Writing Alert: On Attribution

Some Bad Writing Advice for the day: This post I’m sharing would have you use florid attribution. See here:

From "Writer's Circle" facebook page: 198 unnecessary and extremely risky ways plus 2 sensible ones, you mean.

From “Writer’s Circle” facebook page:
198 unnecessary and extremely risky ways plus 2 sensible ones, you mean.

Why is it bad advice? Because 198 of the entries on this list will almost certainly cause an agent to reject your submission. Only “says” and “asks” should be used.*

* When it comes to writing, there are always exceptions to every rule. So here’s the explanation:

I think of this (what the Writer’s Circle would have you do) as first level dialogue, or “Thesaurus Dialogue”: putting in unnecessarily complex or florid attribution. (e.g. “I’ll get it,” Harry expressed. He opened the door. “Hi Hermione!” he exclaimed.) Overuse of it makes your work look like that of an amateur, and agents know to look for this. Don’t do it–you’d be dramatically reducing your chances of getting published.

(A similar style, let’s call it level 1.5, “Adverbial Dialogue,” is when you attribute dialogue using “says” or “asks,” but then you also add an adverb, e.g. “I’ll get it,” Harry said quietly. You shouldn’t do this either–and especially not with one of those more florid words, like “shouted angrily” or “opined reasonably.” It’s distracting and you’re almost always better off expressing how the person said something from context.)

Second level dialogue, or “Clean Dialogue,” is to use only “said” or “asked,” which makes your text cleaner and much less distracting. (e.g. “I’ll get it,” Harry said. He opened the door. “Hi, Hermione!”

Third level dialogue, or “Context Dialogue,” is to use no attribution at all, but simply make it clear from context who said what. (e.g. “I’ll get it.” Harry opened the door. “Hi, Hermione!”)

Fourth level dialogue, or “Voice Dialogue,” is to use no attribution, but have the characters have such a clear voice that it’s obvious who’s speaking. (Tough to give an example without sufficient build-up, but if I’ve constructed Harry as a shy, nerdy type, it might look something like this: e.g. “I’ll–I’ll get it.” Harry opened the door. “Hermione! Uh, hi!”)

Good dialogue is usually a mixture of level 2 (Clean; asks/says) and level 3 (Context: attribution through context), whilst occasionally elevating itself to level 4 for effect. You can get away with level 1 dialogue every so often, but it has to be for a specific purpose, and the word has to be so carefully chosen that nothing else would have sufficed. (And I’m not going to give an example of that, because it would literally take several chapters to *earn* the power to use one of those words.)

As always, my writing advice is always *my* advice, and should not be taken as gospel. There are always exceptions and you may find that your own writing goes a different way.

Best of luck to all!


Uncategorized, Writing

Black Widow Movie outline

I did something similar to this with my basic outline for a Captain Marvel movie. So here’s my basic Black Widow movie pitch.*

! We want Widow bannerBlack Widow is tracking a lead on the Winter Soldier (timely!) when she comes under attack from an unknown assassin. At the end of act one, the assassin is ultimately to be . . . Black Widow, i.e. Yelena Bolova.

During act two, Natasha teams up with the Winter Soldier to take down the new model, but the WS ultimately ends up snagged again by mental control from the real baddies. Black Widow is wounded and has to take shelter for a time to lick her wounds (aided by her sidekick, see below).

And of course, as we learn in act three, the real villain behind Yelena is the Red Room operators, who are still carrying on after all this time. Widow has to decide whether to kill them, or if she will rise above them, at long last.


Other plot points to include:

- One small discussion about the Hulk, and how Nat’s not happy that he left her, but she understands. Relationships are hard in her line of work. (Then that’s it–no more of that plot thread ever again.)

- A one-side phone call with Cap (we only hear Nat speaking) wherein he offers to help, and she tells him (nicely) to STFU, she’s got it.

- Along the way Nat meets a teenage girl who’s vacationing in the country where they do the filming, name of Kate Bishop. She happens to be a crack shot with a bow and Nat enlists her to be the new Hawkeye. (Did I mention preference for a non-white actress for Kate? Yes. That.)

- Idea from a friend: Atonement is a major theme, much like in the current comics and picking up on a thread from the first Avengers movie. Getting red out of the ledger.

