Make it count!

We must get inside the minds of our readers and determine how to present our arguments so as to have this effect.

Arguably, being a writer of opinion pieces has never been a more accessible venture. With access to a multitude of social media, blogging sites, and online publications that welcome submissions from all, we have more scope than ever to give voice to our beliefs. And provided we do this wisely, this can only be a good thing. But although our opportunities are seemingly endless, we should never take them for granted. We should make each piece we publish count, making sure it is as strong as possible. After all, if we truly believe our opinions are important, why wouldn’t we want to present them in the best possible way whenever the chance arises?

Alas, I’ve seen enough opinion pieces that could be so much more persuasive and meaningful to note that there are a few mistakes that writers seem to make often. Whether we realise it or not, here are few aspects of our writing we should really take notice of in order to make our pieces shine.

The first aspect is register – which simply refers to how formal or informal our language is. When we have a large vocabulary and a good command of our language, it is easy to assume that the most sophisticated use of it will show that we are “proper writers”. However, it is more important to use language that is going to be easily understood by our audience and will lead them to feel as though we understand them as people. It is important to realise that the language we use says a lot about who we are.

Consider this, for example: a journalist is writing an article for a youth magazine, advising teenagers on how to best avoid drug addiction. If they were to use the same register that a conservative, middle-aged Oxford scholar with a PhD in English might naturally use, two main reactions would likely occur. First, the audience would probably not understand what the writer was actually trying to say, as they would be unlikely to have been educated in that kind of language use. Second, they would not find the article credible, because using that language towards an audience that does not also use it alienates them: it says that the writer feels superior to them, and hence it makes it difficult to believe that they could possibly know anything about the issues the readers face, considering that they are trying to separate themselves.

However, if they were to use language closer to that which the audience would use amongst themselves – perhaps without the swearing – it would make them sound as though they were in tune with that audience’s culture, and hence it would be believable that they should understand it.

I saw a good example of this mistake not too long ago. I wrote an article for the youth publication Childhood Road about the negative consequences of teenagers “experimenting” with romantic relationships (read it here). In response to this, a fellow writer wrote a response arguing why I was completely wrong (read it here). Now, whether I was “right” or “wrong”, or whether my writing itself was of any value, is for the audience to decide. What I can say, however, is that the response sounded incredibly pompous; clearly, the writer did not consider that his audience consisted of teenagers, who may well have felt condescended by him in the same way that he claimed they would have when reading my own article.

The second step we can take to improving our writing is a rather simple one: getting to the point. I have seen no shortage of opinion pieces which ramble on without ever actually stating clearly what the writer’s opinion is. Often, writers seem to use a sarcastic or cheeky tone, or mock the person or idea that they are arguing against. They may also make the first mistake mentioned, using language or “sayings” that readers may not understand – or even making jokes that they would not get. Such writers risk not getting their point across to the audience, hence they have wasted an opportunity to write on something important to them. However, they also risk coming across as too shy to state what their opinion is, or as not taking the issue seriously enough to write on it clearly. Seeing as the opinion appears to have been deliberately hidden, it also risks giving the impression that the writer does not want anyone to argue with them.

Take this article, for example. In particular, pay attention to passages such as this:

Et voila.

Tony Abbott’s latest round of hypocritical attention seeking is his renewed call for Malcolm Turnbull to abolish the Renewable Energy Target, which he chose to reduce but not abolish when prime minister. (I really need that thinking face emoji right here.)

What exactly does the writer mean by “et voila” and “thinking face emoji”? I know what these mean literally (“et voila” is French and essentially means “and there you go”, and an “emoji” is one of those little graphics that you use in text messages and online chat of different faces representing different emotions), but what is she trying to say? While she clearly has opinions on certain people and issues, she has not concisely stated them. To me, this piece feels incomplete, as though she is too afraid to come right out and say how she feels.

Now read this article. It states the writer’s opinion in the first sentence. It’s direct and it does what it’s meant to do. When we write an opinion piece, it is because we believe our opinions are important enough to be heard. So what’s the point of writing if our opinions are still not known?

As opinion writers, our aim will most likely be to change the way people think about a particular issue. To do this, we must get inside the minds of our readers and determine how to present our arguments so as to have this effect. Using the language that our readers identify with and understand, and making our opinions as obvious as possible, are two of the most crucial factors in making sure our pieces count.

Note: other articles referenced in this article have been written by Andrew Bolt, Latika Bourke and Ian Hughes. I do not own the copyright to any of the content in said articles written by said third parties. Reference to any material created by third parties does not constitute my endorsement of those parties or their opinions, nor does it constitute my endorsement, or lack thereof, of those third parties themselves.

This post is contributed as Guest post by John Cuturilo.

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How to Write Great Fight Scenes

So, in case you’re interested, here’s my advice on how to write a great fight scene.

I did a reading of my latest novel,  AMONG THIEVES, at the wonderful BookCourt in Brooklyn.  After the reading, we had a Q & A session.  One of the audience members was Dave King, an acclaimed writer of literary fiction best known for his novel The Ha-Ha.   Dave surprised me with his question: “How do you write such great fight scenes?”

Actually, I’ve been told by quite a few readers of my novels that I write the best fight scenes they’ve ever read.  I agree if I do say so myself.  But maybe that’s faint praise, because I do believe many successful thriller writers don’t write very good fight scenes.

So, in case you’re interested, here’s my advice on how to write a great fight scene.

1.  Get Into a Fight.
I know that sounds completely impractical, but hear me out.   This isn’t as dangerous as it sounds. I’m not talking about joining Fight Club.  There’s a safe way to do this.  Chances are there’s a martial arts dojo or boxing gym near you where you can train until you are able to safely spar with another individual.  It won’t take long for you to learn that:

  • Everything happens much faster than you ever imagined.
    Even pros can’t see every punch coming, or always hit a moving target.  Everything happens incredibly fast.  Most real fights last only seconds.  Experiencing the speed and pace of a fight will definitely help you write better fight scenes.
  • Fighting is exhausting.
    Even if you think you’re in great shape, you’ll see how quickly you run out of steam in a fight.  Just try throwing punches for fifteen seconds without stopping and you’ll get a sense of the effort.
  • The emotions are intense.
    Experiencing the fear, anger, and tension associated with fighting will infuse your fight scenes with passion and excitement.
  • Getting hit isn’t what you thought.
    For many people, when the adrenaline is flowing they don’t feel nearly as much pain as they expected.  Unless a punch or kick hits exactly the right spot, someone can get hit quite a bit and still keep fighting.  Knowing this will help you write much more convincing fight scenes.
  • The aftermath is usually worse than the fight.  Much worse.
    As mentioned above, during a fight, you’ll only feel a fraction of what the fight does to you.  If you experience what it feels like in the minutes, hours, and days after a fight, you’ll write with a more realistic perspective.

2.  Watch  Fights, In Person, if Possible.
It’s not hard to find a sanctioned amateur or pro fight event near you.  Even if you do this only once or twice, it’ll make a big difference in how you write fight scenes.  Matches usually progress from the less skilled fighters to the best fighters. It’s very informative to see how the action unfolds as you progress toward the featured fight.  It’s helpful to see all levels of skill.  Try to sit as close as you can. Hearing is a big part of seeing a fight.

If you ever get a chance to see a street fight, without getting involved, steel yourself and watch. Witnessing violence isn’t pleasant, but it’s extremely revelatory.  There’s a very good chance alcohol is a factor.  That’s something you should also understand.

If you can’t or don’t want to bring yourself to see a live fight, do the next best thing and watch broadcasts of fights.  There are literally hundreds of boxing and martial arts matches of all kinds on cable and even network TV.   Take the time.  Watch carefully.  Listen to the commentary.  You’ll be surprised how often what you see is not what you’re hearing from various announcers.

And don’t forget there are thousands of fights and exhibitions you can watch and study on YouTube.

3.  If You Can’t Be in a Fight, or See a Fight, Read About Fighting.
Of course, reading applies to anything you want to learn about.  Here are some of the books on my shelf that have hung around over the years:

  • The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

  • Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out!  Knife Fighting Techniques from Folsom Prison, by Don Pentecost

  • Black Medicine Volume III Low Blows, by N. Mashiro, Ph.D.

  • Gouzao Gongji, Seven Neurological Attacks for Inflicting Serious Damage, by Master Hei Long

  • A Bouncer’s Guide to Barroom Brawling, Dealing with the Sucker Puncher, Streetfighter, and Ambusher, by Peyton Quinn.

  • Atlas. From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle to Become a Man, by Teddy Atlas and Peter Alson.

There’s nothing unusual about advising someone to read up on a subject.  But there’s another benefit to absorbing technical information about fighting – – you’ll find out how you feel about fighting.  Maybe you’ll discover that the mechanics of fighting bore you.  Or fascinate you.  Or make you wince.  These realizations will inform how you want to write your fight scenes.

4.  Get the Facts Right.
It’s always disheartening to read fight scenes where a huge amount of damage is inflicted and the victim pretty much shrugs it off.  For instance, let’s consider the reality of the common punch to the jaw.

Many years ago, I worked on the trauma ward at Bellevue Hospital.  (Not as a doctor.) Every Monday, I would come onto the ward and there would always be one or two guys with a “fractured left mandible”.   A very grim sight.  Particularly when I saw what they had to do to fix it.  Why on Mondays?  And why the left mandible?  Because more drunken fights took place on the weekends, and most people are right-handed.  A right fist lands on the left side of the jaw.  It didn’t take very many Mondays for me to realize how easily a jaw breaks, and how difficult it is to repair it.

Nowadays, thanks to the internet, there are much easier ways to learn about trauma so there’s no excuse for not knowing the realities of fight injuries.  For instance, I just Googled “fractured mandible” and in eight seconds found a picture showing the frequency of mandibular fractures by location.  Fascinating.  The most fractures (30%) occur in the worst place.  A few more minutes of searching uncovered detailed accounts of treatments, x-rays, 3-D renditions, complications involving aligning teeth, etc.

Finding out information like this will help you feel the reality of fighting both physically and emotionally, and that will make your readers feel it, too.  You’ll also be less flippant about fight scenes.

5.  Every Fight Should Be True to the Characters in the Fight.
This might be the most important tip.

Everything in the fight scene has to happen in a way consistent with your characters’ personalities, attitudes, and capabilities.  The more interesting the character, the more interesting the fight.  If you find your character in a clichéd fight, you probably have a clichéd character.

For example, the first fight in my book AMONG THIEVES begins with my protagonist, James Beck, running away from an opponent who is bigger, stronger, and tougher.  Not because Beck is a coward, but because he is a master of strategy.  Making the fight true to Beck’s character made it a more interesting fight, and in turn helped reveal more of his character.

Here’s another example… a character in “Justified” on FX, is named Choo Choo.  Why Choo Choo?  Because when he comes at you, it’s like being hit by a train.

Now that might sound like the beginning of a cliché.  But when we finally see Choo Choo in action, it’s in a scene where he and his partner are about to torture someone to get important information. Choo Choo’s partner tells him to hit the guy with a “starter punch”.  Choo Choo hits the man so hard that he kills him.  One punch.  (Yes, that is possible.)

His partner is furious because now he can’t learn anything.  He yells at Choo Choo about hitting the guy so hard. Choo Choo says, “If you didn’t want him Amtraked, you should have hit him yourself”.

True to character.  Beautiful.

Thanks for reading this post.  I hope you found it helpful.​

This post is contributed as Guest post by John Clarkson.

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You Are An Author: Keep moving forward and remain steadfast!

This poem was written to encourage authors to keep moving forward and remain steadfast!

As a budding author, I have found myself wondering who I really am because I am constantly thinking of new ideas to change the world through my art and craft, which produces words. This poem was written to encourage authors to keep moving forward and remain steadfast!

Who are you?

Do you even know?

Our MINDS are like the shadows of lost souls; it wanders  & creates art!

Our HEARTS are like warm butter dripping from the surface of a gas stove; it melts for others.

Our FEARS are transparent like blurred lines fading away on rigid notebook paper; they are non-existent.

Our FATE is like a river that flows constantly downstream; its never ending and immeasurable.

Our WORK is like the process of a growing fetus; it produces new life.

Our WORDS are like colors found inside of a rainbow; they give life.

Now, who are you?


This post is contributed as Guest post by Candida Akins.

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Interacting With Authors On Twitter

Twitter is a great tool, not just for promoting your work, but also for communicating with other authors. It is the perfect way to put yourself out there.

Most, if not all, living authors use Twitter. Twitter is a great tool for reaching out and speaking with other authors as well as publishers. When an author-for example, Lois Lowry-sees an enthusiastic tweet tagging them and praising their amazing talent, they tend to respond. This is not to say, “go kiss up to famous authors,” (although that helps, too ), but rather to put yourself in the light. When an author tweets back to you, other followers and authors see it and that leads them to your work.

