Anonymous asked: How would my character disarm the girl who is aiming a handgun at him? She doesn’t intend to shoot (although he doesn’t know that), and he doesn’t want to hurt her, just get the gun away from her. It’s his way of proving to her who he is (because he has the ability to disarm her). Everything I’ve looked up online for it includes hurting the attacker as some kind of defense mechanism.
It’s not a defense mechanism, it’s necessity. This is a culmination of a couple issues that we haven’t really covered in detail.
The first is reasonable force; basically, this is the absolute minimum amount of harm you need to inflict in a given situation to ensure your safety and the safety of others, including the person trying to kill you. Make no mistake, if someone’s pointing a gun at you, they are trying to kill you. (I’ll come back to this in a minute.)
The more training your character has, then under the law, the less harm they’re allowed to legally inflict. This is because restraining your opponent without hurting them is a lot harder, and requires more skill, than simply killing them.
Reasonable force is a bit of a pain because it is very subjective in the moment. It scales upwards based on a lot of factors, including the nature of the threat. If someone is threatening to “beat the shit out of you,” responding by crippling or killing them is (usually) going to be considered excessive.
Guns take that and toss it all out the window. Pointing one at someone is always a threat of lethal force. It doesn’t matter what the person with the gun intends. It is the weapon not the person that escalates the threat.
The second major issue is that gun disarms are really hard, and really, really dangerous. Most martial artists that attempt to use them in actual situations get shot. It’s a ratio close to 9/10, that’s 9 get shot to every one that 1 succeeds. Often, even if the disarm is successful, they get shot anyway during the attempt. An attacker who is already jittery on adrenaline will take the fast movement of the disarm i.e. the person moving towards them as a threatening gesture. They may fire reflexively, even if they didn’t originally intend to. The response evokes “oh my god, they’re attacking me” and that instinctive response will be even stronger and more immediate in someone who is untrained. This may also force a switch over in the attacker themselves from “I don’t want to hurt you” to “I’m going to shoot you because now you’re threatening my life”. It may not seem logical when they’re already holding the gun, but within their mind it is. An attack/disarm will escalate the situation because it shows them that the person they’re pointing the gun at (whom they may trust) is willing to hurt them or even shoot them. The person who is attempting the disarm is taking their power away from them and that is threatening, especially to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. If the gun is all they have to control the situation then they won’t let it go without a fight.
With most techniques, the consequences for not executing them perfectly are fairly limited, you might take a blow you didn’t want to, or strike with less force than you intended. But, for gun disarms, failing to execute the technique flawlessly can be fatal.
What this means is, when it comes to gun disarms, the priority has been to develop simple techniques that work, and screw everything else. Gun disarms are, as a general rule, easy to learn, but, they also come without any margin for error.
The result is, most gun disarms will wrench joints and break bones. Most disarms can escalate into kills, because they leave the martial artist with the gun in a ready to fire state. The martial artist themselves may accidentally shoot their attacker once they get the gun away from them because they are also jittery with adrenaline and they left their finger on the trigger. Disarms end with the gun pointed at the attacker. Once adrenaline gets factored in, it can be very difficult to not follow through with an execution shot. With the exception of outright shooting the gunman, this is all pretty solidly reasonable force. Many instructors suggest for students who are unused to guns to brace it on their hip, instead of holding it out in a ready to fire state, as this reduces the risk of them accidentally shooting the attacker or their attacker taking it back.
Finally, and this is a general threat assessment issue, but it does affect disarms. Untrained shooters are much more dangerous. Once the shooting starts, a trained shooter is going to be able to kill more efficiently, but an untrained shooter is more likely to shoot someone by accident.
If you have a character pointing a gun at someone they don’t want to hurt (outside of some edge, “I don’t want to hurt you; but, I will kill you,” cases), they’re not going to be trained in firearms safety.
What this means is, and I hate harp on this over and over, but, when you have a character pointing a gun at someone, they’re always threatening to kill the other person. Even if they gun isn’t loaded, even if they don’t want to hurt anyone, even if they just want attention. They’re still threatening to kill someone.
I’d actually argue that a trained shooter is safer to disarm, as well. Proper trigger discipline can work against getting a rapid shot off into the martial artist. Of course a “safer” version of an extremely lethal situation is still quite dangerous.
