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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Value of Shock

Shocking Your Readers the Right way for the Right Reasons

Sometimes as a writer, you might want to make your readers uncomfortable or shock them. Here are some reasons why—

  1. You want to leave an impression on your readers
  2. You want to inspire a change of heart, perspective, or action from your readers. Or simply increase their awareness of a specific issue.
  3. You want to illustrate, realistically, how a particular situation is.
  4. Just for sake of it, for effect.

Number four is usually referred to as “gratuitous”—it’s there for the sake of it. It doesn’t add to the story. It doesn’t further the plot. It’s just there.

One example that comes to mind is the first Transformers movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent movie, but it has gratuitous content: a random sexual conversation about the protagonist…having his own private time in his room, senseless swear words, sexual objectification of Megan Fox. To me, I felt like this kind of content was just put there for the sake of it (or to make sure the movie got a PG 13 rating, heaven forbid it got a PG rating, then no one would take it seriously, right?). None of this really added to the theme or plot of the movie.

Honestly, what girl sticks her rear-end out and curves her back that much when she's looking under a hood?

Many writers, (including myself,) consider gratuitous writing, bad writing.

Let’s look at an example that isn’t gratuitous. Although shocking and horrific, the content of The Hunger Games is there for thematic purposes. The loudest point of the books is that we shouldn’t have an entertainment industry like the Capitol’s—one that glorifies violence. The series illustrate how under the guise of “entertainment,” evil acts can become acceptable ones. (It's a worldly truth.)

Collins shocks her readers to get her point across. It worked on me. I think twice about the “entertainment” I choose, and the story made me want to change our entertainment industry. Collins’ message wouldn’t have been conveyed as well if her readers didn’t actually witness the atrocities of Panem. The bloodshed had a purpose to the story.

Another example that uses shocking content to good effect is Tadeusz Borowski’s short story “This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen,” which takes place at a Death Camp during the Holocaust. Was the content put there for the sake of it? No. The author includes it to illustrate, realistically, what happened—he would know, he was there. The story increases readers’ awareness of the events that took place in our history.

(Note: a lot of “worldly truth” stories contain shocking content that is thematic as opposed to gratuitous. A lot of “deceptive” stories contain content that is gratuitous.)

There are writers and readers who don’t want any shocking content, and stories that don’t need any. That’s perfectly fine.

A Thin Line—Pulling Back

If you decide your story needs shocking content, you walk a fine line. For a writer, the challenge comes from making the content jolting enough that it fulfills reasons one through three above without making it so shocking that it drifts into reason four, because you can overdo it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Covenant by Paul Yoder

One of my college buddies Paul Yoder has a new book out called The Covenant. I had the opportunity to work with Paul on a few writing assignments back in the day, and we also participated in the same writing group. Here are four words that I would use to describe Paul: chill, gamer, open, and nonjudgmental. I've never known Paul to "think less" of others, and I thought it was neat that he was never afraid to ask questions in college. I enjoyed working with him because he's low-stress.

What is The Covenant about?

The Covenant follows the story of a college professor who becomes suspicious of another professor being a kidnapper. After following him after work one day, his suspicions are confirmed, and he becomes swept up in pursuit of his fellow professor, following him to an underground cultist den, which is a large renovated 1940’s bomb shelter. The protagonist, Dr. Carver, in his attempt to rescue the kidnapped kid, runs into all sorts of trouble, dealing with everything from possessed zealots to trapped and tortured animals that the cult keeps caged down in this underground facility.

If you want to buy The Covenant, please consider purchasing it May 24th or May 25th for Paul's book bomb. It will help boost its ranking. You can get it for just $2.99 right here.

Tell us about yourself.

As a teenager, I knew what I wanted to be: a writer.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Limitless: What Authors do to their Characters

When Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer released, my friend and I discussed that someone should die in the last third, to make the story more interesting. But I think, somewhere, a part of me knew it wouldn’t happen. Meyer doesn’t kill good guys in the Twilight saga. Sure, Harry Clearwater has a heart attack, but I mean killing characters fans are emotionally attached to, like Alice, Emmett, or at least Seth. I’ve wondered if Meyer liked her characters too much to kill them.

In contrast, when I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Runelords by David Farland, I found myself questioning whether the authors loved their characters much at all. In The Hunger Games, characters not only die, but are burned, poisoned, tortured, have limbs amputated, are forced into prostitution, and even brainwashed. Young, old, male, female, likable, unlikable, good guys, bad guys, named, nameless all suffered at Collins’ hands. Likewise in The Runelords, a stunning princess turns hideous, a stately King becomes mentally handicapped and can't even control his own bowels, and often strong, intelligent people are reduced to insanity and then murdered.

Sometimes in these novels, as a reader, I felt the authors had no limits. And I was scared. What could possibly happen next? Was anyone safe? Would the King ever regain his status, or was he doomed to die in his own filth? I had to read to find out.

Not all stories need to be as limitless as The Hunger Games and The Runelords to be good stories and to keep people reading, but notice that what Collins and Farland did added more tension to their novels. Also note that early in their stories, they let the reader know that nothing is safe. So as a reader, you have the whole series to worry.

And of course, putting your characters through heck doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t love them or that you harm them senselessly. J.K. Rowling loved all the “good guys” she killed. In New York she said she hated writing a particular death scene for The Casual Vacancy, but felt it had to be there for thematic purposes. Collins and Farland didn’t harm their characters for the sake of it either. In their cases, their characters’ ailments came with the backdrop of the story—horrible things happen in the worlds and societies their protagonists live in.

Should Meyer have killed a likeable character in Breaking Dawn? Maybe not in the way we would see in The Hunger Games or The Runelords—the Twilight story didn’t call for it. But perhaps a different death or misfortune may have fit and added tension.  Or maybe I’m just twisted and like to see characters suffer and die. Or both.

Whatever the case, when we write, perhaps we should consider what our stories’ limits are and how early to alert our readers to them. Giving your reader a heads up not only makes them worry and adds tension, but if anything horrific is going to happen to a main character, they need a warning.  Our readers grow attached to our characters, and if we do something awful to the protagonist without any kind of foreshadowing, they’ll feel betrayed.

(Imagine, for example, if in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the main characters was suddenly hit and killed by a random car. Readers would say "Hey! That's not what I signed up for! I wanted a happy ending!" That incident doesn't fit with the limits the story set up.)

Thoughts? Do you like reading limitless books? Can you think of anymore examples?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Glipho: What it is and Why I Love it

Glipho is a new social media site specifically geared toward bloggers and writers. If you're like me, you just thought another social media site? How many of these does a person need?  That's exactly how I approached Glipho, but I had to give it a decent chance because I was asked to check it out for work.

And I fell in love with it.

I've been on Glipho a little more than 3 weeks. And I already have 122 followers. Of course, there is more to social media than followers. . .

Appearance and Feeds

Glipho basically looks like Pinterest, but instead has blog posts. They have a trending writer section and a trending post section. And you don't have to be the most popular person to be featured as a trending writer, which is nice.

Users have three feeds on their homepage. One feed shows the posts done by those we follow. One feed shows all posts published on Glipho. And the last one, the feed that really makes Glipho different than other social media sites, shows every post on topics you follow. For example, if I follow the topic "Writing Tips" every post published by anyone that falls in that category will appear on that feed.

So, if I write about Harry Potter, then whoever is following Harry Potter will see that post. This feature helps people with the same interests find and follow each other. And it helps users connect with the right audience.

The People

On Glipho, I'm reaching different people than those I have on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog. All of the users have been polite, supportive, respectful, and just downright kind. There's no gnashing teeth or destructive attitudes. I've never found a social media site with people like this. I've already befriended dozens of writers, and readers.

The team behind the site is also very helpful and willing to answer others' questions.


Glipho is still in beta (it's only been around for a few months), so it's not completely polished yet.

I'd like to see a badge or box of some sort that I can code easily into my blogger blog someday.

So How Many Social Media Sites Do We Need?

I don't know. But if you are a writer, never spend more time on social media than writing. True, social media can help your writing career, but it can only help so much. The most important part of your writing career are the stories you write, not how many tweets you've tweeted.

Pick a few favorite social media platforms and stick with those. Glipho just happens to be one of mine. (And if you are already blogging, it just takes a few extra minutes to post the same post there.)

You can check out my Glipho profile here. Or check out Glipho's homepage.

Someday I'm going to do a blog post (or rant) about social media in the writing world and how important or unimportant (time wasting) it is.

Let me know if you try out Glipho.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint

Reads for Fiction Writers

I got this book from my sister-in-law Shallee McArthur, who told me she loved it.

I did too.

This is a must-have for every fiction writer.

When I first cracked open the book, I found myself reading a lot of info that I already knew... but then Kress delved deeper into characters, emotions, and viewpoints and illuminated aspects of each that I had never thought of.

