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

 

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

 

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

 

The Last Rite Redemption

 

Hi Jim,

I have a character in my story that I want to turn from a bad guy into a good guy. The problem is that he’s guilty of committing several atrocities including mass genocide. I don’t see how I can turn him into a good guy in a way that I can redeem him. Any thoughts?

Thanks,
Linney


Hi Linney,

Oooooo that is a tough one. Redeeming someone who committed mass genocide is certainly a tall order and frankly… it’s impossible. Morally, there really isn’t any way a person can be redeemed for committing such a heinous crime. I think at most, heroes would accept that person as an ally of convenience at most.

In truth, both Lucasfilm and Marvel really seemed to struggle with this one. Lucasfilm had to find a way to ‘save’ Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is the guy who killed multiple Jedi including young children. How can one be redeemed from something like that? Well… they went about it in kind of a weird way. It’s sort of an ambiguous explanation, but Obi Wan seems to imply that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are in fact two different people. Could it be that the force influence over a Jedi alters their personality when they go from light to dark and vice versa?
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Obi Wan: Partially, but it also obeys your commands.

Obi Wan: Your father was seduced by the dark side of the force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father, was destroyed.

So it is kind of implied that this is the case.

Marvel really messed up on this one… everyone already knows my opinion on the Phoenix Saga, but when the writers decided to resurrect Jean Grey, they had to figure out a way to do it that absolved her of the mass genocide she’d committed as Phoenix… despite the fact that she wasn’t even really responsible for her actions. To do that, they made it so that her and the Phoenix were two different beings and the Phoenix had essentially copied her physical characteristics.

So if you’re not willing to do a workaround, and I highly advise against it, I’d say that you probably can’t absolve the character. You can have them work for good, but they’ll never be out from under what they did. At best, I’d say by the end of the story, kill that character off. Have them sacrifice themselves to save the heroes or another large group of people.
I call this particular plot device the ‘Last Rite Redemption’. In my opinion the only way to cleanse the soul of someone who has committed such horrible crimes would be for that person to willingly give their lives to destroy an ultimate evil or save an ultimate good. Even then it may not be a redemption, but that’s as close as you’re going to get.

If you’re hoping to make that character a hero… likely that’s never going to happen.

Readers, what do you think? Do you have any advice for Linney?

 



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

 

The Cameo Takeover

Hi Jim,

I’m trying to write a new story and have a few characters make cameos from the previous one. Basically my story is set in the same timeline and one or two characters make appearances in order to connect the stories. However I seem to run into issues with the cameo characters taking over the story. I’ve had to do a rewrite a few times. Can you help me?

Thanks,
Michaela


 

Mi Micahaela,

If you’re having so much trouble limiting your old characters’ appearances… why not make the new story about them? If you love your characters so much that you can’t help but keep writing about them, there is no rule saying that you can’t just make the story about them with maybe your new characters simply joining the team.

The other thing you can do is give your character cameos one or two scenes and then cut them off completely. Don’t bring them back in and don’t mention them again, just make a clean break.

Without knowing more details about the characters, I’m afraid I can’t offer too much more in the way of guidance. Please feel free to email me when you get a chance.

Readers, what about you? Any other advice?



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

 

Writers vs. Fans… Who Makes the Call.

 

Hi Jim,

I’m currently writing a sequel to a short story I posted recently and was hoping you could give me some advice. I’ve been getting a lot of people emailing me with questions, suggestions, and criticisms about the previews. A lot of people don’t seem to like the direction I’m taking my story. To me it feels natural, but given the level of objection, I’m wondering if I should scrap the story all together and start from scratch. I don’t know what to do.

Thanks,
MB Nelson.


Hi MB,

You have my sympathies. That’s a pretty tough conundrum you’re dealing with. My advice is and has always been to write how you want to write. In the end, your fans are your fans because they like what YOU created.

That being said, I know a lot of people these days are angry about reboots of beloved series and movies (Ghostbusters, Star Trek, etc.), and I’m definitely in their camp. However I’m not against these series and reboots being made. I simply vote with my dollar and don’t partake in these movies/books/TV shows if I don’t think I’ll like them.

So that’s the rub, you have every right to create your stories from your IP as you see fit. Just be aware, your audience also has the right to criticize your work and choose not to partake in it. This is a risk we, as writers, have to take every day of our lives. I always take constructive criticism, but in the end, I’ll still do what I believe is right whether that is following the advice or not.

