5 Tips for Self-Fueling While Writing (With Recipes!)

06092019 Writing Club witty nib

Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at a subject that can be very touchy to a bunch of people for a bunch of reasons: eating.

Sometimes, when we’re on a writing binge, it can get pretty intense and we don’t want to stop and consume a calorie or two – here’s a few quick recipes that may float your boat.

5. Lazy Nachos

Fair warning: dogs will beg aggressively when you make this.

wp-1599822014504.jpg

Ingredients

  • Chips of any variety
  • Cheese

Tools

  • Microwave
  • Microwave safe container

Directions

  1. Sprinkle chips on the plate, keeping them to a single layer if you can.
  2. Sprinkle cheese evenly over chips.
  3. Microwave like 30 seconds or something to melt the cheese.
  4. Shove it in your face hole.

Options

You can add other things like salsa, black beans, hot sauce, cilantro, or other things to enhance the flavor profile. Or olives if you’re Satan.

4. Creatively Eaten Cereal

Cereal has several calories and other things people need to survive.

Ingredients

  • Cereal
  • Viscous, sticky food (I suggest peanut butter)

Tools

  • Spoon
  • Bowl (suggested, not required if you eat this over the sink)

Directions

  1. Put a bunch of viscous, sticky food on your spoon.
  2. Pour the cereal somewhere. This can be your hand or a bowl.
  3. Stick the sticky food onto the cereal.
  4. Lick off the cereal and a layer of sticky food.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you run out of cereal or sticky food.

Options

You can change this up by choosing a different viscous, sticky food:

  • Peanut butter or other nut butters
  • Yogurt (shown)
  • Corn syrup (bowl required)
  • Honey (hard, but can be done without a bowl)
  • Sweetened condensed milk that has been in the fridge overnight
  • Koshian
  • Ice cream

Agave is too liquid to do an actual good job here. I swear I didn’t try to do this over the sink once, and there was definitely no associated mess.

3. A Dank Grilled Cheese

Let’s just say I make a very good grilled cheese.

20200830_124428.jpg

Ingredients

  • Sliced bread (if you are able to splurge for good bread or good cheese but not both, go for good bread)
  • Cheese
  • Lots of butter
  • Pepper Jelly

Tools

  • Pan
  • Stovetop
  • At least a fork, but preferably fork + pancake turner

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in the pan.
  2. Dip one side of one slice of bread into the melted butter, then set aside.
  3. Melt some more butter.
  4. Put a slice of bread into the pan.
  5. Put some cheese on that.
  6. Slather some pepper jelly on the non-buttery side of the slice of bread you set aside.
  7. Put the jelly side of the bread down on your cheese.
  8. Squish the sandwich with your fork or pancake turner.
  9. When the cheese is melty and the bottom of the sandwich is browning, flip it.
  10. Brown the buttery side of the jelly bread.
  11. Take it out of the pan.
  12. Eat it.

Options

I guess you don’t have to use the pepper jelly, but screw that. It’s fantastic. Pepper jelly also BELONGS on burgers.

2. Drinkable Cake

Because it’s not technically liquid calories, right?

wp-1600644188465.jpg

Ingredients

  • About a tablespoon butter
  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • Milk
  • Vanilla extract
  • Teensy bit of salt

Tools

  • Microwave
  • Microwave safe Container (I usually go with a mug)
  • Spoon

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in the microwave.
  2. Add all the other crap. Amounts don’t matter, but I try to make the flour, sugar, and milk be approximately the same volume.
  3. Mix it.
  4. Drink it.
  5. Adjust ratio of sugar/flour/milk to get better consistency and flavor.
  6. Drink it some more.
  7. Wallow in self hatred.

Options

You can make this chocolate by mixing cocoa powder in with the butter at the beginning. You can’t mix the cocoa in after nearly as well, which I don’t understand because theobromine should be sufficiently hydrophilic, but whatever. Maybe it depends on your cocoa processing and particle size.

You can also get a better texture by replacing some of the milk with an egg. You’ll just have to go for a desired texture rather than any sort of measurement, and it’s really hard to fit it in just a cup.

By adding just a touch of salt and baking powder, you can also put this in the microwave to cook and come out with a burning wad of disappointment instead!

1. Rammelette

A tasty, calorie-dense disaster that even drunk people can cook.

20200731_181044.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1 pack of ramen (not a cup noodle)
  • Some water to cook the ramen in
  • 2 or 3 eggs, it doesn’t matter
  • A pat of butter

Tools

  • Microwave
  • Stovetop
  • Pan
  • Microwave Safe Bowl
  • Almost any utensil

Directions

  1. Microwave cook the ramen noodles in the bowl. Measure the water or not, it doesn’t matter. I also don’t care how cooked it is, but I suggest at least until the noodles flop.
  2. Drain said ramen. Save the bowl on the side so you don’t have to dirty another one later.
  3. Put the pan at medium heat. Melt butter in the pan.
  4. Put the damn noodles in the pan. Stir them some.
  5. Crack the eggs in the bowl you just cooked the ramen in.
  6. Stir the ramen seasoning into the eggs.
  7. Pour eggs over ramen, then cook it like an omelette.

