Author’s Note: This is the blog format of the Stitched Up Guide to Genre Writing. If you’d like to download the PDF (it’s cooler looking) for free click here.
Even though from a distance it may look like everyone has the same pattern, the stripes between zebras differ. There are subtle nuances that allow the zebras to tell each other apart.
In many ways this summarizes the different types of writing covered in this book. Every type of writing tells a story. But there are subtle differences to each. Horror stories focus on exploring our fears while novellas focus on character development. Knowing how to write each type of genre, you begin to differentiate the “zebras”. Rather than seeing a herd of black and white animals, you see ones that have diagonal stripes, vertical, maybe even some horizontal stripes. You begin to appreciate the nuances because you can tell the difference where everyone else just see black and white.
This is what I hope to accomplish in this book. To help you see the nuances of writing and appreciate the diversity contained therein. Welcome to the Stitched Up Guide to Genre Writing, our second book as a company. If you have any comments, concerns, or ideas for our next book, please contact us and let us know.
Founder, Stitch Writing.
- Chapter 1: The Mark of an Educated Mind: Persuasive Writing from Aristotle
- Chapter 2: Horror Stories: Finding Hope Amid Fear
- Chapter 3: Novellas: A Christmas Miracle
- Chapter 4: There and Back Again: A Guide to Quests
- Chapter 5: Finding Your Way in the Galaxy: The Importance of Mythos
- Chapter 6: Autobiographical Writing: Seeing Our Lives in the Stories We Tell
- Chapter 7: Science Fiction: Bridging the Gap Between the Present and Future
- Chapter 8: Comics: Life Isn’t so Bad After All
- Chapter 9: Four Score and Seven Years Ago: A Brief Romp in Speech Writing
- Chapter 10: My Dearest Gwendolyn: Letter Writing
- Chapter 11: Lessons from Harry Potter: Being Authentic
- The End of the Guide to Genre Writing
Chapter 1: The Mark of an Educated Mind: Persuasive Writing from Aristotle
This is a guest chapter by the philosopher Strom Clark. Strom is passionate about all things philosophy. Primarily, he is concerned with solving problems in chaos theory, philosophy of the mind and neuroscience. Strom enjoys learning languages, speaking Mandarin, and teaching himself Latin and German. Currently, he is engaged doing research at Brigham Young University in topics surrounding, neuroscience, applied physics, and chaos theory. You can reach him on Twitter @Cyber_Spock.
The fundamentals of persuasive methods in speech have been known for thousands of years. Aristotle systematized the study of persuasive speaking in his work “Rhetoric” written in the 400’s BC. While the focus of his writing is clearly on spoken forms of communication, his principles can easily be redirected, allowing one to write more fluently and persuasively.
A Deficiency in Writing
There is an inherent deficiency in written forms of communication as opposed to verbal forms, namely, the writer lacks their voice. When a written passage is read, the reader naturally inserts her own voice as the speaker in the text; therefore, some essential components present in verbal speech such as tone and enunciation are manifestly absent. Furthermore, visual cues such as posture, gesture and the general composure of the speaker are lacking. To mitigate these deficiencies, successful writers must engineer those categories in which they can remain persuasive, notwithstanding their initial deficit.
An Overview of Philosophical Tenants
Aristotle believed that the persuasiveness of the speaker–and by extension writer– stemmed from three basic tenants: the Ethos, the Pathos and the Logos of the communicator. The Ethos represents the character of the writer, the Pathos the emotional influence, and the Logos the content of the argument.
Ethos is an appeal to the authority of the writer. By the nature of writing, most that is lost from a spoken argument is lost in Ethos and Pathos. While one can sense the composure of a speaker, it is much more difficult to convey that same feeling of confidence in writing. To inspire this confidence, it goes without saying that the writing should be grammatical with correct punctuation and spelling. It is also important when writing that one states one’s opinions clearly and succinctly, rather than beating around the bush. A statement of fact is therefore better than a belief or conjecture.
For example, the statement “While many see the rise of automation technology as a threat to job security, in actuality automation will promote employment.” is a distinctly better statement than the same statement with the phrase “automation may promote employment” substituted. The difference between “will” and “may” indicates that the writer is confident in her assertion and will provide evidence to prove it.
A further essential part of Ethos is treating with respect other’s arguments which are contrary to one’s own. When a writer first lends credence to another’s view, it makes one’s contrary opinion to follow much easier to stomach. If one, for example, were to label an argument as “patently wrong,” it gives off a distinctly different meaning than if it were labeled as “lacking in some respects,” or “fails to take into account an essential aspect. ” In written as well as spoken rhetoric, it is important to treat one’s opponent and their views with respect, lending them credence where credence is due. So doing gives the best chance that one’s own arguments meet the same respect.
Pathos is an emotional appeal to the reader. It is important in writing to identify what emotion the writer wants to invoke in the reader, to where they normally feel that emotion and how they come to feel that way. Then recreate the environment to construct that emotion. While initially performed, even when written, Shakespeare’s speech of Mark Antony masterfully takes control of the options of the audience. In the excerpt below, Antony mourns the murdered Caesar and plays on the idea of false honor to create the emotions of sadness and anger in the listeners.
