the one thing that has stuck with me every day since my English teacher told me it in middle school is:
"When referring to someone, always say who they are before anything else about them, because being a person always comes first"
Instead of saying “the mentally ill man,” say “the man with a mental illness”
Putting someone’s characteristics (especially negative ones) before them is dehumanizing and rude. Don’t do it.
Being a science fiction creator is the most amazing adventure — you get to invent whole new worlds, brand new futures, and fantastic technologies, and you get to tell the most incredible stories about them. But it’s also a tough and heartbreaking career path, whether you’re in books, comics, movies or television. Here are 10 things that every brand new science fiction creator ought to know at the start.
1. Only you can write this.
2. You were born to write this.
3. People need you to write this.
4. The world is waiting for you to finish this.
5. One day, someone will tell you how much they needed to read this.
6. You can write anything you set your mind to.
7. This has a glimmer of brilliance in it.
8. The crappy words will fall away in revision.
9. My vision of the world matters.
10. I see people in a new way.
You don’t need to believe that this is going to be a bestseller. You don’t need to believe that you’re going to be a household name. You don’t need to believe that someday people will study your book in college. But you do have to work to counteract the relentless voice of defeat in your head that says:
1. No one will ever read this.
2. I am banging my head against the wall here.
3. Who am I to think I could be a writer?
4. My father/mother/partner is right. I should give up.
5. I don’t know how to do this. I never learned. No one ever taught me.
6. My voice doesn’t matter.
7. My experience is too different from anyone else’s to connect with readers.
8. I don’t know what happens next.
9. I feel too exposed. I want to hide and protect myself more.
10. I can’t expect anyone to pay me for this when they can get so many other things for free.
Having trouble finding synonyms for ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘tan’, etc? Have any clear idea what tone you’re going for? Here’s some web pages for skin tone description and references:
Handy Words for Skin Tone (Includes palettes and comparisons)
More Tone Synonyms w/ Pictures
7 Offensive Mistakes Writers Make (includes more than just skin color)
There is an allure to writing lawless areas, the Wild West with duels every other day or fantastical inner cities with areas that that police can’t reach. The problem is that these areas, while existing, don’t always exist how people see them in stories. There are essentially three aspects to writing a region like this: lawlessness, anarchy, and power vacuums.
True lawlessness, where there are no written or unwritten laws of any kind, is virtually impossible to maintain. Societal norms act as a set of unwritten laws, where the punishment may not be imprisonment or fine but is instead isolation, shaming, or one of many other such responses. An area with no written laws is more likely to exist, especially in a tribal or splintered region where there may not be any sort of central government, but if there aren’t written laws, there will probably at least be some set of spoken and generally accepted rules.
Places can have actions be legal (or illegal) that way in wherever you are from, and that does not mean that they are lawless. For example, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan experienced mass numbers of rapes and murders while being a very heavily controlled and structured region. In the drug-lord controlled slums, the drug lords would set the rules. Rape might be commonplace while theft is highly punishable. Stealing from unprotected stores might be allowed while stealing from the main power might be entirely forbidden. These aren’t laws that you might be used to, but they are still rules with a governing and enforcing body behind them.
Anarchy in a political sense is a lack of a centralized government or overarching authority, which is how I’m going to use it in this part. While there is an implication of violence associated with the term, violence is not necessary in an anarchic system. As proof, in international relations, the world is considered to be anarchic because there is no hegemonic power that rules the world. This works—clearly—on a macro level. On a micro level, this does not work quite as well, because while centralized authorities provide clear rules, they also provide enforcement and protection. In a town, for instance, the town government sets the town laws and enforces them with the police force. If this didn’t happen, there would be a lot of violence initially during the power vacuum (which will be covered in a little bit) and then makeshift authorities would inevitably set themselves up and take control.
At some point, there will have to be some sort of ruling body, and if it is not a centralized one—democratically elected or not—it will end up being made up of whoever has the best combination of power and authority to take control That may be one person/group or it could be a number, in the case of something like warlords. Communities may also set up their own makeshift governments led by elders or religious or military leaders who make decisions based on whatever authority the people in the community give them.
Power vacuums are situations where there is no central government so everybody who wants power will rush in and try to seize power. There are a number of situations where this happens.
Regime change is one of the main examples of where power vacuums can and will form. Especially in the case of civil war with a number of factions fighting against the government, if the government is overthrown, there will be a rush for power between many or all of these factions. If a major part of the civil war or civil unrest was to form a democratic government, this may happen semi-peacefully, but as seen in Egypt post-Arab Spring, that cannot be counted on. Especially when religion or deep-rooted cultural differences play a role in the situation, democratic election results can still lead to violence.
