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Writing Fight Scenes (that are worthy of an anime OP)

When I consider fight scenes, I see three areas where a narrative needs to excel: Pacing, environment, and secrecy.

“But gee Rosalind, what gives you authority to speak on good fight scenes?”

Well you see, I’ve been orchestrating fight scenes in my head ever since I heard my first anime opener, I know exactly how to fight you to the beat of Linkin Park’s Breaking the Habit, I am trained in gorilla warfare and I’m the top sniper in the entire US armed forces, and… wait, er, what was I talking about? Oh, right, I’m a big nerd for a cool fight. So how do they WORK?

First, pacing. You don’t want to just say “they had a big fight”, nor do you want to get into ridiculous detail for each muscle twitch. Vary your pace, spending more time on the things that your character is focusing more on. For an example:

She grabbed his hand, focusing her fingers on his tendons, digging in her fingernails as hard as she could. She felt his pulse, felt his muscle spasm as she dug deep. His scream echoed behind her own heartbeat in her ears. With this hand out of commission, he was that much weaker. How much could he do with one–

Sharp pain. Sharp pain in her side. She looked to her side, where blood was starting to gush. He swung his broken arm, she ducked to the left, but she couldn’t pretend that she hadn’t just collapsed in a convenient direction. Kicking her legs out at him, she knocked him out of his stance. He toppled to the ground, but she was standing before he had a chance to land. She pulled the knife from where it hung in her side, drowning out the terrible squelch with a tortured scream. She needed to get out of her, get out now. She threw the knife at him, not waiting to see if it hit its mark, and scrambled away.

Going from slow and calculated to oh god what the fuck there’s a knife in my side keeps your reader engaged. Sure, some characters are all meticulous thinkers, and some panic with little provocation, but I think most people are kind of all over the place in a life or death situation. Be all over the place with them.

Next up, space. I can’t think of any situation where your environment won’t impact your fight. Even if you’re fighting the big bad in a complete vacuum, that unique environment would influence the fight. Assuming there’s scenery around your character, you need to use that scenery. Let your characters dig their heels into the dirt. Let them smell the blood of their rivals. Let them look around for a blunt weapon, lob it at their opponent, and hear it crash through a nearby window as they miss. Your character’s shouldn’t be punching and kicking in a void.

Finally, secrets. I don’t mean like Chekhov’s gun; you don’t need the MC to reach into their bag and pull out the revolver from act 1. But I find that it helps to have a healthy portion of “oh shit” moments on each side of the fight. They throw a hook from the left, but you duck at the last moment, catching them by surprise. They’re thrown off balance, giving you a chance to pin them to the ground and oh my god you didn’t notice the knife in their sleeve. Or maybe, and that’s when their cronies grab you from behind. Let me as the reader have these moments with the MC, where we’re shocked by unforeseen circumstances. And at the same time, let me anticipate some things. Maybe a shadowy group is walking up behind the MC, or we see the glint of something in an enemy sleeved. Key word is “some things” though. A healthy mix of surprise and anticipation is best, in my opinion.

I hope this helps my fellow author, and gives insight to how I try to write my scenes! Combined with a good bit of research and planning, you’ll be writing some kick-ass scenes. Fight on!

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Resource List: Writing People Who Aren’t Your Race

click here to jump straight to the resources.

There’s a question that frequently crops up within white-centric writing circles. “I’m white. How can I write a character who isn’t white? Won’t I do a bad job? Won’t it be inauthentic?”

Left unstated within this question is the true concern, “Won’t people experience my characters of colour, and realize that I don’t know what I’m talking about? That I don’t even know what I don’t know? Won’t they think I’m racist?”

I get it. I’m white people. I know that we’re more afraid of being perceived as racist than we are of hurting people with our racism. So I’ll tell my fellow white folks now: Being told that you did something racist, even being told that you are a racist, is not the end of the world. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to do racist things, or that we shouldn’t feel bad when we do, but we need to be taking these times when someone has the patience to engage with us and tell us that we’re being racist as moments where we can learn and grow. If someone is stopping you to say, “that’s not okay,” they’re extending the benefit of the doubt to you that you care and want to be better. That’s not the end of the world; it’s the beginning of your opportunity to grow.

Now hold on, this isn’t the part where you get to badger the person who spoke up on how you can improve. They’ve done their part. Seriously, I can hear the “Okay, well then what do I do???” lingering on the tip of your tongue. Swallow it, apologise, promise to do better, and then do your research so you be better.

