10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon
Joseph Hill Whedon was born in New York City, New York, on June 23rd 1964 to Tom Whedon and Ann Lee Jeffries Stearns. His mother, a teacher at Riverdale Country School in New York, was originally from Kentucky. An aspiring writer and actress, she and Tom were members of Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club where they appeared on stage together. Tom was a screenwriter for “Alice” and “The Golden Girls”. Tom’s dad had previously worked on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Joss has two older brothers, Samuel and Matthew, and two younger brothers, Jed and Zack. Jed and Zack Whedon are also writers.
Joss attended high school where his mother taught. He developed a love of British t.v. as a child and attended Winchester College in England for three years. The environment at Winchester was one of bullying. He graduated Wesleyan University, where he studied under Richard Slotkin, in 1987.
His early work consisted of staff writing and being a script doctor on projects such as “Roseanne”, “Parenthood”, “The Getaway”, “X-Men”, and “Speed”. He co-wrote the beloved film “Toy Story” and “Titan A.E.”. During this period, he worked on his script for his film “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, from which would spin off television shows of the same name and “Angel”. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his work on “Toy Story”.
In the early 21st Century, Whedon would produce some of his most popular work, including the cult classic show “Firefly” and movie “Serenity”. In 2008, he completed his 24th issue of “The Astonishing X-Men” comic series. He did some freelance directing for “Glee” and “The Office”. In 2008, his response to the Writer’s Guild strike was to create the web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. In 2009 Whedon created the series “Dollhouse”. Some of Whedon’s most popular recent work includes “The Avengers”, “Agents of SHIELD”, and “Age of Ultron”. In May 2017, Whedon assumed working on the upcoming film “The Justice League”.
Whedon’s work often revolves around a hero who has a sense of community support, or a team of heroes. Common themes running throughout his work include feminism, misogyny, free will, power vs. powerlessness, sacrifice, the meaning of life, and anti-authoritarianism as well as anti-corporatism. He’s known for dramatically and meaningfully killing his darling characters. Whedon’s influences include Ray Bradbury, Stephen Sondheim, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Rod Serling and James Cameron.
Joss Whedon is married to Kai Cole, an architect, with whom he has two children. He is a Humanist and appears to support moderately liberal political views. He credits his mother with teaching his about feminism.
Here are his ten writing tips.
1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.
Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.
3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’
4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE
Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get sound-bites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.
5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE
Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.
When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.
7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD
You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.
8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE
Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’
9. DON’T LISTEN
Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.
10. DON’T SELL OUT
The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.”
These were found on Once Upon A Sketch.
Fundamentals of Descriptive Writing You Can’t Afford To Ignore
By Leigh Holland.
Descriptive writing. For many of us, it’s the most difficult aspect of writing to wrap our heads around. I recommend keeping an imagery notebook to jot down ideas in. As this grows, you’ll have a bank of descriptions to work from in your writing.
First, let’s refresh our minds with some basics.
Why is Descriptive Writing important? Shouldn’t I trust the reader?
Absolutely trust your readers to infer things from your writing. However, people want to have an experience when they read your stories. They want to feel, think, and connect with your characters and world. To do that requires imagination. The purpose of descriptive writing is to inspire imagination within your readers.
A Few Terms
Caricature- A device used in descriptive writing and portrait art where traits of a subject are exaggerated to produce a comic effect.
Simile- Making a comparison using the words “like” or “as”. Example: She’s as pretty as a picture. He prances like a pony.
Metaphor- Figure of speech which makes an implicit or implied between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristic. Example: She’s the black sheep of the family.
Analogy- Making a comparison between two ideas or things which may be quite different. Metaphor and simile are tools used to form analogies. Example: Just as the sword is the weapon of the warrior, the pen is the weapon of the writer.
Symbolism- Usage of symbols to express ideas and qualities by giving them meanings that are different from their literal sense. Examples of symbols in daily life include red roses for romantic love, the color black for death, mirrors for introspection, and doves for peace.
Diction- The writer’s choice of words, which change based on context or setting, creating and conveying mood, tone, atmosphere, and how the writer feels about his own work.
