Classic Being a Better Writer: Some of the Small Things

It’s time for another Classic Being a Better Writer post! Rejoice, newcomers and old fans alike, and get ready to travel back in time to an older day, a day wherein writing topics were discussed!

Which really doesn’t make this post that different from what currently goes up the site, except that the BaBW posts you’re about to see here are old rather than new. Because Classic posts are all about returning to some of the posts of old in order to introduce newer readers to the admittedly bogglingly-large archive of BaBW posts. At four years with a new post almost every week … it is a bit of an archive dump.

This week? We take an in-depth look at some small but surprisingly vital elements of character design and writing in your works,  things that may seem unimportant, but can really provide that extra polish to make your story shine. In other words, some of the small things.


Underpowered and Overpowered Characters—
The real question that they want to ask, I feel, is this: how do I create a character with enough skills and talent to overcome what I place in his path without giving them too many skills and talents?

Because you see, that’s the real challenge that these writers are worried about. They want to create characters that can survive everything that the plot is going to throw at them, but they don’t want their character to just magically have the skills to survive everything. And of course, they don’t want a character who survives off of dumb-luck either. Both of these approaches will—while they work at first—gradually eat away at the reader’s enjoyment of the story. They may not ruin it (after all, there are plenty of other moving parts to enjoy), but they certainly will lower the expectations.


Showing Character Through Dialogue—
So, to start off this week’s writing guide, I have a question for all of you. What’s the difference between these two sentences?

“No thanks,” he said.

and

“No, thanks,” he said.

At first glance, any editor can tell you what the problem is. The first sentence is grammatically incorrect, while the second is grammatically correct.

Except therein lies our problem. Because while the second is grammatically correct, contextually, it’s incorrect.


Worldbuilding Colloquialisms—
See, the thing is, colloquialisms and slang are one of those things that we don’t often think about unless it’s pointed out to us, because by definition a colloquialism is not something formally recognized (except in title) nor literately correct. A colloquialism is just a quirk of day-to-day dialogue, an odd phrase or word that has taken on a new—and often temporary—meaning. They’re rooted in culture. Deeply rooted in it, in fact. So deeply rooted that most of the time, we don’t even think of them. We just use them, lose them, and pick up new ones.


 

 

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Being a Better Writer: Audience and Shifting Reader Culture

Hey everyone, welcome back! I hope you all had a pretty good weekend. Mine was … actually, I don’t think I’ve posted about this on here, but coming up on three weeks ago now at work I twisted my knee. Which is why my posting on here suddenly got really regular. Ever twisted your knee? Well, it’s not fun. It’s not something that requires surgery, nor that makes you completely incapable of using your leg … but it does pretty much prevent you from hobbling more than a few-hundred feet in total (and that brings about swelling and some serious pain). It’s not an injury you can have and at the same time do a job involving lots of walking and other physical activity … which means I’ve had time off from work (time I hopefully get paid for under workman’s comp since it was an injury from work; but we’ll see on that angle). So I’ve been doing a lot of writing.

Anyway, that’s a long, roundabout way of putting context to saying that my weekend was pretty good. I hit my monthly quota early (surprise surprise, right?) and, by combining two months of quota rewards (each time I meet a monthly quota I spend $5 on myself), picked up Hollow Knight. It’s a game, not a book. Fantastic game so far, though. It’s a brilliantly-conceived little world, with a lot of charm and wonderful art direction. Blended with fantastic design. A someone who loves the Metroid games, Hollow Knight is going right up there with Shadow Complex.

Okay, okay, you’re not hear to read about games … though I’ll admit I’m a bit tempted to do a piece on Hollow Knight‘s particular style of storytelling, as well as a few other games that do similar, and how it’s influenced my own. But … that’s for another time. No, now I need to get down to business on today’s topic.

I’ll give you a warning, though: It’s probably going to be a shorter one. Why? Well … because last week’s was titanic, in part. And because Jungle is finally starting to get to the exciting bits (for me, at least) where things start coming together! So I’m a bit excited to get to be working on that.

So, today’s topic is a bit of a weird one … Weird enough that I just wiped 700 words on it out of existence because it didn’t feel on point enough. Today, I want to talk about audience. Well, not just audience, but also the shifting culture that audience brings.

Confused? It’s a bit weird. So let me give you an example from this year’s LTUE.

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Being a Better Writer: References and Pop Culture

Hello readers, and welcome back to another post of Being a Better Writer, coming to you bright and early this Tuesday morning.

Yeah, Tuesday. Mondays shifts at my part-time job again. Just a fair heads-up, I’ve got a Monday shift next week too, so next week’s BaBW post will also  be delayed. It happens. And I need the money, so …

Oh, and I apologize in advance if this post seems a little scatter-brained. I’ve not been sleeping well lately, and that’s probably had a detrimental effect on my writing.

Right. Back to the topic at hand. Which is a request topic from one of you readers! And an interesting one at that, one I wouldn’t have likely come to on my own. See, this reader asked after right and wrong ways to do pop-culture references in a book. And while yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this … it’s not a topic I would have thought to discuss until it was posed!

This is why reader questions are always good to hear. Sometimes there’s just a topic I wouldn’t have ever considered on my own, but someone else has. And in this case, it’s a topic that’s worth talking about.

So, references and pop culture … Where do we start? Well, how about some definitions and clarifications for those who aren’t quite certain what I mean when I talk about these terms?

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A Fantastic Quote Concerning Shame Culture

This thought-provoking quote was brought to my attention this last Sunday at one of the LDS General Conference sessions, where it was quoted from a 2016 New York Times article on “Shame Culture.” I’m sharing it because of its insightful look into why the current “shaming” trend doesn’t work, and isn’t a basis for a stable society. Just thought-provoking.

“In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. … [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion. …

“… Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. …”

“The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.”

         —David Brooks, “The Shame Culture,” New York Times, Mar. 15, 2016

Being a Better Writer: Body Language

How do you show that a character is angry? Or nervous? How do you show that two characters are not on the best of terms with one another while they are on decent standing with another member of their group? Or that one of them is nervous? Jumpy?

Now, note my usage of show in the questions above. I didn’t ask how a writer could tell a reader of any of those things. No, I asked how they could show them. Once more, we come back to the old show versus tell discussion, except this time, I don’t want to focus as much on the mechanics of showing versus tell as I do on one small, simple question: How do you show a character being angry, nervous, or upset without simply telling the reader? How do you get those emotions across without simply pointing out to the reader that “Samantha was angry” or using the dreaded “ly” adverb? Especially if we’re writing from a perspective that isn’t the focal point of the emotion we want to get across?

Which is why today, we’re going to talk about body language in our writing. This might test our observational skills a little (after all, how often do you just watch conversation?), as well as our understanding of social graces and signals. And we’re going to look at what goes into a silent conversation.

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