Heyo. I’m Charlie and I write. You may know me for my Keith/Lance fanfics. I don’t know if it helps my credibility, but I have articles in print that I’ve been paid to produce, I’ve translated and proofread four novels, and I’ve been writing off and on for nearly eighteen years. I’m not perfect, I’m not a master, but I do know what I’m doing. So if you write too, and you want to get better, here are some of the things I’ve learned.
Less is more.
You know the quote “Blood orange? Shut up, it’s fucking red.” Remember this while you’re writing. If you’ve ever seen one of those “100 synonyms for ‘said’ to use while writing :)” lists, here’s what to do with it: burn it. No one utters or opines or verbalizes shit. They fucking say it.
Basically: use vocabulary that you know. Turn to big fancy words if you are certain that they’re the best way to express the nuance you’re going for, but avoid them if you’re only using them to make your prose more “interesting.” Don’t worry about sounding a little repetitive. Sounding pretentious or like someone who hangs out too much on Thesaurus.com is a lot worse.
Remember your whole body.
Ever read writing that punches you in the gut and makes you feel things? Ever aspired to create something like that yourself? Well, the key to doing it is to remember the body. Stay aware of the fact that we exist in the world as messy 3D beings made of blood and meat and emotion.
It’s natural for most people to start with visual impressions and describe what things look like, but your writing won’t start to come alive until you also begin describing what they feel like, smell like, taste like. The five senses are a cheesy but effective checklist. Throw in sounds, smells, and body sensations alongside the visual aspect.
This goes for emotion, too. If your character is sad, think back to what you felt like when you were sad. Heavy gut? Rain clouds in your head? Tears pricking at the backs of your eyes, but never quite falling? All that is a lot more interesting than simply saying “they were sad.”
For the love of God, never type “Hello.” He said.
This falls under the general umbrella of using correct grammar (which you should!), but I feel the need to point this particular faux pas out because a) it’s soooo common for people to do this, and b) I can’t stand it. This is the type of persistent mistake that actively interferes with the flow of the writing for me as a reader.I don’t care if some big-name fic author does it or if you’ve seen a million others do it – you’ll never find it in a professionally proofread and edited book. Because, at the end of the day, it’s wrong.
Compare these two examples:
“This sucks.” She sighed. “This sucks,” she sighed.
In the first example, she says the words first, and sighs afterward. In the second, she’s sighing the words. Simple difference. If the action is directly related to how the dialogue is being conveyed, it should come attached to the dialogue. If the action and dialogue are separate, separate them. Throwing in a bunch of loose, orphaned “He said” clauses is choppy and incorrect and pisses me off to an irrational degree. Please, please avoid this. I’m begging you on my hands and knees.
Focus your characterization.
Keeping characters in character is one of the biggest challenges of writing. I find that an easy way to stay on track is to summarize the character’s way of reacting to the world in one or two simple sentences, and when you’re not sure what they would say or do, try to keep it in line with that basic conception.
For example, I’ve characterized Keith from Voltron as someone who “feels things very strongly and honestly, but has trouble putting his emotions into words.” My Hunk is “prone to gossip, but has a heart of gold and the strongest sense of justice you ever saw.” I keep this minimalist notion of a character at the front of my mind when I write them, and it usually helps them stay themselves.
Try to keep it general, though. “Passionate about food,” “flirts a lot,” or “in love with Mothman” aren’t basic personalities, they’re character traits. They don’t tell us anything about how someone will act in a given situation, and make for poor, flat characterization.
Write what you want to read.
No, really. I know that the urge to pander is strong, as is the desire to give the people what they want. But you’re people, too. Give yourself what you want. Is this hard? You bet. But it’s worth it when someone tells you “God, reading this is so refreshing. I’m so glad it wasn’t exactly like everything else.”
Voltron-specific stuff incoming here, but I feel like it’s important. Listen. Don’t write a fic where Keith and Lance have one (1) drawn-out argument before falling in hapless, sappy love, where Keith and Shiro are brothers and Hunk and Pidge are the Hilarious Meme Sidekicks, just because you feel like you have to. If you’re really passionate about that scenario, then by all means write it, but don’t do it because you’re afraid that’s all people are going to want to read. It’s not true. More likely than not, they’re sick of reading the same fic for the millionth time, and they’d love to see your take on things.
Remember: Fanon isn’t the law. Not even canon is the law. Follow your kokoro. Go weird places. You do you. I will be cheering you on.
Kudos to you if you read this entire mess. I hope it could be of some help. Now go write! I believe in you, friendo.
Since Craig never listens to new music, I get to post my favorites here. DEAL.
Also, please be safe tonight, drinking and driving is lame as shit.
Happy New Year!
Top 10 LPs of 2012:
10. Amanda Palmer – Theatre Is Evil
I know, I’m not punk and you’re telling everyone. I know somebody gave you an ill-informed reason for why you should hate her, but I’m not going to get into that garbage here. If the catchy 80s-esque pop rock songs don’t do it for you, then the slower, more emotionally-driven tunes on this album should still melt your heart. The only downside here is that the songs tend to drag too long (pop songs are generally three minutes for a reason), which can make you turn off the album a few songs in, before getting to its strongest moments.
9. Hot Water Music – Exister
Although it doesn’t sound as organically grown as their previous works, Chuck and Chris have certainly grown as songwriters in their solo ventures, Chuck’s voice sounds unbelievable, and George and Jason prove once again that they are in fact the best rhythm section in the history of punk rock. This is not an example of an old band trying to rehash their glory days. This album rocks hard, plain and simple.
8. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
I thought that I remembered seeing this band live and hating them until someone pointed out that I was thinking of Japanther. I’m not usually into lo-fi indie rock records, but it works perfectly for these guys. Listen to this album next time you’re trapped on the subway and just take it in. This is what rock and roll should sound like in 2012.
7. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
This band deserves every ounce of success they get. They never rest on their laurels, and every album they release demonstrates growth. Brian’s lyrics and vocals are at the top of their game, and the production value that the major label has afforded them gives makes these songs feel larger than life. Not every new move they make works, but most of these songs absolutely kill.
6. Apologies, I Have None – London
I remember hearing Apologies a few years ago when they were a two-piece folk-punk band, and out of nowhere they release the most anthemic punk album of all-time. If this album has a flaw, it’s that the songs are all so big that the record lacks pacing. I really hope these guys get to America soon.
5. Run, Forever – Settling
Picking up where “The Devil and Death and Me” left off, the band definitely sounds more confident this time around. While the first album perfectly captured the immediate experience of dealing with the death of loved ones, losing childhood faith, and fearing of the uncertainty of adulthood, this album takes on the next phase: getting through the depression and starting to grow.
4. The Taxpayers – God Forgive These Bastards
While the Taxpayers may very well be the most fun live band on the planet, their albums never quite gripped me until this one, which showcases an experimental blend of folk, New Orleans-style jazz, and energetic punk rock. Telling the true story of Henry Turner, a former college baseball great whose future vanished in one swift injury, sunk into depravity and ultimately rose above it all to become something of a folk hero, this album is an incredibly human tale of failure and redemption.
3. The Smith Street Band – Sunshine & Technology
Usually it takes a while for a band to grow on me, but every once in a rare while I’ll see a band live that I’ve never heard before that makes me go “Holy shit. This is really something special.” I had that moment with Smith Street earlier this year. Save for literally one line, the lyrics on this album are raw, vulnerable, and expertly crafted, with music that matches those emotions precisely. Do not sleep on this band.
2. The Sidekicks – Awkward Breeds
I’ve always liked this band, but they’ve really stepped it up a notch this time around. These guys are the best pop geniuses in the punk scene. Weezer comparisons are inevitable, but there’s a straightforward sincerity here that Rivers could never muster. It would be remiss not to mention Matt’s vocal harmonies, which absolutely make this record. The rocking tunes pull you in, but you definitely stay for the quiet ones.
1. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
It has been an absolute privilege to watch this band grow over the past few years. Every release blows the last one out of the water, and this is no exception. Did Epitaph make Greg take singing lessons? I don’t know and I don’t care. This album is jam-packed with amazing hooks, singalong choruses and lyrics that capture the essence of being in your mid-twenties, trying to make sense of your limited experiences, and having no fucking clue where life is taking you. This may be premature to say, but I believe that twenty years from now, when we’re talking to the youngins in the scene about what we were going through in our lives in 2012, what made punk music important to us way back when, this is the band we are going to be talking about.
Our Time Down Here, The Holy Mess, Brendan Kelly & The Wandering Birds, Dikembe
Top 5 EPs of 2012:
5. Binary Heart – Splitsville
4. Elway – Hence My Optimism
3. Spraynard – Exton Square
2. Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (Shut up. This isn’t a full-length and I refuse to pretend it is.)
1. Muncie Girls – Revolution Summer
Album I didn’t pay attention to in 2012 and will probably love next year:
Hop Along – Get Disowned
Album I didn't give enough attention in 2011 now love:
The Front Bottoms [self-titled]
Looking forward to in 2013:
Captain We’re Sinking, Against Me!, Broadcaster, Streetlight Manifesto, Plow United, The Homecoming Queens (YEAH RIGHT), Gaslight Anthem