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Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

I don’t talk much about comedy writing, which is funny (no pun intended) because much of my work has actually been comedy writing. I’ve been doing my comic for over ten years at this point, and I spent a good number of years writing scripts for a television sitcom (which never got picked up). In addition to that, much of my childhood and teen years was spent reading humorous offerings – Douglas Adams novels, Calvin and Hobbes collections, Dave Barry columns, etc.

I think it’s safe to say that over the numerous years I’ve picked up some tips here and there. And when I see something that could use a little work to make it funnier, it just gnaws at me. So I thought this would be a good forum for that.

I follow a blog called Texts From Superheroes. It’s fictitious text conversations between comic book characters, and it’s a lot of fun. There are a handful that have had me actually laughing out loud at my computer screen. The following example came close, but for one small misstep. Let’s see if you can find it…

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Now, before I start, let me give you the disclaimer that humor is certainly in the eye of the beholder. I’m in no way an expert on it, but there are certain things that just feel right to me. And this offering from Texts From Superheroes was off. Why? Because they went one step too far with the punchline.

Read the conversation again, but stop at Hawkeye’s last message and ignore Deadpool’s last one. Doesn’t that feel like a much stronger ending? I get that Deadpool finds himself in wacky situations – it’s what makes him an entertaining character. But to have him actually explain the ludicrous situation takes a little bit of the humor out of the exchange. By leaving it at “WHO DID YOU PISS OFF!?”, it leaves the reader wondering and perhaps concocting in their own mind who the offended party is. The last bit from Deadpool is basically like explaining the punchline to a joke (and, to be brutally honest, “Ninja Whalers” didn’t exactly tickle my funny bone).

Really, all it boils down to is an age-old axiom: Less is more. Don’t assume your readers are dumb and explain everything. Sure, some of them might be, but don’t let your writing suffer for fear of losing the attention of that percentage of people.

What? Oh, no, I wasn’t talking about you. You’re not only smart, but you’re attractive and you smell nice.

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I don’t normally subscribe to using dreams as a basis for book ideas.  I mean, that’s what Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight, and look how that turned out.  I mean, she’s a millionaire and all, but… actually, maybe that was a bad comparison.  Let me start again.

I don’t normally subscribe to using dreams as a basis for book ideas.  Most of my dreams are nonsensical at best, with the occasional cinematic narrative type dream that seems to make sense for about ten minutes after I wake up, and then I realize how silly it actually was.  But once in a great while I have a dream that can plant the seeds of interesting ideas.

I have a journal I sometimes use (meaning that I should be using it much more) to write down ideas for my works-in-progress.  There are two entries in there with dreams I had that I thought might be interesting to use.  The last one I wrote down was in 2008.  And that one wasn’t really that great.  The one before it was pretty cool, though.  I’d tell you, but I don’t want you to steal it.  It’s copyrighted by my brain.

The one I had last night was so vivid and narratively interesting that I had to capture it on paper.  And my brain continued to come up with ideas and explanations for things that happened.  Chances are, it’ll be more than a year or two before I even get around to actively thinking about using it, but it’s there.

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t ever waste an idea.  Whether it’s a dream, a question, a newspaper article, a joke, or whatever, write it down and save it.  Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t.  Maybe you’ll look at it in a year and think, “That’s garbage.”  And then you’ll look at it again in another year and realize that it’s brilliant.

Somewhere in the pile of boxes in my living room is a file folder labeled “Inspiration”, where I saved many a clipping or note that would aid me in my future writing.  I haven’t opened it in years, but it might be time to sift through it.

Maybe it’ll stir up more dreams to write down, continuing the cycle for years to come.

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As a writer and an artist, I sometimes feel that I’m failure in that I’m not completely depressed and/or write depressing things. It’s a stupid thing to think about, but when many great artists and writers line up with that, it’s hard to believe that someone as generally happy and content as I am could ever be a good artist or writer, or even a great one.

At a writers Q&A panel that I participated in recently, I was surprised to hear devastating stories from the other three authors that I was with, and how those events shaped their creative lives. I sat off to the side thinking that I had never had to deal with anything like that, and I questioned if I was even a legitimate creative because of it. Should I have been damaged in some way in order to draw inspiration from and to give inspiration to others?

The answer is a resounding no. It’s always a momentary thing when I start walking that line of thought, but I always come back to the fact that it’s not a requirement to have to deal with an extreme tragedy in order to be creative. It’s a requirement to deal with life, the good and bad, to be able to draw on both when the creative product needs it.

It’s a similar debate that I have with myself when I’m writing and I feel that I’m not using enough conflict in the story. But I absolutely hate when I’m reading or watching something wherein terrible things frequently happen to a character or characters. Yes, I get that sometimes it’s a cliffhanger, and yes, I get that it’s supposed to keep readers/viewers engaged. But I do like to see good things happen to people more than just once amidst a sea of awful events. Experiencing too much negativity through a story as a reader or viewer just exhausts me emotionally, and it ends up costing me enjoyment of the creative product.