Avoid using weather to match the mood of the character. Stay away from boring, normal weather. Weather imagery should be used to create atmosphere and build intensity. Extreme weather is the best type because it brings out emotions in the characters. Think about how irate people are in the heat without relief, how they snap easily at each other. Others don’t get irate but might lay back and lounge, refusing to do a thing until the heat passes or the air conditioning gets fixed. What about people snowed in on a mountain for weeks? Will they succumb to cabin fever?
Make sure when using the weather throughout a novel to keep it consistent with the changing of the seasons, the clothing worn, the storefront decorations, the foods eaten, and the general social moods. If the scene is outside, remember that the weather affects everything in the scene.
Colors go beyond ROYGBIV. Avoid cliches like ‘rose red’ or ‘white as the driven snow’. But add detail to your color descriptions where appropriate. Here are some off the cuff examples:
Black as asphalt in a storm
Red as my commemorative “Office Space” Swingline stapler
Pom-Pom Rah-Rah red
Oak Bark Brown
Tan as slightly overdone toast
Metal Desk Gray
Karner butterfly blue
Exercise: Carry a notebook, journal, or just pull up a document on your phone. Write ROYGBIV, a line for each color. Write the things you see throughout the day that fall under that color. Later, spend a little time creating a database of new ways to describe colors.
Shadows and Light
What mood do you want to evoke? Creepy? Noir? Sad? Nostalgic? Shadows and light can set the mood of your scene. What is the source of the light in the scene? Moonlight? Candles? Strobe lights and a disco ball? The hot glare of the noon day sun? A flashlight? How does the light fall on the setting and what effect does it have on the characters? When describing outdoor light, does it glint or gleam off nearby objects?
When describing light and shadow, use powerful verbs and adjectives. Is the light cool or warm? Is it harsh or soft? Does it tumble through the window and drop across the gunmetal gray floor? Does it create tiny triangles across the quilted bed, fading in and out as the dandelion white curtain flutters gently in the cool breeze?
Make sure when using this technique repeatedly to vary your descriptions.
Exercise: Throughout the day, make a note of the light and shadows in your own setting. Try to vary between outdoors, indoors, day, and night.
Add detail to your descriptions. Which is more interesting?
“He walked down the street surrounded by trees.”
“He walked down the asphalt road surrounded by weeping willows.”
Word choices make a world of difference as well. Using powerful verbs and adjectives paints a fuller image.
“He strolled down the onyx asphalt road, surrounded on either side by voluminous weeping willows.”
Additionally, when writing in Deep POV, describe what the character sees and experiences. Limit the manner in which you describe things to his or her perceptions.
Exercise: Go back to a scene you’ve written. Find and circle the verbs is, was, are, or were. Can you find a stronger verb for these sentences?
While telling the reader “It was the next day when…” imparts what they need to know, it’s not exactly exciting. Show them with description how much time has passed. If it’s later in the same day, show how the shadows and light have changed, the sun’s position overhead, or have the character take a simple action such as turning on (or off) the lights. If it’s a few days later, show the change in weather, or progress in work. If it’s months later, changes in temperature, weather, clothing styles, holidays, and shop sales are all wonderful ways to show the time that has passed.
We take in a vast amount of information through our senses every moment, albeit subconsciously. Our minds sort the data and decide which data are the most important bits to consciously experience and commit to memory. Can we add too much description to a scene? Yes, we can always add too little or too much. Description is like the flavor of the writing recipe, the dish will be vastly different depending on which combination of spices you add and in what amounts. Too little, and the characters are roaming around in the green screen of the reader’s mind. Too much, and you leave nothing to the imagination. How do we decide which bits to write about?
One of the most powerful and concise methods is to describe the smells a character experiences upon entering a scene. Think about it- we smell things continuously but only really notice and react to powerful scents. This can quickly set the mood and setting for the scene. Use this in an appropriate manner and don’t overuse the technique from scene to scene.
Another way to paint a more vibrant image is to describe background noises. Don’t list them, find concise ways to describe them. Example: The eagle, titan among birds, emitted a series of monotone, high-pitched screeches in periodic cycles. The occasional car hummed its way through the suburb.
