Tricks of the Writing Trades (5 of 5): “Faking Authenticity”

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Researching to “Fake Authenticity”

All writers need to research a subject in order to create a level of authenticity — ya know, faking it until ya making it! That inherently leads to a level of authoritativeness as well as whether the reader will finish reading what you wrote. Readers want to learn and they have a 6th sense about whether or not they’re being bullshitted to.

The best thing writers can do is research everything humanly possible on a subject. Books from the library, videos on youtube, blogs, magazines, word of mouth, infographics, movies, songs, anything you can think of. Each source may present something new and fresh on the matter. Research is essential.

In fact, a friend of mine is a travel blogger. She’s probably visited just over half the places she writes about. The rest of the time she fakes it. I know, right! But she’s so good at creating authenticity that readers eat it up. Her research is phenomenal and because she’s travelled so much, she knows what to look for in her research to draw out the authenticity of a destination. It’s why her blog is an authority on travel. Impressive, right? Though, if she knew I was talking about her dirty little secret, she would 100% murder me.

Regardless, all writers fake it to some extent. We have to. But that research pays off. In fact, you no longer just feign authority, you become an authority. A prime example would be science fiction writer Ray Bradbury who was enlisted by NASA because they found he knew more about future stuff than they did. Cool, no?

Anyway, that’s it. I hope this very short series of tricks of the writing trades has helped you a smidgen. I’m not expert on it all but I do have experience – and at the end of the day that’s what matters.

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Oh, I have to turn the handle.

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Tricks of the Writing Trades (4 of 5): Mastering Headlines

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Mastering Headlines to Strike Today’s Readers Into Action

When you’re on social media or say the iPhone News app, you’re mostly scrolling the headlines until something catches your eye. Then by the gravity of the headline you dive in. Did it pay off? A lot of the time no. So become a good writer to answer that question and master writing an excellent headline to strike readers into action.

Copywriters know this. Screenwriters too, with writing loglines. 

You should probably go out there and check out various How To’s on writing headlines or writing loglines. It’s good to understand how each form works, why they work and how that knowledge can work for you.

Once that’s done, write down 7-10 headlines in a specific field of knowledge – B2B Content Marketing, Video Games, Literature Reviews, Physics News, etc. –  and then think about their worth, their weight in idea-gold. Do the headlines capture the attention of the intended audience? Some examples:

  • Here’s why Marketers Are Obsessed with Twitter
  • Cities should embrace free WiFi and embrace Digital Services
  • This Strategy Can Help You Reach Level 99 in 60 Min
  • New Laws Changing America in 2017, from Healthcare to Public Fares

Would you click them? Well, what about writing content for them? Personally, I have no idea about half that stuff, but as a working copywriter I have to research the shit out things to make sure the article or blog or whatever is to an extent authentic, authoritative and keeps reader’s moving from the first sentence to the end.

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If you pursue this exercise daily, testing yourself against what’s out there, you will get good at it. For writing something that feels authentic? Well, check out the next and final part in this series. See below:

Tricks of the Writing Trades (2 of 5): Dialogue + Layout = Mood

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Using Dialogue in Conjunction with Layout to Develop Mood

Yes, this falls under Show Don’t Tell, and overlaps into prose, copy writing, blogging, etc. too. But for this post, I’m focusing on storytelling in comics.

Remember: in Western comics, you read from top-left to bottom-right in a zig-zag motion. Now, check out this page from Marvel Presents: Weapon X by writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

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I shouldn’t of had candy before bed.

Pretty cool stuff, right?

With this page, while the zig-zag motion is in fact tight, like a snake coiling in a Nokia, you can also read it loosely because of the layout and dialogue placement. Your eyes are trying to make sense of this scary-weird scene, automatically moving to panels that don’t necessarily fit a linear reading of the dialogue, creating its incoherent, dream-like feeling.

This is because the outer panels orbit the inner three of Logan waking up. We gather he’s having some sort of bad dream or hallucination. The following pages begin to reveal it’s a bit of both as Logan is dreaming while being operated on – the infamous operation that gave Wolverine his indestructible skeleton. And we begin to suspect something fishy by the last panel, which shows Logan leaning on what looks to be, perhaps, an operating table (in similar colour and fashion to the tech in the adjacent panel with the scientists).

There’s so much to explore in this one page. What’s important here is that the talented Mr. Windsor-Smith captures the mood of this point in the story poignantly. He shows us fear, despair, paranoia, confusion, and more — grabbing our attention. The dialogue works inline with the structure and artwork, it serves it, and that’s important.

You see this in other writing too. Dialogue comes second to actions in screenwriting. Dialogue is surgically injected into prose or used as a narrative guide. Dialogue shows us the end of a point made in copy writing or punctuates a feeling gathered from a paragraph or two as a caption in blogging. And that’s just a small set of examples.

Dialogue atop layout can finish off setting the mood. So file this away as a trick to be aware of next time you sit down to write the shit out of something. And guys, that goes for first dates too!

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Thoughts on Storytelling – Episodes 1 to 2 of ‘Death Note’

Death Note is on Netflix. I’ve seen the movies and read some of the manga, but this is my first time watching the anime. It’s brilliant, and I’m only two episodes in.

It opens in the wastelands of the Shinigami world. A stark, grey place where death gods spend their existence sleeping, gambling and killing humans for fun by writing their names down in a Death Note: notebooks with the power to kill.

Ryuk, a death god bored of his world, drops his spare death note in our world where Light Yagami, the protagonist, who’s also bored with his own world, discovers its power and uses it to strike righteous justice by killing criminals, reigniting his flame for life.

By the time he meets Ryuk, Light’s murdered a bunch of criminals (people), and Ryuk’s amazed by it; and even more so when Light proclaims that this path he’s set himself on will lead him to create a utopia where he will reign as its god. ‘Humans are… so much fun,’ says Ryuk.

 

From there Light becomes known as Kira – the Japanese pronunciation of ‘Killer’ – the man responsible for killing hundreds of criminals by mysteriously inflicting heart attacks upon them. He can do more too, like use the death note to kill someone in a very specific way, but Light has a plan.

 

This master plan brings Light head to head with L, the even more mysterious Interpol detective who’s set out to catch ‘Kira’ and bring him to justice. Ryuk absolutely revels in it. This is the end of episode 2.

Clearly, we have our first act here: the world is setup, the protagonist, his wound, the inciting incident, the ally, the antagonist, and the dilemma. There’s so much here, it’s hard to pick where to start. Light is proactive, so that makes him an ideal protagonist. He’s also likeable and relatable. He’s an anti-hero with a Punisher-shtick. L is his equal. His introduction and first strike against Light/Kira is a doozy and a clear illustration of their relationship. But the hero is actually the villain and the villain is actually the hero. Who is just? Funnily enough, Light and L remind me of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty.

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Light’s wound – he’s bored of this world – parallels that of Ryuk’s – his ally in all this. So, there’s some interesting fun the creators have there. The discovery of the death note reignites Light’s flame for life by killing the evil of this world — I doubt the irony here isn’t lost on viewers.

What I love about this is that we’ve seen this setup before, in things like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, but never in this context. Well, I don’t think so anyway. So, it’s a wonderful way to create a very proactive protagonist. Will that become more reactive as L plays his cards further into the series? I guess I need to watch it some more (even though I know the ending from the other mediums it was presented in).

Anyway, Death Note is a very good anime that I’d recommend to anyone unsure about anime, new to anime or just sick of all the shonen anime coming out as they’re matured past investing time in any new ones (I’m 30 and have been watching One Piece since high school, so if you understand that then you understand that last bit.)

So, go, watch, and keep to yourself how much you want one, heh-heh-heh.

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Thoughts on Milligan and McCarthy’s ‘Paradax’

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Paradax is the superhero you’d be if you stumbled upon a super suit when you weren’t being a prick-NEET coming down off acid who’s too much of an arsehole to let his missus know how much her pussy means to him. Yep, Paradax is the shit.

In this landmark collection of early comics from UK comic legends Peter Milligan (X-Statix, Shade the Changing Man) and Brendan McCarthy (Spider-Man: Fever, Mad Max: Fury Road) you can find Paradax: an 80s post-punk slacker who uses his super suit to walk through walls and stop wankers like Pinhead from wrecking havoc in ol’ London town.

McCarthy infuses Paradax with a number of allusions to Steve Ditko’s early Spider-Man art. Most obvious is Paradax’s silhouette, which takes Ditko’s meekly, unassuming Peter Parker and accentuates it into a post-modern punk with an Elvis pompadour who doesn’t remove his civvies when playing superhero in his Kid Flash-inspired super suit that can go intangible. Rad.

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Though, if there’s one adjective I would use to describe McCarthy’s brilliance it would be ‘gnarly’. Like, you read Rogan Gosh (from this collection, also highly recommended) and all you’re thinking is this shit is fucking gnarly! His art seems like spiritualised energy from some distant dream realm just beyond the drugs. It’s not far out stuff but it is far out stuff, if you catch my drift.

Though, for me, there’s something about Paradax’s look and style that really resonates. A rebel with a ‘fuck off’ cause. It might be because Milligan structured the Paradax scripts and many others during the 80s like 3min punk songs. So, instead of feeling like a Hollywood blockbuster, you have this psychedelic and clangy guitar fest. And the art went with it.

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If you come across this collection in your local comic book store or any other damn good book shop then pull your wallet out and drop some cash for it. It’s inspiring, entertaining, imaginative and a bloody riot.

Give me more.

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