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Monday, December 29, 2014

Resources for Writers, 2014

Last week I posted about the best books I found this year. Today, I'm listing all of the valuable resources I've found for writers this year. But first, I have a small announcement--I finally have an online alias! I've been wanting one for ages, but couldn't decide on a name I liked. So, it's now September C. Fawkes. I'll be switching the name of my blog over to it too. I'm switching the name on my Tumblr and Facebook. I had to get a new Twitter account, you can follow it here (I'll try to be more active on it than my old one, but no promises.) I've kept my profile picture the same to help with the transition.

Okay, here are this year's resources:

References for the Creative Process

Writers Helping Writers Thesaurus Collections

Last year I praised the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, a thesaurus that lists all kind of moods, and ways to show them in writing. It's totally brilliant, and I still use it several times a week.

Well, on their website, Angela and Becca have plenty of other writing thesauri in-progress that you can access for free:




Need help describing your character's physical attributes? Don't worry, the Physical Attribute Thesaurus lists basically every physical attribute:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best Books/Shows of the Year, 2014

I know people who read more than me. I know people I read way more than. Same goes for shows and movies. Whatever relationship I have with you in that regard, here are my top discoveries for the year. Please note that these aren't necessarily books and shows that came out this year, just books and shows I read or watched this year.

Top Reads

(In no particular order. With each of these books, I was thinking about them when I wasn't reading them, always a good sign)

Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson


Hero of Ages is the last book in the Mistborn trilogy, so I'd rather not give you a synopsis that spoils the other two books. All I want to say is that this is one of the most epic conclusions I've ever read ever. I don't think I've seen a conclusion to a series that was this epic since Lord of the Rings. Given, if you read more than me, you might disagree. Hero of Ages was fresh with surprises but with an ending that still ties everything together. The characters, world, history, and abilities are awesome. Definitely recommend this series for the high fantasy reader. The second book was just okay. The first was great, and the third was amazing. Read my review of the first book Mistborn here.


Monday, December 15, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Live Through (Writing Tip) + Conclusion


We’re coming to the end of my “A Writer’s Take on Trigun” post series. Thank you for all of the awesome comments and feedback. They mean a lot to me.

Here is one plotting technique to really get the feels of your readers. Figure out the absolute worst thing for your character, and make him live through it. I'm not talking about just physically the worst thing, but an event that rocks his identity, his emotions, and puts him through heck. For Vash, it's killing Legato. He can't live with himself with having done that.

The only reason, though, that it hits us in the guts is because of the all the work done in the set-up. Prior to that event, Vash spends the entire series protecting life, preaching to others the importance of saving everyone, and we see him go to great lengths to save criminals, innocents, bounty hunters, and enemies alike, because he believes no one has the right to kill another. He tries to save everyone.
So what is the worst thing that can happen to him?

Him killing someone.


How can he live with himself after that? Well, he can't really. He's tormented by it.

So think about the worst thing you can put your character through, and make sure to set it up appropriately for the strongest effect.

What I love about the example in Trigun, what I think kicks this technique up a notch, is that Vash's absolute torment comes from something he did, not something that was done to him. His worst suffering comes from his own actions. Really though, Vash killing someone? Genius.

It sounds like a simple technique, but it's a powerful one.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Knives, Part 2



So last time I mentioned that the Trigun series really revolves around a war of values and ideas. Knives' logic of survival and killing for self-preservation vs. Vash's morals of saving and caring for everyone.

Get this: Everything Knives does to Vash in the series is used to not only cause Vash suffering, but ultimately for Knives to prove his point: that you can't save everyone. If he can break down Vash's values, he can beat Vash. So we see all the situations Knives forces on Vash, putting him in circumstances that hit at Vash's morals hardest. Here are some:
  • Knives creates situations where Vash must risk injury and his own life to save people, like in the third-to-last episode, "Sin," when Midvalley is attacking humans, and Vash goes out of his way to block them, receiving personal injury.
  • Knives shows that even those Vash saves end up dead. He does this by killing those Vash cares for, and by even killing the Gung-ho Guns Vash spares, like Dominique and Monev. 
  • Knives mocks Vash's inability to save people by having characters like Caine and Midvalley commit suicide right before Vash's eyes. I mean, there is literally nothing Vash could have said to stop Caine or Midvalley. And because saving others is so important to Vash, he takes the death on as if it was his fault and mistake. He feels like a failure because he couldn't save Caine. And Knives wants Vash to believe that if Vash had died, these other people wouldn't have. (You can't save everyone.)
  • Knives plans to show how even Vash's friends will kill those closest to them. He does this by assigning Wolfwood to kill Vash. I really don't think Knives expected Wolfwood to succeed in beating Vash, but it would have added to Vash's torment to have Wolfwood try.
  • And finally, the closing act is to prove to Vash that even he has to kill to save others, and Knives does this through Legato. For Knives, it was imperative that Vash shoot Legato dead himself. It wouldn't have had the same effect if Legato had made him do it. Knives scores a goal in this because Vash does shoot Legato and he does it to save Meryl and Milly, driving home that "you can't save the butterflies without killing the spider" mindset.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Knives (Analysis and Themes)



(Knives--This character analysis is crazy.)

