A Writer’s Take on the Gun Control Debate

As both sides seem unable to reach a satisfactory agreement on gun control, perhaps we should look to our writers, novelists and scholars. These people have trained themselves to not just think outside the box, but to create entirely new boxes.

The Amy Rose Device

In my short story, The Shooting of Amy Rose, my MC cobbles together a device that will disarm would-be shooters and identify them, all without having to pay for guards or do background checks, or arm anyone else, or bother limiting the number of bullets law-abiding citizens can purchase.

Crazy, right? The device (SPOILERS AHEAD) looks like an armored metal detector, but instead of detecting metal, it identifies gun signatures using a sohpisticated solid state CPU.

And then it activates (within a micro-second) the giant electromagnet buried just beneath the thin floor on which the would-be shooter is standing. The device yanks the gun out of the man’s hands, ID’s him with its bullet-proof photo lens, and sits pretty, sending the footage directly to the police and FBI.

Nice and clean and simple. Such a device may be science-fiction, but the story is filled with hope.

Check out the first page below:

Church is better with a beautiful girl by your side, Brian thought as he stared at Amy, she of the vibrant red hair. It nearly reached down to her hips. Sometimes he caught himself gazing, almost hypnotized by those strands, by her beauty, by her delicate facial features, and at those impossibly smooth hands, so different from his own callused mitts.

“Pay attention,” Amy Rose chided in a playful murmur. “God is watching.” That pixy grin had no place in the house of God. But there it was anyway, just for Brian Collins.

He turned his focus reluctantly onto the preacher, who was standing up front on the podium, telling everyone to rise and join him in worship.

A few stanzas of some new unfamiliar tune, then they were onto ‘How Great is Our God’.

It was a moving rendition, a cappella, powerful enough to filch Brian’s attention from Amy. They were three verses in—the air a bit stifling and tainted by bad breath but filled with peace for all that—when the crescendo came on like the Holy Spirit. Brian closed his eyes and let it sweep him away. Even Amy Rose stood a distant second at times like these, when the Spirit moved over the congregation. He raised a hand in praise.

‘How great is our God, sing with me: how great is our God!’

POP. POP-POP.

Brian opened his eyes. What was that?

Looking around, he noticed others had stopped singing too. Everywhere he looked there were strange glances, consternated expressions.

POP. A flash of color in the corner of his eye. A fleshy thump was followed by a low murmured grunt.

“What is that?” When he turned to Amy with this question, he realized she was no longer standing beside him. He looked down. There she was, lying on the dark red Berber carpet. Was she prostrating herself? It was such an odd sight that he almost chuckled. But then someone screamed, and in the same instant Brian noticed the carpet around Amy morphing into a liquid red, brighter than the fine woven strands of carpet—too bright.

Screams filled the sanctuary as Brian finally knelt down beside her. The music had stopped, to be taken up by this hellish refrain.

Worship was over.

If you like, check out the rest of the story here.

Writing With Confidence

Some books exude confidence.

They don’t start off with a bang, trying desperately to impress you with whizbang pyrotechnics or by throwing you midway into an action scene. Those ‘hook’ openings, which we are advised to use in our books, can be great, but such openings inherently expect us to care what is happening to the characters without first being introduced to them.

(I had a literary agent compliment the opening chapter of a submission, but he then declared that ‘it was hard to follow the fast-paced action without knowing any of the characters.’ He did not request more after that.)

Other books—what I call ‘confident’ books—take their time getting to the plot. These rare winners, when done right, can make for very satisfying reads. These are the wise tomes you look forward to curling up with on rainy days. These are the endangered breeds wherein you implicitly trust the author to guide you down dusty lanes to quaint villages unknown, or up mountains to observe great and alien vistas, or through rusted gates into dark and gloomy castles filled with secrets and bizarre people.

These confident books are written with calm, brilliant patience.

Unlike their more ambitious but less disciplined cousins, these behemoths are in no hurry to ‘get to the point’.

They’ll show you around the castle grounds, have you follow the orphan boy through steamy kitchens filled with a bouquet of aromas, and shadow the heroine every wonderful step of the way as she is transformed from innocent maid to bold and complex heroine. There are no sudden (read: false) personal transformations. Everything is shown in rich detail. Events unfold naturally, in ways that lend the tale a fully-realized and convincing air, helping readers suspend their disbelief.

The opening to Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher is a prime example of a confident opening.

‘During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppresively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.’

Instead of throwing us into a whirlwind battle scene, he shows us a man who finds himself ‘as the shades of the evening drew on’ coming upon the melancholy House of Usher. The brilliant use of gloomy adjectives and adverbs sets the scene. You can feel the narrators’ mood as he describes the house and grounds and his own downhearted impressions. Just read that opening line. That is writing with confidence.

(Caveat: Unless you are a master wordsmith, like Poe or Lovecraft, you should probably not try to mimic their style. The word artists didn’t just toss in every synonym under ‘gloomy’ or ‘ancient’ and call it a day. They carefully selected their words and the placement of them. These confident creators of miasmic worlds learned how to use words, rather than just dropping a smattering of them into a soup mix and calling it shepherds pie.)

Prime examples of confident books would be:

Many a brave soul has tried to read Tad Williams’ Dragonbone Chair, only to find it tedious, slow. They end up closing it without finishing it. That’s a shame.

If you go into this work with a love of world-building, and an appreciation of the art of characters, then you will adore it. I was fully absorbed by the descriptions and slow revelations of the castle as we followed the boy hero on his (slow at first) journey. It gets better the deeper you dive into it. The villains and heroes are not always straight cut black and white. They are realistic, complex. I had the impression while reading it that George R.R. Martin would approve.

