How to Avoid Lazy Writing

One of my ultimate pet peeves when it comes to pretty much any book, TV show, movie or even cartoon is lazy writing. But what exactly is lazy writing? When I say lazy writing, I’m not talking about missing a coma or repeating a word too many times. While those things might be irritating, it would only apply to books or any written material. No, what I mean is that the writers of the book, show, etc had a situation that they wanted and so they forced the situation to happen, whether or not it SHOULD happen. Lazy writing to me also can mean that the writers chose to go with a known cliche that was so obvious the audience is literally able to call it way in advance from the “reveal”.

One of my favorite, or least favorite in this case, examples of this is the show Hawaii Five-0. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the show most of the time or at least find it compelling enough most of the time to sit through the almost hour long episodes, but it is utterly chalk full of lazy writing.

Take the main character, McGarrett. He’s a freaking trained Navy Seal. And what happens in Episode 19 Season 5? He somehow lets himself get holed up in a barber shop, low on ammo and completely surrounded by thugs hell bent on killing him and a guy that they are trying to murder. Okay, wait, surely I don’t mean that McGarrett should have been able to take down all of those men single handedly just because he’s a Navy Seal? No. But what I am saying is that he should have had the knowledge and training to get them out early through the backdoor before they could be boxed in, having had plenty of warning when the thugs rolled up in their vehicles shooting.

End rant (sorta).

Okay, so, I’m pretty passionate about this lazy writing thing. Obviously. But that’s just one example, right?

Well, unfortunately, I see this time and time again in many different shows, movies, etc. That’s not to say it’s rampant or that any time that you try to show a flaw in a character or something that it’s bad.

But when you have a character and they are a certain way, bending them to fit the needs of your plot often just comes across as insulting. It insults the audience that knows the character. It insults their intelligence and it also at the same time undermines what you’ve been saying this entire time ABOUT the character. Maybe next week McGarrett becomes a clown and starts doing balloon animal making because we needed a comic relief episode.

A bit extreme, but, you get the point, right?

Alright, alright, I’m also picking on Hawaii Five-0 a lot in particular. But one example that seems to be a universal method of lazy writing? Having the tough protagonist or character driving a car during a tense situation and them looking away, only to be immediately struck by a vehicle coming the opposite direction.

Did you just immediately think of an example? Yes… We’ve all seen this scene at least one or two hundred times if you watch anything with action in it. And by now? We can all see this coming a mile away.

How can we avoid this? Being creative is one way but another is not to take the cheap way out. Write your characters to always BE in character no matter what the situation. Sure, they might solve issues more quickly BECAUSE they have all the knowledge and abilities and that might seem to make the climax less appealing, but it’s more true to character. You can then also toss more complex stories at us. Your audience will surely appreciate it and it will also be a breath of fresh air.

Writing Tips & Help: Building Muse

Writer’s block is something that, if you are a writer, you’ve probably encountered a few times.  Whether you like to refer to it as “muse” each person has creative juices that flow through them if you are producing any sort of art form. Sometimes though, it becomes difficult to pump out material, whether it is because you are feeling under the weather, something distracting is going on in your home life or just because you are uninspired. There are several ways that have been written about that work to increase muse, but the ways that I find actually work for me are…

Music: I often find that when I’m struggling to get into the mood of a character of mine, that it helps to find a theme song for them. The theme song often matches their personality with the type of genre and the tone of the music typically has to match what I’d imagine the soundtrack would be like if what I was writing were a movie or television show. Often times, music will start to lose its power, however, if you listen to a song too many times on repeat and it’s necessary to find a similar song or a new one that works for a different scenario. Fortunately, there are no shortages of songs and music out there so it’s just a matter of finding the right one. I will typically listen to the radio in order to discover new songs that might work.

This song is one that I currently use when writing for one of my main characters but it’s one of many I have for them:

Shows/Movies: While you don’t want to be too heavily influenced by other people’s works to the point of wanting to borrow too heavily from them, shows and movies can help to get the creative juices flowing. Often times, if I am really into a story, it might trigger new ideas in my mind for my story including fight scenes, dialogue or just interesting new dynamics. A lot of times, I’m more heavily influenced by shows or movies that I find were poorly done, as my brain likes to try to come up with a solution to make something better, leading too some interesting ideas. One of the shows I watched a long time ago starred Jeff Goldblum and was called Raines. The show was interesting; the plot being about him seeing “ghosts” of victims from crime scenes that he investigated. The idea was awesome, but the ghosts were just figments of his imagination and the show ended very early on. This inspired me, in part, to create my own story where the Detective starts to see real ghosts and interact with them for real, versus mere projections.