The book leads writers through the process of creating a character and provides a diagram along the way:

Backstory --> personality/character traits --> wanting something (motivation) --> emotion (felt inside) + emotion (displayed outwardly)

Here is a little statement that sums the diagram up somewhat:

“Backstory creates personality/character, which in turn creates motivation, which causes your characters’ emotions.”

Kress outlines how characters talk about and show (or hide) their emotions. She examines instances where characters are straightforward about their feelings or deceptive about them. And she teaches how to write for both situations.

Kress also delves into complicated characters—how to create them and how to show your readers their complexity. She categorizes characters based on their motivations and changes. Often as writers we hear that we should have a character that has a goal and that during the novel, that character works to achieve this goal. It’s straight forward; it's simple.

But Kress takes this concept further. She explains there are—

1. Characters whose motivations don’t change during the story, and they don’t change either. They are still the same person by the end of the story, give or take.
2. Characters whose motivations change, but they don’t.
3. Characters whose motivations don’t change, but they do.
4. Characters whose motivations change, and they change also.

Monday, May 6, 2013

2 Types of Truth in Fiction: Do You Know Which One You are Telling?

(Listen or watch this writing tip on Youtube)

Did you know there are two types of truth in fiction?

Whatever stories we write include statements about the world, whether or not we want them to. Brilliant authors use theme to their advantage; they use story as a means to tell others about poverty, slavery, love, and courage. Less attuned authors, on the other hand, might imply messages unintentionally. Stephenie Meyer, for example, has been ridiculed for presenting females as weak and dependent, although she never meant to. I happen to like Twilight, but the arguments are legitimate.

Writers, like other artists, use fiction to tell truths.

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are, but our choices,”
“Sometimes it is harder to follow than it is to lead,” 
"to hurt is as human as to breathe,” 
“Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life,” 
“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart,”

are all truths writers have penned. But there are different kinds of truths. Some truths are steady and consistent while others are more subjective or relative.

When it comes to the arts, I see two kinds of truths: the Absolute Truth and the worldly truth. (Please note that when I say “worldly” I mean “of the world” without the “wicked” connotation.) The Absolute Truth is comprised of eternal, ideal teachings—love conquers all, be true to yourself, never give up—and presents us with how life should be. The worldly truth is comprised of teachings that hold true in the imperfect world we live in—feed and entertain a people to make them lose political power, sometimes the oppressed grow more ruthless than the oppressors—and presents us with how life is.

Both truths are important. Both truths are powerful. Lord of the Rings can inspire me to press on during trials just as effectively as The Hunger Games can provoke me to reevaluate our entertainment industry. Here are some points I use to define Absolute Truth and worldly truth, with some pictures for examples.

Absolute Truth

Characters rewarded for choosing the right and enduring to the end

Good overcomes evil

Uplifts and encourages

Inspires others to be better

Worldly truth

Illuminates one's understanding of the world

Increases awareness of issues in the world

Sparks reflection and incites worldly changes

Leaves audience "sadder but wiser"

Sometimes, these truths can overlap. In Les Miserables, for example, Jean Valjean witnesses worldly truths while seeking Absolute Truth. The worldly truths are evident in the poverty and lack of freedom the characters' experience, while the Absolute Truths appear in the themes of mercy, redemption, and love. This works well in Les Miserables partly because in the end we follow the characters beyond death, bringing both the worldly and Absolute truths to a satisfying close.

But what about stories that don’t tell truths? Unfortunately, they exist. And they’re dangerous because under the guise of entertainment, they deceive us. . .

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Help Ben by Trending Twitter on Star Wars Day

Hi everyone,

Just a quick post today to invite everyone to help Ben Wolverton. As many of you know, I work for author David Farland. His son, Ben, was in a tragic longboarding accident and has brain trauma, broken bones, (among other ailments) and recently woke from coma. Today is Star Wars Day (May the 4th be With You). Since David Farland/Wolverton has written several Star Wars books, we'd like to celebrate this day of by letting the Wolverton Family know that "the force will be with them" in their time of need. Help Ben by tweeting, retweeting, and sharing this throughout the twitterverse:

Help Star Wars author's son on Star Wars Day! Visit to learn more. #davidfarland #starwarsday #HelpBen

That's it. All you have to do is tweet that.

Our goal is to get #HelpBen and #davidfarland trending, thereby reaching more people who can help Ben. Please tell others about the event. You can also share this tweet on other social websites like Google+ (get it trending there!), Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, blogs, and anything else. Several independent studies confirm that spreading the word will significantly increase your midichlorian count.

Get all the info you need about the even here.