Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Three Thoughts... from Other Writers, Part II

Three Thoughts… from Other Writers, part II
By Brad R. Cook

Last week, I posted three thoughts from other authors about writing. I liked it so much I wanted to do it again. This time, though, to honor Black History Month, I bring the sage advice of three of my favorite African-American Authors – Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, and Octavia Butler.

1 – “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. 
– Zora Neale Hurston







2 – “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. 
– Maya Angelou







3 – “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice. – Octavia Butler




I will never forget reading Their Eyes Are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston in high school, it was the first book to really touch my soul, and taught me the power of books. Maya Angelou is one of my favorite poets. Her work taught me how words should flow. I was never much of a poet until I started reading her poems. I’ll never write poetry like her, but when I do, I try to channel her power. I will admit that I am new to Octavia Butler, I knew of her, of course, but I didn’t really learn about her until a recent Write Pack Radio episode honoring her life. She is an amazing lady and author, and her books are now in my to-be-read pile. But this quote speaks to me as a writer, and so I pass it on to you.

One more just for fun, he isn’t American so I didn’t include him in the official three but here is a great quote from Dumas. Something to remember about all the advice you’ll find online.  “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” – Alexandre Dumas



Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Three Thoughts... from Other Writers

Three Thoughts… from Other Writers
By Brad R. Cook

I’ve been bringing you my thoughts on writing, so this week I thought I’d share what other writers think about the craft. Here are three different authors advice on writing – in convenient graphic form. By the way, there are hundreds of these on the internet. I’m a big fan of them, and I will post these as my background to remind me that all writers have similar struggles.

1 – I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. – Joss Whedon
















2 – Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov

















3 – If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.   
– Elmore Leonard












What is your favorite writing mantra from a famous author? Let us know in the comments.


Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Three Thoughts about… Dialog Tags

Three Thoughts about… Dialog Tags
By Brad R. Cook

They’re the tiny little sentences that let us know who is talking. Dialog tags should be the easiest part of writing, but are difficult to master. Writers try to be clever. Turning these tags into everything from the purplest of prose, to the repetitive monotony of He said / She said.


1 – Said is Not Dead
There is nothing wrong with just using He Said / She Said / I Said. The reader should be focused on the dialog not the tag, because that is where the story is happening. There are memes out there filled with other words to use like… He espoused, She remarked, I exclaimed… there are hundreds of adverbs you can add like He said loudly, She asked excitedly, I hurriedly replied… but all of these are unnecessary. Here’s the secret – Said is invisible – readers pass right over the word without pausing. The reader should be paying attention to the conversation and the tag is just there to let them know who is talking, especially if there are more than two characters in the room. Just use said, and wow the reader with an amazing conversation.

2 – Action is Better
Another way to avoid a page full of He Said / She Said / I Said is to use action to let the reader know who is talking. Actions also fill in the gaps between lines of dialog. Rarely do people just stand around talking without moving. We flip through our phones, cross the room, fiddle with our clothes, scratch our faces, or any number of actions that will help push the story along. If you want you can even combine 1 & 2… “*Dialog*,” he said, crossing the room to pick up his phone… or just say, He crossed the room and snatched his phone, “*Dialog*.”

3 – Tags Aren’t Needed
Here’s the real trick, when you have mastered dialog, you might not even need a tag. If there are only two characters in the scene then every line won’t need a tag. Establish the order and the reader will be able to follow the back and forth. However, if each character has a distinctive voice, either through an accent, or easily identifiable speech pattern, then the reader will know who said what from the dialog. Or you can just be like Hemingway and refuse to use them.  

“I hope this helps,” he said. “You may have a preferred way of using dialog,” he said, knowing everyone writes differently. His lip turned up in a slight smirk, “let us know your go-to dialog tag, or preferred method of identifying characters, in the comments.”


A quick note about Dialogue vs. Dialog:
I chose to use dialog because when I talk about dialog tags it's my preferred word. Not sure why, but it is. If I were talking about opening a dialogue between two people, I would use dialogue. I get that this is part of the British English vs. American English phenomenon. But as they say, the point is not which one you use, but to be consistent. Feel free to sound off about dialogue vs. dialog in the comments.  




Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Three Thoughts About… Swords and Swordfights

Three Thoughts About… Swords and Swordfights
By Brad R. Cook

Every book has one… don’t they? Every book should have at least one, it’s a sword, and swords are awesome. And if you have a sword, more than likely one of the characters is going to want to fight with it. Here are a few tips on swords, and how to use them.

A short bio about me, first, almost every book I’ve ever written has had a sword. Not that having them in books qualifies me or anything. I started swinging them when I first picked up a lightsaber years ago, but I officially started at thirteen when I learned to fence. I’ve never set down my sword, and today, I even give workshops on sword-fighting. I’ve studied many forms and styles from medieval broadswords to the katana, from sabers and rapiers, to great swords and the gladius.

Three things to remember about the weapon itself:
1 – Different types of swords are used in different ways
A rapier is a thrusting sword, the point is to drive the tip into the opponent, whereas a katana is slashing weapon and the goal is to slice through the opponent. The way a warrior holds the sword, they way they stand and move will be different for each weapon. If you have a Musketeer slicing through the limbs of all the Cardinal’s men, I will write an angry letter.

2 – When a sword hits another sword it dulls the blade
Hollywood has given us the classic image of two swordmasters clashing in combat. Swords flying about making whooshing sounds and clanking in a flurry of strikes – but I love Errol Flynn movies too. Reality is a little different. In real life when one blade strikes another it nicks the blade, dulling the edge, and gouging metal out of the sword. Some blades have thicker duller areas along the blade for parrying; other styles of sword fighting put an emphasis on not hitting the blade but finding an opening in the opponent’s defense. Just know that a swordsman might have to get a new sword, or at least get his sword sharpened after major battles.

3 – Swords are made in different ways
Some swords are poured, as liquid metal is fed into a mold, and once cooled the mold is broken open to reveal the sword. Some swords are hammered, as a piece of steel is drawn out to a certain length and sharpened. Some are truly forged, a certain level of carbon is added, the steel is folded to gain strength, and then hammered to a certain length and quenched in water or oil. Some swords are flexible, bending and snapping back into place. Others are rigid and designed to punch through armor. Knowing how a sword was made will give insight on how it can be used, how it will act in a fight.


Three things to remember about sword fights:

1 – The terrain or setting is an important as the swords
Where a sword fight is set has such an influence on the way a duel unfolds. One of the things I loved about Highlander, the movies and the TV show was the varying locations they used for their duels. Uneven terrain means the fighters will have to watch their footing; high ground becomes important to the style of fight used. A long corridor will prevent circling an opponent, whereas an open courtyard will give warriors a chance to move around. Think about where you set a sword fight, and make it part of the scene. Let the location be a character in the scene.

2 – Sword fights don’t last that long, and have little dialog
I love The Princess Bride, the duel between Inigo and the Man in Black is one of the best sword fights in cinema. But, it’s kind of long especially for a guy who just scaled a cliff, and they talk through the whole thing. I’m not saying people don’t talk but as a friend of mine often demonstrates, try having a conversation while running at top speed. Sword fights are very physical and stressful events. Wit is usually for before the fight to psyche out an opponent. Sword fights take concentration and focus. Because they are so physical, and because swords can dull or break in a fight, they tend not to last for hours. A fencing match is five minutes long. There is a Japanese art that focuses on killing from the draw. I’ve always liked the duel in The 13th Warrior, it is brutal, several shields are destroyed, the talking is in the lull of the fight, and the whole scene is only a few minutes long – it has a great ending too.

3 – Sword fights are all about openings in an opponent’s defense

For writers who find themselves crafting a duel, I give this piece of advice – focus on finding the openings. Every duel is a waiting game. Every strike, slash, and thrust is a way to pull the opponents sword away to create an opening in their defense. Once an opening is spotted the hero can thrust or slice, making contact and ending the duel. Battering through an opponent’s defense is certainly a strategy, but I guarantee in doing so the aggressor is leaving a weak spot in their defense that can be exploited. In fencing or dueling often a point is scored, or first blood is drawn, by feigning a thrust to one side, drawing the opponent’s sword over to parry. Then dropping the blade, slipping over to another line, and driving the blade through their defense and into the opponent’s chest. Don’t focus on beating through the other sword, but finding an opening and using it to gain victory.

I hope these tips help with the next sword fight you find yourself writing.




Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  He currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/