The Devil in the Pages: How to Play Devils Advocate

Hi Jim,

I saw that you give out writing advice and was hoping you could help me. See I’m taking my first shot at writing a political satire story, but am finding it increasingly difficult to write from the perspective of someone I don’t agree with. It’s getting very hard to write without sounding superficial or condescending. Do you have any suggestions?

Best-
Maria


Hi Maria,

That’s a good question and one that isn’t always easy to answer. As human beings, we all have preferences, beliefs, biases, and worldviews that are specific to us. Many of our core values and beliefs are deeply integrated into our personalities and often very difficult, if not impossible to change.

So with that in mind, how do we work through them. How do we betray our own senses and beliefs and become the devil’s advocate?
The way I see it, there are a few ways…
1. Get involved in debates. On my private facebook profile, I’ll often post a political question or issue based either on current events or something I’m writing about. My friends list is full of people from both sides of the isle… some more mature than others. Most of the time, I’ll get a couple of troll posts, as well as childish name-calling going back ad forth. However, then one or two people who are looking to have a ‘drop the mic’ moment come in with an intellectually sound, cited argument. Reading through these arguments can often give you the answer you’re looking for whether you agree with them or not.

2. Have someone else write it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with collaborating on a work with another person if you’re completely stumped. Just make sure that this other person has the maturity to post their views without going into attack mode.

3. Do a little soul-searching. This is something I typically do when I debate points. I come up with my argument and then carefully examine it to see where someone could poke a hole in it or use a piece of their own logic to refute it. In that way, you start thinking as they do and very quickly, you can form a cohesive argument.

Remember though, just because you’re writing it, doesn’t mean you agree with it. There is such a thing as playing devil advocate and its a perfectly reasonable thing to do in order to get a point across.

I remember back in college, trying to write a short story from a German soldier’s perspective during WW2. My goal was to have the soldier condemn what Hitler did, but defend WHY Germany let him come to power in the first place. This soldier wasn’t supposed to be the moral or ethical right, but I at least wanted people to know that perspective in order to gain a bigger understanding of the context behind World War 2. In the end, the soldier would be executed following the Nuremberg trials.

Well… I live in the United States. All of the known Nazis have long since been deported. Any that could still be left are likely either dead or in hiding. However… their children and grandchildren remained. Most didn’t want to talk about it, but a few were able to give me some insight into the how and why that we aren’t really taught in school.

So I was able to find some information that helped me make a decent argument.

Anyway, I hope this helps.
Readers, what do you think? Do you have any advice for Maria? Let her know in the comments.


Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

 

Prequelitis

I think I can speak for everyone here when I say that we’re all pretty tired of prequels am I right?

Earlier in the week I heard through the grapevine that Game of Thrones was going to have a couple of spinoff series dealing with events that happened before the events we all know and love.

The response I’ve heard; A collective groan.

Of course, we’re all excited to see a new series coming out in the same universe… but did it have to be a prequel?

Star Trek Discovery is set to be a prequel and all I hear on their facebook page is how upset the fans are. Per Midnight’s Edge  Netflix is actually furious because they paid for Discovery, thinking they were getting a cutting edge, new series, and what they got was an unwanted prequel.

So why are we, the viewing audience as a whole, suffering from prequelitis, and why isn’t Hollywood and many literary writers picking up on that? Well that’s a loaded question. Let’s go through the subjects one at a time.

Fans are tired of prequels, why? Well there are several reasons… First, there are no real surprises. We all know what’s going to happen. I remember seeing The Phantom Menace when it was in theaters and just sat there looking at the main cast like, “Let’s see main cast… that guy’s dead by A New Hope, that guy dies in A New Hope, dead by A New Hope, Dead by A New Hope, he’s the emperor, he’s Darth Vader…”

I mean when you’re doing a prequel, unless you’re going to take a radical departure from the established story, you’re really limited by what you can offer. The few times people have taken a radical departure from the established story, the backlash from fans is relentless, again Star Trek Discovery being the current example.

Well can’t you just say its an alternate universe???

Shut… the hell… up!!!

A second problem with prequels is that they have a tendency to poison the original story. If there is a piece that doesn’t make sense, it really turns the fans off when the studio has to retcon the inconsistency off-screen. In addition, something may happen in the prequel that will then sour fans to the sequel in other ways. Consider Anakin Skywalker’s fall. After watching Episode III, I couldn’t help but shake my head when Obi Wan gave Luke his father’s lightsaber… you know, the saber that slaughtered innocent children… on more than one occasion!?

But I digress…

So with that in mind, why do writers and movie makers keep doing this, knowing how prequels are quickly becoming box office poison? Well I think the phenomenon is now slowing going away in favor of another Hollywood travesty; the reboot/remake… which is arguably worse. However to answer the question as to why this still happens… it’s because it is safe. These days, new stories and original scripts are really seen as box office poison in their own right. Prequels showing the titles of a beloved work is sure to attract the original crowds thus making money, even if the movie is royally bad.

So why don’t they just make sequels? You know, continue the stories!

They did… sequelitis was a thing once too, don’t forget. The result was the market being awash in disposable dollar-bin movies that didn’t respect… or went so far as to ruin the original stories. (Blues Brothers 2000 or Love Never Dies, much?)

Okay, then what is your answer? 

Well… I mean there isn’t really one. Prequels, sequels, and remakes are always going to draw a crowd, even if people in general don’t like them. So like it or not, they’re still getting made. I’ve got news for all of you, the Back to the Future remake is coming. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will happen. It is an inevitability.

