- legal to use under the Hauge Conventions.A wooden…rifle round….I’m mildly confused and can’t make comment on legality, not knowing caliber and bullet velocity
Fourth row, center looks like a flichette to me. Basically a steel dart. But, I’ve never heard of these being used in a rifle round without a sabot system.
The most important lesson I learned in my poetry seminars is that every word must earn it’s place on the page. When writing a scene, the goal is to create a visual impression in the readers. We use words to evoke an image, to evoke an emotional reaction and each word has it’s special place in helping to convey this sense to the reader. The words you choose, the order you put them in, where they are placed on the page, and what they sound like when read in a line are all phenomenally important parts of the writing craft. They are the means by which we create these images and how these images become memorable stories.
A single verb can change the mood and feeling of a scene, even when describing the same action. This is why careful word choice is important when writing fight scenes. Clarity is key but so is synergizing the action you want with the mood you want to convey. The level of violence can change depending on the meaning behind the word, it can change the shape of what a technique looks like in a reader’s mind. So, when choosing verbs think through what a word means. What image does it conjure in your mind?
Here’s an example:
Seizing Larry by his collar, Jennifer slammed him into the wall.
What is a slam? In this context, it’s a very violent shove. Slam is a hard, powerful word. It emphasizes a sense of power, but also control.
Seizing Larry by his collar, Jennifer pushed him into the wall.
A push is still a violent action in this context, but the word is softer and gentler than the hard, powerful sound of slam.
Seizing Larry by his collar, Jennifer shoved him into the wall.
Shoved is more violent than pushed, but less violent than slammed. It’s a rough word, but without the same raw sense of physical power and domination.
Seizing Larry by his collar, Jennifer rammed him into the wall.
Rammed is perhaps more violent than slammed, it’s also more direct. When we use the word rammed, we might think of a battering ram or a charging ram. It’s a direct, forceful action propelling Larry back into the wall. However, the same sense of control we had in slam isn’t there with rammed. Ram feels a little angrier, more violent.
Think about what sort of action you’re using and the personality of the character in question. What sort of person are they? How much force would they use? Can they control it? What do their strikes feel like? Wild and uncontained? Tight and controlled?
This is worth testing during your editing, don’t get too caught up in it during the first draft phase. But, if you want, pull out a sheet of paper and just test it out. Write a sentence, maybe involving a punch or kick and try different verbs to change the effect.
Tumblr peeps, there is a pitch contest happening right now for you adult novel writing fiends! So, head on down to #adpit with 140 character pitch. 8am to 8pm EST. See the rules here: http://heidinorrod.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/its-coming-adult-pitch-5-feb-2014-adpit/
Then why do I still have to remind myself that she’s gone? Why when I see something interesting on the news, I’ll say to myself : “Oh, I gotta remember to mention this to Anna later on.” Sometimes I will turn to say something to her, she’s not there but just for a second, I don’t know why she’s not there. And then I remember. I miss her, Liz. I miss her and love her as much right now as I did when she was still here
There are two different kinds of shock that can easily be confused with each other: physiological shock from receiving a grievous injury and psychological shock which is an acute stress reaction to a terrifying or traumatic event. In this article, we’re going to talk about how a writer can communicate that their character is experiencing psychological shock without having to outright state it. There are many tips out there that are useful for writing fight scenes and most of them won’t be helpful when your story requires coupling an action sequence with an acute stress reaction.
So, let’s go below the cut and talk about it.
In this, we’re going to talk about psychological shock from the writer’s perspective and how to use it. However, we are not medical professionals. For a full understanding of psychological shock, more research will be required.
What is an acute stress reaction?
An acute stress reaction comes from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. This could be anything from watching a random passerby get gutted by a mugger, being attacked by a mugger, finding a family member dead in their bed, being the victim of violence, experiencing a betrayal by a close friend, being on the wrong end of a gun, etc.
This experience links into both the fight or flight response and the combat stress response.
Okay, so what does that mean?
If you’ve never experienced an acute stress reaction before to a traumatic event in your own life then manufacturing it on the page may be difficult. Even if you have, reliving the experience in your own mind in order to get it right can be incredibly traumatizing. What is most important to presenting shock in your story is not that you focus entirely on getting the exact symptoms right, it’s getting the feeling right and making sure that the same feeling infuses every aspect of the scene if it’s being written in either First Person or Third Person Limited.