Rachel Poli has an article covering the senses at How To Use The 5 Senses In Creative Writing.
Scene Type and Description
The Action Scene
- If at all possible, describe the setting for the action scene in an earlier scene. Description can interfere with action if not inserted carefully. By employing “pre-emptive imagery”, you can write the action scene without halting the action for setting description.
- Select a setting that has objects or items that can be used as weaponry, obstacles, or hidey-holes. This allows you to insert description into the action subtly as characters interact with their environment.
- Use strong, potent verb choices and short to medium length sentences. The goal is to keep up the reader’s sense of fast-paced excitement.
The Love Scene
- The best love scenes evoke deep emotions in the reader. The reader feels the characters’ yearning, desire, passion, and pain. Readers will never forget a scene that touched their hearts.
- Settings and circumstances can often force two people together who otherwise may have remained apart. For example, if your characters have chemistry but are at each other’s throats, perhaps they get separated from the group, a storm appears, they’re lost, she hurts her leg, and they have to fight for survival until rescue comes. Maybe the characters have never met and are forced together through circumstance, such as in the film Speed. These dangerous circumstances would cause them to forge an immediate bond. In Speed, they literally met earlier that day.
The Chase Scene
- Use high action verbs, such as dart, veer, flash, streak, panther-quick.
- Write about the sweat glistening on your character’s brow, his heart pounding, his breath panting. Get inside his skin and identify with him. Let us feel his determination, fear, anger, drive.
- Like the action scene, keep sentences shorter and use high powered verbs. Cut the adverbs.
- Place obstacles in his way. The setting should be interactive. Bring him close to death’s door. Alternate with hair-raising momentary escapes, keep up the suspense.
- Check out these scenes from The French Connection and Bullitt for inspiration.
- Don’t worry as much about description in your rough draft. You want to be patient and create vivid descriptions during the editing process.
- Is it relevant? If you don’t need the description, no matter how pretty it is, cut it.
- Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about finding the perfect word. Remember, simpler is often better.
- Happy Writing!
Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt, 280 pages, March 17th 2017, Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Fiction. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.
Review by Leigh Holland.
This book is the first in a planned trilogy. The Earth Mother Gaia is sentient, alive, and moving in mysterious ways to influence the life that resides in her surface. Although Gaia elevated mankind to the top of the food chain, she kept another species in reserve should they prove unworthy. This hidden species, the Tethyans, appears human when moving among humans. They’re intuitive and sensitive to the will of Gaia.
We follow Avery as she goes through life with a plan. The plan largely involves following the path laid out for her by her deceased parents. Since her parents died, she feels adrift without a compass. Avery meets Beck and they grow ever fonder of each other. Their romance is set against the backdrop of a hidden fantasy world with its own agenda. Avery searches for answers about her parents and her past. She discovers she is part of the hidden world. Avery worries about how this will affect her relationship with Beck, whom she has fallen hard for. Beck is supportive and self-sacrificing where Avery is concerned. At several points, as Avery learns more about her identity and origins, she rejects the world of the Tethyans. Yet she comes back every time, despite the uneasiness she feels, sensing she must continue on this path. Avery believes in destiny, has intuition, and follows her hunches. Avery and Beck are encouraged by the Tethyans to be together and her fear of what the path may do to their relationship fades. As we learn about Avery, we learn about the Tethyans and their culture alongside her. It’s a lot of information to impart to the reader and Burt does a great job of weaving it into Avery’s journey.
I loved the concept that the hidden species are the basis for many of our seafaring myths, such as sirens and mermaids. The world of humans is based on the traits that Western culture considers masculine: competition, physical strength, male dominance, and violent behavior. The world of Tethyans is based on what Western culture deems are traditionally feminine traits: cooperation, intuition, emotional strength, and pacifism (the exception is Andromeda, their defense forces). The book accepts this divide without question and makes the two cultures the opposite image of the other. Women are therefore in power in the Tethyan culture. There are also different groups with different missions within the culture, such as the Primals, Progenitors, and Andromeda. Chapters switch between the story of Avery, Beck, and their romance and journey of discovery, and the story of the women of Andromeda, elite female forces keeping the world and environment safe from powerful, wicked male corporate elitists. Each fighter of Andromeda is unique and has her own special powers which are often used against their enemies. I found both storylines interesting.
