A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving)

A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving) how to make a stronger villainYou know that moment when you’re writing something and what you’re writing gives you an idea for something else to write? Well, while writing last year’s “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt,” I couldn’t help but think about how it could be turned into a writing prompt for villains (and Thanksgiving).

Seem wrong? Of course it is! It’s villainous!

How to Make a Stronger Villain with the
Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

If you think back to last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt, you’ll remember that it was all about what characters want and how badly they want it. From a writer’s perspective, that’s important for figuring out character motivation and planning character behavior. From a villain’s perspective, it’s useful for almost exactly the same reasons.

After all, villains are plotting against your characters the same as you are (or should be).

That means that a very similar writing exercise can help you make a stronger villain and up the stakes of your plot. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick the villain and target(s) you’re going to work with. If this is for a book, the target should include all the heroes (all the people opposing the villain) – thinking of 1 is not enough, but you can work on them 1 at a time.
  2. Use the happy Thanksgiving writing prompt to figure out what the target(s) values. If you’ve already done this, all the better.
  3. Think of ways the villain could endanger the objects, ideals, or people the target values. You can aim for the most important ones, but a villain with a meticulous personality might try to cover them all. If the main hero’s family or valuables are protected, consider their friends or allies. There has to be a vulnerable spot somewhere.
  4. Integrate the villain’s plans into your plot. Does the villain do the work him or herself? Does he or she assign someone else? When do the point of view characters find out about the danger(s)? How is the danger averted? Are the attacks spread out (faced one after another), or must several be confronted at once?

Remember that realistic villains have finite resources, so they may need to prioritize attacks by the cost, profit, and chance of success. That said, if they can’t manage to threaten at least a couple of the valued people or things, then they’re not that impressive as villains. The more efficient, effective, and insightful their threats are, however, the more frightening and powerful they will seem.

On the other hand, if a villain is bad at figuring out what the enemies value, he or she isn’t going to succeed (not without help or lucky happenstance).

And when you think of it that way, it makes sense that a villain would like last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt. A process for identifying the hero’s weaknesses? Oh, yeah. That’s handy. It’s like an excerpt of¬†Villainy for Dummies. ūüėČ

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Characteristics of Curse Words

Characteristics of Curse WordsCurse words are useful tools for characterization and worldbuilding. Rather than picking or making up curse words at random, however, I find it useful to consider the characteristics of curse words first.

What Curse Words Have in Common

There are two basic types of curse words: the funny ones that are more socially acceptable and the ones that are more taboo. I’m going to focus on the second grouping today.

Phonetic Characteristics of Curse Words

Many curses, including ones I know from other languages, have specific similarities in how they sound:

  • harsh consonants
  • consonant emphasis
  • short vowels
  • short (or have shorter versions)

Since they are generally used to express anger or frustration, the words themselves tend to have a harsh, abrupt sound that flows easily (trippingly off the tongue). Many of them are also directional – they can be followed by a direct object (like “it” or “you”).

Whom characters direct their curses at can be very telling: does the person only direct curses at inanimate objects? Only at adults? At everyone including children and people who’ve done nothing aggravating? Each option makes a big difference in how the character is perceived.

Social and Moral Characteristics of Curse Words

Besides the way they sound, curse words also have similarities in meaning – they’re all related to something that’s taboo, not talked about, or generally considered bad. Things like sex, poop, or being condemned by God. Things we use euphemisms for in polite company.

What curse words a person chooses or is offended by can show a lot about his/her background and beliefs. For example, in the Bible Belt, “God d@#$!” can be more offensive than other words because “taking the Lord’s name in vain” goes against their religion. In other, less religious circles, on the other hand, it’s considered mild compared to the f-word and others.

Interestingly, society also deems it more appropriate for men to curse than women – especially with the most taboo curse words. Women are supposed to use milder oaths if they curse at all.

That’s why the curse words you choose for a specific character and world can be so important. And some situations and characters are going to require cursing to make sense or seem real.

So why pick something random when taking these two aspects of foul language into account can let you use vile oaths to build characterization and setting on purpose?

Writing Fall: It’s More Than a Season

When building a world, we need to sprinkle in aspects of our world as well as new creations from reimagining our world. That includes seasons, and since Fall has finally arrived, it’s the perfect time to discuss why writing fall isn’t only leaves and cold breezes – it’s more than a season.

