Thor's Thoughts: Show vs. Tell

I am humble enough to know when others' words are better said than my own. To this end, my fellow writers of YA, I present to you writing advice upon which my counterpart stumbled just last evening. Advice that we will forever use and reference in our work.

May it help you in your own endeavors as well.

(Bolded emphasis added by me.)

*****

"Writing Advice: by Chuck Palahniuk

In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. She was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.

Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.

No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”

Versus:

“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.

(…)

For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.

Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.

“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

“Larry knew he was a dead man…”

Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger."

*****

I hope you read the entire excerpt. If you did, I commend you. Now put it to good use.
Good luck.

-THOR


There's a Reason First Drafts are Horrid

Disclaimer: I will most likely pay for this post/confession when Stark reads it.

When I first started writing, it was a matter of getting words on the paper - telling the story that was in my head and seeing how many pages it would take to end it. And in between making sure Loki was playing nice and avoiding Thor at all costs, I was able to stay focused on the story and write it in a matter of days.

Now that I've written more, and learned more about the craft, things have changed.

Now, I know there's that thing called show not tell, and another called character arcs, and another called pacing. And so many other little things that make me think writing is harder than fighting off Chitauri, and even harder than pre-calculus (I aced that class, by the way. Me and Bucky... let's not talk about Bucky.)

But in some ways, my earlier days of cluelessness was liberating. Easy. I could write, then I could edit.

Now, when I sit down to write, I think of everything, and the real story gets neglected because I'm trying to get it all right the first time.

Don't tell me I'm alone.

I'm a natural at never giving up. I feel like I have one of "before" and "after" lives that I've seen on weightloss ads in the newspaper (on a side note, I'm surprised we still have newspaper, though I never expected it to be in color. What's next? Moving pictures like in that movie... Hairy something?)

But while I never give up, I sometimes feel like I can't even begin because I'm worried about getting it wrong. I have an amazing idea I want to get down, but my mind strays to editing it before I begin.

So what should you do?

Just write. It's harder than it sounds, trust me, I know. But try to think of your days of ignorance, when writing was something you did like reading - for enjoyment. To tell a story no one else has told before.

Then focus on turning that story into a book. Edit. Fix up those arcs, pacing issues, plot holes and spelling.

There's a reason first drafts are horrid. Always remember: JUST WRITE.

I suspect I'll be coming back to read this post soon, because I tend to forget how easy it is to write then edit, not edit and write.

Over and out,
Captain America

Words to Cut from your Manuscript


Greetings, minions. I come to you from the depths of a land known as 'line edits,' where I shall return after writing this post. But I also come bearing wisdom (or, as my alter ego would say, observations).

There are a very large amount of words you can cut from manuscript. They're easy to find--a search on the upper corner of Word or whatever program you use, for most of them. Here is a list. (NOTE: These don't apply to dialogue.)

Red light words (delete, delete, delete)
Rather: as a description, not as a synonym for 'instead'
Very
Suddenly
Certainly
Finally
Found him/herself
A lot

Yellow light words (depends on the situation)
That: You don't always need it to connect two clauses. Sometimes, yes. If it makes sense without it, no.
Non-Said Words: Don't avoid the word said. Using other words is fine, but be careful how many whispers, snaps, and screams you have in your manuscript.
By: May indicate passive voice.
Being verbs: You need being verbs, but when you don't, don't use them.
Have: Similar to being verbs
Just: You can delete it 80% of the time
Of after Prepositions: Sometimes you need it, sometimes you don't.
Then: I'd bet money you overuse it. Everyone does.
Begin to: 98% of the time useless
Looks: To describe something, it's a secret being verb
Seems: Secret being verb

Don't think this means you can check your manuscript for these and ignore other problems, but these serve as a good check list before you hit send.





Becoming a Hero (Iron Man on Gifted Characters)

It’s been a while since my last post. You might remember I talked about creative exhaustion. Turns out, that’s not the only problem resulting from overwork. I gave myself repetitive strain injury from building too many suits and I’ve barely been able to type for a month. It’s not that I don’t trust JARVIS when I dictate stuff to him, but it’s not the same as using a keyboard to bash through writers’ block.

So that’s the only excuse I can offer for my absence. I’m writing this with splints on both hands -- I tried to tell Pepper via video chat that I was capable of building something far better to support my wrists, but she said it was building that got me into this mess and besides, that wasn’t what the physiotherapist had prescribed. (How does she know that? She wasn’t there. She’s 500 miles away right now and my whole existence is going to pieces.) So I’m basically vulnerable to attacks right now. Can’t fight, can’t type … it’s a tough life.

Let’s talk about something more interesting than my health, though: gifted characters.

Now, we at the YAvengers are better equipped to talk about this than pretty much anyone else you’ll find giving you advice, but whether your character is a superhero or a half-fairy with vampire heritage, there are a few problems you’re going to have to overcome, and a few things you need to get right.

What powers do they have?

More to the point, what don’t they have? Power without limits doesn’t make for a very interesting story. We need to know whether they can fly long distance, or whether they’re in danger of crashing in the ocean. Are their destructive gifts strong enough to take out a building in one go, or will they need to utilise something else to make the action quick enough not to get them caught? Maybe they’re super skilled with ice as a weapon, but can’t use it when they’re in too warm an environment. (Performance issues…)

Power needs to have limits. Make sure it’s established what they can and can’t do: it’ll be helpful for building up tension in fight scenes when they’re placed in a situation they personally can’t deal with. It allows you to look at their willingness to work in a team and accept help, too.

How are they going to learn to use their gifts?

Most of us aren’t capable of instantly mastering a new skill, especially without any help from others. If it’s a common skill, your character should find themself a mentor or something. But if it’s unique, there are going to be a lot of bumps along the way.

I would argue that this is one of the most important things in a hero’s story: becoming that hero. Things aren’t going to go smoothly at first. Look at me -- I’ve had plenty of issues and speed bumps with the suits. If a character gives up in the face of that, they’re not ready. If they push through and overcome, the reader will like them more. But careful: arrogance can be a fatal flaw. If they think their suit / gift is ready before it is, it could be their downfall.

To keep it realistic, make sure they screw up a lot first. Powers aren’t easy things to suddenly get. If they were born with them, of course it’s a different story. These days, however, YA fiction favours the ‘sudden revelation about supernatural heritage and development of powers’ trope, so I’m not going to address folks who are born special. They’re not even that interesting.

How are others going to react to their powers?

Society is important. Are they judged for what they can do? Do they have to keep it a secret, or will they be elevated to a higher class because of their gifts? Are they now an outsider, or has it opened doors?

Linking to the last point in this post, this can provide basis for allegory. Are they thrown out of their home for being different? Do they have to hide their true self and conform to what is perceived as ‘normal’?

These are all fairly self-explanatory, but they’re important questions to answer.

How will their body react?

Sometimes, humans aren’t equipped to deal with their gifts. You might not believe me, but I’ve seen it happen. It can destroy them. Are their bodies capable of dealing with it, or will it cause them pain? Explore the changes their biology might experience. (Do female werewolves have periods as well? Is the sudden growth of wings going to affect balance? Are they going to explode because of the magic or power inside?)

How will they react emotionally or spiritually?

This is important, but it’s often neglected in fiction. Your character has gifts. They might be thrilled. On the other hand, they might be scared. They might fear them. Some may have been brought up to look down on magic or whatever has given them these abilities, and are now forced to accept that they are their own enemy. This can link to religion. If they’ve been brought up in a particular faith, developing powers can cause a crisis of belief, especially when fairies or other beasties are involved. A lot of characters stop believing. Me, I think it’d be more interesting to see them reconcile their new life with what they used to think.

In this way, powers can be used as allegory. It’s up to you how to play that, but when people fight against an aspect of themselves because of society’s opinions and then gradually come to accept it and love themselves again, understanding that their gifts are for a reason … well, you can draw parallels with all sorts of aspects of life. Don’t neglect to explore the relationship a character might have with their gift. (This can also link to how others perceive it.)

Powers aren’t a fix-all solution. In fact they can cause more harm than good.

But they can be great fun to write. I hope this has helped a bit (behold, the pain I have put myself through to write this); if you have any other ideas, leave them in the comments and somebody will read them. Though it might not be me, because my hands will probably have fallen off.

Truth or Dare with Em Garner



As you know, confrontation isn't my style. I prefer to hide. In a hard-to-find place. (Like India...) BUT! Since I'm with S.H.I.E.L.D now, I was assigned to confront ask an author to participate in our Truth or Dare feature.

So who did I ask?

Guys, meet Em Garner, author of CONTAMINATED. Her zombie book is set to hit shelves on July 23rd. I managed to get my green hands on a copy and it. is. epic. Having, well...experienced transformation into something not-so-pleasant myself, you might say I have a thing for zombie books.


Em Garner writes books.She began writing at a very young age, always preferring the stories about what goes bump in the night. An avid reader of horror, science-fiction and fantasy, she first turned her hand to short stories about the sorts of things that hide under the bed…and she kept right on going.Now Em spends most of her time in front of her computer, writing away at all the ideas she has swirling around in her head and hoping she can get them into a story before she forgets them.She loves zombies, unicorns, and rainbows, the color purple and the smell of roses. She hates the smell of lilies, the feeling of corduroy and biting sandpaper. (Well. Who doesn’t?)She lives at the beach with her family, where she spends a lot of time reading and sticking her feet in the sand. She is afraid of sharks, but that doesn’t stop her from going in the water.