I mean everything from pacing to word choice should be representative of selling the experience to your audience. This is how you make anything in your story authentic. You have to sell it as if you were experiencing it yourself. Method acting will help; imagining the scene as if it were happening to you will help if you’re willing to go there.
How to do that:
I personally describe shock as feeling sluggish and dazed. I felt far away from my body, far away from reality and what was happening around me. Information came in slow, but my reaction to it was dull and, depending on the situation, nonexistent. In events that happened after, I remembered everything that had happened with perfect clarity but it still felt like I had been on autopilot. For me, how hard I get rocked by shock often depends on what I was expecting going into the event. If I’m completely blindsided, it can take a while to recover. If I was prepared for it or had begun preparations for it, I have less to work through before getting back to the regular world. I apply this to my characters when working through how they feel about events and what parts of the process they get caught in.
You can communicate shock fairly easily through some simple techniques.
Remove the active verbs.
Looking down at her hand, Margaret saw blood.
Margaret looked down at her hand and saw blood.
One of these is fast and I’ll admit, the one with “looking” sounds better, but it also moves more quickly and feels more active. When you want your sentences to move more slowly, to feel more sluggish, it’s worth taking a step back and taking your time because from the character’s perspective everything has slowed down. (Always remember though, time is keeping pace for the other characters in the scene unless they are likewise affected, so keep them moving at normal speeds.)
Long sentences interspersed with short sentences.
Margaret looked down at her hand and saw blood. Blood. Whose blood? My blood. No. No, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be her blood.
By interspersing long sentences with short ones, you can develop an awkward, intentionally jerky feel in the pacing which adds to the sense that the character is feeling out of sorts and distant to what’s happening around them.
Margaret looked down at her hand and saw blood. Blood. Whose blood? My blood. No. No, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be her blood.
We can use repetition of the same word over and over to emphasize that sense of distance; that the character is taking a while to come to terms with what he or she is experiencing. The information is taking a while to sink in. We also add in a denial of the reality present which results from surprise.
“He shot me! You shot me! Derrick! Why would you shoot me?”
Shock can follow your characters for a while, so even at later points in the story it’s important to call back to it through changes in your character’s behavior. So, remember to keep track of that. Whether it’s pain from the wound:
Her cheek hurt. Why would it hurt? Oh right, Margaret thought, she’d been shot.
or from a distinct change in their lifestyle:
I turned my head, hand tightening on the remote. Dad always came home at five after five and he’d give me hell if he caught me watching television. I waited, listening for the familiar thrum of the Ford Taurus as it wound up the driveway, the catch of the headlights on the windows, the blur of green through the white shades. On the tube, Batman laughed but no grinding wheels came up the asphalt. It was just another car passing our front door outside.
Oh. I paused. Oh, right. Dad wasn’t coming home from work today. Dad wasn’t coming home ever again.
Give it a try. See what you turn out.
Personally, I love villains. Whether that villain is physically represented as a person, the crushing weight of external circumstances crushing down the hero, or their own internal antagonist pushing them around by their flaws and fears, a good villain is one piece that a story can’t do without.
What is the role of an antagonist?
The role of an antagonist is to create conflict within the story. This is their primary role. If they are not an acting catalyst for conflict in the narrative, then you’ve got a problem. (Your hero should also be creating conflict.)
Make Them Better Than Your Hero:
What is your hero’s goal in life? What is it they want most in the world? Who do they want to be? What do they want to be good at?
Give those traits to your villain.
When your villain is everything that your hero thinks that they want in life you can create great conflict by having them reevaluate those goals. You worry the reader because we know that the villain is a better X, be that a better leader, a better strategist, a better fighter, or a better politician. It gets even better if they fit into and are good at the things the hero is not good at. Your hero may be the greatest swordsman in the world, but he sucks at world play and politics. This may seem like an advantage at first, except that the villain can control all the inner workings of the city and control public opinion. Where the hero is a battering ram, the villain is a spider plucking at their web. The hero must find a way to get to them, but they have to do that without landing their ass in jail.
