Crutch words – WENT (part 1)

When drafting a story, a book, or a poem, we tend to use words that will easily allow us to convey what we have in mind. They help us get the words out fast. It makes sense; it’s a draft, meant only for the writer and only until revisions and edits start. Past that stage, it’s best (for our readers’ sake) to change these words in favour of better and more descriptive ones.

WENT is a word writers like to use often, but one that doesn’t paint a nice picture for the reader. Below are some alternative words you can use. Keep in mind, the list of synonyms for WENT is much bigger, and I will come back to it at a later time with more words. As always, please make sure you use the right replacement at the right moment for best results. Each synonym has a meaning of its own.

 

 

Also, I changed the blog’s front page a bit. It took me hours to get the image mapping to work and to figure out how to fix the html code (I’m soooooo incompatible with such things), but I think the result is better than the old one. The question is, do you like it?

Crutch words – Smile/Laugh

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about crutch words and I focused on the word LOOK. Of course, look isn’t the only crutch word writers use. SMILE and LAUGH are two similar words. Keep in mind that the words I include below are not the only ones, but they tend to be used more often than others. Also, some of them are the product of onomatopoeia (Greek word, meaning to create names), and as such they describe a sound. As I mentioned in that earlier post, make sure you understand what each word means before you use them.

Crutch words

Nearly every human being (if not all) have expressions and words we like to use more often than others. We either use them from habit, or because we can’t remember a synonym, or because we don’t know any other synonym. When we talk to people, the listener’s mind doesn’t always pick up on those repetitions, and if it does, it focuses on the meaning of the sentence as a whole rather than that any of the words we keep repeating.

That’s not the case with written words. The ancient Romans used to say, Scripta Manent, which loosely means the written word endures. The full saying was, verba volant, scripta manent, meaning words are volatile, the written words endure. And they were right in more than one levels. For instance, when we read something, it’s easier to pick up repetitions. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because our eyes can pick up patterns, or perhaps  our minds work differently when we read something instead of saying it. We, as writers, owe it to our readers to present them with the best and most descriptive of our work we can possibly create.

One way of achieving this is by realising we’re using crutch / repetitive words, and do our best to come up with a synonym that is more descriptive and conveys the same message in a better way.

One such word is LOOK, when used as a verb meaning to examine visually. Below is a small list of synonyms you can use instead of look. Now, before you use them, make sure you understand the inherent meaning of each word, since synonym to a word doesn’t necessarily mean equivalent. Also keep in mind that some of those words are also considered filter words, and may cause problems with telling instead of showing. Use your judgement.

Keep in mind that I focused on the synonyms for look that mean to examine visually and none of its other meanings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small horror (?) story

Let me start by wishing Happy Halloween to everyone who celebrates it!! I know it’s in two days time, but since I only post here every Sunday, it’s now or never.

This past week was one of the few ones where, despite the work, I felt energetic. Probably because there wasn’t too much work to do at the office. In other words, I had enough time to write and play around with Photoshop. Those of you who follow me on Facebook (the personal profile or my author’s page) may have seen some of the pictures I uploaded.

So last Thursday, I took the day off from work to write, edit, and work on other things. Boy, that was fun!

There I was, eager to unleash my creativity, my fingers itching to dance on the keyboard, and… my PC died.

What I mean by that is, it got caught in an endless boot-loop. If you’ve never encountered it (lucky you!), a boot-loop in short, and as I understand it, is a state where the computer fails to load the operating system and is forced to restart, until it reaches the same point of previous failure, and on and on it goes. You don’t need me to tell you it’s scary. In my case, it was scarier because I couldn’t start my computer into Safe Mode (an operating mode where only the most basic computer functions are loaded, which allows the user to remove any programme or anything else that causes the computer into a boot-loop or other scary stuff). I was also unable to go back to a previous stable state. To make things worse, the repair function the Windows CD provides also didn’t work. In other words, I had no way of accessing anything into my system.

The last time something like this happened was about fifteen years ago. Back then, I knew almost nothing of computers (not that I know a lot of things now, but certainly more than then). When it happened, I lost everything because I had to format my hard drives. By everything I mean mostly viruses, since I didn’t even know what an antivirus was. Fifteen years ago, I decided I was going to reserve a small partition in my hard drive where, when the time came, I would be able to install a fresh copy of Windows (without messing with the older version) and access my files locked in the older copy of the operating system. Fifteen years ago! That’s a long time. I almost forgot I had it. I had never used it, and sometimes, when I ran out of space on my hard disks, I questioned my decision. Until last Thursday.

To make a long and boring story short, thanks to this post I managed to fix the problem. And the problem was the registry. Of course, by the time I found this article, I had wasted most of the day, which resulted in me not working enough on things I was supposed to work. But at least, my ancient computer is alive and hopefully will remain so until I buy a new one.

The moral of all this is: make sure you keep updated backups, or use a restore point in your computer, and of course don’t give up and don’t panic.

You may think that this is completely unrelated to writing, but I urge you to read the previous sentence again. You never know when a fatal digital error will take away a manuscript you’ve been working on for years.

And that was my horror story for this year. Hopefully…

How to create believable characters

Some of you might have heard the question, “What’s more important? The story or the characters in it?” When I had just started writing, I wholeheartedly used to answer that the story was more important than anything. “Take the world’s best characters,” I used to say, “and put them in the world’s most boring story ever written. See what happens then.” In part, this is true, but only in part and a very small one at that.

Imagine the best and fastest car in the world. Which is it today, Bugatti Veyron? Is it still the fastest supercar? You can probably tell I’m not into cars that much. Now imagine the Bugatti doing absolutely nothing other than sitting there, all polished and shining. But immobile. Just parked there. How long would it excite you for?