One of the things I found surprising was how easily Avery and Beck accepted the Tethyan world in the end after discovering the Tethyans never seem to question what they consider Gaia’s commands. They had reservations earlier, but not at this point, which struck me as odd. Tethyans will give up anything and anyone they must in order to fulfill their mission on behalf of Gaia. Gaia is presented as a goddess-force that imparts intuitions and is the source of the Tethyan mission. This zealotry was a disturbing part of their culture. There were times when I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was primarily a romance or a fantasy novel. It took a while for the two stories to connect and intertwine. By the end, I decided this is a Fantasy novel about two people who happen to fall in love while finding out they’re part of the Tethyan world and its mission.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Gaia’s Majesty. The concept was intriguing. I wish there had been more description and exploration of the underwater cities. I would’ve liked to have seen more interaction between the undersea folk and Avery and Beck. Hopefully, this will be explored further in the next novel in the series.
You can find this book at Gaia’s Majesty: Mission Called.
From the Back Cover
Gaia’s Majesty : Mission Called – Women in Power
The first book of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy
Our earth mother, Gaia, was intrigued by clever creatures developing on her Earth. She believed they held promise but also danger for themselves and her planet.
Wisely Gaia reserved a gifted population of women dedicated to safeguarding the future of humankind and Earth. The women called Progenitors lived in the sea and could transform to live on the land if they chose. Their families on land were called Primals. Among them were a defense force of women called the Andromeda. Collectively these people were called Tethyans.
She foresaw a definitive epoch which is now upon us. Our planet is enveloped in environmental and social crises. Unless humankind serves as stewards for Earth and ourselves we may live on a despoiled planet as people held in bondage by a wealthy class of plutocrats. The empowerment of women holds the key to our future.
Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy explores if Gaia’s preparations will succeed. Is this story a myth, or like so many myths, does it reside on the cusp of reality?
You used to adore me. You took my bounty gratefully and before my loving sight developed your skills as will a child in the sight of mother. You worshipped me and my fruitfulness. I tested you with adversity which made you strong. But in time you selfishly saw Earth’s bounty as your due. You now have a choice between stewardship or devastation.
From the Author
Women are coming to power. It is happening just as we enter a world environmental crisis of biblical proportions. We may disagree over the origins of our environmental crisis but its reality is demanding our attention. What will it mean that women are coming to power at this moment? One glorious benefit of the empowerment of women is that it opens us to a true and wonderful partnership between men and women
The Majesty Trilogy, of which this book is the first, falls on the cusp of reality. Environmental crisis and the empowerment of women are real but can be illuminated in fiction which has a mythological cast to it. In these books we embark on a fantasy journey where women take the lead in a planet which is being transformed. Whether that transformation is for the benefit of humankind or is a tragedy is yet to be decided.
Our earth mother, Gaia, knew this day would come as her most clever animals matured. She knew it might be necessary to start over if her experiment with humans failed. She created cities in the sea occupied predominately by women who could live in the water or on the land. We may have sighted them and know them as mermaids. But we have not known their import. They are at the forefront of empowerment and are opposed by powerful and immensely wealthy plutocratic men known as the Overlords.
Join us in this story as we venture to cleanse our planet and to empower women so together we may have a glorious partnership for men and women and possibly a transformative future.
When Duke University granted me a Ph.D. in clinical psychology it was time to go out beyond academia. I chose to work in the inner city of Baltimore in a community mental health program. My experience there was a wholly new form of learning. Daily I was confronted with the dire effects of deep poverty. It changed my life and view of the world.
Over time other elements in my education crept forward. The teachings of Leslie White about culture took on a new meaning and the depth of the studies of Carl Jung arose. Over decades I found myself assessing the meaning of cultural flow and the importance of myth in our lives. I took on a commitment to stewardship and came to see that the empowerment of women was essential to the future of humankind.
Later in life they all flowed together in the creation of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. Myth was not some abstraction but living elements of human existence. Psychology taught me there were elemental forces deep inside of us which ruled our lives but were largely unrecognized or at least not given their due. I wondered about such things as stories of mermaids which showed up across so many cultures. And I found issues of culture and myth showing up in my clinical work. My thoughts went deep into how they might relate to current human and ecological crises.
Much of my reaction seemed to be developing unconsciously until the day when the story of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy began to flow onto my computer. I have become convinced that deep unrecognized forces within us direct our lives and our cultures. I also became convinced that we do, indeed, live on the cusp of reality. My reality is different from your reality and we struggle to reach a workable common ground. And at this time we face unparalleled ecological crises. It seems that the rise of women and their empowerment are a crucial part of what has come to be a denouement in the story of humankind. The empowerment of women should at last lead to true partnership between men and women. Is it possible we may be moving toward a remarkable transformation? What it might be can only be the subject of a “what if”.
In these books I try to create an engagement for consideration of what may be happening to us. While the trilogy is fiction, its mythological cloak gives it a special relief and begs us to consider what may be happening to us and where we might be going. Is humankind to be led into terrible poverty and bondage where an economic elite will rule and will we also despoil the very planet on which we live and depend?
Come to the adventure in the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy and join in considering what it might say about our future.
And please join us for the commentary and discussion on the website www.cuspofreality.com.
Other works (non-fiction) can be found at:
Conquering the “Look”
By Leigh Holland.
Reviewing my chapter today, I searched the document for the word “look”. Gasping in horror, I realized I’d used the word “look”, or some conjugation of it, far too often. I was engaged in an epic mental struggle with the “Look”, a condition that’s tormented me for as long as I can recall. How can I conquer the “Look” once and for all?
Expressiveness of the Eyes
They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. By that, they mean the eyes are so expressive that they give away the truth behind them. Here are some ways we can describe “looking” with the eyes.
Expression of Eyes
|Agitation||Gaze bouncing from place to place, Avoided meeting her eyes|
|Amazement, Disbelief, Surprise||Eyes widened, Rapidly blinked repeatedly, An open stare, Glancing at companions to see if they’re amazed, Lifting one brow, Incredulous stare|
|Anger, Contempt, Hatred||Eyes protruded, a cold, hard glare, eyes narrowing|
|Anguish, Sadness||Crying, wailing, weeping, reddened eyes, tears shimmering, tears welling up, Glistening eyes, Wincing|
|Annoyance, Irritation||Raising eyebrows, giving a glassy stare, Narrowed eyes, eye-rolling, Focusing gaze elsewhere|
|Conflicted, Ambivalence||Avoiding eye contact, increased blinking, Ping-ponging gaze|
|Confusion||Narrowed eyes, eyebrows squishing together, Eyes cluding, Distant gaze, Staring at the ground, Blinking|
|Curiosity||A sidelong glance, Raised eyebrows|
|Defeat, Depression||Vacant eyes, Downward gaze, Staring at one’s own hands, Infrequently blinking, dark circles under eyes|
|Defensiveness||Squinting eyes, a fixed gaze, Lowering brow, Eye-rolling|
|Desire||Solid eye contact, Shining eyes, Glossed over eyes, softened gaze,|
|Desperation, Loneliness||Wet eyes, Glossy eyes, Darting gaze, Feverish stare, Over-bright eyes, A longing gaze, Lack of eye contact|
|Dread, Fear||Downward gaze, hair over face, Avoiding eye contact, Rapid blinking, Staring without seeing|
|Excitement, Happiness||Sparkling, gleaming eyes, Making eye contact, Dancing eyes|
|Impatient||Glancing repeatedly at watch, Narrowed eyes, Intense focus, Raised eyebrows, Massaging the temples with eyes closed|
|Love||Strong eye contact, little blinking, Yearning gaze, Beaming eyes, Soft gaze|
|Nostalgia||Unfocused gaze, Tear-filled eyes, Eyes bright with memories|
|Paranoia||Scouting for exits upon entry, Unfocused darting gaze.|
|Regret, Remorse||Eyebrows gathering inward, Staring at one’s feet, Tears|
|Resignation||Quiet tears, Dull eyes, Staring off at nothing|
|Satisfaction, Peacefulness||A raised eyebrow, A closed eye lidded look, Sparking eyes, A dazzling gaze|
Other Words Related To “Look”
ADMIRE ATTENTION AUDIT BORE BABYSIT BEHOLD BLINK BEAM CONSIDER CONTEMPLATE CASE COUNT CHECK CONTEMPLATION DELVE DO A SLOW BURN DEEM DISCOVER DISTINGUISH EVIL EYE EXAMINE EYE EYEBALL EXPLORE EXPRESSION FACE FERRET FLASH FRISK FORAGE GET A LOAD OF GAPE GLARE GLIMPSE GANDER GAZE GOGGLE GLOWER GRIMACE GLIMMER HEED INSPECT INTROSPECT INVESTIGATE JUDGE LEAF THROUGH LOOK-SEE LEER MOON MARK MOPE NOTICE NOTE ONCE-OVER OGLE OBSERVE PEEK PRY PROBE RUMMAGE RECONNAISSANCE RIFLE REGARD RECOGNIZE RESEMBLE SEARCH TAKE STOCK OF SCRUTINIZE SPECULATE SIMPER SEE SLANT SIFT SENSE SQUINT SPY STARE SIZE UP SWEEP SUPERVISE SURVEILLANCE SWIVEL WITNESS WATCH VIEW
Interested in other body language your characters can express? Check out The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression.
Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction
By Leigh Holland.
The novel. It’s such a massive project. There’s outlining, character arcs, pacing, setting, and am I the only person who’s ever taken days to pick the perfect names for characters? How do we find the time to work, take care of our homes and yards and kids, have a social life, and still find time to write a novel? Sometimes it can seem like a slogging chore instead of the passion fruit of our joyful, inspired labor. We want that gleaming, finished product of our imagination to be ready now rather than later.
I’m not saying to stop writing your novel. Keep at it, by all means! But you don’t have to wait until your novel is complete to create and publish another project. Sure, people want novels. But I love picking up a short read that can entertain me through my lunch break. I’m not alone. There’s a market out there for short stories.
Short fiction helps readers discover you. How does that work? For Amazon, the more published works you have available, the more likely it is that someone will find one of your books. If they like it, they may buy more. This leads to your books showing up more often in Amazon’s recommendation queue, which in turn leads to even more work being found by readers.
It’s helpful if at least one of your short fiction tales sells for .99 cents. You’ll make .30 cents on each copy, but most people will spend .99 cents on anything that looks interesting. You want to eliminate their reason to not buy one (or more) of your books. It helps get your book in front of the reader and if they enjoy it, they’ll buy other works from you. Once you’re ready to publish your novel, this will help you sell the novel because you’ve established a base of readers who already enjoy your work.
How much should you charge for short fiction? Most people would consider it fair to charge .99 cents to $1.99 for a story under 10,000 words. Most short stories run around 5,000 words. Let’s say you write 2 short stories per month. After one year, you have published 24 short stories at an average price point of 1.50 per copy, of which you’d keep about .45 cents. Even if you sold one copy of each book per day the following year, that’s over $3,500 you’d earn from those stories in one year. Now, I’m not saying money should be the focus when you write books- I’m saying that those short stories can have added financial benefits. Once you’ve published several stories in a genre, pull them together into a larger collection. Price the collection at less than the sum of the individual stories.
Additionally, run giveaways once every three to six months. Offering stories for free helps build up your readership. This can also be helpful in trying to obtain honest reviews from readers.
Apart from marketing, platform building, and sales strategies, there are artistic benefits to writing short fiction regularly. If you want to expand on a minor character from one of your published novels, a short story is a wonderful way to do that. If you loved the world you created in a novel but felt you didn’t have a chance to explore it further, short fiction is another way to expand and explore that fictional world. Want to write the prequel for your hero, but there’s not enough material for a novel? Are you worried it’s still too much for a short story? Try writing a novella. The lengths for different types of fiction can be found at Ironclad Ways To Increase Your Word Count.
Suffering from writer’s block as you work on your main novel? After trying these tips, check out some writing prompts. Find one that inspires you and write a short story or piece of flash fiction (under 2,000 words, flash fiction is typically about 500 words). It can help break you out of that cycle and get you back to writing productively.
