the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: the avengers

What the Avengers can teach us about writing

by MDY

There’s more to writing than sound and fury. Through others’ stories, we can learn to captain our words more effectively, whether they be spears of stark prose or banners of poetic verse. We can see the difference between hulking blobs of text and phrases of hawk-eye precision. And we can make sure our writing’s a little less Thor-rible than before. Here’s what today’s superheroes can teach us about super-writing:

1. Have a plan, then don’t stick with it.

Why do the Avengers win? Because they’re chaotic. Sure, there’s a big tactical plan to first get them together, then send them out in highly-coordinated mechanical-reptile-squashing formation…but it falls apart almost immediately. That isn’t to say plans don’t help: Captain America’s tactics get all the team playing to their strengths in their big battle, and Jarvis’ recommendations give Iron Man the basis to plot out his various successful gambits including the Earth-saving manoeuvre at the very end. But they’re not set in stone, and they adapt quickly to whatever happens. Notice that Loki and his minions always have extremely “smart” plans – which get beaten by improvisation every time.

Lesson: Writing is like fighting. You can have all your strategy and tactics in place, but then some idiot throws a hand grenade into your war-room before you’ve even sent out orders – like a curve-ball essay question, or a press release due five minutes ago. Train yourself to write fast, and think faster. Don’t get too attached to your ideas, and be dispassionate enough to toss them off the Asgardian cliffs if better ones come along. That way, you can adapt your structure and content to meet, beat and even take advantage of unexpected change in demands or requirements.

2. Work together, write alone.

It’s not just Tony Stark who doesn’t play well with others. When Thor stops for hammer-time, everyone else gets out of the way. Captain America always gets distracted by emotional baggage of teamwork. And Hulk smash. Even Black Widow and Hawkeye are notorious lone-wolf operators who hate others – even superheroes – getting in their way. Having all these highly skilled loners collaborate is like realising Joss Wheedon also wrote the script for Alien: Resurrection: painful at first, but not too bad after a while. Yet what makes the Avengers so effective is that even when they work together, they leave their fellows alone to do what they do best: kicking ass and taking names.

Lesson: Writing is not a collaborative activity. Ever. It may be beneficial to canvass feedback from a group, or brainstorm ideas, or discuss key messages and requirements. But ultimately, the words on the page can only belong to one person – and that person needs to focus on getting them just right. Save the “team-player” speeches for the locker room and the “constructive feedback” or social chatter for after (not during) the creative process. When you’re writing, isolate and concentrate. Your words will reap the benefit immediately.

3. It’s not just what you do.

Gotta save the world. But gotta look good doing it. We love the Avengers not because they do amazing things, but because they do them with style. Captain America’s all about calm and precision, like when he just sticks his shield out and totally schools Thor in the forest. Thor, for his part, brings the damage with slick effects and a wisecrack or two. The Hulk smashes. Iron Man is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist. Even Loki has that sexy cape and accent and magic tricks of his. These aren’t just world-savers, they’re cool world-savers. I bet there’s a whole new generation of 10-year-olds who can’t wait to grow up and be just as cool with their flying armour suits and invincible armour and weather control. Who knows – maybe they’ll be the ones making these superpowers a reality.

Lesson: It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Never overlook flow and tone of voice when you write. Say your words back to yourself, aloud if need be. Practise in different styles (fictive prose, reportage, iambic tetrameters) until you can use them all with some proficiency. Read as much as you possibly can, as long as you live. Work until your writing is clear, precise and eloquent – and then make it even more so. And like those 10-year-old future superheroes, don’t underestimate what you can do if you aim for galaxies far, far away.

(credits to Squall95)

In brief: Be flexible. Write alone. Never give up.


How to write fanfiction

by MDY

A friend asked me recently to provide some tips on writing fan-fiction. I didn’t, so I called up my friend Eddie Cullen who’s considered something of an expert on the subject. We used to go hunting in France (only at night, something about a pigmentation issue) but our ways parted and he’s now living in Syracuse. I don’t know anything about Syracuse except that it has a name which sounds like crackling autumn leaves and its telephones work much the same as ours.

“How’s the writing going?” Eddie asked me across the crackling phone line. “Written the Great American Novel yet?” And he laughed that soft, uncanny laugh of his which the girls used to swoon at the sound of.

I told him things were well, and asked if he had anything to contribute on the subject of writing fan-fiction.

“The main thing about fan-fic,” he told me, “is that it gets a bad rap from everyone. The literati, understandably, but even the pop-culture aficionados and indie-cool snarks. Even the fans find it embarrassing, for Drac’s sake. Yet in fact fan-fiction is probably the most important movement in the history of literature. Look at Joss Wheedon, for example – you think a non-fan could’ve done those comic strips justice by their creators? Frank O’Hara was a massive pop-art groupie, and even an uptight guy like Eliot sure loved to wallow in a bit of Greek lit at every opportunity. The Aeneid, one of the most important works of Roman literature – totally derivative. A sheer classic of fandom, if you’ll  pardon the pun.”

I tried to, and wondered whether there was any way for fans to boost their reputation.

“Just write well,” Eddie said after a pause. “The difference between good writing and bad is the same whether you’re talking about fan-fiction or high-culture literature. Most writers who associate with fan-fic just harp on about the names and events in the original work – which doesn’t make for engaging reading. Focus on rounding out characters or adding unexpected depth and nuance to their inner motivations. Stay faithful to the original setting, sure, but don’t be afraid to experiment with mood or atmosphere – think noir mystery set on Tatooine, for example, or a comic monologue by the Sorting Hat. And above all, improve your writing technique. Make your sentences sparkle.

“One other thing – don’t be so obvious. I think the reason why most people deride fan-fiction is because of its propensity towards undiluted effusiveness of enthusiasm. And that scares people. We’re usually afraid to put ourselves out there in such a visible way, so we put down others who do have that courage. But there’s a difference between gushing enthusiasm and strong writing, and in most fan-fic the former undermines the latter. So perhaps make your allusions a little less obvious, or turn your eye to a point in the original narrative or setting which doesn’t get much attention. And then let your love for the work shine through.”

I thanked him for his time, and asked him if he’d been working on anything lately.

“Just some research into the effect of fan-fic on mass culture,” he said. “Bleeding-edge stuff.” And he laughed again, the phone clicking like a pair of molars.

In brief:

  • Strong, effective writing is always your first priority.
  • Be bold: experiment with your writing style as well as the source material you’re working with.
  • Subtle writing is often more rewarding for your reader.