Find Em on 
and check out CONTAMINATED at



I politely (and cautiously, you have to be cautious with authors of zombie books) asked Em whether she'd like truth or a dare? She chose DARE.

The DARE

Write a scene where YOU catch (and confront!) one of your characters shoplifting in a shopping centre.


The SCENE


The girl in front of me wears a pair of ratty jeans and a hooded sweatshirt that’s seen better days. Her shoes, too, are worn through in many places. Dark hair held back in a ponytail streams from the side of the hood, pulled up to hide her face.

Maybe she’s ashamed.

She should be. I mean, I know times are tough, but stealing’s stealing, no matter what else is going on. And she doesn’t even have her hand on something important, like a loaf of bread or carton of milk, something that would make sense, you know? Something nutritious. Nope, this girl’s stealing a package of chocolate, and I can’t just turn my head at that. Chocolate’s too expensive now, not to mention that it doesn’t taste right anymore.

“Hey,” I say, but softly. I don’t want to draw attention to her. I don’t like that she’s stealing from my shop, but I don’t need trouble with the cops. They’ll be in here faster than you can blink if there’s any sign of something going on.

The girl turns. She doesn’t look guilty. She looks defiant. Her hands are empty, but I saw her slip that candy into her pocket. She lifts her chin. She knows she’s caught.

“What’s your name?”

“Velvet,” she says, no hesitation.

“Velvet, I’m going to have to ask you to –” I pause when I see the much younger girl come around the corner, holding onto the hand of one of them.

A Connie. A woman in her late thirties, maybe, same dark hair as the girl in the hoody.  She wears one of the StayCalm collars, and she shuffles her feet like she can’t lift them up. She can’t, of course. She can barely walk faster than a run with that thing around her neck shooting her head full of electricity anytime she so much as blinks too fast.

“Velvet, did you get the chocolate?” Asks the younger girl.

To the girl, who must be her sister, Velvet says, “I don’t have enough money for chocolate, Opal. I told you that.”

Opal frowns and tugs the woman’s hand. “It’s for Mama, Velvet. You said if we couldn’t get her to eat something…”

“I don’t have the money for chocolate,” Velvet repeats.

I look at her. At her sister. At their mother.

I think about my own son Charlie, who sits in the back room of my shop and stares all day long at the TV set, no matter what’s on. Even if it’s only static. Charlie doesn’t wear a collar, but he has twin scars on the insides of his eye sockets from where the cops punctured into him with a knitting needle. Charlie was in the second wave, before they figured out the collars.

I think about my son.

“You girls go on ahead,” I tell them, and I turn away so I don’t have to see the food that girl is stealing, I don’t have to turn her into the police. I turn away so I don’t have to see her at all. “You go on.”


And eventually, they do.



After the Contamination—an epidemic caused by the super-trendy diet drink ThinPro that turned ordinary citizens into violent, uncontrollable creatures—the government rounded up the "Connies" to protect the remaining population. Now, two years later, the rehabilitated are being allowed home, complete with shock collars that will either control, or kill, them.
Velvet Ellis has struggled to care for her ten-year-old sister since her parents were taken in the round up. When she finds her mother in one of the "Kennels," Velvet resolves to do whatever it takes to put her family back together. But the danger isn’t over. It’s beginning all over again…
Gritty and grabbing, Velvet is a harrowing, emotionally charged novel for fans of Carrie Ryan and The Walking Dead.



So what do you think, guys? Pretty creepy and fantastic, eh?  

Thanks for taking the dare, Em! Good luck with the release of CONTAMINATED!

Thor's Thoughts: Brain Food

Greetings once again, people of Earth.

Today our topic is health, and mainly, food. I know that for myself, it helps my writing and my focus if I have food nearby. If I can eat as I write. I asked the Twitter-writer-hive-mind what they ate while they write, and got many responses.

Sweet:
Chocolate
Frozen chocolate chips (I do this, and it was mentioned multiple times. I was surprised others were so specific.)
Hot Tamales
Sour Brite Crawlers
Life Savers Sour Red Gummies (again with the specific...)
Hot Chocolate (some add whipped cream, mmm)
Jelly Beans
Oreos
Gushers
Nutella
Soda (most named Coke)

Savory:
Nuts (mainly almonds, apparently)
Chips
Popcorn
Crackers


We tend to go for sweet rather than savory, us writers. I should mention, only one person named fresh fruit, and one named string cheese. It was the same person.




But just because these are the things we eat, doesn't mean they're the best for us. I found a site for the Brain Food Pyramid. It names four things we can eat to get our brains working quickly and properly. (Click on each topic to read more.)




1. Fatty Acids. These are healthy fats that help assist in the transfer of data from one part of your body to another. Things such as avocados, chicken, and fish give us these good fats and help us process our thoughts and feelings quicker and more efficiently.