Some Sites Where You Can Sell Short Fiction (Check Their Submission Guidelines)
May and September Only: AGNI
Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter
In part six, we talk about the role of the Shapeshifter in the Hero’s Journey. The Shapeshifter role can be two-faced, changeable, and mysterious. This transformational power brings tension and doubt into the story. The transformation can be literal and physical. It can be spiritual or emotional. It can encompass both the seen and unseen nature of the Shapeshifter character. In romance and subplotting, the love interest of the hero often takes on this role. The femme fatale is an example of this role.
Additionally, a character may switch roles throughout the narrative. A character may be the herald, then the mentor, then the shapeshifter, and finally reveal himself to be the shadow. There’s no rule against one character playing multiple roles in the journey.
The shapeshifter hides their true nature from the hero. The shapeshifter keeps the hero and reader wondering whose side they’re really on. Usually, the shapeshifter is on the shapeshifter’s side. Because the reader isn’t sure about the shapeshifter’s loyalties and motives, this character brings tension, frustration, and intrigue to the story.
According to Carl Jung, inside each human being there’s an alternate gender-force. For men this is the feminine side or “anima”, for women, we have the masculine side or “animus”. Society has taught women to hide masculine traits such as ambition, boldness, and power. It’s also taught men to shove down traits that are traditionally viewed as feminine, such as intuition and emotional sensitivity. In the shapeshifter, we see these traits of our own being. We impose this on the role and in this fashion, safely explore it. This isn’t just true of exploring in a romantic context; we also explore our wild side in the primal nature of the werewolf, our dark side in the cursed werewolf who can’t control his killing. Through the shapeshifter role, we are able to relate to hidden pieces of ourselves that we usually don’t explore from day to day. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we compartmentalize and wear masks around others every day. The shapeshifter role shows us masks; and at some point, reveals what’s behind them.
A wonderful example of projection of the anima occurs in the Hitchcock classic 1958 movie, Vertigo. (This also happens to be one of my favorite films!) In Vertigo, private detective Scottie Ferguson takes a job watching the suicidal wife of an old friend. He falls madly in love with her and tries to save her from a family curse, ultimately failing because of his vertigo. After he’s released from an institution six months later, he happens to see a woman-Judy- who bears a striking resemblance to his dear yet dead Madeleine. Obsessed, Scottie takes care of her, buys her things, and ultimately changes her appearance until she looks exactly like Madeleine. Here are a couple of videos that capture this transformation:
Who is Judy? Why does she look like Madeleine? What’s scarier, the fact she looks exactly like her, or how far Scottie’s obsession drives him in transforming her? Can he trust his lover?
What happens when we can’t trust our lover? Will the shapeshifter betray us? Love us? Save us? Destroy us? Both? This tension brings vital suspense to the tale.
The femme fatale is a classic, if overused, example of the archetype. Who can forget Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, or in Total Recall:
While some femme fatale try to murder the hero or lead him into fatal danger, this is not needed for the character to be a shapeshifter. Both the shapeshifter and femme fatale criteria can be met by confusing, distracting, or tempting the hero away from his true quest.
Shapeshifters don’t have to be femme fatale, or femme at all. Male characters can easily serve in this dramatic role. One example is Han Solo from Star Wars. When we first meet Han, we learn that Han is all about himself. He’s in it for Han. It’s only as the movies progress that Han’s character arc changes and he reveals that yes, he’s the shapeshifter, and man, can he ever change. He saves lives, both of friends and strangers, and starts to be in it for more than just Han. He cares and starts putting others first. I believe this rehabilitation of his shapeshifter nature is one of the reasons for the “Who shot first?” debate that rages on. (It wasn’t Greedo. Han wasn’t always the good guy we come to adore, he was a shapeshifter before he transformed).
And finally, here is a classic example of a literal shapeshifter. Powerful. Mysterious. Potentially deadly. Maybe friend, maybe foe, maybe our true love.
The source for this material is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition.
If interested in purchasing any of these wonderful films, they can be found at:
Here are the articles in this series: