Category: Writing Tips


ant-man-thor-poster-1In my review of Ant-Man, I mentioned how the movie couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it was a caper film or a superhero origin story. I laid out the reasons why those two types of stories are, if not incompatible, then at least problematic to mix together. I also mentioned I might do a post on how I might have adjusted the movie if, for some strange reason, they came asking for my advice.

So how would I have done the movie differently?

This is actually a more dangerous question than it might appear. I’m a prose editor. I’m a pretty good one. I’m also pretty good at analysis, developmental/structural rewriting, and closing plot holes. None of that means that I’m good at scriptwriting. Visual media is a very different ballgame. I know just enough about the differences to talk about them, and not enough to actually put them into practice. I’m a professional editor, but I’m an armchair amateur when it comes to script-doctoring. I know my limits and I’m not going to pretend that expertise in one form of fiction extends to another.

So, disclaimers aside, here’s my armchair amateur opinion about what I’d have done if I’d been asked to give a developmental edit (also called structural editing) on the film.

Spoiler Warning Continue reading

Ant-Man

Ant-Man_posterSadly, I haven’t had much time for blogging lately (at least about writing); but I can’t pass up a review of Ant-Man. Particularly since so many of you enjoy me writing about the Marvel franchise.

I went to see Ant-Man last night at the Alamo Drafthouse, because who can pass up the chance to watch superhero films while eating fried mozzarella and hot wings, washed down with an alcoholic root beer? All movie theaters should be restaurant theaters.

Anyway, it was a good experience. The service was prompt and good as always, and the movie was decent. Yes, decent; not incredible, not outstanding. Decent.

As I said before, I expected this movie to disappoint me by comparison to the others. On a scale of Marvel films, this is the third-worst, beating out Thor: The Dark World and Incredible Hulk, though Dark World had better visuals. That may sound disappointing, but remember what I said before: a bad Marvel movie is, so far, better than an average movie.

Spoiler Warning Continue reading

Using Short Sentences

Power of WordsEvery so often, I come across an author trying to use short sentences and paragraph-fragments. Sometimes this author is one of my clients, and therefore hasn’t had the benefit of a good line-editor yet, but sometimes this habit makes its way to print.

And what’s wrong with that? After all, we speak in short sentences in real life. We don’t use academic grammar that has us continuing for several lines in the same thought, sometimes separated into more manageable chunks using semicolons; no, when people speak normally, they speak in fragments, rather than continuing on and on like this sentence, as if commas were going out of style.

Well, like with any part of writing, it’s a matter of art rather than science. Contrary to particularly pedantic grammarians, there are a lot fewer rules to English than we teach in school. In fact, as I’ve described previously, a lot of those modern grammar rules came about because certain people were overly-enamored with Latin and Greek and objected to the idea that English had become streamlined. (As if lots of rules meant a language was somehow more dignified.) That includes stuff like “Bob and I” versus “Bob and me,” which not even the rules-conscious French language (well, the official French language; there’s an even greater difference between academic and colloquial French than with English, which is why the French look so pained when you try to speak their language) has found a problem with.

So the problem with short sentences isn’t that there’s some rule against them. It’s that, as with any art, it’s a good idea to know what your tools are used for. Continue reading

Hugo-Award-e1422355571917Things have been very busy on my end, as I deal with a few major projects at my other job and launch a new collaborative blog site (more on that later), and also prepare for my presentations at AwesomeCon.

I’m just dashing off a quick post here to cover a bit of Hugo news: the Hugo Awards Voter Packet is out. Continue reading

I’m just going to toss them all together today. It’s a superhero gumbo! Or a salad, if you prefer leafy things.

There’s a reason why I’m doing that. Well, two reasons. The one that has nothing to do with laziness is that Arrow, The Flash, and Agents of SHIELD all had a few things in common this week. They all dealt with stakes that have less to do with saving the world, and everything to do with their own humanity.

It’s necessary to up the stakes for a serial story, since if your characters always deal with the same problems then everything is boring. (Or it’s an American soap opera. Or a political election cycle. Or both. Hey, I live just outside DC; you can’t tell me it’s not like a soap based on The Godfather or something.) On the other hand, if you’re constantly upping the external challenges, then your character quickly becomes so powerful that threats start becoming rather ridiculous. That’s even more important if you’re like Superman and you wind up leveling Manhattan in your origin story.

I don't care if you call it "Metropolis." Who thought that an audience would find a climax involving massive buildings collapsing in New York City to be endearing?

I don’t care if you call it “Metropolis.” Who thought that an audience would find a climax involving massive buildings collapsing in New York City to be endearing? I mean, other than Zach Snyder. Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? 