Same goes for Jonathan Strange. This work starts off slowly as Clarke introduces us to her world. But, oh lordy, the characters are a treat. Her magic system is believable.

Seriously, for a few hundred pages there I kind of felt that I could summon a fairy if I read enough books from Hurtfew Abbey. Like the Dragonbone Chair, Jonathan Strange gets better with every page. You lose yourself inside this world; your world begins to fade as you walk with the characters.

Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles doesn’t really add anything we haven’t seen before in the fantasy genre, and yet I was riveted to every page. How does he make something familiar, engaging?

He does it by writing with confidence.

Patrick Rothfuss understood that his (familiar) tale would need to be written in such a way that if felt fresh and original. So he has his First Person narrator tell his story in Third Person! Or is it the other way around? And he writes as if he knows people will love the story; his sentences and style and tone and selection of words are all spot on.

Another confident work is Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I was blown away by this confident tale, written about a teen girl (rarely do we see tales of teens written so confidently), and displaying a world I had never imagined.

So what can we learn from these masters and their masterworks that we might write with confidence too?

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new and original, whether it be a strange new world or a new PoV method or a bold new way of telling stories. As an author, you are a creator—so create something new, or create a new way of revealing the familiar
  • Write your opening as if you know that readers will be drawn in by its subtle, calm brilliance
  • Take your time in selecting the right words and their placement in each sentence, paragraph, and chapter. When done with a master’s hand, a single carefully optioned word, placed at just the right spot within the story can reveal a hidden truth, expose a character’s deceit, or help the reader deduce the ending
  • Remind yourself that you are singularly qualified to write that story. You have what it takes.

Take control of the narrative.

If you lack the confidence, put on some inspirational music and write.

The more you write, the more confidence you will have in your writing, and your writing will begin to show this confidence.

Build Confidence in Your Writing

Before anyone else will admire your work, you must first believe in your ability to craft engaging prose. You must be fully convinced in your mind that your work is first-rate (even if it is still only second-rate), and that your written worlds are immersive, fully-realized, able to draw readers in through style, character, detail, and bold commentary (which should be embedded and never preachy).

So how do we reach this degree of confidence? How do we write with authority?

We do it by writing. The more you write and the more genres you write in, the more confidence you will have in your writing skills. This confidence will show through your words.

Let’s be real: It is a presumptuous thing to create whole worlds out of words. It is a bold thing to publish your work. It is a brave act to run a writing blog, to presume you have anything to share with new writers. That boldness comes from experience. After your first 500,000 words, you will begin to feel this boldness creep into your spirit, like light in a dark cave. After 1,000,000 words, your confidence will begin to soar. You will have learned what works and what doesn’t, what sounds good and what sounds like common drivel, what your strengths are and which areas to work on.

Learn from the masters

Best-selling author Brandon Sanderson is a great example. He writes with incredible confidence; you can tell this just by the way he conjures up unique magic systems in almost every series he writes.

You’d think his magic systems would come off as absurd or silly, and yet they are engaging and lauded as original. Do you think he would write such bold systems if he didn’t have oceans of confidence in his writing skills? Because of his experience, he believes he can pull off these literary feats. And he does, totally, pull them off. (Allomancy: consuming metals to achieve magical powers. Seriously? And yet boy does it work).

I’ve fed myself on a number of Sanderson novels, and enjoyed all of them. Admittedly, Steelheart was not quite what I expected, but that was my fault, not realizing it was a Young Adult novel. His books in the Stormlight Archive are the sort of monumental reads that I look forward to consuming, months in advance. Most novels (300-350 pages) I can get through in a week, but the 1,000+ page monsters Sanderson writes feed me through the long winter nights . . . or for about a month. Still, I look forward each day to my reading time with a Sanderson volume. His tomes are the kind of fantasy you love to lose yourself in for weeks at a time.

 

Confidence is Keyword

Every chapter of every one of his books oozes confidence. You can tell he gives great forethought to his worlds, that he takes his time crafting each scene and imbuing all his characters—even the minor cobblers—with personality. If you don’t believe me, just check out his series of writing lessons on YouTube. Though the filming is second-rate, the shoddy audio a bit distracting, his lessons are all illuminating. He explores the complexities of world-building, weighs the pros and cons of PoV, and teaches us writers the art of the craft.

Sanderson even teaches on literary agents and what to expect financially if you go the traditional publishing route.

You can learn just by reading the masters. George R.R. Martin’s characters are more realistic than most fantasy characters. I recently read Lord Foul’s Bane, and was bored with the one dimensional characters. It seemed like everyone in ‘The Land’ existed for a single purpose and they would see that purpose fulfilled, without spontaneity, passion,  or personality. I got the sense I would have been more impressed if I hadn’t read the SOIAF series before reading a Thomas Covenant book).

(SIDE NOTE: I’ve noticed that most fantasy shows I try to watch now also seem less impressive since I started watching Game of Thrones; The Shannara Chronicles was alright, but just not quite up to the level of sophisticaiton I’d grown accustomed to in Game of Throne–though the music was interesting.)

Anyway, by reading and learning from the masters, you will pick up the trinkets and bullets that make best-sellers work so well, while building your confidence in your own abilities. And of course: WRITE WRITE WRITE!

Confidence is key, and that key comes from experience in reading and writing. You will only get better, the more you do of both, so keep at it.