Friday, March 31, 2017

Writing Prompt - April Fools Two Ways

With April Fool’s Day coming up I figured it’s the perfect opportunity to have a writing prompt focused on tone. Pranks are something that can be malicious or amusing depending on the intent and how they are executed, and this prompt involves using that concept to write the same scene two ways. The goal is to make minimal changes if possible, but to drastically alter the tone.

Scene One
Your character is at work and is preparing to pull a prank on a coworker. What’s your character’s job? How does he/she feel about the job? How long has he/she worked there?
What is his/her relationship with the coworker? Do they know each other well, or are they just getting acquainted? 

In this version, your character is pulling a light-hearted prank that isn’t meant to be malicious. It’s supposed to be fun and non-damaging. How does the coworker take it? Is the coworker a prank person, or are they uptight and take it poorly? Maybe they are normally a good prank person but today they’re having a bad day. Don’t forget, it’s all about perspective so use that to help set the tone, and remember to focus on the intent of the prankster, whether the recipient of the prank takes it well or not.

Start a little before the prank happens and foreshadow what’s about to come. Then show the aftermath. Are there any repercussions? Does the prank victim want revenge? Does the prankster feel happy? Sad? Disappointed? How long have they been planning this prank?

Play with it and see what the tone is when you’re doing. Then it’s time for…

Scene Two
Your goal is to get the exact opposite tone of scene one with minimal changes to the prank itself. Use the foreshadowing to help, and focus on the aftermath. How do the small changes affect the larger tone? How do they affect the plot?
The purpose of this prompt is to show how minor details can have a huge impact on a story and the way it’s interpreted. So play with it and see how little you can change and still have a major impact. 

Then change more. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you could even change genre or styles to see what that looks like.

Until next time, happy writing! 

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Friday, March 24, 2017

How to Write Places You've Never Been

I’ve been working with a lot of young writers lately who are just starting out, and in the process I’ve noticed that one of the aspects of writing they find most intimidating is writing about places they’ve never been and things they’ve never experienced. How do you make it realistic? What if you give something away that shows your inexperience to the reader? What if you get something completely wrong and it is the crux of your story?

Of course the best way to research a new location for your story is to go there and see it for yourself, but this is not always an option. So what can you do instead? Whenever I can’t physically go to a place I want to write about, here are the five main ways I research before writing:

Google Maps
My first step when I want to learn about a location for a story is to look it up on Google Maps. You can see the local vegetation, the roads in and around the town, the types of shows and buildings, the types of people loitering on the street, the traffic, etc. There is so much information to be seen from a simple Street View on Google Maps that it’s really priceless. Yes, sometimes the pictures will be a few years old, but it will still give you a great jumping off point to begin visualizing what the location looks like. 

Plus, you can learn a lot about the location based on the types of stores in the area, the cleanliness of the streets, the people walking about and what they’re wearing or doing, the types of cars and houses you see, etc. So do a brief tour of the town and vital areas for your story and make notes of what’s important, and if you hit a point in your story where you need to come back for more information it’s easy to do.

Population Statistics
Population statistics can really help you figure out the cast of characters for your location. It will not only tell you average age, gender, race and culture of the citizens, but it will also tell you the density of the population which can be important for describing living situations, traffic, and even transportation possibilities. I use population statistics to get a feel for how my character fits into the “norm” of the location, as well as to figure out how my character will have to interact with this world. 

Is she going to see a constant stream of people because it’s heavily populated? Or is she going to have to seek people out? Is she going to be the odd one out to everyone she meets, or will she blend right in and be invisible? It’s a minor thing, but it can do a lot to add realism to your story.

Crime Statistics
Crime statistics of a location can be important because it will tell you how trusting other characters your protagonist meets will be, it will tell you what the security will look like on buildings and houses in the area, and it will tell you how your character should behave. If it’s a heavy crime area there are more likely to be bars and gates on doors and windows, probably more graffiti, and many shops and things will have heavier security measures or cameras.

People may be less likely to talk to strangers or stick around if something bad happens, and your character may change their behavior by not going out at certain times or into certain areas. If it’s a low crime area where there is less to worry about, your characters could behave quite differently, so look into not only what the crime rates are in the area, but what TYPES of crimes are being committed.

Local Organizations        
The types of local organizations to look into depend on the type of story you’re writing. If you’re writing a mystery than you may want to look into local government agencies like police and hospitals. If you’re writing a young adult story with teens involved, it can be useful to look into local youth centers and schools to find out information about the programs they have. 

If you’re writing about a teenager, then going to the local school’s website to learn a bit about the school and how they handle things can help you get an idea of what your teenage character’s “typical day” would be like. So whatever your character is interested in, and whatever genre your story is, think about what organizations may exist in the area that can help you fill in details. Knowing the organizations and the types of programs they offer, people who use them, and ease of access will help give your story those extra details to really make it pop.

History Books
One of the final things I do when researching a place is to look for a major historical event that happened there that was influential to the culture or development of the city. I find that these historical events can become a part of a location’s identity, and knowing about at least one for a location can be incredibly helpful in upping the realism of the story.

So research and find one and then do some reading about it until you have a clear understanding of what happened, and how it impacted the city. Then as you’re writing see if you can work in those details anywhere. It doesn’t need to come off as a history lesson, but if you can work it in the extra touch will be great for your story.

Final Notes
Overall, the important thing when writing about a place you’ve never been to, or even an experience you’ve never had, is to do your research up front so that you have a clear understanding of it. Obviously you can’t know everything from research, but if you do enough you should be able to make it believable for your story.

If you really struggle with some element of your research, then look into contact someone from the place and asking them questions directly. I find many people will gladly help if you explain to them what you’re looking for you just have to take the extra step.

Until next time, happy writing!

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Brief Update and a Writing Prompt

Hello, all! Sorry I've been MIA lately. I know, you're probably tired of hearing that, but since moving to Los Angeles life has gotten very strange for me and it's been a little hard to keep up with the blog. It's on my list of goals for the new year, so lets all cross our fingers and I'll try to work my butt off to make it happen.

Part of the reason I haven't posted since the new year started was that I took a trip home to visit family and friends since I wasn't able to make it back for the holidays, and then I had to catch up on work while I was gone. I'm currently doing 4 jobs, so trying to do those and write has been keeping me slammed. However, this blog is important to me and I fully intend to keep doings posts as often as possible. I'm still doing monthly guest posts on Writing to be Read as well, and have one being posted tomorrow, I believe. It's about the One and Only Rule of Writing. I'll add a link when it's finally up.

This week's writing prompt relates to my own writing project I'm working on -- a screenplay. I'm doing a horror comedy, and I thought I'd do a prompt about mixing genres to get the creative juices flowing for everyone. So here we go:

The Writing Prompt - Crossing the Divide

Most stories cross genres in some form, but I don't think writers usually intend to cross genres in such dramatic ways. For this prompt, we're going to do it deliberately.

To start, what is your favorite genre to write in? Choose the genre you'd pick if it was the only genre you could write in for the rest of your life. Do you know it in and out?

Now, what are a few rules of your genre? I know writing rules are subjective based on each specific piece of writing, but think about the rules of the genre you chose that you like. What are they? What tropes or common elements do you love about that genre?

Now, choose the opposite of that genre. What is it? What are some of the rules and tropes of this genre? What are some of the common character types and story elements?

Here's the fun part -- throw the two genres together. Pick a location, and a character, and see how you can make these two genres work together. What kind of conflict is there? What kind of secondary characters?

Which of the writing rules/guidelines/elements that you thought of still apply now that you've crossed genres? Which don't?

Where are the two genres completely different? Is there any way you can make these elements blend together?

For my current script, I'm doing horror and comedy. Naturally, these two are on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum, but they actually complement each other pretty well. Comedy can provide the perfect respite for an audience from the tense structure of horror. It also works well to create a false lull for an audience right before a big scare.

How do your two genres potentially complement each other? Is there a way you can work them together to serve each other?

The key of this prompt is to force yo to think about genre constraints, and then to push them to create something new. So don't be afraid to think outside the box and to break a few "rules."

Until next time, happy writing!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

5 Types of Villains

As I mentioned in “The 5 Types of Heroes” on Writing to be Read, this week on Author the World we’re going to talk about villains. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the five main types of villains found in stories. Similarly to heroes, most villains (or antagonists) can be boiled down to certain types based on their motivation. Below are the five main types I most commonly see in films and novels.

The Sadist
The Sadist is an antagonist that enjoys causing pain to others. They’re driven by this desire to inflict pain, and they actively seek out ways to do so. A great example of this is Joffrey, or in more recent seasons Ramsay, from Game of Thrones. Both of them seek out ways to inflict emotional and physical pain on the people around them. Another common trait of this group of antagonists is that they are prone to angry outbursts, and they are brilliant manipulators because they are great at reading people’s weaknesses—that’s how they know what will inflict the most torment. While this type of antagonist or villain can appear in different forms, if they were asked why the do what they do, they would answer that they do it because they enjoy seeing people suffer.