One side note I will say, do not get mad at your fan base. As I’ve stated in multiple posts, getting mad, argumentative, or going out of your way to taunt your detractors, or accuse them of some kind of bias is a quick way to lose yourself an audience. Take the criticisms with a grain of sand and do as you see fit. Just keep a cool head.

If you wind up losing a large portion of your audience or they don’t like your book, then you have a few options open to you…

  1. Abandon the series. I don’t recommend this lightly, but if you’re doing this as a source of income and people really don’t like the direction you’re taking your story, then it may be time to end it. Fans are a fickle thing and once they’re turned off, it can be very hard to win them back unless the next follow up is Empire Strikes Back level good.
  2. Divergent Timeline. I know a few people MAY see this as kowtowing a bit and maybe it is, but usually when I write, I have multiple directions in mind that a story can go. After fleshing the story out, I’m subject to change that because something didn’t fit. Maybe you could explore one of the other paths and create a sort of ‘what if’ timeline. I actually have a few novels written like that which I’ve never published.
  3. Press on. If you’ve got the sort of Devil May Care attitude, you can try to press on and hope that the overall story will reconnect with your fans… its not easy to do and I’ve rarely seen it succeed, but it’s not impossible.

Anyway I hope this helps a little bit. I definitely think you should write your story the way it works for you. Above all else, if you’re not enthusiastic about what you write, you certainly can’t expect your fans to be.

Let’s open this up though, readers does anyone have a suggestion for Nelson? Let us 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

 

Diversity and Good Writing

There has been a lot of talk lately about how diversity is killing good writing… or perhaps more accurately, studios and companies have been accused of using diversity as a stand in for good writing.

I honestly had no idea the two were mutually exclusive.

There is truth to the idea that many creators out there have been producing complete garbage, but seem to think that they still deserve credit because their cast of characters is diverse…

In fact, Richard Roeper touched on this in his reaction from the Ghostbuster’s backlash:


So the question is, does intentionally creating a diverse cast mean that your writing is going to suffer or can it be used as a cover for poor writing?

Well first of all, let’s touch on what ‘diversity’ actually is;

    • di·ver·si·ty
      dəˈvərsədē,dīˈvərsədē/
      noun
      1. the state of being diverse; variety.
        “there was considerable diversity in the style of the reports”
        • a range of different things.
          plural noun: diversities

         

      2. a range of different things.
        plural noun: diversities

Note the second definition. ‘A rage of different things.’  So taking that definition, a diverse cast (in terms of race/gender identity) would be a cast that has more than one gender AND more than one race.

So let’s take the fore-mention Ghostbusters movie. Is this a diverse cast?

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In terms of race, yes. However in terms of gender, no. So because this really only meets one of the criteria, I’m going to say no. This cast is as diverse as the original;

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To be honest, I think a lot of people today would say that the 1984 team isn’t diverse, so I’m going to hold them to their own standards here.

So if neither of these teams is truly diverse, then what is?

Well to be honest, Suicide Squad actually fit the definition perfectly:

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That is a diverse cast. Both genders are represented, as are multiple races. This actually meets the criteria perfectly.

So there you have it. A diverse cast is a cast where both genders and multiples races are represented. So now that we know what diversity is, let’s explore the questions. Does diversity kill good writing? Is diversity a good excuse for bad writing?

Well… Marvel comics certainly seems to think so…

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there.  That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.  I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.  That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”
-David Gabriel

There was considerably backlash over this statement, leading Gabriel to issue a correction:
 “Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.”

So at this point, the answer to the question should be an obvious ‘no!’

It should be… but it isn’t.

So why is that? Why do many people out there roll their eyes and shun new works when the creators announce that the main characters are going to be either female or a different race.

Uh sexism and racism?

In some cases, yes, but not as many as you might think. A lot of the time people adopt this attitude because of what Marvel and Sony, among others have done. We’ve already explored Sony’s debacle with Ghostbusters, so lets take a look at Marvel.

A lot of their classic characters are having their identities/sexual orientations changed, or are being replaced completely with little to no explanation other than ‘alternate universe, we can do whatever we want.’

While that’s true, it’s become a bit of a cliche and honestly if you don’t even bother addressing HOW the universe altered from the original, you’re going to turn readers off very quickly. It’s not asking too much for the writers to retcon how we got Spider Gwen, Miles Morales, Nick (Shaft) Fury, etc. That’s not objecting to diversity, its objecting to long-established characters suddenly being changed with little in the way of explanation. However Marvel apparently doesn’t see a difference.

Secondly, based on what I’ve read in many of these comics… as well as reviews from others, people are seeing a lot of characters come out without a lot of character:

“Others, however, argued that the focus on identity came at the expense of the story.”

Now here’s where we get into trouble. Diversity of the cast isn’t the problem, its when the story focuses on their superficial traits that we run into issues.

Let’s put it this way for a moment, you have two books. The first one offers you a cast that is diverse. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s an even cast of men and women (2 of each) and a transgender. Let’s also say that the cast includes a white person, an African American character, an Asian character, and a Latino character. Now maybe a character has an accent or something culturally quirky they do in the story, that’s fine. However other than that, race, gender, ethnicity isn’t raised except in the initial description, and any time the character’s physical traits come up. They’re treated as equals, their differences are non-issues, and the story is able to progress as it should. Any political views of the author are written into the story through metaphor and situational circumstances. If alternate viewpoints are addressed, they are done so respectfully, perhaps with a side character that eloquently explains his point of view.

Now, let’s take a look at another book. This book has that same diverse cast, however in this book, the characters’ identities and races are constantly being brought up. The political beliefs of the author surrounding their identities is constantly being brought into the story to the point where it’s almost completely brought to a halt. The author then goes on to berate any viewpoint that disagrees with theirs, often by making the main villain a sort of insulting caricature of their detractors.

Which story sounds more appealing?

In my opinion, the first one. The second one fails on several levels. First, people don’t like being preached at. I’ve covered this in a previous post. No one is going to read your book/watch your movie if you bad mouth them for their beliefs, or resort to childish name-calling. Something the cast of Ghostbusters did on countless occasions and even mentioned in the movie when they took a swipe at the online community.

Perhaps the most glaring issue with this is that the characters in the second story aren’t characters at all. They’re archetypes for characters. They’re cardboard cutouts of characters that are often either mildly stereotypical… or blatantly racist as we see in several crticisms of America Chavez that were captured by The Wire:

“The dialogue was terrible, the Spanglish was racist (at best), the plot jumped around between various irrelevant points with little connection, the political commentary was a subtle as a sledgehammer, and there wasn’t a single character with any sort of development (other than “random girlfriend whom the reader never gave a reason to care about broke up with the protagonist, in what might be one of the least realistic exchanges of dialogue ever written”).

The author is apparently hoping that “MINORITY LESBIAN YASSSS!!” will be enough to cover up for her complete inability to write either characters or plot lines, but this comic is so completely terrible in every aspect that I doubt she’ll get away with calling everyone who points out its plethora of flaws “racist/homophobic”.”

This is a trend that we see, not only in Marvel comics, but in traditional writing, and in movies. The writer is trying so desperately to push an agenda and be inclusive that they actually wind up doing exactly the opposite; creating resentment, anger, and offense.

Diversity has a place in good writing and it always will. The gender/race of a character should never be a tell-tale as to whether or not a story will be good. As long as the characters are treated equally, not having their superficial traits focused on at the expense of the story, then it should be fine.

But Jim, politics has ALWAYS been a part of fictional/fantasy mediums, what’s so different about it here? 

That’s true, politics and social issues have and always been apart of fiction/fantasy, and that goes straight to my point. Stan Lee wrote about things like segregation, the holocaust, racism, and several other themes too. However he did it in a very clever way; he didn’t even really bring it up. He told his story, showed his characters being segregated, murdered, and abused, but at the same time, he explored the arguments of the other side as well. He didn’t paint them as straight villains. In many cases, you could actually empathize with the villains as much as you could the heroes.

So then how does one write a diverse cast without falling into these traps?

The way I see it, there are three ways;

  1. Respect your characters and their background.
  2. Respect your audience.
  3. Understand that there are opposing viewpoints that have legitimate criticisms.

When you write, focus on the character’s personality, their traits, and their abilities, not their skin color or gender. Focus on what really matters; the heart of the character. Your minority characters deserve the same treatment as your other characters. Continuously showing and pointing out what makes them different isn’t the way to bridge any gaps. Showing how they’re the same and how they can easily get along with others, their own issues not withstanding, will draw your readers in.

“What you are isn’t nearly as important as who you are.”
-General Xaphan.

Anyway, sorry for the lengthy ramble, but this was a trend that I wanted to speak about for a long time. Do you have a different view? Is there a different way of going about it that I missed? Am I way off on my opinion? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments!

Thanks friends!



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