Now, non-harmful gun disarms do exist. But, they’re not a part of any martial art. Stage fighting includes a lot of techniques that can be practiced safely. The problem is, as a general rule, stage fighting is cooperative choreography between two performers. So the gun disarms you’ll see on TV that leave both combatants with all their fingers in the original sockets aren’t real combat techniques.
If you want to look at getting a gun away from someone safely, I’d recommend watching The Negotiator, it’s not about martial arts, but it is about talking people down.
Anonymous asked: A question regarding contractions. Everyone has told me to NEVER use contractions, even when characters are speaking. I don't use contractions during the narration or when more 'sophisticated' characters are speaking, but I do let my younger, less experienced characters use them, and people try to make me edit it every time. However, my characters do not sound like themselves when I do this. Is everyone right in saying I shouldn't use contractions even when characters are speaking?
I’ve no idea who gave you this advice, because it’s perfectly normal to use contractions in fiction writing, especially in dialogue. (Normally, avoiding contractions is something you would do for an academic paper, and even then, they’re not necessarily always bad.) It’s perfectly fine!
Also, If people are trying to make you do things with your writing that you feel is wrong, you don’t have to share your writing with them anymore! If you’re getting advice you think might be bad, you don’t have to follow it. If the people trying to change your work/give you bad advice harp on it, change the subject. Don’t talk to them about your writing anymore. Find a Team You of people who can help your writing, not hurt it.
how many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: The terrible sex had made him feel deeply interesting, like a murder victim.I don’t understand how all this ought to be a prerogative of male novelists. Newsflash, sweethearts: your gender does not determine the quality of your writing. No, it doesn’t. Really. No.
A: The beast, which had represented his feelings, was dead. “I think I’ll do a pushup,” he announced to the sea. The sea respected him for it.
A: [4000 words from the narrator about his feelings on his childhood circumcision]
A: War is hell.
A: He straightened his tie. He had lost, but in a romantic way, which meant that he had won. “I’m going to do a pushup,” he announced to his tie. His tie respected him for it, and secretly wished that it could have sex with him.
A: You wouldn’t understand.
A: He swore curses at his coworkers. He was making a lot of money. Fuck.
A: This neighborhood in New York City was very different from the other neighborhood in New York City he’d just been in.
A: He lit a cigarette. His glass of whiskey lit a cigarette too. “I can only truly love my best friend,” he said, “but not in a gay way. Women wouldn’t understand it. They’re too gay.” Both of the cigarettes agreed.
A: [4000 words about an isolated encounter with a service worker that borders on racist and goes nowhere]
A: “The cocaine isn’t the point. The cocaine is a metaphor,” he explained wearily over the pile of cocaine. She folded her arms. She didn’t understand his cocaine. “Didn’t you read my manifesto?” The prostitute had read his manifesto. Why couldn’t she?
A: This lightbulb is inauthentic.
A: ”It’s only the institution I have a problem with,” he explained to the empty bar.
A: The time had come for him to go to war, and also find himself, and also reject the rules of your society.
A: His alcoholism was different, because someday he was going to die.
A: [Nothing happens for 450 pages; receives fourteen awards]
Mary Sue Characters: What they are, and why women deserve better
Recently, I’ve seen quite a few posts about Mary Sue characters cross my dash that I don’t feel accurately deconstruct or understand the term. As someone who feels very strongly about the representation of women in media, (and as someone who has been reading fan fiction since the age of Yahoo emailing lists and live journal) I felt the need to write an article on the subject. Hopefully this will help inspire some writers and settle the concerns of others.
1. What Is a Mary Sue Character?:
The term “Mary Sue originates from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie’s Tale" published in her fanzine Menagerie The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"), and satirized unrealistic Star Trek fan fiction. The best fan written definition I have come across can be found: here
In essence: A Mary-sue character is a female character that shares three major characteristics:
- They are poorly written and one dimensional with incredibly predictable personality traits.
- They are the romantic interest of nearly all the male characters within the text.
- They are infallible in many ways. Including but not limited to intelligence, battle prowess, wit, and the consequences of their own actions.
What I believe most people who criticize the Mary Sue trope are missing, is that these characteristics all have different weights of importance to the development and identification of a Mary Sue character.
The most important characteristic of the three is the first listed: That Mary Sue characters are poorly written.
The reason that this is the most important characteristic is that without this aspect of the term, many of the strong amazing female characters who you would never even dream of considering “Mary Sue” characters would have to fall underneath the term.
It is the defining difference between characters of quality who happen to be strong and interesting and compelling, and characters who seem to have inherited these personality traits from osmosis. Meaning that the difference between a strong/diverse female character and a Mary Sue is the quality of character development and (in many cases) the understanding of well studied character design.
Without understanding the importance of this particular aspect of Mary Sue characters, the following characters would be considered Mary Sues: Xena, Martha Jones, Anne of Green Gables, Eowyn, Rose Tyler, Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, Katniss Everdeen, Allison Argent, Lisbeth Salander etc.
As you know, these women are decidedly NOT Mary Sue characters.
The list above is designed to showcase how vital being “poorly written” is for a character to qualify as Mary Sue. There is a certain… laziness that is associated with the personality and character development arc of known Mary Sue characters (Like Bella Swan for example). And one cannot be defined as a Mary Sue character without it…
chimiracleon34thstreet asked: This may sound silly, but I've been having a lot of trouble using pronouns in scenes involving two characters of the same gender. I end up using characters' names a lot because I want to avoid confusing regarding who the pronoun is referring to. This use of names, however, tends to make the prose very clunky. Any tips regarding smart use of pronouns?
I have this issue sometimes too, and I’m actually going to give you some advice on what not to do: don’t use epithets. Don’t resort to epithets. I know some people will say they’re fine and you should do what you want, but epithets are one of the fastest things that will make me stop reading something. I promise you that reusing a name or using a pronoun will always, always be less awkward than an epithet.
This post explains it the best for me, particularly this section here:
Not all epithets, but the overwhelming majority of epithets, are inappropriate most (if not all) of the time, and it’s at its heart a POV issue. Most people think of other people by their names most of the time. They think of themselves by name or by pronoun. I have never once in my entire life described myself as “the petite brunette” in my internal monologue, despite the fact that I am, in fact, a petite brunette, and if explicitly asked to describe myself, I very well might describe myself as a petite brunette. The problem is not the epithet. The problem is that that is not how I think of myself on a moment-to-moment basis.
If you are running into a sentence that contains your characters’ names 14 times and it’s awkward, I know that feel, bro. Especially a problem in same-sex sex scenes where the pronouns get jumbled really quickly. A couple tips:
- Names repeated 14 times, or 140 times, are still less jarring than inappropriate epithets.
- No really I promise.
- However. If you’re trying to get rid of some names, most of the time, you can have pronouns that are technicallyvague references and still make perfect sense, if you use the sentence structure to make your pronouns less confusing.
I’m having a hell of a time thinking of a good example of this even though I know I’ve used it (I’ve used it lately, even)—but I’m not good at writing not-bad!fic out of context. So here’s the basic idea: if you have something along the lines of “Character A verb Character B, he verb him, he verb him” (kinky), the reader will tend to assume that all objects in that sentence are the same, and all subjects in that sentence are the same—i.e. both of those instances of “he” are Character A, and both those instances of “him” are Character B. This is definitely a… to-be-used-sparingly sort of an approach, but it can work if you just feel like the names have been repeated so often it’s starting to read really choppily. But really, names are way less jarring than inappropriate epithets. Really. I promise. Promise. Pinky swear.
I know not everyone holds that philosophy and different strokes for different folks, and it’s still aggravating as a writer when you’re trying to make sense with words but keep needing to use pronouns and names, but I always take reusing a name over the alternative like, “the co-mod of Fuck Your Writing Habits”.
Ideas Worth Your Time
As a writer, it’s safe to assume you might have a million different ideas floating around in that NOGGIN of yours. They might just be snippets of something or complete ideas that will eventually lead to something bigger, but how do you figure out what’s worth your time and energy? How can you tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea?
Ask yourself these questions—
• Does it completely capture YOUR attention? If it’s something that you can’t stop thinking about, you probably shouldn’t pass on developing that idea. If one idea leads to another and another, you’ll have a complete plot in no time. You need to work on something that gets your excited.