A great representation of this strategy (when it’s handled right) is Lex Luthor versus Superman. Lex Luthor is the corrupted version of all the ideals Superman has sworn to uphold. Superman can’t just go battering down Luthor’s door and deal out justice, he has to prove that Lex is in the wrong. But, Lex is protected by government officials and public opinion, every time Superman tries to catch him, Lex slips away. The same is also true for Lex, he sees in Superman all the power that he dreams of having. He wants to be the Lex Luthor version of Superman and it gnaws away at him.
Take Them to the Extreme Edge:
Hero: “I want to be free.”
Villain: “I want to be free and the only way I can be is if I enslave everyone else.”
See the difference?
Some antagonists live in extremes and they take it to the furthest edge. A noble goal on it’s own is just a noble goal and it may even be the same goal that the protagonist has. In fact, if your hero is someone who hates the status quo and wants to be free but is forced by the villain to defend it through the virtue of their own ideals then you have some great internal conflict. In the end, your hero and your villain want the same thing but the ways that they go about getting it is what makes all the difference.
Through the Mirror Darkly:
Some of the best villains and hero match ups are drawn from the same place with the added bonus fear that if the author flipped them around that they would each become the other. I always hold up Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker in the Original Star Wars Trilogy as one of the premiere examples of this theme. Vader represents Luke’s possible future, he is what Luke could become and what Luke fears he will become. Vader acts as a looming threat in the narrative, not just to the success of the heroes physical, real world goals but also their spiritual ones. As we learn more about Vader, we know that the monster was a man once and that leaves the possibility open that any Force wielder (in this case Luke) could become him. More than that, once we know the truth, we know that Luke will continue to put himself into danger to save Vader and that brings him into orbit of the villain that acted as the catalyst to make Vader what he is. As the narrative evolves between the three movies, what Vader’s role changes in what he represents thematically. However, without him, the narrative would completely fall apart.
Since I’ve seen that Batman/Gary Stu/Mary Sue post going around, I thought I’d discuss how to write a gender-swapped Batman as a non-Mary Sue. This isn’t about the current Batwoman, Kate Kane, who is a marvelous and wonderful. This is about how one could create a gender-swapped version of Bruce Wayne and keep the spirit of the character while making a small adjustment in gender. The ironic truth is: you really don’t have to change much. No, really. Whether it’s a Bruce or a Beryl, Batman’s traits and quirks are extraordinarily gender neutral. The trick is figuring out the elements that make the character tick and what the audience connects to without wearing gendered goggles.
When you’re looking to gender swap a character, you first have to look at what is that sells them and who they are. Batman is an extraordinary superhero, he’s supposed to be just a normal man with money but within his own narrative, he can compete with any super powered hero in the setting. So, how does a good narrative like Hush or The Long Halloween or the TAS Batman sell him without making him a Mary Sue? The answer is actually pretty easy. For every trait that allows the character to be good at there must be a complimentary flaw that keeps everything from being easy.
Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, a playboy, and a philanthropist. Batman is a superhero who can compete with any superhero in the DC Universe, including Superman and Wonder Woman. All the women and some of the men want him and his angst just makes him more appealing. This is all true, however, there’s a second side to Batman that comes out in the more compelling narratives with him. He has a darker edge that leaves him much like Gotham.
Batman is a workaholic. Whether it’s supporting his cover as Bruce Wayne or prowling the streets as the Dark Knight, Batman is pretty much always on the job. Batman has a cover identity named Bruce Wayne
Batman is intelligent, but also obsessive. Batman is a control freak. Batman sleeps (at most) four hours a day and is constantly pushing his body past its safe limits. Batman does not have a social life. Remember that whole business about “billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”? It’s a cover to secure a secret identity. Those relationships we’re desperate for? They’re doomed to failure. Batman has one true love and that love is Gotham. Batman cannot trust anyone else to protect Gotham like he can, even when they have shown themselves perfectly capable.
