Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

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10 Tips for Better Writing!

Advice Dog Writing Tip

After being inspired by a guy who thinks lists of writing tips suck, I decided to create a list of writing tips. Yeah, this post started out as a joke and then it kind of got away from me. 

Enjoy!

1. Learn to spell.

If you can’t spell, your writing’s probably going to suck. Buy a dictionary, chump.

Of course, certain words may be spelled differently depending on the region you’re in. Fun Fact #2 (there is no #1): Some years ago, certain folks decided to deviate from French-influenced phonetics and started to omit the “u” from certain words (e.g., going from “colour” to “color”). It stuck in the United States.

2. Use the hashtag #AmWriting as much as frickin’ possible.

Not only will this seem annoying and pretentious, it will also help you connect with fellow writers with whom you can develop alongside and form a network of support.

Originally, I did think the hashtag was a bit on the lame side. It reminded me of the Family Guy joke poking fun at writers who conspicuously write in public for validation. However, I’ve seen others who have used the hashtag to form a good network of earnest writer-friends and, to be quite honest, I’m jealous.

3. Read more novels and watch more movies.

That way you can rip them off and pretend you thought of it first.

Alternatively, you can learn to improve your craft from observing how successful authors set the pacing for their scenes and overall plot, or how they develop tension and make use of white space. You could also take notes of mistakes of other authors—if they didn’t spend enough time to develop a character’s motives and personalities before expecting the reader to care, or if there’s too much fancy prose in a segment which makes it difficult to keep a fast pace. Maybe you can at least pick up a new vocabulary word.

Oh, and if you’re familiar with other work in your genres, you can also avoid accidentally writing something that’s already been done. Those aren’t so easy to sell.

4. Get critiqued.

A good cry can be nice, sometimes.

Receiving feedback on your writing is an important part of improving your writing chops. However, the key to taking criticism is staying patient and logical. You shouldn’t quickly dismiss advice you don’t like, but you also shouldn’t assume that because one person hates something that everyone else feels the same. Get several opinions and see where they overlap; logically assess whether certain things are problems, and whether certain parts of your writing are truly awesome (at least to the majority of your target audience).

5. Critique others.

Making other people cry can be rather satisfying. Also, there are other, more concrete benefits.

Giving critique helps you learn to take critique: You learn that, as a critic, it’s easy to find the bad bits in another person’s work while forgetting to point out the good ones. As such, when someone gives you your own manuscript marked up in red, you’ll understand he or she may have actually liked more of your work than the quantity of red might indicate.

On top of that, when you see mistakes others make, you might just realize you’re making the same ones.

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Horns – Movie Review

Horns Promo Daniel RadcliffeDrugs, alcohol, sex, violence, overt biblical references, and Daniel Racliffe.

I watched Horns (2013) with absolutely no expectations. Somehow, I’d gone without hearing much about the film and didn’t bother checking others’ reviews. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Coincidentally, I’d just watched Bruce Almighty (2003) before watching Horns, so there was a bit of a contrast between the two films: in one, God takes a rather direct hand in helping a protagonist figure out his problems, and in the other, He seemingly has delegated the job to Satan.

In Horns, Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is suspected by nearly the entire town for the murder of his girlfriend (Juno Temple). Having been on a drunken bender at the time, he’s not quite sure himself whether he did it. Being treated like the devil incarnate, Ig eventually also looks the part when he sprouts horns on his head and finds people confessing their sinful desires to him because of it.

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All Is Lost – Movie Review

All Is Lost (2013) was written and directed by J.C. Chandor and stars Robert Redford as an unnamed sailor.

Redford’s character’s just lying in the cabin of his boat minding his own business when he notices water getting into parts of his boat where you wouldn’t normally want water to be. Stupid water. Upon inspection, the sailor finds a big hole on the side of his vessel where it struck a freight container that happens to be floating in the middle of the ocean. That’s just the beginning of his troubles.

Netflix describes the movie as one “which has no dialogue,” which isn’t entirely true. Mr. Redford gives us a few sentences right at the start and utters a single curse word somewhere in the middle. Other than that, though—yeah, there’s no dialogue. Unlike a certain other film about survival (which I previously ragged on in my review of Moon and the comments), you don’t need expository backstory to understand the desire to live and the temptation of giving up.

Through no fault of the film, I spent the first thirty minutes simultaneously reading Yelp reviews on my phone. Eventually, I set the phone aside and gave the film 100% of my attention—I might go as far to say it was because the film demanded it of me by being so darn compelling.

Plus, Robert Redford.

I’d highly recommend it.

All Is Lost 2013 Robert Redford

Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Frodo Skyler Anakin Julie Deadpool Regina

Some actors suck. That’s just a fact. However, there are times where actors, through no real fault of their own, get a bit of flack because of the roles they play. Here are six actors who I’d say are at least pretty good at their craft, but are somewhat marred by the personalities and actions of their characters.

