We live in a world where we ask, “How’s it going?” as a “Hello,” not as a inquiry into someone’s wellbeing.
Happiness is so revered it seems mandated. If a fellow employee asks, “How’s it going?” and you respond with, “I’m alright,” a common response is, “Just alright?”
If you’re one of those people who says, “Just alright?” know that you’re not coming off as someone who’s concerned so much as someone who’s enforcing an impossibly high standard of positivity. Those of us on the receiving end of that question see you as one of those screamers from the end Invasion of the Body Snatchers, calling us out for our nonconformity.
If this isn’t your intension consider the following: if the person you’re asking, “How’s it going?” says they’re alright flatly leave it at that. If they say they’re alright with a pensive downward inflection ask if anything is going on. Those are you options. Continue reading Why You Should Let Your Characters Blow Their Tops
When writing your first draft author John Steinbeck recommends you “write freely and as rapidly as possible… Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.”
If you stop to edit the chapter you’re working on you’ll get stuck in a perfectionist loop, keeping you from moving forward and breaking your stream of consciousness. If your emphasis is on quality too early you’ll ensure there’s no quantity. The first draft is an marathon not a gymnastics routine. You can’t worrying about being too graceful on your way across the finish line.
Of course, when you do go back to edit, you may realize you’ve inherited a mess. I did when I went back to revise my current work in progress. My story features a narrator and the first person testimonies of four other characters. Continue reading How to See Through Someone Else’s Lens
Plot driven stories focus on external conflict. Character driven stories focus on inner turmoil. Plot driven stories are more situational than personal. While characters may evolve in plot driven stories, they never change as much as the world around them. Plot driven stories are action oriented. Characters don’t have the luxury of self examination before they make decisions. Their situation is too urgent.
The plot driven story approach is ideal for fast paced globe trotting adventures, sci-fi fantasies, and anything with a clock counting down to Armageddon. That’s why most blockbuster movies take the plot driven approach. It keeps the characters in danger and makes the audience feel like they’re on a rollercoaster.
The problem with plot driven stories is when their fast pace leaps over gaps in the plot. Continue reading What’s My Motivation? Why Writers Need to Motivate All of Their Characters
Know Thy Self
Most of us avoid doing anything out of character. We don’t want our routines to get broken. If our lives have to change we want it to be so gradual that we don’t even notice. If we’re stuck in a rut we try to make ourselves comfortable with it. It doesn’t matter if every day feels the same, we choose to live in Groundhog Day scenarios because it’s what we know.
We predict how we’ll manage in tough spots, overlooking the difference between our ideal selves and our applied selves, between our routine self and our chaotic self.We gossip about other losers who fell apart under pressure, patting ourselves on the back for how we assume we’d react differently. We’d like to believe we wouldn’t panic from the comfort of our love seats. Continue reading Use Your Darkness: How Writers’ Shortcomings Benefit Their Characters
The Pros and Cons of Concealing Certain Character Traits
There are good reasons to avoid identifying a character’s ethnicity, exact age, and body type in your writing, especially when these traits aren’t crucial to understanding their actions. By revealing these specifics you limit the casting options in your readers’ heads. You make it harder for some members of the audience to see themselves in the role. If you leave these elements ambiguous your lead could be anyone your readers want.
At the time of this writing there’s stubble on my face. If I’m reading a story with a male lead I’m likely to imagine him with stubble too, until the author tells me he’s clean shaving. I’m six foot four, I have dirty blond hair, and greying sideburns as is every male lead of the books I read, until the author tells me otherwise. Continue reading A Question About Diversity in Fiction
I read a lot of non fiction, mainly social psychology books on the cutting edge of our understanding of the human condition. I’m interested in why we do what we do, why modern society still enjoys a public shaming, why we follow charlatans into oblivion, and why a certain segment of the population falls asleep after copulation. I consider these books general research materials. I don’t use them to inform any specific projects, but rather all of them. I read them before the conception stage and they educate my characters’ behaviors. Continue reading How to Keep What You’re Reading Out of Your Writing
A Big Difference Between Film and Fiction
In film we sympathize with characters that are introduced in vulnerable situations. In fiction we get to see that vulnerability underneath their skin. In film we judge characters by their actions. In fiction we get a broader sampling of information. In film a character’s charisma makes up for their shortcomings. In fiction a character’s rationality makes all the difference.
Characters in novels shouldn’t be burdened by the same like-ability standards as characters in films. Characters in movies have a few hours to get their motivations on screen. Characters in novels can slow time down to give us a play by play of their every thought. This is why villains in text tend to make more sense than their big screen counterparts. Continue reading Why the Best Characters Overshare
I’ve blogged at length about how a writer’s life experience can improve their fiction, but I haven’t written on how the reverse is true, how fantasy can improve a writer’s reality. If the responsibility of writing weighs you down use it as an excuse to go outside and do something.
A Life Worth Commenting On
In screenwriting class our professor had us keep a journal, a place to document our fears. It was not a diary. It was a tool for scene building, a method for adding authenticity to atmospheric descriptions. We were to venture into unknown territory and write about it, to find a place that put us on edge, where the adrenaline heightened our senses, so we could chronicle everything we felt. Continue reading How to Keep Writing From Weighing Your Life Down
The Case Against Editing as You Go
When I first started writing I scrutinized every paragraph the moment after typing. I counted the syllables so I could adjust for rhythm and flow. I checked my metaphors to see if they mixed wrong, I ran every verb through the thesaurus, and I dialed all my hyperboles back.
By the end of the day my word count hovered around the same number I’d started at. Sometimes it was in the negative. My effort to fine tune the perfect page kept me from finishing my stories. Continue reading How to Fix Your Story Without Going Back to the Drawing Board
How Architects Build Character Profiles
When I started screenwriting I discovered my characters as I wrote them. It was fun to meet them for the first time, but when I went back to edit their personalities had problems. They seemed less like themselves in the first scenes than they did toward the end. Their dialogue drew from stoic clichés in the first act. Their voices didn’t sound distinct until the third. I decided to take screenwriting courses to help fix the problem.
George R.R. Martins says, “There are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.” Continue reading How to Build Character Profiles… For Writers Who Hate Planning