As the speech continues, he continually refers to Brutus and the rest as honorable men after repeating their deeds, slowly and masterfully recasting them as the villains in the story. This example also serves to illustrate that the emotional appeal used by Antony can be captured in writing nearly as well as in speaking.
“The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caesar answer’d it. Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men.”
Much of persuasive writing has historically focused on logos or the reasoning. This is because it is the aspect most easily translated from speech as there is little change between the two media. Logical thought proceeds clearly as a conclusion is reached from true premises and correct logical form. While a fill treatise on the logical form cannot be recreated here, an example will suffice.
- If it is raining then there are clouds.
- It is raining.
- Therefore there are clouds.
This is the correct logical form.
- If P then Q
- Therefore, Q
So long as statement 1 and 2, are true, statement 3 must be true. For a further treatment of logic, a wonderful little book to read is “A First Course in Logic” by K. Codell Carter. He successfully identifies thousands of real-life examples of correct and incorrect logical form.
Convey a Clear Presence
The methods of good rhetoric have not changed since Aristotle systematized them before the Romans even controlled the Italian Peninsula. The task of the writer is to convey a presence through clear, grammatical writing, create the desired emotion, and logically present the arguments, so the reader can have the experience necessary to be convinced of the writer’s argument.
Chapter 2: Horror Stories: Finding Hope Amid Fear
When it comes to scary movies, I’m the worst. I cover my eyes and I frequently jump. However, reading a scary story is easier. I can stop at any time. When I read I am Legend for the first time in high school it was great fun. I didn’t find it terribly difficult to get through and I was surprised because it explored the idea of what made us scared of vampires. For this reason, it’s my case study for horror stories.
A Brief Plot Summary
I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it but if you’ve seen the movie, you have a good chunk of the plot down. Read the book anyway, it’s much better. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, it’s about the last man (Robert Neville) alive during a plague that has broken out, resulting in millions of deaths and a small percent of the human race morphing into vampire-like beings.
Elements of Good Horror
Horror stories should be well, scary. That is an essential ingredient. In I am Legend that situation is being the last man left alive. He’s surrounded by a bunch of vampire-like beings that all are interested in wiping out the last thing standing between them and the extinction of humans. This is fertile ground for some close encounters and intense situations. But the book doesn’t present a high stakes situation and tell the reader to be scared, but rather, lets it play out and you BECOME scared. It shows you. Not tells you. When you’ve been drawn into the world in which Robert Neville lives, experienced what his life is like, then the story explores what the vampire represents in society and why we are scared of it.
Explore a Motif
This is the next element that makes up a good horror story. They challenge our beliefs about and explores what it means to be scared. The story doesn’t have to be something inherently scary. A Christmas Carol explores what the world would be like if the main character wasn’t born. It causes introspection within the main character as well as within ourselves. However, most horror stories explore frightening motifs. An example of this would be Jaws. This movie explores what it means to be scared of sharks and how that fear can infect an entire town. I am Legend follows this pattern. Using vampires, it explores why we fear the undead, bloodsucking beasts, and what they represent psychologically. While good horror stories contain a balanced (or not so balanced) mixture of gore, suspense, creepiness and thrill, what brings these elements into focus is the contrast of there being hope.
The Power of Hope
Finally, in order to have a good horror story, there needs to be hope. This provides a black and white contrast to the scary moments. This makes each more impactful. In I am Legend, it’s Robert’s hope of finding a cure that drive him. Hope is something we all relate to and that keeps us going. In a sense, I think we substitute ourselves in the story we are reading or watching. We mirror the hope of the characters with our own to help us get through our own dark tunnels.
While horror stories are sometimes frowned upon in society for their content, if done well, can provide unique insight into different types of fear. While scary, horror shows us the power hope brings in tense situations. By exploring things that make us scared, we are able to learn to how to deal with, transcend, and overcome our own fears.
Chapter 3: Novellas: A Christmas Miracle
No this isn’t referring to telenovelas. How does one pick just one piece of Christmas literature to talk about? There are so many: Skipping Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, and The Night Before Christmas. Instead, I found one of many famous novellas, A Christmas Carol. It’s a Christmas ghost story.
What are Novellas?
A novella is a story that is shorter than a novel. Typically novellas run from 17,000 words to 40,000 words whereas novels are 40,000 words and up. To help you get a better idea of the length, short stories are usually 1,000-7,500 words. Novellas are the in between story. Due to their concise nature, novellas, focus on emotional development within the main character. While the term may be unfamiliar, you may have read more novellas than you think. Consider titles such as The Little Prince, Metamorphosis, The Old man and the Sea, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and of course, A Christmas Carol.
Five Different “Staves”
A Christmas Carol is divided into five different sections called “staves.” A stave is a musical term for stanzas and the book has five. Rather fitting for a book that purports to be a carol! Each stanza portrays a different aspect of Ebenezer Scrooge. In the first, we get the cranky, crotchety, humbug, money-obsessed man. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself and certainly could care less about Christmas. Not till his old business partner, Jacob Marley, visits him from the great beyond does Scrooge’s trajectory begin to change.
The second stanza is a visit from the ghost of Christmas past. This spirit takes Scrooge back to a time when he was younger. He’s able to see that he was nicer and happier. It ends on a melancholy note as Scrooge relives the moment he lost his fiancé and how happy she has become since. The contrast between who he used to be and the realization of who he had become begins to dawn on him.
Skipping back to the present, another ghost, that of Christmas present, show him the poverty around him. This is the third stave. Amidst Christmas cheer in some parts of town, there is poverty in others. In particular, his employee, Bob Cratchit. Scrooge also meets Ignorance and Want, two grim looking children he is warned to be wary of. Having seen the contrast in himself from the ghost of Christmas past, Scrooge now confronts the contrast of poverty and wealth during Christmas in his own time. The self-centered wall built around Ebenezer is beginning to crumble from within.
Finally, Scrooge experiences his own funeral and death. No one mourns him. In fact, his debtors are happy he’s gone. The final blow is dealt as Scrooge recognizes the scope of his negative influence on not only others but himself. He begs for a second chance, only to wake up on Christmas Day, in his room, right where he began the night.
Having experienced the past, present and future of Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge changes his heart. He decides to allow the Christmas spirit to enter his heart. This is the fifth and final stanza of the novella.
Your Christmas Carol
Other than the story of the birth of the Savior, A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas story. The novella was written in the mid-1800s and today is actually the anniversary of the publication. How’s that for timing? A Christmas Carol is different because it scares you, yet it sends the same message of being loving, kind, and charitable that we seek during the holiday season. But not in a demonic or sadistic sort of way. It’s a representation of life as a song. There are soprano and bass notes, staccatos and legato passages. None of are bad but rather, add to the flavor of the carol.
A Christmas Carol encourages you to reflect on your Christmas carol and not only what people mean to you, but also what you mean to people.
One of the most poignant moments is when Jacob Marley visits Scrooge. Marley explains that the chains he’s wrapped in were of his own making, forged one link at a time during his life. It’s the small things we do in life that make the most difference in the long run. Each moment, hour, and day, we choose if we forge links of greed, ignorance, cold-heartedness, or unbind them with charity, kindness, and selflessness. The decision has to be made about what people mean to you.
The answer to what people mean to you comes in full when you lose someone or are away. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge realizes what people mean to him while with the ghosts. He missed his sister, saw the suffering of his employee, and just how much of an impact he had on people for the worse when he died. What Ebenezer was able to see was it’s not enough to merely live and subsist. Real happiness in life comes from reaching out to others. By realizing that you love people and that people can love you back.
Pause for a Moment
Take a step back and think about how you can reach out to someone. Think about what others mean to you and ask someone what you mean to them. The answer may surprise you. In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone.”
Chapter 4: There and Back Again: A Guide to Quests
Lord of the Rings is standard issue when it comes to fantasy books. Tolkien popularized orcs, elves, hobbits, dwarves and many other fictional creatures that have since become the norm in fantasy. Perhaps what makes Lord of the Rings so epic is the breadth and scope of not only the creatures, languages and cultures found within its pages but also a quest that spans nearly all of Middle-Earth. Lord of the Rings set the standard for the age of modern quest literature.
What is Quest Literature?
This simply refers to any piece of writing that employs a quest. The main character embarks on a journey to solve a problem or gain some treasure. Along the way, characters help him either by joining the quest or imparting of their wisdom. Sometimes both. Trials of a personal nature, as well as physical, are usually placed as stumbling blocks before the hero. Quest literature has been around since the beginning of time. Perhaps the first was the quest of the Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh and his wild friend Enkidu. Another example of quest literature is Homer’s Odyssey. These types of stories have been with mankind throughout the ages. Their purpose also transcends that of a simple quest. They help us discover and understand our own journey and how to navigate through it.
There and Back Again
The above header is the subtitle for The Hobbit and succinctly summarizes what quest literature is all about. Going some place and coming back. How it affects you, your relationships with others, and the world. This is something that Lord of the Rings does beautifully. The relationships between Frodo and Gandalf, Bilbo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are established in the beginning.
As Frodo leaves the Shire, those relationships begin to change. As each character develops through hardships, they begin to see their role in the quest. Some sooner than others. For a majority of the trilogy, Frodo expertly handles being the ring-bearer. Especially when compared to what the ring causes Boromir and others to do. It’s only after Frodo returns from Mount Doom that we see that the quest has left scars that the Shire can’t heal. No place on Middle-Earth can. That’s part of the reason he and Bilbo leave.
At the same time Bilbo and Frodo depart from the Grey Havens, Aragorn is beginning his reign as King of Gondor. Near the commencement of the quest, Aragorn is quite the opposite. He tries to fly under the radar. Yet, as the rightful heir of Gondor, it is his responsibility to claim the throne.
