What is a Wordsmith, Anyway?

Rii the Wordsmith. I always thought it had a nice ring to it. But what is a wordsmith, anyway?

A smith, dictionary defined, is one who works with metals. A blacksmith would be the guy who makes stuff out of iron and steel and whatnot. And then there’s the goldsmith, who works in gold, usually artful sorts of things. There’s not really such a thing as a leathersmith, or a silksmith, or a plasticsmith. I suppose, if you play Kingdom of Loathing, there’s meatsmithing, but otherwise that’s nonsense. Smithing seems limited to metal.

So why wordsmith?

Words aren’t so different from ore and metal bars. Language can be raw, or it can be refined. One could argue that language is more useful when it’s refined, since it can better express what is desired. Certainly, language is far prettier when refined. And words are weapons, or tools, or protection, or glamor. Words cut as well as any sword. Words can defend against such attacks as plate mail defends against the sword. Words build up others, build up nations, inspire others to action, and destroy.

Language is malleable. The meanings of words are, too, as words are bent into puns and double entendres.

And language is a craft.

Picking just the right word to complete a sentence is like picking just the right jewel to affix into the gold piece, the necklace or crown or earring. Such skill takes knowledge and an eye for beauty…or maybe an ear, in the case of words.

Why wordsmith? Because when I write, I pound out words into sentences. When I polish up, I grind off unneeded words that fly away like little metal shavings. When I put in the finishing touches, I take care with my word choice.  And when I’m done, I’m exhausted.

My first draft, and even my second draft, may not be perfect in prose. But then, if a smith were to provide his own ore, the first step would be to procure said ore, unrefined and ugly. That’s the first draft. The second step would be to refine the ore – but a gold bar is not a beautiful work of art; it’s still, in effect, a raw resource. That’s the second draft. Subsequent drafts, those are the art: pulling the gold into wire, shaping the wire, melding the wire into something of beauty, setting in gems…wordsmithing is an editing skill, primarily.

So what is a Wordsmith? Perhaps not one from whom words flow perfectly on the first try…but by the finished copy, there are no words out of place.

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Mail Bombs

Sorry it’s late, friends – I had an unexpected visit from a couple of friends from out of state. Like, seriously, I heard a knock at the door, was not expecting anyone, and bam, two of my friends from out of state. It was a little distracting.

Which brings us to mail bombs.  Because they asked my husband for our address to surprise me, and said they were sending me a gift. And my husband has the teensiest bit of OCD which is based entirely in obsessing that something bad is going to happen to me. So despite the fact he knows my friends love me, and he worked in the post office for a few weeks and knows sending a mail bomb is incredibly difficult nowadays, when he texted me about getting a package and I was too busy being delighted at unexpected guests to reply, he started to worry that they had sent me a mail bomb.

Remember, he can recognize this obsession is ridiculous and still believe it because that’s OCD.

Anyway it got me thinking about mail bombs and villains sending them. The thing about a mail bomb is that it’s an unexpected surprise of an unpleasant sort. When the hero gets it, they probably have no reason to expect it’s a bomb and will likely just open it. And the thing about bombs is that if you’re holding it when it explodes, there’s really no chance of you making it out of that alive. You’re blown up. Game over.

Really, that should be the case with all bombs in general, supernatural powers aside.

A parceled bomb? Boom. The end.

The thing about bombs is that they’re a cheap shot, which of course your villain would use. Especially a mail bomb surprise.

The thing about a cheap shot is that they’re quite hard to justify a hero’s escape, and the best way to keep your hero alive is to avoid putting him up against things like bombs altogether. However, if it was possible for your villain to do some simple mail bomb and he didn’t, you get the “why didn’t they just shoot Voldemort” kind of problem.

How It Should Have Ended thought he should have been shot, too.

How It Should Have Ended thought he should have been shot, too.

Why didn’t the villain just, y’know, blow up the hero, or otherwise take the cheap shot? Like I mentioned, it’s actually really hard to mail something like a bomb to someone nowadays so if you’re writing modern fiction, it’s not like a mail bomb is a super viable solution that you’d have to worry about. But watch for obvious solutions you’re ignoring because you can’t figure out how your hero survives them. That just makes your villain weak, which makes your hero weak.

If your villain can kill off your hero easily, he needs to do it. And if you can’t afford to kill your hero, you need to come up with a good reason why either your hero survives or an excellent reason why your villain doesn’t try to take the cheap shot. It is possible that your villain could just have a higher moral standard than that, or be psychotic enough to prefer a proper game of cat and mouse.

This guy (Rubicante, Final Fantasy IV) heals you before battle because he wants to fight you at your full strength. He’s weirdly a gentleman that way – it’s not even a hundred percent about his proper battle prowess against yours, it’s in part about being considerate before he kills you.

You don’t ever want your readers or critics wondering, “Well why didn’t he just ____?” I mean, that’s the big thing with LOTR.

You know what I’m talking about. “Why didn’t they just have the eagles fly the ring?”

So look out for an easier way and make sure you have a viable reason as to why either hero or villain didn’t just take it. Especially villains with a cheap shot.

And maybe if it’s just far too easy for your villain to kill your hero…your hero needs to be killed and someone else must rise up or take over. Kill your darlings, Stephen King said – killing the main hero is a unique enough of an occurrence that it could be worth your while to try…and it could be that it’s just what your story needs.

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Villains with a Death Wish

In light of my failing mental health, I thought I might address villains with a death wish.

There’s an important distinction to make between someone who has a death wish and someone who is suicidal. Both have a desire to perish, but “death wish” is often more subtle most of the time – there are other motivations at hand. The death wish might not come out until the villain is in the fray of things and then their reckless behavior could get them killed, and they don’t care – they have a death wish. But they might not go out of their way to get killed either, and if they don’t die, ah, well, maybe next time. Someone who is outright suicidal is going to try to die/be killed and will be sorely disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Their objective is to kill themselves, and their plan is to go and do just that.

You could argue these points but the whole point was to define what I mean so- although, perhaps it might be better to say that a death wish is the spectrum of suicidal drive. So determine how strong the death wish is. However, I do want to make a distinction between a villain with a death wish and a villain who commits suicide for reasons such as avoiding a worse fate, who sacrifices themselves for something like a summoning ritual, or who has a “take you all down with me” mindset.

A death wish is a bit interesting because it can count as a motivation, but as mentioned above, it’s usually not the primary motivation. In a way, death wish is insanity; the basic human instincts urge us to survive at all costs, and insanity is not a motive, so working with a death wish can be a bit tricky. As I’ve defined it, death wish as a motivation isn’t going to involve long-term plans, or perhaps any plans. It’ll be an in-the-moment dictator of behavior.

Why might a villain have a death wish? It might be a vestige of guilt – of the desire to be stopped. It might be a suicidal tendency that’s been pushed aside and ignored but not properly addressed nor healed – with a root in depression, hatred of the world, etc. It might be for the adrenaline rush; danger is fun, but it’s not nearly as fun if there’s not an actual and serious risk of death. Might be pure insanity. Maybe it’s like guilt, but instead the villain thinks he might find redemption in death. Maybe he’s friggun immortal and would do anything to stop being friggun immortal. It’s not that great. And sometimes, it’s really not that great.

Especially if you are in love with Death and also regeneration isn’t perfect or painless.

There are a lot of reasons – make sure you know why your villain has a death wish.

Execution of the death wish (haha) is going to be related to the reason behind it and of course its strength. Also, it’ll make the difference whether or not the death wish is as strong as a full-on suicidal drive, in which the entire goal of what the villain does, ultimately, is to die, or if it’s just a footnote – may die doing this thing and that would be okay.

However, the part where it gets tricky is when we remember suicide and the suicidal are delicate subjects; mixing that with a villain makes everything sticky. What’s the difference between a hero who kills a villain, a villain who is suicidal and kills themselves, a villain who is killed accidentally, and an ending where the villain doesn’t die? No, seriously, that wasn’t rhetorical: what’s the difference? Think about your answer because that’s going to be important as to how you yourself choose to handle a character with a death wish. If you believe suicide is objectively bad, that has to be true for your villain, too, and even when we’re not trying to express a moral with our stories, even when the point is to just tell a cool tale, we are always expressing morals in our stories. If you have a guy who beats on women and things turn out okay for him, it doesn’t matter if your story was about that or not, if that was just a minor detail, you just expressed the moral that abuse can be okay. So if you think that a villain who is suicidal who kills himself is a matter of convenience that saves the hero trouble, you are expressing the moral that suicide can be acceptable and even convenient.

