Writing Tips from Pokémon Sun and Moon

If you read this post, you’ll recall my mentioning that I’d almost finished this post. Well, here it is, finally. Bullet undodged.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s a joke title if ever I heard one. Why doesn’t she just get to the giveaway winner already? Patience, my young padawan. That will come in time.

In case you’re wondering (even if you aren’t, I’m still going to tell you), Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are two versions of the same videogame developed by Game Freak for the Nintendo 3DS—one of the many ways Nintendo celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Pokémon franchise in 2016. I have both. Each game has its own variations.

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Because of the popularity of Pokémon Go, even if you didn’t play it, you’re probably familiar with the concept of catching Pokémon to collect and train.

Starter Pokémon

Starter Pokémon

Essentially the game is a hero’s journey. The hero—you—leave home and battle several threshold guardians (friends, island captains, and kuhunas) in order to reach your goal—becoming the world champion Pokémon trainer.

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One of the most fun things about the game is that as your character explores, he or she finds useful items either on the ground, or they’re given to your character by others in the game. These items help your Pokémon grow stronger, which is your main goal as a trainer. But knowing which ones to use at different points in the game is part of a winning strategy.

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Videogamers love clues that can help them figure out how to succeed in the game. So what does this have to do with writing? Well, consider the fact that readers also like to be successful. They like clues that help them make predictions about a story’s outcome. Which brings me to writing tip number 1: Foreshadowing is a way of cluing the reader in on what’s upcoming. A character in your story might say something that triggers an “ah-ha” moment in the reader and helps him or her anticipate what could happen later on. So, foreshadowing is how you help a reader win in the game of reading.

Tip number 2 probably goes without saying. But I’ll say it anyway. Make each threshold increasingly difficult to help your characters grow. This is what’s known as upping the ante or raising the stakes. As you start off Pokémon Sun or Moon, the first threshold guardian is challenging, but far less challenging than the ones later in the game. But at each level, your Pokémon are growing stronger. By the time you reach the end—the final five trainers—your Pokémon should be at a level where they are able to successfully defeat the five. So, overcoming increasingly difficult obstacles makes your characters grow.

Tip number 3 goes with the second tip: Make your antagonist three dimensional. Duh, right? A three-dimensional antagonist As you play Pokémon Sun or Moon, you’ll run across a surly kid named Gladion who demands to battle you every now and then. He’s often rude to you. But he’s not just a bully. Gladion has a very poignant back story and an interesting motivation, which you learn during the course of the game. Knowing his story helps you begin to understand what makes this kid tick and even empathize with him. And that’s the reaction you want from a reader. You want them to care about your antagonist, even if he or she is horrible to your protagonist.

pokemon-sun-moon-trailer-screenshot-12Okay, I’ve lectured you enough. If you read the interview with Andy Murray (click here for that), you know I’m giving away a copy of Mythos, the volume in which Andy has two short stories. His publisher, Michael Kobernus, kindly offered an ebook of Folklore, book 1 of the Northlore series. Too cool for school!

Andy Photo    image

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The winner of both of those books is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congratulations, Charles! Please comment below to confirm, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide your snail mail address and the email address you use with Amazon. I’ll forward the latter to the publisher for the Folklore giveaway. Thank you to all who commented.

Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon logos from segmentnext.com. Starter Pokemon image from inthegame.nl. Gladion image from capsulecomputers.com. Obtaining TM image from gamerant.com. Hau image from usgamer.net. Professor Kukui photo by L. Marie. Book covers from Nordland Publishing.

The View in the Darkness

img_3709I haven’t wanted to write this post, so rather than talk myself out of it, here goes.

I’ve had the kind of season people describe with idioms like “the bottom dropping out” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop—whoops, there it goes.” In the last few months, my electricity was switched off due to nonpayment. Internet also. The landlord sent polite notices asking for the rent. I often wondered where my next meal was coming from. When you lack money or a job that pays regularly, you can expect this sort of thing to happen.

You can also expect to field a lot of advice from well-meaning people, who assume you’ve lost control of your life and need them to step in to fix it. “You should apply for this job,” I’ve been told so often, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I could buy real estate.

Oh, I have applied for many jobs. Case in point, I applied for an office manager job at a nearby college a couple of months ago. I had to take four tests for that. I think I broke a record for how low I scored on the Windows Excel test. (The last version of Excel I had was the 2003 version.) Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Anyway, not long after that, a friend and I were headed into a grocery store (a store known for their gelato section, where you can buy a small cup for $1.25) for our bimonthly chat when we spotted a guy who is a friend to both of us.

“What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

“I just got a new job,” he said.

“Oh, where?” I asked.

And then he named the college and the department. Yep. The job I did not get. But I was happy for him. He needed work too.

So yes, I have applied for jobs while using the library’s wifi. (And yes, I applied for a job at that library three times. Didn’t get those jobs.) I networked. I auditioned for writing projects (mentioned in this post here), only to have to wait and wait and wait.

When your lights are off, candles become very precious. Now, I’m not into candles like some of my friends who love the mood they create. So I’ve tended to shove into cabinets the ones I’ve been given. Well, they came in handy this time.

I thought about how the pioneers in the days before electricity were able to do so much without it. I also thought about scenes I’d written in novels where the people had only firelight and a few precious candles to use for light. I totally had the lighting all wrong in my twenty-first century-used-to-electricity mindset.

One thing about being in the dark—you can’t help noticing the shapes of things in shadow. You also tend to appreciate any sliver of light you can find.

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I couldn’t read for long in the dark, even with candles, so I had to turn to my imagination. I told myself stories—something I used to do every night. When had I gotten out of the habit? I’m not sure. This was a nice habit to reclaim.

Anyway, my time in the dark didn’t last long. I received a check for something I can’t really discuss in public, but could tell you a little about in private. The check enabled me to have the lights turned on. And just last week, one of the projects for which I auditioned was finally approved with me as the sole author. And it pays well. 🙂 My landlord will be happy. I have a tight deadline on that one though. But I’m grateful for the work. Want to know something funny? It involves writing stories—a lot of them in fact. One hundred to be precise for kids ages 4-7.

It seems my time in the dark was helpful after all.

What Is “Nothing”?

Image the following conversation. Perhaps you’ve participated in one just like it.

Mom (or Dad): How was school?
Son (or Daughter): It was okay.
Mom (or Dad): Just “okay”? What happened?
Son (or Daughter): Nothing.

As an astute parent, you know “something” had to have happened. After all, your child went to school and participated in classes. But for that child, “nothing” probably meant, “Nothing I was interested in” or “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

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Having given manuscripts to beta readers to evaluate from time to time, I have had a similar conversation with them.

Me: How was it [the manuscript]?
Beta reader: It was okay for the most part.
Me: Just “okay”? What happened?
Beta reader: Nothing.

Okay, maybe the conversation was not that curt. But over the years I’ve had beta readers mark certain scenes or chapters with the assessment nothing is happening here. Clearly, I hadn’t presented a bunch of blank pages to the readers. “Something” happened on those pages. But for the readers, nothing is happening here meant, “nothing out of the ordinary” or “nothing that helped develop the plot.”

Now, I ask you, when you read a book or watch a show, what would make you think, Nothing is happening here? Perhaps the following factors might resonate with you.

Tension and Pacing
The issue of “nothing” sometimes crops up when tension dissipates. Now, some breaks in tension are necessary. A while ago, I wrote a post on Ma space (you can find it here) which included a quote by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki on this subject. Ma space is an interval between two movements or sections. Miyazaki’s movies provide great examples of respites coupled with action scenes. However, some breaks in tension are detrimental to the story.

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For example, I wrote a young adult novel in which the heroine was accused of being a liar and had to vindicate herself by proving that she did indeed see what she claimed to have seen. (I hope someday you’ll get to read it.) One of my beta readers wrote nothing is happening here in a couple of the chapters. The issue was pacing. In one chapter, after being ridiculed by a crowd of people, the heroine declared that she was going off to find proof to back up her story—a scene of high tension. But instead of sending her on her way, I included two chapters in which she took a nap and then woke up to have a meal and overhear a conversation taking place between two characters. This conversation had nothing to do with the heroine’s plight. Nothing to see here, folks.

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Nap taking and eavesdropping, while “something,” aren’t very interesting to a reader. I had to cut those chapters to ramp up the tension and make the reader want to continue reading.

Lack of Character Conflict or Development
This probably goes without saying, but if you’ve read this blog even once before, you know I usually state the obvious. Characters need to be more than interchangeable talking heads. They have to serve a purpose. Conflict is one way they serve a purpose. Having fully realized secondary characters in conflict with a main character is a great way to avoid the “nothing is happening” designation.

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In the young adult novel I mentioned above, my main character had a twin brother who was kind of goofy. I liked the dude. His antics made me smile. Well, an advisor of mine read the early chapters of the book and said, “He’s got to go. He serves no purpose.” I soon realized she was right. The twin brother was not in conflict with anyone. He was kind of like a chair in a room—useful for sitting on, sure, but just taking up space otherwise.

The advisor also mentioned that another character—one I had decided would not be mentioned beyond one chapter—had more potential. Like the main character, just about everyone in town had a conflict with him. Most importantly, he had a conflict with the main character. So I turned him into the sidekick of the heroine on her journey. The novel was all the better for it.

Have you ever said, or been told, that “nothing” is happening in a chapter or scene you’ve written or a book you’ve read? What did you have to do to change that dynamic?

Japanese character from Wikipedia. Nothing here sign from outwardfromnothingness.com. Sleeping person image from 1001freedownloads.com. Characters image from standoutbooks.com.

Guest Post by Phillippe Diederich: Writing from the Heart without Flinching

Today it is my privilege to present this guest post by by Phillippe Diederich, author of Playing for the Devil’s Fire, a young adult novel published by Cinco Puntos Press. This is part of an ongoing blog tour celebrating the release of Playing for the Devil’s Fire. Stayed tuned afterward for the giveaway news.

25330167   phillippediedrichbyselinaroman

I write from the heart. I fall in love with my characters and try and help them navigate the conflicts they encounter. I do not shy away from subject matter, whether it’s poverty, drugs, war or crime because this is reality. And I have something to say about it. That’s why I write.

The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 14 years, but we don’t experience it the way Afghans do. Imagine having attacks like 9/11 happening every day in different parts of our country, year after year after year. That’s the reality of war.

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It’s the same with crime and drugs and poverty. In Mexico, the drug war has killed more than 100 thousand people in a little more than a decade. Most of the weapons used in this so-called war come from the U.S. And the market for the drugs is the U.S. Whether we like it or not, we are complicit in this war. And yet what we see and hear in the news is statistics, glorified prison escapes, arrests, and major drug busts. We never hear about the individuals who are suffering the consequences of government policies. We never hear about the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who fight and suffer just to survive another day.

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In my novel, Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I wanted to address the problems in Mexico, more specifically, the violence and impunity that happens every day. When I wrote the story, I had to make it as real as I could without going overboard. I did not want to place the narcos as simple bad guys, but as individuals who have families just like their victims. I also didn’t want to glorify them or the violence or create unrealistic scenarios, because I would be doing a disservice to the victims of the violence many Mexicans are living every day.

I don’t believe writers should self-censor, and I don’t think we should hold back when trying to write for teens. I think teens are much smarter than we give them credit for. We shouldn’t sanitize the stories we want to tell.

When I was in the seventh grade I read an incredibly powerful memoir by and African-American. I want to say it was Nigger by Dick Gregory, but I’m not sure. It was a shocking book that dealt with a lot of tough issues. But it showed me a world I knew nothing about. It also showed me the power of the written word. I won’t say that book changed my life, but it did open my eyes to reality in a way no other media did.

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But I must make it clear that I don’t write to shock. I don’t think Playing for the Devil’s Fire is shocking in a gratuitous way. But I do think the reality that Boli, the main character, is living through is as real as what many Mexicans are experiencing. As a matter of fact, I think the horror of the victims of the drug war are going through—especially the people on the sidelines—is much worse.

When I first set out to write Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I had been reading a lot about the drug war and what was happening in Mexico. I love Mexico. I grew up there. So I was truly heartbroken as I lay down that first draft. I wanted to put a face to the statistics. I didn’t think of my audience for the book. Instead, I left it all to Boli. He guided me. Everything I wrote, I got from him—I saw it through his eyes. I was just hitting the keys on the typewriter.

If you read the book, you will find something to like in many of the characters, even in Zopilote and Ximena and Chato and Pepino. They’re only trying to survive as best they can. People are generally good, but greed and the glorification of violence on TV and popular culture can seduce even the best people.

Everything that happens in Playing for the Devil’s Fire, especially the end, it is not easy. But life is not easy.

I can only write about the reality that I know, the one that tugs at my heart. It’s not that I want people to feel the pain I feel, or about being sentimental. I just want people to join me in condemning the horror that is taking place all around us. If this is not the task of a writer, then what is?

Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Mexico City and Miami. He is the author of Sofrito and Playing for the Devil’s Fire. He lives in Florida with his wife and three teenage children and their neurotic dog, Toby. Whenever he’s not writing, Diederich is helping with homework, cooking dinner, or fixing the plumbing in the house.

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One of you will win a copy of Playing for the Devil’s Fire simply by commenting below. Winner to be announced on September 19.

Next up on the Blog Tour: Check out an excerpt, review, and guest post at Mom Read It—https://momreadit.wordpress.com on September 13.

Author photo by Selina Roman. Book covers from Goodreads. Mexico map from ezilon.com. Dick Gregory photo from Wikipedia. War quote from geckandfly.com.

Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.

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The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

Guardians of the Galaxy International Character Movie Posters - Zoe Saldana as Gamora    black_widow_natalia_romanova-1920x1080

I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

Miraculous-Ladybug-Wallpaper-miraculous-ladybug-39335186-1920-1080   Tumblr_nualsphVXR1uu5wooo1_1280

And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.

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But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-classic-girls-rey-costume-cx-809217   child-deluxe-star-wars-ep-7-captain-phasma-costume

Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.

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Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.

Auditions

Ever audition for anything? If you’re a musical artist, perhaps you’ve auditioned for an orchestra, a band, a choir, or some other venue. Perhaps as a visual artist, you’ve auditioned for illustration, animation, or Web design work. Or maybe you’re an actor who regularly makes the rounds of auditions for plays, commercials, or movie gigs.

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Writers, especially freelance writers, also have to audition. Like for work-for-hire gigs. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot lately. (Querying an agent or publisher about a manuscript is another form of auditioning. Been there, done that recently, too.)

If you’re unclear about the notion of work-for-hire projects in the book publishing world (and I shouldn’t assume that everyone knows all about it), in general, this is a contract you sign for a project that nets you a one-time fee, rather than an advance on a royalty. For example, fiction, nonfiction, ghostwriting—you name it. Some work-for-hire projects (but not all, mind you) have led to others that paid an advance. This happened to me awhile ago when I co-wrote a book with a friend. (Another post on someone who auditioned for a writing project can be found here.)

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Um, this is not exactly what I mean.
But I couldn’t resist posting this picture.

Even though someone recommended me as a possible book writer or regular article contributor, and I have experience in, say, writing books for kids ages 4–8, I still had to audition by submitting a writing sample to the editor or project manager working for a publishing house or book packager. This is a very humbling process. I have much more respect now for actors, illustrators, and musicians who go through many, many auditions. Which means they might hear “no” a lot. But you have to wade through a lot of “no’s” before you get to the yeses.

After two of my latest auditions, I was told, “Submit a rewrite.” Sounds promising, right? I have a second chance to make good. Perhaps the rewrite phase can be compared to an acting “callback.” I burned the midnight oil to finish two rewrites. Which is why I didn’t post on Monday.

Preparing for other auditions (writing, querying) is the best way I know to pass the time as I wait for the results of other “callbacks.” Well, it beats my usual coping mechanism: consuming mass quantities of chocolate.

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Does taking on a work-for-hire project mean I’ve given up on the projects I’ve initiated? Nope. But it is a way to gain an income and continue doing what I enjoy doing: writing.

For what, if anything, have you auditioned?

For what, if anything, are you waiting these days?

Audition sign from smkclaven.wordpress.com. Work-for-hire sign from Pinterest. Callback sign from projectcasting.com.

Dedication

One of my neighbors has made a habit of heading to the weed-choked field next to our apartment building to sing at the top of his or her lungs. The weeds are so tall they hide him or her from view. Perhaps that is a mercy. This person is tone deaf, with a high, screechy voice that defies an immediate gender assignment. (I suspect this person is male, however. So, for the sake of avoiding him/her and he/she from now on, I’ll just go with male pronouns.)

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The weeds

The first time I heard the voice, I thought I was hearing a cat yowling.

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He is not the mystery singer.

Nope. Singing. I think he sings pop songs. Once, I recognized the words, “Baby, ooo, baby,” but nothing else, since he uses a language different from my own. (Not Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, or French either.)

The other day I waited to see if the singer would leave the weeds so I could finally identify him. That attempt was doomed to failure, however. He seemed to want to remain hidden in the weeds until after I left. I wondered if even a glimpse would prove embarrassing or would scare him away. This person is as elusive as a fawn.

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As I headed inside after listening to him for a while (I tried to record his voice, but that failed too), another neighbor headed out. After stopping to listen to the singer, he shook his head, laughed, and proclaimed, “He’s terrible! . . . I can’t believe he does this every day!”

Every day. Despite having a less than melodious voice—at least according to the common opinion of others.

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Why does he do it? The obvious reason is because he loves doing it. Perhaps singing brings him joy.

These days, many of us are so conscious of the opinions of others. We edit our work, put on makeup, and even take several practice selfies before posting to Instagram to avoid the negative opinion of someone else. How many times do we offer the plain, unvarnished version of ourselves to anyone? Also, how many times are we tempted to stop doing something we love, because someone else has expressed disapproval?

The singer in the weeds does his thing day after day, despite opposition. Do you?

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Singer and sun from clipartpanda.com. Calendar from clker.com.