Worldbuilding Fall

What do I mean by “it’s more than a season”? Well, let’s just say¬†that it’s not enough to throw some weather changes into your story. Maybe that works on rare occasions, but, come on, you and I both know that there’s more to fall than that (or any other season for that matter).

But, hey, we’ll start with the obvious bits.

Fall Weather and Climate Changes

That’s what everyone thinks of isn’t it? The physical aspects that affect our senses:

  • Cool, dry air on sunny days
  • Rain and thunderstorms (even tornadoes and hurricanes)
  • Golds, reds, oranges, and browns across the treetops and the ground
  • Yellow grasses and crops
  • Migrating birds

On the other hand, does everyone really think of that?

What about people in southern California? Or Arizona? Or areas even further south? Fall doesn’t mean the same things to them as far as temperature and changing colors.

There are, however, some aspects of Fall that people surrounded by cool breezes have in common with their friends in warmer climates Рat least ones  that share parts of their culture.

Fall Products & Culture

Big marketing firms have made sure that people across the U.S.A. all associate Fall with specific colors, scents, holidays, and flavors. These should not be a surprise to anyone in the U.S.

  • Reds, oranges, browns, and golds (That sounds familiar…)
  • Bronze
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom (Spices associated with pumpkin pies, apple pies, cider, mulling spices, and more)
  • Jack-o-lanterns
  • Turkeys
  • Scarecrows
  • Corn husks
  • Decorative Squashes (Did you know you can eat most of those?)
  • Pumpkin Spice

Sound familiar? It should. Srsly, the pumpkin spice trend alone has become so big that it’s become a running gag.

And, yes, even with the pumpkin spice thrown in, I can’t blame it entirely on marketing. Many of those ideas and symbols go back to traditions that have been associated with Fall ever since our culture was mainly agricultural, and it was harvest time.

And that’s actually my point.

The season change has other aspects that affect the culture besides strict weather changes: the growing season, decorations, activities, etc. Yes, they’re related to those weather changes, but that doesn’t mean that the weather is all you need to add to create the feel of the season.

It takes more than that.

Quotes about Luck Writers Should Remember

Ideas like “bad luck” and “good luck” are prevalent in every culture. As a writer, you control what type of luck your characters get (Muahahahahaha!), and taking that into account can add realism to your story as well as inspire interesting plot twists. That said, here are 6 quotes about luck writers should remember (or at least try out as plotting inspiration).

Quotes about Luck for Plotting Inspiration

Some of these luck quotes are powerful on their own. They have a nice ring to them, they give new insights without further analysis, or they simply feel real. Others… well, they take a little more work.

¬†1. “I’ve had no luck.” — The Baker from Into the Woods

Not the most impressive quote, I know; however, it gave me an interesting perspective on luck. The idea of no luck.

Technically, in the context, he’s saying that he has had no good luck. As in, he hasn’t found any more of the items the witch required of them. ¬†But, at the same time, he hasn’t really had any bad luck. At least no active bad luck, and if we consider luck an active thing, then the lack of good luck would actually be neutral rather than an example of bad luck.

In this case, neutral luck or no luck is still impeding the character’s goals, so this is a good reminder that the situation doesn’t have to be dire to get in the way.

2. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” — Seneca

Based on this quote, good luck is when you’re prepared when opportunity comes. Then, you can take advantage of it, and good things happen to you. Alternately, this means that bad luck is when you’re¬†not prepared when opportunity comes, and the situation worsens as a result.

What an intriguing angle.

I could see this as advice from the wise elder type (a stereotype, yes, I know), a character epiphany, and a hilarious/nerve-wracking situation brought on by a feeling of poor timing (like in An American Tale when the two parts of the trap – the giant mouse thing and the cats – are repeatedly not ready at the same time). It could even be interesting to prepare for something that never happens. Now, that would have consequences worth reading about!

And that’s to start with. That’s a lot to take from a quote.

3.”Bad luck comes in threes.” — old saying

Ever had a year (or series of years) that felt like this? Like no sooner did you get your feet back under you than more awful news would knock you over? I know I have, and I know others who have, as well. That’s one reason repeated troubles help a story feel real. It’s something we expect from life (except maybe when we’re too young know).

To have conflict, you need to plot challenges for the character to go through and overcome. If everything comes too easily, you better have an outstanding world and characters. Otherwise, readers will lose interest.