Let’s face it, JK Rowling isn’t going to see a single tweet that says, “hey girl! I love your work!” She gets that all the time. Use Twitter as if it is still your Microsoft word, Google docs, PDF, whatever! Say inspired things, tweet often, and tag other authors when it’s relevent. Rowling may not see your “hey girl” tweet, but she may just see a response to her already posted tweet if it is something that came from the heart. More than that, she may even respond or retweet, starting a possible conversation. I gained a lot of followers on my personal Twitter for a response to a tweet that I tweeted from the heart:

Twitter is a great tool to use to become known and recognised and very well may earn you some street cred. Of you’re looking to be recognised as an author, it’s probably best to do these things from your author page rather than your personal one like I did. Remember, people like JK Rowling have A LOT of tweets to skim through each day, if you want to be noticed, say something worth hearing. Also, images help because they’re noticable.

And remember, #usehashtags

This post is contributed as Guest post by Violet Voright.

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An Author’s Voice: The Verb Vixen

Your voice is what makes your writing yours. Take a pilgrimage to discover it, take a road that no one has told you about, including me. You have choices. Choose.

I have a bookcase dedicated to my writing obsession. Some of the books and guides go back 25 years, but the information isn’t stale. It’s as relevant now as it was when I had stars in my eyes and relished every “A” I earned in my college English classes. I’m still a little like that but the stars have mellowed into planets, goals that are less glamorous and more practical.

My classmates liked to call me The Verb Vixen. I love active verbs. English is full of action verbs and it is our job as authors to find that perfect word, to slip it into  a sentence and watch portions of a reader’s brain light up with clarity and perhaps even epiphany. As we critiqued each other’s chapters and prose, expectations from my penning in the margins included a few verbs to try out in place of a lackluster “there was”.

In fact, the best advice I ever read came from Lucile Vaughan Payne’s “The Lively Art of Writing”, a book first published (and as my dog-eared copy will confirm) at least fifty years ago.

“Don’t use the word there – ever.”

Easier said than done, but it’s one of my favorite personal rules that I adhere to religiously. I run my documents through the “find” feature and if it actually does find that I’ve slipped in a “there”, I will rip it out and find another method for expression. Of course, the word is perfectly acceptable in social circles, litigious documents, and high school essays. It’s also very difficult to rework “It’s over there,” but it can be done “It’s on the table”.

Take a look at these examples you will find in most beginning writers’ works.

There was a noise. There was a creaking sound. There was a fight.  YAWN.

A bell rang. A door creaked. A fight erupted. See how The Verb Vixen has slaughtered your prose? I apologize. Work, you say? If you aren’t giving your all to give readers a reason to read, hang up your pen. This editing, this challenge, is the very heart of an author’s voice, their style, the difference between a text book of information and a long novel full of emotional adventures. Strive for clarity, reach for diversity, splatter words on your pages that make a difference between okay writing and spectacular story telling.

No need to find words that few people have ever heard. That’s being pretentious and condescending. You must also vary your verbs. How many different ways can you describe a person taking a walk? Don’t put an adverb with “walk” and call it done. A person can walk quickly or slowly. A person can also stroll, stride, lumber, sprint, step, stumble, drag, jog, and those are what came out of my head. If I pick up a thesaurus, I’ll find more interesting and archaic words like trod, trek, stomp, march, troop, wander, mosey, storm, flounce, saunter, hike, trek … you get the idea.

In developing your unique voice, you may desire a mix in your sentence structures, a heavy or light employment pronouns, and groove into a comfortable point of view for all your characters. You may notice that I have actively neglected to use the phrase “in my opinion” or some other similar nonsense. Of course it’s my opinion! I’m writing it. I also am strict about unique adjectives like “unique.” A thing cannot be “very unique”. It is either unique or it’s not. Watch out for such sloppy writing. It’s inexcusable. If that’s what you plan to do, go write scripts for television newscasters, but please excuse yourself from the fiction market and save the rest of us hours of agony tramping through useless words on the page.

Punctuation matters; it could save lives. “Did the cat eat Mary?” or “Did the cat eat, Mary?” Know your homonyms and brush up on contractions. Those are my knuckle rappers to you or besides a visit from a verb vixen you may have to confront a grammar Nazi, too.

Find your voice. Seek it out. What stands out in your writing? Do you love the first person point of view? Can you write in true omniscient, a POV not often used in the last few decades? Do you use the word toward or towards? Both are correct, so pick one and stick with it, at least throughout a single project. Your voice is what makes your writing yours. Take a pilgrimage to discover it, take a road that no one has told you about, including me.  You have choices. Choose.

This post is contributed as Guest post by H. S. Rivney.

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