Origins

It's interesting how Vash and Knives grew up as twins in the same environment and how they turned out so differently. Where does Knives veer off course? I think most fans would say it happens when he kills a spider to save a butterfly--that's the first real manifestation of it--but honestly, it starts before that.

It starts when Commander Joey of the SEEDS ships explains why they were sent to find a new planet. Not only does he reveal the faults of the human race, but also their drive to survive, and he explains that they use logic to "make the smallest sacrifice they can think of at the time."

This wisdom sticks with Knives, we see, because he repeats the advice to Vash when Vash is crying. Steve told Vash "he's not human" (an insult Vash himself uses on Knives later). And when talking about the humans, Knives says, "Remember what Joey said? We have to make the smallest sacrifice we can think of at the time."

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: The Moriarty Method (Writing Tip)


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"The Moriarty Method" comes from the Sherlock Holmes stories. In them, we see that Sherlock is a genius sociopath who has super human capabilities when it comes to solving crimes. He's cool precisely because he's so exceptionally gifted. At the starting of his story, we get to see him solve case after case, but then someone shows up who is equal to or better than Sherlock: Moriarty.

His appearance takes the story to the next level.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Milly Thompson (Character Analysis)


Milly doesn't have the character growth the other main characters have, because Milly already has a good and stable head on her shoulders and a firm identity. But as the series progresses, we do get to see other aspects of her character. Honestly, Milly seems the most stable out of everyone. She never doubts herself. She's completely authentic,

One thing I love about Milly is how intuitive she is. We get another (surprise!) great contradiction with her character--she often gives the impression that she doesn't know exactly what's going on, but more often than not, she understands better than anyone, whether she realizes it or not.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Contradictory Goals (Writing Tip)






One writing technique that can breath some life into your story and also give you a whole bunch new story stuff to play with is giving your characters contradictory goals.

I've talked a lot about contradictions with Trigun--that's because the writer of it, Nightow, is great at them. Look at all the irony in his characters, their relationships, and roles. Ever since his protagonist, Vash, was a child, he's had contradicting goals. He wants to save the spider and the butterfly, which is impossible. If you cater to the spider, it will eat the butterfly. If you save the butterfly, the spider will die from starvation.

And yet, through most of Trigun, Vash is trying to save both. One of my favorite aspects of the movie Badlands Rumble, is that Vash is freaking running around trying to save criminals and innocents. He's trying to save an outlaw, the outlaw's victims, and the bounty hunters. What's funny about the outlaw vs. bounty hunter scenario is that those two kinds of people are literally trying to kill each other. And Vash is in the middle of everything trying to keep them safe. While also trying to keep himself alive.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Meryl Stryfe (Character Analysis)





Oh Meryl. . . people both love and hate her. I love her. Okay, maybe the very first time I saw the show, she wasn't my favorite in the first few episodes, but that's because I didn't understand her or her role. I think I do now. Out of all the Trigun characters, Meryl has the biggest contrast between what she feels and what she says, and I find that interesting. She also fulfills a pretty important role in the story.


I think the fact that Meryl was assigned to hunt down the most dangerous man on the planet says a lot about her capabilities and work ethic. Her tightly wound personality provides more opportunities for Vash to be humorous. She provides a nice foil for him. And one of the most important aspects of her as a character is that she embodies (almost) everyone's experience with Vash the Stampede. So many minor characters go through theses same stages.

For Writers: You might want to consider creating a character that embodies the average guy or girl (generally speaking). Sherlock had John Watson. John Watson embodies the average guy and as such, he helps us as an audience keep up and connect with the psychopath genius. Not every story needs an "every man" character, but if you're audience isn't connecting with your story or characters, consider creating one.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: The Quiet Battle





So in Trigun, we've been following this ongoing feud between Vash and Knives, which turns out to be a war over the whole human race. I feel like the only reason the human race has lasted this long on Gunsmoke is because Vash blasted Knives in July City, and Knives had to spend years regenerating from it. Knives' plan for the destruction of the human race was kind of put on hold; he's also upset with Vash about everything and wants to torment him, after all, that was what he was taught to do as a child from the SEEDS crew. They abused and tormented him, which is also partly why he wants to obliterate the whole human race.

So Knives wants to eradicate humans. Vash wants to save them, which is such a beautiful contradiction in and of itself, because if anyone is keeping count, Vash has been wronged way more times by humans than Knives has, or probably anyone for that matter. Vash is trying to save the very people who want to kill him. (I'm telling you, this series is pro at irony and contradiction!) He's like that literary Christ-like figure; he forgives them because they don't really understand the forces at work here. He also forgives them because of Rem's teachings, and he values them because Rem gave her life to save these people here. Rem had such an effect on Vash that if Rem values these people, Vash will too. Also, since she did give up her life to save them, keeping them alive and safe is like keeping Rem alive. If the human race dies, Rem dies in vain.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Nicholas D. Wolfwood





Walking Contradiction

Wolfwood is another walking contradiction. Let's look at the opposites he embodies to create a fascinating character.
  • Priest
  • Owner of an orphanage
  • Hero
vs.
  • Ace gunman
  • Believes men are closer to devils than angels
  • Isn't even sure if he'll be Saved
  • Has no problem killing when deemed necessary
  • Villain
Really, the whole concept of his character is embodied in his cross. It's a symbol of religion, of Christianity--he says it's so full of mercy--and yet we find out it's packed with guns, weapons of a hard life. That's Wolfwood.

Wolfwood looks like a priest and talks like a priest, but really, Vash, who is the outlaw, is more of a saint than he is. It's an interesting reversal. While Vash tries to save everyone's lives, Wolfwood's hired to kill others (in order to provide for the kids in his orphanage of course). Unlike Vash, Wolfwood doesn't believe every life can be spared. Vash is an idealist. Wolfwood is a realist. To him, In order to save and take care of those you love, you have to kill offenders. Really, it's the same view Knives has. You have to kill the spiders to save the butterflies--it's just repackaged in a more likeable character. (and frankly, this concept is repackaged throughout the series if you watch for it.)

The fact Vash can get away without killing spiders or butterflies bothers Wolfwood, not only because he sees it as naive and unrealistic, but because being around that belief system makes him feel worse about himself. He says that the more he's around Vash, the more he's reminded of everything he hates about himself. An outlaw makes a priest feel unholy. Beautiful contradiction.

For Writers: Remember that even friends and partners have conflicts and disagreements. You can create interesting dynamics in your story by looking at both the positive and negative of your characters' relationships. Wolfwood and Vash are friends, but they rub each other the wrong way, sometimes that's a vehicle for humor and sometimes it's a vehicle for theme and conflict and identity crises

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Vash the Stampede, Part 2



This post is part of a series I’m doing where, as a writer, I’m dissecting Trigun and its characters. We’re getting in deep into this story. Be prepared to freak out about what I found (that’s what I did). And if you're a writer, maybe learn some new storytelling skills along the way.


Character Arcs (Continued)


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Character Arc 3

Last time I talked about how Vash grows as a character by learning to be more proactive and independent.

But Vash grows in more ways than that. Another weakness he has is an ignorance of his own nature. It's even suggested that he might have a bit of a fear of it. He's not human; he's a plant, a powerful species engineered by humankind, but Vash doesn't fully understand what that means or what he's capable of. When Knives was a child, he didn't either. Unlike Vash, though, Knives embraces his nature and power, maybe because he grows to detest humans so much.

On the SEEDS ship, Knives finds Vash crying. Vash says he's upset because "Steve says we're not human," which shows Vash identifies himself as human. When the SEEDS ships crash onto Gunsmoke, Vash yells at Knives, "You're not even human," which again shows Vash thinks himself as human. Knives says, "Dang straight I'm not," showing that he strongly differentiates himself from humankind.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Vash the Stampede (Character Analysis)

This post is part of a series I’m doing where, as a writer, I’m dissecting Trigun and its characters. We’re getting in deep into this story. Be prepared to freak out about what I found (that’s what I did). And if you're a writer, maybe learn some new skill along the way.




One Charm of Trigun: Walking Contradictions


Remember when I did those posts on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood? I talked about how to create complex characters through contradictions by looking at Ed. Trigun creates a lot of interesting characters by giving them contradictions. I mean, just look at the protagonist, Vash the Stampede.
  • One of the best gunman on the whole planet
  • He has a $$60 billion bounty on his head
  • He's demolished two of the seven cities of Gunsmoke
  • He's an outlaw so dangerous, he's been dubbed a "natural disaster" in insurance policies.
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But he's also
  • A pacifist
  • A cry baby--probably crying more than any character I've encountered
  • He's never killed anyone
  • He's a lighthearted goof-off

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: What the Heck Vash plans to do with Knives After the Series



This post is part of a series I'm doing where, as a writer, I'm dissecting Trigun. We're getting deep into this story. If you're a writer, maybe you'll learn some new skills along the way.

What I love about Trigun is that it's one of those stories that changes every time I watch it. The best stories do that, because they're layered. You know, the kind where you catch onto something new the second time, the third time, the tenth time you watch it. Or the meaning of the story changes because you've changed.
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(And I'm not talking about noticing Abraham Lincoln.)

This time when I watched Trigun, I finally really caught on to and appreciated what the heck Vash planned to do with Knives at the end of the series. The show has a pretty open ending. I've always wished there was just one more episode, or even 15 more minutes. What do you do with someone as sadistic as Knives when your morals prevent you from killing him? When no jail is capable of holding him?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trigun Gush

The Trigun Giveaway is now Closed



This month I'm starting my writerly dissection of Trigun. So, if it's not your thing, feel free to ignore my blog for the next month and a half. If you're a writer, go write. November is National Novel Writing Month. But if you like Trigun, and I know some of you do, or if you still want to see a story dissected in a writerly fashion, prepare to be blown away. I was when I wrote these dissection posts. But I'm going to be honest, if you haven't watched Trigun, you're probably going to be lost. Unlike my other dissections, I'm getting in deep. I didn't really write these for a general audience. I wrote it for Trigun fans, and maybe writers who are familiar with the show.

Today, I'm just gushing, doing an intro, and giving you a rundown of how this is gonna happen, and talking about the giveaway. If you haven't seen Trigun and want to in order to follow along, you can find it on Netflix, or up for free on websites or on youtube. It's only about 26 episodes long. If swearing is a problem for you, I recommend watching the subtitled version.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"The Emotional Range of a Teaspoon": Your Characters' Spectrum of Emotions


(Listen to this tip on Youtube.)

For the last month and a half, I've been rearranging and revamping a whole sequence of scenes in my novel. Moving stuff up, pushing stuff back, deleting this, adding this, and while I wasn't surprised at the time and work it took to complete this revamp, I was reminded about how a great novel should all interlock. So, by changing and moving things, I have to change and revamp other parts. Not just on a plot level, but on a character arc level, on a thematic level, on an everything level.

But what did surprise me was how I had to rewrite the emotional level of my characters. In that alone, in a way, I felt like I had to rewrite each scene. Because I had changed and rearranged plot elements, my characters were in different moods for different scenes. They had different emotional arcs in my scenes than what they had before. So for each scene, I had to get deep into my character all over again to convey his or her emotional status for the scene. And of course, in a lot of scenes, a character's emotional status changes throughout it. On top of that, I've been trying to do deep and thorough character edits anyway, making even their body language distinct from other characters.

Like real people, characters should react to, cope with, and manifest their emotions in individual ways. If your character hears that someone ran over her dog, what is her emotional reaction? Is she mad? Sad? Shocked? Devastated? Happy? Annoyed? Why? How she reacts emotionally reveals character. To take it to the next level, you ask, how is she mad? Sad? Happy? Etc. Does she try to hold it in? Does she keep her angry thoughts to herself and say something completely different outloud? Does she scream every profanity she can think of? Is it a cold anger that leads her into calmly seeking revenge on the driver?

Monday, October 20, 2014

"You Can't Teach Writing"--Bullcrap



There is this lie that has floated around the writing world for centuries: "You can't teach someone how to write. They either have it or they don't." Today I'm going to talk about why that is a myth.

Recently I was looking up loads of quotes about writing. And some of them were amazing and inspiring. But some of them were ridiculous, puffed up with superiority and laced with eliticism. Even today, you honestly don't have to look far to find evidence of authors being held on pedestals, as something other-worldly, or elect. Sure, I've praised J.K. Rowling's writing talent to the high heavens, and maybe I'll joke about her being queen of writing, but sometimes this whole "writers are superior beings" thing is ridiculous. Sometimes the awe-someness of the writing world gets so blown up that people get led into believing that great writers are born select, and if that's the case, then no one can teach people to be writers, because they have to be born with it.

Here is just one quote I found the other week from some prestigious author: "You are either born a writer or you're not."

Don't believe it, not in the context that you have to born with some special ability.

Friday, October 17, 2014

NaNoWriMo Giveaway, Win 12 Writing Books

This giveaway is now closed.

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Hey guys, StoryBundle has a great bundle out for NaNoWriMo next month. If you aren't familiar with StoryBundle, they let you get six books from professionals and established writers for a minimum of $5 or 12 books for a minimum of $15 (you get to pick how much you want to pay). Some of the money is donated to charity.

The 12 books pictured above are all books about writing, from authors like the Writing Excuses Crew, Kevin J. Anderson, David Farland, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and others.

I happen to have some of these bundles to giveaway. To enter for a chance to win, like or share this Facebook post, like or reblog this Tumblr post, and watch my Twitter for a giveaway tweet. I have 5+ bundles to giveaway, so you have a good chance to win. In fact, the first person to comment on this blog post will win one too.

Alternatively, you can just purchase your own bundle over at StoryBundle.com/nano. They are awesome! Go support them. Thanks to them for the giveaways.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts (AKA I'm Gonna Tell You When, How, and Why to do Each)

Recently I finished a how-to writing book titled Showing and Telling by Laurie Alberts. Personally, I needed this book. I heard the adage "Show, don't Tell" so much in college that I felt guilty and crummy every time I Told something in my fiction. Yes, in college I was taught it was okay to Show eighty percent of the time and to Tell twenty percent of the time, but I still developed some sort of Telling complex.



So I read Showing and Telling to help me get over that. I'm still not cured, but I'm making headway. In this book, Laurie Alberts not only explains the basics of Showing and Telling, but goes through all the different types and when and how to use them effectively. The book is divided into three sections: scene, summary, combining scene and summary. 

In the first section, which is all about Showing, Laurie Alberts talks about the different types of scenes that exist, their structures, and Showing pitfalls, and tools you can use for an effective scene. 

In the second section, which is all about Telling, she goes over all the different purposes and types of summaries in creative writing, such as to provide background information (and she talks about how one background summary is more effective than another), to compress time, to explain actions that happen in general time, to alert the reader to repeated actions, to offer insight and reflection, to provide characterization, and the list goes on. How is one summary better than another? Laurie Alberts will tell you. She explains how to make your summaries so vivid that they feel like scenes.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Difference Between Being a "Beginning" Writer and a "Bad" Writer

First, I'd like to announce that Sesshyowl won my Attack on Titan giveaway. Yay! Thanks to everyone who entered. We had 1,673 entries! Don't forget about our Dr. Who giveaway happening now. Second, I saw this post about the difference between being a beginning writer and a bad writer on Shallee McArthur's blog and knew I wanted to use as a guest post on mine. So here you go.