“But Rosalind, how do I know I’m getting the right resources? How do I find the right answers?” That’s a good question (to direct at a white person, not to demand from a person of color). It can be tricky to find vetted resources, and while Google is free, Google is also how you can find conspiracy theories, bad twitter takes, and cherrypicked or misquoted examples of black people saying that race doesn’t matter and we shouldn’t discuss it. As a white person who isn’t personally harmed by discussions on race, I try not to tell people just to google something unless I know what they’ll find. And so, I’ll give you what you asked for as best I can. Resources. The “right” ones, inasmuch as a white person can be trusted to vet those. They’re resources I picked up on how to craft characters of color, most of them given to me by friends of color.

The list is below, but first: Please do try to write outside your comfort zone. Please try to write characters that aren’t your own demographics, and please be ready to screw up monumentally, and please be ready to accept criticism. It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to hurt your readers of color more to not ever see you write people like them. For them.

Final note, I do think it’s important to note that you’re never going to write a black character better than a black author, for example. There’s good reason for #ownvoices to be a movement, and just because we’re trying to prioritize writers of color doesn’t mean your story is invalid, or that you can’t be supportive by having characters of color. Think of it like priority boarding on an airplane. They get to board first, but it’s not like that stops you from flying in general. Planes are pretty big.

Anyways, the resources:

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

The first book I want to share isn’t writing specific, but I do think it’s a fantastic introduction to how to discuss race (and even includes a section on how you will screw it up, and how it will suck, and how it’s not the end of the world). After all, our writing is discussion. We aren’t just writing a character with certain visual features. We’re writing people with lives and motivations, and we want them to feel real, and not reinforce stereotypes, and not hurt our readers. You can’t separate your character having a race from discussing race, so it’s best to learn how to discuss it right.

Available on paperback at Bookshop.org, Blackwells, and as an ebook off Amazon. (I’m going to try to not recommend Amazon when I can help it, but if fast delivery is what you need to read about race, go for it)

Writing The Other, by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

This is one that I can’t personally vouch for, but it is one I’ve had recommended. It’s full of exercises and education specifically for writers facing this conundrum of “how do I write someone who is marginalized in the ways I am not?” I have started reading it, so perhaps look for a more detailed review in the future. For the record, this is not just a book on writing race, but writing any character is “other” to you. Sexuality, gender, etc.

There is also a website for writing the other, which curates its own resources (including classes and workshops!). Definitely check it out here, which is also where you can find the book in various formats and from various stores.

How To Draw Black People, by Malik Shabazz

This one might come off as an odd recommendation for authors, but from what I’ve heard it’s a good resource for understanding visual characteristics as well as stereotypes. It’s actually one that I hadn’t been able to find a copy of for the longest time– apparently UK Amazon doesn’t carry it– but as I compiled this list I discovered that there is a digital edition available for purchase. There’s also a physical edition available in the same store. I’m definitely grabbing my copy as soon as I finish this blog post, because as a visual artist as well as a writer, I’ve wanted its knowledge for a long time.

Basically, if you want a resource for creating visual descriptions of characters that are both accurate and sensitive to stereotyping, I bet this book can help. I originally found it as a resource linked in a discussion on how white people color black people’s palms to be the same colour as skin in other areas, when that’s… not how skin pigmentation works. So if you’re worried you might make a similar not-knowing-what-you-don’t-know error in your character’s depicition, there ya go.

(A full review will likely follow this post once I have a chance to read it!)

Writing With Color on tumblr

Writing with Color is a tumblr blog that has a PLETHORA of resources on how to write people of color. It’s an amazing resource that I personally frequent. If you’re familiar with books like The Emotion Thesaurus, I honestly feel like they’re comparable in how helpful they are. Tired of describing your dark-skinned character’s skin as “dark”, but know you’re not supposed to use food-comparisons? Check out this enormously helpful post. (also, yeah, don’t use food and coffee and such to describe a person’s skin. That’s discussed at length on the tumblr, but it’s worth emphasizing). Or maybe you want a complete profile of a person of color to acquire more understanding? You’ll want the POC profiles. Seriously, it’s an amazing resource that every writen needs bookmarked. And being a blog and not a book, it’s free.

A sensitivity reader

This feels like a cop out on my end, but sensitivity readers are a fantastic resource. After you’ve read your books, done your character specific research, and tried your damnedest to make a three-dimensional non-stereotypical character, your sensitivity reader will let you know what issues have still slipped through the cracks.

They do cost money to hire. That’s pretty non-negotiable. You’re asking someone to expose themself to potential bigotry so that you don’t have to risk hurting other people down the line. And you’re asking them to tell you nicely what you’ve done wrong. That costs money, full stop.

I do have some recommendations for sensitivity readers: specifically, Salt & Sage Books host a whole crew of sensitivity readers. I had a fantastic experience having my first book edited by them, and I will be trying out their sensitivity readers in the future, and I’d highly recommend you do as well.

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What Doki Doki Literature Club Teaches Us About Writing

Warning: this article is about a psychological horror video game. Not only does it contain spoilers, but the game itself touches on issues of suicide, self-harm, child abuse, manipulation, and stalking/obsession. Please keep all of this in mind before deciding to read this article or play the game!

Doki Doki Literature Club, the horror game set in a literature-based dating simulator, is probably my favorite horror media out there. It inspired me to dive deeper into horror, and to be less afraid of… being afraid. I respect it for a lot of reasons as a piece of media, and because of that, I’m going to dive deep into why that is.

After all, what is literature club without some analysis?

Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC) is a wonderful example of using your medium as a part of your story, not just a vessel. Sometimes we pick a medium for the ease at which we can create stories for it, or to target a certain audience; but DDLC is a video game about video games to an extent, and uses the fact that it is a video game (not a book or a movie) to tell its story.

Part of the gameplay includes interacting with the actual game files, and without that type of interaction, the horror would not hit as hard as it does. I’d even argue that it would fall flat; I feel the actual written words are a little clichéd and trope-y. As it is, it’s almost better to brand DDLC as an experience using video games as a medium rather than an actual video game. Without getting into an argument over whether or not static visual novels are video games per se, I’ll just say that DDLC is crafted as an interactive narrative more than anything else and that is exactly what it needs to be.

It’s kind of like performance art. The real value comes from the viewer’s interaction with the piece than it does traditional measures of quality. I’ve seen plenty of performance art along the lines of “we dumped this candy in the corner to see what people do,” and “if I submit a signed urinal to a museum, will they put it on the wall?” A lot of people rate this art as “lazy” and I’d imagine that people would say the same about DDLC. But in both cases, the value doesn’t come from how many hours and how much skilled penmanship it took to sign that urinal, or how much technical craft went into DDLC’s art and writing. Rather, the artistic value comes more unadultered from the artist’s brain; you get to see the questions they wanted to ask (and force you to ask) with minimal painted-on veneers.

But what questions does DDLC ask? In my opinion, the biggest theme of DDLC is “where does reality begin and end,” and that is what gives it its horror aspect. It’s one thing to hear a ghost story about a place you’ve never been and will be, but to have a fictional character address you by your actual name and demand the ability to determine her own destiny puts Scary in your own home. If you’re like me, and find questions around the state of reality and the concept of free will to be absolutely terrifying, you’ll probably be delightfully disturbed by DDLC.

Yes, the art and writing could have been better on a purely technical level, but they didn’t need to be. The real story of DDLC isn’t the one written in dialogue screens and narration; it’s the interactions between you and your computer (or Switch or PS4). You’re probably not actually afraid of corrupted text (or the words typed within it), but rather what broken text in a closed ecosystem like a computer conveys. You might be disturbed by watching a dead girl for an entire in-game weekend, but the true disturbance comes from the prospect of being trapped in a Wrong place because reality is corrupted. The moments on a first play-through where you don’t know when you’re going to be freed from that hell is something that can’t be written so much as timed. Which, to be fair, is writing craft in itself. It’s one thing to read “you watch a young woman bleed out over 48 hours”, and another thing to just… watch. To sit with your fear. To wonder, in your actual, meatspace brain, when you can move on. To press the fast-forward button and still feel trapped. To maybe even restart your game, only to reload in the exact same hell until finally, you endure.

That’s what Doki Doki Literature Club is. It’s not a visual novel with slightly clichéd writing and hokey animation effects; it’s everything around the novel too. Even the fanbase is a part of the experience; mass hysteria and fear is the worst and best kind.

Anyways, that’s a lot of words to say that I heavily recommend playing Doki Doki Literature Club, especially if you want to write media that people truly interact with on a visceral level, and especially if you’re the kind of perfectionist who never lets anybody consume your work. We as writers can get very caught up with our craft, always trying to say things in a clever way, muttering to ourselves to Show, not Tell, and beating ourselves up over the grammatical mistakes that slip through editing. Sometimes we get so caught up with perfection that we try to hide our work away, like it’s Schrödinger’s Novel; neither good nor bad if it’s never read.

The thing is, that’s a problem; a story isn’t told until someone else has experienced it. Quite frankly, your story is never going to be the letters and spaces and careful punctuation you put on the page. Your story is going to live in the late nights the reader spends with it, in the dreams they have of characters you crafted, in the fan works that they go on to spawn from it. You don’t need perfection. You need to craft feelings that somebody else can take and morph into their reality. That job, in itself? That’s your reality.

My writing advice? Just move your hand, write the way into their hearts…