Turn Off Distractions: The thing that actually obstructs me the most nowadays is actually the internet. It’s so easy to be sucked into things happening on social media or watching videos, that it’s easy to lose track of whatever story I am working on. In fact, I’ve been in the middle of writing something and ended up watching multiple videos on Youtube. It’s a good idea to turn on some music but then close as many tabs as possible. Find an otherwise comfortable place to hole up and then start typing. I tend to be able to get more done while everyone in the house is asleep as no one is awake that could pull me away from writing. Of course, this leads me to be up late into the night writing on a post or story.

Start Typing: Sometimes, you might not be able to write awe-inspiring material or even something that is the least bit good. You should probably just type it out anyway. If you keep waiting for the perfect moment when you are inspired to build great and amazing things, you might end up waiting so long that you never accomplish a thing. Fortunately, you can almost always go back and edit something that you have written. So why not pound some stuff out and see where it takes you? Often times you could be pleasantly surprised by yourself.

Experiment: If you are stuck on a solution or just on writing in general, try just writing out a scenario and see if it sounds good the way you wrote. Keep trying things by tweaking them until you finally are satisfied with the result.

What things do you do in order to build up your muse when writing?

Writing Tips & Help: Character Development

Starting with a character is great. You’ve come up with the premise for them, understand their personality (hopefully) and have placed them into an environment. Now what? Well, firstly you should already have a character with flaws or a certain perspective on life which is why you develop that personality for them. So, firstly you have to answer what are they like and then toss a problem at them. Often times, this problem could be an obstacle that they are unprepared for or that works against some aspect about them. If you don’t necessarily have a problem that they can’t solve? Well, there are several ways you can pursue developing your character…

Learning a New Trade

Any type of ordinary learning experience is a good way to develop a character. When they are learning something new, they are stretching their brains. For instance, learning how to do a martial art might make someone’s balance better, their mood perhaps calmer or more confident.

Meeting a New Person

When you encounter a new person and hang out with them a lot, some of the things that they say or do will have an influence on you, particularly if you like that person or admire them. If your character is introduced to new individual characters with personality quirks unlike their own, they might pick up on certain things whether or not this is actually their intention. It could even be a person that the character actually dislikes and this character could either be a good or bad influence on them.

Failing at a Solution

It’s okay to let your character fail. Sometimes I see, especially in roleplaying but also with people dreaming of writing their own novel, this strong resistance to letting go of control and an inability to let the character finish at anything less than perfect. Firstly, your character should have flaws at the get-go. No one is perfect and neither is a believable character. Secondly, sometimes they just can’t win. But if you do have your character fail at something, whether it be a battle of strength, wits or just doing their mundane everyday job, make sure that they at least learn from it for the next time (unless your character’s flaw is that they are an imbecile or something which COULD work too). If you have your character in a situation and fail, then a similar situation comes up, they shouldn’t be coming at it like it’s brand new to them. Give them a contingency plan even. There are a lot of well-known characters that have failed at something. Even Sherlock Holmes was outsmarted in a case by Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia”.

Being Blindsided

Okay, well, not necessarily blindsided, per say? But any time you have a character that believes one way about the world, and then is shown something different, you have the chance for character development. A betrayal of a loved one, something supernatural occurring, a death of a loved one, etc could work for this or even something normal like being fired from a job suddenly. Even initially showing disbelief, anger or even refusal to accept it is great but eventually this should lead somewhere to some level of acceptance. For instance, in How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup’s dad utterly refuses to accept anything Hiccup has to say about Dragons. After finally witnessing things up close and personal, he finally comes to realize his son was right and Dragons are not horrible creatures set out to kill all humans.

Whatever you do, however, make sure that at the core, your character is still the same or doesn’t change suddenly for no reason. Wildly changing can also be just as bad as no Character Development at all and is a trope known as Character Derailment.

Do you write? If so, what ways do you go about character development?

Writing Tips & Help: Flawed Characters

When writing, it’s important not to make your character a Mary Sue. This is harped on for a lot for obvious reasons. Having a character that is perfect or able to solve all problems by themselves is not realistic or interesting. In fact, I find it frustrating when I read something where the protagonist is absolutely perfect. This does not mean giving them a flaw or two and then dusting your hands off either. That’s still not believable. For instance, having a character that is beautiful, intelligent, able to solve everything and then is just clumsy is not an offset or a flaw that’s large enough to make up for the other things. That also doesn’t mean making them so irritating that people won’t identify with them or find them enjoyable to read about. This also includes characters for video games, TV and movies.

Some Flaws to Think About:

Naivety

Overly Commanding

Nosey

Lower Intelligence

Loud

Irresponsible

Low Self-esteem

A lot of really well known characters have major character laws that simply define who they are… And also work to drive the plot. These flaws can be mental or physical.

Well-Known Characters and Their Flaws:

Harry Potter: Impulsive

Sherlock Holmes: Egotistical

Peter Pan: Self-Centered, Childish

Finn the Human (Adventure Time): Loud

Jack Sheppard (Lost): Stubborn

Hiccup (How to Train Your Dragon): Lack of Strength

Flaws can be obvious, or present themselves as Character Traits until they become a problem when something arises in the plot of the story. An example would be Peter Pan demanding that Wendy stay and be the mother for himself and the Lost Boys due to him being self-centered. You should always be aware of your character’s flaws and incorporate them into your writing. However, it’s just as important that you don’t ignore your character’s flaws. For instance, knowing that Jack Sheppard is stubborn, it doesn’t make sense for him to easily cave in when he’s got a plan in mind or follow someone else’s lead without a fight. That being said, your character can slowly learn to use their flaws to their advantage or part of their character development could be them moving past one of their flaws and growing as a person.

Do you write? If so, what flaws have you given your characters?

Writing Tips & Help: Painting a Picture

One of the things that I see sometimes when reading stories written from people just starting out, is a failure to paint a picture of the background. What I mean by that, is they are often so focused on presenting their character or how their character operates, that they forget to include details that would give the reader an idea of what things look like. The reader is then left to use their imagination to picture the surroundings or to wonder and become confused later down the road if the writer does add detail.

For instance, if I have a character who is currently in a busy crowded theme park area and they are trying to walk around, the writer might spend a brief sentence to give that background, but neglect adding in other details later of any kind.

Arriving at the theme park, the two detectives noted how crowded it was. They nearly lost each other in the chaos, but Scott spotted Jane behind him and they finally regrouped with each other at the Emporium gift shop.

A sentence like this might be the very extent of the detail given and the writing might continue without ever mentioning it again. That doesn’t mean that the same details should be rehashed or beaten to death or thrown into one giant paragraph of description. Instead, try to space out details and include your character’s movements in the writing.

Arriving at the theme park, the two detectives noted how crowded it was the minute that they were through the turnstiles. After shuffling and worming past several stopped families and nearly tripping right over a stroller that was pushed recklessly into his path, Scott went to turn to speak with Jane, only to realize that she was no longer directly behind him as expected. Instead, a rather plump burly man was standing uncomfortably close to the dark haired gentleman with his unfurled map held closely up to his own face. Scooting backward, Scott managed to find a landmark: a gift shop. Standing just outside of the door, stretching his neck this way and that, he finally spotted his partner in the crowd and began to wave. 

I notice that this happens a lot with fanfiction writing because the writer assumes that the reader already is familiar with the decor and backgrounds and thus skips straight over it though I’ve even noticed this in published works. Adding just a tad more detail to your story can help jazz it up and give realism to it, planting your characters more firmly into the world around them.

Did you find this helpful? What do you struggle with when it comes to writing?

Writing Tips & Help: Name Usage

A lot of times when I am reading something from an amateur writer, such as on a roleplaying forum or even a fanfiction (I don’t read many of the latter), there is a tendency for the writer to overuse either the character’s name or pronouns to describe a character. Instead of constantly referring to a character by name, think of other ways to refer to them.

For instance, I have a character I’ve created that I’ll use for an example. I’ll provide a brief bio for him and then get into the various ways I refer to him in my writing.

Name: Kane

Occupation: Pirate Captain

Hair: Dark Red

Eyes: Ocean Blue

Build: Slender but muscular

Character Traits: Naive, Optimistic & Energetic

 Instead of constantly saying sentences like this:

Kane took a look at the newspaper. Turning the page, he began to skim the sentences. When Kane was finished reading, he set the newspaper down on the counter.

This is just an example, but in these sentences I used Kane’s name and the pronoun, he, twice.

If we jazz it up a little, the sentences would sound like this:

The Pirate Captain took a look at the newspaper. Turning the page, blue eyes began to skim the sentences. When the red head was finished reading, he set the newspaper down on the counter.

I didn’t even have to refer to my character one time by his actual name and at the same time, I’m paining a more vivid picture for the reader of what my character looks like. I don’t to write out a long, descriptive paragraph either of how they behave or what they look like, since I scatter these pieces throughout my writing for the reader to pick up on.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ways to refer to your character while writing, maybe take a moment to pause and brainstorm them all on a sheet of paper, while thinking about your character. If you have a handy list, you might be more inclined to use these instead of repeating their name over and over. You can do this with all of the characters involved in what you are writing as well, but make sure that you are consistent and don’t refer to more than one character with the same reference or you could cause the reader to ultimately become confused.

Do you write? If so, what methods do you use to distinguish your character?