Posts Tagged WANA International
Today, we are going to take a bit of a sideline from our acrostic. Over the holiday weekend, I was resting up from a nasty bout of bronchitis and puttering around Facebook. I’ve been long frustrated with this new culture of “Everyone’s a Winner.” Back in 2005, my young nephew was in soccer. I recall being horrified that everyone received a trophy.
What was the point for working harder? What gain did it give my nephew that I ran extra drills with him after school and off the practice field? He “won” the same trophy as the kid who showed for one game out of the season.
Trying is all that matters.
We see all over the news where schools are attempting to cancel Honors events because those kids who didn’t achieve honors “will be sad” because they are “left out.” We can’t honor the kids who traded video games or time with friends for extra work, far more difficult work.
We can’t reward those who sacrificed because those who didn’t might have their delicate sensitivities permanently bruised. We’re seeing flyers being sent home to parents that Field Day isn’t about winning, athleticism or competition and promising that “the urge to win will be kept to a minimum.”
In a world that lives and dies by competition, how is this healthy?
I can appreciate the desire to protect and shelter our young. I’m a mother. But life will not hand out trophies because of attendance. And this is all I’m going to say about that nonsense because it’s just the tip of the spear.
Sunday, I ran across something that chilled my blood. As writers we should be frightened of this new trend.
The Culture of “Special”
Yes, every person is a special unique snowflake. I wholeheartedly believe this. Every one of us is gifted with talents, drives, memories, passions that are uniquely ours. There will never be another YOU or another ME. WANA is dedicated to cultivating those gifts.
But, lately, this social disease of “Everyone is a Winner” has made me want to scream. Yes, everyone is given a set of gifts, but rewards are given based upon action. What do we DO with those gifts?
Showing up is the basest of requirements.
What I’m about to say might be unpopular, but I’m a writer not an Ad Man. Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics. Writers have always changed the world. Why? They were fearless enough to point out the unpopular. To shine a light on an ugly reality and maybe even extend some logic of how a social cancer might spread if left unchecked.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
There is a terrifying movement popping up in our universities. In my opinion, it’s the “shot across the bow,” the seed of the Thought Police.
If PC wasn’t bad enough, the new political flavor of “Everyone is so special they should never feel any discomfort” is Empathetic Correctness. According to a recent post in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior explains:
While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.
I didn’t believe this when I read it and dug deeper and yes, this IS happening. Some of our most prestigious universities are calling for literature to be marked with “Trigger Warnings” to point out any areas a student might feel uncomfortable or traumatized.
In a New York Times article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and other literary staples are in the EC crosshairs. Issues like slavery, oppression, misogyny could be “traumatizing.” Such literature might make students and young minds “feel bad” and thus students should have the option of reading something less distressing.
I know The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s Night, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, and even The Hunger Games changed me. These works disturbed me, made me weep, and most of them made me more than a little angry.
But isn’t that the point?
My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.
I even write works that challenge what we believe about our world or ourselves. What are we capable of under the right circumstances? My short story Dandelion is raw, viscous and utterly heartbreaking.
It was meant to be.
The High Cost of “Higher” Education
Higher education is supposed to expose students to other people with differing beliefs, ideas, and opinions…and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they might even learn to think critically instead of parroting. Heck, maybe they’ll even realize they’re really blessed and that there are plenty of people on the planet who’d gladly trade places and not B%*$# that the wi-fi is slow.
That is a mark of becoming an ADULT.
When I attended TCU, one of my closest friends was a refugee from Uganda who fled to the US for asylum after her father (a teacher) was brutally executed during a regime change. My other best friend’s family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria (where I went to briefly live after college).
My university exposed me to the brutality of the “real world” and made me angry enough to want to change it. So this white girl with blonde hair and a big mouth hopped a plane to the Middle East instead of Cabo San Lucas the day after graduation.
I traded a tan on a beach for a hijab. I wanted to understand even when it scared me half to death. I wanted to see if someone like me might make even a little bit of difference. To at least try.
Maybe we are offended or traumatized, but maybe we should be. Perhaps that’s what is going so wrong.
And to add an increasing burden to teachers, exactly how are they suppose to thread the needle between PC and EC?
