Tag: Abby

Jotting in the Margins: Writing Smart


There was an excellent post made about “Moff’s Law” – which is, in essence, the notion that anybody making a comment about ‘just enjoying a movie/tv series/novel/game without analyzing it or thinking it through’ is demonstrating monumental stupidity. I think it’s worth noting, however, that if the creator of a work doesn’t engage their brain, the audience isn’t likely to either.

The brain, courtesy medicalimages.allrefer.com

“What’s your story about?” It’s a common question asked of authors, but one has to wonder how much the questions is actually pondered. Can you discuss the story beyond a brief synopsis of the plot? What are the themes of your work? From where are you drawing inspiration? Who are you hoping to engage?

Answering these questions won’t just allow you defend your work on an Internet forum. You’ll be able to assemble a better, attention-getting pitch if you can not only recap the story but also point out how it relates to current events, other successful works or deep philosophical issues. I’m not an authority on representation, but I’d be more inclined to represent a work if it’s got more to it than tits and explosions.

Not that there’s anything wrong with tits and explosions, mind you. After all, one of the cardinal rules of mass media in all its forms is “Give the people what they want.” And people, by and large, are interested in sex and violence. Both of them lead to drama, one way or another. But do these things serve the story, or is the story merely a vehicle for them?

Compare Terminator: Salvation to District 9. Both of them are sci-fi stories set in the present or the near-future, with human characters interacting with non-human ones. However, in one you have a straightforward action flick that tries to be gritty and serious and just comes off as full of itself, while in the other the story flows naturally from one event to another and the action scenes, riveting and exciting, grow organically from the story while maintaining the dramatic punch of the themes and mood.

Guess which is which. Go on, guess.

If all you do is toss good-looking women and breakneck action at the audience, they might comment on how good those things were and not discuss anything else, all but forgetting the experience the second that discussion ends. Include more nuances, mix in an interesting theme and find ways to make the audience think about what’s happening, and your work will not only generate more interesting discussion, people will want to experience it again, to make sure they fully understand everything you’re trying to say.

The best treats have layers to them. A water cracker by itself can be tasty but a bit bland and forgettable. Spread some cheese on that cracker, maybe add a bit of prosciutto or some chives depending on the cheese, and the snack takes on new dimensions and you’ll find yourself wanting more. Along those same lines, an attractive heroine is one thing, but an attractive heroine with a driving goal, personal issues and a strong sense of right and wrong will make the audience more interested in what happens to her, not just seeing her take off her clothes.

Let’s say your heroine is played by Carla Gugino.

Carla Gugino

She’s pretty sexy on her own, but Carla has played a few nuanced roles in her time. The Silk Spectre in Watchmen, the worst-case-scenario government consultant in the underrated and short-lived series Threshold, and Marv’s lesbian shrink in Sin City are just a few examples of the highlights of her career so far. She has charisma, radiates intelligence in most of her roles and draws in the audience just as much with her delivery and pacing as she does with her physical assets. It’d be easy for a writer or producer to toss her in a role just so she can shake her money-maker, but writing a role that makes use of her other talents and ties into an underlying theme causes her to all but explode out of the screen.

In the end, it’s not enough to just give the people what they want. You have to be smart about how you make that delivery.

I mean, I could have just posted that pic of Carla without tying it into the overall theme of the post. That’d be like mentioning Abby Sciuto just because she brings in the mad hits.

Abby Sciuto

And I’d never do such a thing.

Building Character: Quiet Strength


I know I said I’d be doing a post on adversarial allies next, but a few episodes of House & NCIS completely derailed that line of thinking. To me, at least, what makes for a good character is just as much what somebody doesn’t say as it is what they do say. As an example, I’d like to point towards just about any character played by David Morse.

David Morse

This guy has been all over the place. He’s played both heroes and villains. Just a year after playing the arrogant, self-centered prick of a cop who acts as a foil to the arrogant, self-centered prick of a doctor who gives House it’s name, he showed upon on the John Adams mini-series playing George Washington. Surprisingly, these characters have something in common. And it’s not Tritter’s habit of chewing nicotine gum in a way that tells you he’s angry at just about the entire world.

It’s quiet strength. There’s a restrained ferocity about most of Morse’s characters. Instead of bellowing one-liners and chewing on the scenery, Morse conveys, in just about all of his characters, a sort of insular and confident demeanor that seems to say “I’m awesome, but I’m not about to toss my weight around to prove it.” Seriously, watch a couple of the ’06-07 episodes of House, then watch the portions of John Adams featuring Washington. The similarities are uncanny.

Another example of this sort of quiet strength comes in the form of Leeroy Jethro Gibbs.

Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon gives Gibbs his trademark stare, his direct and sometimes almost sotto voce way of pushing his team and the passion he has for those he cares about, which only rarely explodes out of him. He knows how to sweat people in interrogation, without having to resort to strong-arm tactics or much shouting, though he does raise his voice from time to time. In any given episode of NCIS, you can see what I’m talking about. There are certain looks, stances and moments where no words are spoken but Harmon communicates Gibbs’ emotions much louder than any scenery-chewing could ever hope to convey.

Especially if somebody messes with Abby.

Mark & Pauly

Anyway, it’s something to aspire towards as a storyteller and an author. Just about any hack can put words in the mouth of a protagonist in an attempt to make them heroic or macho and end up having them be hammy or even ridiculous. Sometimes camp can be a good thing, but if you want to build true dramatic tension and have people craving more of a particular character, it pays to show rather than tell, to describe a character’s expression in a few words rather than have them rant for a page. This might mean you’ll write fewer words, and while this is a detriment to projects where one gets paid based on word count, in longer works the brevity of these efforts might prove invaluable.

Then again, that’s just my opinion, and considering I’ve only been published a couple times, I could be wrong.

…No, I didn’t just put Abby in another post because she brings in hits like mad, why do you ask?

Building Character: The Brain


Not too long ago I discussed some basics on how to build effective characters. I think some specific examples might be helpful to people trying to scribble out compelling fiction, and in the wake of NaNoWriMo, you might be looking back over your work wondering how to improve something. Hopefully, examinations of existing characters might help in that effort.

This week we’re taking a look at the brain.

Your Brain

No, not that brain.

The Brain

No, not that brain either.

The brain I’m referring to is the character on the story responsible for explaining the science or technology behind the problem at hand. In science fiction, this is your science officer. Procedurals tend to have the brain in a lab somewhere working on the forensics to solve the case. Television is a great example with plenty of different brains on display. CSI has spun into three separate shows all about entire teams of brains working on the crime of the week. Bones counters the babble of the brains with the earthy everyman charm of Agent Seeley Booth, who affectionately calls them ‘squints’. Most other shows just have a nameless person to appear and deliver the science.

NCIS, however, is not most other shows. NCIS has Abby.

Abby from NCIS

Few if any shows have given the individual forensics expert down in the lab the sort of characterization that Abby has received. She’s smart, produces results quickly and supports the team any way she can. She’s also a goth, constantly listens to happening music, gives hugs whenever she deems them necessary and drinks down Caf Pow like a fiend. Did I mention she sleeps in a coffin, has all sorts of interesting tattoos, uses ASL and occasionally cuddles a stuffed hippo that farts when squeezed? These are, individually, little quirks, which when put together make for one of the most unique characters in a television procedural, or any television show ever.

The point is, Abby is a brain without being overtly nerdy or socially inept. She breaks the mold of brains that have come before, and shows how a few small things can make a character that would otherwise be more of the same into something truly memorable. When you’re making a character, it can help to list the character’s quirks, along with likes, dislikes, goals and phobias. This works for heroes as well as villains, and is something I plan to explore in the weeks to come.

…No, I didn’t just to an Abby post because she brings in hits like mad, why do you ask?

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