There’s nothing here that couldn’t be passed on to a female character. In fact, the socialite angle works even better with a woman. After all, who would suspect that Paris Hilton dresses up in Kevlar armor every night and leaves criminals hanging off of rooftops? When Lindsay Lohan gets sentenced to rehab, drops out of the clinic, and disappears for six months would you believe that it’s because she’s gone to do training with monks in the Himalayas? The larger the disparity between Beryl Wayne’s public persona and the Dark Knight, the better with just enough crossover sprinkled here and there to cover any new bruises, broken ribs, or training accidents, but that can easily be rectified with a character who is a known daredevil. This justifies the times when they can’t change and need to drive up the wrong side of the highway going 80 miles an hour to slam into an oncoming criminal while in their civvies.
So, how do you make the character work?
When Beryl Wayne was eight years old, her parents were murdered while coming out of a (insert appropriate venue here). On that night, she swore vengeance. Over the years, Beryl sought out advanced training in many different skills from martial arts to criminology. She became known for her jet setting and was rarely ever in Gotham, spending her vast fortune on world travel as a means to escape from her problems (or so it seemed). Then, in her early twenties, Beryl returned to Gotham to take control of the family fortune. At the same time (or just a few months before) a masked vigilante appeared prowling the streets of Gotham. The rest is history.
As a character, Beryl is an exceedingly driven individual. She spends her time training, working, and invested in keeping Gotham safe. She barely sleeps and is constantly working often to a point that exhausts even those closest to her. She is a closed off, slightly neurotic personality, who is deeply suspicious of outsiders and believes that no one else can do the job satisfactorily. She is a bit of an egomaniac, but every billionaire needs a few eccentricities. She is ends justifies the means to a point and has no problem roughing up and terrifying suspects into behaving. In her public persona, Beryl Wayne is seen as selfish, a little vapid, and self-absorbed. The men she chooses to see are the ones that she knows she won’t care about and they are pursuing her for the status and her vast fortune. She is a philanthropist and more dedicated to the public good than most, but she is still seen as heartless. She has been described as polite and fun but cold by more than a few former suitors. With her vast intelligence, she finds it hard to get excited and knows that to be able to do her job well she needs to avoid any true romantic entanglements. (She can’t help falling into them because she does have quite a few real suitors in both the criminal and superhero community, but her general attitude is “love ‘em and leave ‘em”). She only really cares about the opinions of people she trusts and can be exceedingly vengeful when she feels they’ve betrayed her. If she shuts a character out into the cold, they’re going to be there for awhile. She doesn’t really know how to apologize and mean it. Sometimes, she goes too far in her willingness to protect Gotham and has to be hauled back by those around her. She’s constantly making personal sacrifices in order to be the best vigilante that she can be.
She’s definitely on the fascist end of the political spectrum and if you’re going to be in her city, then you play by her rules. She’s exceedingly practical in her combat gear and is constantly inventing to keep ahead of the curve. Some criminals in Gotham aren’t exactly sure if she’s female because she doesn’t advertise her gender. However, she doesn’t hide it either. Why would she? (Egomaniac!) She’s not a Femme Fatale. Instead, this is a character that is willing to work within gender stereotypes when it suits her and jettison them completely when needed. She plays by her own rules and no one else’s.
If you want to do Batman right, you have to take the villains and some of the supporting characters with you because the long standing ones are representative of Batman’s shattered psyche. Gender swap them around as needed. I suggest making Lucius Fox female, because powerful female CEOs are awesome and girls gotta stick together. I’d gender swap the Joker too. You can gender swap Catwoman or supplant her with another character in order to play with the male versus female Batman idea such as The Question (the first one or the JLU one) or Green Arrow.
I personally wouldn’t run the lesbian route with this character because there’s always the risk of getting into some nasty stereotypes if you’re not careful. However, there’s no reason that you couldn’t if you put the effort in.
Anyway, there have been many versions of Batman over the years and this is not the only way to play a female version. You will all come up with new and different answers. No matter Batman’s gender, always give him or her antagonists that meet them in equal measure and reflect them or their politics in some way. You can learn a lot about how to structure a good antagonist for your hero from looking at the Batvillains that stick around and by studying the multitude that have fallen by the wayside.
Once you’ve settled on the understanding that gender is mostly irrelevant when looking to craft a hero, the throng will open up to you as sources of inspiration. Have fun!