My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, October 8, 2015


[This is one of the long-overdue bios for the Writing About Writing Staff Page.]

Cedric- During the Octorian Wars, Chris ended up on the wrong side of the temporal event horizon for several days and befriended one of the Octorians. They went through a real trial and like every Enemy Mine/The Enemy ST:TNG trope they ended up realizing that they had a lot in common. Cedric helped Chris survive and get back to his own dimension, and then (because Cedric kind of liked pretentious artists) he stayed and has been working as Writing About Writing's administrative executive since.

His loyalty to Chris is only matched by his loyalty to the Human Dor who is his fan--his specifically.

He is glad no one has ever made him choose between them. Chris probably wouldn't like that. 

The Best (Worst) Tips for Writing People of Color

A collection of the absolute best worst tips for portraying people of color that will make your characters pop like the ears of the passengers in a 747 in free fall.  

Hi everyone,

Have you missed me? Well don't worry, I'm still here to tell you all the tricks to becoming a famous published author without all that inspiration porn bullshit about working hard and reading a lot that'll just drag you down. The tool/noobs (I call them toobs) at Writing About Writing might be trying to make it harder to hack their signal and boost my pirate posts on top of their boring old articles that you don't need, but because I love you, I will continue looking for back doors. I have a civic duty to be there to counter the bullshit that goes down on most writing blogs.

There are tricks to being a famous writer. And none of them are hard work. And I'm here to tell you what they are.

Well, a few of you have asked about portraying people of color–who I call minorities because I don't go in for all that P.C. bullshit. (Seriously, if it was good enough for the 80's, it's good enough for me.) In fact, today Chris was going to answer a question about it for The Mailbox, but I got to it first. So while I offered a bit of advice about this when I told you how to incorporate the best tropes into your writing, today I will talk specifically about how to portray minorities in a way that will make you rich and famous.

Small disclaimer though: if you want to be rich and famous, you don't want these to be the POV character. Your POV character should almost always be a cis heterosexual white male. That's what sells. If your character is anything else, work extra hard to incorporate the advice below so that your reader doesn't feel too uncomfortable. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it should get you started.

  • Remember to compare anyone who isn't white to food. Caramel skin. Chocolate complexion. Butterscotch thighs. Almond shaped eyes. Even if your POV character is the minority, they should always be on the cusp of devouring themselves. But don't do this for white people. No one thinks marzipan thighs or meringue shoulders sounds good. 
  • If you're writing an indigenous person, have them be a complete physical badass, though with a strange affinity to anachronistic weaponry. Especially tomahawks. Indigenous peoples are always very warlike, unlike the cultures that have genocided them, and this makes sense. Give them mystic powers no one can explain if they aren't bad ass enough. Transforming into animals is good.
  • If your character is a minority, that should literally be the focal point of their existence. Like if you have a latin character, everything they think or feel should start out with "Because X was latin, he thought....."
  • If you your narrative is taking you into contact with another culture, they should have a chief. And that chief should have a sexy daughter....
  • Though if it's the daughter of an Asian dude, he better know martial arts and be a criminal mastermind. She can either join the heroes or seem like she joins the heroes only to betray them. 
  • Hispanic dude? Better be dashing.
  • If you're doing something with supernatural powers, remember that the black guy always does lightning/electricity. I don't know why, but it is what it is. Deal with it. 
  • Do you have a black person who is kind of a mentor character? You should give them mystical powers and make them extraordinarily wise, even though they only look like a janitor or a golf caddy or something. Make them have no desire for fame or rewards but simply want to help lift up the main (white) character. That makes sense, right?
  • You should probably make that black woman overweight and maternal towards everyone. But with some sass, of course. 
  • That or go the other way and make her an angry bitch who complains a lot about racism but using silly examples like the choice of album covers or the number of times K appears in a book instead of something like the prison industrial complex....because that will just make white people uncomfortable.
  • Make all your minorities be racist towards each other and especially white people. This reverse racism makes white people feel better about their own prejudices that they don't examine.
  • Need a sex interest for the main character while the love interest is in the tragic disconnect phase? Try a sexually liberated kinky character with an indeterminate European accent. That or obviously Scandinavian because Scandinavians are all total sex freaks. For reals.
  • French guy? Always an asshole. Always.
  • If you have an Asian character who doesn't know martial arts, you're just asking to fail. I'm pretty sure that's not even a stereotype. It's just true.
  • Time travel back to the 19th century? Don't worry about having your characters panic and refuse to get out of the time machine. I'm sure the wonder of it all and a couple of jokes will make everything okay.
  • Tech support and cab drivers are always Indian. Always.
  • If you're worried about the diversity in your story have the sidekick/best friend/partner be a minority. Instantly above reproach.
  • If people think you're too racist, have one of the white characters tell the minority how great they are and how they are a fine, upstanding example of their race. That makes it all copacetic. The more white people tell your minority what a credit to their race they are, the more everyone will realize that everyone can become viewed as fully human when they succeed at upholding the cultural values of white people.
  • If there's internalized racism where a minority believes some of the stereotypes about themselves, make it into a big joke or it will make your readers uncomfortable. Don't actually have them examine it in a serious way. Like have a latin guy be pro Trump because he's tired of his people being rapists or something. That's hilarious! Hahahahahaha! If you're unsure how to do this, check out Ben Carson. 
  • Character from a small southeast Asian island? They should be big and friendly and say almost nothing. If you can have them talk in grunts and offer the white people fish, that would be even better. Bonus points if they only smile and carry around a stick all the time.
  • Speeches that are uneducated but strangely wise are vital to the proper portrayal of a minority character. Especially if they are dispensing wisdom to a white person who will actually go and deal with the problem.
  • If you feel like you have a minority conforming to too many stereotypes and you might have some readers label you as racist, pick three or four and have the character do exactly the opposite. You can't just ignore them; you have to have the character subvert the expectation in a way that draws attention to how bold and daring you are to challenge stereotypes. Now you are totally inoffensive. 
  • You have a Muslim character who isn't a terrorist? What are you doing? Literally what the actual fuck are you DOING?
  • Really, honestly, if the minority doesn't die to teach the white people a valuable lesson, you're just not even trying. 
  • Have your white characters be unrepentantly racist, and then when the jokes that, in the real world, would end most friendships and tear apart social groups are uttered casually as edgy jokes, you can take the curse off of it by having your minority character say "You know I'm [black], right?" Big laughs and all is forgiven! That's the most reaction a minority should ever have towards blatant racism: "You know I'm [black] right?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Watching Disney Movies as a Writer (Revised)

Found on Google Images as "labeled for commercial reuse"
Will remove upon request.
A revised and polished version of an older post.

In honor of the trip I’ll be taking to Disneyland this weekend, I thought I would power-navel-gaze about the value one can get out of watching Disney movies as a writer. Also, this will probably not be a particularly long entry, as C-3PO and Indiana Jones await.

Wait. What? Disney movies? Seriously Chris?

Are you talking about those movies that are notorious for perpetuating racial stereotypes like the crows in Dumbo, the “hot crustacean band” in The Little Mermaid, the natives in Peter Pan, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, pretty much every character in Aladdin, (seriously I could go on), and that's if we sort of pretend The Song of the South didn't really happen. The same Disney where the bad guys are almost always effeminate and darker skinned than the good guys (even when they’re both supposed to be from the Middle East…or are…ya know…lions)? Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young women that beauty is their prime asset, to be completely submissive in courtship and let the men come to them even if it means waiting around for life to just serve you up by magic that your prince will come, and frankly it’s probably just best if they sleep most of the time anyway, abusive guys have a heart of gold inside if you just Stockholm syndrome their beast into submission, and that even if you kill every last motherfucking Hun in China, your big achievement is still if the barrel chested hot guy likes you. Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young men that they must solve their conflicts with violence, and to be “manly,” they must be a barrel-chested Adonis and fight for their woman—who must be an object of beauty and pleasure because that’s what matters. Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young people into the belief that there is “One True Love” out there, who is identifiable on sight, who you should leave everything you know and love to be with, and is so preposterously repetitive with their “love conquers all” narrative that they white wash over things like North American colonialism? The same Disney movies that has a generation of kids thinking Hercules’s real mom was Hera and the Little Mermaid ends in a wedding instead of foamy?