4.¬†“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” — Cormac Mccarthy

Hmmm…so what you thought was bad luck might actually turn out to be good luck in the end?

Ok. I can think of examples of that in books and in life. Although, from those experiences, I would say that there is 1 caveat: just because it turns out to be neutral or good luck overall doesn’t mean it won’t be hard to get through in the meantime.

As one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes comics said, “Being miserable builds character!”

5. “The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work.” — Harry Golden

This is the entire concept of a plot: the main character defeats hardships by hard work, dedication, and skill. Or dumb luck, beauty, and magic. Or true love. You know, if it’s a French or classic Disney fairytale.

My main point with this one is that you get to decide what overcomes hard luck in your book. Pick something you value and use it to teach a generation that it’s valuable (it saves the day in all the books I like!).

You also get to decide how your characters react afterwards. If you want to mix things up, have the main character rescued by someone else. Then, dealing with being constantly rescued could become the real conflict. You can get really creative with this aspect.

I also like the term “hard luck.” That goes with the last idea where the horrible things you go through become a learning experience. That point of view could be useful.

6. “Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.” — Hunter S. Thompson

I would consider the two sides of the wire bad luck and good luck with the wire being neutral luck (also known as survival). Repeated conflicts batter the main characters, challenging their balance. Sometimes, they might fall off on one side of the other and have to struggle (or be pushed) back to that wire.

Because if they do nothing, they’ll stay where they’ve fallen.

That said, are you ready to go tug on that wire? Ready to use these quotes about luck to¬†give your character’s a hard time? To make a better story?

I think so.

Go. Change up some luck.

Characters Get Brain Dead, Too

brain dead characters get brain deadSo far, we’ve talked about how grammar gets worse when you’re brain dead and how to write when you’re brain dead, but what happens when characters get brain dead?¬†If it happens to us, it must happen to them, right? If they’re realistic characters. So what can you expect, and how can you use it to improve your plot?

When Characters Get Brain Dead:
More at 11

To be ready to use this in your books, it helps to consider what causes the brain dead feeling, how people react to it, and how that can affect the plot.

What Makes People Feel Brain Dead?

I’ll be brief on this section since anyone old enough to be interested in reading this has probably already experienced many of these situations. In fact, they may more know options, but here are some of the main reasons for a brain to work below par:

  • sleep deprivation/exhaustion
  • low blood sugar
  • low oxygen
  • repetitive activity
  • long periods of sitting/not moving
  • illness (especially fevers, infections, specific brain diseases/disorders, etc.)
  • medication/drugs

Any of these options can impede brain function, and combining them makes it even worse.

The Symptoms of Thwarted Brain Function

Now that you know what could be causing the feeling (assuming you’re still awake), what happens as a result? Well, you might have trouble with

  • remembering things
  • concentrating or paying attention
  • making fast judgments (especially good ones)
  • physical reactions (increased clumsiness/lowered depth perception)
  • logic
  • resisting pressure (brainwashing is easier…)
  • catching nuances/subtleties
  • communicating
  • doing anything as quickly as normal

Yeah, yeah. Anything that requires brain function suffers. I get it.

How These Short Circuits Affect the Plot

Brain dead moments (derp moments, as my friends call them now) are a wonderful way to complicate a plot realistically because they cause mistakes or unexpected results. And since any grown adult who claims to never have had one is lying, readers can relate to them and be less inclined to blame the characters for these complications.

Here are some ideas and advantages:

This is one area that truly has infinite opportunities, and the methods you choose can easily add to the uniqueness of your story.

Welp. Ready to plot against your characters with some brain dead moments?

Sense of Urgency Is Like a Splinter

sense of urgency is like a splinter

No, not the rat.

It wasn’t until discussing the either or mentality a few months ago that I realized that I had somehow overlooked talking about sense of urgency (In a writing blog – how is that even possible?). Immediately, I put it on my list for later. Today, later is here, and it comes with a simile: sense of urgency is like a splinter.

Sense of Urgency:
Importance, Attention, & Deadlines

Talking about a sense of urgency has grown more and more popular not only in writing but also in business. Books must have a strong sense of urgency to be more gripping and fast-paced, and people must have a strong sense of urgency to make their businesses take off.

Ok. But what does that mean?

What Is a Sense of Urgency?