And here’s where my failing mental health comes into play. People who know me would say that sure, I’m an evil overlord – but I’m no villain. I’m, in fact, a devoted friend who would bend over backwards for just about anyone, even people I just met. But in the throes of depression, I can’t see it. I just see myself as this incredibly needy person who won’t shut up and bothers everyone – who is but a burden on everyone. Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t in their lives.

Couldn’t a definition of a villain be a person that everyone else around them would be better off if they, the villain, wasn’t around?

Do you see the problem, now, with endorsing a villain’s suicide? You can’t give that moral because the people who see themselves as villains, regardless of the truth of the matter, believe they are being selfless, convenient, doing the right thing finally, by suicide.

So I urge you, if you write a villain with a death wish, to still handle the issue delicately.

(Don’t worry. I’m going to be okay.)

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Hey guys. I was trying really hard to write a legit post but…my mental health is rapidly failing and I just can’t. I’m sorry.

I’m going to try and get something up later in the week, even if it’s just a PSA. To keep this post from being a complete failure, here are a couple of comics I drew once.

This one is the more comedic sum-up of a scene that happens in a book I’ll write in the future. The two characters are the main protagonist and the currently-a-protagonist-but-it’s-pretty-obvious-he’s-gonna-become-the-main-antagonist.

And here’s a dragon. I was gonna go beyond a line sketch, ink it and color it black but obviously I didn’t do that.

Clearly this dragon is so cool you forgot that you were expecting writing advice on villains, right?

And now for a random piece of advice: if you decide to do freelancing, there are people out there who would pay you a cent or less per word. DO NOT WORK FOR THESE PEOPLE. YOU ARE WORTH MORE. I don’t care who you are or what your skill, so long as your spelling and grammar are good and you call yourself a writer, don’t let someone pay you a pittance for your work. It hurts all writers when you do that, including the skilled ones, but more importantly, you are worth more.

Really you should expect quite a bit more than that. And that’s all I got for right now.

So yeah. Sorry again. I’m determined not to let this happen next Monday so even if I don’t manage to get something else up this week, we aren’t going to run into this again. Well not next week anyway.

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Little Epic Fights

Hey, minions! Last post about fighting today – yesterday was group fighting and Monday was general advice. If you missed Monday’s post, most of the good stuff was there. Also I’m sorry it’s late – I’ve been pretty seriously (mentally) sick lately.

One on one fights. It’s just two people, so it really shouldn’t be that hard, right? Of course, how do you make the fight truly epic? If you have two, I don’t know, super-power mages throwing fireballs at each other, is that cool? No, not really. How do we make it cool? According to action movie logic, maybe blowing everything but the combatants up makes it cool. But then when you get people who care about NPCs, it’s also horrifying because of the immense collateral damage. I mostly just feel like that’s irresponsible and lazy. “Bah, I don’t know how to make this fight cool, let’s just blow stuff up, blaaah.” So how do you do it?

I feel confident in my ability to write one-on-one because of all the forum roleplaying I’ve done, ever since I was a kid. Nothing is harder than doing a fight scene in a roleplay, let me tell you. You don’t control your enemy and it’s sometimes actually really hard to say who would win, your character or the other PC’s.

But I learned to worry less about who should win or showing off my character’s skill and more about following through the actions. So even when the enemy was friggun OP (over powered) – spells that summon a thousand arrows to shoot at me, or a dozen magic swords that suddenly explode into hundreds of shrapnel shards – the important thing wasn’t to protest their OP with OP of my own, the important thing wasn’t to show how epic my dude was because he made it out unscathed. When roleplaying, you’re telling a story together with others and even when your companions suck at roleplaying, you have to do your own best anyway. (Besides, especially if they’re young, example is the best way to teach.)

Let me tell you a little about the swords one. There was a lot of other OP stuff going on – in the end, my ability to still survive without breaking character or whining to my partner made for an epic story.

…this picture is a lot bigger on my DA. Hm. Anyway I even drew a picture of Ryuko, the lizard who wouldn’t freaking die. Take that, OP!

Every time he threw something else at me, I felt panic since I didn’t want to break character nor complain at the ridiculousness nor die. In every case, I was able to think of a plausible solution with one simple middle step: Stop. Breathe. You don’t have to respond immediately – or in the case of your controlling everyone, you don’t have to figure it out immediately or write it immediately. Throw something crazy that your character can’t win against, and then stop to breathe. That’s how epic fights are made.

I won’t bore you with the play-by-play (pft, the play-by-play is awesome, it’s just too much of a digression) but the answer is cleverness. Cleverness is cool. Whether it’s cleverness in execution, strategy, or just you were super clever in coming up with the totally awesome effects of…the spell, gun, whatever, cleverness is always the answer.

Try Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, or finding a war veteran father-in-law for some examples of clever fighting. Those are all rather different flavors and dynamics – and there are a lot of others out there.

The end battle between Spoiler and I Can’t Tell You, now THAT was clever!

One other thing about one-on-one: check the flow of battle. Is it action-reaction-action? Action-reaction-reaction-reaction, looking for an in, action? Here, let me speak in something that actually makes sense: is one person whaling on the other, who is just doing their best to survive until they can make their own move, or are they both expert swordsmen, pushing on each other? How much is one person reacting to another’s actions? Victory is not usually reactionary, so if one person is just desperately trying to survive, they’re eventually going to have to make an action of their own, strike. Where do they find the in for that?

They are both testing each other here, playing more than fighting. The actual struggle for life doesn’t begin until they are both using their right hands again.

And always, remember that you  need to write about what’s actually happening, not just the outside fight.

If you want to get better at fighting, I already mentioned finding fight scenes you like and watching/reading them, analyzing them, and again…but also try roleplaying! It’s a whole different level of obnoxious hard. If you’re totally new to roleplaying, just be warned it’s different enough from writing that just because you might be a good writer doesn’t mean you’ll be good at roleplay.

As with everything, practice. I know you’re going to write some pretty cool battle scenes.

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Big Epic Fights

Hi minions – three part post this week and it’s all about writing fight scenes. Yesterday was general advice, today is on group fights. Group fights are a whole different bucket of fish than a one-on-one fight, especially in fights where the odds are few vs many.

You use different techniques when you’re fighting multiple people than when you only have to be worried about one.

When you have one on fifty, there’s a whole additional layer of problems; the law of inverse ninja strength and Mary Sues are the two big ones.

So easier first: comparable sized groups fighting each other.

What’s going to be the challenge here is keeping track of everyone, who is doing what. The challenge may be mitigated if you have a first person POV, or if you are doing third person limited, or even omniscient, but following a specific individual. Your story will focus on your MC and then you only have to worry about what the other people around him are doing when they come into his field of vision or focus. In that case, you’ll want to write it more like a one-on-one fight with a bunch of people everywhere, or a one-on-many fight with a bunch of other people everywhere.

However, if you don’t have a focal character, remember what the battle is ACTUALLY about – not the fighting. If you let the real purpose of your battle be the focal character, you should be able to manage writing the fighting. With so much to see, if you try to show the reader everything that’s happening, they won’t see what’s important. So instead lead by what the reader actually needs to see – you can show extra along the way, if you do so sparsely.

So, few-versus-many.

First, we have to determine who’s going to win and how. If Few will win, is it through craft? When I listen to stories from my father-in-law, an army veteran who spent a lot of time doing war drill game things with soldiers, he always beats his enemy with craft and it is awesome. You still have to take care, though – foolish tactics don’t become clever just because the enemy is idiotic enough to fall for them.

Will Few actually just overpower Many? That’s when the law of ninja and Mary Sue problems come into play. How do they win? Is it because Few is actually just more powerful than Many? Okay, why? Maybe we have a Conquistador versus Native American scenario – Few just has way better weapons and armor.

S’okay, guys, you’ll get ’em back with Syphilis

Maybe it’s an A-Team versus Storm Troopers, which I don’t recommend. But sometimes you do have a scenario where you need to put your character up against a bunch of, to use the DnD term for enemies with one hit point, minions. If you do this, you really have to focus on what’s going on in your character’s head. Remember that your hero is only as good as your villain? Yeah that applies to anything any character fights. So blasting through minions doesn’t really show how powerful your character is…not in a particularly meaningful way, at best. But if you focus instead on what’s going inside of your character, either the fear or exhilaration, the scene will focus on its purpose and matter more.

Terra (Final Fantasy VI)’s power wasn’t about destroying stuff, it was about her trying to reconcile the esper and human parts of her, of figuring out love.

More likely than not, the best way to avoid the Mary Sue thing isn’t to have one person’s raw power outmatch twenty other peoples’ but instead have your character outsmart them. I mean, there are situations where power vs power alone is appropriate, but it’s still hard to pull off.

If Many is to beat Few, well that’s easier – but do be careful not to be sloppy in your execution. If Few should have been a challenge but were just outmatched yet you defeat them quickly and easily, Few actually looks like a couple of losers.

Some questions to ask yourself when writing a big fight scene, in addition to the ones mentioned earlier, include:
How are the [50:1] odds meaningful? Just fighting cannon fodder?
What advantage does your character have that allows her to fight that many?
What level fight is this, easy, medium, hard?

Finally, consider one of my favorite one-versus-army scenes: River versus the Reavers in Serenity. If you aren’t into Firefly, go and repent. Also don’t read this part because it’s flipping awesome and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Anyway we know throughout all of Firefly – or even just Serenity if, for some crazy reason, you didn’t watch Firefly first – we know that something’s up with River, and it’s going to (it should have) take(n) a really long time to find out what exactly. We learn she’s powerful, but it’s still vague how, exactly. Serenity gives us a glimpse with the Fruity Oaty Bar incident that River is a warrior. What makes the fight scene so epic is the build up to it, wondering about what River’s abilities are exactly, and learning that the Reavers are freaking horrifying. We know that they’re fearsome, fearless, bloodthirsty fighters who know no bounds, no quarter, no surrender…and ordinarily, no enemy.

When River fights them, her movements are so fluid it’s like she’s dancing. If you know a thing or two about psychology and the brain, it seems reasonable that the loss of an amygdala and government training could compete with the basic instinct to violence brought out above all. The fight is executed as two peoples, masterful at fighting, doing exactly that.

So how do we get a River versus Reavers scene? Well, one, it was short. I mentioned this last time, too – and my writing group really held to that fact when we discussed epic fights. It was short. We didn’t need a big whole thing, even though it was visual and they could have better gotten away with it.

Both sides were well developed before they clashed. Everything in Serenity built up to this moment.

Both sides fought viciously; River might have made it look easy, but the Reavers didn’t actually go down easily.


Fight scenes are hard; big fight scenes are generally harder. But again, don’t stress over it too much! You can always re-write it, and practice will help. Find other battle scenes you like. Another example of group fight scenes with bad odds are in the Mistborn trilogy – Vin fights multiple enemies all the time, and she is awesome at it. But even if you write the action a little poorly, if you can at least get your point across quite well, tighten up the action, and keep it short, that’s going to be good enough while you gain experience.

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Epic Fights

Hey, minions – writing fight scenes is hard and there’s a lot to say so I’m going to publish this one with general advice today, then one on group fights tomorrow, and then one on one-on-one fights the day after.

There’re a few reasons why writing fight scenes is so hard – one is the approach. You can describe the fight blow-by-blow but unlike an action movie where you see it happen, that’s not actually really interesting. Another is the language you use – how do you say someone used a certain technique? Do you painstakingly describe the actual motion (saying “he curled all his fingers into his fist but his thumb which he pointed up” instead of “he made a thumbs-up”), do you look up the technical term for the technique that your readers may not know anyway, do you liken it to something familiar? And how do you write the scene in such a way that’s not obnoxious, that’s Mary Sueish?

Some advice my bestie gave me when I was struggling with a fight scene was that a battle you write in any sort of detail is rarely about the battle. When you have hero versus overlord, you aren’t writing about two people fighting. You’re writing about the culmination of a long-term struggle, you’re writing about justice finally served, or the personal relationship between two enemies. If you write only the blow-to-blow play, you’re writing about the fight and no one cares about the fight. What they care about is what’s actually happening in the fight.

What’s going on here has very little to do with just what’s in the picture.

In the final battle between Harry and Voldemort, JK does tell us what’s going on in the fight, what spells they cast, how they hit each other, what’s going on. But she, more importantly, tells us what the fight is actually about. Every visual detail is important not because the fight itself matters that much, but because it tells us about how the tide of the the deeper issues in the fight are progressing. As the white knot of magic pushes towards Voldemort, we know that Harry has grown to be stronger, that his will is overcoming Voldemort’s. We know that love is more powerful than hatred, that love is winning. Harry also tries to convince Voldemort to feel remorse out of concern, even for his enemy, that Voldemort’s afterlife is going to be excruciating. We might be told what they say, what they do – but the battle isn’t about the spells clashing and pushing on each other, it’s about Harry’s will and strength versus Voldemort’s. And what with the whole elder wand thing, it’s also about cleverness and craft. Not two wizards slinging spells at each other.

