Weekend Grab Bag – Writing, Geekiness and Tolkien

Writing:

Ada Lovelace:

Browncoats:

  • This past week if you ran across any Whedonites, you probably saw them grinning with unadulterated joy. Why? Because it was revealed that Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, had made a film in secret! It started with Nathan Fillion tweeting on Sunday: Oh, it’s real. Very. Very. Real. muchadothemovie.com  – since no one knew of it and Mr. Fillion is known to be a prankster, it was thought to be a joke. But no, Joss Whedon assembled many actors from his previous ventures to make a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in 14 days! More details here and here

In Geekdom:

Firefly Friday – Dialogue – How Scary is Pain? It’s all in the delivery

This week: dialogue delivery.

Earlier in the week I decided to focus on dialogue, but as I mulled it over, I found I was having a really hard time with this post. The problem is, Joss Whedon is known for his witty dialogue. How could I even capture it in one post?

Well, I can’t. You can take any scene in any episode and study the snappy dialogue.

Then it dawned on me: the point of this writing series is to focus on lessons we hear all the time and illustrate the lesson using an excerpt from Firefly, not to promote how awesome the show is. Pressure off (whew!), I decided to zero in on one interchange, not because it exemplifies Firefly or its witty dialogue (it doesn’t), but because it illustrates a common dialogue lesson.

We often hear the admonishment not to overburden our dialogue exchanges with exclamation points and dialogue tags like “she screamed loudly!”

As a writer, over-relying on such ways to show emotion can weaken your prose. It shows the writer either didn’t trust his/her writing skills enough to properly show emotion, or he/she didn’t trust the reader to pick up on it.

Another reason to refrain from it is that sometimes understatement can be funny or more powerful. To illustrate this, here’s an excerpt from the pilot “Serenity.” Jayne, the crew’s muscle guy, is being asked by the captain to get information out of the spy they just captured. Watch until 7:37 and note Jayne’s delivery. His lines could be delivered very menacingly in typical bad-guy fashion. Instead, he states them very calmly in an off-hand manner, especially the “Pain is scary” line. From the commentary for this episode on the DVD we’re told that the actor playing Jayne, Adam Baldwin, originally delivered these lines in a very scary way and Joss told him to dial it way down.

How different would this scene be if he’d played it over the top? To bring it to the page, which is what we deal with as writers, here’s a transcript. Imagine this is dialogue in a novel:

Mal ripped off Dobson’s gag and stepped back to stand by Jayne. “I’m in a tricky position, I guess you know. Got me a boatload of terribly strange folk making my life a little more interesting than I generally like, chief among them an Alliance mole. Likes to shoot at girls when he’s nervous.” Mal strode back to Dobson. “Now I got to know how close the Alliance is, exactly how much you told them before Wash scrambled your call. So… I’ve given Jayne here the job of finding out.”

Jayne pulled out a big-ass knife. “He was non-specific as to how.”

Mal leaned in to Jayne’s ear and said in a low voice, “Now, you only gotta scare him.”

“Pain is scary…”

“Just do it right.”

Now, let’s get excessive with punctuation and menace to see how differently the scene would be:

Mal ripped off Dobson’s gag and stepped back to stand by Jayne. “I’m in a tricky position, I guess you know. Got me a boatload of terribly strange folk making my life a little more interesting than I generally like, chief among them an Alliance mole. Likes to shoot at girls when he’s nervous.” Mal strode back to Dobson and loomed over him, hands on hips. “Now I got to know how close the Alliance is, exactly how much you told them before Wash scrambled your call! So I’ve given Jayne here the job of finding out!”

Jayne pulled out a big-ass knife and growled, “he was non-specific as to how.” He slapped the knife several times against his palm and grinned wickedly.

Mal leaned in to Jayne’s ear and said in a low voice, “Now, you only gotta scare him.”

“Pain is scary!!”

“Just do it right!”

Do you have any spots in your dialogue that might work better underplayed?