But this is all personal opinion. I know there are people out there that like to read the dark, depressing things, and there are people out there that want to read the fluffy, happy things. I like a good mixture. And that’s why there NEEDS to be creatives who have all experienced different things, good and bad, joyful and ugly. That way there’s a book or a TV show for each person who needs it.

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This post will not be an overly positive one, but that’s the point of it – life is not always positive. So, if you don’t want to look down the barrel of a negative, albeit realistic, post, you might want to wait until I do my next album review post later in the week.

I grew up hearing the age old axioms “If you try enough at something, you’ll succeed” and “If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it.” And I fell into the trap of believing that for a long time. But when you boil it down to its essence, it’s just words.

Now, I’m not saying don’t try. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want something with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I’m not saying that you’ll never achieve your goal or succeed at something important to you. I’m telling you that much of what gets tossed around as inspiration pep-talking is not infallible doctrine, so don’t build up yourself on that foundation.

I’m only thirty-four. I understand that I have many years to try to become to a successful writer. But it’s hard to maintain that positive outlook when I’ve been writing non-stop since I was fifteen or sixteen, working my butt off at publishing my own stuff, and sacrificing so many things to do both, and I still feel like I’m treading water. And guess what? There’s the distinct possibility that I might never reach that success point that I’m aiming for.

My realizing that doesn’t make it a forgone conclusion. My realizing that doesn’t mean I’ve given up. What it means is that I’m not blindly running forward going, “I’m going to win, I’m going to win, I’m going to win…” I might never reach that finish line. Then again, I might. But I can’t be sure.

I know people who believe in the power of positive thinking. And I do try to stay positive. But as a writer, I’m aware of reality and what life really is, and what it can do to someone. I can’t turn a blind eye to that; I have to accept it, but at the same time I have to keep up the fight. Why? Because the possibility is still there.

In short, don’t be a fool and leap blindly, trusting for the best. Check to make sure your parachute is fully functioning and jump with knowledge that you might hit the ground hard.

I warned you this wasn’t a lighthearted post.

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I really don’t like people telling me what to do. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that here and there before, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Unfortunately, this sometimes extends to people kindly giving me advice, and sometimes that’s detrimental to me.  But not always.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was blatantly not writing because of the heat. When it gets too hot hot outside, my energy and brain power gets sapped. And all I could think of was all those writers out there who say things to the effect of, “Just sit down and write, and don’t worry if it comes out bad, you can fix it later.” But the problem is that’s not how I’m wired; if I know I’m not going to do a decent job – not a perfect one or even a great one – then I can’t bring myself to do it at all. And you know what? Despite what all those rah-rah writers say, that’s okay.

We’re all wired differently. Some of us can bring a laptop and write in a coffee shop. Some of us need a quite office space. Some of us need a hot cup of coffee at arm’s length. Some of us need glass of scotch. Some of us can write thousands of words without stopping. Some of us can only do a few paragraphs at a time. But the defining thing between us all is the need to keep writing. How we do it isn’t an equation that can be solved by plugging in the same factors each time. We all have our own ways of doing things. Just because one writer is able to sit down and power through even though the temperature is 150 degrees outside, it doesn’t mean that I can do it.

Don’t let your writing routine be defined by another writer. Try things that are suggested, sure, but don’t feel that you need to conform your way of doing things to a specific person’s way, regardless of how successful he or she is. Remember – that success was due to a number of things, not just what software program they used to write their book.

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I’ve made mention of this before, but I’m a brony (for those of you unfamiliar with that term, it’s a mash-up of “bro” and “pony”; it’s a descriptor for fans of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”).  As such, I follow a few of the creative forces behind the show on Twitter.  One of them is the creator, Lauren Faust (who was also responsible for one of my other favorite shows, “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”).  Recently she tweeted this:

Think you can't write women? Don't. Just write people and make them women.

(In case you’re interested in where the link leads, it goes here.)

This instantly put Faust on the top of my list of favorite people.  I’ve been saying this for years, almost exactly word-for-word.  It amazes me how many male authors think that they can’t write females.  If it’s not just thinking and it’s actually true, then they shouldn’t write at all.

Think that’s a bit harsh?  Here’s my logic.  Being a writer requires being an observer.  You have to know the world around you in order to create worlds on the page.  First and foremost is knowing how to write characters.  How can you possibly do that if you don’t observe how people act?  How they speak?  How they move?  How they interact with each other?  That’s stuff you can’t make up (and when an author tries, you can always tell).

Now, I’m fully aware that there are fundamental differences between men and women.  I’d be dumb to deny that.  But it’s in being observant that we can discern those differences, either consciously or unconsciously, and attribute them where needed.  The rest of it is just writing a character.  You don’t need to think,  “I’m writing a woman”.  Write the character.  Your brain will fill in the rest once you’ve trained it to.

And before you think I’m being one-sided, I do want to say that I’ve seen it happen the other way around.  I’ve seen female authors write what they think male characters should be, and it results in very poor, two-dimensional characters.  So it’s a two-way street, and both sides need to be more aware of their surroundings, because you never know when that unawareness can lead to a crash.

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