There. Done. :)

(*I don’t expect Marvel to borrow any of these ideas, but these are free for use. Just make the movie!)


Comics, Movies, Superheroes, Writing

Donate, Help, Be in a Story!

Want to see your name in print? And help your fellow humans in need?

My wife is heading to Africa in July to build houses for the homeless, through Habitat for Humanity.

Back here in Seattle, I will be writing a story inspired by her work, and I’d love to include you.

Donate to either of her campaigns to help her do this, and I’ll name a character after you. Hero or villain, it’s up to you. (Suggested donation $45+, depending on how major you want your character to be!) :)

Her campaigns:

Shelley Lawson: Habitat Malawi Build (ending June 9th!)

Shelley Lawson: Habitat Zambia Build (ending June 16th!)

All donations 100% tax deductible and going to a great cause. :)

For those who have already donated, thank you! Assuming you’ve left updated contact information along with your donation, I will be contacting you after the campaigns are over to determine your preference for inclusion. If you don’t hear from me, please drop me an email (erikscottdebie at yahoo dot com) or hit me up on facebook (www.facebook.com/erik.s.db) or twitter (@erikscottdebie).


EDIT: If Shelley exceeds her goal on either campaign, it’s totally cool. Trust me, every donated cent will be put to good use directly supporting the project. Shelley and I are putting up most of the money ourselves, so any in addition to the listed goals will help. Also, there’s still plenty of time to get in on this!

Further reading/viewing:

Habitat Zambia: Check out the awesome accomplishments Habitat is making!

Habitat for Humanity website

Announcements, Social Justice, Uncategorized, Writing

Check Your Paladin Privilege

To understand privilege, think of yourself as a D&D character in an incredibly poorly balanced version of D&D (let’s say 2nd edition). You have a gender, you have a race, you have a class, and you have an alignment. These things generally dictate how the game goes for you. Sure, there’s a luck element–roll that d20–but even that is heavily informed by your ability scores, skills, training, feats, etc. The result of your build is a map of your particular privilege (which varies widely for each PC).

But let’s look at a specific example:

You’re a lawful good paladin, I’m a neutral evil assassin.

When we’re traveling in goodly lands, or in the court of a good King or Queen, you–as a LG paladin–can expect good treatment, politeness, and the ability to follow at least most of the laws without compromising your values or goals. Maybe you even get some reaction bonuses to charisma checks and such.

That’s paladin privilege.

For me, however, as a NE assassin, I can’t follow my nature. I can’t do my job or employ my skills, under penalty of arrest, attack, or exile. In fact, my own party (you’re a paladin after all) is always bugging me to change my ways, and that it’s really all my own fault that people distrust or dislike me. If I’d just act more like you (maybe not dress all in black leather, maybe not stab the people I want but only the people society approves of being stabbed) maybe people would hate me marginally less.

That’s assassin privilege. And in most cases, it sucks. It is mechanically inferior to paladin privilege.

Are there some areas where assassin privilege trumps paladin privilege? Sure, but they’re rare. If we’re captive of a former or current employer, maybe I can pull some strings and get us not executed. You know, assuming you don’t say something insensitive to the dark lord’s philosophy and make us roll initiative.

But can you really blame me if I hesitate to use my assassin’s privilege to benefit the paladin who’s made my life miserable for multiple adventures?

Let’s go further to say you’re a human paladin and I’m a half-orc barbarian. When we’re in human lands, even if they aren’t necessarily goodly (maybe they’re neutral or even evil), you’re still going to be treated better because you’re a human, whereas I’m a half-orc (with an implicitly tragic backstory). This is human privilege (useful 90% of the time) vs. orc privilege (useful 10% of the time).

Elves are generally considered one of the best races, and they have pretty high privilege. Of course, they aren’t the best all the time–particularly if you’re playing an edition where elves get a constitution penalty. Fortunately, in D&D, you have that choice about what racial privilege you want for your character–in real life, you’re not so fortunate.