Want to analyze the dialogue further?

Past Firefly Friday Posts

To NaNo or Not to NaNo – Help!

Lord, I’m such a waffler! In my last post My NaNoWriMo Dilemma (Oct 5), I’d laid out my dilemma with NaNoWriMo. Well, I reached the goal I’d set out in that post (to have my third draft of my current WIP done and sent to Betas) but I still hesitated committing. I felt like I was still burning hot with enthusiasm for this current WIP and if I just worked hard enough with it, I’d have a chance to get it picked up (one can dream, right?). Stopping to do NaNo will distract my feeble brain like a shiny trinket, and I might not regain my enthusiasm for this current WIP.

So, after much deliberation, I decided not to do NaNo this year. It was tough, especially as I know more writers this time around and NaNo is being talked about more than ever, I just know it’ll be even more fun this year.

But, now I’m at that cooling off stage for my current WIP as I wait for feedback from my Betas and I feel like I’m spinning wheels. I’d established good writing/revising habits over the summer and now that time is being sucked up by building my author platform. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important too, but I suspect I’ll be able to find a nice balance pretty soon and I might then drop my current schedule and start sleeping in, etc. Anyway, this is all to say I’m now having second thoughts about NaNo. Maybe I should do it? But I don’t even have an idea yet! Perhaps I could do a sequel to my current WIP so that I’m still in that story world.

Then in December I could let that WIP cool, and pick this one back up?

Experienced authors, what do you think? I’m really close to the stage of querying my current WIP. Should I stay with it and not get distracted by NaNo? Or would it be good to start a new project at this stage?

Writing Tip: Is your WIP in need of some manscaping? Pluck out those to-be verbs.

Or at least eliminate enough of the suckers so they’re not populating your manuscript like the wiry hairs on a hirsute male.

Argh! As my fingers poise over my keyboard, I hesitate. Recently, I’ve become loathe to point out style advice like this when critiquing because this might be someone’s style. In fact, my fingers hesitated so much, I just returned to writing this after taking a 2 hour procrastinating tour around twitter and klout. Sigh. Okay, getting over it. Onward.

So, what do I mean by to-be verbs? These are any time we use is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been in constructing our sentences. These verbs indicate a state of being, which is important to remember when applying this guideline because sometimes what we really want to illustrate is movement, not a persistent state. But! There are times when we DO want to indicate a state of being and using a to-be verb is entirely appropriate rocks (like the to-be I used in the second sentence of this paragraph).

Like any writing tip, this is a guideline only. Not a rule. You should only write what resonates with you.

In case you do want to see how it might improve your story, here are some structures to look out for in your WIP:

  • was + -ing. Just convert the -ing into the action verb. These are the easiest to fix. He was riding > He rode. Sometimes we can go even further, because it’s still not specific enough. For instance, he was speaking before a large group could be changed to he spoke before a large group, but that’s still pretty blah. What kind of mood is he in? What’s happened leading up to this? Can we use this to illustrate the character? Possibly! Maybe something like: he hunched over the microphone, eyes downcast. He swallowed and… you get the idea…
  • was + adjective. They can indicate we’re telling and not showing. Consider something as simple as this: He was gorgeous. That’s telling. How was he gorgeous? Describe what makes him gorgeous to the narrator. As often is the case when showing and not telling, we will use more words to show his hunkiness to the reader. Just using shortcuts like this, or the house was elegant, the food was tasty are like placeholder cards (cardboard cutouts!) scream ‘cardboard cutout!’ in your manuscript telling the reader how they should feel about a character or envision the scene. Better to take the time to describe it in a way that empowers them to feel and see it on their own without tacking on such a nonspecific descriptor. The reader will be pulled into the story in a much more visceral way. Plus, everyone’s tastes are different differ, so what’s tasty or beautiful to one person might not be that way for another, so we’re missing a chance for character development here.
  • was + verb + infinitive verb. Here are two examples from my WIP: she was tempted to say became she itched to say and they were due to leave  became they planned to leave.
  • was + adjective + noun. Again from my WIP: She longed to tell him, but really that was a stupid idea became She longed to tell him, but that would top the list of stupid things to do.
  • was + noun forms of verbs. Just convert it to its original verb. For instance, she was the inventor of… can be she invented
  • was + any kind of word expressing emotion. For example: He was scared about the monster under his bed. Don’t label the emotion, show it instead. A five-headed beast with poisonous drool lurked under his bed, without a doubt. Just his luck, too, today of all days. He sidled across the wall, one eye peeled

There are probably other structures where this pesky guy shows up, but these should get you started. The point is to be aware of it and really scrutinize whether it’s the best way to describe it captures your character or scene. Sometimes it is does! Or it would be very strange to convert it. Or that’s the voice of your character. Or it fits the rhythm. But if you’re getting feedback that your prose is lackluster, consider going on a fishing expedition through your WIP. Sometimes it will be really hard to find another way to say it (at least it is for me!) but when I finally do, it pops! And generally characterizes my heroine or hero in a much better way. I’m offering this tip precisely because it is something I still struggle with it and didn’t find a heck of a lot of practical advice out there, other than don’t use it. I liked Shirley Jump’s example (tip #2) in her article Show Not Tell: What the Heck is that Anyway?

And in case you thought my opening sentence was just for shock value I wrote the opening sentence for shock value, I really did have a purpose. Some people really like overly hairy men, who am I to judge? Same with writing guidelines like this. If it works for you, do it, otherwise don’t; leave the hairs in, or pluck ‘em.

How about you? Do you struggle like me trying to convert to-be verbs? Do you have other tips for helping to eliminate them where advisable?

I tried applying this tip to this blog post when I came back to revise it. Sometimes I was successful succeeded, sometimes not. For instance, what’s a better way to say these phrases?

  •  which is important to remember when applying this guideline
  •  The point is to be aware of it

Weekend Grab Bag – Writing Tips, Firefly Soap and General Geekiness

This week’s round-up, featuring writing tips, Austen stuff, making Browncoats clean and other geekiness.

On Writing:

Romance:

Austenites:

For Fellow Browncoats:

  • Alliance Soap Bar – pretty shiny of these folks. They’ve taken the design of the Alliance foodstuff bars and made it into soap. Here’s their blurb: Genuine A-grade soapstuffs. Protein, vitamins, certified pure essential oils. One of these’ll wash a family for a month. Longer, if they don’t like their kids too well…
  • I don’t know what’s up with the Firefly soaps lately, but here’s another, in a different style altogether. Are they trying to tell us something? Honest, we’re not the ones that smell at Cons!

General Geek-Outness

  • Sarah & Candy at SBTB served up this awesome video yesterday, a repurposing of old floppy disc drives playing the Imperial March! Truly, I think this could go in the dictionary next to the word Geek.
  • Leave you with this I found floating around on Facebook: Why Men Shouldn’t Own Action Figures

Firefly Friday – Weaving in World-building Without Infodumping, a writing tip

Still proving popular, so onward we go! This is the 3rd installment in my writing tips series Firefly Friday, where I use excerpts from the very awesome TV show Firefly to illustrate various writing tips. Week One: Writing Lessons from the TV Show Firefly. Week Two: Flip That Cliché.  Today: world-building.

But! OMG, no! *beeep*beeep*beeep* That’s the deadly sound of the infodump truck backing up and dumping a ton of story info into your lovely prose, stopping your story flat and making it all “corpsified and gross” (that’s a Firefly quote for n00bs). That’s how world-building can sometimes come across as, like a huge infodump, literally asking a reader to wait*wait*wait*whileIDumpAllThisStuff*beep*beep*beep.

