Featured From the Archives: How to Write Martial Art Fight Scenes — Boise Bookfest Edition

In just a few short weeks (three to be exact), I’ll be attending the Boise Book Fest in Boise, Idaho. It’s going to be a lot of fun, featuring panels and workshops from several big-name authors in the industry and filled with tons of new books to check out and have signed by their gifted creators. If you’re in the Boise region, or willing to travel for a fun day of bookish geekery, I highly recommend attending.

But that’s only partially what today’s post is about. See, I’ll be doing a presentation there as well — on how to write fight scenes. Some of you may recall the post below, which I wrote a couple years ago. It’s still continually among my top searched articles, so I know it’s still a topic of interest to many out there. Which is why I pitched doing the live version when author Clara Stone approached me about presenting in Boise. But in order to do so, I’m going to need some volunteers. The best way I can think to showcase how to write/improve a fight scene is by providing actual examples.

So here’s my proposition: I’m going to open up a new feature of this blog, similar to the critique based entries I’ve seen others do. Willing writers can submit their fight scene, and then I’ll provide a published critique with suggestions for how to improve it. For now, I’m thinking I’ll do this once a month, unless it garners enough interest to make it a regular, weekly posting. My hope is that there are those among you who are brave enough to take me up on this offer. I’ve seen other blogs do this with the first 250 words, queries, or even the first 5 pages of a manuscript, so why not do it with a fight scene? Yes?

If you’d like to throw your name in the hat for the first feature, which I’ll post on Oct. 7th, please contact me. Please note that by submitting your fight scene, you’ll be agreeing to allow me to post both the original excerpt and my suggestions on this blog, and subsequently, any presentations that are derived from the material here. I hope you’ll take advantage of this free opportunity to gain some valuable editorial feedback, but in the meantime, here’s a reprise of my original article on . . .

How to Write a Martial Arts Fight Scenes

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted 8/9/13)

Fight scenes. Whether live action or written, they can be such a pain to pull off, falling all too easily into the realm of cheesy. You know the ones I mean; we’ve all seen and read them — fight scenes where the creator was more focused on what looks cool and/or badass, and less so on believability.

Recently, I sent a frustrated plea to the Twitterverse, begging authors to do their research before including the martial arts in their fights. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until after I sent that plea that the light bulb appeared and I realized that I’m in a unique position to help my fellow authors. As a martial artist, a writer, and an editor, I have insight that could help authors overcome the hurdle of fight scenes. So today, I’m going to use that background to dissect a written fight scene and hopefully illustrate how to effectively incorporate martial arts techniques. About time, right?

First, let’s take a look at what you don’t want to do.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, his opponent’s hands wrapped thoroughly around his throat. He struggled, trying to kick his opponent in the groin but only managing to connect with the man’s shin. The attacker snarled, loosening his hold on Charlie’s neck. Without pausing, Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping the attacker’s arm against his own chest before elbowing the man in the face.

The attacker stumbled backwards, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He had the upper-hand. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxed into a sparring stance. The attacker glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance.

With a yell, Charlie threw a round-kick at the attacker’s head. His opponent ducked, sliding between Charlie’s legs on his knees and jumping to his feet with a swift kick to Charlie’s back. Charlie stumbled forward, turning to face his attacker before he was struck again and instantly ducked the knife hand strike aimed at his head. Charlie responded with a flurry of punches, varying his target from the man’s head to his torso and back again. The man blocked most, but a few landed, knocking the attacker from his feet.

Charlie stood over him for a split second before finishing him off with a well-placed axe kick to the sternum. As the attacker rolled on the ground, sputtering, Charlie ran for the safety of a nearby cafe.

_________

Now, that’s shockingly not as bad as some I’ve seen, although it’s sure not going to win me a Pulitzer either. Some of you may even think this is an all right fight scene, aside from the obvious grammatical flaws that could be fixed with a few more drafts. But this is the example of what not to do, remember? So let’s figure out why.

Did you notice that I gave you very little about why this fight is happening, or where? I didn’t even give you the attacker’s name! But I did tell you in agonizing detail the techniques they’re using and where the blows land, placing all the emphasis on the choreography, and none at all on the characters or motivation behind this moment. The result? A laundry list of steps you could re-enact, but that you feel not at all.