Well, in business, it’s your motivation and your level or intensity of caring. The elusive emotion drives you to get tasks done and tackle more. In years past, it would’ve been called “ambition.”

In writing, it’s fairly similar; however, you (the reader) are not the one feeling a sense of urgency – the main character is. Yes, we as readers respond to the main character’s need to succeed at a goal, but it isn’t our need (although, for extreme fans or those with major empathy, it can be hard to tell the difference…).

Uh-huh. And it’s like a splinter how?

Gotcha covered. It’s time to take this simile to the next level: the analogy. Don’t worry – all silliness aside, the comparison does actually make sense.

What Do Splinters and Sense of Urgency Have in Common?

I’m glad you asked. Here are a few of the items I’ve put together. Before I get into them, however, I’d like you to stop a moment to think about the splinters you’ve had over the years. From least to most memorable. Think about the irritation, the random pain when you first discovered it was there (How do they get there without being noticed?!), the intense concentration of operating on yourself to get it out – you know, the whole shebang. Got it in your head? Ok. Here we go.

Sense of urgency is like a splinter because both…

  1. Vary in size and importance (A small wood splinter versus bamboo under the fingernails. Big difference. Oh, and ever get a metal splinter? You know, the type Bruce Willis pulled out of his arm to use as a lockpick in Die Hard with a Vengeance? I have. Believe me, a normal splinter’s got nothing on that!)
  2. Hold your attention (even when you’re trying to focus on other things)
  3. Have a deadline (However vague – such as “before I type anymore because ow” or “before gangrene sets in, and I lose this finger”)
  4. Grow in importance the longer the issue remains (AKA, the closer you get to the deadline or the more side problems crop up because of it. And you thought it had your attention before it was red and swollen! Ha!)

Yes, a sense of urgency does all of those things.

Take #1, for instance. When a teacher tells you that your book needs a sense of urgency, you think of the main goal – the problem to be resolved in the climax. But there are plenty of little problems and conflicts that need a sense of urgency, too. A scene where a character has no driving need to do anything is a scene that’s dead in the water. Even if it’s as simple or small as a need to entertain themselves while waiting for someone, the character always has some motivation.

And, don’t forget, the character’s the one driving the plot, right?

As far as number 2, a sense of urgency is a splinter in your brain. Instead of pain distracting you, it’s ideas or a feeling that you need to get it done. It’s like having trouble concentrating at work because you have a million things to do at home. Or how artists tends to find ideas for their art in everything – because their art is never far from their minds!

Oh, and as far as #3, if you’re a procrastinator, you’ll understand the next sentence perfectly: you can’t have a sense of urgency without a deadline. If you can wait to do it tomorrow, why would you do it now? What’s in it for you?

The ticking clock is a cliche because it works. Having a deadline automatically creates at least some sense of urgency. In fact, the only way the ticking clock doesn’t work as a tool is if the character doesn’t care about the consequences.

Speaking of consequences, that’s also a way of heightening a sense of urgency, and it’s part of why the deadline is important as well as the variation idea (and #4). What’s the difference between homework due tomorrow and stopping a villain from destroying the Earth? Well, other than genre or trope, namely the scale of the consequences.

That’s how you differentiate between your conflicts and increase the sense of urgency for the climax. As a general rule, the main conflict should not only have more deadly or frightening consequences, but those consequences should also increase or get worse the closer the character gets to the climax. That can be simply because the result will be much worse if not taken care of before the deadline, or it could be because the situation grows increasingly complicated, resulting in worse dangers.

It’s particularly powerful if the actions that the main character takes to stop the dangers actually increases them (or, at least, the ancient Greek writers thought so…).

Hubris aside, though, that’s how motivation is like a splinter.

Speaking of which, *may your personal sense of urgency to write be like a long, nasty metal splinter that aggravates you so thoroughly you have no choice but to face it down (AKA: I hope you write.)

*A little Ray Bradbury-esque, but I meant it as a blessing.

12 Examples of Ending the Either Or Problem with a Third Choice

Examples of Ending the Either Or Problem with a Third ChoiceWhen I listed different methods for¬†ending the either or problem with a third choice, I didn’t give any examples because, honestly, the article was long enough already. So¬†if you wanted some examples of each type, you’re in luck! Here are 12¬†examples of ending the either or problem with a third choice.

Warning: there may be a lot of spoilers.