And before you think only SF/Fantasy writers need to worry about world-building, think again. Anytime you’re describing setting, that’s world-building. Ask yourself – why am I describing it other than to just insert some nice scenery? How does it relate to my POV character? How can I make it do double-duty by setting mood? Does it create any kind of emotion in my character? If it doesn’t, why is the character even noting it? (Caveat: I write in Deep POV, so all narrative is from my POV character’s frame of reference, so anything described has to relate to the character in some way).

I’m also guilty of wanting to insert all the cool historical tidbits I’ve learned during my research. I’ve pulled out whole paragraphs of really cool stuff that just didn’t relate to the plot or the character. *sigh*

So, what to do? There are lots of different ways to go about it, but one way is to make sure that you are making the world-building interesting, by making it relevant to your current plot and helping it move forward. You don’t want your story to stop, or, gasp, go backwards. Make it go forward by making the characters interact with the nugget of world-building. Also, have other things happening to help drive it forward. Make it illustrate character. In other words, make it serve many purposes.

To illustrate, here’s an excerpt from Shindig. These 4 crew members are killing time aboard ship and 3 of them don’t have a long history together (they only met at the beginning of the season and this is the 4th episode). Three others are at, you guessed it, a shindig, a mighty fine one, too. There’s a whole bunch of world-building going on in any episode, so singling this out is sorta strange, but I like how it shows just the tip of the iceberg, but in order to show it, the writers had to do a lot more invention.

In keeping with the Jane Austen-like setting of the ball/shindig, the episode’s writer, Jane Espenson invented a whole card game and set of cards. She apparently made up rules and the set designers came up with an unusual deck of cards. A writer might be tempted to show off all this new-found invention and indulge in showing all of it, the rules, everything. But resist. Moving the plot forward is key. So here, there’s several things going on:

1. They’re playing this card game. But that can get old fast, so…

2. We start to get a little more world-building, but in this instance, not about the cool card game the writer invented, but look what their stakes are for the game. What does that tell you about their world, without hitting you over the head with it? What’s important to them? What a great way to weave in such a detail as that.

3. But then, the game’s interrupted for a new plot development that is part of the series arc of River Tam. She starts acting crazy and it’s not until much later in the series that you understand what she’s doing and why she’s tearing off those labels.

4. You then get to witness more character illustration with Book’s quip about having a few ‘mystery meals’ and then while no one’s watching, you see Jayne stealing some of the winnings.

(If you want to see where ‘corpsified and gross’ comes from, keep watching past the card scene game. The next scene has the line.)

I thought I’d illustrate further with a before and after from my writing. In this excerpt, she’s on Bond Street in 1834 (she’s from our present) and I wanted to describe how different things were around her, but notice how I just describe it without it relating to her except by saying “she looked and saw.” Hopefully I fixed it a little in the next draft. If not, there’s always the next one!

Before:

Everywhere she looked, there were wooden signs advertising everything from shoe repair to cosmetics. A surprising number of them moved too – men wearing sandwich boards ambled the streets. One fellow passed her wearing a tall pasteboard hat that towered over the crowd and said in big letters: “Boots at fourteen shillings a pair, warranted.” No shop name accompanied the ad. Were you supposed to follow him, or stop and ask where?

They passed a stout woman selling oyster pies doing a brisk business from her cart, and another selling apples from a wooden wheelbarrow.

After:

Holy cow, were they much into advertising? Everywhere she looked, wooden signs touted everything from shoe repair to cosmetics. A surprising number of them moved, too — men wearing sandwich boards ambled the streets. One fellow stepped around her wearing a tall hat made of some kind of heavy, stiff paper that towered over the crowd and declared in big letters: “Kid gloves at fourteen shillings a pair, warranted.” No shop name accompanied the ad. Were you supposed to follow him, or stop and ask where?

A stout woman on the left sold oyster pies from her cart. She held one up and barked her price to Isabelle, the hand with the pie following Isabelle as she passed. A man in serious need of a new set of teeth and some manscaping sold apples from a wooden wheelbarrow. A grubby kid sat beside him, munching on the mealy ones, tossing the worms to a dog. She shuddered.