The Chaos Maker
The Chaos Maker is exactly like they sound—someone that desires to make chaos. They are motivated by this desire and will seek out ways to do so, even going so far as changing plans or teams mid-story. One of my favorite examples of this kind of antagonist is, of course, the Joker in The Dark Knight. Everything the Joker did was in order to create trouble and chaos. He wasn’t after money or fame, and he didn’t really stick to one side other than choosing the side that led to the most destruction and chaos. If asked why they do what they do, the Chaos Maker would definitely be the one that “just wants to watch the world burn.”

The False Hero
The False Hero is a villain that thinks they are doing evil things for the benefit of the greater good. One example of this is the robots in I, Robot. The super computer Viki has decided that humans are going to destroy themselves so they begin to murder and take over the world in order to protect humanity as a whole. Another example of this is Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Kingsman.: The Secret Service. Jackson’s character wants to cull the human race in order to save the planet and humanity as a whole.

Both of these are examples of the False Hero because they think they’re doing something noble and righteous while committing huge atrocities. The main traits of the False Hero are that he or she is idealistic, thinks they are morally superior than everyone else, and they don’t care who is harmed in pursuit of their ultimate goal. With this kind of villain nothing is unthinkable as long as it helps bring them one step closer to their goal because they truly believe they are doing what is right.

The Mission Man
The Mission Man shares some traits with the False Hero because they both are driven by a mission and willing to do anything, and betray anyone, in order to achieve it. The Mission Man is different, however, because their mission can be anything and doesn’t have the same self-righteousness to it. The mission can be vengeance, riches, power, death, etc. Whatever the villain wants to achieve they will go after over everything else, and will not stop until they get it or they die.

An example of this could be most of the villains in any of the Die Hard movies. They all have some goal of money, power, revenge, etc., and they are hell bent on achieving it. The hero in these sorts of films becomes the target for the villain’s focus because the hero gets in their way, and the quickest way to achieve their goal is to eliminate the hero. Ultimately, if this type of villain was asked why they did what they did, it would be a simple answer: They wanted something specific (money, power, revenge, love, etc.), and it was their mission to get it.

The Mindless Monster
The final type of villain is the Mindless Monster. This type of monster is mainly found in horror movies involving animal and supernatural monster antagonists, but it can also include other types of antagonists as well depending on their motivation. Mindless Monsters may have some cognitive abilities, but they are generally driven by basic animalistic instincts. The Mindless Monster includes any creatures or characters that are driven to be the antagonist simply by what they are. Almost all zombies fall into this category, and some slasher film killers could be classified as this because they’re driven by the desire to kill, not necessarily out of a sadistic urge like The Sadist, or for a specific reason like the Mission Man, but because it’s just what they are.

An easy way to distinguish this is to think of it like a rabid dog versus a normal dog that’s prone to violence. A rabid dog is slightly out of its mind and will attack without thought or purpose, it’s just spurred by a mindless violence from the rabies. On the other hand, a violent dog will attack with deliberate malicious intent to hurt or defend itself if it is perceived as threatened in any way. One has thought and “logic” behind the action, while the other is driven by a basic impulse that it can’t explain or plan out. If the antagonist in your story is driven by some clear motivation, then they aren’t a Mindless Monster. However, if the antagonist is driven by a basic primal instinct to just kill, attack, or survive, and doesn’t actually plan things out with a purpose beyond that, then it falls into the Mindless Monster.

For an example, if you look at shark in Jaws. It does have some mind to it in that it plans its attacks, but because of the way the story is told we don’t really get justification for the attacks beyond the shark is just driven by violence to kill and attack over and over. The shark isn’t protecting territory, it isn’t defending itself, it just wants to kill and kill and kill. So it falls into the Mindless Monster.
To compare this, look at the wolves in Liam Neeson’s movie The Grey. In that movie the wolves initially seem like Mindless Monsters, but then you discover that they are actually defending a place they consider their territory that Liam’s character has invaded. Their behavior has a singular purpose, and it is goal oriented so they would actually be considered a Mission Man antagonist even though they are animals.

Ultimately, if your antagonist is driven by a mindless urge to do something because of something like hunger or instinct without a clear, thought-out motivation to why they are doing it, then they are most likely a Mindless Monster villain.

Final Notes
The key to picking a villain that goes with your hero is to really think about what their individual motivations are. Your villain’s motivations should be in direct conflict with your hero’s. The hero may or may not want to get in the villain’s way intentionally, but the villain’s actions give the hero no choice but to get involved because their motivations are so conflicting. If in doubt about what type of villain or hero you’re writing, ultimately it all comes down to that one element—motivation. Why are your characters doing what they’re doing? What is it that they want? If you can answer those questions, you can figure out who they are.

Until next time, happy writing!

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