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On Writing: Bodyguards


Has your character ever needed a bodyguard?  Yes?  Did you think that the job of a bodyguard was limited to walking next to someone while wearing sunglasses and having sexual tension/banter?  Well then, we need to talk.

  • Bodyguarding is a regulated profession.  Technically, you don’t need to go to a class to follow someone around and promise to beat up whoever hassles them.  On the other hand, if you do that, your paycheck can’t say “bodyguard” on it.  Every state has different requirements, but all of them include “take at least some sort of class and get a license.”  You have to take a class to be a security guard.  You have to take a different class to be a bodyguard.  You have take more classes to be an armed guard.  You have to take a separate, unique class for each type and caliber of weapon you want to be licensed for.  Now, like everything else, there are good and bad schools for this sort of thing, and with very little searching you can probably find a “school” that will take your money and give you a license at the end of the day, whether you paid attention to the class or not.  But the fact still remains that you can’t just turn to any random person and call them a bodyguard.

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How to Go to College for Free: The Best Open Classes for Writers (Fall 2014)


Massively Open Online Courses are the new vogue way to take control of your education and your career, and it’s the best thing. Higher education should be a right, but many of us can’t afford or can’t even access modern college courses. Anyone with conviction and a few extra hours a week can get themselves a college education from some of the best teachers in the world. You can even put finished courses on your resume. Just a few colleges that offer free online courses: MITBoston UniversityDartmouthCornellUniversity of TokyoHarvardYale University, and the University of Geneva - and that’s barely scratching the surface.

Those are some of the most funded, most prestigiously staffed universities in the world. The education offered by them, for free, is at your fingers. Just because the world might hold degrees and the brick and mortar institutions of modern universities as a reward for the already privileged or the lucky doesn’t mean you don’t have the resources to learn. Throwing the exposition away, here are my favorite courses for writers available this fall semester:

  • English Grammar and Style taught by University of Queensland’s Roslyn Petelin, Gabrielle O’Ryan, and Michael Lefcourt. It’s a basic writing course, taught by professors who understand English like the backs of their hands. 
  • The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours: Epic and Lyrictaught by Harvard’s Professor Gregory Nagy. Course on heroic story structure that walks you through the ancient Greek heroes and stories that set up the future of western literature. Breaks down the Epic and Lyric forms.

  • The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours: Signs of the Hero in Epic and Iconography Part two of the course above, this time moving to the influence of visual heroic iconography. 

  • Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World taught by Professor Eric Rabkin. Genre course that explores the two major fiction forms as a reflection of human society. Covers a lot of pop culture favorites. 

  • Unbinding Prometheus taught by Eric Alan Weinstein through Open Learning. The class, starting in November, will explore the meaning of Percy Shelley’s work and the impact the man (who believed writing could free mankind from their shackles) has had on the world he left behind. 

  • The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom taught by many Georgetown professors, including Dante and Derrida: Face to Face author Frank Ambrosio. It looks frankly awesome, talking about the modern reader and Alighieri’s work, and the first sentence of the class description speaks for itself: Students will question for themselves the meaning of human freedom, responsibility and identity by reading and responding to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

  • Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative taught by Vanderbilt University’s Jay Clayton. This class is about Lord of the Rings Online. It’s not actively running, but you can access all the materials online. 

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder: Exploring Her Work & Writing Life taught by Missouri State’s Pamela Smith Hill, an Ingalls Wilder scholar. Wilder’s Little House series has informed our perceptions of her era in North American history, but there’s more than meets the eye in her stories. Just like Shakespeare, there are more than a few controversies around authorship, and a lot to talk about in this course.

  • How Writers Write Fiction taught by University of Iowa's professor (and author of Things of the Hidden God) Christopher Merrill. The course presents a curated collection of short, intimate talks created by fifty authors of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays that you can’t catch anywhere else. Features weekly writing assignments.

  • Poetry: What It Is, and How to Understand It taught by George Washington University’s Margaret Soltan. A class in modern poetry, the whys and hows, and a cultural learning class we’d recommend for anyone trying to broaden their artistic perspective.

EXTRA CREDIT: Important and interesting classes I would recommended.

  • Understanding Violence taught by Professors Deb Houry and Pamela Scully.  Covers elements of biology, sociology, and psychology. You’ll study the biological and psychological causes of violence, and how violence is reported and portrayed in the media. Seems like an excellent research course for action writers.