What else do you see in this scene? Do you have other examples of how Firefly does a good job of integrating world-building into the plot?  

What’s Your Fave Time-Travel Romance?

time travelOther than Outlander? And I’m not saying that in jest. I know that’s mine and many others, though it’s not strictly a Romance. Trying to describe it reminds me of the grandfather in The Princess Bride when he’s trying to convince his grandson that the story he’s going to read is worth it and lists all the cool stuff in it:

The Grandson: A book?
Grandpa: That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I’m gonna read it to you.
The Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles
The Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

I didn’t hear about Outlander until I’d finished my first draft and went to Barnes & Noble to ask them to recommend some time-travel books. The helpful lady recommended Outlander (with a warning that it could be addictive, and boy was she right!) and The Time Traveler’s Wife. I read both and immediately had to change my main character’s name (Claire), LOL!

Anyway, I didn’t want to turn this into a post on Outlander. I’ve read some other time-travel romances, but nothing that really wowed me. Though I’ve been an avid reader of non-Romance time travel (love Connie Willis!).

So, I thought I’d open this post up to you. What is your favorite time-travel romance and why?

Go Deep! Eliminate Distancing Phrases for Deep POV

Ah, Deep POV, or Deep Penetration, as Orson Scott Card calls it. There’s nothing quite as titillating.

And no, we’re talking about writing guys, get your mind out of the gutter, jeez. (Sorry couldn’t resist. *clears throat*). Anyway, my current WIP is written in Deep POV. For those unfamiliar with this, it’s a style of 3rd person POV (Point of View) and sounds very much like 1st. It’s a very popular choice for romance writers, because it allows the reader to be in the character’s head, but also reaps the benefits of 3rd.

My first introduction to it was in Card’s book Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint, but it only whet my appetite and it wasn’t enough for me to go on. I wanted more! So, I scoured writing blogs and read tips and tricks. One online resource I found useful was Jordan McCollum’s 12 post series on Deep POV.  However, alas, my poor emerging writer brain still had a hard time fully grasping how to achieve this immersive style of writing. I understood some of the easy, take-home tenets, but I felt like I wasn’t fully getting the rest. And I’m still learning!

So, I took a 2-week online class over the summer with the inestimable Camy Tang, and it was exactly what I needed. Each day she had a specific tip for us to use as homework that night and she’d comment back the next day. Some of them I’d read before, but it really helped having an author verify or push you further.

One of her tips you see a lot: eliminate distancing phrases like ‘he said’, ‘he heard’, etc. This is almost always covered in any blog post on Deep POV. But I thought it bears repeating since this is something I see a lot in submissions I critique. Anytime we use phrases like this, we’re yanking the reader out of the character’s head and telling them what the character is sensing as if we’re watching them in a movie. It’s like we’re telling the reader, “this is how the character feels right now,” instead of describing it in a way that makes the reader feel what the character is feeling. Since everything we narrate is what they see, hear, taste, etc., it’s best to take them straight to it. Sometimes we can’t get around it or it won’t make sense, but when we can, it will make the immersion deeper for our reader.

Do a search in your WIP for the following verbs and see if you can get rid of them:

  • saw
  • watched
  • felt
  • heard
  • thought
  • knew
  • wondered/wondering
  • realized/realizing
  • remembered/remembering
  • decided/deciding
  • noticed/noticing
  • wished/wishing

For examples on how these can be changed, see Ms. Tang’s writing tips. This is only a shortened version of her great online class. See also Girls With Pens’ post on writing in Deep POV.