He shirks his duties until he grows into them. Again, this transformation starts as he joins up with Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. By the time Aragorn arrives at Rohan and sees how Saruman has treated the people, he begins to shoulder his responsibilities and becomes a comrade to King Theoden. It isn’t until Aragorn enlists the dead men of Dunharrow that we see the kingly blood that runs through his veins ignite. His quest is complete when he becomes king, bringing back the royal line and finishing a journey that began when the Isildur was killed by Sauron.
While it may seem that stories of this type belongs to an age when people traveled leagues on foot and trampled on the battlefields of destiny, in fact, these types of a story still happen today. This is what makes them so popular to read.
A Modern Day Quest
Lord of the Rings and other quest stories are captivating because they remain relatable. Not in the sense of destroying the one ring but in that, we are all on a quest to achieve an objective. We all encounter people that help us along the way, be it a wise old man with a pointy hat or a merry band of dwarves. All of us have trials, setbacks and have to make decisions, sometimes difficult ones, about which way we are going to go.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think about how I’m on a quest in life while I’m reading Lord of the Rings, or any other quest literature for that matter. However, this happens subconsciously. It goes back to the importance of mythos and understanding our place in the world. While we may not realize it in the moment, by reading quest literature, we come to understand how to navigate our place in the universe a little better.
Chapter 5: Finding Your Way in the Galaxy: The Importance of Mythos
This chapter has been updated to reflect the latest Star Wars movie, the Last Jedi.
The story of Star Wars is deep and complex. Now, before you click away and start mumbling about bad actors, whining teenagers, and a lack of plotline, hear me out. The inspiration for this post came from watching an interview with Charlie Rose and George Lucas. George talks about how Star Wars, while a soap opera, is also a mythos.
What is Mythos?
Mythos is a Greek term meaning a report, tale or story. It’s a set of stories that helps explain life’s fundamental questions such as why am I here? What is the purpose of life? How am I supposed to live life? If you were born thousands of years ago, you would grow up hearing stories that answer these questions. These stories help you understand your position in the world and your relationships with others. By hearing these stories, you would come to understand your role as a son, father, mother, daughter, cousin, friend, and a member of society. So how do Star Wars and mythos come together?
Star Wars and Mythos
Star Wars is the multi-generational story of the Skywalker family. It’s the story of how the father, Anakin grew up, began a family, and ultimately forsook it for power. It’s the story of how Anakin’s son, Luke, found out the truth about his family and sought to help redeem his father. The Star Wars saga is about relationships. Father-son, daughter-father, and husband-wife. A coming of age story about Anakin and Luke trying to understand their place in the universe. Relationships are at the heart of mythos, but that isn’t all. An important part of mythos is explaining the beliefs of a culture. The Star Wars universe has an abundance of cultural beliefs portrayed in the stories. Many planets, each with its unique set of species, are visited. While the beliefs of those cultures aren’t explained, there is a major belief worth pointing out, the Force.
In the interview, Lucas says that civilizations hold different religious beliefs. Something that connects us with a higher power. The Force in Star Wars doesn’t represent a particular religion, but rather, the idea of a higher power and how we interact and our connection with it. To me, what the Force shows us is how belief in a higher power is used for good and bad. Jedis and Sith reflect opposing sides of the Force. One seeks balance and peace, the other seeking to gain power through domination and control. Our belief in God or a higher power drives us to either help others or control them. The results of both paths can be seen clearly in the movies.
Has the Star Wars Mythos Died?
The answer to the question of whether the mythos being dead or not is in my opinion, yes. Or rather, is in the process of dying. Like Lucas, I feel that the opportunity to make money has overthrown the prerogative to tell a mythological story. No longer is Star Wars a tale of a family, and relationships, but rather a story couched in explosions and action. The story of Star Wars took a back seat when its commercial success exponentially grew. Like Yoda, Lucas and the fans that fell in love with the story in a galaxy far far away, have retreated to their own Dagobah, hoping to train the next generation of storyteller.
However, with the recent release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I feel like some of that mythos has been restored. The Force Awakens was all about bringing back the original trilogy. It was a movie for the fans. There was a recycled story line and plenty of action. With the release of the latest movie, we were all forced to confront what Star Wars is really about. And it was painful in places. It’s not about glitzy space battles or flashing lightsabers. It’s about Rey and Ben Solo. Star Wars always has been about family and their place in the world. This is forcefully portrayed when Supreme Leader Snoke dies without explaining who he ever was, leaving Rey and Ben to confront each other. The scene where Luke burns down the Jedi library with Yoda is another scene. Yoda tells us to not take what Star Wars has become seriously. As he says about the Jedi scoroll, “They weren’t much of page turners anyway.” Like Luke, we were all feeling a bit lost, but Yoda helped us realize that we need to let go of the past and move on. There is another generation of Jedi that deserves their own legacy. Luke, being the connection between those generations, needs to be the guide, much as Obi-Wan was for Luke. If you’ve seen the movie, I recommend the following review. It summed it up well.