As Chester E. Finn, Jr. points out in a recent post in Politico Magazine:
Does the history professor refrain from mentioning that Hitler killed homosexuals as well as Jews? Does the English teacher shun James Baldwin and George Eliot because one was gay and the other was a woman using a man’s name? Avoid Toni Morrison because one of her books includes a rape scene? Not teach astronomy because just two of the 23 best-known constellations are recognizably female?
I suspect why this is so disturbing to me is right now there is pushback. But what about in ten years or twenty?
Orwell predicted a world where thoughts would be controlled, and we laughed. Should we be laughing now? Alduous Huxley predicted we’d eventually live in a world driven by the Orgie Porgie Feelies of the Centrifugal Bumblepuppy. Pillars of truth would be buried under mountains of meaningless. All that would matter is “feeling good” even if there was no depth or substance. The human spark would snuff out since we only find our greatness in the crucible.
I’m not laughing.
And I suppose why I bring this up is what is the long-tail of this thinking? Years ago, I blogged about the dangers of Amazon and their strong-arm tactics. It was a level post praising Amazon but also cautioning what could happen if we failed to appreciate their past business behavior (and more than a few people called me a nut). Yet, lately it seems so many people are surprised that BUY Buttons can disappear. And this is Amazon’s business and not really my point.
My point is this: In a virtual world, books are “allowed” to exist.
Let’s take Amazon out of this and let’s speculate that another business comes along and uses Amazon’s business model and improves upon it. Fluffy Fairy Dreams takes over and does it better…and embraces EC.
What “warning labels” would be on your books or mine? With enough political pressure, could our writing disappear? If universities press down this path of making everyone happy and comfortable, will there be generations who no longer remember works like Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice? Or find them so “distasteful” the BUY buttons vanish?
We no longer need to burn books when we can just “delete” them.
I know today’s post is disturbing. It was meant to be. Maybe it should have come with a warning label ;) . Yet, the duty of bloggers (who are a form of journalist) and writers is to start the conversation. This Brave New World scares me. Yes, The Digital Age of Publishing is wonderful. Works nearly driven to extinction by the print paradigm are springing back to life. Writers can reach new audiences and emerging markets abound.
But we must remain vigilant. Who would have thought in 1980 we’d take pictures with our phone? What was laughable then is now commonplace. If we scoff at the idea that books can vanish…?
What are your thoughts? By the way, I never mind anyone disagreeing with me so long as the disagreement is respectful. Maybe I do need a tin foil hat. I’ll own that. But, maybe I don’t.
What warning labels would be attached to your writing? Did you find healing from past trauma through literature? Maybe realizing you weren’t alone? Are you writing on a delicate subject hoping to encourage a dialogue, understanding or catharsis? What do you think about this trend of being “empathetically correct”?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.
Kristen here, and we’ll continue our acrostic for VICTORY next post. I’m interrupting for a Writer Public Service Announcement. Great dialogue is paramount. Readers can overlook a lot of things if we have fabulous dialogue.
Dialogue can make or break a book. We can have the most brilliant story ever imagined in human history, but if the dialogue is weird, stilted, or redundant, that’s a good place for a bookmark.
As an editor, I can attest that this is one of the BIGGEST problem areas for the new writer. Dialogue can often sound stiff, like two kids playing with Barbies or fighting with action figures. Or, characters can become “talking heads” who all sound the same.
Great dialogue should give us a peek into the psyche of the character. We know we’ve done it properly when readers really don’t need tags (though use them where appropriate anyway for safe measure). When we nail dialogue, our characters can become so rich and vibrant the reader knows who’s speaking simply by the way they speak, what they say or even don’t say.
A fantastic example of this is J.E. Fishman’s latest book, “A Danger to Himself and Others.” Fishman did an astonishing job of characterization through superb dialogue. When I read this book, I always knew who was talking. This helped create characters so real and a world so rich, it drew me in and didn’t let go.
***I believe the Kindle version is free right now, so I recommend this book for a study in this area.
So, today to give you guys some quick tips on FAB dialogue, I have our WANA International instructor, Marcy Kennedy to guide you.
Take it away, Marcy!
In my years as a freelance editor, I’ve worked with clients all the way along the writing path—from newbies who are just starting their first book to seasoned veterans with multiple books on the market. I can now guess with a high level of accuracy where a writer is along the path based on the types of dialogue mistakes they’re making.