I've been thinking a lot about writing, publishing, and how it all "works." For me, personally, I've been writing for years. And I'm going to be honest: it took a while for me to write anything that could be considered a good story. But here's the thing. That doesn't mean I was a "bad" writer when I started out. I was a BEGINNING writer.



Nobody listens to an eight-year-old slaughter Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the piano and says they're a bad pianist. They're learning. They're figuring out which notes are which keys, and which fingers go where, and how to play them smoothly, and quickly, and correctly. And that's wonderful.

Writing takes time. We start off slaughtering a semi-decent idea. And that's wonderful. Sure, it's no masterpiece. It's our first, or third, or seventeenth attempt, and we managed some words on paper that resemble a story. We learn about character development, and which plot points go where, and how to pace things and add emotion. When I look back on my early writing, I smile at myself-- not because I'm laughing, but because I'm proud of my beginning-writer-self.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Taking Something Old and Making it New: Edge of Tomorrow


When I saw Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise, I knew I wanted to do a review on it. If you haven't seen the movie I would advise you not to see any trailers or read any synopses etc. for it. In fact, you may not even want to read this review. Just go watch the thing (it comes out on DVD this Tuesday in the U.S.) because it will make the concept and little twists of the story that much more awesome--at least it did for me. Basically all I knew when I saw the movie was that it had Tom Cruise, it had to do with fighting aliens, and something with time. So when I saw the movie, I was blown away. But perhaps the best thing the film does is that it takes familiar concepts we've already seen (seen too many times) and finds a way to put a little twist on them to make them fresh. In this review, I'll try to talk about that without giving too many surprises away.

Okay, so Edge of Tomorrow is an alien invasion story. Another one. We've all seen multiple alien invasion movies, I'm sure. I can probably name at least five at any given time. This movie is an alien invasion story from a military stand point. Yup, seen those before. All those movies usually happen in New York or L.A., New York or L.A. Well, the first refreshing thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that it takes place in Europe, so already we have a fresh setting to play with. The opening war scene happens on a beach in Europe. Okay, I haven't seen that before.

The next thing that struck me was the protagonist. Over the last several years, I've been thinking about how all the protagonists I've seen are brave and self-sacrificing--wonderful qualities to have, and there's a reason main characters have those qualities, but those traits are feeling a little old to me. I loved that. for once, the protagonist in Edge of Tomorrow was a straight up coward who only wanted to save himself.



It can be dangerous introducing a character on those terms, because it usually makes the character unlikable for the audience. We don't like rooting for people who are cowards and self-focused, but Tom Cruise was so convincing that I could feel the fear of his character enough to have empathy for him. But really, one of the reasons the writer got away with showing off these negative traits at the beginning is because Tom Cruise is immediately and quite literally forced onto a battlefield. He's a fish out of water. He doesn't know how to fight, but he has to in order to survive--and he has a very strong drive to survive.

In fact, the opening of the movie was more engrossing and more thrilling because Tom Cruise was an inexperienced coward. He has no clue how to use the military weapons. He doesn't know any of the other soldiers. He's an American caught up in European army. And he's thrust into a battle on the beach against impossible aliens. He can't even figure out how to get the safety off his weapon to defend himself.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dr. Who Giveaways: Defeat Daleks when Washing Your Hands, Travel through Time by Wearing this Ring


As promised, our Dr. Who giveaway is here! There are two prizes (in other words, two winners!) because I'm teaming up with James Duckett for this one. Follow us, like us, all that good stuff for a chance to win. James is a cool friend of mine and a writer too, so check out his blog.

You can win these awesome Dr. Who soap bars, a Tardis and a Dalek. (Please note color of soap may vary somewhat.) Or you can win a Tardis ring*, so you can travel through time wherever you are (it's bigger on the inside). 

Unfortunately, we can only afford to ship these items in the U.S. But don't forget, I still have my Attack on Titan giveaway happening, and that one is international. So if you haven't entered, and you want to, go here. (Winner for that one will be selected Oct. 10th.)

Enter the Dr. Who giveaway by using this rafflecopter. Enter now! Tell all your friends!! Climb in your time machine, go back five minutes, and enter again**!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Smaller print: 
*The winner of the ring will need to send us your ring size, because this will be especially crafted for your finger by the talented 3D printer-er, Joseph Larson. 
**Multiple submissions will require proof of ability to time travel, which you can email to us a year ago today… just so you know, we already know who is eligible. 

By the way, when I started prepping for this giveaway, I hadn't actually seen Dr. Who, I just decided to do the giveaway because that's what fandom my followers wanted. Now, I've seen three episodes. You can thank James for introducing me to two of them. I liked them. I'll definitely have to watch more.

Lastly, Trigun giveaway is still on the horizon, if you are a fan of that series.

Thanks for following!

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Pick the Right Character Names

(Listen to this tip on Youtube.)

sabryth said: I can't for the life of me get my character's names right. I have two main characters and I just can't find satisfactory names for them. Do you have any tips on how to find the right names?

(with examples from Harry PotterThe Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Trigun, Divergent, How to Train Your Dragon, and more.)

Hmmm, names can be tricky. Setting and origin is an important factor. If I lived in China, my name might be "Li Ming Fan." Names like "Alohilani Smith" suggest a mix of ancestral heritage or perhaps the character's mother is Hawaiian and the father American. I have one friend who has a Native American name and she's super pale, yet she has Native American blood, so you could even play around with things like that to make your character a little unique.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Maze Runner Movie--Win or Fail?


The Maze Runner book by James Dashner was one of my top three reads last year, and I knew about the movie and went to a couple writing classes from Dashner at a conference (he's a super nice guy) way before that, so needless to say, I've been waiting for this movie for a while. At the writing conference, Dashner was fun to hear from because it was just after the movie started production, and he was way excited about it. He was very positive and a bit passionate, and I loved hearing that come out of him.

But when I heard that 20th Century Fox was adapting The Maze Runner movie, I said, "Heck no!" I will never forget what they did to this adaptation:



I still talk about how much I hate the Eragon movie often. Other times I forget it even exists because it was so awful.

But The Maze Runner movie? I loved it.

Does it deviate from the book? Yes. But it was more similar than different. It hit the same points and they had the overall concept of it down. And the changes they did make didn't irk me hardly at all. But one of the best things about the movie, is that it evoked almost all the same emotions in me that the book did. I was immediately sucked in and felt it all--fear, dread, morbid curiosity, disgust.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Are You a Passive or Active Audience Member?

You'll have to thank my brother for my blog post today, because he pointed out to me that there are two different ways to watch a movie or t.v. show (or, I'll add, read a book)--actively or passively. And honestly, I think a lot of people are passive.

Since movies, t.v. shows, books, and games tend to be something people wind down to or a means to cope with stress, we sit back and relax and simply let those mediums entertain us. We're being spoon-fed a story. We're letting the story take us on it's little ride. We might miss some minor details of the plot, setting, or characterization, but we get most of the story. Being a passive audience takes no effort.



A passive audience member isn't necessarily bad, but an active one is better, particularly for writers. Active audience members are constantly consciously putting themselves in the story. They are participating in it, actively looking for the fine details, that little snippet of dialogue that implies why a character is a certain way, exactly why that fighting maneuver worked or didn't. They will come up with questions and actively listen or watch or read for the answers. They will make fine-tuned predictions and have little questions about the characters' world. They will find the minuscule plot holes, not just the blaring ones. They will pick up on the gestures a character makes and what they mean.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why We Get Writer's Block (and How to Overcome it)

(Listen to this tip on Youtube)

whendaylightstrikes said: So when you have writers block, how do you deal with it?


No, really though, so far I've found six reasons we get writer's block.

A Lack of Brainstorming
Usually when I get writer's block, it's because I haven't brainstormed enough. I'm stuck because I don't know what to do next. That's when I stop and have a few brainstorming sessions to get the ideas flowing. If you're having a hard time with your brainstorming, you could try brainstorming with someone, another friend or writer. He or she may have different ideas than you and one of them might spark. You might need to brainstorm more plot, a new character, or a new setting, depending on what you're stuck on.

The Wrong Turn
I've heard other writers say that if you get writer's block, it means you've taken a "wrong turn" with your story, and you need to go back a few pages to figure out where you strayed. Maybe you got writers' block because you sent your character to a Vegas hotel, so you go back and realize she really needs to go to a circus instead, or maybe you realize she fell in love with the wrong person, and she really needs to fall in love with the cowboy, not the police man.

Writing into a Corner
Sometimes you can get writer's block because you've written your character into a corner. Maybe you've had a kidnapper tie her up and you can literally think of no way she can get out of the situation. In that case, you may need to go back and rewrite the story so she doesn't get that stuck.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Writing (Magical) Items: Weapons, Attire, Potions,Tools, Steeds



I used to loathe the idea of having to research things like weapons for my fiction. It's just not something that interested me. I'd rather just say "he had a sword," or "she pulled out a gun," and get back to the plot and characters. But I know some items, especially if they are important to the main characters, should be specific, should have names technical or given. Then one day this part of the writing process came alive for me when I applied The Legend of Zelda to it.

I don't consider myself a "gamer," but there are some games that I fangirl over and have played with a deep love. Zelda is one of those. I haven't played all of them but several. One of the coolest parts about The Legend of Zelda, is that Link, the protagonist, acquires all these wicked weapons during the course of the game. They're unique. They're personalize. They're awesome. Once I married my love for Zelda with writing, I finally gained an understanding of and appreciation for characters' items.

Whether you write speculative fiction, like fantasy and sci-fi, or stick to the real world, you can get something out of this post. Even if your characters' items aren't Magical they can still be "magical," and should be. In this post I'll be talking about how to take your characters' items to the next level, what makes an item a good one, and how to use an item well in your story. But first, lets talk about the different kinds of items your character might have, both fantastical and realistic.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Attack on Titan Giveaway (Pick Your Prize!)

This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Sesshyowl for winning! She picked the cape:





Way excited to announce my Attack on Titan giveaway, where you get to pick one of nine prizes! You have several opportunities to enter. (You must be a friend/follower to win)

Like or share the giveaway post on Facebook. Do both to enter twice. (Make sure when you share that it's set to "public" so that I can see that you shared it.)