The best way to solve that issue is through exploring human bonds between characters (even if some of them might not be human). As I said yesterday in my post on superhero prose, it’s important to never lose sight of human wants, needs, desires, things that an audience can understand. A massive battle is fun (well, in fiction), but it will never carry the same weight as the betrayal of a loved one. Done right, and the audience can feel a punch in the gut too.

However, from here on out, hic sunt mortiferis. That’s Latin for “If you haven’t seen this week’s superhero shows, you might want to check back later.”

Spoiler Warning Continue reading

PowAvengers 2 comes out this weekend. Well, Thursday, in many places . . . which means you might wind up with a lot of geeks missing work on Friday. Me? Ha! I get paid for this stuff!

Well, no, I actually don’t. This blog is a 100% free resource, and I can’t get paid for reviewing Age of Ultron. I can, however, potentially get paid for talking about superheroes in general. (Mind you, I can neither confirm nor deny any involvement in the development of a multi-author shared-world superhero setting. Hush, now. I don’t know how these rumors get started.)

Superheroes have, arguably, been around as long as science fiction or fantasy, at least as separate genres with somewhat dedicated followings. They’ve always seemed a bit separate, however, because they use what I call the fourth medium of print: visual art. (The other three are prose, poetry, and script.) Superheroes have rarely done well outside of comic books, in large part because the visuals have dominated the storytelling so completely that it’s difficult to have the same effect in pure prose. It’s only been recently that film technology has advanced to the point that the big screen can live up to the promise of hand-drawn art.

That, however, is a stylistic difference that more people are accepting these days, and it is entirely because of indie publishing.  Continue reading

AwesomeConEmails went out to all the speakers and panelists at AwesomeCon 2015 yesterday, and four out of seven of my suggestions were accepted. I was expecting two at most, so this is fun.

If you’re planning to go to AwesomeCon this year and want to see me talk, three of the events will be on Friday, and one (mostly of interest to gamers) will be on Sunday.  Continue reading

swearing-at-workWe do it a lot. Of course, we might call it different things. Profanity, swearing, cursing, cussing . . . yeah, we do it a lot.

Of course, not everyone does it to the same degree, or with the same words. Sometimes that can be amusing, at least in certain contexts. A common Australian word for a cigarette, for example, is the same word as an insult for a homosexual in the US. In the UK, a very common swear word (though less severe these days than a few decades ago) simply means to have the quality of blood in the US and Canada. And that’s where everyone speaks the same language.

Swearing serves an important function, and the fact that we all do it to some degree or another means our characters probably should as well; but when should we do it, how much, and why? Continue reading

On an author’s recommendation, I signed up for BookBub, a service that sends daily emails about ebook deals from multiple sites based on my preferences. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say it’s worth it. Even if the name makes me think of Wolverine.

Actually, the idea of Wolverine sending me emails about books is pretty darn cool.

Actually, the idea of Wolverine sending me emails about books is pretty darn cool.

The service is free to consumers (content providers can pay to have stuff promoted). They do, obviously, collect your email address and taste preferences; but I haven’t noticed any evidence that they’ve sold my information to others (and their privacy terms state that while they share information, they do so anonymously and only in regards to BookBub’s own services as provided by any third parties). That suggests that they might be planning on an expansion later, but for now I can’t find a downside.

BookBub offers the following services: Continue reading

I took a creative writing course at my first college. I dropped it later, because the professor didn’t know how to actually teach creative writing. That’s not to say that I knew what I was doing; I’d been writing since I was eleven, and by the time I took this professor’s class I was told by one professional author and another English professor that I was publishable, but I (today) wouldn’t consider myself (then) to know what I was talking about any more than that professor. I learned far more from the assigned texts than I did from her.

The problem with many creative writing courses is that they spend a lot of time teaching you what not to do rather than what you should do. That’s a lot easier, I suppose; as I frequently say, writing is an art, not a science. There are a few ways to fail, and an near-infinite number of ways to succeed. It’s easier to talk about what not to do. The problem is that these courses go on and on with their rules rather than treating it as an art form. When I teach writing, I actually approach it the same way one might teach drawing or painting: here’s some stuff to try, and here’s how to refine it. The rules of fiction aren’t the laws of physics.

blogger-image-1782337503

One such rule, which this professor was quite strict on, is one that many of you will no doubt have heard. Don’t use adverbs. The professor in question was even more specific: “Don’t use -ly words.” Whether she didn’t care about adverbs that didn’t end in -ly or she just thought we didn’t know what an adverb was, I don’t know; it could honestly have gone either way. (You can tell I didn’t enjoy that class.)  Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: