Education for the Modern Hero

Write what you know, conventional wisdom says.

We've all had problems with this advice.  I used to hate it.  These days, I interpret it differently.  Write what you know-- and what you can infer.  Write what you can assume, based on the things that have happened to you.  Write what you can guess.

I don't know what happens when a dragon breathes fire.  But I know what fire does, and I can guess.  I, personally, haven't felt the power of a wormhole-- not like Tony has-- but again, I can guess.  My writing would be pretty boring if I just wrote about basic training and being frozen.

I guess a lot of stuff, but in almost every area, I try to make it as educated a guess as I can.

How do you make an educated guess?  You already know the answer: educate yourself.

Book Learning

Read!  Attend classes!  Be scholarly and all that.  It takes time and dedication to the topic, but it's usually worth it.  I once read Moby Dick because I thought I was studying the whaling industry.  I never used that information in a finished book, but I did learn a lot.

Be smart about this, though.  If your story really needs an in-depth understanding of Kantian ethics, go for it.  If not, just get the overview.  There is no limit to what you can learn, so be careful with what you choose to pursue.  Advanced differential equations?  Not much use in literature.  Basics of astronomy?  A little more useful in the sci-fi realm.

Is it worthwhile to take classes geared toward writing?  Well, I'll let you figure that out for yourself.  I'm a special case-- I chose to join the military rather than take a single writing class.  Who knows what would have happened had I pursued a liberal arts major instead?  I probably would have enjoyed myself, and I'd probably be a better writer.  But to me, this experience was worth it.  And that brings us to the next point...

Experience

Try stuff!  Ask people to show you things!  Get out of your comfort zone.  It's easy to study a million different topics, but actually getting yourself elbow-deep in a profession or an activity is a different thing altogether.  Sometimes this isn't practical-- space, for instance, isn't something you can jump into, per se.  But there are plenty of things in this world that are worth experiencing.  Each of those experiences allows you to infer a little more about the rest of the world.

Again, be smart.  Don't hurt yourself.  Don't spend so much time trying things that you forget to write.  And don't try to do the same things you put your characters through.  That could prove fatal.


Classroom learning cannot substitute for experience.  If you have a choice between the two, choose experience.

***

If you're at a loss for what to try learning, try some of the following: for book learning, psychology and social sciences are always fun.  History can inspire some good stories.  Languages are a ton of fun.  It doesn't really matter what you learn, however-- a better understanding of the world, people, and past will always help flesh out your writing.  For experiences, try martial arts, visiting new places, and different styles of living.  You might end up finding a lifestyle you'd like to pursue, rather than putting your characters through it.

Finally, let me reiterate: exploration and learning are fun, but keep your goal in mind.  If you spend all this time discovering the world and yourself, but not writing, you're not moving forward on that path.  Maybe you're okay with that.  Maybe it's time to hang up the writing costume for a while as you pursue other things.  But if your goal is to improve your writing through expanding your mind, you need to keep writing.  Writers write.  Just keep that in mind.

This post was partially inspired by Iron Man's post from years ago, about learning languages.  This is still one of my favorite pieces of advice, and while I haven't settled on a single language yet, I'm working on it.  I encourage you to reread that post if it's been a while.

Write!  Live!  Learn!  But mostly, write.

~Captain America

What is holding you back?

If I may ask a question, what is holding you back? 

Imagine, if you will, that you are writing your novel (or short story or poem or whatever) and everything is going marvelously. Words are flying out of your fingertips (figuratively speaking, of course) and the writing is all coming together. 

Then, quite suddenly, something has happened. You know what you are planning to write, but the words have stopped flowing. 

[Open W/ A Member of Team Cap ] “Yes, I understand what your point is, but signing the Accords could prevent many horrible things.” His forehead wrinkled and he looked at them with slight understanding. —“There is a point to my actions.”

This is a bit of a problem.

If you've been writing for a while, you may decide to just take a break. (We're still imagining this scenario.) You take a break, have a cookie, get some fresh air. You come back ready to write. Fully prepared to attack this thing on which you are stuck. 

You attack with all the grace of a two-headed hippopotamus. (It's a metaphor... I think.)

The words are coming. But they don't flow like before. You have to force them out. They feel wrong. Then the whole story feels wrong. 

You doubt yourself. Sometimes, it will get to the extent of wondering if you even can write or should you. 

Image result for avengers facepalm gif

Now, sometimes this is just writerly doubt. All writers, even published ones, go through this. Sometimes this is just you not being excited about the thing you have to write. Sometimes this is your subconcious telling you something is wrong with the story.

There are many reasons why this writing is not fun at the moment. But there is one specific reason that I would like to address.

Who are you writing this story for? 

I am not speaking of your general audience. I am not speaking of whom you plan to dedicate this story to.

Are you writing for yourself?

If you are stuck and you begin to fear that someone will not like this story, whether that be a specific person or a general someone, then there is a problem. That is not writing for yourself.

You cannot write a story under the fear that you are writing things no one wants to read. You cannot write under the fear that this is bad writing, even if it actually is bad writing.

In the terminology of author John Green, you must allow yourself to suck. (This is from the same man who says "Don't forget to be awesome.")

What does this mean? It means that it is okay to write badly, especially in a first draft.

First drafts are full of potential. Much like a cake mix.
Image result for avengers cake gif

You have eggs, sugar, butter, flour, oil/butter, and baking powder. Then you mix those things up. You have a bowl of goop that might taste good, but will taste much better once you pour it into a pan and cook it.

But if you spend the whole time you are mixing it up thinking that eggs are terrible and flour is bland and sugar is the only good thing-- how could these things ever come together to make something good and what if this person doesn't like it... you will not enjoy baking.

Likewise, if you spend writing time worrying, you will not enjoy writing.

So, what do you do?

You don't worry.

1.You write this story for yourself. Right now, you are the one hearing this story. Write it to entertain yourself. Find out what makes you excited and write that. You don't have to keep your writing and the process to yourself, but bear in mind that if you share too much, you may be putting too much pressure on yourself.

2. Allow the story to feel wrong for now. Everything is fixable. Chances are that your writing is not as bad as you think it is. Writers have a tendency to overreact sometimes (we have a good imagination). 

3. Writers also have the tendency to take things personally. After all, what you write is a small piece of you and something you've worked hard on. But just because someone dislikes your writing does not mean they dislike you. This is very good to remember if the person you’re worried about is someone whose opinions you value, like those of a parent or a good friend.

Your job right now is to not worry about anyone else. You can burn that bridge when you get to it. (Are my metaphors getting any better?)

Your job is to write your story and have fun doing it.

Image result for avengers captain america thor gif

What is holding you back? 

~Vision

Postscript: Our September Twitter chat is next week! (Friday, the 23rd, 8:30-9:30 PM EDT)  Join us!

Choose Your Story

When I am not on Avengers business, I get to enjoy Fall. When we were younger, after our parents died, Pietro and I had some difficult winters. Sokovia can get very cold. Now though the air gets more crisp and I think of warm sweaters, hot drinks, and NaNoWriMo.

September is one step closer to October. October is meant to be spent preparing for NaNoWriMo. It is in September that I think of what story I might write this November.

We all have a number of stories in our minds. It is why Tony and Steve fought over the Sokovia Accords. It is why each of us had a slightly different idea of what was right. Every NaNoWriMo, we get to choose which story we want to tell. That story could take over your life for months. You could be working on it for the next year, polishing it up so that it becomes what you imagined it could be.

Choosing which story to tell can shape your life.

Just like we choose which life story we wish to tell with our actions.

When Pietro and I decided to fight against the Iron Man, we thought we knew what was right. We took the information available to us and we used it to target the man we felt was responsible. We gained our powers, we helped Ultron come into being. We were telling a story of justice and courage.

Then I saw into Ultron’s mind, and discovered that his was not a story I wanted to be a part of. The Avengers let us fight beside them. Hawkeye gave me the encouragement to change the story, to make sure that Ultron’s tale of destruction was not the story we went to bed with at night.

I was free to choose which story I wanted to tell. Just as I am free to choose the story in my mind that feels right—the one that I want people to remember me for.

There will be mistakes. Sometimes our stories are misguided. Sometimes the stakes are too high, and we experience pain and grief because it does not come out the way we wanted it to.

Then we start to tell a new story.


Think hard about the story you want to tell this November. But know that I will not judge you if you change your mind, somewhere down the road. We do the best we can, with the ideas available to us. That is all anyone can ask of us.

Setting The Stage: How To Begin Worldbuilding

When I had to break into Pym Technologies to steal the Yellowjacket suit, I made sure I knew the layout of the building beforehand. Where were the guards? Where did the security system operate? How could I use my ant-riding skills in the most awesome way possible? (All right, maybe not that last one. But you’ve got to admit, it was pretty awesome.)

            

Similarly, it can be very helpful for you to know about the setting of your novel before you begin to write it. You might be setting it in a place that already exists-London, Brazil, the Sahara Desert, you name it. Or you might set it in a different universe entirely. The possibilities are practically endless.

But how do you begin to build a fictional world, one that really makes sense?

There’s no right or wrong way to start the process of worldbuilding. However, I’m here to offer some pointers on getting started.

If your setting already exists, then research can be a huge help. Especially if your story takes place in a historical time period, then it’s a good idea to make sure the facts are correct. Look in books, look online, even talk to experts if you can. And who knows? You may uncover cool facts that inspire whole new stories. That’s the wonderful thing about research.

If you’re creating a setting from scratch, you may think you don’t need to do research, or any planning at all. But surprisingly, you probably do. Even in completely fictional worlds, the details still need to make sense with one another. Contradicting facts will lead to many headaches later on in your writing. So take some time to create the structure of your world. The small details are important too - tiny facts can have immeasurable power.

                     

The setting of a story will have an impact on its characters. Their backstory, their beliefs, their language...all of that will be affected by the world around them. Sometimes, the process of building and researching a world will help you learn more about your character. Other times, you might learn more about your world by developing your character first. Again, there’s no right or wrong way. It took me a long time to learn how to use my Ant-Man suit, but eventually, I found a method that worked for me, and the same goes for writing.

Don’t forget about the mundane or basic truths of worldbuilding, either. What currency is used? How do people obtain food and shelter? What about plumbing and sewage?

Here are some topics you might want to think about.

  1. Geography, weather, and climate. What is the physical location of your story like? How does it affect those who live there?
  2. Basic needs-food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. How are they obtained?
  3. Trade, economics, and money. Do these have an effect on your world? How does everyone get the goods and services they want/need?
  4. Religion. What religions exist in this world, if any? How do they affect daily life?
  5. Government. Is someone in charge? Does it vary depending on where you go?
  6. Technology. How advanced is the world? What tools have they created to serve their daily needs?
  7. History. Have there been wars? Times of peace? Changes in government, advances in technology, social breakthroughs? Where has society come from and where does it seem to be headed?

One more important truth about worldbuilding is that it can seem never-ending. When my alter ego is developing her world, she normally ends up with more questions at the end of the day than at the beginning. It feels as if each new discovery - how the government functions, where the water comes from, what types of animals exist - just opens up another issue to be solved.

That’s perfectly all right.

The process of building a world from scratch isn’t easy, and the process of writing about a world that already exists isn’t easy either.

But I know you can do it. Writing is a marathon, and it takes a lot of stamina. Even when the end doesn’t seem to be in sight, keep running.

                       

Write on!

~ Ant-Man

Twitter Chat for September

Happy Saturday to you.

I'm here to announce that this month's Twitter Chat will take place on Friday, September 23. We will start the chat at 8:30 PM EDT and finish approximately one hour later.

This month we will be discussing Pre-Writing, the things you do before actually starting to write.

Join us!

~Vision

I Remember All of Them: Piecing Together Your Character's Memories

As a brainwashed supersoldier, memories are kind of a big thing for me. I mean, they're the biggest thing for me... considering I don't have a lot of them.


As I try to remember what my life was like before becoming the Winter Soldier, it's occurred to me that my quest for memories can translate to writing, too--particularly character development.

In order for characters to become fully-fledged people, it's important to give them all the things that people tend to have in reality. Characters need an origin story, a personality, a manner of speaking, a fatal flaw, etc. One thing I personally forget to give my characters is MEMORIES. (Though that's probably because I'm still trying to find mine).

Even though it's something that isn't often considered, characters do have memories (unless they're like me). They have good memories, they have bad memories. Every memory comes together to form a complex patchwork of the character's history, what makes them who they are. And I bet their memories impact them a lot more than you'd think. Whether those memories are traumatic (I have a lot of experience with those) or happy (I have some experience with those), they can influence the character's decisions. The past affects us more than you might think (I have experience with that, too).


Sometimes there are bad memories. In my quest to remember, I've been watching movies. One in particular is The Lion King, which has an applicable quote: “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” Is your character running from something? (I would know what that's like... I've been doing a lot of running.)


But then there's nostalgia--good memories can also a major component of your character's back story. Is your character running to something, trying to get their past back? Trying to recreate it? (I've been doing that too.)


There are so many possibilities. To develop your characters and move forward with your story, maybe you need to look back. Try figuring out...

Your character's best memories
Your character's worst memories
Your character's first memory
Your character's "defining moment"
Your character's most embarrassing memory
Your character's proudest memory

However you choose to piece together your character's memories, I hope it helps you figure out more about your characters. And I'll be with you every step of the way. Eventually, we'll be able to remember everything... together.


Signing off for now,
-Bucky

Live Your Dreams: Make A List

Do you have goals?

I'm sure you have dreams.  Everyone has dreams.  I dream of finally learning to dance.  I dream of having a real job.  I dream of using that real job to buy a mountain of cannolis and eating them all in one sitting.

Maybe eating cannolis could be my job.

At any rate, we have dreams.  But dreams are lofty.  They're out of reach.  I can imagine a mountain of cannolis, but I can't have them.  Yet.


That's the key word: yet.  It might be lofty, but there are a bunch of little things I can do to work up to that dream.  Those little things are your goals.

You know all this.  You're a productive member of society.  You have dreams that you'll achieve someday (I know you will!) and you know to keep working toward them.  So why am I writing this?

I have recently discovered a wonderful magic more powerful than any of my new friends.  It's called writing stuff down.

If you get it down on paper, you can start fixing it.  Everyone says that about first drafts.  If the story just stays up in your head, it never goes anywhere.  Not all goals are the same way, but in general... yeah, goals are the same way.

If my life was a musical, my monologue song would be "I wanted to do that but I forgot!" with a carefree yet disappointed melody.  I've thought up moves to try with Barton, technology things to ask Tony, and workout tips for Thor.  (The man skips leg day ritually.)  I can remember thinking all of these things-- but I can't recall what I actually thought up.

I started writing my goals down a couple weeks ago, and it's changed the way I work.  I look up, see that list, and decide on something to tackle.  I immediately can see how much work I'll have to do today, or this week, or this month.  I still forget stuff, but when I remember I add it to the list.

But remembering stuff?  That's small potatoes.  Consider this: each time you make a list of goals, you reevaluate.

We need to constantly reevaluate to live.  I'm not the same person I was last year-- I'm definitely not the same person I was ten years ago.  (My body temperature is much higher now.)  If I want to grow, I need to keep figuring out where I am in each journey I've begun.  Creating a goal list forces you to do that.  It forces you to figure out a timeline for getting stuff done.  This, to me, is the most valuable thing I've learned from goal setting.


So what kinds of goals am I talking about?  I've got a million of them— how do we break up that giant list into smaller and smaller bites?

Long Distance Goals

Long distance goals are the building blocks for your dreams.  Dreams are still lofty and unreachable-- long distance goals are large steps along the way.  You can't accomplish them in one fell swoop, but you can certainly chip away at them.  These are things you want to accomplish by the time 3 to 6 months pass.

For me, this involves querying a novel, writing a couple of blog posts, and some miscellaneous workout goals that line up with my current level of fitness.  It isn't anything too crazy-- it's achievable in that time period-- but it will take some effort.

Be careful with these goals, though.  While they're easy to write down, they can become frustrating if you don't see yourself making progress.  Don't be afraid to change them.  Our goals change over time as we change.  These should be easy to write down, but also easy to change if need be.

Middle Distance Goals

These are closer to the here-and-now, but they're still complex problems.  They still require a couple steps to complete.  These are goals that build toward your long distance goals, achievable over a week or two.


Every day this week, I want to do X.  I put these goals up there.  Things that might happen a couple days from now, I put here too.  But also, things that I could do any time, but need to get done this week.  For instance, writing this post.  I knew I wanted to do it by the end of the week, and now I'm doing it at the start of the week.  I'm happy with that.

Short Distance Goals

Finally, the urgent goals.  These are things that need to be done today, or you'd like to get done today.  They're generally one-step tasks-- easy to write down, easy to check off.  If it's something you'd like to do, however, it could end up being pushed to the next day.  That's just how life is.

Today, I needed to write this blog post, work out, and actually write out this week's goals.  I've managed to do most of that already, so I'm ahead of schedule.

Lots of goals, lots of productivity.  I hope this has helped you a little bit-- it's not the standard writing advice, but I promise it'll help.  Write down your goals.  Get a clearer view of what you need to do.  Above all, reevaluate your position in the world.  That's how we grow.

Live awesomely.

~Cap