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Comment on this blog post (must be a follower of this blog)

If you win, you get to pick from these prizes:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Plotting Tool: Death by Surprise



Today I'm bringing you a plotting technique I call "Death by Surprise," and it works as a great pinch to your readers. It can give them a twinge of suspense, shock, dread, and sorrow all at once. It works like this:

Your character is battling his way through your story, facing villain, monsters, or whatever kind of obstacles you are throwing his way. Then something out of the blue actually inflicts a fatal wound to him. It's something the character (and maybe the reader too) never saw coming. The intensity of this plotting technique comes from the shock and surprise the character has as he realizes, he's come so far only to die from this.

Let's look at examples to see some different ways "Death by Surprise" can be done.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Talent (like You've Never Seen Before)


When I first started this journey down the art path, I never thought I would hear the words, “Oh, you are so talented.” Because honestly, I started at the rock bottom. Right where anyone starts. 
- M. M. Shelline


I asked one of my closest, lifelong friends if I could share her story of becoming an artist on my blog, because just about everyone needs to hear it. The above picture is where her art skills were at the starting of her journey. It's a self-portrait. The below is another self-portrait, drawn just one year later.


The pictures alone testify that we can improve our skills no matter where they are, or where we feel they are. Here is her story (bolded by me for emphasis):

Monday, August 25, 2014

How to Brainstorm Better, with Plotting Tools



If you grew up like me, you were taught to brainstorm by just writing down whatever comes to mind. You sit down with a blank piece of paper and wrack your brain for ideas. There are a lot of instances where this is perfectly fine, and I know it works for people. But other times, brainstorming this way can be vague, nebulous, and not that productive. You might produce stories that are. . . lacking. They might be cliche or just so-so. I didn't know until the last year or two that you could actually, truly improve how you brainstorm.

Back when I would brainstorm the nebulous way, I'd just start throwing out ideas--whatever came to mind--without much of a direction. I'd just try to come up with something out of nothing, or tap into my subconscious. But now I know better. For me at least, I brainstorm better with a little structure.

In a book titled Steal like an Artist, Austin Kleon, the author, states that creativity comes about best when we give ourselves limitations; "It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom." The example he gives is that Dr. Suess was challenged to write a book in fifty or fewer words. He penned Green Eggs and Ham, now one of the most popular children's book. When we set limits, we give ourselves a little more direction with our creativity. The problem with the nebulous way of brainstorming is we can do anything, go any direction; there aren't restrictions or guidelines, so brainstorming that way is too vast.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Empty Threats

Sometimes when I'm reading a novel or watching a show, the writer throws an empty threat into it. In a novel I was recently reading, a love triangle develops, but I knew from day one that the protagonist was going to stay with her first love. Yet, the author dragged me about this awkward love triangle for the majority of the book. It was still interesting, but it lacked stakes, it lacked intensity because I knew nothing big would come out of it.

The story might have been better if the author actually threatened with something I believed could happen. Often empty threats in a story mean missed opportunities to write something that really digs into the reader's emotions.

It's like parenting kids. If you don't follow through with your threats, then the kid stops believing in them. The threats have no effect. But if you follow through with those threats, they work.

In writing, it's not required to follow through with all of your threats. But don't be afraid to follow through with a lot of them. Then readers know you're not afraid to do so, and they really don't know how the story is going to play out. The stakes are real. Will Joseph die? Will Kristin choose Jack over Stephen? Even if Joseph doesn't die, the threat doesn't feel empty, because the readers know you're not afraid to kill him.

But if you keep threatening to kill people, and you never do, then it can lose its effect.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Level-up Your Writing with Epic (Literally) Music




I did not know that "Epic" was, in actuality, a real genre of music, until I ran into a playlist of it on youtube. And oh-my-gosh it makes everything epic! Listen to it and your motivation to write will increase 50%. Your concentration when you write will increase 50%. (Do I even need to add it's super effective?)

I haven't been interested in doing a post on writing to music, because it's been done so many times. And frankly, unless it's J.K. Rowling, I don't really care what people are listening to when they write. I care about what I listen to, and I'm assuming most people are the same way. But this stuff--I had to share it, because it really made that big of an impact on me. And I've made a playlist of my favorites for other writers to listen to.

First off, some of you might be wondering what epic music is. You know all those awesome movie trailers where there is crazy cool music playing? And it gets you all pumped or all sentimental for the movie? That is epic music. The music used on trailers is not even from the movies' soundtracks. It's made by companies who specialize in making trailer scores. That's what they do.

Go here and start this playlist to hear some while you read the rest of this post.

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Get a Job in the Writing World


How do you get a job in the writing world? Either working for best-selling authors like yourself, or having your book published or anything relative to the writing career path? (Name withheld)


The writing world can be so versatile that it really depends on your goals. I hate to say this, but networking can be a big help. I got my job, in part, because I knew my boss’s wife and kids. Today, you don’t even have to network in person. You can meet people in the writing field online. Look for internship opportunities. I did three internships in college and not only did they look good on a resume, they gave me skills I would later use in my job today. If you can afford it, don’t be afraid of doing cheap labor—it can lead to better jobs later.


While you don't need an English degree for most writing jobs, pursuing one will not only make you a better writer and a more respected professional, but can open doors to career-related opportunities and experiences. If you do pursue a degree, it's helpful that you have a career plan in mind. Because an English degree can be so versatile, a lot of people graduate and then don't know what to do with it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What I've learned about Writing Action Scenes

With examples from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, DBZ, and Die Hard.




I came to the realization last year that I didn't really know much about writing action or fight scenes. I knew some basic things like how you should keep your sentences short and use words with few syllables (that gives the scene a fast pace), how you need to make sure your action sequence is realistic, how you shouldn't give a blow-by-blow description because that gets boring. I took Tae Kwon Do as a teenager, so I do know a little about fighting people. I'm also a pretty good shot with a gun.

But I wanted to know more. I wanted to dig deeper

I wondered, what really makes an action scene great? What makes one better than another? What makes one bad? Not in the writing style, but in the content itself.  Are there cliche action scenes? Is it bad to use one? How do you improve an action scene?

I didn't know.

I asked people for references, blog posts, books, something, about writing great actions scenes. I couldn't find a book, and most people couldn't give me much guidance. But my friend James went out of his way to find a few sources for me, like this podcast from Writing Excuses, and a blog called Grading Fight Scenes, and he did his own podcast on the subject with author C. Michelle Jefferies.

But I wanted more. (I get kind of obsessive about writing.) I wanted to develop an eye for writing action scenes myself.

So I decided to start studying instead of just reading or watching action scenes.

And I quickly ran into my first problem.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Editing with the Elrics: Closing Remarks + Giveaway Winner + Giveaways to Come



Over the last month I've been giving out writing tips pulled from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while having an FMA pocket watch giveaway. First, I would like to say, there is plenty more going on in that story than what I've covered. I'll be talking more about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in the next couple of posts (like one I'm doing about writing action scenes), but since I'm talking about writing in general and pulling from other stories, I'm not including those in my "Editing with the Elric" series. I'll just be referring to FMA for extra examples.

I'd also like to point out that I'm new to the Fullmetal world (saw it for the first time this year), so I wasn't able to go as in depth with the story as I would have liked. Someday I'd like to dig deeper to see exactly how it works. It's definitely one of the best written stories I've encountered.

What's to Come?


 


For at least a month, I'll be doing some general writing/reading/life posts, but I have been working feverishly on another story dissection like this. One word: Trigun. And that's one show I've probably seen a million times--so these posts are deep. I mean like, it's crazy the stuff I found when I started pulling that story apart. If you're a fan of the show, you're gonna eat it up. If you're a writer, you might learn something new.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Editing with the Elrics: Sacrificing What You Want Most




So I've been discussing some lessons I learned from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Here is another plotting tool/technique/method that hit me right in the gut--if done right, it can be really powerful emotionally for your audience. But this post does contain a spoiler, so if you plan on actually watching or reading Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, you'll want to finish it before you read this.

Alright, so I mentioned last Monday that one of the main characters, Alphonse, doesn't have a body. The laws of alchemy require equivalent exchange--you give something to gain something. One of the things Al gave up accidentally during an alchemical transaction was his own body. Ed is missing an arm and a leg. The protagonists' goals for the whole story is to get their bodies back to normal. It's a quest they've been on for years. It's a quest we go on with them for over 60 episodes. They scour the field of alchemy to find a way to do it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Editing with the Elrics: Making Background Characters Pop Out

Don't forget I have my Fullmetal Alchemist pocket watch giveaway going on. You must be a follower to win. 


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  • In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, there are kind of two main characters. And there are kind of not two main characters. The show follows the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers on a quest. What I found interesting though, is that for the opening episodes of the series, Alphonse ("Al") as a character is defined by what he isn't, instead of what he is. Even more interesting, he's defined by Ed's character.

    Ed, who is really the protagonist here, is loud, hot-tempered, driven, and a talented alchemist. You get that Ed and Al are kind of a tag team, but only because they're going everywhere together. Really, Al is kind of a background character (to begin with). Mostly, we know him by what he's not. He's not loud and hot-tempered like Ed, and he's not as talented of an alchemist. He's not a state alchemist like Ed. Sure, he can pack a punch, alongside Ed.




    Long backstory short, Al doesn't have a real body. His soul is bound to a suit of armor as a consequence of alchemy gone wrong. That's interesting. But he's in that suit of armor because of Ed.  The only real attention Al gets in the opening episodes is because people mistake him as Ed.

    I haven't seen a character so defined by someone else and by what he is not. I think that's why it took me a while to learn to love Al. At first, I kind of felt like he was just there to foil Ed. That made me think about how we as writers can likewise define our characters by what they are not and by who they are with. Maybe we should look at that more.

    Here's an example that comes to mind (hope you don't mind the Trigun references, but I've been rewatching it, so it's fresh on my mind), in Trigun, Vash lives in a world where it's normal for people to kill other people. As an audience, by seeing others kill and hurt people so casually, it's easy for us to see what Vash isn't. He's not a killer. I think a lot of writers don't think about defining what their characters are not. Something to consider.

    Anyway, I fell in love with Al by the end of the series, and I realized that's because I felt like I didn't get to see his real strength and talent until later. Frequently the characters were in situations that favored Ed's talents and abilities, and since Ed and Al are opposites, that often meant situations where Al didn't get to show off his strengths.

    It's really not until Ed and Al go their separate ways that we see what Al can really do. And it's awesome. That's when I started to love him, because that's when I started to really get to know him.