However I actually already did answer this question once when I myself was confronted with the ‘no sequel, no publishing’ problem; write a concurrent story. Yes set your new story in the same universe with all new characters and send those characters on an adventure that was sparked by the events of the first one. Allow characters from the first story to make brief appearances and cameos, but make them side characters with one or two scenes, tops. There is so much potential, so many options, and so many ways to expand your current world. Sadly, I don’t think anyone in Hollywood reads my blog so…

So what, stop going to movies? Avoid the box office and just watch the movies we know and love?

I’m dubious to say no, but that’s more because Hollywood is home to one of the biggest child sex trafficking rings on the planet and they deserve jail cells, not the mansions they get.
However… no. Do not do that. As I said in a previous post, Hollywood isn’t out of new ideas. There are movies with original scripts coming out all the time. You know the movies that are at the box office, but you’ve never heard of them? There’s no advertising and only a few screenings? Those are your original scripts. They don’t get much in the way of ads nor do they get a ton of funding, but they are out there. I’d encourage everyone to vote with their wallets. Go see those movies or read the non-prequel/sequel books. There are plenty out there.


Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

From My Writing Playlist

Never in all my days have I seen such a laid back group. These guys are the very definition of leisurely.

When to listen: This is a break song. Stop writing, put that pencil down and relax!

 



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

Beating the Writer’s Block

Right now, I’ve hit a bit of snag in my writing. I’m a few chapters in and I am unsure on how to progress from where I am at. I have a storyboard and basic layout of the plot but I’m just hitting my head against the wall second guessing how I SHOULD write it.

Any thoughts?

Jak


Hi Jak,

I actually get this question a lot. So without knowing a ton about your specific case, I’ve been in your shoes at least in some way. You’ve got a great story, great ideas, but several directions you can go in with said ideas.

Well… I remember back in High School when we were taking SATs, we were told that if we didn’t know the answer, to go with our initial thought. Like you look at the answers and the first one that stands out as being right is the one you should go with. They didn’t want anyone second guessing themselves because then they’d foul up.
At the time, I thought that there was so much wrong with that advice… however when I realized how much of a time constraint we had, and how many of my answers turned out to be right when I went with me ‘gut.’ I realized that there was some value in it.
Intuition is a very powerful tool.

The same can be said for writing. If you’ve got a bunch of ideas flowing, go with the first one that pops out at you. Write it all out and get it on paper so that you can see and read your ideas. Often you’re going to find that those ideas were better in your head, but in most occasions, those initial ideas may only need a few tweaks here and there to iron them out.

In the instances where you read through and just think ‘Eh… this is stupid!’ you can always go back and change anything (or everything) that you need to.

So basically what I want you to do is sit down, look at what you have so far and ask yourself the question ‘What comes next?’ Then just write the first thing that comes to you. Don’t bother with any second thoughts, you can deal with those later.

Hope this helps. Readers, what do you think Jak should do in this situation? Let me know in the comments.



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

 

From My Writing Playlist

I love these guys… sad that they really didn’t take off. There was a lot of talent and a TON of potential here.

When to listen: General playlist. This is a motivator. The chorus gets your blood pumping and helps you focus.

 



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

From My Writing Playlist

Asian techno/dance songs… there is something oddly enticing about them.

When to listen: Pallat cleanser. This is a relaxing song. Listen to it when you’re on overload. It will help organize your thoughts and straighten everything out.

 



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

Current Events, and Why I Don’t Write About Them.

 

Hi Jim,

You mentioned a while back about writing politics in fiction. I was wondering if you could give some examples of how you deal with current events in your books. I’m looking to try to paint an accurate picture of some things that have happened recently.

Thanks,
James


Hi James,

I snagged your question because I wanted to tackle this, give what’s currently going on in the U.S.

Sorry to disappoint, but I do not cover current events or political topics in my writing. If I cover social issues, I do it in a way as to incorporate it as a theme in my books.

Example;

I handle topics of racism by creating a race that is despised by others due to past transgressions and go through the damage that is caused as a result. I do not say who is wrong or right, nor do I condemn anyone. I lay out the story, give the details of both sides and let the reader decide. That is as far as I will ever go.

You’re probably wondering by this point why I don’t cover them… well two reasons. One, most of my work is historical fantasy so current events wouldn’t have a place.  Secondly, I don’t cover current events and political issues because frankly… I create worlds for people looking for an escape. We already have plenty of news sources that remind us on a minute basis that there is horrible crap going on in the world. My readers don’t need to hear about it in the worlds I invite them to explore.
More over though, I don’t cover them because frankly, there is no winning. Look at how badly our country is divided right now.

You’ve got extremists on both sides literally killing each other, pundits making horribly one-sided arguments and supporters condemning anyone who doesn’t share their views or not taking one side over the other. My writing about it would solve NOTHING, and just make people even more bitter.

It’s ridiculous, it’s everywhere, and frankly, it’s a fight no one wins. So why bother playing it? I have platforms out there where I converse with people about this kind of thing. I don’t need to do it in my writing and I think my readers appreciate that.

So, sorry if you’re disappointed by my answer, but I made a promise to myself to keep my worlds away from this horrible nonsense and preserve my readers’ escape. I stand by that decision.

So… I’m sorry James, but I’m afraid I have no advice for you here. All I can say is to treat your audience like adults, make no assumptions, and don’t preach. Its the only thing I can say.

Readers, maybe you can help our friend here, or do you agree with my stance? Let me know.



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim