Our editors often get asked for advice on writing cross-culturally, so we thought we’d round up some of the best links on the subject. Writing cross-culturally means writing about a culture that isn’t your own (and in this definition of culture, we include race, ethnicity, sexual identity, disabilities, and other identity markers). We have published many books by writers who wrote outside their cultures, and believe that it can be done well; in fact, writing cross-culturally is an essential component of boosting the numbersof books about diverse characters.
That being said, writing cross-culturally must be done thoughtfully and carefully. It requires research. Changing a core piece of a character’s identity is not the same as changing a character’s name or hair style; different cultures provide different lenses through which to view the world, and affect characters in a multitude of small ways.
Here are some good places to start if you are an author writing cross-culturally or thinking about writing cross-culturally:
- Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story“
- Nisi Shawl, “Transracial Writing for the Sincere“
- Nisi Shawl, “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation“
- N.K. Jemisin on describing characters of color in writing, parts one,two, and three
- Mitali Perkins’ “Writing Race: A Checklist for Writers”
- Uma Krishnaswami’s interview with Stacy Whitman, “Why Use Cultural Consultants?“
- “Tips for Writing Cross-Culturally“: Highlights from the Twitter chat between Stacy Whitman and author Karen Sandler
- Notes from Stacy Whitman’s SCBWI talk on writing multicultural books
- DiversifYA: A great blog featuring interviews with a range of writers with diverse perspectives. A great entrance into thinking about cross-cultural writing in a more nuanced way.
- Disability in KidLit: This terrific blog, run by three YA authors, offers great guest posts that explore the intricacies of daily life with a wide range of disabilities.
See the full post here. Did we miss any?
We’d add the AMA that Diversity in YA’s Malinda Lo did along with Disability in Kid Lit’s Corinne Duyvis and writer K. Tempest Bradford. Lots of great stuff archived here.
More recently, writer Daniel Jose Older’s 12 Fundamentals of Writing “The Other” (and the Self) at Buzzfeed is really useful.
Also, if you’re writing about queer characters and don’t know how to approach queer culture, you might check out Malinda Lo’s Avoiding LGBTQ Stereotypes in YA Fiction.
this is a long, but excellent read.
The Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth, is mythologist Joseph Campbell’s theory that most stories throughout the world follow a simple narrative pattern.
This pattern can be expressed in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a circle, or a straight line, or another shape entirely. It can contain as many of 17 steps and as few as 3. At its most basic, the theory states that:
- The Protagonist is called to adventure.
- The Protagonist must undergo trials or great hardship
- The Protagonist masters the conflict and returns home.
It makes sense, right? You can probably think of a lot of books and movies that follow the pattern. Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Star Wars, The Odyssey, Ender’s Game, Beowulf, American Gods, Alice in Wonderland. To name just a few.
But there are a lot of problems with the Hero’s Journey.
- It leaves out A LOT of stories. Ulysses, Sandman, Twilight, Beauty and the Beast, Star Trek, Dune, Watchmen, The Adventures of Huck Finn, and Memento, to say nothing of every single romcom and story told outside of North America and Europe. These stories might be qualitatively good, or they might not be, but their lack of adherence to the Monomyth structure doesn’t have anything to do with their critical or commercial success.
- Following the structure doesn’t guarantee good stories. The Dark Tower Series, Last Action Hero, Van Helsing (movie), 50 Shades of Grey, Battlefield Earth, Temptation, Spawn, Mars Needs Moms are all arguably weak from a critical perspective. Yet they follow the Hero’s Journey just as well as many stronger stories that proponents of Monomyth want to claim.
- See stories attributed to Monomyth that you don’t agree fit the mold? No kidding! That’s another problem with the theory. Campbell himself notoriously shoehorned famous stories and myths into his narrow frame, attributing great importance to pieces that fit well, and quietly de-emphasizing aspects of stories that didn’t fit his theory. Which means that anyone can attempt to argue Anastasia from 50 Shades of Grey receiving her first spank represents a “Call to Action”.
- Traditionally, the Hero’s Journey has been sexist and Eurocentric. It claims to represent stories from all over the world, but it doesn’t do a very good job of representing stories, myths or heroes from Asian, African, or Indigenous cultures. Stories that adhere to Monomyth stress individualist ego and exceptionalism over stories of social cooperation, and ignore stories and myths that don’t feature one individual hero. Furthermore, stories that rigidly adhere to Monomyth exclude female Protagonists. Check out TEMPTATION, MEETING THE GODDESS, and RESCUE THE PRINCESS, which all appear at different parts of different versions of the Hero’s Journey. According to Campbell, TEMPTATION requires “the seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond (the woman), surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond.” When the Hero MEETS THE GODDESS, it represents him meeting the purest form of femininity and creation. Campbell vainly asserts there is a female equivalent, but is unable to cite any examples. Can you? Who tempts the Heroine? Who does she meet who represents goodness and creation? Does she save the hero? Campbell allows for the possibility, but Monomyth’s default setting is male hero, female plot device.
- It’s cliche as hell. When it’s done well, it’s a crowd pleaser, sure. But structurally it’s been done almost literally to death. And that’s okay, because it’s so limiting in the kinds of stories it can tell, that in order to be original, you have to break free.
There is nothing wrong with following a traditional story structure in your writing. Just don’t be a slave to Campbell’s outdated, Eurocentric Monomyth theory of mythology. Don’t confuse a tool of literary criticism with some holy grail of plot structure. It won’t get you published or even considered if your story isn’t otherwise compelling. It’s just ONE kind of narrative arc that exists. Dare to be different. Dare to write.
Admin Note: This post is a rebloggable copy of our page on fight scenes. The page is being phased out, so from now on all updates will be made on this post and not on the page.
Among the typically difficult scenes writers face in their stories, the fight scene definitely ranks high on the list. Below you will find several resources with tips for writing a good fight scene.
- Action with a Side of Zombies: One of our articles focused specifically on writing action scenes. Bonus: the examples all include zombies.
- ArchetypesAndAllusions: An article on the three main types of fighters and their various approaches to kickin’ ass (or not).
- TheCreativePenn.com: Alan Baxter, speculative fiction author, gives some great advice on characterization, setting, martial style, and cliches.
- StoryHack.com: A PDF that takes you through writing a fight scene step by step by Randy Ingermanson, compiled by Bryce Beattie.
- MarilynnByerly.com: An extremely good guide to writing fight scenes. This guide includes tips on character viewpoint, mapping the fight, and tricks for writing each type of fight.
- Shelfari.com: This site is an interview with famed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore on how to write great fight scenes.
- TheBusinessOfWriting: C. Patrick Schulze gives some good, solid advice on identifying and writing your fight scene.
- EzineArticles.com: Marq McAlister explains how to make a fight scene pack some serious punch. This article is good for fine-tuning.
- Martin Turner: Focusing specifically on sword-fighting scenes, Martin Turner writes in great detail on every conceivable detail of this type of time-honored fight scene.
- SeriousPixie.com: Susan tells you about the three types of fight scene writers and explains how to fix the problems that arise for each type.
- David Alan Lucus: This multi-part guide gives advice in exhaustive detail on how to write an awesome fight scene.
- NightFoot: This Tumblr post offers some great tips for writing fight scenes.
These links provide advice specifically for writing battle scenes:
- Gerri Blanc: eHow’s article on battle scenes is a basic step-by-step list for you. It’s a good introduction to writing battle scenes.
- StormTheCastle.com: This article takes you through an in-depth guide on how to write battle scenes for fantasy stories.
- Rhonda Leigh Jones: Jones lists some dos and don’ts of writing battle scenes.
- List of Martial Arts: Looking for a fighting style? Find it here!
- List of Weapons: Every type of weapon you can think of is listed here.
- List of Military Tactics: From troop movements to siege warfare, this list has got you covered.
- Asylum.com: A few examples of awesome battle tactics from history.
- BadassOfTheWeek.com: Get some inspiration for awesome fight scenes and fighting characters from this compendium of badassitude.
- Thearmedgentleman: Austin has offered to share his knowledge on weaponry with any writers who have questions. Thanks, Austin!
We hope this helps! If you have another link or a tip for how to write fight/battle scenes, hit up our ask box and let us know!
(deleted other reblog commentary because I really don’t like tumblr’s blockquote format and it was mostly things like “keeping for reference” and “<3”)
Argh, no. No no no no no no, no, and no.
When you write dialogue, what your characters say should be able to stand alone, nine times out of ten, without a descriptive word telling the reader how to interpret it. Things like “said” and “asked” are there for a good reason, because they’re ordinary and invisible and do the job. Things goes the same for adverbs like “he said persuasively” or “she said cautiously.” They aren’t necessary.
Not to say you should cut them out of your writing entirely… Well, I really hate “pronounced” and “uttered” and “stated.” They’re the most overused, and oftentimes they’re just there for the sake of being different. But YOU DON’T NEED THEM.
See, 1) overusing synonyms is the first mistake every writer makes when they’re trying to sound smarter than they are and so end up looking like they’re making out with a thesaurus, and 2) it actually is a really good exercise to avoid using adverbs for some time, and learn alternate ways of showing what your characters are up to in their thick little heads.
Consider body language! A character that’s crossing her arms and looming over someone is probably being threatening and trying to intimidate — compared to someone crossing her arms and taking a half-step back, because that person’s feeling defensive and hunted. You can still use adverbs, but in terms of “he stood with his hands stiffly at his sides and his chin up, his school uniform pressed to within an inch of its life,” and so you can tell that the character’s speech is probably going to sound really stilted and formal without actually saying so.
Or your character’s thought process: If your character is in town and noticing the storefronts and signs and the colours of people’s clothes and a street performer down the road playing a harmonica and billows of smoke coming from a food stall, I can pick up the fact that he’s delighted to be in the big city and maybe in an unfamiliar country and he’s drinking in all the sights and sounds. Or he’s noticing that a car’s backfired down the street and the weekend crowds are talking too loudly and moving around in an awful hurry and the harmonica guy is kind of out of tune, and btw he has a wedgie but he can’t possibly do anything about that in public, jeez, and so I think that this character may be just as new to town as the other one, but he’s feeling awkward and miserable and hyperaware of himself. Or maybe he’s looking at rooftops and windows and studying other people’s faces and he knows the make and model of the motorbike that’s blitzed past him and noting that despite the crowds and bright daylight no one is really looking at him, and even though I don’t know what this guy’s deal is yet, if it turns out he’s a spy or secret agent I won’t be surprised.
And so I know that when they open their mouths, the tourist is most likely going to be breathless and excitable, the awkward guy might be muttering and stammering, and on some level the agent is going to be absolutely at ease and in control of himself.
This is the detail that brings your story to life! Because I’m reading a book, not a movie script.
When you’re writing aND YOU CAN’T FIND THE RIGHT WORD
TUMBLR USER OZWINOZWALD IS MY NEW HERO
Here are some of the most common openings I see, as they’re almost always a rejection:
- Waking Up: Avoid the first moments of the day, especially if your character is being snapped out of a dream.
- School Showcase: A character introducing the requisite best friend and the school bully
- Family Showcase: Introductions of parents, siblings, pets
- Room Tour: A character sitting in her room, thinking, looking over her stuff
- Emo Kid: A character sitting and thinking about all his problems
- Normal No More: A character lamenting how normal, average, and/or lame her life is, which is the writer setting us up for the big change that’s about to happen
- Moving Van: A character in the car, driving to his new house, hating every minute of it
- Mirror Catalogue: Looking at oneself and describing one’s flaws, usually with a self-deprecating voice
- Summer of Torture: A character lamenting how she has to do something that she doesn’t want to do (live in a haunted house, go visit Grandma, work at the nursery) all summer long
- New Kid: A character worrying about being the new kid on his first day of school or wizard training or the vampire academy
- RIP Parents: One or both parental units kicking the bucket suddenly and tragically
- Dystopian Selection: In the dystopian genre, it’s the day of choosing jobs, getting selected for something awful, being paired with a soul mate, etc.