• Is it something you would have easily forgotten about if you didn’t write it down? A simple test to see if you have a good idea is to NOT write it down. If you have an idea that blows your mind, try waiting until the end of the day to think about it again. If you remember it and you didn’t need to write it down then it’s probably worth developing. If you forget about an idea, it probably wasn’t one that inspired you enough.
• Have you been trying to work out one idea for a LONG time? If you just can’t figure out the specifics or develop an idea further, it might be time to let it go. Don’t be afraid to move on from an idea because that will give you time to think about something better. You need to be excited about what you’re doing and what you’re planning.
• Does this idea include more than a couple scenes? Sometimes I get stuck on one scene I want to write and everything else is sort of boring compared to it. You can’t revolve a whole book around one scene. It might be a better idea to combine a few ideas that might not seem related, but you can make them fit together. You need a lot of exciting scenes to write a novel, not just ONE good idea.
• Does your idea sound very similar to popular trends? If you’re idea was just to write a vampire novel or something to do with mythical creatures because that’s what’s popular right now, you should wait for better inspiration. Don’t write for the markets because you’ll lack motivation. You need to wait for something that captures your attention, not what you think will capture everyone else’s. Also, the markets change ALL THE TIME.
I’m sure all your ideas are wonderful, but you need to focus on what’s worth developing. The most important thing to remember is work on whatever you’d like to read yourself and don’t worry about what everyone else wants. Good luck!
Common and Over-the-Top Plot Devices
We see the same plot devices used over and over again on television, in movies, and in the books we read, but a lot of them work—which is why we use them all the time. However, there are some common and/or over-the-top plot that should be cut from some stories, unless you’ve found a clever way to reinvent them. Here are a few of them we should all recognize—
Dogs or other animals always seem to sense evil in a way that human beings don’t. Although it’s true that a lot of pets don’t like people who mistreat them or their owners, there’s always some clueless owner (in books, TV, or movies) who can’t figure out why their pet is so pissed off.
Villains who explain everything right before they try to kill the protagonist. While I love well constructed moments like this, it gets obnoxious when the villain gives a step-by-step breakdown of what they plan to do. I think Austin Powers made fun of this plot device at one point or another.
Priests are usually villainous characters, while nurses are usually always good. I’m not sure why nearly every priest or religious character in a novel or movie turns out to be evil, but it gets a little tiresome. Sure, religious people in real life can be self-motivated, but so can non-religious people. Switch this up a little bit.
Heroic characters are unaffected by explosions. For some reason, it’s really cool to walk away from explosions unfazed. I mean…I guess I know why.
Cops never know how to fire a gun. Somehow, 30 cops can’t hit your hero. There will be the occasional gunshot wound to the arm, that barely disables your character, but nothing ever really hits them. I know we don’t want to see your protagonist shot to death, but try evening the odds. Make it two cops, instead of the whole force. Give your protagonist a buddy to help out OR a reason why they’re so good at avoiding bullets.
The hero always guesses a computer password after a moment of revelation. I think we’re all familiar with the scene where someone’s trying to guess a password and after several failed attempts they look up and spot something in the room. A look of awe comes over their face because they’ve got it! It was so obvious the whole time!
Screaming at someone usually brings them back to life. “Don’t leave me here!!” works.
No one ever believes your main character about something horrible that will happen. Ever. Obviously this is a great way to create tension, but it can get so frustrating if it goes on too long. If the world is literally falling apart and no one believes that the world is ending, that’s enough.
When I make these lists, I’m clear that many of these things can work if they’re done right. Experiment with what you want and find out what works for your story. Also, add to this list if you want!
The Ten Mistakes
Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)
Like many editorial consultants, I’ve been concerned about the amount of time I’ve been spending on easy fixes that the author shouldn’t have to pay for.
Sometimes the question of where to put a comma, how to use a verb or why not to repeat a word can be important, even strategic. But most of the time the author either missed that day’s grammar lesson in elementary school or is too close to the manuscript to make corrections before I see it.
So the following is a list I’ll be referring to people *before* they submit anything in writing to anybody (me, agent, publisher, your mom, your boss). From email messages and front-page news in the New York Times to published books and magazine articles, the 10 ouchies listed here crop up everywhere. They’re so pernicious that even respected Internet columnists are not immune.
The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.
So here we go: