The Confidence Arc

One of my favorite character stereotypes is the confident character.  Richard Campbell Gansey III, Dorian Havilliard, even Valerie Solomon from Tessa Gratton’s story on Merry Sisters of Fate.  There’s something about the character who has it all, who has an all-purpose mask they crafted for themselves over the years.  Of course, since we write crafted fiction, this mask never stays on.  Something will happen to tear it off, and there— that’s when you really enjoy the character.

Half of me wants to be such a character with such a mask.  Half of me just wants to write millions of those characters.  For the convenience of everyone, and especially me, here’s a step-by-step how-to on creating the confident character. Read the full post »

Romance and Friendship

Affection is the cornerstone of both romance and friendship.

Think about it.  Romance without affection is nothing.  Friendship without affection is two people hanging out together who have no reason to stick around each other.  Flirting without affection?  Basically just a cryptic argument.

Affection upholds both romance and friendship.  It’s the glue that keeps two or more people together even though one of them is Ronan Lynch or Tony Stark or Mr. Darcy.  Since both love and friendship deal with affection, we can manipulate both in the same ways.  Basically, a good friendship is two inches from being a romance.

You can use any romance plot line you find as a friendship plot line.  You can use any friendship plot line as a romance plot line.  And whatever you choose, someone will want to write a fanfiction based on the opposite choice.

Let’s look at a classic example: Pride and Prejudice vs. The Lord of the Rings. Read the full post »

Writers are the Best Speakers

When I was a little sprout, I joined a homeschool public speaking group.  I went every week, did all the assignments, and did my best to speak in public, as the class seemed to demand.  This was about three years before I began writing seriously, and while I had noodled around with fiction a couple times, it had never gone anywhere for me.  I was much more of a reader than a writer.

It showed.  I wrote essays and read them in class, calling it public speaking.  I wanted to be funny, but the speeches turned out boring.  I wanted to be enthusiastic, but the script never sounded as good as it did when I read it over.  I wasn’t a bad speaker, all in all, and I learned through the class, but I certainly wasn’t a good speaker.

Fast forward to this year, approximately five years later.  I’ve written seven novels.  This post is my 665th on this blog.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, I write a lot.  I’m sure you’ve realized that.  This year, I also took a public speaking class, because I’m interested in becoming competent in that area.  I can write for an audience, but I also want to speak to an audience— having that skill is important to me.  So I took the class.

I quickly discovered I was much better than I had been five years ago.  I’m certainly not perfect, but speaking comes almost naturally these days.  Stories flow easily.  When I write a speech, I can hear myself speaking it.  It doesn’t feel the same as something I’d publish here, or hand in as an essay.  Writing, I’ve found, doesn’t just help your writing.  It doesn’t just help your reading.  It helps everything you do that involves words. Read the full post »

The Equality Arc

We as readers like to be surprised, but not all at once.

Readers like to have expectations which are then turned on their heads.  I’m sure you know that.  That’s what plot twists are about, that’s what the gee-whiz factor of an idea is about.  We go into a book expecting one thing, and when we’re surprised, we get excited.

But not exactly.  We like to be blown-out-of-the-water surprised, in the sense that as far as we fly after the explosion, we’re going to land back in some water somewhere.  We don’t like to get blown-into-bitty-pieces surprised, or blown-into-outer-space surprised.  What do I mean by this?  We like to be surprised, but not all at once.

If you pick up a romance, read the first quarter, and decide that you’re enjoying it, that’s great.  If the beginning of the second half turns the romance into zombie apocalypse, it would be surprising.  It would also be blown-into-outer-space not okay.  You picked up the book expecting a romance.  You got a romance for about the first half.  Then it turned into a dark, raw horror story.  “Bill, you aren’t the man I fell in love with!  At first I thought you loved me for my personal charm and good looks, but it turns out you’re only after my brains!”

We like small surprises that subvert our expectations while still satisfying our desires.  That’s the basis of a good plot twist.  Even though the main character’s sister eloping with the local surgeon blows you out of the water, you’re still reading a romance novel— you land back in the water.

The same thing happens, in a character sense, with diverse characters. Read the full post »

Color in the Lines

I love colors.