Examples that End an Either Or Problem with a Third Choice

Outside Intervention

Here are some examples of how this technique has been used.

  • The Fellowship of the Ring: Frodo is fleeing to Rivendell on Glorfindel’s horse, and the Nazgul are catching up. He can either be caught as he tries to flee or turn and fight. Suddenly, the river rises up and sweeps the Nazgul away thanks to Elrond.
  • Speaking of Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, this technique is also used when the Eagles arrive to take them from the fiery trees (every time the Eagles arrive really), when Gollum takes the ring back at the end, and probably a number of other situations that I’m not remembering.
  • The Lion King: Simba and Nala are cornered by angry jackals. They have to fight, and they’re either going to win or die. Then, Mufasa appears and sends the jackals running thanks to Zazu, which Simba and Nala didn’t even know was an option.
  • The main characters are taken captive, but just as they are about to be killed, their captor’s enemies attack. So… they’re¬†free of the first group (mission accomplished). Unfortunately, now they’re someone else’s captives (which generally leads to an opening that wouldn’t have existed with the first captor). (Yes, I know it’s not a specific example, but you can think of a couple, right?)

Actually, these should all seem pretty familiar.

Sudden Epiphany or Reveal

Only 2 for this one: one book and one movie.

  • In Disney’s Moana,Te KńĀ rears up thanks to the fight with Maui, and Moana sees the spiral pattern on the demon’s stone¬†chest, which makes Moana realize what she needs to do to return the stone to Te Fiti.
  • A Wrinkle in Time¬†uses this, as well. At the climactic moment, Meg’s two choices are to join IT (something she is struggling against constantly) or to continually fight to figure out how to defeat IT. She has no idea how to defeat IT until IT (through Charles) makes a comment that inadvertently reveals to her what she has that IT doesn’t (Thanks, IT!).

That’s enough to give you an idea, but if anyone wants to add more examples in the comments, you’re welcome to.

Secret Skills

I know this has been used in spy movies, but I can’t think of any right now. So these 4¬†examples are what you get!

  • River’s ability to shoot in Firefly is the perfect example: a character is in desperate straights (fight and die OR don’t fight and die), and a character with no background in shooting appears and saves the day. Thanks to River’s already mysterious abilities (who¬†knows what was done to her?), this doesn’t mess up¬†the characterization.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: To Scout, Atticus is a smart father that she¬†obviously adores but is also a bit embarrassed by because he is a bit older, wears glasses, and prefers to read rather than hunt. When a mad dog comes into town, the obvious options to the children are completely derailed by Atticus being asked to shoot the dog with a rifle because they had no idea that he was a crack shot (a slightly vague example as far as an either-or choice; however, the secret skill reveal was too good to leave it out).
  • In Ghost Hunt, Ayako is established as pretty useless – until the last storyline of the tv show where she saves them all from a horde of spirits and leaves them all wondering, why on Earth haven’t you ever used this before? She had an excellent answer, so it works as a plot device (and doesn’t make the rest of the series seem like a lie).
  • For Trigun, Vash gets out of deadly situations because of skills the audience (and other characters) doesn’t know about for a long part of the series. It’s an intriguing use of the technique because it uses the secret skill to save the characters yet manages to keep the skill secret for quite a while – not an easy feat!

All the other examples I can think of at the moment come from anime. Hmmm… interesting.

Art of the Unexpected

Oh, that crazy unexpected. Here are 2 characters that thrive on it.

  • Miles from the Vorkosigan Saga: His claim to fame is his brain and ability to think of things no one expected. Granted, it gets him into a lot of trouble, but it also often gets him out of said trouble.¬†For example, when he finds himself in a bad situation where the obvious options are 1. surrender and beg for mercy or 2. run, he picks option#3:¬†taking over the mercenaries against him through fast-talking.
  • Then, there’s Peter Quill. At the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, he can either try to fight Yondu or hand over the stone. He chooses one of the best third options – appearing to make one of the obvious choices while actually doing something else.

There you go! Examples of each kind. I’m sure there are plenty more out there. You probably thought of other examples while reading this.

You know where those  should go? In the comments. Lets make this a major resource, people!

The Clothing Makes the Character

clothing makes the characterI’m betting you know the old saying, “The clothing makes the man.” I can’t honestly say what brought it to mind, but for some reason, I started wondering whether it translated for books: “the clothing makes the character.” Is that really true?