Chapter 6: Autobiographical Writing: Seeing Our Lives in the Stories We Tell
Not long ago, I attended the rehearsals for the BYU-Idaho production of Jane Eyre. It was interesting to see a college play come together from start to end. I’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I tried to pick up the storyline as I watched. I resorted to reading the Spark Notes version of the story. I read the plot summary, symbols, motifs, characters, and even a little about the author. What’s interesting is that in addition to this book being an autobiography of Jane Eyre, it’s partly an autobiography of Charlotte Brontë, the author. These aspects of the book caused me to reflect on how we use our story within our story.
Examples from Life
Several scenes of Jane Eyre parallel the author’s life. The time Charlotte Brontë spent in school is similar to Jane’s at Lowood. Similarly, Jane Eyre became a governess just as Brontë did. Looking back on my writing, I’ve also noticed autobiographical threads. In middle school, I wrote a series of 11 short stories about a short, quirky doctor named Scratchnsniff (borrowing the name from Animaniacs). It’s fun to re-read those stories because I can tell what was going on in my life. At one point in my story, I reference Transformers because I had recently watched that movie. Another time, I wrote in a character that behaved similarly to Gollum from Lord of the Rings (one of my favorites). I think most often our writing becomes autobiographical not in the characters we develop but in the experiences they encounter.
Dealing With the World Around Us
By putting parts of our story into written form, it helps us deal with our current situation. Stories have a knack for writing themselves. I think what we unconsciously do is insert our difficulties into a story and see how our characters react to them. By doing this, we discover how to deal with different situations. It’s a powerful way to make sense of the world around us, especially if we are in a less than ideal spot.
Examining the world around us through experiences from our lives helps us form opinions. In the process of a character undergoing a parallel story to our life; it provides a catharsis for our experiences. Going through this can provide insights that aren’t available at the time of the old event. We can formulate our thoughts more clearly and impact others. Jane makes a statement about the structure and rigidity of beliefs held by society. Perhaps writing Jane Eyre helped Charlotte Brontë solidify her opinions of Victorian England.
Auto Biographical Writing is in Each of Us
Our personal histories influence the things we write. Whether in a best-selling classic about Victorian England or middle school short stories about a quirky doctor. In reciprocation, writing helps us understand and deal with the world around us by allowing us to explore different scenarios. Living through those, either from memory or vicariously through characters makes it possible to form opinions about those situations. Autobiographical writing is ingrained in each of us. It seeps from the pores of our being when we put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. In the end, what makes writing interesting is connecting our individual story to the material.
Chapter 7: Science Fiction: Bridging the Gap Between the Present and Future
It was 2010 and I was living in Sweden. My parents decided to uproot the family from Utah, buy a house in Sweden and live there for six months while my step-dad did some consulting work for a Swedish engineering company. While there, I attended the oldest high school in Sweden. I got up early every morning, took the train to another town and then walked the half an hour to get to school. All my classes were in Swedish, a language I definitely did not speak. It was hard, to say the least. I felt lonely because I didn’t have many friends, I was in a foreign country, and I wasn’t even attending school in the same city as I lived.
Fast forward two years. I had just finished high school and left Utah to attending Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona as a freshman. I was a 10-hour drive from home, had no friends in Arizona, and didn’t know my roommates.
You’re probably wondering what these stories have in common, other than both being lonely times in my life. Certainly wondering what they have to do with the title of the post.
Both of these times were when I happened to be reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
In Sweden, during lunch time, I’d head over to the city library and read books in their English section. Ender’s Game was the first book I saw. I had heard about it from teachers and family but never read it myself. What I found was a book that carried me through my trials. The loneliness of Ender at Battle School was my loneliness. I felt like we were walking the same road. I leaned on him for strength. If he could get through all the loneliness and teasing, certainly I could handle my difficulties.
A similar thing happened while I was at Embry-Riddle. Both Ender and I were far away from family and had to take care of ourselves. He was studying difficult military battle strategies, I was taking 12 credits of Chinese in addition to other intense courses. Even though I had read the book before, I still found comfort and strength from the experiences of Ender.
It’s because of this personal connection I have with Ender’s Game I chose it to be my example of what good science fiction is.
Good Science Fiction Taps Into the Human Experience
With any story, we insert ourselves in the shoes of the main character and experience their tale. That effect is compounded when you are actually experiencing thoughts and feelings of the main character.
Ender leaves his parents, two siblings, Peter and Valentine, to go off to a space station know as Battle School. There he trains to become a military officer in the fight against the alien species known as the Buggers. Throughout Battle School, he has mixed feelings. While he misses his sister’s kindness and hates the harsh beatings at Battle School, he slowly comes to the realization he is the one who must save humanity from the Buggers.
Needless to say, the emotions portrayed in the book are powerful and opposing. Ender knows both sides of the coin, love, compassion, hate and disgust. It’s amidst the trials of his past family life and Battle School that he has to choose between succumbing to the brutality of his environment and beatings of his older brother Peter, or transcend them and be like his sister, Valentine, and show compassion during a military campaign.
While we may not be forced to leave our families and relocate to space in order to save humanity, we still experience many of the same feelings Ender does. Although the context is different, the types of choices we make are the same. In a way, the choice Ender has to make is the choice we all have to make–to rise above our situation or become prey to it.
A good science fiction story taps into the universal experiences and feelings of mankind and allows us to explore how to overcome them.
Good Science Fiction Bridges the Gap Between Reality and the Future
One of the “musts” of science fiction is showing the reader the possibility of the future in which they read about. The reader must be able to see how the society they are currently living in developed into the one being read about. In the case of Ender’s Game, a world hegemony and a space station that teaches the military officers of the future. It is not difficult to connect the dots on how the reality of the book could become our reality.
When a writer does not follow this rule, it shows. Rather than having a mind-expanding story, the reader becomes awash with the implausibility of the story. Reading science fiction should generate excitement for the future of humanity. It should stop to make you consider to moral and philosophical implications of the societal advancement.
In order to bridge the gap between reality and the future, the writer must conduct research. This doesn’t necessarily mean researching every little detail (like The Martian). But you do need to do research for the parts that matter. The best example of this is Star Trek. While Star Trek has phasers, transporters, warp drives, and a host of other advanced technology, you can see the writers did their research. Even when the laws of physics were being broken, they were being done plausibly.
Good Science Fiction Provides Social Commentary
When I’m teaching my students writing, I always tell them stories need to focus on characters. Their stories need to show how the characters develop based on the situations they are put in. The same goes for science fiction but there is also another layer that added. Science fiction also shows how societies develop based on the technologies/practices of their day. In the case of Ender’s Game, this plays out through Ender’s siblings, Peter and Valentine. While Ender is away at Battle School, Peter and Valentine begin releasing political commentary under pseudonyms that end up influencing the politics of the planet. They challenge what a world hegemony means and its benefits.
Up in space, Ender forces the reader to consider the morality of the military training program he is forced to go through. One of the most potent themes of the book is the contrast between using military might and having compassion in order to achieve your ends.
Science fiction provides a great avenue for discussion. It allows us to view the ideas and situations that could potentially become a reality one day. Not only would I recommend Ender’s Game as a great starting point, but I would also encourage regular indulging of science fiction. It helps you see the world around you in a new light. Perhaps even help you get through your trials. Just like Ender’s Game did for me while I was in Sweden and attending Embry-Riddle.
Chapter 8: Comics: Life Isn’t so Bad After All
Everyone loves to read the comics. I have fond memories of grabbing the Sunday paper as a kid and reading the comics. My uncle introduced me to Calvin and Hobbes and my mom showed me Bloom County and Opus. All of which I have in collections at my home. Comics provide a snap escape from reality and touch on the more jovial and fantastic things in life. They are a great way to tell a story visually. The weekly installments can keep readers engaged for a long time. Even though drawing and writing a comic may appear easy, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
Having Limited Space
Comics are pretty short. In only a few panels you have to convey a sense of “plot” and give each character something to do. Whether that’s speaking, using facial expressions, or performing an action. Additionally, when developing the comic, you have to decide how many installments to use.
Advanced spacing practices such as have overly large beginning panels or having the characters step out of the panel can be a solution to the space problem. For example, Calvin and Hobbes has an extra large panel whenever Calvin is Spaceman Spiff. This provides a sense of vastness, especially since Spiff was flying in his saucer in outer space. Stepping outside the panel creates a comedic effect, but use it sparingly if the character is aware they are in a comic strip. Figuring out how best to use the space provided is essential to developing your characters and the world they are going to inhabit.
Creating Memorable Characters
When done well, comics have provided some of the most beloved characters of all time. Characters such as Charlie Brown, Opus, Calvin and his pet tiger Hobbes, Garfield, and Dilbert. Each of these is authentic.
Creating characters can be challenging. Due to a comic’s’ length, these characters have to provide value in the short term. There isn’t a lot of space in one strip to develop your character. Therefore, it’s necessary to develop them as much as possible before you begin. That way, when you begin drawing and writing the comic, your audience is meeting a character that already knows who they are. Over the course of writing the comics, your character will become refined.
Calvin and Hobbes
Let’s take my favorite comic as an example, Calvin and Hobbes. In the beginning drafts of the comic, Calvin had hair completely covering his eyes. As the comic developed, the hair changed and he became the obnoxious, six-year-old kid with a tiger that we all know.
In order to create characters of value, you need to put them in circumstances that provide opportunities to write about. Going back to Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is a six-year-old kid who hates school, homework, his mom’s cooking, and girls. He has a stuffed tiger as a friend who talks to him. In addition to normal childhood experiences such as going to school and family life, Calvin and Hobbes often bring up philosophical questions, leading readers to believe that who Calvin is when he is with Hobbes, is usually a lot smarter than what his parents see. This outline of the characters is ripe with potential ideas. Throw in that Calvin likes to pretend he is an outer space hero and other imaginative things and you are all set. Bill Watterson wrote Calvin and Hobbes every week for 10 years.
Writing a Comic Story Line
If you know how to use the spacing in your comic, and you have developed good characters, it’s time to put them in their world. Consider putting the characters in situations in which they are uncomfortable and have to act. In Calvin and Hobbes, those situations include having to pay attention in class, do homework, eat dinner, and being forced to play outside. If the characters have been developed well, know which types of situations to put them in will be more apparent. You’ll also know when to use multiple installments or just one for the story line.
Leave the Reader Feeling Good
A good comic should bring back a sense of nostalgia. Peanuts brings back memories of my childhood group of friends and the innocence of being young. Every time I read Calvin and Hobbes, I think of when I was a kid in elementary school, having snowball fights, girl drama, and pretending to be someplace else. Then when you are least expecting it, slips in a profound thought.
Chapter 9: Four Score and Seven Years Ago: A Brief Romp in Speech Writing
I thought it would be interesting to explore the political side of writing in this chapter and what makes a good campaign speech.
A Brief History of Campaign Speech Writing
Every president has used experienced writers to help them come up with their speeches. This isn’t because candidates lack the skills to write the speech themselves, but rather the time. Presidents and presidential candidates sometimes give multiple speeches per day, at least multiple per week. The time just isn’t there to sit down, research, and write a unique speech for every event. Usually, one man or a team does the research and comes up with the content. This has been the norm ever since our first president took office. Did you know that George Washington’s famous farewell speech was mostly written by Alexander Hamilton? Speech writing takes creativity and hard work, but they follow a formula, making it easier to crank out memorable content.
Elements of a Speech
Speeches are built around a central message called a stump speech. This name comes from the 19th century when those running for office would stand on tree stumps to deliver their speech. What this includes is the central theme and message of the candidate’s platform. The stump speech mostly stays the same and follows the format of problem-solution. From there, the speech builds on audience and goals, sprinkled with best practices.
Politics aside, I think President Obama is fantastic as a public speaker. According to his ex-director of speechwriting, Jon Favreau, the best way to begin is in the most organic way possible. It’s important to remember that you are writing a speech, not an essay. That means beginning with “So and so once said,” isn’t the best move. Beginning in a natural way helps put the audience at ease and makes them more open to connecting with what you say. From there, you want to get to the point quickly. Otherwise, you lose precious time. The audience is likely only to remember a few points from your speech so make sure those can be expressed in a single sentence. A powerful way to embed your message into the hearts of those listening is by using humor.
Just as beginning in a conversational way can help put your audience at ease, so can humor. The quote, “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel,” applies very well here. Emotions play a powerful part in our memory. Using that to your advantage can prove to be a game changer. Finally, please note there is a fine line between using humor and losing credibility. Conveying a stand-up routine is the fastest way to lose your message. The key is to balance humor with personal examples. As my brother says, “Bring em’ high, then bring em’ low, then end by bringing them high.”
Nothing will turn your audience away faster than by being impersonal. Humans are emotional creatures and the more you can tap into these emotions the better. Getting up, spouting off only facts, and hoping the audience connects with you on a logical level is a mistake. People need stories. By telling stories, the audience sees that you’re authentic. For example, would you connect more to someone who talked about the problems of poverty in America or someone who told a story about how they themselves were in poverty and the hardships they encountered in trying to overcome their situation?
A Historical Skill
Writing a good speech takes practice. By making sure that you keep a conversational tone, using humor and by sharing personal anecdotes, you’ll be off to a good start. While it can be hard to have someone get the credit for what you write, it’s rewarding to know your writing makes history.
Chapter 10: My Dearest Gwendolyn: Letter Writing
The holidays, especially Christmas, are great times to sit down and write letters to those that you love. Letter writing was the primary form of communication for thousands of years. Ever since the dawn of the computer, taking the time to write a handwritten letter has been in sharp decline.
Not many people are going to take the time to write a letter, get an envelope, stamp, mail it, and then wait a few days to weeks for a reply. Most people send letters on significant life events, marriage, birthdays, the birth of a child, etc.. Even then, the cards are conversational, reducing the amount of effort required to write something meaningful.
Our grandparents had the skill down but it’s not coming as naturally to us younger generations. Letter writing isn’t something that should cause anxiety. In fact, many principles in writing generally can apply to writing letters.
After writing the address on the envelope and penning a proper salutation written, it’s time to begin the letter. Just as in writing essays, the letter begins with an introduction. This may consist of a few sentences or an entire paragraph. Finally, remember the purpose of the introduction is to state the purpose of the letter.
For example, if I were writing to a friend while on summer break, my introduction may consist of an additional greeting and a few sentences about how fast the summer is going. I would then end the intro with a transition sentence that hints that body paragraphs will be talking about everything I’ve done this summer.
If I were writing a business letter, the introduction needs to be formal. The best way to write a business letter is to be succinct.
The body paragraph will elaborate on the introduction. In the example of the friendly letter, the body includes summer activities and thoughts. In the case of a business letter, the body may contain a complaint, business proposition, request for additional information or other subjects. Once, the main portion of the letter is complete, close the letter.
Conclusion and closing salutation
The conclusion briefly sums up and closes the thought presented in the letter. The final salutation varies depending on the type of letter. For friends that are close, “Yours truly” is common. For a more formal setting, consider, “Sincerely.” Furthermore, leaving a sincere closing to the letter can top it with a cherry and leave the reader with a good feeling.