These are very common beginnings and all I ask is that, if you choose to forge ahead and brave one, make it fresh.
x2 ON THE RIP PARENTS
don’t do that.
you have to love how almost every one of these was demonstrated in twilight
Anonymous asked: My problem is character. I have spent all this time developing the world and having fun imagining how it works (I am writing a YA science fiction novel), but now when I sit down to try and figure out my characters, I feel stuck and frustrated. People are complicated, and I don’t want to oversimplify them. I try to describe their personalities, but all I can come up with is, well, sometimes they are this way…but sometimes they are not. How do I define them without making them too 1-dimensional?
This is a great question! You’re very right: characters, like real people, can be complicated. Since all writers are different, there’s really no right or wrong way to go about character construction. With that in mind, this article will be aimed at suggesting things you can do to sort out all the people living in your head.
Let’s start with the character itself, and what a character is, exactly.
Character (n): The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
Literature also recognizes different kinds of characters. You can have a static character, or one who does not undergo major change throughout a story; or you can have a dynamic character, who does see major growth and change throughout a story. An interesting character is most often dynamic, because character growth is a good way to create and support strong themes, but this is not always the case. Well-developed, complex characters are referred to as round, whereas one-dimensional characters are known as flat or “stock” characters. Most main characters in literature are round because the reader gets to know them very well by the end of the story, and most minor characters are flat because it is not important for the reader to know much about them.
Whether static or dynamic, flat or round, characters are individuals with distinct thoughts, feelings, histories, and motives. The latter two are especially important in developing round characters because they (again, like real people) have rich, complex pasts and are driven to get what they want. The more you know about your character, the more believable they will appear to your audience.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when a character is proving difficult to develop:
- What does my character want? As I said before, motive drives a character more than any other internal force. Figuring out what your character hopes to get out of his or her journey is useful because the goal itself can imply a lot of other things about the character that you can then use to build further. If your protagonist wants to save the city, for instance, you can ask yourself why she wants to do that. Does she have a hero complex? Is she driven by guilt because she’s lost a loved one? Does she want to save anyone at all, or is she interested solely in eliminating the antagonist? Your character always wants something, even if it is something as temporary and mundane as a glass of water. A character can have many varied motives and those motives can intersect, conflict, and change throughout the story!
- Where has my character been? A character’s past informs their motive and core parts of their personality—their hopes and fears, their strengths and weaknesses, their loves and prejudices—so it is important that you, the writer, know your characters’ histories. What’s your character’s family like? What are his or her ties to the world’s politics? Has your character literally been a lot of places? Consider key formative events, like prominent triumphs and losses. A character’s history also informs their sense of morality, which is so complicated that we’ve covered it in its own article!
- What kind of person is my character? Human personality is complicated, but, thankfully, there are plenty of resources available online to help people understand and identify personality types. Writers can use these resources to learn about their characters! For example, there is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, which assigns people one of sixteen personality types that break down the frameworks of their behavior. If you understand your character pretty well, you can fill out an MBTI questionnaire and read about the resulting type. Alternatively, you can start by reading about the various types and use that information to help you form a believable character. Once you have assigned a personality framework to a character, you can use it to make sure your character’s behavior remains consistent and believable throughout their story.
- Whom does my character know? It’s important to remember that characters have influences on each other and that these influences can range from minor to formative. Explore the relationships between characters and you’ll find yourself thinking about motive and history and personality, and how these things will guide the characters’ behavior going forward. Also keep in mind that romantic relationships, while interesting, are not the only way to tie characters together! All relationship types can be compelling to your reader and teach you, the writer, about your characters.
Once you’ve got at least partial answers to some of these questions, you might feel you know enough about your characters to start developing them in writing. Just write and see what comes of it!
This writing does not necessarily need to relate to the main plot of your work as long as you are writing something that illustrates what you know about the characters. Retell that time that your protagonist got tea and gelato with his father; talk about sleepovers, about super secret cave explorations. about times of sadness. If yours is a story that deals with people of varied dialects and nationalities, consider the dynamics of those as you explore. If you’re feeling adventurous, pluck your characters up out of the comfort of their own settings and place them somewhere else.
What-ifs and alternate universe scenarios are a wonderful way to make sure you know who a character is, and hen you’re confident you could write the character reacting to any situation, you can be sure you are on the right track.
As you’re writing your story, remember to show, rather than tell the audience the things you know to be true about your character. Gene Wolf said:
“You do not characterize by telling the reader about the character. You do it by showing the character thinking, speaking and acting in a characteristic way. You simply show it and shut up.”
If your character likes coffee, illustrate that by having having her buy coffee! Do whatever you can to let your characters just be. The things they reveal about themselves might surprise you.
Some other useful references:
- A character development chart
- “Creating Fictional Characters” by Lillie Ammann
- WriteWorld’s Character Tools page
- This Is a Towel: Character Traits
- WriteWorld’s “characterization” tag
- WriteWorld’s “character development” tag
Thank you for your question! If you have any concerns or suggestions about this article or writing in general, hit up our ask box!
A great idea needs a great beginning. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a ton of self-proclaimed “great ideas” for stories, for novels, for short stories, for articles, you name it. But, where to start? Nervous about the prospect of diving into a story, I hack out a few thick paragraphs of setting. They are languid and overlong, delving too passionately into the ominous rain on a stormy night, the house’s decrepit state, the rivulets of storm water careening down the thatched roof tops.
It’s our jobs to cut the poetic fat and get right to the meat of our stories, especially on the first few pages, as that’s where we writers are usually nervous about taking a bite out of the narrative. Call it poetic throat-clearing, call it well-written stalling, but the fact is that stuffing your story with expository details can bog it down, no matter how beautifully crafted it is. As William Faulkner said, “Kill all your darlings.”
Get right into the meaty action. Have you characters with their guns out, busting down front doors, confessing their love, losing their virginity. Right where things get good is right where you should start from.
What does this approach to opening scenes accomplish?
- It hooks your reader. This is important if you want your reader to stick around and see what else you’ve got in store. Action is immediate; it involves a reader more than setting and requires them to pay attention. Long chunks of elegant scene-setting are fun to write, but they’re not going to grab your reader. Give them something to latch onto.
- It doesn’t overwhelm your reader with information. When you frontload your story with a ton of descriptions, your reader won’t know what’s important or what she should remember. This is especially important in fantasy or Science Fiction, where you’re building a world’s mechanics from the ground up. Throw your reader into the fray, then help them swim out. Toss them a buoy of exposition, setting, character description after they get a feel for what’s going on. Sprinkling in concrete details that describe the setting or the characters throughout the action makes it easier for a reader to digest.
- People are hardwired to want characters. It’s a reader’s natural inclination to search for characters, people they can attach themselves to help guide them. People get antsy without characters or solid action to help them through. Your story is going to happen to characters, so you might as well start there. We are all programmed to recognize faces. It’s the reason you can draw two dots and a curved line and everyone recognizes a smiling face. People crave other people. Give the people what they want.
There aren’t hard and fast rules in writing and it’s important to recognize the exceptions. There are cases when the landscape is so compelling it can snag a reader’s attention (usually in the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres). But don’t think you can sustain a story on the weight of your punchy, vivid descriptions of your alien landscape. People better start doing things. And quick. Imagine your story as a movie. How long can a landscape sustain an audience member’s attention span? Probably not that long. How long can a really compelling car chase keep an audience captive?
The focus of the story isn’t landscapes or the doom-y weather plaguing them, but your characters. Characters are the driving force in any story, so don’t short-change them on screen time. Have them grab us by the throat and not let go. Get right to the good stuff and don’t let up.
Thank you for your question! If you have anything to add to this article or a question of your own, please visit our ask box!
- Wolf and O
I had a disturbing exchange with a high school-aged person today that prompted this…
- Beer, wine, mead, and cider are fermented beverages.
- Mead is made from honey.
- Cider is made from apples.