  • Social Entrepeneurship taught by Professors Kai Hockerts, Kristjan Jespersen, Ester Barinaga, Anirudh Agrawal, Sudhanshu Rai, and Robert Austin. Doesn’t just talk about how to use social media for your own benefit — the course is meant to break down how to use social media and community engagement for global change. 

  • Comic Books and Graphic Novels taught by University of Colorado Boulder’s William Kuskin. Explores the medium at length. Has special class topics on Batman, Neil Gaiman, Pop Culture, Defining Art, and Gender. 

— Audrey Erin Redpath (@audreyredpath)

Simply Original Characters

Hi everyone! This is Cori from simplyoriginalcharacters. We’re a character review blog dedicated to providing helpful, constructive criticism for all of our submissions. We also answer questions and give advice about characterization and character development. We’ve got new mods on staff, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner we’re looking forward to seeing more questions and more characters from all sorts of writers. Please check us out if you have the time!

allishinca inquired:

So a while ago you answered a question about reasons to kill of a character in /post/92931468078/ And one of the reasons mentioned was to show a situation was dangerous. In an unrelated post I saw elsewhere, someone was complaining about chr. being killed "for shock value." I realized that chr. death to show danger + shock value could easily overlap each other. I was wondering if you had any insight on distinguishing these two, and any advice for using chr. death for showing danger properly?

Showing danger: You want people to know the dragon is dangerous, so you have the dragon roast Carl.

Shock value: You want your readers to post about their FEELS, so you give Carl a heart attack.


You want your readers to know the dragon is dangerous, so you kill off Carl. But there is no way your awesomechocolate main character would have any trouble with even the strongest of dragons, so he kills the dragon with one easy sword swipe. Carl’s death seems kind of dumb.


Em Dashes


A lot of people use semi-colons wrong because they know there’s supposed to be a pause in their sentence that they know isn’t quite a comma, so they think it must be that mysterious semi-colon. Usually, it’s actually supposed to be an em dash (—), which in some ways is more mysterious!

The em dash is the longest of the three dashes and most often used for interruptions. Interruptions in speech, in action, in thought. It’s also a great syntax addition for fight scenes, since it makes the narrative seem quick and unexpected and jolting from side to side like a fight scene should be. Read your em dash sentences out loud until you get a feel for how its pause compares to the pause of a comma. It’s a heartbeat longer. If a comma is one beat of pause, then I see an em dash as two beats of pause.

In this first example, the em dash is used to give an aside to the reader. It’s like a btw sort of moment, which can sometimes be replaced with commas or parenthesis. I think the em dashes are most suitable when your aside is decently long.

Her neighbor, Frank, is always blasting music.

Her neighbor—the one who always blasts the music—is named Frank.

My mischievous neighbor, Vince, seemed to have a knack for graveyard cavorting.

Vince—more often called (in a raised and angry voice) Vincent Price Ramsey—seemed to have a knack for graveyard cavorting.

Next up, here’s the em dash as a replacement for the semi-colon. Kinda like a slang or shortened sentence. Semi-colons have to connect two independent clauses—meaning each side of the semi-colon could stand alone as its own complete sentence. If you don’t want to do that, try an em dash:

I thought hanging out would be great—a chance to finally see the city, just like Aunt Lillian wanted.

I thought hanging out would be great; it would be a chance to finally see the city, just like Aunt Lillian wanted.

There was a headstone hardly a foot from where I’d emerged—dark grey stone a few inches thick and maybe as high as my knee.

There was a headstone hardly a foot from where I’d emerged; it was made of dark grey stone a few inches thick and maybe as high as my knee.

Sometimes, you can use an em dash to have a speaker correct themselves, or interrupt themselves to amend their sentence.

I could see the blur of the graveyard behind him—through him—

Similar to the last example, it can be used to interrupt a sentence in order to add additional information about the sentence. Often you can use a comma in this situation, too, so try to think of syntax and how that additional beat of pause changes things. In this case, Alice has just seen a ghost for the first time, so her mind is a bit too shocked for the normal pause of a comma. Read both. Doesn’t the one with the em dash sound more shocked or surprised, while the comma makes it sound like a simple observation?

He was glowing pale—almost tinged in cold blue.

He was glowing pale, almost tinged in cold blue.

Of course, it could be an interruption. It could be someone interrupting another in speech, one action interrupting another, or a character’s thoughts interrupting themselves. Here I’ll include the sentence with the em dash and the sentence following, so you can see the thing interrupted and the interruption.