So I tried applying the idea to some famous examples:

  • Would Drizzt Do’Urden be a different character if he wore bright, cheerful colors? Say, extravagant silks embroidered in gold and covered in gems and seed pearls?
  • What about Bilbo Baggins? Would he be the same in a floursack tunic and plain pants?
  • Would Ender Wiggin be the same if he wore tights and a leotard for training at the Battle School? Preferably in a soft pastel with a delicate pattern on it. Like weapons re-interpreted as flowers.

It’s ok. I’ll wait ’til you stop laughing and wincing.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? In fact, it’s hysterically wrong. Those clothes are so different from how we think of those characters that it’s hard to even picture. So the clothing must have something to do with making the character, right?

The Clothing Makes the Character
Because the Character Makes the Clothing

No, literal-minded people (like me), I’m not saying the characters weave and sew their own clothing (well, some of them might but not most). Most characters, on the other hand, usually choose their own clothing.

That’s why it’s strange to think of those characters in unusual clothing – it’s not clothing they would pick under normal circumstances. Bilbo was upset about not having a pocket handkerchief for goodness sake! He would not pick something plain and rough when given other options.

And that’s actually my point. The clothing a character chooses reveals a great deal about that character’s personality and situation.

Clothing Shows More Than We Think

Practicality v. status. Personally flattering v. appealing to fashion. Career-based v. comfort-based. Culture. Region. Socio-economic status.

All these facets of characters and their lives influence their choices of clothing, personal grooming, and accessories. An extremely practical person isn’t going to prefer an outfit made of an easily-wrinkled, itchy fabric for everyday wear. Or something that impedes movement or has to be tugged back into place all the time. On the other hand, someone who loves fashion isn’t going to pick a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, dark socks (knee-high), and sandals. Not in modern-day U.S., anyway.

As a rule, people pick clothing that portrays an image that they feel comfortable with. Something that suits their needs for the day but also reflects their personality, their values, and who they want people to perceive them to be.

And isn’t that the point of the original saying?

People make fast judgments about everyone they meet – based on behavior, yes, but also on appearance. Think about all the dos and don’ts we’re given for dressing for a job interview. Well, this is the reason, and it works the same way for your characters.

The clothing you give your characters gives automatic hints at what that character is like and what that character values. It’s a great way to add quirks or reveal hidden depths. Plus, the other characters are going to make assumptions about that character because of their looks as well as their actions. And, don’t forget, so are the readers!

It’s implicit characterization. That’s what it’s for.

So when you’re building a character, think not only of what the character would pick but also of what impression you want the character to give other characters – and how to tie that into your plot!

Use the clothing to make the character what you want it to be.

The Concealed Carry Writing Prompt for Fashionistas

concealed carry writing prompt for fashionistas

That dynamite is not going to hide in that vest. Not without a pocket of holding.

Guns, knives, garrotes, guillotines – some weapons are more easily concealed than others. And unless you want to use the “Where was he hiding that?!” joke, it’s something you want to think about before writing the scene, and the concealed carry writing prompt for fashionistas will walk you through the basic considerations required.

Well, required for fiction. I have no actual experience *concealing a weapon.

Fashionistas & Concealed Carry:
The Writing Prompt with Something for Everyone

This is what math people might call a bidirectional writing prompt – the main steps can go either way. You can start with clothing and spot check your weaponry options, or you can start with your weapon of choice and design your clothing around it.

For the sake of the article, we’ll use the order below, but you can switch 1 & 2 if you prefer.

  1. Choose the character’s clothing.
  2. Consider the weapon options.
  3. Check whether the weapon can be believably concealed in the chosen clothing. (The “believably” part is important!)
  4. If it can’t be concealed believably, fix it. Or use the lack of concealment to the enemy’s advantage or in the protagonist’s strategy.
  5. Write the scene.

That’s the basics. Now, let’s talk a bit about the details.

Step 1: The Outfit

If you already have a character in a story, odds are you’ve picked at least one normal outfit or style for that character already. Something that reflects the character’s personality and lifestyle as well as the rest of your worldbuilding.

Assuming that the scene you’re writing involves your character’s normal clothing, then, you’re done with step 1.

But what if it doesn’t? What if your character is stuck in prison clothes, a new uniform, or a ballgown? Consider the scene and see whether an outfit change makes more sense than going with the same style.