Newer writers tend to use creative dialogue tags or allow their characters to speak for paragraphs (or pages!) at a time without interruption. I once edited a novel where a character spoke for 63 pages solid. No joke.
But new level, new writing devil.
As writers gain experience in the craft and stop making the newbie mistakes, they run into a new dilemma. They’re told their writing still isn’t ready.
And one of these dialogue death sentences is probably playing a role in killing their chances at publication success.
Death Sentence #1 – Redundant Dialogue
Redundancy happens when we repeat something in our dialogue that we’ve already written in either narrative or action.
He shook his head. “No.”
Unless our character needs to add extra emphasis to their denial, the action or the dialogue alone is usually enough.
Let’s look at a sneakier example of redundancy.
Rob glanced at the clock on the wall. Three at last. Time for him to go. He popped his head into Joan’s office. “It’s three. I’m heading out. Want me to lock up?”
The redundancy here isn’t as exact as in the previous example, but it still makes for boring, flabby writing. We could tighten it to read…
Rob glanced at the clock on the wall. Three at last. He popped his head into Joan’s office. “I’m heading out. Want me to lock up?”
Redundancy can also happen big-picture. If, for example, we’re going to have a character cracking a safe, we don’t need to have them explain the whole process to another character before it happens. That makes it boring for the reader to then have to sit through the description of our character actually cracking the safe (even if something goes wrong).
We shouldn’t bore our readers to death by redundant dialogue.
Death Sentence #2 – Orphaned Dialogue
Any time we confuse the reader, it’s a bad thing because we destroy their immersion in the story. If we confuse them enough times, our book goes in the donate pile or gets deleted from their e-reader and they move on to someone else.
When it comes to writing dialogue, one of the most common crimes is to leave our dialogue orphaned, with no one to claim it.
This abandonment comes in two types.
(A) Dialogue where we’re not sure who’s speaking.
I suspect this usually happens because, as writers, we know exactly who’s speaking. We forget the reader can read only our words, not our minds.
If we have more than three lines of unattributed dialogue in a row (dialogue without a tag like said or an action beat), we can risk the reader losing track of who’s speaking.
If we have a scene with multiple speakers, we need to be certain it’s clear who each line of dialogue belongs to. An unattributed line of dialogue could belong to anyone present.
But the sneakiest of all is when we write about two characters in the same paragraph and then tack on a line of dialogue at the end.
Ellen waved her arm above her head, and Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”
Who said “I’ve missed you”? It could be Frank or it could be Ellen, and the reader has no way to tell which one it really is.
(B) Dialogue where we don’t find out until then end who’s speaking…and we probably guessed wrong about the speaker’s identity.
AVOID dialogue like this…
“We have come to witness our finest warriors compete. Scythia offers their best to us, so we offer them no less,” the queen said.
By the time the reader reaches the tag at the end, they’ll have consciously or subconsciously made an assumption about who’s speaking. If they guessed wrong, it throws them off balance.
When we have long passages of dialogue, it’s usually best to either begin with a beat, so readers know who’s talking before they start, or to place a beat or tag at the first natural pause.
“We have come to witness our finest warriors compete,” the queen said. “Scythia offers their best to us, so we offer them no less.”
Don’t leave dialogue abandoned on the side of the road. It’s just cruel.
Need More Help With Dialogue?
Check out my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. In it you’ll learn how to format your dialogue, how to add variety to your dialogue so it’s not always “on the nose,” when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t, how to convey information through dialogue without falling prey to As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome, how to write dialogue unique to each of your characters, how to add tension to your dialogue, whether it’s ever okay to start a chapter with dialogue, ways to handle contractions (or the lack thereof) in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, and much more!
If you prefer live teaching, I’m running a webinar called Say What? Techniques for Making Your Dialogue Shine this Saturday, May 17th.
This 1.5 hour live webinar will…
* cover the seven most common mistakes when it comes to dialogue and how to fix them,
* explain how to ensure your dialogue makes your story stronger,
* show you how to create dialogue unique to your characters, and
* answer some of the most frustrating questions about dialogue such as how to handle dialect, should we use contractions in historical novels, science fiction, and fantasy, and is it okay to begin a book with dialogue.
As a bonus, all registrants receive an ebook copy of my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.
The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.