2. Amino Acids. These are what form the transmitters between your brain and your cells. Fish are a good source of this also, along with protein rich vegetables and cheeses.

3. Glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar our body gets from carbohydrates. Healthy sources include vegetables, fruits, whole wheat breads, pastas, and milk.

4. Micronutrients. These are antioxidants. They help battle the oxidation, or breakdown, of your brain and body. Basically they protect you from harm. You can never have enough antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables, especially those high in vitamin C, with bright colors, are going to give you the most. Oranges, strawberries, blueberries, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, all of these will provide you a healthy dose of micronutrients.


Side story: This weekend, my alter-ego went to a family reunion and spent days trying to keep up with her children. It wore her down so fast, I wept for her. She does not have my strength, rarely exercises, and does not eat well.

As writers, we often neglect our health, our very lives, to work on our craft. Please, friends. Take good care of yourselves. Eat healthy foods, get out and move around at least once a day, and take time alone to refocus your mind without the pressure to write or do anything else, if only for a few minutes.

Your work will thank you for it.

Until next time,

THOR


Captain America's Birthday Break

Hi Everyone.

Guess what? Tomorrow is July 4th - the day good ol' America declared her independence. It also happens to be my birthday. Just don't ask which birthday.

So I'm giving myself a break. I'm not sure Fury would approve, but for once, I frankly do not care.

Shoot lots of fireworks, wear red, white, and blue. And have fun.



TFAs in the Spotlight: RELIC by Renee Collins


Hello, minions. Hope your summer is going terribly (particularly you, Stark), and if it is, don't worry, I have a new book for you to look forward to. Here's my interview with Renee Collins, author of RELIC.

 Renee is a YA writer who loves historical settings, magic, and semi-tragic romance. She is represented by  Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media. Her first novel, RELIC, a YA fantasy set in the Old West, comes out September 3rd 2013!

Find Renee on Goodreads and her Website.


LOKI: Pitch your novel in a tweet. 

RENEE: YA Fantasy set in the rugged Old West, where miners pan for magic bones of extinct fantasy creatures, a girl fights to protect her sister.

LOKI: What about the concept of RELIC originally caught your attention? 

RENEE: I've always been intrigued with the idea of magic as a physical commodity that could be bought and sold, a commodity that would, naturally, drive the economy. One of my very first story ideas ever played with the idea of having the fossils of long-extinct fantasy creatures as that commodity, but that book never really materialized. Then one day, years later, I was gripped with the desire to set a fantasy story in the Old West. And the two concepts came together so nicely. It just clicked. 


LOKI: That is the best feeling, resurrecting an old idea and pairing it with a new. As you were writing RELIC, did you have any embarrassing mistakes (like typos, name switching, mixing up book and real life)?

RENEE: I did base one character in RELIC on someone I know in real life. I won't say who, because if this person found out, I'd be pretty embarrassed. 

LOKI: In my novel, I base the puny wimp of a rival off of someone, too. *coughs* Thor *coughs* What was one aspect of the publishing process that was just as you expected and one aspect that was different?

RENEEL Being on submission was just as I expected. HARD. My emotions were all over the place. But really, how else could it be? It's the Big Moment. The Do or Die. If you care at all about being published, that period of time is going to be intense.
One aspect that was different was how crazy busy life became right after signing my book deal. I really wasn't expecting it to come on so strong, so fast!

LOKI: Give us three:

Guilty pleasures

RENEE: Big, gas station size Dr Peppers. The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I'm a board games geek! I love Settlers of Catan.
LOKI: Celeb crushes

RENEE: LOKI. (Also known as Tom Hiddleston.) Josh Groban, Johnny Depp.
LOKI: I approve of your celeb crushes. Pet peeves

RENEE: People who crowd my FB/Twitter feed with their rigid political views (be that left or right winged.) TV commercials that blatantly objectify women. Internet trolls. 

 After a raging fire consumes her town and kills her parents, Maggie Davis is on her own to protect her younger sister and survive best she can in the Colorado town of Burning Mesa. In Maggie’s world, the bones of long-extinct magical creatures such as dragons and sirens are mined and traded for their residual magical elements, and harnessing these relics’ powers allows the user to wield fire, turn invisible, or heal even the worst of injuries.

Working in a local saloon, Maggie befriends the spirited showgirl Adelaide and falls for the roguish cowboy Landon. But when she proves to have a particular skill at harnessing the relics’ powers, Maggie is whisked away to the glamorous hacienda of Álvar Castilla, the wealthy young relic baron who runs Burning Mesa. Though his intentions aren’t always clear, Álvar trains Maggie in the world of relic magic. But when the mysterious fires reappear in their neighboring towns, Maggie must discover who is channeling relic magic for evil before it’s too late.

Relic is a thrilling adventure set in a wholly unique world, and a spell-binding story of love, trust, and the power of good.

Add RELIC on Goodreads here.