Anna Gunn as Skyler White

Skyler White Breaking Bad Anna GunnSkyler White is a fairly intelligent and strong woman who happens to be married to a teacher-turned-meth dealer. She loves her children, supports her husband more often than not, and generally tries to do the right thing. Yet, because of the few times she doesn’t stand by her meth-cooking husband, many Breaking Bad fans grew to hate her. Some weirdos who didn’t seem to appreciate the fact that Anna Gunn was simply playing a role in a fictional television show actually redirected their hatred toward the actor. Ms. Gunn wrote about this unfortunate phenomenon as the show was wrapping up in 2013.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker

Anakin Skywalker Hayden Christensen Star Wars Revenge of the SithI believe the most annoying things about Anakin Skywalker were written into the character. It wasn’t so much Hayden Christensen’s fault as it was the intent of the writers to make Anakin a whiny teenager. While it’s true that Christensen hasn’t really shown us super great talent outside of the Star Wars movies, I don’t think his acting is as bad as people make it out to be.

I liked Christensen in Takers and Vanishing on 7th Street. Yeah, neither movie is great—the former lacked in character development, and the latter had an ending I didn’t care for—but, they’re okay, and it wasn’t Christensen who brought them down. If anything, he helped make those movies better than they would have been without him.

Aimee Teegarden as Julie Taylor

Aimee TeegardenFor whatever reason, after the first season of Friday Night Lights, the character of Julie Taylor becomes incredibly annoying: she becomes selfish, unreasonable, and never seems to learn from her mistakes. Well, I suppose she does learn one thing: she’ll never do better than the awesome Matt Saracen.

Before her final good decision at the end of the show, Julie Taylor pulls some pretty obnoxious stunts. She has an affair with a married teaching assistant her first semester at college. Then, to avoid going back to school, she intentionally runs her car into a mailbox and lies to her parents about it.

Yeah, I haven’t seen Aimee Teegarden in anything aside from Friday Night Lights, but from FNL alone I get the feeling Teegarden’s pretty good with the acting thing and probably no where as near as annoying as Julie Taylor (also, she’s adorable, so she’s got that going for her).

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Rules of Writing Fiction – Dual Protagonists, Prologues and Whatnot

Not Quite Verboten

Basic fiction writing advice warns against prologues, dream sequences, flashbacks, adverbs, and dual/multiple protagonists. Over time, these conventions have come to be treated by many as absolute rules, or at least spoken of as if they were absolute rules.

This past weekend at the Southern California Writers’ Conference, some of these “mistakes” made appearances in the writing of attendees. After a bit of discourse, many of us came to the same conclusion: these devices are warned against because of the difficulty in handling them, but with the right amount of talent and hard work, a writer can defy these conventions without shooting herself in the foot.

A quick Google search would lead you to very similar conclusions, which makes it even more peculiar how often people seem to forget these rules aren’t set in stone.

More so than any other writer or SCWC attendee, Oz Monroe acted as a voice of reason in regards to these “rules,” reminding us (on several occasions) that you can break just about any writing convention so long as you do it well (quite a caveat, but still).

Dual (Multiple) Protagonists

June and Day of Legend

Marie Lu’s Legend is considered by many to feature dual protagonists, though for certain reasons Day can easily be construed as an antagonist (e.g., for ease of pitching the novel).

Baseline convention: stick to one primary protagonist. Other major characters must be limited to the role of an antagonist or supporting character. Why can’t we have two (or more) primary protagonists? As I see it, there are two big reasons: (1) the difficulty in fleshing out all protagonists fully while maintaining a compelling narration; and (2) the difficulty in pitching a story with multiple protagonists.

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9 Maybe-Important Quotes of Fictional Characters

“[S]ometimes dogs or people hate you for no reason.” – Homer J. Simpson

Captured by this guy.

Captured by this guy.

In the episode of The Simpsons, “The Latest Gun in the West,” Homer gives Bart some rather sagely advice: at times, a person (or dog) will hate you with no logical explanation.

The implied point (assuming Homer can imply things), is that where someone’s dislike of you is entirely unreasonable, you should probably just get over it and move on. Or, as it is in Bart’s case, you can get a movie star to smooth things over for you.

Secret option #3 is to follow the wisdom of a masked vigilante known as V: “Violence can be used for good” (this doesn’t count as one of my nine quotes, because I said so).

I’d go with the movie star route myself.

“All that is gold does not glitter,/ Not all those who wander are lost, . . .” – Bilbo Baggins

Bilbo BagginsPenned by J.R.R. Tolkien in the real world, and stolen by Bilbo Baggins who pretends he wrote it in The Fellowship of the Ring. The first two lines of this poem are supposed to be in regards to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who lives most of his life as a wandering ranger doing awesome things for the denizens of Middle Earth (so long as they’re not from some foreign land in the east and south which he seems to know nothing about).

Both these lines are oft-quoted, with people using the first to say something is more awesome than it first appears. The second line is overused by literature-reading backpackers who like to pretend their drinking, off-the-beaten-path travels to the middle of nowhere, and attempts at hostel promiscuity makes them as cool as Aragorn. I mean, they might be cool, but those three things alone aren’t going to cut it.

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