Heteronormative, sexist, racist, Bechdel-failing, status quo supporting Disney? Is that what you're talking about?

And yes, this article was written before Frozen and yes, I realize that a few of these tropes have (finally) been challenged by the more modern films.

Yeah. That would be the movies I'm talking about.

Hold the phone, though. I didn’t say they were good movies. I certainly didn't say they were great didactic movies. I said that they could be valuable to watch as a writer. Let’s say if you’re one of those people who thinks Disney movies are still so totally enchanting that you let your kids watch them over and over and over and over again and you figure that images bombarding them fifty or sixty times a year when they’re five won’t have the same effect as a meaningful conversation or two about gender roles when they’re teen-agers. Or maybe you think that at least your kid isn’t watching Jersey Shore.

Edit: or maybe you just think “Oh my god, this will distract them for 90 minutes while I have a chance to do laundry and have a bowel movement of longer than thirty seconds. Pixar isn't TOO bad. At least it's not Cinderella.”

However, I’ve already received death threats from my fellow barrel-chested white males for threatening to mess up the steady supply of subservient women, and this is usually about where the people who think Disney isn’t so bad start to rise up with pitchforks and torches, and the people who hate Disney for all the reasons above are polishing their Awl Pikes for our next encounter because how dare I derive anything of value from something so patently sexist, racist, and everything-else-ist.

And there I am, standing in the middle of a scene from Braveheart, except the two sides want to kill me instead of each other. So let me just say this:

I think Disney movies suffer from being easily accessible and recognizable pop culture icons that everyone has seen and become an easy way to critique the larger culture. If half of us memorized every line from every James Bond movie, we’d probably pick those movies to talk about misogyny or colonialist racism…and we’d probably have even more to talk about if we did. Anything mainstream media puts out would be just as problematic to essentially put on an auto repeat loop, and we go after Disney because it is such a recognizable icon. For all its faults, Disney tends to at least be conscious of some the social progression of our society. Many of its latest movies have even social progressives saying (well, this last one wasn't SO bad). The problem is many of its classic and iconic movies date back to more problematic times. It is even possible to say that one of the reasons many Disney movies achieve such a popular state is because they twang the cultural chord that many people in our society WANT TO HEAR. The really great exceptions to all this bullshit are usually not the movies every little kid knows by heart. And given the reaction that Disney DOES get from enraged fans about anything that isn’t perfectly sweet and antiseptic for the kiddies, it’s probably a wonder they don’t actually have everyone make up and have hot coco at the end of every movie.

All that said, you might still think I’m insane for suggesting that Disney could be valuable for a writer to examine. Those stories are trite. They are simplistic. They are formulaic. They are almost all the same with only a few cosmetic variations. They are the movie versions of a four chord song.

Yes. Exactly.

Because their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength.

Disney Movies can be very useful to a writer precisely BECAUSE they are formulaic. I know a lot of people look at Disney movies and vow that they will never write something so simplistic, so predictable, and so shockingly laden with tropes and cliches. That's good.

But like many things in life, it's very difficult to break the rules if you don't know what the rules are.  Ever seen someone who talks about how they are breaking the rules of grammar for effect, but it's pretty clear they just don't know how to join two clauses? Yeah it's like that. It's impossible to write against the grain of a Disney movie if you don't know what that grain really is.

Most people have their stories rejected not because they lacked complex literary elements–in fact most people do a PRETTY good job of knowing what level their writing is at and what sorts of magazines to send them to. According to editors I've spoken to and what I've read, most people have their stories rejected because they lack a plot. Nothing really happens. "This is a poignant character sketch of an intense moment, but it is a vignette not a STORY," is shockingly common feedback for new writers.

I witnessed this phenomenon time and time again throughout my writing program and even in some of the graduate work I had a chance to see. Amazing writing with fantastic descriptions, exquisite significant detail, care paid to setting, and simply gorgeous characterization would all fall flat on the page because nothing would HAPPEN. No rising tension--no tension at all. Just someone wallowing in their emotional state for a few pages. Often there was an antiseptic reveal that I know was intended to be a plot twist but wasn't because there was no plot to twist.

Some writers try to pass this off as "character driven." Usually they don't really know what that means, they just think it sounds highbrow and means they're NOT "plot driven." But even if this weren't pretentious bullshit, they have confused "character driven" with "no discernible plot." In a character driven story, the characters aren't reacting; they want something. And it is their desires that are driving the action forth.

There is no driving to speak of in 80-90% of young writers' fiction–plot or character driven. Publishers know it and Creative Writing instructors know it. And instead of working on writing good, compelling stories, most programs are still focusing on elements they've deemed more important to
"literary" writing.

Most writers would actually do well to understand plot, and going back to the basics is a good place to start. Disney movies are masters at the basic plot. You can't overly burden a four-year-old with intense complexity and subtle motivations. You might be able to slip in some adult humor, but the basics of the story have to be basic. Yes, a Disney movie is formulaic, but that formula is something people must know long before they can successfully break it. Disney movies have the story arc down pat–rising tension, complication, climax, denouement. Most of them follow The Hero's Journey (despite its flaws and criticisms) so closely, that it would only take you a few seconds to figure out who the "mentor character" is in a list of ten or fifteen Disney movies. (Go ahead; try it: Hercules, Cars, Lion King, Aladdin, Mulan, Finding Nemo.) Most Disney protagonists burn with what they want and what they need.

Sure it's sophomoric to have them say "I want to win that race more than anything!" within the first five seconds of being on screen, but it beats ten kinds of pants off a story where you're not sure WHAT the hell a character actually wants, which is a big problem with much new fiction.

What Disney demonstrates unswerving skill at over and over is telling a story. And for all their flaws and simplicity, examining them for what they're doing well is a great way to avoid stories without plots.

So if you have problems with plot, you could do worse than to suffer through a few Disney movies. Learn to walk before you fly...to infinity and beyond. (Sorry, I had to.)

Now, I must go to see a mouse about a thing.  But work on your "four chords" in the meantime, and enjoy the Official Video with several more examples:

Guest Bloggers Wanted

We're cramming everything this week into three days, so tomorrow instead of our usual correspondence bloggers ("guest" doesn't really fit for Claire Youmans or Amy Echeverri when they're part of the team) we're going to be putting up a couple of posts that should have gone up on Monday and Tuesday. Also, Claire's next article is about NaNo, and I figured I would nudge it a bit closer to November if possible. 

Got something to say about writing, art, inspiration, creativity, motivation, process, craft, literature, reading...or possibly cheese?

Got something that writers or book lovers REALLY need to see? 

Want to respond to something I've written, even if it's to completely disagree with me and tell me I smell like soup? And not that I smell like the good kind of soup that reminds you of childhood winters, but something with weird goat cheese, too much salt, and seasonings that make you wonder if the meat has maybe gone off.

Want to take advantage of my (currently) 50,000+ page views per month and advertise your own online endeavors in a thinly veiled self-pimp-a-thon wrapped in the "sheep's clothing" of an article?  (For which I will only demand a shout out in return.)

Want to put an article or three out in the world, be read by lots of readers, but without having to start your own blog and lose all your friends by pimping yourself on Facebook all day long? ("Ugh. All they do is talk about themselves! They don't take pictures of their lunch like me!")  Or just want to try blogging on for size a few times before you start one of your own?

Then I want you!

Bring it!  Drop me an e-mail.  (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) As long as what you want to write is mostly coherent, at least obliquely about writing, no more than 82% horribly offensive to white males, non-abusive to other readers, doesn't make me cry (except in the good way), contains at least one vulgarity, innuendo, or salvo of F-Bombs to maintain the lack of decorum, I will totally publish your article.  I can't promise that if you write an article on why I'm wrong about everything ever in my face that I won't write some kind of rebuttal, but all opinions on writing are welcome--even ones antithetical to mine. (I do reserve the right to refuse a post for any reason, but I promise that reason won't be because I disagree with you.)

And...if you're one of my regular guest bloggers, I'll even give you your own link on The Reliquary (unless you'd rather I didn't). 

Here are some guidelines so we don't waste each other's time:

  • If you send me offers to do web content, I mark your mail as spam. I know when I'm looking at a legitimate offer for a guest blog.
  • If you are a robot I will mark you as spam. Unless you can do dishes. Robots that do dishes are welcome.
  • If you can't figure out what this blog is about, and offer to do articles about steam roofing or something, I'll mark your mail as spam. I'm not just web content here; this blog has a theme and everything. Make it about the inspiration and creative process of steam roofing AT LEAST!
  • Please read the paragraph below the bullet points very carefully.
  • Your writing is yours. I'm going to ask that you let the post run on my page for a while before you cross post it, but ultimately I respect that as the generator of the creative effort, your writing is yours. If you ask me to remove it, I will. If you repost it somewhere else, that's okay.
  • There are no author passwords to Writing About Writing--you'll submit your articles to me. I will post them if they are good enough to post.
  • If you skipped all that dull text up above, this blog is about writing, art, inspiration, creativity, motivation, process, craft, literature, reading, and maybe cheese. Don't skip the paragraph below though.
  • I will be as liberal as I can about gate keeping, but you do have to be able to write a little. An incoherent rant about the tyranny of grammar probably won't be approved.
  • You don't have to agree with me, particularly about writing stuff, but I'm not going to post wildly divergent social positions, humor that punches down, or deeply problematic phrasing. Anything I post here isn't an "I agree with this 100%!" endorsement, but if I hit publish on it, I'm going to be the one to answer for it. If you want to write about how the PC police are agents of "Obummer the Mooozlim," and they won't let you even use the word "tard" anymore, go start your own blog.
  • I won't make any content changes to your writing, but I may make some copy edits. If a proofreading change might change your meaning, I will run it by you.
  • Please fucking read the paragraph below.
  • When I say "I will make some edits" I want you to understand that I'm not a copy editor even though I can do okay (on writing that isn't my own). I'm not here to fix up a post from scratch that you didn't have time to proofread. Clean it up.
  • You may link out as much as you want (even self-promotional links), but I'm going to check them all--if they go to spammy shit, I won't publish your article. 
  • Please, for the love of all that is holy, and in the name of Hera's left nipple, read the goddamned fucking paragraph below.
  • If your post is a giant fucking commercial for some product, then you need to be paying me for advertising space. And if your product isn't awesome, that's not going to happen anyway. Thinly veiled self promotion under the auspices of something that at least resembles an article is totally okay though–just know that it might not get a lot of hits. I only get about 150 views on articles that aren't liked or reshared through some social media. If my readers don't like something, it does NOT do very well. If they do, well they know where the share button is.
  • Seriously, read the paragraph below.

The very important paragraph: 

W.A.W. isn't making enough for me to pay anyone up front (yet), and I make no money from ad revenue. If I ever do make money enough to pay authors, and/or your article brings in heavy traffic, we will figure something out so I'm not taking the hard work of a writer with nothing but the promise of "exposure." It might not be more than a dollar or two for a solid article or a few bucks for something quite viral, but I will pay something if your article does better than an typical article here on W.A.W. (about 150-200 page views). Plus of course if someone sends me a donation earmarked for a guest blogger, I will pass the money onto them and even cover the Paypal fee–that's for them, not me. It may not add up to much (unless you get millions of hits or write for me a lot) but if it came from your work, I'll make sure I'm not taking advantage of you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another Thank You

I'm still taking a break until Wednesday (at which point I have two posts a day planned, so you should still get a week's worth of Writing About Writing, just....all at once–I just badly needed a break).

However, in the meantime, as absolute and total filler, I thought I would share with you another thank you note we've gotten from one of the recipients of the funds from Blogust's fund raiser. You all were amazing.

I also found out that it was W.A.W.'s donation that tipped them over the edge and fully funded this particular project. So that's always an extra awesome feeling.

The full bit from the web page.