Unstructured settlement of new land can also lead to anarchic systems and power vacuums. If land is settled by people who were not specifically sent out with a government in place, there will probably be a rush for power to take control of the region.
Areas that break off from their mother country can experience power vacuums. An area may split off and either officially or unofficially become autonomous, but that does not automatically mean that they already have a government—especially a fully functional and effective one. As with a civil war, the factions that worked together to facilitate the split might and likely will end up turning against each other when it comes to controlling the new region.
Having a dark, violent region is possible and entirely plausible to write about, but while doing that, one must consider how it got that way and to what extent the anarchy and lawlessness extends. There will virtually never be no rules, so you need to figure out what the laws would be and who would want them to be that way.
It’s easy to label yourself a writer. Jot down a poem and call yourself a scribe. But building a reputation for yourself as a writer is the evidence others need to label you a writer. Whether good or bad, writers’ reputations follow them wherever they go, either paving the way for success or putting up roadblocks in the path to getting published or developing a readership. It’s essential that creative writers take into consideration the way their peers, literary agents, editors, and readers view not only the quality of their writing, but their credentials and career path as well. It’s far easier to create a solid, professional reputation than to undo the damage of a spotty record and poor public persona.
Creative writers can brand themselves in any number of ways, and successful writers use more than one self-marketing method.
Intersection. The entries should overlap with each other. This keeps everyone/everything relevant. You can intersect the stories in three ways:
- The characters know each other and mention each other,
- The journal entries share a common theme,
- The journal entries all center on an event that all writers are tied to. Point 3 can overlap with point 1, but doesn’t need to.
Voice. It’s very important to keep your characters distinct so that they appear as four separate characters instead of four facets of a single one. Journal entries are the most personal expressions you can have. Don’t be afraid to make up abbreviations or slang (explain them to the reader, of course) or mildly break English conventions to add character.
A big part of voice is viewpoint bias. How the character perceives the world will not line up with how the world is. Please let the character be wrong several times. The consequence of being wrong doesn’t need to be disastrous; it could be good. But by developing four biases, you’ll have an easier time writing four different journal entries.
A thing I like doing - and probably wouldn’t be preserved if you decided to publish - is using custom fonts that suit the character’s handwriting. It helps with the characterization.
Time. It takes awhile to write or type a long journal entry. The longer it is, the more time it takes. Obvious, right? Not to some journal writers, who have their characters dashing down twenty frantic lines between searching for their love interest and killing the Dark Lord. Your character probably doesn’t have time for that. They need to find the Sword of Jriso before midnight, talk to unicorns, arrange murders, and a whole laundry list of way more important things than recording how afraid they are. If your character is busy, they aren’t going to have a lot of time to write. Maybe they put down a sentence, or a word, or a quick sketch of a bird. Alternately, they could write down the busy events at a quieter time. My point is that stories centering around journals are better off unfolding across a fortnight or more.
Suspense. A lot of people trash journals as dull because you know the character survives because they have obviously lived to write down their experiences. First of all, there are many horrific things you can do to your character that will make them wish they were dead and leave them capable of writing. Secondly, if you are going to kill one of your writers, you should have their death from another journal writer’s perspective, or have someone else add their death entry for closure after finding the journal - which you could do with four characters, if they know each other.
Relevance. People’s journals don’t make logical sense. You write down what comes to mind. You could jump from lyrics to story ideas to political diatribe within three sentences. That is simply part of journaling. However, random political diatribe or cheesy knock-knock jokes have no place in the every-word-counts writing world. They could serve to develop character, but they should either take up little space or contribute to the plot. You should have randomness, but make the randomness less.
Flashback. Don’t forget to let your characters read their past journal entries - or each others’ journal entries - to figure out mysteries, revisit conversations, notice changes in themselves or in others, and reflect.
Dear Oppressed Writer,
Fuckyeahforensics is dedicated to all things forensics, run by a person actively in the field. Beware that there are graphic images and triggers for domestic abuse and blood and wounds and dead bodies. Take a look at their follow page for more tumblrs dedicated to the forensic sciences.
Here is a post about how autopsies happen.
Here is a post about body deterioration.
Here is a slideshow of images of the stages of decomposition of a corpse.
Here’s a post about how to bury bodies and avoid getting caught by forensic detectives.
Hope this helps!