Step 2: The Weapon

Like the outfit, if your character is a warrior of any kind, then he or she already has a weapon of choice. And if the character already has a normal weapon and a normal outfit, those two should go together although that doesn’t mean the weapon has to be concealed. After all, not all situations or stories require hiding weapons. A knight going into battle is going to carry weapons openly and within easy reach. If not already bared.

Even if your character does not normally conceal his/her weapon, however, we’re assuming that now it’s suddenly necessary. That means you have a couple of options:

  • the regular weapon being concealed in the regular outfit
  • the regular weapon being concealed in a new outfit
  • a new weapon being concealed in the regular outfit
  • a new weapon being concealed in a new outfit

Pretty obvious and little math-y, but these are ideas you have to consider. If the character carries a huge weapon that can’t be concealed, is he/she smart enough to adapt, or is the character going to try anyway.

Always consider the options in relation to your character and the situation. That’ll keep you on a better path.

Step 3: Check

If you’re like me, you may automatically do this in conjunction with step 2. That’s fine. For the sake of clarity, however, I’m going to pretend we picked an outfit and a weapon without considering whether the weapon can be hidden. Maybe, its the only weapon and outfit the character has, and now we have to figure out how to make it work (whatever).

Details to think about when trying to conceal a weapon on a character in a story:

  • Measurements (of the weapon, person, and clothing – if the weapon is taller than the person, it had better fold!)
  • Flexibility (Rigid weapons are going to be harder to hide, especially bigger ones.)
  • Reflectivity (If it’s shiny silver, it may show through thin fabric. If it’s dark, it might show through light fabric.)
  • Fabric weight (Both for drape and transparency)
  • Cut (Where the clothing is tight, where it is loose, and how it attaches to the body)
  • Safety (Is the wearer likely to get hurt hiding the weapon there – like sticking a sharp knife somewhere without first putting a sheath on it)
  • Movement (Will it noticeably affect how the character moves?)

These ideas should get you thinking in the right direction. Again, it doesn’t need to be 100% realistic unless that’s your usual writing style (and in that case, interview a cop or someone with actual experience concealing a weapon) – just real enough to make the scene seem believable.

Step 4: Adjust

If the weapon won’t work with the outfit, change one or the other. Keep the one most important to the scene or change both. Whatever works best (although, remember: the less you can change to make it work, the less your previous work is wasted. Not always the best solution, but sometimes, it is.).

Some weapons may not be concealable on someone’s person or in someone’s clothing or accessories, so be creative. Maybe, something in the setting needs to come into play.

Step 5: Write the Scene

As always, once the background work is done, it’s time to write. Write the scene, and if at any point, the concealed carry option seems unbelievable, think about the previous steps. You can use them to find the simplest part to change to make the scene work.

Ok. You’re ready to write a fashionable but deadly scene. I can’t wait to see the results.

*These instructions are intended for writing only. Please, do not use them as instructions for actually concealing anything.

People Don’t Listen: 7 Dialogue Tropes to Give Them Away

people don't listen dialogue tropes ear plugs

“la la la la I’m not listening!”

People don’t listen. You know it. I know it. We’ve probably even heard it but didn’t realize because we weren’t listening. And since we’re so familiar with people who don’t listen, using that idea in our stories adds a lot of realism. That makes these 7 dialogue tropes really handy for giving them away. So handy, in fact, that I’m sure you’ll recognize them from books, movies, etc.

7 Signs for When People Don’t Listen

These signs or tropes are really reflections of why the people aren’t listening. It’s a sign of their motivation and relationship with the person who’s talking. And how much they care about the¬†subject. Ergo, which one you use is all about characterization, setting, and plot.*

 1. The Clueless Question

A.K.A. “Sorry. What?” Best said with that vague, re-focusing air.

Stereotypical of husbands tuning out their wives, this technique is used when the person in question was unaware that someone was talking to them because they’re

  1. in a crowd when the question could’ve been directed to someone else,
  2. focused on something really intently (to the exclusion of other sounds and their surroundings), or
  3. really tired (it’s easy to tune out when you’re exhausted).

Granted, wives do the same thing. Husbands and teenagers just have a worse rap.