What about gender? Say you’re a male human paladin and I’m a female half-orc assassin. If we enter a realm where all the kings throughout history, most if not all of the lords are male, all the laws are made by men, men are in charge of the majority of the households, the majority of the guards are men, etc., etc., hazard a guess for me as to which of us will be automatically respected and which will be treated with suspicion. Say we’re both human paladins, in fact–which one of us will the guards in this male-dominated culture probably assume is the leader of our party?

(Though if we head into matriarchal Menzoberranzan, a female character would obviously have the advantage there.)

Heck, what about campaigns set in settings that have no non-straight people, or where anything other than heterosexuality causes waves of loathing?

Some classes have, historically, just been better than others: that’s privilege. Paladin privilege has been pretty constant across the editions, and wizard privilege tends to kick in around level 6 or so. Thieves and druids were pretty low on the privilege ladder until 3e showed up. PCs who utilize class enhancement books (Complete Arcane, Martial Power, etc.) benefit from power-creep privilege. Balance was king in 4e, with some exceptions (how about that Whitewell Warlock, huh? And who would willingly play a Seeker?).

Both in the game and in real life, there are hundreds of variants of privilege, all of which apply in a varying number of situations. No sort of privilege is an advantage in every situation, but some are generally better than others–if you’re lucky enough to have a privilege which is an advantage in 90% of situations, you’re pretty much set.

For instance, if you are sex: male, gender: cis-heterosexual, race: white, class: middle or above, alignment: Christian, background: American, then you can probably handle most encounters that you’ll ever have without a lot of effort (easy mode). The more you vary from that pinnacle of privilege, the more often you’re going to have to expend your powers and hope for some lucky rolls, and you’re going to lose more hit points than your paladin fellows.

D&D, Gaming, Social Justice

A Word about Whedon

So there’s been a lot of discussion online about Joss Whedon, the Avengers’ treatment of Black Widow, Twitter, etc. I’m not going to get into that, as there’s been plenty discussed about it, and you can google it to your heart’s content.

(I’d start here, here, and here.)

Here’s my take on Whedon, as a straight white cis male creator. My explanation only applies to me: it is not meant to have anything to do with anyone else, necessarily, particularly not creators who vary from me in any of those particulars. It’s based on my own experience and is not meant to try and define anyone else’s.

I love Joss Whedon. I enjoy his work 90% of the time. I recognize the imperfections in it.

I grew up watching Buffy and got into Firefly when I was first starting my writing career. I love Whedon’s X-Men work, and I’ve highly enjoyed the Avengers movies. I even watched Dollhouse almost all the way through.

For me, Whedon has been a formative and important voice, showing me that one can create good stuff that is socially relevant. I’m glad to have consumed his creations, and I look forward to consuming more. I’ve learned so many great tricks from him.

His work has also been instructive in its failings. When his work stumbles, portraying women counter-productively or missing the narrative mark, it teaches me what *not* to do. I can learn from how his work is received as much as how my own is. In some ways it’s more useful, because I don’t have the same sort of emotional attachment to Whedon’s work as to my own.

I think Whedon has done good things for feminism in media in general. I see him as having done more good than bad.

Regardless of how feminist or progressive Whedon’s work may or may not be, it seems to have the reputation for being those things, and he’s one of the rare voices that is accepted and powerful and pushing for the good. Yes, he’s not perfect, and yes, his stuff isn’t always fantastic, but I see his legacy being a better, more progressive look at social issues in general and women in particular in the media.

The war isn’t nearly over, and probably never will be, but we’re making progress, and I think Whedon’s work has been part of the cause for that.

Authors, Feminism, Social Justice, Uncategorized, Writing

It’s a Shame about the Hugos

It’s a shame about the Hugo nominations.

It’s equally a shame that many people can claim with a straight-face that SF/fantasy (a genre that is all about social commentary and exploring what it means to be human) should or even can be judged without context or consideration of its message. The Hugo award is inherently political, and I think it sends a terrible message when it seeks to reward the backward, racist, sexist, and abusive elements in our industry.

I am a political independent, but I’ll admit to a progressive bias. I have conservative friends and loved ones and while I tend not to agree with them, I honor and respect their feelings and beliefs. Ultimately, my drive is apolitical: I believe in treating all people with respect and dignity regardless of how they live or who they are. So long as people don’t actively harm each other, I cannot and should not judge their choices and the way they live. It is by actions alone that we rise or fall, not by the color of our skin or whom we love. My attitude is a humanist one.

So while the Hugo (which operates as a political mcguffin these days) isn’t especially relevant to me personally, I recognize how relevant it is to my industry. And when it becomes a grandstand to protest the “insidious influence of SJWs” (the lamest term ever), it loses much of its luster. A vocal few writers adamantly use their shrinking platform to sow discord and along pejoratives at the rest of us, tarnishing the industry as much as possible before history leaves them behind, as it did the dinosaurs. This stunt is just more of the same reactionary shouting, and it’s a shame that it taints the award, the writers involved, and the industry in general.

I’d really like to be able to vote for the works in my field that reflect and embody the best in humanity, not the worst. There are a few options there: G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel is on the cutting edge of comics as an engine for positive change. Jennifer Brozek is a skilled, great, forward-thinking editor and a passionate advocate for equality. I want more options like that.

I want to see SFF evolving: pushing the envelope toward a non-judgmental future where we can live together in harmony.


Further Reading:

Jim C. Hines on some of the rhetoric: http://www.jimchines.com/2015/04/10-hugo-thoughts/

Frog Jones on what’s really important: http://newsite.jonestales.com/dir/?p=170

Chuck Wendig gets excellently mouthy: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/04/06/the-hugo-awards-gamergate-edition-2015/


Norwescon 2015

Here’s my schedule at Norwescon next weekend!

Name All the Things!
Thu 5:00pm-6:00pm – Evergreen 1&2
Dean Wells (M), Frances Pauli, Erik Scott de Bie, Brenda Carre, Elliott Kay

Reading: Erik Scott de Bie
Fri 10:30pm-11:00pm – Cascade 1
Erik Scott de Bie

Marvel vs. DC: Off the Page
Sat 2:00pm-3:00pm – Cascade 7&8
G. Willow Wilson (M), Cole Hornaday, C0splay, Erik Scott de Bie, Jonny Nero Action Hero

Writers Workshop:
Sat 6:00pm-7:00pm – Baker
Renee Stern (M), Kurt Cagle, Esther Jones, Erik Scott de Bie, Darragh Metzger

Why Do We Love Superheroes?
Sat 9:00pm-10:00pm – Cascade 3&4
Mickey Schulz (M), Erik Scott de Bie, Matt Youngmark, Nathan Crowder, Dylan S.

Writers Workshop: 
Sun 10:00am-11:00am – Baker
Renee Stern (M), Erik Scott de Bie, Gregory A. Wilson, Pat MacEwen

Let’s Playstorm a Tabletop Game
Sun 2:00pm-3:00pm – Cascade 10
Ogre Whiteside (M), David Fooden, Erik Scott de Bie

Zap! Pow! Bam!
Sun 3:00pm-4:00pm – Cascade 9
Grant Riddell (M), Elliott Kay, Erik Scott de Bie, Craig English


Mike McArtor

Mike McArtor (game designer at Paizo, WotC, freelance) was killed in a car accident yesterday.

I don’t think I ever met Mike in person. He was more private than other designers, doing good work behind the scenes and supporting his various projects competently. He was one of the primary authors on one of my favorite 3.5 books, COMPLETE SCOUNDREL.

My one major intersection with Mike was discussing anime and manga, honestly. I remember one particular exchange about whether one should prioritize the Angelic Days Evangelion alt or Tsubasa. (He was absolutely right, and Tsubasa was the answer.)

Interacting with him was always fun, and I got the sense that if we ever found the chance to meet and hang out, we’d probably end up liking each other a lot. A missed opportunity.

Condolences to friends and family. He’ll be missed.



Game Design, Personal

The Fantastic Winter Wonderland that is Snow By Night

There’s a lot of great fantasy out there these days, and I wanted to call your attention briefly to one of my favorite fantasy webcomics, Snow By Night.

Snow by Night: A Magical Winter Wonderland

Snow by Night: A Fantasy Winter Wonderland

The extensively researched setting is French Colonial (which that, right there, is a pretty awesome innovation you don’t see too often) and contains a fascinating mythos that both honors and departs from traditional European fantasy in many ways. The concept of nature spirits is familiar, but develops in unexpected ways. The titular character Snow By Night (who claims to be the daughter of the powerful Father Winter) is on a quest to claim something very precious that it’s not entirely clear she should be able to possess: her heart.