Options

You can complicate this but make it next level by frying some onions in the butter before you add the noodles. You can do other, fancier stuff, but let’s be honest and admit we’re not making a Rammelette to be fancy. We’re making it because we’re desperate and not wearing enough pants to go to Denny’s.

Technically, you don’t have to cook the noodles, but it just doesn’t have the same effect. You just don’t have to dirty a bowl.

Do you have any go-to, super-easy meals or foods that you enjoy when you’re busy? Tell me about it in the comments!

5 Tips for Writing About Bathrooms

06092019 Writing Club witty nib

Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we’re examining something that can be jarring when people read it: bathrooms and lack of bathrooms. I’ve read plenty of bathroom scenes that are pretty sh*tty, so come right in, sit on the throne, and have a read.

5. Consider that Most People Pee and Poop

Believe it or not, most people happen to have bodily functions that end with excretion of undesirable by-products. And, even more unfortunately, most humans experience several instances per lifetime of food to excrement processing time being less than desirable.

Do your characters even think about going to the bathroom? Does no one experience the urge, whether at critical or non-critical moments? Isn’t that unrealistic?

When you read about someone going to the bathroom, it’s often meant to give one of the following feelings:

  1. Added realism
  2. Some kind of sex thing
  3. Give a character an excuse to not be on screen
  4. Get a character somewhere it’s just them and the narrator

Bathroom scenes need to accomplish something, or they’re just a waste of space. If the scene doesn’t add anything to the story, people will notice. People remember poop stories because they’re so jarring; don’t make an empty scene be the thing readers remember.

4. So You Want to Add Grittiness?

If you want to add grittiness to your story, start by taking out the TP and replacing it with sandpaper.

sandpaper tp

More seriously, grittiness of feel is one step away from putting in a scene solely for “realism”. “Realism” The difference between grittiness and an attempt at realism is worldbuilding.

Why is opening your sphincters different in your world? Do you live in Arizona and worry about scorpions in the toilet on the regular? Are you in space where everyone and their mother (even if dear ol’ mom won’t admit it) wonders how you use the poop chute in zero G? Those types of situations are things you could do to reinforce your world.

You may even use the opportunity to reveal the stringency of social norms. Let’s say your characters have to perform a makeup regimen on the regular, and deviation from this protocol will cause major social blowback. That’s worldbuilding. That’s grit, even if it’s not bloody awfulness.

And, then, you can use a bathroom while a character’s bleeding out, adding some grittiness in that there’s no other option or it’s a terrible place. Bathrooms make us automatically feel a little dirty (and by us I mean most people), so adding dirt to a vulnerable situation can often make it feel grittier.

3. Are Your Characters Into Bathroom Sex Things?

Pretty sure this is a thing some people are into, also sure it’s not me.

However, this is something you’ll need to think about if you ever have two characters in the bathroom at the same time. I’ve read several stories where there’s two women in a bathroom, and that (at the moment) doesn’t seem so weird because society has taught us it’s not weird. But when you have two men who do any talking – ANY talking – in the bathroom, there’s a weird feeling that leaves the question of eroticism or sparks open.* A girl and a boy in the same bathroom? Slow down, Nelly, that’s gonna require some ‘splainin.

Enough people appear to have a sex thing/expectation with bathrooms that you may want to consider how to mitigate it (unless, of course, your raunchy characters are fixin’ to bump nasties). Battlestar Galactica (the new version) includes bathroom scenes with teeth brushing and face washing with men and women using the same room, and they do a great job taking their super-sexed-up characters and somehow showing greater-than-real-life equality between men and women with their weird bathroom scenes.

Extermination

So yes: if you want sex clues in a bathroom, go for it. It’s easy. Otherwise, think about it and get Beta Readers to help you figure out if there’s some lascivious feelings laced up in that mess.

*I’ve heard this mostly from my husband and an interesting conversation about the placement of the urinals in the library bathroom during Korean Music Appreciation class in undergrad. You may disagree with my friends from Korean Music Appreciation class.

2. Give a Character an Excuse to be Off Screen

This one’s pretty common.

Spy says “Gotta take a piss,” or a woman says, “I’ve got to go to the powder room.” Next thing you know, they’ve left through the bathroom window and come back with the mafia to kill the hero. Alternatively, tne character in the group leaves and everyone else instantly starts telling secrets the missing individual can’t know.

But be careful: this sort of thing is common enough that it may be noticed. When a character leaves to go to the bathroom, a reader may get this twinge of “Ok, so why are they going to be absent right now?” Taking a piss is rarely the point of a bathroom in a book, and getting a character off screen can provoke a reader to pay attention or start being suspicious. Use this to your advantage by allowing for the hint, but be sure to let the absence pay off. Otherwise, it’s just “realism for the sake of realism” again.

1. Get Your Character ALONE

My favorite instance of this is in The Long, Long Trailer, a 1954 film by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It’s not the same characters you know of Lucy and Ricky, but they’re “Tacy” and “Nicky”. They buy a long, long trailer to live in while the travel the country, and it progressively makes them both miserable. 

The Long Long Trailer

In the bathroom scene, however, Nicky (Desi Arnaz) tries to take a shower. He can’t seem to get the shower head to suit him, and everything keeps falling. It’s a wonderful symbol of his growing resentment, of his marriage, and of his life. It’s humorous while at the same time foreboding and telling.