2. The Circular Credit

Used in every comedy ever, this trope occurs when a duo is plotting, especially if¬†a dominant character has already been established. The situation goes something like this –

Strong Character: What should we do? Hmmm… What about – no.
Weak Character: We could always try Plan A.
Strong Character: No, that would never work. … I know! We’ll try Plan A! Genius!
Weak Character:¬†[mutters] I’m so glad you thought of it.

Examples include everything from Once Upon a Mattress to Inside Out, etc.

3. The Talk-over Takeover

This one comes up when a person isn’t listening because he or she won’t stop talking. It could be from arrogance, nerves, or a garrulous nature.

Here are some situations where this might be familiar:

  • The talkative, nosy type who can’t resist “fixing” someone and telling someone¬†what to do or what he/she is going to do to help that person (you know – those favors you don’t want?). Aaand doesn’t stop talking long enough for that person¬†to really object. In fact, it’s the type who interrupts any objection and assumes what the poor “helped” soul¬†was going to say…
  • The arrogant, narcissistic type who interrupts because whatever you’re saying can’t possibly be as important as what he/she is saying, so stop wasting time blathering and let him/her talk. (Grrr.)
  • The nervous date or job interview who talks so much that everyone else eventually gives up on getting a word in.
  • The focused person so intent on telling a story or talking about a favorite topic that he/she doesn’t realize the surrounding conversation¬†has moved on (and left him/her behind – still talking).

So… great for annoying, enraging, or funny characters!

4. The Deceptive Dismissal

Here’s where a show of politeness mixes with a lack of caring.¬†People do this all the time when they want to appear that they care about what the person is saying but actually don’t. It’s a two-step process:

  1. Start with a sympathetic phrase. A.K.A. a platitude: “I know what you mean.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” “How awful.” All said with a kind of tsk or a sigh.
  2. Segue into what you want to talk about. Generally, it’s something about you (“You” meaning whoever’s doing it. I know that¬†you would never do such a thing.).
  3. Pretend that what you’re talking about is related to what the other person says. People who do this might even believe it’s related – after all, they weren’t listening!

Don’t have characters you want the reader to like do this unless there’s some excuse. Like being distracted by something really important. And they’d better apologize when called out on it.

5. The Fuzzy Faker

This person actually does care about what the other person thinks. Maybe, not enough to actually pay attention (for this moment) but enough to try to hide that he/she wasn’t paying attention. Inevitably, however, vital details get crossed or overlooked and out the person’s lack of listening skills.

This dialogue trope is useful for

  • employees trying to impress/pacify a boss who’s especially boring and tends to monologue
  • spouses who want to avoid getting in trouble for not listening
  • students caught not paying attention in class

Sounds familiar, right?

6. The Redundant Reveal

To me, this one is an everyday kind of accidental slip that busy people make. You’re doing something, you’re moving fast, and you end up saying something before your brain catches up with what you heard. You know, when¬†the brain assumes someone is going to say one thing and responds before you realize, nope, that’s not it (like a variation of the talk-over takeover but on a smaller scale).

Here’s an example from one of my favorite websites,¬†Not Always Right.

(My mom is offering my little brother a snack, but she’s in the other room and he doesn’t quite hear her.)

Mom: Do you want any popcorn?
Brother: No, just popcorn.

How many times have you said, “You’re welcome,” when the other person said, “Have a nice day.” It’s that kind of brain glitch. Also known as autopilot.

7. The Taciturn Tune-out

So… back to conceit¬†(Conceit and not listening go well together, yeah?).

In this situation, one person is giving instructions, and the other person is ignoring every word. Usually, it’s a case of arrogantly assuming that he/she knows better and doesn’t need to listen. This person may not even bother to respond or says, “Yes,” “right,” and “uh-huh,” at appropriate intervals.

Unfortunately, this is extremely common with customers and business. Businesses will pay lots of money for consultants, It departments, trainers, etc. And do people listen? Sometimes. Sometimes, they just do their own thing, break stuff, and then blame someone else. (Read not always right if you don’t believe me.)

Even thinking about it is frustrating.

Of course, that’s the point. Frustrating, funny, enraging –¬†when people don’t listen, it causes an emotional response.¬†I’m sure you have stories you could share for all of these dialogue tropes.

So why don’t you? Change the characters and put them¬†in your stories. Believe me, your readers will empathize.

*Something about the word, ‚Äúergo,‚ÄĚ feels pretentious. But it fit the sentence. I‚Äôm so conflicted…