Archives for November 2015


The Carte Blanche of a Likable Character

A while back, I was watching the M*A*S*H* series, and I had a little epiphany. It started when I realized that although Hawkeye and Trapper regularly tormented George Burns, the series always framed their actions as humorous and Burns’ actions as mean-spirited and wrong – which is essentially how the audience took it. And most of the time, Hawkeye and Trapper’s tricks were harmless. Occasionally, however, they were pretty nasty themselves.

So why was it ok for them but not for Burns?

The obvious answer was that they were playing the heroes. Sure, they were nasty to Burns, but he was a jerk. He was prejudiced, ridiculously strict, and a dangerously bad doctor, so why shouldn’t they get back at him for his nastiness to others? (Do you see the rationalization?)

So here’s the epiphany: if we like characters, we try to justify their actions even if we know the actions are wrong.

Once you succeed in making a character likeable, that character can slide into some moral gray areas, and we readers will come up with an explanation that makes us comfortable with their actions (you know, enough to make us feel like they didn’t really do anything wrong or that it was someone else’s fault). One way that authors help us with that is to say that the character was trying to be humorous. If they weren’t trying to be malicious or harmful, then it’s fine, right? Also, if we see them doing something good, it balances out the other and reassures us that we didn’t misjudge them.

On the other hand, once a character is set up as nasty or dislikable, any good they do is totally devalued. In fact, when they do something nice, it almost makes us mad. Like it’s offensive: you’re a bad guy – I don’t want to see you doing good stuff! You should be getting punished for your evil deeds!

It takes a lot to make us change our minds. The good characters have to do something truly horrific to make us give up on them. Either that, or they have to have repeated offenses without good to “erase” them. Bad guys have it harder. They have to do a lot of good (like save-the-world good) repeatedly and consistently, and even then, they may be relegated to annoying-but-not-as-evil-as-they-used-to-be. Or they might be under constant suspicion of trying to trick us (which doesn’t make them very likable).

As frightening as this idea is when applied to real life, it could be a very useful tool for writing. Imagine the possibilities once you make a reader love/hate a character. Plot twists, gritty realism, horrific character flaws, and more: taking advantage of this truly opens up the characters to go beyond the stereotypical roles of hero and villain.


Tea & Sex: The Power of Analogies

Have you ever tried to communicate an idea to someone who can’t seem to grasp what you’re saying? Your evidence and arguments are dismissed or ignored, or maybe you’re just having a hard time verbalizing your stance?

Analogies can be a great way to make a point to someone when regular arguments fail. They’re also useful for persuasive articles or videos.

I’m not talking about the basic analogy form (alcohol : intoxication :: writing : carpal tunnel syndrome) but when two things or ideas are compared in sentences and/or paragraphs. These analogies generally start with a straightforward simile or metaphor. Then, the author uses the comparison to explain specific similarities between the two.

(If you’re writing one, remember to focus on the aspects that strengthen your position – don’t forget that the goal is to make a point.)

Blue Seat Studios did a great job with this in their video, Tea Consent. Their analogy compares sharing tea with having sex to explain consent. Pay attention to how they set up the comparison and then follow through to make their argument clear.

Script – Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess … Animation – Rachel Brian … VO – Graham Wheeler
Category: Education
License: Standard YouTube License


Writing Ahead: A Lesson Learned From Exhaustion

The past week has taught me a lot about writing ahead when I can. I say when I can because, obviously, I can’t do that with  twytte (that would defeat the purpose), but I usually try to keep this blog 1 a week ahead. For a few months, I was 2 weeks ahead. This week (this exhausting, ridiculous week) was the first time I haven’t been at least a few days ahead.

Talk about bad timing.

Normally, not having anything pre-written wouldn’t be too big a deal, but this week, I was going to work earlier and staying longer. That meant anything I wrote for the blogs had to be done on my lunch break or after I would normally be asleep. Usually, I got a twytte update done at lunch. That left this one for after work and, unfortunately, after bed time.

You know what I found out? Posts that usually take under an hour to write can take more than triple the usual time when my brain’s sleep-deprived. Writing ahead could have saved me from that.

Now, that I think of it, it already has. That’s how I ate up my 2 week advantage. Last month, I needed a few days off, so I barely wrote for the whole weekend. There went 1 week. Then, I had several busy weekends in a row that ate into my writing time. I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t have the posts scheduled already.

Extra-busy weeks, family emergencies, a friend’s party, a sudden weekend getaway, a cold – there are tons of events that can surprise you and leave you with less time to write. Having a buffer relieves that tension and lets you do what you need to do without trying to squeeze in the writing, too.

Believe me, it’s worth it.


Where Do You Write?

“And the idea of just wandering off to a cafe with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for awhile is just bliss.” – J.K. Rowling

Yet another thing to be thankful for.

Writing in a café may not be your style, but it is a definite favorite of mine. Actually, I love writing in restaurants of any kind. I started doing it because it was a way to get some writing in on my lunch break or when traveling. It’s also a great way to get away from housemates, a confining space, or the phantom writer’s block.

Of course, you may want to wait to try it until the Black Friday madness is over.