The best “alone in the bathroom scenes” have a definitively literary examination of the story. It adds to the characterization and plot in such a way that nuances enter your mind, even in subtle, sneaky ways. Get your character alone, and let them pour out secrets while they’re in a very secret place.

Have you ever written a sh*tty scene? Remember any that you’ve read or watched? Dump something in the comments for the rest of us to read while we’re taking our own dumps!

5 Tips for Writing About Something Technical

06092019 Writing Club witty nib

Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at something I personally have struggled to get better at: writing about technical things.

Do you want to write a book in which cars take a central role? A fighting style? A complex system of magic? All of those things can get technical, and there’s a fine line between not enough and too much information!

5. Do Some Research

Unless you are already an expert on the subject, you’re going to want to bone up on what you’re writing. Let’s say your main character uses a bow to hunt or, like Katniss from The Hunger Games, kill people. You might, then, want to know words like “fletching” or “nock” and what that means. And there’s two ways to do your research.

One is to experience it yourself. Go to a shooting range and get someone to teach you about bowhunting. Your experience will sharply deepen your ability to understand your characters. It will also help you speak with some authority on your subject.

Unfortunately, gaining real life experience is often expensive, time consuming, or completely unavailable. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can, look at pictures and – most definitely – watch YouTube. There’s tons of videos of people doing sword fighting, bow hunting, almost anything that ordinary people won’t be experts on. Keep a list of resources, and follow some of the tips in my Research post.

If you’re doing a fantasy or hard science fiction system, of course no one else knows what you’re doing; the difficulty of this research is looking into yourself and establishing the rules of your world’s system. This can be hard because you’re inventing the knowledge yourself!

4. Establish the Limits of Your Knowledge

Unless you’re an expert who can’t be easily questioned or pressed about their knowledge, you want to better understand where you are and how much you know. There are two main reasons you should do this: one, and the most obvious, is to see if you’re ready to write extensively about a technical subject.

Another, and the more devious, is to avoid the Dunning Kreuger effect. This is when a person who doesn’t have any expertise considers themselves to have more knowledge than they really do. Think about the last time you talked with someone about driving, and you’ll realize almost everyone says they’re an above-average driver. That statistically can’t be true. And, what’s worse, I believe I’m an above-average driver and there’s no reason for me to think that.

We tend to over-inflate our skills when we think about things we’re just ok at or even just dabbling in. When we’re talking about our driving skills, it probably won’t affect us much (as it never has). When we’re writing a book, though, it does matter. Establishing how much you know and how much is possible for you to know will help you avoid saying incorrect things, help you establish a path forward, and decide when your research stopping point will be.

3. Figure Out Your Target Audience’s Typical Knowledge

Most fans aren’t going to be like the Game of Thrones superfans who know more about the setting than the author. You really can’t write for those people because you’ll always be wrong. But, if you’re writing any specific genre (which, let’s be honest, you’re inevitably writing some genre), fans of those books have an idea of what to expect. If you’re writing a steampunk story and put your characters in polyester, the fans are going to call you out on that. If you have a medieval fantasy and your character uses a steam engine, your readers won’t stand for it.

One way you can do this is be familiar with your genre. If you’re writing historical fiction, how do other authors handle the information about the time period? How do other people review this author’s book, especially when it comes to analysis of the period pieces? How do people of that time period write about themselves?

Another wonderful thing the internet and modern technology is extreme connectivity. You can look up forums in which people discuss the topic or books relevant to your interests. Connect with people and figure out what other people know.

2. Less > More

If there’s anything I can’t stress enough in this article, it’s this one:

Don’t. Over. Do. It.

Yes, you just gained all this information and have thought critically for untold hours. You’ve just decided exactly why your plot will work given the constraints you’ve researched. You’ve established where your readers’ knowledge ends and yours begins.

And now, I swear to you, you don’t want to go much further than your average readers’ knowledge – if at all.

When one is reading a novel, we’re reading for characters and plot. We’re reading for themes, symbols, metaphors. Technical information gets in the way very easily.

If your reader wanted to know the extra tech, historical, or other info that you’ve gathered, they’d have done the research themselves. And, you know, there will be readers who know that info. You don’t need to tell them about it as long as you’re self consistent. Consistency is what you do your research for, not for your writing.

What I’ve experienced happening with runaway explanations of technical information is that they either bore a reader or they make them feel stupid. Use the most common terms as you can without being incorrect. Don’t talk about numbers if you can avoid it. Even if you’re talking about cars, it’s probably best to avoid things like horsepower or torque unless essential to the plot.

Most of all: don’t brag or act like you’re bragging. There’s nothing worse than feeling debased by reading a book.

1. BETA READERS

You’ve done all of the above. You think you’re spot-on. But it’s not over!

All sorts of guesstimates about your average reader can be off. Once you do enough research, it’s hard to go back to where you were before. For example, I recently wrote a story that includes 19th century cannons, and I used cannon terminology like “caisson” and “limber”. Both these words are common in books about the Civil War or the Napoleonic Wars, but when I tested it with a purely fantasy audience, I got a lot of “wtf” and “this is confusing – I’m going to ignore this word.”