Ha! I hear you say.  You, Liam, love colors?  You have often said your favorite color is grey (spelled just so).  Your blog has only the barest bit of red.  The same is true of your socks!

To which I blink, wonder how you got a view of my socks, and begin to explain.  I love colors because of the symbolism they allow.  In general, that means moods, but occasionally colors symbolize abstract concepts or objects.  Studies say colors can strengthen different moods, such as blue with calm or yellow with happiness.  (Personally, I link blue with asphyxiation and yellow with disgust, but that’s me.)  Depending on that sort of thing, a day care might have blue walls with bright, happy murals.  Hospitals are traditionally considered white, which brings to mind sterilization and all manner of pointy things.

Film thinks a great deal about color.  In movies and TV shows, the hint of color in a shot can grab the attention.  The lack of color (a black and white film) gives a very different feel to a story.  Use darkness to create the feeling of mystery or evil, use bright colors to indicate reality— or sometimes, a world outside of reality.  Costumes, sets, lighting, all have colors in mind.

I feel like books don’t use that enough. Read the full post »

Hang a Flag

In a lot of my posts, I spend about eight hundred words describing a process.  Sometimes it concerns character, sometimes style, sometimes whatever comes into my head.  I do my best to be as clear as I can— do this for this effect, do that for that effect.  If you do this and you’re looking for that effect, you’re going to be disappointed.  If I’m really clear about it, I give an example and explain several times.  Somewhere in that eight hundred words, however, I’ll add another hundred words of disclaimer (at least, if I’m smart): this will not work all the time.  This rule is not a law.  You can listen or ignore.

I always feel like that one paragraph undermines the entire post.  It’s like saying to a five-year-old, don’t stick your hand in boiling water— then adding, but you can if you really want to.  It turns out that yes, you can stick your hand into boiling water without getting burned (there are gloves for that).  Under the correct circumstances, you can get away with it.  But that five-year-old isn’t going to have the forethought to create those conditions.

Did I just liken all of my followers to a five-year-old?  I’m sorry, that’s not quite what I meant.  Here’s the thing, though: writing rules are never absolutes.  (Even this writing rule isn’t an absolute; I think I’m going to add a disclaimer at the end of the post somewhere.)  When I or anyone else says never to do something, or that this type of character development only works under these circumstances, it isn’t necessarily true.  There are always places where you can break a rule.

That said, here’s another rule: if you’re going to commit a crime, confess first. Read the full post »

The Walk-On’s Moment of Glory

Once in a while, you write a great story.  I know it doesn’t seem likely, but it does happen.  The plot is intricate, the setting spectacular, and the characters delicious.  And I’m not just talking about the main character.  This is a story you think could be told brilliantly from any angle.  Yes, Hans the Fairy Butcher has the best story of all of them, and you’re glad you chose him— but Gertrude the Animal Rescue Professional is almost as good, and even that unnamed androgynous janitor (you lovingly call him/her/it The Janitor) could carry the plot with some entertaining flair.  The side characters are wonderful.  So just for fun, you imagine rewriting the book, perhaps in a short story or novella, the way those characters saw it.

Examples: Parallel Perspectives (a short story Howard Tayler wrote to follow his book Massively Parallel), Ender’s Shadow (book by Orson Scott Card mirroring Ender’s Game— probably my favorite version of this, and the longest one I’ve seen), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, s3e13 or something like that.  While I enjoyed Parallel Perspectives, and Ender’s Shadow is brilliant, I’ll be focusing on the Buffy episode because that both inspired this post and did more work to be awesome than the other two combined.

In each of the three examples, the writers took a character who isn’t usually in the spotlight and followed them around through the plot of the story.  In Parallel Perspectives, there were several characters, each getting a couple pages of comics.  Ender’s Shadow got an entire book.  Buffy didn’t even use the same plot as another episode, but created two separate plots: the one the episode ought to follow and the one it actually followed.  Rather than treating Buffy as the main character and watching the characters figure out weirdness and then fight said weirdness, the episode follows Xander as he is ousted from the group for being simultaneously uncool and inept.  We don’t know what happens in the Buffy plot, so we have no clue what’s going to happen in the Xander plot, and it’s all great fun.  But the writers made it perfectly clear this story had to be told through Xander’s eyes.  Why?  Because Buffy’s plot was boring. Read the full post »

Spider-Blogger

Several funny things happened yesterday— not surprising, considering its April Fool’s Day status.  I usually don’t do anything for April Fools.  If it makes someone else feel bad or really confused, the prank isn’t worth it to me.  But April first was also a scheduled wrap-up day for the YAvengers blog.  Combine the two and what do you get?

I would encourage you to check out that wrap-up post.  March at YAvengers was about voice, mood, and style, and we wrote some pretty good posts.  (And the puns in the wrap-up alone…  I’m still cringing at myself.)  If the wrap-up doesn’t suit you, I’ve compiled Spider-Man’s Twitter takeover for you below.  Enjoy.

Read the full post »

And the Toaster Thought…

I read an article the other day about dialogue and blocking.  I have since lost track of it, but its premise struck me: dialogue in a narrative is not the same as dialogue in a movie.  It’s simple, but profound, and it’s something I often overlook since I experience stories so often through both film and book.

First off, a couple definitions.  Dialogue is the collection of words characters say— hi, how are you, where’s my cat, and so forth.  Blocking fills the gaps in the conversation, most notably answering this question: who is speaking right now?  The simplest blocking is a dialogue tag.  “Find me a stick,” he said.  “This is space, I don’t have a stick,” she replied.  But ending or beginning every line of dialogue with ‘[pronoun] said/cried/etc.’ can get boring.  As you seek to spice it up a little, or as your characters move while they speak, you can put action as blocking instead of a tag.  “By all my calculations, Sergeant Roberts actually needs a stick.”  The robot scratched its titanium head.  “Maybe a candlestick?”

In a script, for film or stage, blocking tells the actor what to do, what emotions they should portray.  Here a frown, there a shrug, perhaps now it’s time for a tango?  You see that blocking on the screen as you hear the actor’s lines.  The two are simultaneous.

Books, on the other hand, can never achieve that.  You can only write one sentence at a time— even if you break the sentence in two parts to put some blocking in, the words and the actions don’t happen simultaneously.  The reader’s imagination, however, fills this in.  Many times, in fact, I’ve read along and found myself imagining faces or gestures the character should be making, based on the words she was saying.  Because the writer didn’t want to chop up the character’s words, that blocking never saw the page.

My point is, the dialogue/blocking mix in film is different from the dialogue/blocking mix in books.  But the simultaneous stuff isn’t actually the thing.  Books and verbal storytelling have another advantage that movies cannot use effectively: the character’s actual thoughts and emotions. Read the full post »

Early Productivity

I know I haven’t posted a lot of writing tips lately, and I hope to get back to that soon, but today I’d like to focus on my second favorite topic of conversation: productivity.  Writing is great, and all these techniques are useful and fun, but it’s useless if you can’t sit yourself in a chair and do something.  Productivity gets your story written.  Productivity dies when you get writer’s block.  An enormous part of learning how to do art is learning how to be productive.

My life has a lot of deadlines in weird places through the day.  I might spend six hours of the day out of the house, driving, meeting people, whatever needs to be done.  In all that time, I am physically unable to produce.  Those hours are black holes that devour the three-second flashes of inspiration that come with menial work.  I might be ready to write in the middle of the drive home, but when I get there, that urge is gone.

Doesn’t it make sense, then, to make the time at home extremely productive, and the time away my recharging time?  I’ll think a bunch, talk to people, glean ideas from my surroundings, and come back ready.  But that means the time at home has to use that creative energy, or else it goes to waste.  I need to be productive when I have the opportunity, and allow myself to rest when I can’t be productive.

One cool thing about productivity is that it breeds productivity.  You’ve experienced it before.  You have an hour until you have to leave the house, and you haven’t done any work yet.  You sit down, put your hands to the keyboard, start forcing words out, and suddenly you’re flying along.  You look up and you have five minutes, but you’ve never typed faster.  If you had three more hours, you could get so much work done— but the deadline comes in the way.  Productivity breeds productivity.

But it’s hard, isn’t it?  You get all your other tasks done first and clear your schedule so you can write, but when you sit down to work, you start procrastinating. Read the full post »

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