So here’s why I write…

I recently reread George Orwell’s famous essay, “Why I Write.” In it, he ascribes four primary motives to writers: egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Different writers will feel a stronger pull from one or two than the others, and the precise balance might shift over a lifetime, but those four motives drive much of the prose that exists and will exist throughout the world. I’d be lying if I claimed immunity.

Looking at my superhero novel The Flying Woman, I can see those four motives playing roles of varying sizes.

Ego certainly factors into the equation. I would like to think otherwise, but that would be self-delusion. There’s a line in the musical Hamilton that goes, “God help and forgive me, I want to build something that’s gonna outlive me.” And yes, I’d like that, too. I won’t live forever, and I can’t take any books with me, but I can leave them behind and hope they endure.

Along those lines, I also wanted to write the best superhero novel ever. There are certainly many good and even great superhero prose novels out there, but which has the reputation as being the pinnacle of the genre in this medium? I’m not saying I succeeded—that’s ultimately up to the readers, not the writer. But after a lifetime of reading superhero comics, I wanted to put my own stamp on the genre.

Aesthetic enthusiasm is more a motivation for editing than writing, but I do certainly appreciate aesthetics and value their importance. I’m happy to take the time to ensure the correct word is always in the correct place, and unbroken walls of text often look plain ugly. Dialogue must always “sound” right and flow with a natural rhythm.

So there’s some aesthetic enthusiasm in the mix, but I wouldn’t call it my reason for writing in the first place.

When I was a newspaper reporter, the historical impulse was by far my strongest motive for that particular type of writing. My job was to present people and events as they were, and to provide readers with enough information to help them form their own conclusions. It was never my place to tell them what to think.

With fiction, and especially superhero fantasy fiction, I’m obviously not presenting factual accounts or even slice-of-life drama. But I do strive to present human nature as it is—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And stories of superheroes and supervillains can tell us quite a bit about ourselves. It’s no surprise that superhero origin stories are often great coming-of-age stories, too.

In The Flying Woman, a young woman acquires powers she never expected, and she has to figure out how to become this perfect superhero even though she knows she’s nowhere near perfect. Effectively, she has to figure out how to become the adult she needs to be. The development of a superhero, then, is another way to show how a person matures.

So maybe that’s not quite a “historical” impulse, but it’s adjacent.

And then there’s political purpose. I generally steer clear of this, as I believe partisan politics and fiction don’t mix (though perhaps that is a type of a political opinion).

Writing a female superhero lead might get me involved in current issues of representation in entertainment. Maybe I’m just looking through rose-colored glasses thanks to a youth of reading X-Men and watching Star Trek, but to me, a female superhero already seemed every bit as natural as a male superhero. As I type that, I worry that I sound like I’m pandering, when that’s the last thing I want to do.

In my mind, the way to reduce any disparities in representation is simply by writing (for example) a female lead in a matter-of-fact way, without any overt agenda. I wrote Miranda as a person first and foremost, not a “strong female superhero protagonist.” I focused less on issues that are unique to women today and more on issues that are common to both men and women—fear of failure, accepting responsibility, new responsibilities conflicting with previous ambitions, striving to live up to others’ expectations, and so on—the universal, timeless issues where we can find common ground, not the contemporary identity politics that can divide us … the broader human nature that I mentioned earlier.

So I wrote a non-political female superhero. The statement is that it shouldn’t be a statement. Is that political in a roundabout way? Anti-politics as a type of politics? I’ll let others decide.

That wraps up Orwell’s four motives, but I’ll add one of my own: the joy of creation, of building something new.

Sure, I’ve drawn on elements already present in the culture—established conventions of the superhero genre, themes others have previously tackled, tried-and-true plot structure, and so on. But I assembled those pieces in my own unique way, to create something that only I would have created.

There’s nothing like that thrill, though maybe this is just another form of egoism. Who am I to argue with Orwell?

Originally posted at Silver Dagger Book Tours.

A ‘Terrific’ Prologue

Prologues are tricky. They must abide by a certain set of rules: be concise, don’t drown the reader in tedious information, make sure something happens, and adopt a viewpoint other than your protagonist’s. Basically, a prologue must act like the teaser before a television show’s opening credits.

I wasn’t originally planning on using a prologue in Terrific, my upcoming novel featuring the world’s greatest superhero — Mighty Woman! But then I realized it could provide an effective way of introducing the villain and laying the foundation for her arc.

The results are below. It’s still rough, unedited, and very much a work in progress, and you may well spot a typo or five. But it is evidence that, yes, I do remain hard at work on this thing. Plus, I feel like sharing something. So here we go…

*****

Copyright 2016 Daniel R. Sherrier

Terrific

Prologue

Doctor Death Junior was a cackler. This child who had barely entered her teens deigned herself worthy of succeeding the greatest genius who ever lived. Dumb luck alone granted her the opportunity.

Graffiti was her hobby, and a police officer had caught her in the act of “painting” beneath a highway bridge. While eluding arrest, she stumbled upon Doctor Death’s subterranean lair, where an unavoidable lack of maintenance had degraded the security system, granting the juvenile delinquent access to the arsenal of a superior intellect. But acquiring his tools did not mean she acquired a sufficient understanding of his mission. Therefore, Doctor Death Junior became one of the ridiculous ones, yet another narcissistic super-villain who wreaked pointless havoc for no grander purpose than her own inane entertainment. She purloined the infamous name of Doctor Death for escapist fantasy.

Clarissa needed to kill the pretender. Her father would have wanted it that way. Continue reading

Do women or men write better?

I never gave much thought to the question, but maybe a helpful infographic will come along and shed some light…

Oh, look. Here’s one, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood grammar checker, Grammarly.

MenvsWomen_Writers_infographicHonestly, I usually stay away from the battle of the sexes. (I come from a female-dominated family, majored in theatre, and work in an otherwise all-female office. I’d lose.) The above can be a fun statistical experiment, but it ultimately emphasizes generalizations and de-emphasizes the outliers. Lots of men and women are great writers. Lots of men and women are terrible writers. The bottom-line data says 59 percent of men and women believe women write better, which isn’t a huge margin and suggests gender is not a great predictor of a writer’s quality.

The data on sentences did jump out at me, however. Over 75 percent of women are more likely to write long, descriptive sentences vs. about 34 percent of men. That’s a statistically significant difference, and it backs up a trend in my dialogue. My female characters tend to be more verbose or prone to rambling, whereas my male characters use fewer words. Just compare Serissa and Rip in RIP. But there are exceptions, like the terse Mariana in Earths in Space. Don’t want to neglect the outliers.

I love writing those chatty women, probably because I’m not at all chatty. It’s a nice change of pace.

I don’t know if women or men are better writers. I don’t think the question matters all that much. But one thing I do know—men in general can do a better job of writing female characters.

Trust me, guys. It’s fun. And it’s not as hard as you might think, because you’re still just writing people…just potentially chattier people who are more likely to write long, descriptive sentences (but not necessarily!).

Hermione could’ve been a great lead in ‘Harry Potter’

Buzzfeed posted an article titled “If Hermione Were The Main Character In Harry Potter.”Hermione-Granger-hermione-granger-26743720-960-1280

When I saw the headline, I was expecting a story about a muggle-born witch rising out of humble beginnings to achieve greatness no one ever would have expected of her. Maybe Hermione would even going so far as to defy the prophecies surrounding “The Boy Who Lived” that everyone around her was taking so much stock in, and she’d be the one to defeat Voldemort, not Harry, because she built herself into a person capable of doing so, to heck with whatever was preordained when they were babies.

That could be a great self-made person story — and it would serve the cause of gender equality better than that Buzzfeed article about Hermione vs. The Patriarchy (though I don’t recall the actual Harry Potter series being sexist — after all, it gave us Hermione).

I get what the article is trying to do, but if that were an actual series, it would read like the feminist equivalent of Atlas Shrugged. On-the-nose preaching just doesn’t work as entertainment, and preaching doesn’t change minds. Show, don’t tell.

Rules

I just started re-watching Veronica Mars, and I noticed something about the pilot.vmars1

It’s loaded with exposition, voice-over narration, and flashbacks — three things screenwriting experts say don’t do. And yet it works. It’s not the show’s greatest episode, but it succeeds in getting us interested in this world and situation (well, enough of us to make a movie possible several years later).