And since no writing tips post is completely useful without embarrassing myself giving examples, here’s the before and after I submitted to Ms. Tang. The hero at this point has only recently learned she’s from the future and has found the item that will allow her to return. It is written from the hero’s POV, hence the old-fashioned tone (the parts in bold are parts that changed):

Ten minutes later Miss Rochon returned with a wooden bowl that she placed on a table between them. “These are the items that were with me when I came here. Normally I would have much more in my purse, but since I was going to a ball, and my purse was small, I only had the essentials.” She held up a clump of clinking metal objects and passed it to Miss Byron, “These are my keys. They are much different than the keys you are used to, but they open my house – your house, Phineas – another opens my office in the British Museum, another goes to my car.”

Of course they questioned the meaning of the last item named, and Miss Rochon went into a lengthy discussion of the automobile, its usage and ubiquity in her time. Next, she pulled out a hard, flat rectangle, calling it a debit card, and explained it; showed her “Georgia driver’s license,” the American bank notes she had, her tube of lipstick – which fascinated Miss Byron — and then she produced a thick black object. (‘fascinated’ wasn’t in the list, but it’s telling what can be better shown)

“Is that… I do believe that is the device you had the first night we became acquainted, is it not?” asked Phineas.

“Yes, but it’s lost its power. Kind of like how you use gas to power the lights on the street, this takes a different kind of power to work and it’s run out. But we use it to talk to who are in a different place, read news as it happens… That night I tried to contact my friends with it. Remember I wanted to meet some friends at a place nearby?”

Phineas understood, finally, how different was her normal lifestyle. He also suspected that the device did much more than what she had revealed and she held back for his sake. He felt overwhelmed and obsolete. (this part I cut out completely on the rewrite as it became clear that it was redundant when I deepened the POV) How could he compete? (this part I had to change so that it would match the new metaphor I came up with on the rewrite)

Miss Byron interjected to relate other wonders it performed, confirming his suspicion. “And that is not all. She captured a likeness of me at the ball, and I saw myself in there, in my dress. And it can also add numbers, as I told you Mr. Babbage is attempting to do.”

Phineas stared (looking and staring are so common in my drafts, argh! They don’t really add much) at Miss Rochon who caught his look and gave a half shrug. His stomach in turmoil, he cleared his throat. “Miss Rochon, I believe I have found the means for your return to this wondrous future,” and he retrieved the silver case from inside his pocket, wrapped now in satin cloth.

He heard Miss Rochon gasp and he looked up to see that she held herself perfectly still. Setting the object on the table, he pulled back the cloth.

After:

Ten minutes later, Isabelle returned with a wooden bowl that she placed on a table between them. “These are the items that were with me when I came here. Normally, I would have had much more in my purse, but since I was going to a ball, my purse was small and I only had the essentials.” She held up a clump of clinking metal objects and passed it to Miss Byron. “These are my keys. They are much different than the keys you are used to, but they open my house — your house Phineas — another opens my office in the British Museum, another goes to my car.”

Of course they questioned the meaning of the last item named, and Isabelle went into a lengthy discussion of the automobile, its usage and ubiquity in her time. Next, she pulled out a hard, flat rectangle, calling it a debit card, and explained it; showed her “Georgia driver’s license,” the American bank notes she had, her tube of lipstick — which Miss Byron kept spiraling open and closed, eyes wide — and then she produced a thin black object.

“Is that… I do believe that is the device you had the first night we became acquainted, is it not?” asked Phineas.

“Yes, but it’s lost its power. Kind of like how you use gas to power the lights on the street, this takes a different kind of power to work and it’s run out. But we use it to talk to people who are in a different place, read news as it happens… That night I tried to contact my friends with it. Remember I wanted to meet some friends at a place nearby?”

He suspected that the device did much more than what she had revealed, and she held back for his sake. A chasm opened in his mind’s eye, Isabelle, occupying the other side and retreating. How could he hope to bridge the gap?

Miss Byron interjected to relate other wonders it performed, confirming his suspicion. “And that is not all. She captured a likeness of me at the ball, and I saw myself in there, in my dress. Moreover, it can also make mathematical calculations, as I told you Mr. Babbage is attempting to do.”

Isabelle gave a half shrug. His stomach in turmoil, he cleared his throat. “Miss Rochon, I believe I have found the means for your return to this wondrous future.” He retrieved the silver case from inside his pocket, wrapped now in satin cloth.

She gasped and Phineas looked up. She held herself perfectly still. Setting the object on the table, he pulled back the cloth.

So how about you? Are you writing in Deep POV? What aspects of Deep POV have you found to be the hardest to grasp? Have you found any online resources that do a good job of helping writers learn Deep POV?

Weekend Grab Bag – Books, Writing, Austen, Firefly and True Love

A grab bag of cool things I came across this week that I thought you might like. There’s a little bit here on books, romance writers, Firefly, Jane Austen, Ada Lovelace, writing tips and general geekiness.

Book Lovers

  • An artist created a small-scale house made entirely of books (before you get incensed, the books were scheduled to be pulped). Pretty cool!
  • Awesome use of a small space, an architect built this beautiful set of stair bookcases for a London couple.
  • For those on Tumblr, follow book-aesthete. They post beautiful and rare photos of books.

Romance Writers

  • I thought this was a good article for trying to capture the elusive quality of love for our characters. In this article Is It True Love?, Dr. Dennis Neder talks about the three stages of love. Do your characters go through them? Has some other interesting nuggets to help with character development, including Nine Ways to Tell if Your Love Is Real. Article is not geared to writers of Romance, but I thought it had some great food for thought. I’m definitely going to go through my WIP with this article in mind and see if there’s any extra nuance I can give my h/h
  • Did You Know? There is a pillow that connects distant lovers through heart beats. I don’t know how one can use it in writing, but I thought it interesting to bring it up. Maybe some sci-fi-romance writers might be able to use it as an idea sparker?

On Writing

Austenites

In Ada Lovelace Land

For My Browncoat Comrades

General Geeky Stuff

Firefly Friday – Flip that Cliché, a writing tip

Last Friday I wrote a blog post on the spur of the moment – Writing Lessons from the TV Show Firefly – in which I talked about some of the common writing tips, especially in openings, that are well illustrated in the pilot of the cult TV Show Firefly.

I’m still getting my blog feet wet (ooh, dang, the water’s cold!) but one thing I know I won’t get tired of writing about, and that’s this show. That post has gotten the most traffic and comments so far, so I thought I’d try to do this weekly and call it Firefly Friday. I know there are other writers out there who are fans as well, so please feel free to view the comments section as your space too, to expound further!

Today, I thought I’d focus on cliché’s in writing, and how we can turn that cliché into something fresh, funny and/or unexpected. How to do that? Flip it! and flip it good! (okay, was I the only one that sang Devo’s Whip It there?)

What this means is to use a cliché and bring it right up to the point where the reader is expecting the typical ending, and then surprise them with a completely different outcome. The show’s creator, Joss Whedon, and his team of writers were very good at this.

Here’s a scene near the end of Train Job, which was the first show to air on TV, and so was the pilot, but was actually the second episode (Don’t get me started!). Mal, the captain, (in the brown duster) has turned against the person who hired them (for an excellent reason) and so is about to give the henchman (with the face tats) the money back:

Here we have the henchman giving a very melodramatic cliché speech (delivered very well), and I know when I first watched it I thought, okay, so this guy’s going to be the main guy’s nemesis for the rest of the series, and then wham!

Here’s another example, this time in Shindig, written by Jane Espenson. Mal has just won a sword duel against a superior (in skill) opponent. His supporters tell him he should finish off the opponent and why. Mal responds “Mercy is the mark of a great man,” but then watch what he says and does next:

Both scenes still get chuckles out of me. But they also illuminate character, so they don’t just serve as opportunities to get in a chuckle.

I’m sure there are more scenes in Firefly that illustrate this. What are your favorites? Have you taken a cliché in your own writing and flipped it? Share it below!

EDIT: For more on making clichés work for you, see Janice Hardy’s post You Spin Me Round: Making Clichés Work for You