That means I estimated using the wrong standard! I shouldn’t have chosen a Civil War buff as my standard audience. The people willing to read the book showed me that. A test audience will help you figure out just how technical you need to be – and it’s almost never as technical as you believe it should.

What obstacles have you come across when reading or writing technical things? Have any opinions about info dumps? Let me know in the comments!

5 Ways to Use Weather In Your Book

06092019 Writing Club witty nib

Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at something I find desperately under-used in fiction: weather.

Weather can do a lot for a story, but a lack of weather is common in stories. I hope this article can convince you to consider the weather in your chapters!

5. Set a Mood

It was a dark and stormy night…

giphy

Sure, this may be a cliche beginning and something to be eschewed – even in an ironic manner – but you gotta admit it tells you exactly what the following passage will feel like. The sentence establishes a sense of foreboding, gloom, and struggle.

And you can still use a dark, stormy night to set such a tone as long as you don’t state it in such a straightforward manner. A streak of lightning, low-lying clouds, a drip-drip-drip from the guttering, all ways of getting a mood going.

4. Create a Disaster Story

Disasters create trauma and tension and can be the central aspect of a story. Whether as a force that creates a need to rebuild or as a looming terror that gives characters a time frame within which to act, a storm or natural disaster can create as well as it can destroy.

Even if you’re not creating a disaster story with a storm at its heart, think about how storms and inclement weather may have created a disaster at another time or place in your world. How does this affect your characters now? Are there any lingering fears or lasting national/regional trauma?

A story I’ve recently read that makes excellent use of storms is the Brandon Sanderson series The Stormlight Archives. The storms are semi-predictable, absolutely terrifying, and the character must plan their entire lives around them. It’s a great (if painfully long) fantasy, but I can at least attest that the first book is worth a read and makes great use of weather.

stormlight archives way of kings

3. Create Symbols and Metaphors

As your main character goes from brooding to passionate, you can change the weather from a gentle drizzle to a thunderstorm. You can go from freezing cold to blazing hot to symbolize the movement of the plot.

Similar to the #5 comment above, weather can be used to represent other parts of your book and complement the way your plots and characters change. Weather gives a sense of feeling you can’t easily replicate without “telling” rather than showing,

2. Enhance Sense of Time Passing

How many books do you know take place in the winter? In the summer?

giphy-1

Many books do show seasons or a single season, but many do not. Many, of course, take place over the course of a couple days or a couple weeks, but several are supposed to take place over the course of years. Seasons are something people can grasp, especially those who get to experience all four of them, and we can feel the passage of time.

The aforementioned Stormlight Archives book has a lot of storms, but the passage of seasons and years isn’t outlined that well. There are no winters or summers, though there is a small season of gentle rain called “The Weeping”. While storms do make a massive impact on the book, weather as a sense of passing time was absent – and I tend to think it would have improved it.

A book (er, series) that does use weather to justify time passage is Harry Potter. Though the asides and descriptions are brief, winter comes and goes during the school year. Summer arrives at the end of every book, and it leaves at the beginning of the next. It helps put the books in line with the passage of time during and between them.

1. Establish Location

I wrote – YEARS ago now – an article about the importance of climate on the shaping of culture. Though things such as natural resources are important to establish culture, weather and the ability to grow crops is also essential for the purpose.

Yearly Precipitation in the Continental United States and Puerto Rico

A climate that is wet and warm is entirely likely to have a different set of expectations and celebrations than one that is hard and cold. The puritanical northern colonies planted by the British could not have been so established in the south – and vice versa. The location and environment molded what would happen, even if people were the instruments to make it happen.

Weather is essential to helping to define the location of your book. Are the winters hard, leading to increased time spent indoors, or are the summers long to encourage the gathering of crops? Does rain fall little enough that people can’t live in close quarters lest they risk running out of drinking water? Using weather can help your readers establish, even if only subconsciously, things such as this. Make use of it!

Have you ever mentioned the weather in one of your stories? How did it play into the scene or book? Let me know in the comments!

Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Single-Word Edits

06092019 Writing Club

5. Give Yourself a Break

You’re awesome. You have awesome ideas. This is guaranteed to be true.

Thing is, sometimes our awesome ideas get onto the page in a format where we think it’s good, but that’s because we can read our own intentions rather than what we actually wrote.

To have a better chance at catching little mistakes, give yourself a break – two weeks is ok, a month is about perfect – and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s amazing how many sentences you’ll have forgotten about, and this will help you read reality.

Also, it feels really good to read something you wrote and enjoy it.

4. Look for Pretentious Words

I’m not saying to get rid of all big words. The words I’m talking about are the pretentious kind, those big words that don’t need to be big for any reason other than ego stroking.

Multi-syllable, uncommon words can cause many readers to stumble. Even you, with your writer’s vocabulary, sometimes come across words you don’t know. What happens when you’re reading in a place without a computer or dictionary (or, more common, when you just don’t feel like looking it up)? You skip that sentence and hope it didn’t matter. Words that could cause your readers to stumble may draw them out of the experience and weaken the overall effect of a passage.