- Beer is made from grains.
- Beer tastes like beer because they flavor it with hops.
- They used to flavor beer with dandelions.
- Ain’t that cute?
- All beer is either ale or lager.
- Ale is fermented at room temperature.
- Lager is brewed and store cold.
- Barleywine, bitter, porter, and stout are ales.
- Pilsner and bock are lagers.
- Most of the crap people drink in America is pale lager.
- Mosft of the crap people drink in Ireland is dry stout.
- Butterbeer isn’t real.
- (Except actually I think it is, and I heard it tastes like cream soda)
- Miruvor isn’t real, either, but it probably would taste like squash.
- Ent-draught isn’t real, either, but shit, it would be awesome if it were.
- Wine is made from fermented fruit juice, usually grapes.
- Red wine is made from red grapes.
- White wine is made from green grapes.
- The name of the grape is the name of the wine (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are all varieties of grape)
- Unless you live in France.
- In which case, the name of the place supersedes the name of the grape.
- (for example: Burgundies are made in Burgundy, France, but Burgundy wine can be Pinot Noir or Chardonnay)
- Champagne is any sparkling white wine.
- However, Champagne can also be wine that comes from Champagne, France.
- Drink red wine with beef. Drink white wine with fish.
- Act like it tastes good.
- Keep a Diet Coke in your bag for later.
- You’ll be fine.
- Brandy is distilled wine.
- Cognac is brandy aged in oak barrels.
- Don’t fuck around with the French about their cognac.
- Fortified wine is wine with added alcohol.
- Sherry is fortified white wine made in Spain.
- Port is fortified red wine made in Portugal.
- Vermouth is fortified white wine plus grape spirits.
- Sweet vermouth has added sugar.
- Dry vermouth has added spices like nutmeg.
- Liquors are distilled spirits that contain ethanol.
- Liqueurs are liquors that have sugar and flavors added.
- Liquors can be made from grains, fruits, or vegetables.
- Grain alcohol is liquor made from grains. Duh.
- Gin, Vodka, and Whisky are grain alcohols.
- Vodka is grain alcohol and water.
- Be careful with vodka. Homemade vodka is poisonous.
- Gin is (basically vodka) flavored with juniper berries.
- Absinthe is (basically gin) flavored with anise.
- Whisky is grain alcohol aged in wood barrels.
- Malt whisky is made from barley.
- Grain whisky is made from all the other grains.
- Scotch is whisky made in Scotland.
- Bourbon is Kentucky whisky mostly made from corn.
- Don’t fuck around with the Scottish.
- Don’t fuck around with people from Kentucky, either.
- Tequila is liquor made from the blue agave plant.
- Rum is liquor made from sugarcane.
- Schnapps is liquor made from fruit “must” (smashed fruit that still contains seeds and skins).
- American schnapps is grain alcohol mixed with fruit flavors and sugar syrup.
- Drink apple schnapps only while playing Tekken 2.
- Sake is rice wine that’s brewed like beer. Or something.
- Avoid these cocktails: Grog, Long Island Iced Tea, Manhattan, Dark and Stormy, Jack and Coke, Piña Colada, Scorpion. They contain huge amounts of alcohol and/or a huge number of calories. That Long Island Ice Tea is the worst motherfucker of the bunch. Just avoid them. Have a lemon drop martini instead.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach or you’ll puke.
- Don’t drink too fast or you’ll puke.
- Avoid Long Island Iced Teas. Like I said.
- Don’t drink and drive because you might kill my Mom. You fuckers.
- If your friend has had too much to drink and needs to crash, make sure she’s lying on her side so she doesn’t choke on her own vomit.
- Don’t leave a drunk friend alone.
- Passing out is a sign of being severely goddamn sick. If someone drinks and passes out? They are dying right now. Call 9-1-1.
- If you are drunk, don’t drink coffee or caffeine to get sober. Sip cold water and nibble some saltine crackers.
- Don’t be a fucking idiot. Don’t smash my mailbox.
- Really, do you need to drink?
- You probably don’t.
- But now you know some stuff. Maybe.