That’s because this approach is all telling. That’s right, the infamous telling vs. showing debate. I tell you exactly what’s happening, but I don’t show it at all. You don’t feel invested in Charlie’s situation. You don’t feel the emotions. You feel excited, sure, because it’s action, and even poorly written action is exciting. But it has no lasting impact on you, does it? This scene is about as forgettable as they come.

It’s also unrealistic. Who out there noticed the completely implausible choreography I threw in? I know the martial artists in the audience did, because it screams “cool factor,” its entire existence a nod to something awesome and badass, but that, in reality, is actually physically impossible.

If you guessed the knee slide under Charlie’s legs, you’d be correct. Bravo! You get a cookie.

This is why it’s important to understand the dynamics of a fight, the kinesiology behind the techniques, not just the choreography. Those who have done a round kick know that while performing it, you balance on one leg, your body positioned so that your center of gravity is entirely over that back leg. If someone were to try and go through your legs the way I described, they would take out your supporting leg and you’d both end up in a flailing pile of limbs.

And then there’s the knee slide itself. If you read it closely, you realized the attacker is standing still. Where’d he get the momentum for a knee slide? Unless they’re fighting on a slick, hardwood floor that’s just been mopped, he would need a running start. I don’t know about you, but if I tried to drop to my knees to slide anywhere, I’d be sitting on the floor looking like an idiot just asking to get kicked in the face. It’s just not believable.

So let’s try that scene again, this time, fixing all those things I called out.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, Eric’s hands wrapped around his throat. Hate emanated from his friend’s narrowed eyes, mixed with judgment and accusation. Charlie gasped, choking as Eric’s fingers cut off his air.

His mind screamed at him, desperate to know why it was being punished. His lungs burned, gasping, sucking in nothing but fear. The edges of his vision started to grow fuzzy as black dots appeared over Eric’s shoulder, distorting the red glow of the club’s EXIT sign like reverse chickenpox. Panic flooded his veins with adrenaline. He struggled, clawing at the fingers sealed around his throat. He tried to kick Eric in the groin, but only managed to connect with his shin, the impact ricocheting painfully through his foot.

Eric snarled, loosening his hold and giving Charlie the opening he needed. Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping Eric’s arm against his chest before elbowing his best friend in the face.

Eric stumbled backward, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxing into the sparring stance he’d practiced for years — knees bent, weight forward on the balls of his feet, head lowered. Eric glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance. Their eyes locked. It was just like old times, only now, there was no one to referee the match, to stop it before it went too far.

All of this for a girl. Charlie knew it was ridiculous, that he should walk away, but fury mixed with adrenaline, coursing through him in a pulsing heat. If Eric wanted a fight, that’s what he’d get.

With a yell, Charlie threw a kick at Eric’s head. Eric ducked, sliding easily into a leg-sweep, knocking Charlie’s support from under him. The ground smashed into Charlie’s back, forcing the air from his lungs in a rushing wheeze. He rolled backward to his feet, still fighting against the tightness in his chest. Eric closed in on him, pushing his advantage, arms and legs flying. Charlie blocked as many of the blows as he could, his arms jarring in their sockets every time he did, his ribs and face blossoming with pain every time he didn’t. He stumbled back through the shadows of the alley until he was once again cornered.  Cringing, he held his hands up in surrender. Eric backed off, eyeing him warily as he spit blood onto the darkened pavement.

Charlie’s knuckles were bleeding, his ribs bruised, his lip split into an oozing gash. It was time to end this.

“All right, I give,” he said,  the words raspy and pained as he forced his battered throat to work. “I’ll never go near your sister again.”

_________

Still not the most epic writing sample, but you see the difference, I hope? Now, we not only know who Charlie’s fighting, but why. I’ve also fixed the choreography so that it’s believable, and added emotional content and description, putting the focus on the characters instead of the martial arts. No one cares about the techniques, but they care a lot about how those techniques feel, the emotion behind the action. Understanding that is the difference between creating a scene from a clinical distance and creating a deeper POV that will resonate with readers.

So, how can you take your fight scenes from flat to amazing? Easy, just remember these three things:

  1. Show, don’t tell. The techniques themselves are not important, the emotion is. Only use a technique name if there’s a reason we need to know the exact kick, etc.
  2. Believability is king. Never throw something in just because it sounds awesome. Make sure it’s actually physically possible and makes sense with the choreography and your world.
  3. When stumped, ask an expert. If you’re at a loss, find someone familiar with the martial arts and ask. Don’t just rely on Google and Youtube. They won’t give you the insight personal experience can.

That’s really all there is to it. But if you’d like to see if your fight scene hits these markers, feel free to take advantage of the offer I mentioned above. 😉

Featured From the Archives: Which Comes First, Character or Plot?

Sadly, my good intentions for returning to my more prolific blogging days got derailed by what can only be described as a deluge of other obligations, both personal and work-related. But that’s not a trend I wish to continue, and I will be striving to find more time to create the snark-tinged articles you’ve all grown to know and (I hope) love. In the meantime, I present one of the last remaining archive-articles that hasn’t already resurfaced at least once. Enjoy!

Which Comes First, Character or Plot?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/21/16

This is the literary equivalent of the chicken and egg scenario. Plot needs character in order for it to resonate emotionally with readers, and character without plot is really just someone standing around doing nothing. But which comes first?

There are writers in both camps who insist one or the other is the penultimate starting point for a story. But I disagree with all of them. I don’t think there is any one way to start. I firmly believe that every writer is different and will create in a way that’s unique to them. To try and constrain that creative process to a strict set of rules is futile, in my opinion. All it does is force writers who don’t naturally work that way to feel frustrated and inferior when their work fizzles and dies. Muses are fickle creatures, and prone to abandoning you when you try to force them into a rigid box. So instead of telling you that you absolutely must start with character, or plot, or even idea, I’m going to encourage you to experiment and find your own style.

But first, let’s take a look at the three different starting points, shall we? It’s hard to make an informed decision without all the facts, after all.

Character-Centric

Character-centric writers always start with a character. (You’ll see this approach a lot in fan fiction, where the only creative outlet left to the writer is character creation.) They create every last detail, from name all the way to their relationship with their great aunt Matilda’s cat who got ran over when they were four. These writers know their characters inside and out, to the point that you almost start to wonder if they’re creating a character for a novel or an imaginary best friend. Armed with pages and pages of character sheets, these writers have everything they need to get started — except a story.

Even though they’ve spent days, weeks, or months learning every minute detail of this fictitious person, they don’t have a story yet. No one wants to read those pages and pages of character notes, because they’re about as exciting as a clinical psych report to anyone but the author. You could have the coolest character in the world, but no one’s going to care unless you give them something to do. Which is why, oftentimes, you’ll notice character-centric authors struggle with plot. Since their focal point is the character, they simply don’t know how to create something interesting to fit them into, often resulting in a storyline that feels pointless, ambling around and around with no direction.

But, to their credit, character-centric authors school the rest of us when it comes to creating fully fleshed-out, believable characters. They just have to work a little harder in the plot department is all.

Plot-Centric

On the flip side of that coin is the plot-centric writer. These people start with a plot. They create every twist and turn, every multilayered goal and mini-quest in a road map of storytelling awesomeness. They know exactly how the story starts and ends, and everything in between, before they even put a word on paper. But the thing they don’t know? Their characters.

Characters are pawns to these writers, often showing up in outlines with nothing more than a placeholder name. The ins and outs of personality aren’t important unless they drive the plot. And often, that becomes a problematic downfall. Dull, cookie-cutter, two-dimensional characters are a hazard, a quagmire that too many plot-centric writers fall into. Just like the lack of plotting abilities in a character-centric story, the lack of rich characterization in a plot-centric work can destroy an otherwise amazing book.

Plot-centric writers have to pay extra attention to character development if they want any chance at resonating with readers emotionally. Plot only holds a reader’s interest so long; it’s the characters we really remember after we reach “The End.”

Idea-Centric

Outside of the character vs. plot debate is a third camp of writers — the idea-centric crowd. We (because this is the approach I use) are content to let the character and plot people duke it out over which element is more important because we go at it in a completely different way. The idea-centric writers don’t start with a character or a plot arc, they start with an idea, a concept. This can be a question — E. L. James has said she started with the question, “What would happen if you were attracted to somebody who was into the BDSM lifestyle, when you weren’t?” for her mega-hit 50 Shades of Grey. It can also be a point of inspiration — Marie Lu’s Legend series started with her curiosity over how the central relationship between Jean Valjean (a famous criminal) and Javier (a prodigious detective) in Les Miserable would translate into a more modern tale. It can even be a deeper message —The Hunger Games is actually a statement against the voyeuristic tendencies of American Television according to author Suzanne Collins.

When done well, the idea-centric approach combines the best of the other two, creating an extremely rich experience readers tend to remember long after they finish the book. But the key there is “when done well.” Idea-centric writers have to be careful that they don’t start to sound preachy, especially those with a message to impart. Character and plot can both suffer if the focus is too heavily placed on the root idea, resulting in an even bigger trainwreck than either of the two previous approaches. So while this is the method I use, I’m definitely not saying it’s perfect.

There are many people who will try to tell you their method is best. I’m not one of them. You find characters the most appealing part of a story? Go for it! Be character-centric. Just keep a watchful eye on your plot. You think plot is the all-important end-all? Great! Plot-centric it is. Have fun guiding us through your labyrinth of action. Just make sure you don’t forget about your characters along the way. And if, like me, you find plot bunnies lurking in the weirdest of places, go with it! Some of the strongest works on the market started that way. Just make sure you rein in your high horse before you reach preachy-ville.

Regardless which of the three starting points you choose, there will be things to watch out for. Each has its strength, and each has its weakness. But knowing the pitfalls ahead of time lets you avoid them before they ruin your masterpiece. The point is, there really is no right or wrong method, no matter what random people on the internet say. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, look for something else that does. That’s really all there is to it.

As for our chicken and egg conundrum, you tell me — which comes first? Character, plot, or idea?

Featured From the Archives: How to Fix a Morphing Voice

Lately, my blog seems to feature nothing but publishing/editing related topics and the occasional book review. That’s largely because those are the dominant activities in my life — editing and reading. But behind the scenes, I’m still working on my own writing, still hoping to someday be a published author in my own right. I’ll be doing some posts soon about the process I’ve been going through in my attempt to fix my nemesis WIP, but this seemed like an appropriate one to feature today, given that I’m still dealing with the same problem. Only now, instead of choosing Option 1, as I mention at the bottom of the post, I’m definitely doing Option 2.

Anyway, here you go, three strategies for how to deal with the curse of taking too damn long to write something. Enjoy!

 

How to Fix a Morphing Voice

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/7/13

After last week’s motivating tirade of snark, I found myself perusing Unmoving, trying to get reacquainted with the characters and plot.  I know, re-reading while in the drafting phase is a cardinal sin. But I had to, because (and this is going to horrify a lot of you) it’s been about 7 months since I last looked at the darn thing! And with a bazillion plot bunnies constantly distracting my muse like an ADD dog in a field of squirrels, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident that I remembered where I was going with poor Derek. I’d cruelly left him stuck on his park bench, and trust me, he’s quite pissed about it.

But anyway, I was reading — okay, skimming; I do know the story better than that — along, everything was going well, I was getting inspired, the muse focusing, and then Bam! Derek’s voice shifted, and not in that it’s-just-this-scene kind of way. No, it shifted in the I-took-too-damn-long-to-write-this-and-now-I’m-a-different-writer kind of way. And I realized I had forgotten the biggest reason why you should never be a slow writer like me — the morphing voice.

When it takes you an eon to write a novel, you’ll run into this problem. (And yes, that makes Reason #382 why you don’t want to be me, in case you were counting.) Growth is an inevitable part of the process, just as it is in life. Creative influences will come and go, creeping into your style and changing it without your permission. Your perspective on things will change, and suddenly your character does a complete one-eighty in their personality. Or you simply improve, because, as they say, practice makes perfect. Regardless of why it happens, when you take too long on a project, you’re bound to find yourself staring down the barrel of the morphing voice. And that’s a blow to your manuscript editors won’t forgive. So how do you fix it? Well, that’s the tricky part.

The way I see it, you have three options.

Option 1: Edit and Hope it Works

This seems like the logical choice, right? You’ll have to edit anyway, so why not just shrug it off and deal with it later. But that’s not actually a good plan. Depending on how dramatic the shift is, trying to edit it into submission can turn into a giant pit of tar you’ll never escape from.

Chances are good the problem lies in the beginning of your story. And the thing about editing is that it’s like throwing a pebble into a pool of standing water. Even minor tweaks can create disastrous ripples, impacting the entire manuscript and obliterating the later parts in a tidal wave of mess. It can be done, but only if you possess an editor’s eye for structural inconsistencies and can accurately assess exactly where the voice distorts and why. Or, alternatively, you could bribe an editor with those skills to help you out. I suggest a large plate of brownies. Or money. Money works too. The point is, it takes a valiant effort on the part of the editor (whether that be you or the poor soul you lured in with the promise of chocolate) to save a story from a shifting voice. And even then, the result is likely to be stilted, rocky, and forced. Which is why I would probably go with Option 2.

Option 2: Rewrite

Ah, rewrite. Every writer’s most hated nemesis. (Except me, but I’m weird. We established that a long time ago.) In this scenario, though, it’s actually your best friend. Unlike editing, where you can tweak and twist and try your darnedest to force your manuscript and characters into submission, rewriting provides a clean slate. Okay, a partially clean slate.

In this strategy, you actually start over with a blank page, using the original work as a template. The key is to hold on to the scene itself, not the words. By picturing the scene and divorcing your words, you can try again to capture it in your new, improved writer-voice. Instead of ending up with the strange, forced sound that editing alone gives you, you end up with an organic, natural-feeling version that should coincide perfectly with the later parts of the story. Sounds like the perfect solution, no?

The problem is that many writers are unable to step away from that original version. Maybe it was particularly painful to do the first time, or they just can’t kill their darlings. Whatever the reason, they dig their heels in and resist. Personally, I have no problem saying “See ya!” to a section and starting over, but I can understand why it would be hard for others. Rewriting like this requires a blind leap of faith. You’re trusting yourself to recapture the scene in a different way; trusting that it will be better than the original, that it will convey the same message in a shinier package. And that kind of self-belief can be hard.

There’s no doubt that this approach is the most difficult, both in what’s required and in the amount of work involved. But I believe it’s usually the best option. Once you get over the fear, rewriting can become a freeing experience, and you might even be surprised at how much stronger the scene is the second time around.

But, for those unconvinced cynics out there, there is a third option.

Option 3: Scrap the Whole Thing and Walk Away

Hey, I didn’t say you would like it! 😉

If editing has made your manuscript a bigger mess than when you started, if the idea of rewriting has you screaming in horror and feels like an Everest-sized task you’d rather die than tackle, then you’re really only left with one choice: scrap it and walk away. Brutal, yes, but what else can you do?

Chalk it up to a learning experience, hide away the embarrassing evidence in a drawer somewhere, and move on. It doesn’t mean you failed. It just means that maybe that wasn’t the project you were meant to complete. It was a practice run, a chance to stretch your literary wings. And now you can fly with the next one.

See? It’s not all bad and dreary. In fact, I bet all of us have at least one half-finished manuscript lurking around somewhere that already serves this purpose. It’s okay to have more than one. They can be buddies, then.

As for me and my conundrum with Unmoving, I’ll be choosing Option 1. Usually I go with 2, but in this case, I think I can salvage it. At least, I seriously hope so. I shudder to think how long it would take me to complete it if I had to start over. At that point, I might just chuck it at the wall (or a blazing fire) and go with Option 3. There are plenty more plot bunnies where that one came from. But I don’t think it will come to that. Will it, Derek? *sends a pointed glance at the stack of pages on the desk*

Obviously, the best fix for a morphing voice is not to end up facing it in the first place. But I’m curious, have you had to deal with this issue? How did you fix it? Share your strategies in the comments below.

Featured From the Archives: The 5 Stages of Writing on a Deadline

As I was dredging the archives for something to post this week (after realizing that I somehow managed to lose almost two whole weeks during my latest venture into the editing cave and that I missed posting anything at all last Friday), I stumbled on what feels like the perfect summation of my current state of mind. It’s a guest post from author Drew Hayes on the 5 stages authors go through when facing a deadline, but I will point out that the same is also true for editing on a deadline. Except, as an editor, you spend your time in a strange sort of stage-meld. Currently, I’m simultaneously on Stage 5 with one project, Stage 1 in another, and verging on Stage 3 with a third. You’ll understand what those mean in a moment. 😉

So, without further ado, I present the encore performance of . . .

The 5 Stages of Writing on a Deadline

by Drew Hayes

Originally Posted on 12/6/13

 

Writing, much like grief, moves in phases. The ideal process for artistic creation is the slow, gentle growth of an idea, watching it bloom from mere idle thoughts into a cohesive, beautiful flower. Then, of course, there’s writing on a deadline. This process is more akin to trying to steer a lawnmower while your drunken uncle fights you for the wheel and a swarm of honeybees swoops about, rightfully angry about the beer bottle your aforementioned uncle threw into their hive. (If this analogy made no sense to you, congratulations on not living in the country.) Point being, writing on a deadline is a crazy, often senseless process that feels as though you’re being swarmed by painful distractions. Though, to be fair, in a perfect analogy you’d be the drunk uncle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stage 1: Stupidity, a.k.a., I Can Totally Handle This

This is a beautiful stage, a wonderful place that you’ll find yourself at time and again. You’ve found a project that you’re suited for and been accepted into the position. You have zero fear you can handle this, because the magic of repression has given you the power to block out what your last project was like. You do everything right in this phase; you make an outline, schedule time specifically dedicated to work on this project, and even make a step-by-step checklist. You are fearless. You’ve got this shit down cold.

In fact, you’ve got it down so cold, you’re not even stressing about it. Until that window you set up to work on the project gets chomped away by angrier, more demanding tasks that are further along in the process and soon, all too soon, you’ve hit crunch time. Now you really need to write. So you finally enforce that window and sit down to truly punch out stuff on the keyboard.

Stage 2: Holy Shit, a.k.a., What Was I Thinking?

Nothing. Not one idea. Come on, you can do this. You had a billion ideas when you took on the project. There has to be one left in your brain. Just one. You’ll do anything. Come on. Focus. Foooocus. Don’t look at the spot on the wall. It’s not mold. Because you live in a dry climate and mold doesn’t look like finger smudges, that’s how I know. And now you’re cleaning the “mold” even though that’s totally not what it was. Feel better? Oh, hey, idea! No, not about the project, butrelated to the project. Remember that outline you did? Maybe there are some ideas in that.

Huh . . . this is wordy, detailed, and totally useless. Look at Point #4: draw out deeper meaning of previous subject. They’re all like that. Everything hinges on something else, and there’s no start point. Okay, deep breaths. At least you’ve got a plan if you do ever think of a starting point. Look, there’s an old truth to writing that if you’re stuck, just write anyway. Just put words down and sooner or later something cohesive will form. Type gibberish if you must, just type something.

Stage 3: Desperation, a.k.a., Shit’s ‘Bout To Get Real

Well, it’s the last day before the project is due, and you’ve written 30,000 words of gibberish. I’ll be honest, I’m impressed with the dedication, though I had hoped eventually real words might come out. Still, let’s not give up hope yet. Maybe you can still pull something off. I mean, you’ve done this before. Go look at notes from old projects. Perhaps the secret to breaking through your block lies in there.

Wow . . . these are . . . wow. I’m around ninety percent sure having this combination of words written down is a felony, along with a serious cry for help. Also, a good half of that isn’t English. Scratch that, it isn’t even language, at least nothing a healthy mind could identify as such. No, don’t throw it out, there are children in the world who could stumble across this. Burn it. Cleanse it with fire and hope there can be forgiveness in your next life. Only when that’s done can we continue to scour for the key to unlocking inspiration.

Okay, those pages are gone, though it took them a curiously long time to burn, and the whole house smells like smoke and regret. After a bit more digging, you’ve found different sets of notes from your last project. Let’s take a gander and see what you’ve got.

Cursing.

Cursing.

Teardrop stains.

Enthusiastic cursing.

A cocktail recipe.

Eh, what the hell, seems like as good a time as any to progress to the next step.

Step 4: Booze, a.k.a., Hang On Just A Minute . . . I Know What I’m Talking . . . Here Shush . . . Just Let Me Say One More Thing And I Will — Zzzzzzz

If it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for you. Furiously hurling vodka down your throat like there’s a gasoline fire in your belly and you have no concept of how putting out a fire works, you take an alcoholic wrecking ball to your sober consciousness. Soon the ideas begin to flow. Unfortunately, they aren’t ideas directly related to the project you’re working on. No, texting your ex is a bad idea; they don’t want to hear from you. I don’t care how unhappy you think they looked in their wedding photo on Facebook, they don’t want to hear from — aaaand you’re texting anyway.

Several drinks later, you’ve worked through nearly all the alcohol stocked in your meager bar, save for the break-in-case-of-emergency last resort: Tequila. You know you shouldn’t do it, but by Faulkner you’ve come this far, and, at this point, you’d rather go down in flames than burn away gently. You guzzle straight from the bottle, downing the well-grade liquor in less time than it took for the under-paid clerk to slap it on the sale shelf. This is going to be bad.

The next few hours pass in a blur. Only snippets and highlights will remain once the alcohol has run its course:

You remember trying to order a pizza on the phone, only for the clerk to consistently reiterate that you have dialed a dry-cleaner. You are not fooled by his lies.

You know you uploaded a clip to YouTube. Unfortunately, you have no memory of what was on it, the name it was under, or even the account you used to post it. You will spend the next six months trying to find it and/or hoping you cannot be identified by the footage. That hope will eventually be dashed.

You fill more pages with the cursed writing, the arcane script that made those previous pages so difficult to burn. This time you hide them so that your sober-self cannot unmake your hard work. There can be no more interruptions, not with the rising so near.

You sit down at your computer, staring at the monitor that mocks your literary impotence with an unsullied white screen. You stick your tongue out at it. This is the last memory of the night.

Stage 5: Completion, a.k.a., Who The What Now?

As you rise slowly from the keyboard, you immediately become aware of three things. Firstly, you have a headache that would send lesser drinkers to their graves. Secondly, you slept with your face on the keyboard and will wear this waffle iron-esque mark of shame for several hours. Lastly, and most importantly, your project is complete. The crisp, neatly edited words stare back at you from the monitor, all mockery quieted. You read through them just to be sure, but everything is germane to the topic, well-worded, and grammatically correct.

You send it off to the client without asking too many questions. Better not to know, you assure yourself. Better not to ask what exactly those pages you wrote signify. Better not to wonder just what it is you might have traded away in a fit of drunken desperation.

Nope, instead you’re off to get a shower and a well-deserved bagel. Maybe you’ll even go see if there are any new projects you might be a good fit for. After all, with this beast done, you’ve got a lot of free time, and you really should try and stay productive.

***

See? Pretty perfect, wasn’t it? For more of Drew’s deadpan hilarity, be sure to check out his website and many novels. Whether you like superheroes, paranormal creatures and vampire accountants, or fantasy characters from table-top role-playing games, Drew’s signature wit and storytelling mastery is guaranteed to shine through. His work is a personal favorite of mine, so I highly recommend giving it a chance if you’re looking for quirky, sarcastic, and different from the norm. 🙂

Featured From the Archives: Writing Mode vs. Editing Mode

Before we get to this week’s installment, I’d like to thank everyone who read, commented, and shared my post from last Friday. Your support was unexpected and very appreciated. Things have been largely fixed and improve daily, but I’m still struggling to fully rekindle that creative spark. So you’ll have to forgive me for dredging up an older article this week. I think (well, hope) that this will still be relevant to many out there, though it would more aptly fit my scenario to talk about what happens when neither mode works. Maybe that’ll be a task for another day. In the meantime, enjoy!

Writing Mode vs. Editing Mode

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 10/5/12

There’s a lot of writing advice out there that says you have to write every day to be successful. And while I’m all for self-discipline (though I suck at it), this strategy just doesn’t work for me. Partly because sometimes (often, actually), my muse takes a sick day (or fourteen), preferring to sip margaritas on a beach somewhere rather than coming to work, and sometimes my characters stamp their feet like petulant little children and refuse to cooperate, resulting in a stalemate of blank pages. But mostly, it’s because I never know which half of me is going to roll out of bed in the morning, the writer or the editor.

I think most authors would agree that writing consists of two modes: Writing Mode and Editing Mode. Two sides to the same coin, neither exists without the other, and yet they require vastly different parts of the brain. Writing Mode is reliant on imagination, slave to inspiration and the whims of muses, and is an organic, joyous process (most of the time). Editing Mode is much more analytical in nature, coming from a place of logic and fact rather than emotion. Sounds like the age-old argument about English and Math, no? But the truly fascinating part is that, while each mode compliments the other, it is nearly impossible to utilize both at the same time. At least for me.

I am one of those perfectionist people that perennially edits as I write. I can’t just glom my thoughts onto the page in a horrific ramble of word vomit and call it good. Which, I realize, is in direct contradiction to one of the Cardinal Rules of Writing. If you remember, I already wrote about this inability to barrel headlong through a rough draft without looking back in my rant about Perfectionism. What does this have to do with the two modes of writing? Well, it means that quite frequently, I suffer from the bipolar nature of the process and flip-flop between the two. Which is how I know that you can’t do both at the same time. At least, not fully. You can tweak little things during the creation part, but a complete overhaul-style edit will derail any hopes you had of being creative that day.

Why does it happen this way? I have no idea. My theory is that when you start to edit, the part of your brain responsible for problem solving takes over, chasing away those little fairies of creative thought much like waking up chases away dreams. Editing is like working on a puzzle, each piece carefully weighed and inspected to make sure it fits with the others. It’s not fun (well, for most people), and it’s not glamorous. More than any other part, it feels like work. It’s one of the only times in writing when you have to conform to rules, and for a lot of people, it starts to feel like an administrative chore. You never hear anyone say they enjoy paying bills or filing taxes, right? Well, I would hazard that there are a lot of writers out there who put editing into that same category of painful-but-necessary tasks. (In fact, I know there are.)

Writing Mode, on the other hand, is fun, and can sometimes be glamorous (if you’re not me and aren’t instantly and completely mortified by the drivel you just put down, amazed that anything that crappy could have come from the beautiful vision in your head). There’s something magical in the process of creation, a freedom in the cathartic expression of emotion. And, like dreams, there really are no rules. This is the part where you’re free to wander down whatever strange, nonsensical paths your muse sees fit. There’s no worry because you know you can just fix it later. (Unless you’re me, and you get stuck like a broken record until you get a scene right.)

I think it’s this disconnect between the two that prevents them from being called upon simultaneously. Creativity can feel like a direct link to the subconscious, channeling beauty from places even the artist might not be able to define. Editing is too grounded in reality, too centered around order and precision to allow for that much unknown. Which leaves every author with two personalities, the writer and the editor. And like Jekyll and Hyde, you can’t always predict which one will show up when.

The good thing about having these two halves of the process is that when one doesn’t work, the other often does. When inspiration fades (and let’s face it, uninspired days happen), you can still be productive. Even if editing is as painful as a root canal for you. It’s easier to do it in small chunks, after all, than deal with one massive fifteen-hour surgery at the end, where you have thousands of words to mutilate and butcher. (Unless you plan to hire someone like me to hack your baby into pieces for you.)

Of course, not every writer is gifted with equal amounts of talent in each mode. Some are brilliant creatively, but horrible editors. Some are masters of grammar and actually enjoy editing (me! me!), but find creating to be like pulling teeth. And some are lucky enough to toe the line between the two. Which are you?