Letters Don’t Have to be Long
The format for composing a letter is similar to writing an essay. However, letters are typically not as lengthy as essays (although they can be). Don’t feel like you have to write a book every time you write a letter. Succinctly writing a letter is possible. Like all good things, it takes practice, but don’t fret. Anyone that receives a letter is usually happy that you took the time to write them.
Chapter 11: Lessons from Harry Potter: Being Authentic
In preparation, I reread the Harry Potter books to refresh my knowledge of and admiration for the wonderful wizarding world. Harry Potter is a prime example of authenticity. Each character is relatable—even the villains. The world of Harry Potter has both the charming and the deadly. In the pursuit of authenticity through Harry Potter, we learn lessons on how to be authentic ourselves.
What Does Authenticity Mean?
Being authentic in writing is probably one of the more difficult principles to master. Having an authentic piece of work is allowing your writing to be itself. It’s being real, unashamed, and honest—for better or worse. This can be hard to achieve because of outside influences such as grading criteria, stereotypes, cultural norms, deadlines, and even our own internal editor.
In order to write authentically, you have to be willing to let your work exist. Don’t try to force it to be something it’s not. That means, when a story you’re writing develops into a specific direction, you don’t roughly turn it in the opposite direction just for the sake of conforming to “established standards”, you let the story create its own standard of being. Often, being authentic means addressing the elephant in the room and being ok with it. But doing so in a balanced way.
This story can be too happy/carefree that it could never happen or so tragic that nothing good lasts long — either way, a piece of material that seems unreadable. Being authentic finds an equal blend of the two. Life encompasses the entire spectrum of happy and tragic, your writing should too. This is where Harry Potter comes into play. This book consistently finds that mid-point.
The Wonderful World of Magic
What makes Harry Potter so appealing? This is the question I tried to answer in my research. My conclusion? Everything. The blend of happy and tragic isn’t just in the plot line, it’s in everything about the book.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione exemplify how friends act. They are loyal and supportive of one another (most of the time). Sure they each have their problems and issues but ultimately, they are good, good people. Others include Hagrid and the Weasley family. My absolute favorite moments in Harry Potter are when people such as Ron, Hermione, Hagrid or Arthur Weasley stick up for another character such as Harry. I think we’ve lost the ability to do that. Reading those parts gives me the courage to stick up for others. All of these characters are folks you’d wish to go through life with. I’ve met people just like them. They’re relatable so they’re real to us. Even the villains of the wizarding world exemplify this role.
The examples here are the Malfoy family and Lord Voldemort. These are people I would not want to be around. What I like about the villains is that they have their own story. Rather than being the embodiment of evil, each has subtleties that show they are authentic. Even Narcissa Malfoy has doubts about the side she is on. Similarly, Voldemort shows mercy to Wormtail by giving him a new hand. Although these examples are brief, they demonstrate there is more to the villains than being bad.
In the Sorcerer’s Stone, you realize that Harry has a pretty lousy home life with his aunt and uncle. When Harry first visits Diagon Alley with Hagrid, that tragic circumstance fades away. Not only has Harry entered a happier world with wands, broomsticks, and goblins, but so have you. It’s a charming world that each of us wouldn’t mind hopping over to once in a while. This fact is reinforced at the beginning of nearly every book. In the second book, the Weasleys rescue Harry in a flying car, the third book begins with the inflation of aunt Marge, the seventh with Harry and several other characters flying over London on broomsticks. These examples serve to reintroduce us to the wonder of magic and the wizarding world. The latter books begin more darkly, showing us a darker side to the wizarding world.
The Darker Side of the Wizarding World
Yes, Harry Potter’s world can be described like Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, a jovial place of laughter and wonder, but it also has its Borgin and Burkes moments, full of tragedy and darkness. Harry may spend most of the year at Hogwarts, but he still has to go back to the Dursleys every summer. He is the boy who lived, but Voldemort and his followers seek to kill him at every turn. Harry already lost his parents, but that doesn’t stop Bellatrix Lestange from murdering his godfather. And let’s not forget the sorrow at Dumbledore’s death. The books certainly deal out their fair share of “life is unfair” moments. Yet, it’s in these times of darkness, that we crave the lighthearted moments even more. One of the lessons of Harry Potter is, as Dumbledore says:
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
That light is something we have to turn on ourselves. Even though bad things may happen to us, we can still find light and courage to do the right thing.
Learn to be Authentic with Yourself
Authenticity means spending time with your characters, and world. It means loving them and sharing that love with the readers. But it also means admitting you aren’t a perfect writer, being ok with it, and trying to improve. As I stated earlier, being authentic in writing is one of the harder principles to master. In order to begin that mastery, though, you have to be authentic yourself. Only then will your writing be authentic, charming, and create a lasting impression.
The End of the Guide to Genre Writing
If you’ve read this entire guide, kudos to you. Hopefully you were able to learn something that will help you in whatever type of story you are writing. If you enjoyed this, share it with you friends. If you have ideas for how we can make it better or other genres we can add to it, please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear your comments!