This doesn’t always happen with big or archaic words, too. You can do it with something ordinary. For instance, look at this line from my favorite whipping boy, Eragon:

He tried to pull away, but her hand was like an iron talon around his ankle – he could not break her tenacious hold.

Besides the fact that the sentence isn’t even necessary in the passage it appears, focus on the phrase “like an iron talon.” Not only does it bring up no immediate images – unless you’re a DOTA player – and thus mean nothing, it’s full of harsh words that convey melodramatic concepts. It’s over the top despite only including well-known words. Look for things meant to make you look powerful or smart with no other purpose and give them the ax.

3. Search for Word Overusage

All of us have those little words we like to pepper into our writing but don’t realize it. I use “know” far too often. My boss FREAKING BETTER STOP overusing “utilize.” Sometimes, you can find words you overuse with a Word Frequency Counter.

I searched around and came upon this word frequency counter for browsers. The reason I like it is because I don’t have to use a certain program (like MS Word) and because, with a .org domain name, I feel like it’s not quite as suspicious as some of the other sites I saw out there.

But a word frequency counter doesn’t always cut it – there’s character limits on those apps, and at a point you’ll have such a long list of words that you won’t have a good idea of what’s too much or not enough. If you want to have a better idea of which words you overuse, get a beta reader.

2. Gnaw Away At Those Adverbs

I’m not one of those people who want to get rid of adverbs. I think, when used judiciously, adverbs can add to a sentence. However, they can also serve as filler. Words such as “quickly,” “suddenly,” or “immediately” tend to add very little to a sentence.

For instance: did you notice I used the word “very” in that last sentence? If I deleted it, the sentence’s meaning wouldn’t change. The impact wouldn’t change. All “very” accomplished was make it longer. If the word doesn’t add to the sentence or passage, why keep it? Why waste your reader’s time?

Rather than include unhelpful words, zoom in on your adverbs and delete them. Re-read the sentence, then decide if the adverb added enough to keep it.

1. Get Rid of Half-Hearted Verbs and Filler Words

This is the one I need to focus on.

Verbs are so various, rich, and distinct, that it’s a shame to use ‘is’ or ‘has’ when something better (but not pretentious!) could be used. Better verbs can reduce the use of adverbs or helping verbs. Helping verbs may also be a sign of passive voice which, while useful, reduces impact of sentences.

Several filler words clutter first-drafts. In most cases where “she started to” or “he began to,” you can get rid of those halfway verbs and just focus on the meatier verb. “That” is the plague of concise writing; when I edited one of my novels, I found over 500 instances of “that” which could be slashed from the pages. That’s 500 words which ended up going to good use as part of a new chapter exploring character growth.

Here’s a short list of words to keep an eye out for:

  • That
  • Start
  • Begin/began
  • The helping verbs
  • Know/knew
  • Said
  • Nod
  • Sigh
  • Uh, um, or other mumbling words
  • Like
  • For the love of all that is holy, just say “use,” not “utilize”

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Looking for more things to consider as you write? Perhaps just want to listen to someone with more authority than me? Then enjoy these links. I’ve noticed that a lot of the same advice floats around, so definitely check out how many hints are shared between them!

Necessary Fiction’s “A Month of Revision” (Strongly recommended – lots of tips for novel writers)

The above-mentioned “Word Frequency Counter” app

My own “Think Before You Thesaurus

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed? Something you’d like to focus in on? Leave it in the comments! Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s first prompt!

5 Tips for Writing Action Scenes

06092019 Writing Club witty nib

Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at the excitement of action scenes as I compile some of the best advice I’ve found and accumulated during my quest for exciting books.

5. Give Your Hero a Chance to Lose

The first step to determining this is to think of your character’s and villain’s powers. Is your character so powerful that there’s no reason for them to lose? Is your villain and their henchmen so comparatively weak that their winning wouldn’t make sense?

hadokenPictured: overpowered

If your character is too powerful and the outcome of the fight is foregone, the fight is going to have less importance to it. If a reader can start reading the fight, skip the details, and get to the end without feeling like anything unexpected happened, the fight might not be done right. Consider which you might be able to do: take away your character’s powers, or add powers to your villain.

Sometimes, your answer might be “no, my character is not overpowered” even if it should be “yes”. In this case, you may have accidentally created what some people call a “Mary Sue”. This isn’t necessarily bad – Breq from Ancillary Justice and the rest of the Imperial Radch trilogy is most definitely a Mary Sue, but the story is interesting enough that Leckie mostly gets away with it. If you’re worried that your character might be a Mary Sue, this is a fairly good test that may help you figure out if your character really is overpowered (as long as you have a reasonable view of your character and aren’t too close, and yes, I realize the person who made this test no longer believes in it).

*Note: You may not have as much a problem if, by winning/losing a fight as expected, unexpected consequences occur. Such as, if your character just straight up ganks a villain, what happens mentally? What if it breaks them somehow, and it becomes a major plot point or character growth moment? These sorts of things can help, but it probably means the fight needs to be over fast.

4. Vary the Techniques

“And Batman punched the guy with the left. Then he gave a right hook. Then he punched him repeatedly with his hands. Then he punched with a left.”

How did that read? Pretty crappy, right?

batman punch

Read this:

“And Batman punched the guy with the left. Then he backed up, tossed a bat-hook into a beam in the rafters. He held onto the cable of the bat-hook, and swung into the guy.”

Both are written crappily, but the second one is more fun to imagine. The first is a repetitive set of circumstances which grows old quickly.

The difference between them is that the second takes two totally different methods of beating up the bad guy. Unless you’re reading a book about boxing, just punches and kicks aren’t going to keep as much interest as something with greater visual interest.

3. Shorter Sentences and Paragraphs

Something soothing deserves words that are long, flowery, and quiet. It deserves sentences that meander like a long river, as slow as the Mississippi though with high informational flow rates. Purple prose has no purpose in fight scenes and should be avoided at all costs.

Fights are visceral, punchy, tight. Character thoughts are jarring and can fly anywhere. Short sentences raise tensions, and good use of verbiage makes better images.

Shorter paragraphs can also help – a shift in the battle can cause a shift in the paragraph, a shift in how the narrator reacts. Keep an eye out for any point where you think a paragraph should begin and end, and keep the action moving with the changes.

2. Feel More than Think

I’ve seen multiple articles out there about “correct” representations of martial arts, or bows, or shooting. And yes – if you’re going to have fight scenes wherein you’re using a weapon or fighting style, by all means look those up. Learn as much as you can about techniques, training, whatever you can.

But remember, nuances about a fighting style aren’t going to be interesting to a broader audience. Sure, you may know every part of a cannon, or you may want to show that you’re informed about flintlock pistols, but people don’t care about those things. You’re not Herman Melville, and you don’t have a publisher who’s willing to overlook half a book detailing information relevant to his characters’ day jobs.

Moby Dick

What makes a difference in the flow of a fight scene is how the character(s) feel about developments in the fight. How does this last punch change everything? How does hanging off the edge of a cliff change the hero’s fear levels? Can – or should – the reader feel these things with your character?

So look up all these details, but be careful not to come off like a know-it-all just trying to brag on yourself. Use knowledge to be complete, but use your feelings to make that knowledge really count.

1. It’s Not About the Action

That’s right.

An action scene in a book (and, let’s be honest, movies too) is merely a vehicle for change. Much like sex scenes, a fight is just an adrenaline rush with no purpose in and of themselves.

It’s what happens around the fight that must support a fight.

If you write an absolutely garbage fight scene, you can still have it work out if the bones surrounding it gives 1) good reason for there to be a fight and 2) a plot- or character-important result of said fight. It also helps if the result of your fight makes sense, but even that can be forgiven (as long as it makes even a shred of sense – Bambi’s not taking out Skeletor).

Skeletor

So get people to check over your fight scene just as you would get people to look over any other scene. For people who read your entire book, I’d suggest paying attention to whether or not their attention seemed to flag across the scene. Together with the #2 suggestion on this list, you’ll be able to make a more enduring scene than a 20-page, action-packed, “high-adrenaline” fight scene extravaganza.

More

If you want to know more, this is the best YouTube video I’ve seen on the subject. Though a lot of the advice relates to film, it’s rather fantastic for novelists too.

5 Types of Research for Your Novel

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re looking at research! I’m hoping this is fun enough, and you can join in the prompt here. I’d love to see your participation!

5. Historical Research

This is a very fun type of research to do because you get to read stories about people who lived in the past. Long-time readers of my blog know my time period of choice, and you can expect that I’m fair at looking up information on it. That being said, I don’t have a degree in history, so take me with a grain of salt.

Something I like to do with historical research is look up historical sites and find recommended books from their website. Even better, you can visit – most of the time, historical sites have at least one historian working there who can help you really get into the way of things. I’ve been to the USS North Carolina battleship museum multiple times, and I love what I learn there.

If you are studying a period of history before the stupid “1924” public domain year (though, luckily, that cutoff is actually moving again), the Gutenberg Project is a trove of good info. I have found several 19th century books that help me with my research, and that’s fantastic!

Also, there’s video. I’ve mentioned the ration reviewer YouTube before, and that’s incredibly helpful if you’re doing a war-focused story (sorry, civilian rations aren’t as common on those channels). If you’re looking at 18th (and some 19th) century information, Townsends on YouTube is so good. For my focus, I’ve also loved the BBC series Lords and Ladles, which looks at how to make 19th-century feasts.

Do you have any advice on historical research? I’d love your comments!

4. Science Research

This is my day job, so I do this all the time. There’s a few things I find important about research for science fiction, and the main one is science communication is garbage.

Science writing is very different from literary writing in that many fields purposefully use convoluted language, esoteric buzzwords, and horrifyingly stupid organization. Beyond that, “peer-reviewed” science writing is often in journals behind ridiculously expensive paywalls (something like $40/article, in certain cases) if you’re not at a company or school with general access to journals. Beyond that, these articles require a reader to have a certain amount of background information and access to other information in order to understand any paper, even at a basic level.

A graduate student takes about 6 months of training to get up and running in one (1) field.

So what can a normal person do to get up on the new research?