Now picture a Citroen 2CV.

It’s an old car. It’s a funny looking car. It certainly isn’t fast. In fact, its best feature is that it’s too damn hard to tip it over. But it’s moving. Or crawling, in this case. Still, it’s doing things. It’s panting up a small hill and it comes bouncing down after it reaches the top. The centre of its gravity sways left and right like a pendulum as it comes crushing down the slope at the supersonic speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). But it’s moving. I’m willing to bet that after you got your breath back from the uncontrollable laughter, and finished taking selfies in front of the Bugatti (no duckfaces please), you’d stop staring at the glamorous supercar and paid attention to the 2CV. If not for an interest in the car itself, then an interest in seeing how many parts of it would fall off by the end of its journey. And all because it’s doing more than just sitting there.

Pick a story. Any story. Remove the characters. What do you get? Not much.

So, if gasoline and petrol are the fuel that powers cars and almost every engine there is, then characters are the story’s fuel. Even the simplest of fairy tales and stories that parents and grandparents tell kids to put them to sleep need characters to set them in motion. Without them, what we end up with is a world that feels almost dead. Or a story that nothing happens.

So what does it take for a writer to create believable characters?

Some writers are visual people and require a picture or a sketch of the character they’re about to create. They need to see the character’s face in order to get a feel of their actions, their behaviour, perhaps even the sound of their voices. Some writers use Pinterest for this and create boards to help them visualise their creations, and imagine them speaking the character’s lines. A lot of readers are like that.

Occasionally, I do it too, but not in terms of the actor’s appearance, rather how I’d like the lines to sound and perhaps how I’d like my character to behave (anyone who has read my work knows I use a lot of action tags – which is not necessarily a good thing, by the way) between dialogue lines.

Disclaimer: I don’t imagine famous actors playing the role of my characters just because I want to see my work on the big screen. On the other hand, I also don’t object to it, so if you’re someone who’s on the lookout for ideas for new movies, let’s talk business.

Some of the writers who employ this technique swear that it helps them create better and more realistic characters. I can’t really tell if that’s true for the readers as well or not. Usually what us writers have in our minds is different from what a reader creates with theirs. After all, part of the magic of reading and writing is this.

Other writers interview their characters. The way this works is rather simple; writers ask their characters a long list of questions about their past, their wants and their fears, how they’d handle a situation, how they’d reply to a question etc. What those writers expect to achieve with this is not only to get a better understanding of who the (imaginary) person sitting across them is, but also, through the multitude of questions, to actually “hear” their characters talk and sketch their mannerisms out.

Some writers employ personality evaluation. I did this for my current WIP (work in progress). In this case, after having employed one or more of the other methods mentioned here, tries to understand their characters’ MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). This instrument gives answers to questions about what kind of person our character really is. Is he/she an introvert or an extrovert? Someone who perceives the world through their intuition or through their senses? When faced with a problem, does he/she use logic to solve it?

When used properly, this indicator is a powerful tool in a writer’s hands. Thanks to it, we have a far better idea of how our characters are supposed to act when pitted against the multitude of problems we, the creators, throw at them, especially in stories that are less about the action and more about character interaction.

Another way to have a better understanding of our characters, is by answering some key questions about them. For example: what are the character’s abstract wants? For those familiar with the Snowflake Method, this question is related to the character’s motivation. The answer to this question is always related to the character’s past and has shaped him/her into the individual we see in the story. Another key question is, what are the character’s concrete wants? In other words, what are the character’s goals in the story? This is what drives the character forward. It’s almost always related to the events taking place in the story.

What are the character’s conflicts, what prevents him/her from reaching the goals? Also, what will the character’s personal challenge be? What will he/she learn at the end of the story?

Of course, in real life there is no such thing as perfection (being a perfectionist, this should also serve as a message to myself…), so writers need to bestow flaws to their characters, if we want them to feel real. Everything mentioned above (the MBTI, the wants, goals, and needs, the psychological traits etc) also create flaws. Characters who are introverts may go to extremes and shut themselves out from the rest of the world. Characters who think less before they act may end up getting into trouble. Those who have suffered a great tragedy in their past (character motivation) often see the world skewed and ill-perceived. Depending on your story and setting, this creates a range of problems for them to overcome, thus making them more realistic.

Much like us, characters should change over the course of the story. It doesn’t have to be something big, as long as there’s change. In my current WIP (my cyberpunk story), my main character changes his view and belief about the corporate conglomerate that governs his world, but he also changes the way he perceives the world he inhabits over time. The change doesn’t have to be a positive thing, unless your genre demands it. It doesn’t have to be something that stands out like a fly floating in milk. It can very well be something subtle, like being a little bit more confident, when dealing with a character who has self-esteem issues, or for a solitude person to accept someone else’s company. The possibilities are quite endless.

In the case of villains, writers should keep in mind that every character is multidimensional, which means that the bad guys, a) always have a reason they turned out the way they are, b) should have a redeeming quality. Which also means, even a villain can change by the end of the story. And yes, this also includes turning into a really REALLY bad guy. Remember, change goes both ways. When done right, villains dominate the story and make it so much more enjoyable.

Of course, that’s all easier said than done, which is why we very often come out of a theatre thinking that the movie was mediocre at best, despite the excellent acting, remarkable direction etc. Or we end up putting a book down and never getting back to it. See, characters are the ones who take us by the hand, turn themselves into vessels, and transport us to their world. They’re the guides. It is their stories we experience. And it won’t matter if the world they take us to is the best and the events that take place are the most thrilling anyone has ever experienced. It doesn’t matter. If the vessel is not good enough, chances are we won’t enjoy the ride.