On the other hand, when the Green Lantern movie opened with voice-over exposition, I knew we were in trouble.

The lesson: Break rules skillfully, but do not break rules awkwardly. (And people say adverbs never amount to anything.)

That’s a Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman’s a tough character to get right, but Rainfall Films has produced an impressive short film starring the world’s most recognizable super-heroine:

I’d be interested in learning more about that Wonder Woman.

In any case, this film is a great of example of letting images tell the story. Presenting a clear picture often beats long passages of flowery prose discussing what the character is feeling. Sometimes introspection works great, but other times a character’s actions show us much more about the person.

Editing discount

Writers need editors. Even the best writers do. If you’re an author, you know this. You probably have a little voice in your head telling you to hire a professional editor to take your manuscript to the next level.

Another voice, however, is probably nagging you about how expensive editing services can run. So here’s a potential solution. For the next week, through Oct. 3, I’m dropping my editing fee down to $5 per 1,000 words. (It’s normally $6 per 1,000 — still relatively low.)

How will you know I’m the right person for the job? Just send me the first five pages, and I’ll edit them for free. You’ll see firsthand how I work. Even if your project isn’t quite ready for editing, I can do those five pages now and lock you in at the discounted rate.

As an indie author myself, I have a vested interest in helping improve the quality of all books, indie and traditional, so I’m already rooting for your book to be the best it can be. The book market isn’t a zero-sum game. The more good books that exist, the more books people will buy. And if more “unknown” authors are producing books of exceptional quality, then the probability of discovery increases for more “unknown” authors.

I want to help you.

You can read more about my editing services here.

Any questions? Please contact me at daniel@sherrierbooks.com or my Facebook page.

Perseverance

Last week, I finally completed a full draft of the third novella in the Earths in Space series.

I had been struggling with it since January, and I took several lengthy breaks to work on other projects, primarily the RIP series (Volume 1: Choices After Death coming soon!). Each time I returned to the story, it never quite felt right. It had some good moments, yes — enough to motivate me to keep going with it.

The story needed to happen. I knew that, especially since I had already written drafts of the fourth and fifth novellas and most of the sixth. There were holes in character development that needed filling. The crew needed one more story before the events in Episode Four.

But I kept making mistakes in execution. The plot involves a zombie-like threat in a space ark that gets snagged in Pluto’s orbit. I didn’t want to do the usual zombies, though. The Walking Dead does great zombies, and I don’t have anything to add to that type of living dead, flesh-eating monster. I wanted a new type of living dead monster — one that eats energy. Continue reading

A benefit of writing and reading

I had a random thought last night:

A beneficial side-effect of creative writing and reading is getting into heads and points-of-view that aren’t your own.

Understanding other people’s perspectives is an essential life skill. It leads to empathy, compassion, and tolerance, and it reduces the number of times someone angrily says, “How can anyone in their right mind think X?!?!?”

Good writers allow their characters to express views the writers themselves don’t believe. This is vital. The good guys can’t all have identical worldviews. There can be some common ground, but distinctions need to be drawn. And would you want to read a book in which all the sympathetic characters appear to be mouthpieces for the author’s opinions? Continue reading

How not to write a bad review

Not everyone likes everything, and that’s fine. There is no such thing as a flawless work of entertainment, whether it’s a book, movie, play, or TV show.

The world is vast and complex, and we each perceive it from a different angle. We notice things others miss, and other people notice things we miss.

A movie’s flaws might grate on certain audience members, diminishing or eliminating their enjoyment. Someone else in the same theater might be willing to forgive those flaws, and other people might not even notice those flaws because other aspects of the film are dazzling enough to distract them. And others might still find those flaws grating, but they’ll put up with them because they enjoy other qualities within the movie.

This has nothing to do with intelligence. Everyone’s just looking at the movie differently based on their unique life experiences leading up to that point.

Some things appeal to larger numbers of people, but nothing appeals to everyone and it’s okay to express that opinion.

The key, however, is remembering that it’s just an opinion. Continue reading