Terrouge E-zine Archives
Wordsmith's Forge III: Weaponry Drills
By: Sean A.
Well, here you are in January-- if you've been following along, you now have your character built; you've decided upon their skills, abilities, attributes, species, motivation, history, and everything else-- to use my usual smithing analogy, your sword is forged.
What's the first thing you have to do with a sword? No, not go out and slay monsters. You need to learn how to wield that blade! This month, I'm going to cover some 'practice drills' and 'battle strategy' for you to put your character-- and yourself-- through.
Jion the hare leapt quickly at Nightroarer's throat, but missed. Quickly getting to his feet, Jion swung a hard left-pawed hook at Nightroarer's nose. Nightroarer ducked, but Jion quickly swung with his other paw and, this time, connected.
Hold it there. Notice anything wrong with that paragraph? I used the word 'quickly' three times in as many sentences, and I did the same thing with the names Jion and Nightroarer. There is one basic principle of writing-- one that quickly becomes second nature to any author or role-player, and it is this: You must vary your vocabulary.
That sentence should be burned into your mind in letters eight feet high; you must vary your vocabulary! If someone's done something quickly recently, have them perform their next action rapidly. And their next one with alacrity. But whatever you do, you must vary your vocabulary. I realize I'm harping, but this is important!
Of course, it's not always easy to remember to do this, and even well-practiced writers forget; that's one of the cardinal reasons to proofread your stuff-- you usually read faster than you write, so an unnoticed 'double' might be seen the second time around.
There will be, no doubt, situations where you can't find an alternate word to describe the action, quality, or person you want-- a thesaurus can help with these. Just make sure to use it properly.
In order to fix the repetition of character names (e.g. the repeated references to Nightroarer and Jion), you have to be even more careful. If you choose to simply use pronouns instead of repeating the names in the above example, you could end up making it more confusing, since both of the characters are male. If you substituted with: "He swung a hard left-pawed hook at his nose," it's impossible to know for certain which character is which-- did Jion just punch himself in the nose? Or did Nightroarer just punch Jion? You can't really know. To fix this, you can use descriptive words-- since it's established that Jion is a hare and Nightroarer is a badger, you can reference them as the hare and the badger. Since hares are smaller than badgers, you can refer to them according to their size. There are any number of ways to fix this problem -- just be sure that your method of fixing it doesn't confuse your readers.
Example: Jion the hare leapt swiftly at Nightroarer's throat, but missed. Quickly getting to his feet, Jion swung a hard left-pawed hook at the badger's nose. The bigger creature ducked, but the hare almost immediately swung with his other paw and, this time, connected.
Situations-- Five-minute Fun!
Next up on the list, you get to do what I call a 'mental-sit' (mental situation). This involves taking your new character and dropping them into the middle of a situation; any situation will do. Now, you know your character is ready for action if you can predict-or, better still, see in your head-what he/she is going to do. Ready? Go!
Example: Nightroarer's been invited to a ball with the aristocracy of several minor dukedoms. This is what happened:
Nightroarer leaned against the wall, utterly embarrassed. It hadn't sounded all that bad when he'd been asked to come here, but now… well, now he was feeling highly underdressed, and he was intensely conscious of the dirty spot on the front of his tunic. He compensated for his feelings by keeping on a gruff face; most of those who came anywhere near him were quickly frightened off by his gloomy looks.
He spent the first four hours of the dance just leaning in the corner, until one brave (or possibly just optimistic) maiden summoned up enough courage to ask him for a dance. The two of them danced for the rest of the night, and, thinking back on it, Nightroarer had to admit that he had, after all, had a good time-but that was the last time he let Quince make a suggestion as to what they should do.
Bonus Challenge: See how long it takes you to do a mental-sit with a character. The paragraphs above, from 'Nightroarer leaned' to 'should do', took me two minutes and fifty-four seconds to write. Your results may vary. Also note that hastily slapped together mental-sits probably won't be the best samples of your writing. That's okay -- you're just trying to familiarize yourself with a character.
Last month, we covered associating an emotion with a character-- pity, admiration, fear, and so on. The problem with that is simple; one-dimensional characters have one-dimensional personalities. It may be difficult at first, but a useful skill to develop is to start characters off with two or three emotions.
Example: The three emotions Nightroarer is supposed to inspire in the audience are as follows: Pity, humor, and empathy. A shot at provoking one, two, or all three of these emotions will appear in all writing about him. The paragraph above about the formal ball, for example: He's somewhere he doesn't want to be, in below-par clothing: Pity him, doncha? And, if you've ever been dressed up and hated it, or been to a formal event you didn't want to attend, you'll no doubt empathize with his situation. And those of you who don't empathize are probably laughing your heads off.
The thing is, though, that simply having the emotions there for your reference isn't enough. You have to deliberately go out and provoke those emotions from your audience-- get your character into situations that will cause the stimulus for those emotions.
Naturally, your first instinct is to use yourself as a sounding board for these stimuli-- does this situation cause you to pity the character? Does this one make you admire them? Does this one make you laugh?
It's a good thing to use yourself as a test range like this, but it's even better to get one or more outside opinions. Now, of course, you can't just ask a random passerby, "What would be a situation that would cause you to pity someone?". Actually, you could, but they'd look at you funny. The answer, if one was given, would be very confusing and probably involve asking where the local mental hospital was. Other writers, however will likely know what you mean. Some good places to go for help on this matter include the Redwall FanFiction Board, FanFiction.net, and our very own Wordsmith's Forge.
It's important that you get these opinions, as I know at least one writer who, well, has a warped sense of stimulus, and every time their character does something they consider admirable, the character's action seems . . . somewhat immoral to the rest of the audience.
One, Two, Three: Continuity!
This is really quite simple. If something happens in a story, then it has happened, and will affect all future events concerning the items, characters, and locations involved. If your cloak is torn in half, you have two half-cloaks from then on. If your character is a searat galley slave from birth until her fourteenth birthday, there's no way she could've been in Mossflower to watch her parents die at the age of six. Simple, yes. Also difficult to remember. Remember it, though, because it's important.
Internal Dialogue: What was I thinking!?
One of the more interesting ways to move a story along is internal dialogue; having the characters talk to themselves, advancing the plot in the process. The characters should, of course, refer to themselves; I, not he or she, is the word of choice. You'd be amazed, also, at what can be accomplished by a few lines of 'thought' in between bits of action.
Well, Sean thought quietly, I've taught them about all I can for this week. Hey, maybe they'll drop by the Wordsmith's Army in the Terrouge Forums to try some of these ideas out!