The characters are diverse and very deep, and the relationships among them make for particularly strong reading. The two leading men (Blaise and Jassart) have fantastic chemistry reminiscent of such pairings as Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Silk and Barak, or basically any of the Knights of Myth Drannor.

(Support the Snow by Night Kickstarter to print book 2!)

The magic system is also innovative and unexpected, with a heavy emphasis on alchemy and the chaotic clash of cultures in this bold new world with its mysterious frontier. The world approaches and explores culture in a respectful and engaging way: particularly the Native American peoples, who will take a prominent role in the forthcoming chapter. The author (Eric Menge) has done a good chunk of research about native peoples and is headed in a neat direction, with some cool, intersectional surprises in store. (Seriously: check out the Snow by Night bibliography.)

Much like the Princess Bride, this story has got everything: fighting, adventure, true love, etc. And yes, sometimes it’s a kissing book.

There is also some top-notch writing and some gorgeous art in this comic. I think you’ll be very well pleased. :)

Snow By Night is currently running a Kickstarter to print its second book, which is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on the story (particularly if you get the first book through the reward tiers) and support its continuance.

This is a webcomic worthy of your attention and a Kickstarter worthy of your support. Go check it out, and support Indie Comics!


Comics, Kickstarter, Reviews

Writing = Writing the Other

Writing is hard.

And writers are all just people, with our varied perspectives, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments and shortcomings. Some of us are interested in writing characters radically different from ourselves in some respects, some of us aren’t–some of us can and some of us can’t and some of us don’t try either way.

Straight white cis male (SWCM) authors often get tagged (often completely accurately) with the impression that they focus on SWCM characters to the exclusion of non-SWCM characters. Their heroes are brash power lifters with skin that’s only darkened by sun exposure, or sinuous assassin types who wear deep cowls to keep their chalk-white skin from giving them away at night, or promiscuous pale wizards with big white beards and the uncanny knack for making all the ladies fall in love with them. These are all exaggerated stereotypes, but there are a LOT of heroes from these molds out there in fantasy today, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are a LOT of SWCM writers out there in fantasy today.

My own writing aesthetic includes LOTS of diversity–be it ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever–because when it comes down to it, I think my work is fundamentally about identity: how it develops, varies, sticks, and evolves. I’ve published seven novels and plan to put out at least three more over the next year or so. And while I try to write characters outside my own identity (I’m very SWCM myself), I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it isn’t easy and it requires work. But that isn’t because I’m Othering those other spheres of identity–it’s because good writing is work, and I’m taking my job seriously.

There are plenty of authors out there who won’t, can’t, or don’t want to try to write outside their own sphere, and I don’t see anything really wrong with that. I mean, they’re potentially limiting their audience and turning away perfectly good dollars, but maybe by focusing on what they’re good at, they turn out great work and sell a lot of stuff to their fanbase. I know several well-loved, extremely successful male authors who just don’t write female characters well or often. It is what it is.

And I don’t think acknowledging one’s weaknesses is necessarily exposing sexism or othering a particular group (though it no doubt can be). If an author has to or chooses to write what she/he/it/they know and only that, then so be it. Your job as a writer is to do good work, and you do that the best way you can.

Also, for those non-SWCM folks who are (justifiably) tired of being treated as something other than human by the SWCM majority (in this particular case as a “mystery” to be “solved”), I will say this: We are all equally mysterious.

Women ARE a mystery . . . but so are men.

Straight people, GLBTQ people, people of all different colors including white. All mysteries.

At some level, *everyone* is a mystery except possibly yourself, and the number of people out there with true self-knowledge is very small.

Everyone is the Other, even (usually) yourself. When writing, it’s all a matter of how well you acknowledge, understand, respect, and present the various overlapping spheres around you. (No pressure, right?)

To me, writing is an exploratory process, teaching me about myself and about others. For others, it’s something totally different, and that’s OK. Readers can judge for themselves about what they want to read.

Life is too short to read what you don’t like. :)


Authors, Characters, Social Justice, Writing