Here you will find pieces of brain vomit that describes the messy slop of Odin’s writing process, which other authors may or may not find useful. These tidbits are in no particular order, and if you are looking for something specific for me to cover, let me know.

Writing With The Singular “They”

I would like to preface this by stating that while this is how *I* personally use the pronoun “They” in reference to my Non-Binary characters, it is by no means the one and only absolute *RIGHT* way of doing it.  The purpose of this article is to give a starting point to authors who are a bit uncertain about the usage within the gender spectrum.

Since the purpose of this article is NOT to educate you on Non-Binary people, I will refer you to a concise Wikipedia article to get you started, and feel free to expand your research on your own time:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genderqueer

There you will also find the most commonly gender-neutral pronouns used today. Here, I am going to be talking about the use of “They” as a singular pronoun.

The use of the singular They tends to incite a knee-jerk reaction to many authors and editors, despite its use being referenced for quite some time. Language is fluid and ever changing, isn’t it wonderful?

While I have a lot of Non-Binary characters in my works, I also use the singular “they” to refer to nondescript encounters that are not prominent to the story, or don’t need to be fleshed out in order to make the story flow: i.e. shop/innkeepers, minion fight encounters, security personnel, etc.

Just like with he/she, take care when drafting dialogue or writing a paragraph with nothing but the same pronoun, especially when one or more characters are involved.

When you need to make a distinction, use descriptors on the character to communicate which person you are referring to. Using the character’s name frequently is an obvious solution, but it can disrupt the flow of dialogue or action:

“Balthazaar took Balthazaar’s comb from the shelf and brushed back Balthazaar’s glorious mane.”

You can stray away from this a little bit by strategically removing possessive nouns, but it won’t fix everything:

“Balthazaar took the comb from the shelf and brushed back Balthazaar’s glorious mane.”

You can then take it a step further and anthropomorphize difficult nouns:

“Balthazaar took the comb from the shelf and tamed the mutinous strands of hair.”

Consider also referring to characters by their position or job title, their most distinctive physical features, or even an adjective that describes their personality or other people’s impression of the character:

“So why are we here, if it’s so dangerous?” the loudmouthed merc asked.

“If you want to leave, by all means, go for it. I’m not paying your tab.” She watched the mercs exchange glances and consider their options. “Or you can stay here and live to tell about it if you do exactly as I say. And I suppose more importantly, cash out on a rather lucrative contract.”

Nobody moved.

“Are. We. All. Here then?” she growled impatiently. The collective stared down at their feet. “Good.”

“You’re the boss,” the dissident one finally shrugged in submission.

Here I have assigned “The Merc (aka Mercenary)” as a descriptive noun to indicate the speaker, as well as “Dissident one.”

Other examples: “the shadowy figure,” “the giggling professor,” “the destitute,” “the sharply dressed,” “the cheeky.” The options are literally limitless.

“One” is also a very good supplementary pronoun, as illustrated in the above example.

Probably the most challenging scenario I have written to date is an encounter between a Non-Binary character, and multiple nondescript persons. In this instance, it was security guards, which uses the pronoun “they” in the plural:

“The guards approached the hunter, attempting to subdue them with restraints. Anticipating the assault, the interloper made slight adjustments to their stance as the guards reached for their shoulders. Using the guards’ inertia against them, the hunter swooped and weaved, disabling the assailants with calculated motions.

After a swift altercation, the attacker wrapped their arms around the guards, binding them with the cuffs they had dropped. The visitor then delicately sat the guards down on the floor behind them, then calmly approached the clerk once more.”

You can see how this might make some readers’ eyes cross. The solution to this is to use very specific actions and descriptors to communicate who is doing what. Describe the singular character explicitly (“hunter,” “interloper,” etc.) and the plural character units (Guards), while only using they/their as a direct object for a distinctly obvious subject.

For more examples, I invite you to check out a few pieces of my writing in the Travels of Matteus segments regarding the Ara’yulthr, a race that does not use gendered pronouns in their language.

Hopefully, this advice should give you enough of a start to broaden your horizons and consider adding more Non-Binary characters in your works. It just takes a little practice to get into the headspace, and before you know, you will have seamless interactions with a wider spectrum of characters.

Until Next Time!

Regarding Combat

Your characters have just finished sizing each other up, and inevitably, you need to figure out how they will go about beating the ever-living tar out of each other. Below I have illustrated my thought process on how I construct these scenes.

I do have examples of my combat scenes here for your examination.

I begin with two timeline points: the start (X and Y are standing in front of each other), then the result (X has Y in a headlock). In between is a multitude of points that bring the scene together, like frames in a zoetrope. The next step would be to draft a play-by-play of how the conflict takes place.

There is an underlying flow inside every combat engagement, and decoding that flow is key to effectively communicating a scene to your readers through narration. Not every graphic detail needs to be drawn out either, just enough to create a chain of action-reaction-action steps until you have reached your result point.

As you draft each point, consider where each limb is at that moment, followed by where they will be at the next step. From there, you can link the actions together to form one fluid sequence.

I tend to work directly in my draft when sketching out the scene, but for those that like more visual organization, you can illustrate these points on a flowchart, or draw out a bird’s eye map of the scene:

A pushes B in the right shoulder -> B steps back and slaps A with left -> A steps inside B -> B pivots around and hugs A’s neck

Once your sequence is drafted, polish it with descriptors to make it sound like sentient beings are fighting, not rock-em-sock-em robots. Don’t get too hung up on left versus right as well, it could clutter the prose, and eyes may glaze over keeping track of what hand slapped what nostril.

An important detail you do want to consider is how a body moves when something smacks it around. A slap versus a punch will yield two different results in skull motion, and require a different length of recovery time. Consider a shove in the shoulder versus a shove to the hips, or other balance points on the human body. For inspiration, get a couple jointed posing models you find in art supply stores and play around with them to get a better sense of range of motion.

Questions to ask yourself:

Are joints locked, or are they limber? How hard was that strike, exactly? How have their feet shifted, what noises did they make?  What happens in the background, are there obstructions in the way?

Expression is also an important piece of communication, letting the reader know how the combatants feel about their opposition. Are their jaws clamped? Did their eyes widen as they realized an error in calculation? Are they looking at something in the background, or projecting their attack to their opponent?

You should also decide how much of a disciple of authenticity you want to project on your writing. There is a certain degree of reality that can be foregone for the sake of entertainment. If movies were painstakingly accurate, a lot of people would lose their appreciation (and possibly lunch) for action.

Your worldbuilding can also help smooth out a fight and buffer the suspension of disbelief. Supporting technology/magic you have created might let a character last longer or give them an edge in their fight, if they are an alien race that is stronger/weaker than humans etc.

Ultimately, it is a challenge to be an absolute expert at EVERYTHING, so go easy on yourself and trust in the suspension of disbelief. You can’t please everyone, and someone will be ready to point out how you are wrong in twelve different languages. The sooner you are comfortable with that, the easier writing combat becomes.

Research is also your best friend. Some of my favorite sources:

  • Google specific questions like “how long does a choke hold last?” Be prepared to wade through an ocean of conflicting opinions. (Also, spoilers: not very long unless you want to kill, and even then, you’ll be holding on for several minutes.)
  • Fighting forums, especially if you are looking for specific disciplines or fight styles.
  • YouTube: there are a lot of martial art videos that display specific throws and sparring sessions. Play them on slow speed and analyze the combatants, limb positions, bent joints, where tension and force is held.
  • Analyze action films with choreography that display the fight clearly, without a mashup of jumpcuts and overly edited effects. Google for ideas on good films if you are looking for accuracy (The Duellists from 1977 and Act of Valor recommended for a start)
  • Find local martial arts schools and ask to observe sparring sessions. Explain your intentions and what you are looking for in terms of research (weapons, unarmed, etc). They may be willing to let you sit in on a session, and even participate in demonstrations (after signing a waiver).
    • One practice of import is the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance (HEMA), a group dedicated to the study of medieval combat, both armed and unarmed. Though you might not think it relevant to a SciFi world, a lot of the core mechanics of historical wrestling can be applied to modern fighting.
    • You can find their page here: https://www.hemaalliance.com/club-finders/

 

ODIN EDITS THE THINGS

This may or may not be useful to other aspiring authors out there, but I wanted to give a detailed outline of how my writing process actually works. It is not in any organized matter whatsoever. I basically start in a series of phases:

Sketch:

A sketch might just be a simple scene or concept that I want to add to whatever I am working on. It usually starts a new chapter. It is composed of a dialog interaction between characters, and then builds from there. I might have general idea of what I want to happen around the scene, but not a whole lot of details are included beyond general objectives. Punctuation and dialog tags are thrown out the window.

This is also the majority of the documents that flood my folder on my computer…I really should do something about that.

AN EXAMPLE FOR YOU:

“C’mon, Felix, I have to take inventory and resupply”
“Ok.” >:
“Ugh, fine. Just until you fall asleep though.”
“Ok.” *an hour passes*
“YouRe still awake, aren’t you…”
“Yes.”
“Goddammit Felix.”

Skeleton:

A skeleton is composed of one or many sketches stitched together. This is the backbone (heheh) of a chapter, and it defines the start point, and an end point, but that is all. It reads more or less like a screenplay, but with even less structure.

Stupid Mode:

This is where I say whatever garbage is necessary in order to get complete actions. The chapter at this point will be full of fragments and sentences written in my own personal voice, and is often riddled with memes and innuendo. If there are any key description points I want to include, I usually do so here.
This mode helps me get through writing blocks and pass over to areas of the document that I actually do have better ideas for, and makes me less frustrated with the entire process.

Red Phase:

This is where things start to get fleshed out. I turn whatever fragments I have plastered here into more coherent sentences, writing in whatever narrative voice I have chosen for the final product. I also flesh out dialog interactions into something readable. When I am finished with this phase, the document becomes adequately readable, but it is still rather plain. Like the Low Sodium versions of canned soup. Gross.

Blue Phase:

This is where I start to make things “pretty,” focusing on the senses of the reader to make the text more immersive. I will usually spend the most time in this phase. After I get it to my liking, I will also do a grammar/punctuation comb through before I release it to Black Phase to make sure I don’t anger the language gods.

Black Phase:

When the text reaches this point, it is generally considered “readable” to outside audiences. It may never be actually considered “finished” by my standards, but very few things I write ever are. I may still pass through this phase several times to find better ways of describing/shrinking things.
And that’s about it on how I make a first draft. Now you kind of know how my brain works….maybe. So whenever I reference these things on my Twitter or Facebook page, you now know wtf I am talking about.