What about the fight between Inigo and the six-fingered man?

We all knew that Inigo’s skill vastly would outmatch the Count’s, yet this fight was still epic and so satisfying when Inigo won.

This battle was about vengeance and a miracle. About a love for a dead father so strong, Inigo defied death and defeated his enemy. Peace in justice served. So what is your fight actually about? Tell us what’s happening in the fight, but only sprinkled through telling us what’s happening on a deeper level.

Language – that’s going to be something you learn yourself, generally. But unless you already taught the readers the technical battle terms, it’s probably not wise to use them because your reader probably won’t know them. Conversely, taking the time to explain exactly what the character is doing will slow down the action incredibly, and that’s really bad in a fight scene. Your sentences should be staccato. In a graphic novel, small, slashy panels give a feel for quick motion. You can do the same thing with the cut of your sentences. Do not ever describe something by likening it to something else, even if you’re writing a fanfic (ex “He bent backwards like Neo in the Matrix”) because that’s horrible. It may be acceptable to do so in dialogue but…

Your book is not The Matrix. It will never be The Matrix because that’s a movie and it already exists. It’s okay.

So what about the Mary Sue thing? What about power versus power? There are three important elements that will help you here.

One: keep it short. If it’s really just about the food chain of badassery, you don’t need to spend very long showing us how cool your character is. You make it too long and now you’re just being a show-off, dragging the thing on, beating the dead horse. Or minion, as the case may be.

It’s the Edward Elric rule: keep it short! By Airafleeza on DeviantArt.

Two: there has to be real risk. The best gripping tale is one in which the reader is invested. The reader will become invested if there’s risk. There are many ways in which you can make risk. Maybe it’s clear that the enemy will overpower your character and they have to outsmart him. Maybe who is more skilled isn’t clear. Maybe they’re stalling for time and you have to pray reinforcements will arrive in time. When your character is clearly more powerful and is clearly going to win, there’s no point* to the fight, and there’s no investment. There’s no risk because we know who will win so who cares? If the odds are bad, make the reader feel it. Don’t just say it because that doesn’t mean anything.

There might be lasers flying everywhere around our heroes but there’s not really any sense of risk. Freaking teddy bears are taking these guys down without any problem.

Three: take damage. This will help with risk, yes, but it also means that your character can learn a lesson. Your character can grow from the encounter, it feels more realistic, and maybe there are scars that forever remind her of her fight.

*If your character is OPing his way through a fight and there’s no risk, there can be a point, but that point is, once again, not about the battle at all. You need to then focus on what’s going inside your character. Is his rampant destruction horrifying? Were you building up to this point? Is it fantastic? What’s going on in your character’s head?

With the Philospher’s Stone at his disposal, no one was a match for Kimblee’s destruction…it’s about the power of the stone, the insanity of Kimblee, the horror of the homonculi. It’s not about his blasting apart Ishbalans. (FullMetal Alchemst)

The best thing you can do to get better at fight scenes is to look for fight scenes you want to emulate and read/watch them. Read them again. Look for the word choice, sentence structure, layout, use of blows and use of speech or internal dialogue. Read them again and pay attention to your flow of emotions. Read them again for enjoyment, see how it all fits together. My writing group highly recommended writing out the scene by hand yourself to help you really process it. Don’t type it, it doesn’t go through the same place in the brain. If it’s visual, try writing out what you see.

Finally, try asking yourself questions when you start:
What is REALLY going on in this battle, what’s the point of the fight?
What will my character learn or take away from this battle?
What should the reader take away from this battle?

Battles are hard to write, so when it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, don’t get discouraged. I still have a hard time with it (except in roleplay, ha.) from time to time, too. Just remember you can always re-write the scene, so if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, go over it again, look for where the action or character development or plain writing is stilted. Ask a friend to go over it, tell you where they felt anything, where they lost interest, how they felt. Keep practicing.

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Guest Post: The Darth Vader We Could Have Had

Hello minions! Today, we have a post written by my husband. The only thing I wanna say about it is that I adore the original Vader but I think this is a really interesting thing to think about. So his words:

I’ve been thinking about Star Wars a lot lately, what with all the hype for Episode VII. There are a lot of people who are incredibly excited (and who could blame them; the trailers are AWESOME!), but there are also a lot of people who are afraid that it will be the prequels all over again. I’ve been thinking a lot about the prequels and how Anakin’s character development was inconsistent with the Vader we see in the original trilogy. It got me thinking, what would have happened if the movies had been made in chronological order and the scripts for IV, V, and VI changed accordingly? Because the Darth Vader we see in the original movies does not fit with the Darth Vader we see at the end of Episode III; they are not the same person. Who would the Episode III Vader become?

As Episode IV opens, one of the first thing we see Vader do is force choke a rebel. It’s something he does with impunity all throughout the original trilogy. It’s like he gets reward miles for every use and he’s trying  to save up enough for a trip from Coruscant to the Outer Rim.

Good morning, everyone. Here are you complimentary force chokes. Steve, did I already give you yours today? Aw, what the heck, I’ll give you another one, on the house!

But what about the Vader we leave at the end of Episode III? Remember, he has used force choke precisely once, and as far as he knows he killed his wife because of it. Would that Vader ever use a force choke ever again? Perhaps he would, but surely there would be some sign of the tragedy he associates with it. Perhaps his hand would shake slightly as he raised it. Perhaps this would be followed by a moment of hesitation before he began choking someone.

What else would be different? In the original trilogy, we’re never given a reason why Vader works for Palpatine, other than that they’re both eeeeeeeevil -hissssssss-. But with the new Vader, we have a solid reason. Anakin Skywalker is a man who more than anything else values family and friendship, even if he doesn’t always know how to act accordingly. At the end of Episode III, Palpatine is the only “family” he has left. Of course he would cling to him.

But then what happens in Episode V when Vader finds out he has a son? I think Vader would be pissed at Palpatine. “You told me I killed my wife! She must have lived if I have a son!” Then Palpatine has to scramble to explain this away, to keep up his charade. “She did die because of the wounds you inflicted. How could I have known that she survived long enough to give birth?” With his silver tongue he would satisfy Vader, but the seed of doubt would be planted. Vader would immediately pour his every effort into finding Luke, not because he is a Rebel, or because he would be a valuable ally, but because he is his son. He has family again, he hasn’t lost Padme completely. As he has always done, he would do anything to be with his family and those he cares about.

So he storms the Rebel base at Hoth. When Luke slips away in the ensuing chaos, he hires bounty hunters to track the Millennium Falcon, as Han and Leia are the most likely to know where to find him. He threatens Cloud City, tortures Han, does anything to get his son back. And then Luke comes and Vader has a chance to finally meet him. And this son that he has gone to every length to find not only hates him but tries to kill him.

Vader tries to speak with Luke, tries not to fight him, but Luke gives him no choice. Vader chops Luke’s lightsaber hand off. He then tries to explain himself, but Luke yells that Obi-wan explained that Vader killed his father; then Luke refuses to believe that Vader is his father. Imagine the emotions that would be swirling inside the sith lord. Immense pain that his son, his only family, hates him. Rage that Obi-wan has stolen his family from him once again.

If you don’t come back here this instant, young man, you are sooooooo grounded!

Luke escapes and once again Vader takes up searching for him. His sources hear about the disturbance at Jabba’s palace. The report details Luke’s involvement, including one fact that is terrifying to this particular father: Luke force choked one of the guards. Vader panics. His son is going down the same path of hatred and destruction as he did. And suddenly he realizes that maybe Obi-wan was not his enemy. Maybe Obi-wan was on his side, maybe he was just trying to help and Vader refused to understand and pushed him away. The seed of doubt grows.

And then the climactic final showdown with the Emperor ensues. Vader’s only “friend” turns on him immediately, telling Luke to kill his father and take his place. And Luke almost does.

Honestly, how did you not see this coming?

So when he doesn’t kill him, Vader is filled with pride and relief, not that he isn’t dead, but that his son didn’t follow that path, that he resisted this snake for whose charms he himself had fallen. Palpatine turns his lightning on Luke, and Vader’s choice is clear. He sacrifices himself to save his son, the embodiment of the life he could have had. And as he lies dying he asks Luke to remove his helmet, to symbolically cleanse him of the influence of the Emperor, to see the son he loves with his own two eyes.

And then this wouldn’t be infuriating.

So, is this Vader better than the one that we got in Episodes IV, V, and VI? I don’t know, and I guess we never will. But it’s fun to think about, and doing these sorts of exercises can really help you to come to understand your villain, to get insider their head and make them real. So the next time you’re stuck with your villains, think about the Vader we could have had and see if that doesn’t help.

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