You can have an action interrupt a character’s thoughts. For the first one, Alice is in a creepy situation and completely focused on something else, so when something touches her elbow, she’s shocked out of her thoughts. For the second one, Tristan is listening for an enemy when the enemy makes a move and startles him into action.

As far as I could tell it was some kind of berry—

An icy contact on my elbow broke my resolve, and I screamed until an equally cold hand clamped over my mouth.

The night was still, and yet—

Something whistled through the air. Tristan jerked backwards, narrowly avoiding an incoming dagger.

Here we have one character interrupting another in dialogue. Pretty self-explanatory.

“I’m not going to—”

Mom’s voice in the receiver cut me off. “At least consider it.”

“After all, you’re only a—”

“If you even say girl,” I interrupted, “I’ll stab you, I swear.”

The next one is part of a fight scene, so Alice’s thoughts are interrupting themselves as soon as she thinks them. She throws up an idea, “iron,” but interrupts herself from further exploring that idea, and instead casts it out. In a fight, you don’t have time to think out long, eloquent ideas. Your thoughts should come in fragments. Stab. Punch. Dodge. Swing. Would this work? No. How about this? Maybe. The em dash can help get across this uneven jolting of thoughts.

Iron—no use. I’d dropped the knife when her damn vines ensnared me, and the nails were in my pockets and out of reach. Blood—there were possibilities there.

Continuing in fight scenes, em dashes can have action interrupt action. Don’t just throw them in willy nilly, but if you have a chance for an em dash, jump on it. Instead of a word like “suddenly,” it makes it feel suddenly. Ups the tension. Em dashes are about interruption, and what is a fight scene but two people interrupting each other’s attempts to kill the other? This is especially useful for the last line in a paragraph during a fighting scene, because it’s a nice place to have one action interrupt another.

I snatched it—slit across my hand—

And stabbed her through the heart.

His swords whistled through the air—

A clean “X” appeared on the imp’s back, severing its body into four neat chunks.

So yeah, I’m basically obsessed with em dashes and I use more of them than the majority of writers. (At 72k words, my current project has 22 semi-colons and 344 em dashes. So. Yeah. Not to mention the length of this post…) Em dashes are way cool and can add a lot to your writing even though they’re just another form of punctuation. Syntax helps your reader into the mindset you’re going for, and em dashes can be a great, powerful part of that syntax!


Some Things to Remember While Writing


If It Works, It Works

Are you worried about whether it’s okay to write a book with only one character? Or if it’s possible to kill off the hero at the end? Or if you can create horse-dragon hybrid?

Look, if it works for your story, it works. You are a writer. A creator. You’re supposed to be creative and daring and you’re supposed to put your passion into these stories. If you can make something work, for your story, then it works.

There is an Audience for Everything

There is literally an audience for everything. If you really love your idea about undercover robot lesbian cops who work in a coffee shop on a space station that serves thousands of aliens each day, then someone else will probably love it too.

You Have No Obligation

You do not have to show your writing to anyone, especially your first draft. 

You do not have to publish all of your stories online or elsewhere.

You do not have to change the ending of your story if a disgruntled fan wanted something else to happen.

Your Story Will Have Similarities

True originality no longer exists and the obsession with originality will prevent you from getting any writing done. It will make your writing suffer. Do not let the fear of not being original enough stop you from writing a great story. All stories have similarities to each other, even when they are vastly different.

This is okay. This is normal.

Your First Draft is the Written Version of “I’ll Fix it Later”

The first draft is where you are allowed to procrastinate on the details. If you write a scene that isn’t well organized or a major info dump, just tell yourself you’ll fix it later. The only thing you have to do in your first draft is finish it.

Later drafts are where you clean everything up by rewriting the entire story.

criselopls inquired:

hi! can you please suggest some character connections to me? like ways that characters meet / the relationship that connects them to each other? i can't seem to find any idea posts like it! thank you!

[cracks knuckles]

  • Character A is driving down the road, comes across Character B hitch-hiking, and decides to pick them up.
  • Character A needs a roommate in order to keep up rent for their apartment due to their other roomie bailing on them. Character B answers their ad/post/etc.
  • Characters are in line at the register of the grocery store and checking out is slow. They start up a conversation.
  • Characters meet on an online forum or community, and decide to meet IRL
  • having to be teammates in any sense, be it an actual team, or a group project, or a work collaboration

There’s a few! Hopefully that’s what you were looking for. If any of our followers have suggestions, I will add them. :D

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