Pop science articles can be helpful to find a subject to research further. Often, once you establish a subject to start with, you can go to a library or do further research on the internet. Sometimes, authors of a journal article will pay the publisher to have their article be open access, and you can read it. Seminal papers are also often free to access. For important science info that will help you build a sci-fi story, this should be adequate (and people who give unsolicited advice otherwise are probably just trying to show off). Accurate scientific knowledge is helpful, but most people do not have access to information and can’t refute you.

You can also try to find a scientist in the field willing to work with you. If you email professors, you can ask if there are graduate students willing to help. It’s probably better to email someone in the departmental office to ask their grad students in general, and even then you need someone special to happen to read that email.

Beyond that? Lobby your congressman to force scientific information be more readily available to everyone. The scientific publishing industry is a scam, and everyone knows it.

3. Etymology

Once you start researching etymology for your writing, you won’t stop.

If you’re doing historical fiction, etymology becomes essential to making your dialogue distinct and timely. One of my favorite old-timey words is “poltroon”, a 19th-century word for “coward”. Because it came from Italian to French and coward came from an older French, we can assume that “poltroon” carries out a very specific function in only a small time window. When the word came into English, the French were very powerful and culturally influential, which implies this word may have also had a haughty air to it.

The subject can help you determine how to regionalize your speech, how to add nuances that you might not have been aware of, and more.

2. Locations and Climates

It’s a pretty famous fact that Stephanie Meyer had never been to Forks, Oregon before writing Twilight, which takes place in that sleepy little town. Yet, you can tell there’s been a lot of research into the town because she does describe things that seem realistic (I’ve never been to Oregon, can’t confirm).

And now, with the internet being basically ubiquitous, you can look up info on almost anywhere.

  1. You can get basic info on almost any small town off Wikipedia.
  2. You can digitally walk through many towns (and rural areas) using Google Street View. This is one of my favorite ways to get inspiration about a town.
  3. The USDA gives a Plant Hardiness Map that’s pretty neat-o for American locations. The country you want to write about probably has a similar map available.
  4. Annual rainfall maps can be helpful to determine how wet it is. I swear, it doesn’t rain enough in books.

Beyond that, just read about your setting, read about inspiring settings, and think about how it will affect your book.

1. Diversity Based Research

Location and climate often go hand in hand with diversity based research, and there’s something we all need to realize while we’re doing it:

If we don’t live it, we probably will never get it perfect.

As a Southerner, I find books about the South written by non-Southerners always miss nuances. There’s something about being Southern that is impossible to put your finger on but absolutely necessary to make it feel right.

That doesn’t mean avoid the culture, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, etc. that other people may have a better handle on. It means realize your limitations and do your best to overcome them. Read forums, articles, books, whatever it is to help you get into the mindset as best you can.

I’ve found this type of research to be very difficult. When I’ve written about black characters (which one must when writing about the South), it’s been a struggle to get it right. Getting even the representation of hair right is difficult for white-bread me, but I do my absolute best to find advice (and, lucky for me, I did already know that hair is a difficult issue). Even little things are major elements of getting other people’s lives represented correctly.

So, for this category: do research diversity, and do include diverse characters. Be bold. Try not to make mistakes but forgive yourself for failure.

Divider

Have you done book or story research recently? Tell me something you’ve found out – or, better yet, make a blog post about it join in the prompt here!

Witty Nib Writing Club #4 – Research

06092019 Writing Club

The Witty Nib Writing Club seeks to provide an opportunity to engage in constructive writing activities online. Comments are key here at the writing club, and we’d love to have you join us!

For more information on the Club, follow this link to the club’s main page.

Quick Rules of the Club

To have your post included in the roundup, do the following:

  1. Make a post that follows the month’s theme. Using a pingback or a comment on this post, make it available to other club members.
  2. Comment on someone else’s post. Be constructive!
  3. Fill out the form below. Make sure you put good links – both to your post and the post you commented on.

Unless there’s a lot more responses than I expect, I’ll be checking those links! Even if you don’t want to comment, you can put your post in the comments and I’ll do my best to check it and comment myself. 🙂

This Month’s Theme

This month, we’re going to examine research for writers. This can mean anything from 17th century fashion to bleeding edge adenovirus developments, as long as it’s incorporated in some kind of flash. You can choose any genre and any message.

  1. Write a 500 word passage that includes something you researched.
  2. At the end of your post, tell us what you researched. You can tell us why if you want, or if you found something surprising! Citations and links would be a great bonus.
  3. Comment on at least one other person’s post. Be constructive if you can, supportive if you can’t! (I expect more support this time – it’s hard to make research suggestions unless you’re already an expert).

This means linking to your post in the comments below.  I’ll approve pingbacks, but you might want to comment if you don’t see it show up soon. I’ll read your stuff if no one else does!

The Form

Leave a link in the comments for other people to participate with.  This form is for the end-of-the-month roundup.  If you want to be included in the roundup, you’ll need to use this form.  If the form doesn’t seem to work, I’ll see what I can do for the next post.

Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Making Stuff Funny

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on something quite silly – making humorous writing!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5. It’s Not Lying – It’s Hyperbole!

A great way to introduce just a dash of something funny is to exaggerate it. In what way could making something just a bit more extreme force it into the realm of hilarious?

One of my favorite examples of this is the title of the 1965 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; it includes 4 mads, which is just one past anything reasonable. To me this is funny, but to other people it’s frustrating. There is definitely a balance between taking things too far and not taking them far enough.

In a similar vein, you’ve got understatement. This is pretty popular in British comedy, which I think is why I love it so (there’s even a Wikipedia article about English understatement). Think Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, wherein eating babies and using their skins for gloves is spoken of as a nonchalant thing.

4. Political Jokes Are a Thing

Polandball is an old set of memes that are probably my favorite Reddit jokes of all time. In these poorly-drawn comics, different balls dressed in the flags of different countries interact and show national/international stereotypes. For instance, here’s my favorite one:

giphy

The joke is making fun of the American stereotype of intense patriotism. I post it somewhere every 4th of July.

The humor of political jokes is often tied to people’s perception of what is wrong with the world or a certain people group. Though you might not realize it, the “You might be a redneck if…” jokes are political because they make fun of a people group. They make fun of a socioeconomic status. Sometimes these jokes can elucidate important elements of change or things that you want to see improve.

Political jokes have a dark side, though: sometimes the joke will pry into the very tenderest corners of someone’s heart and cause them pain. I’m of the opinion that this isn’t really a good thing, and I try to not hurt people’s feelings with jokes. Even if I’m
“just joking,” hurting someone’s feelings still means I hurt them. So I try to be careful and am aware that I should own any failures in that department.

3. Puns

I’m a big fan of puns, but this section will serve more as a warning than anything else.

It’s an easy concept to understand – use one word cleverly in a sentence where another may be expected, or use a word to imply something else. They’re common in every language and culture, and many people enjoy the puzzle-like nature of these jokes.

There’s a lot of downside to puns though. Sometimes the puzzle is too hard to get, and it will pass over people’s heads. Sometimes it’s too common a pun, and people will find your joke poorly made. Other times, the pun may be in poor taste, even if unintended. Lastly, your audience may determine just how much you can get away with: an international audience won’t necessarily know enough about your language or cultural niceties to get every linguistic joke.

As a whole, use puns in writing sparingly. They cause too many groans, and too many people hate them. Readers may punish you for this sort of humor.

2. Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

An element of randomness can often bring a chuckle. The Spanish Inquisition sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and the rest of Monty Python, really) are a great example of how random, incongruous things can add humor. In the full Inquisition sketch, the three cardinals show up at several random times and break into hilarious questioning of subjects. They even put a lady on the rack, which happens to be a dishrack they turn to tighten some strings ineffectively.

Pitfalls of this sort of humor are going to far and doing it too often. The tone of your passage will of course determine how much you can get away with, but there’s always a point of too much. In the Monty Python sketch, there’s always a lead in with a normal character saying “What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?” to another normal character. Spongebob lives in a pineapple under the sea, but it fits the show’s overall tropical themeHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy runs right along the edge of acceptability in my opinion, as do similar works like Space Opera.

So, use this most powerful weapon of funny with glee and caution!

1. Not Everyone Will Find it Funny

Humor is in the eye of the beholder. I know that I simply cannot appreciate a certain kind of humor (I’d tell you about it but I can’t explain it), but plenty of other people laugh hysterically at it. No matter how funny you are, no matter how many people tell you that you’re funny, others will say you’re a wet dishrag.

So, get some health insurance, find a therapist, write something to make other people laugh, and make use of that sweet, sweet healthcare.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

This Writer’s Digest Article has some really cool hints that are rather detailed. For instance – did you know the “k” or hard “c” sound are considered the funniest in English? I sure didn’t!

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s prompt!

Witty Nib Writing Club #3 – Humor

06092019 Writing Club

The Witty Nib Writing Club seeks to provide an opportunity to engage in constructive writing activities online. Comments are key here at the writing club, and we’d love to have you join us!

For more information on the Club, follow this link to the club’s main page.

Quick Rules of the Club

To have your post included in the roundup, do the following:

  1. Make a post that follows the month’s theme. Using a pingback or a comment on this post, make it available to other club members.
  2. Comment on someone else’s post. Be constructive!
  3. Fill out the form below. Make sure you put good links – both to your post and the post you commented on.

Unless there’s a lot more responses than I expect, I’ll be checking those links! Even if you don’t want to comment, you can put your post in the comments and I’ll do my best to check it and comment myself. 🙂

This Month’s Theme

This month, we’re going to examine what makes something humorous. You can choose to write in any genre – from memoir to sci-fi to horror – but it must have a humorous element to it.

  1. Write a 500 word passage that includes something funny. It can be one word or 500 words, but it needs to be there.
  2. At the end of your post, point out one element you thought was funny. If you can, tell us why, but that’s not required because sometimes that’s hard.
  3. Comment on at least one other person’s post. Be constructive if you can, supportive if you can’t!

This means linking to your post in the comments below.  I’ll approve pingbacks, but you might want to comment if you don’t see it show up soon. I’ll read your stuff if no one else does!

The Form

Leave a link in the comments for other people to participate with.  This form is for the end-of-the-month roundup.  If you want to be included in the roundup, you’ll need to use this form.  If the form doesn’t seem to work, I’ll see what I can do for the next post.