Common Phrases Used by Authors

commo phrasesNow this is an interesting little chart I stumbled upon as I browsed Facebook. This post from the Writer’s Circle. I often enjoy the posts this page puts up, but this one made me stop and think. And the question that popped in my brain was… What would be the most common phrases in my writing?

An argument could be made for the listed words and phrases as being too simplistic and possibly boring. But considering the intended audience (young adult), is that really a bad thing? And it opens the question… is simplistic writing possibly a better way to go? After all, these series are best sellers.

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Fight Scenes Part 5: Psychological Warfare

Whew! We made it to number five! If you missed the other four parts of this fight scene series you can catch up Fight Scenes Part 1: An Introduction, Fight Scenes Part 2: Physical Differences, Fight Scenes Part 3: Hand to Hand Combat, and Fight Scenes Part 4: Weapons. Here is the last, but certainly not the least installment of the series. Check out how to get the upper hand with messing with people’s heads, or how a fight can mess with a your (main/other) characters head.

Something to remember... When you fail to do something in a fight, it can be a serious psychological blow.

The arrogance of power assumes they will always be successful and can’t be stopped. They also feel entitled to seize anything they can take.

Some psychological elements are…

  • Experience
  • Temperament
  • Desire/ intent
  • Mental state
  • Emotional state

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Fight Scenes Part 4: Weapons

Missed the fist three parts? Check out Fight Scenes Part 1: An Introduction, Fight Scenes Part 2: Physical Difference, and Fight Scenes Part 3: Hand to Hand Combat. Now let’s talk a little about weapons. These notes focus mostly on unconventional weapons or what Jonathan Maberry called natural weapons.

Weapons

The more a character knows how to use natural weapons the better he’ll be.

Types of Weapons…

  • Core Body Techniques
  • Surrogate Weapons
  • Actual Weapons

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Fight Scenes Part 2: Physical Differences

Here is the second installment of my Fight Scene series based off notes from Jonathan Maberry’s fabulous class. If you haven’t already, check out Fight Scenes Part 1: An Introduction. So lets’ get started. This post will be dedicated to how physical differences in all parties involved can make a big difference in how a fight plays out.

Physical differences are a BIG deal…

  • Small against large
  • Speed
  • Longer reach
  • Muscle density matters
  • Length of hair matters
  • Abilities matters, better trained more chance of win
  • Location is big
  • Clothing
  • Tools

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Fight Scenes Part 1: An Introduction

I finally managed to get through my notes from Jonathan Maberrry’s (the author of the popular Rot and Ruin series) a workshop I took. There was a lot of information so I am breaking it down into a five part series. I will start with this introduction, then part 2 on physical differences, part 3 on hand to hand combat, part 4 on weapons, and lastly part 5 on psychological warfare. Oh and make sure to look for the Fun Facts at the end of each post in this series!

So let’s get started as we look at some very basics of fight scenes and fighting information in general. The very first thing to remember with ALL fight scenes is…

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A Study of Character: At the Mall

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last month I did a post called A Study of Character: At the Park. I focused on being at the park and how watching the children and adults can make for interesting character study as they can show us the variety of emotions in a short time. I would like to expand on this topic a little and now talk about the study of character at the mall and how it can be a great way to come up with character descriptions and mannerisms for your next character.

Have you ever stopped, sat down on a bench, and just watched the people walk by you at a mall? Sure we all go to the mall. We may even notice people passing that make us take a second look. We may even stop and stare at the man in orange pants with a Mohawk and tattoos on every visible surface of the skin. But it’s the more interesting stuff that can be seen when sitting down and watching.

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The Truth About Flashbacks

This post is another result of one of Michael Knost classes. This most recent class I took was all about flashbacks (and backstory, but that’s a different post). I found a few “light bulb” moments in the class that just had to share, but this post really is only the tip of the iceberg of what I learned.

The most important thing to remember… Flashbacks should not be used unless there is absolutely no other way the story can be told. Flashbacks carry a built-in disadvantage to even the best of written stories, because it stops the story. A flashback is about something that has already happened. It’s over and done with so the flashback lacks immediacy.

There are 3 advantages to having a flashback in a story…

  • helps establish character motives
  • fills in events of how the original current story came about
  • fills in critical information that happened years earlier

If a story must hold a flashback there are 3 ways to maximize the advantages of a flashback…

  1. Time travel done right
    Every flashback should follow a strong current story scene. Flashbacks should never start a scene. Before dropping the past onto the reader, the current story must be established first; otherwise, the reader will become invested in the flashback and not care about the current story.
  2. Orient the reader at the start of the flashback in time and space
    Make sure that it is made clear that the story is moving backwards in time. Give a clear indication at the very beginning what is happening to avoid throwing the reader into confusion and frustration. There’s nothing worse than reading a story and not being able to figure out where in space and time the story is supposed to be taking place.
  3. Use verbal tense conventions to guide the reader in and out of the flashback
    Conventions through verbal tense can be used to “signal” both the start and end of a flashback. This sort of thing is subtle and may not be noticed by the conscious mind of the reader, but is very effective in guiding the reader properly in and out of flashbacks. This is the best way to help eliminate flashback confusion.

Example: Let’s say you are writing a story in pasted tense (that’s my preferred style of writing). That means the first few verbs (usually the first 5 verbs) used in the flashback should be perfect past tense (had, had been). Then switch back to pasted tense. When you are ready to end the flashback switch back to perfect past tense for another 5 or so verbs. Once back in the current story, you return to using past tense verbs.

Are you confused yet? Here’s a shortened version I made to help me keep it straight…

current story (past tense) + beginning of flashback (perfect past tense 5 verbs) + middle of flashback (paste tense) + end of flashback (perfect past tense 5 verbs) + return to current story (past tense)

What if a story is written in present tense? Then you would use past tense verbs instead of perfect past tense verbs.

Here’s an example of a switch from a present tense story to flashback from Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games...

“We don’t speak. Our real interaction happened years ago. He’s probably already forgotten it. But I haven’t and I know I never will…
It was the worst time. My father had been killed in the mine accident three months earlier in the bitterest January anyone could remember. The numbness of his loss had passed, and the pain would hit me out of nowhere, doubling me over, racking my body with sobs. Where are you? I would cry out in my mind. Where have you gone? Of course there was never any answer.”

If flashbacks are used, it should be done sparingly. Flashbacks should never occur back to back. Strong scenes should separate each flashback scene.

There is an acceptable form of story that uses flashbacks to tell a story and that would be a “frame story”. This story can be any length (from short story to novel), which begins after all the action is over. The protagonist or author announces that they are going to tell a story and may even give out the entire outcome at the beginning of the story. Example of this type of stories are True Grit by Charles Portis and Water for Elephants Sara Gruen.

Update June 26 2019: I wrote this blog post many years ago, since then my position on flashbacks have changed. I do believe flashbacks can be used as often as a person wants within reason. I published my first book Blood Feud and it has numerous flashbacks that, in my opinion, work very well. But I spent a lot of time trying to get them right and making sure they were necessary to move the story. Sometimes in order to move forward and bring more depth to a story flashbacks can be quite useful.

It is also worth mentioning here too, that just because a writer gives you advice on how writing should be, does not mean it has to be. Use your best judgement. Every writer and every story are unique. Know what is true for you as a writer, and let the rest go. Happy Writing!