Kidding aside, it might seem strange that I have our WANA International Instructor, Kevin Lucia here talking about the horror genre. Yet, sometimes it’s good to get out of the comfort zone and cross-pollinate our creativity. I can tell writers who do too much reading in the same genre. What can really add that certain je ne sais quoi is when an author adds in elements from unexpected areas.
This is what makes the writing unique. Writing is similar to music, and the legends we remember in music are transcendent simply because they possess a gift of surprising listeners. They might add elements of opera to heavy metal or jazz to rap. This is where tropes can transform into something magical. Writers can do the same.
Kevin’s here to offer some suggestions to help diversify your creative palette.
Take it away, Kevin!
Some horror writers, for whatever reason, never end up writing nearly as much as others. And this is unfortunate. They never quite earn the popularity they deserve simply because they don’t churn out one cookie-cutter, mediocre story after another. Maybe it’s because of their sense of craftsmanship; because they consider(ed) themselves artists, because they want(ed) to live and breathe their own work, rather than spewing it out like a vending machine. Maybe they left us too early or, like Harper Lee, felt they’d said all they’d needed to say.
In my reading through different anthologies and collections, I’ve been amazed at how many of these writers I’ve encountered who only ever wrote a handful of stories. And because of this, sadly, they got pushed aside by legions of “pop” writers who latched onto the current craze, rode the wave, and then got overrun by the next legion of “pop” writers. Here’s a handful of horror writers I wish had written more, or I wish WOULD write more.
In thirty years, Alan Peter Ryan wrote forty short stories, three novels and one novella. And I wish he’d written more. A stylist who knew how to use place better than anyone, his novels Cast A Cold Eye, his novella Amazonas and his novelette collection The Back of Beyond are among the finest things I’d ever read. He wrote with a literary sensibility, and also had two reoccurring characters – cowboys in weird westerns the likes of which Larry McMurty or Louis L’Amour might’ve written – that I enjoyed, and wanted to see more of. Unfortunately, just as he was returning from a fourteen year hiatus from horror fiction, Mr. Ryan passed away due to pancreatic cancer. His other novels: The Kill and Dead White, and his collection, The Bones Wizard.
T. E. D. Klein wrote only one novel: The Ceremonies. Literary, finely crafted, built on tension and dread and atmosphere, about old myths and religions, it stands as one of the best things I’ve ever read. And that’s it. Only one novel, and no more appear to be coming any time soon. His short fiction is also astounding…and he only wrote fifteen of those, collected in Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales. He also served as the editor of The Twilight Zone Magazine, which became known during its four year run as one of the premier horror/dark fantasy magazines on the market.
Thomas Tessier is another fine author who hasn’t been nearly as prolific as some – only ten novels from 1978 – 2007 – but the results stand above the rest. Phantom is one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve ever read, and Fog Heart is deeply emotional, moving, disturbing, and finely written. Two collections of his short fiction exist, Ghost Music and Other Tales, and Remorseless: Tales of Cruelty.
A contemporary author who hasn’t written nearly as much as I’d like him to is Robert Dunbar. The Pines and The Shore are wonderfully lush, vivid, poetic novels offering intriguing spins on The Jersey Devil myths. They’re also about hurting people trying to find their way in the world without hurting those they love most. His collection Martyrs & Monsters offered wonderful genre/literary blends, and his small press Uninvited Books has committed itself to publishing literate, well-written dark fiction.
Another writer, Robert Ford (and no, not the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto), also hasn’t written enough, of which we all dutifully remind him often, and kindly (sorta). Bob writes immensely enjoyable, entertaining horror…but his sense of style and craft is finely tuned, raising his work above the rest. Samson and Denial is a wonderful mix of crime noir and horror and I bought his short story “Georgie” for Shroud Magazine’s Halloween Issue because – as a father myself – it tore my guts out, in all the best ways. I haven’t yet read his zombie novel The Compound, but I know this: it will be about far more than zombies, simply because it was written by Robert Ford.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at some authors whose writing simply can’t be contained by the term “horror,” or whose work sprawls outside all the lines.
Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror Channel. His podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!
Also, due to an EPIC ice storm, my Big Boss Troublemaker class has been moved to TONIGHT. No antagonist? NO STORY. There is no novel I can’t help you fix, so SIGN UP here. There is no need to spend years editing and revising. An hour with me? ALL fixed.
I’ve read thousands of works, and one quick way to have a “paper doll” is for a character to be all good or all evil. When we begin writing, it’s easy to fall into this trap. Our heroes or heroines are versions of ourselves (minus any imperfections, of course). Our bad guys are every ex or person in high school who picked on us. They are evil personified. But then we soon realize?
Our characters are deep as a puddle, making them dull as dirt.
If we look to some of the most fascinating characters in history, books, and movies, we see a cast that includes Riddick (Chronicles of Riddick), Gordon Gekko (Wall Street), Wyatt Earp (history and the movie Tombstone), Tom Sawyer (literature), Annie Wilkes (Misery), Hannibal of Carthage, Hannibal the Cannibal (Silence of the Lambs), Batman, Iron Man, Poison Ivy, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles (from Tess Gerritson’s series of novels and also television), Lestat (Interview with a Vampire), Molly Brown (from history and the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown)….
and yes, then there is Scarlett…
Today to talk to you about how to create multi-dimensional characters that resonate with readers is WANA International Instructor, Becca Puglisi…
Take it away, Becca!
I was watching Gone with the Wind the other night—because, you know, it was on TV and I had four hours to kill. As a teen, this was the first “grown-up” book I read, and ever since, I’ve had a serious girl-crush on Scarlett O’Hara. Which makes no sense, considering what a horrible person she is. I mean, she spends most of the story scheming to steal her only friend’s husband. When that doesn’t pan out, she marries her sister’s fiancé to get his money.
She’s spoiled, materialistic, manipulative, and utterly self-involved. And yet, I love her as a character. If she wasn’t widely admired, I’d think there was something seriously wrong with me. But even after all these years, she continues to connect with people. Why is this?
For me, part of the reason lies in the duality of her flaws. As a spoiled brat, she embraces boldness to get what she wants. To pursue materialism, she needs to be resourceful. Cleverness goes hand-in-hand with her manipulative nature, and to obtain her selfish goals, she must be persistent.
Scarlett’s flaws aren’t one-dimensional. They have many facets—both positive and negative. This is how real people are. Our flaws, while limiting us and hurting our relationships, have beneficial features, too. Likewise, our positive attributes have associated negative elements.
I’ve come to understand that while most traits fit neatly into either the flaw or positive attribute category, many of them contain both good and bad sides. I recognize this in the traits that define me and the qualities I see in others.
The same should be true of our characters.
Utilizing both sides of a given trait will add realism to a character’s personality and increase your chances of him connecting with readers. Here are a few tips on how to tap into both sides of your character’s traits in the writing process:
Identify Your Character’s DEFINING Traits
This should go without saying, but it’s vital to understand your character’s biggest flaws and attributes. Make a list of which traits he embodies. Then, narrow it down to one primary flaw and one primary attribute. This will keep things clear for you, which will then ensure clarity for the reader.
For help figuring out which traits make sense for your character based on his history, you might find this Reverse Backstory Tool useful.
Explore Defining Traits from EVERY Angle
Once you’ve identified a primary flaw and attribute, brainstorm the behaviors and attitudes—positive and negative—that might manifest in a person who exhibits those traits. For example, if your character is controlling, his list might look something like this:
• micromanages others
• exhibits a lack of trust
• pulls people away from loved ones to increase his control
• manipulates others
• is good at reading people
• is passionate
• shows incredible persistence
Show BOTH Sides
Your list should contain some positive and negative elements for each trait. Utilize the good and the bad to give your character depth. Perhaps his knack for reading people can benefit him in other ways, such as making him a successful cop or judge.
Maybe his passionate nature drives him to give of his time or money to a neighborhood charity. Show both sides of your character’s nature, and you’ll create a hero or villain that smacks of authenticity.
Building realistic characters is a crucial part of writing a successful story. Know your character’s defining traits and tap into the good and the bad that comes with them, and you’ll be on your way to creating multi-dimensional characters that will resonate with readers.
Thanks, Becca! Who are some of your favorite characters in history, books or even movies? Why? Were they flawed? How? How did that flaw just make you adore them even more?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Comments for guests get DOUBLE POINTS.
Becca Puglisi is the co-creator of The Bookshelf Muse, an award winning online resource for writers. She has also authored a number of nonfiction resource books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Emotion; The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes; and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches webinars through WANA International, and can be found online at her Writers Helping Writers website.