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5 Tips for Revolutionary Writers

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5 Tips for Revolutionary Writers

Anybody Can Write a Novel

Chapter 9 “Types of Writers” – Section 7 “Career Writers”

With Links to Supplementary Material


Each of us has revolutionary ideals within us—we believe in certain morals, values, causes, and beliefs that we would like to see in the world. And these ideals that we have will affect everything from which characters of which ideals play the antagonistic or protagonist role, to the natural consequences of actions. Not to say that we are all trying to topple a class-based system of oppression; but something as simple as illustrating that being nice to others is a good thing is a message and a call for revolution in itself. Today, I'm going to talk about how to empower this tendency in writers, while directing the tendency to support the overarching story, without overshadowing it.


Tip 1: Understand and practice the principles of Depth in a story.

I've written about the principles of adding depth and themes into a story—identifying themes, noting consequences of actions, literal truth, universality, simplicity in themes, show don't tell, and the avoidance of demonization. I will avoid repeating information in this article as to the specifics of depth, and stick to attitudes and practices that will help the writer to be the most effective Revolutionary Writer that they can be.


Tip 2: Know exactly what you believe and write down, in depth, the reason you believe it.

Know the themes that you want to discuss in your book—the topics that really put a fire in your chest. Whether they be bravery in the face of evil, struggling to stand up and be a better person, equality of gender/race/sexual-orientation/age, etc... Then, figure out why you believe as you do. This is extremely important because the depth of that theme in your story will always match the level of thought and study and philosophy that you have put into the topic. If I am talking about the importance of gender equality, it will be a poor novel if I just reason that sexism is bad, and everybody knows it, and everyone who disagrees is just stupid. On the other hand, if I place myself in the shoes of a woman through empathy and show the level of hurt and oppression that sexism causes, or consider the atrocious consequences of a sexist society in all of its specifics, I will have created a more powerful and thought-provoking theme.


Tip 3: Focus on only a few themes per novel.

When I first began writing, I wanted my story to be a sort of magnum opus of all my beliefs and desires for growth and change in the world. However, I discovered two key flaws in that attitude. First, you need so much time to discuss any one theme—entire chapters to fairly give any matter the attention that it deserves—which can only constitute so much of your story without overshadowing the plot. Second, for every new theme that you include, you steal the spotlight, attention, and amount of energy that your audience will put into thinking about the message you have created. It will be far more powerful to only focus your story on a few related themes, than to create a sampler platter of a dozen half-baked thoughts.


Tip 4: Create an honest message through complexity in your plot, setting, and characters.

If we go back to the previous example of sexism, we can almost universally agree that it is bad. However, it is still possible for me to emotionally manipulate my audience to agree with me on such a straightforward issue. For example, I could create a series of events that caused unequal pay in the workplace due to an cruel male boss, to lead to a female character not being able to feed her cat, the cat dying, and the female character committing suicide. What makes this an act of emotional manipulation instead of a tragedy? I've not looked at any other factors or evils apart from the sexism that led to the tragedy, I've not treated the female protagonist with the respect or ingenuity to grow and beat her problem, I've oversimplified the situation, and I've demonized the antagonist of the story. In short, I've oversimplified the entire story instead of showing complexity and difficulty in the situation. There are no simple problems in life, no simple evils, no simple villains, and no simple solutions—and illustrating anything short of merited complexity is an act of emotional manipulation towards the audience that has trusted you.


Tip 5: Remember that your message is killed if it suffocates the story.

No matter how important you message is, it is not the life-blood of your story. Your story is, at its heart, your characters, their desires, and their efforts, pains, struggles, and what they learn in trying to attain their goals. Look at each and every theme in your story. If it is more prominent than the life-blood of the story, you need to shave it down and make it more subtle or else cut it—lest your story die. If your themes do anything short of empowering the motivations of the characters, the complexity of the plot, and the depth of the struggles that your characters face, then it is an overshadowing distraction that will make all your efforts for nothing.


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Each of us has revolutionary ideals within us—we believe in certain morals, values, causes, and beliefs that we would like to see in the world. And these ideals that we have will affect everything from which characters of which ideals play the antagonistic or protagonist role, to the natural consequences of actions. Not to say that we are all trying to topple a class-based system of oppression; but something as simple as illustrating that being nice to others is a good thing is a message and a call for revolution in itself. Today, I'm going to talk about how to empower this tendency in writers, while directing the tendency to support the overarching story, without overshadowing it.
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1deathgod's avatar
I've had a revolutionary story in my mind for some time, but for some reason I can't seem to get started on writing it.  I have a handful of main characters, an opening scene (that I lost somehow), a plot, and an ideal to convey.  It's just that when I set pen to paper I can't get my thoughts out.  Do you have any suggestions for that?
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
My strategy for difficult stories like that is just to have a super-exact plot outline, and to just get my character from point to point whether it feels right or not. After I've written that horrible, painful first draft, I can take a break from it, come back later, and then have a clearer idea of what would improve the flow, the development, the plot, and the rest of the story elements--making it significantly better. Then, I leave it alone again and repeat. It's not the most glorified form of writing, but it works phenomenally well, especially when I just can't seem to put the pen to paper and make the story work in the beginning. 

I'd also recommend just writing down the message for your reviolutionary plot, putting it away where you can't see it, and then just focusing on the story for a few drafts. Then, get the message back out and see if it still fits or if you can come up with something greater. Sometimes message muddles our creative juices and needs to have a time-out for bad behavior--at least in my experience. 
1deathgod's avatar
Thanks. I'll definitely try that.
Would you consider someone a revolutionary writer if he introduced nuance into his themes? For instance when talking about poverty he shows that there are people starving in the world and that that is obviously a bad thing. But he also shows that there are some people in the world that are happy to be poor, people who feel closer to God for going into poverty. Or he brings in the argument that we couldn't possibly make everyone rich, because then no one would be rich. Or discussing about ideologies; like how each have their advantages and disadvantages or how none of them are perfect. Nuance writers would be trying to show a message, but through writing they recognize that it either isn't always that simple or that there is a lot of factors to be considered, and you have to consider all of them to get to the right answer.    
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Well I don't know how I feel about the example (economy is a difficult issue that takes more than just a comment discussion to get to the root of or resolve), but yes, showing that an issue is difficult and has many factors is exactly what you want to do. I would just advise that you look closely at the factors that make a topic nuanced, and explore them even further before making them seem like legitimate factors. (Using your example, is it really necessary that anybody be rich? And therefore, is it a necessity that anybody be poor? Not wanting your opinion or an answer, just showing that you need to dissect the nuanced factors even further for it to be truly nuanced.) 

Hope that helps!
Thank you for the reply. I suppose the example I used is a bit weird but it was the first thing that came to mind for some odd reason. 
AliceSacco's avatar
Especially Italian writers should learn that.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
To be perfectly honest, I am unfamiliar with Italian literature apart from Dante. Are they particularly prone to activism through stories?
AliceSacco's avatar
Not necessarily activism, but they tend to give more importance to the message rather than to the story.
Some Italians take pride for stories that are hard to follow due to a too complex plot line. 
Is also easy to find an Italian that, when you ask him 'what is this story about', he may answer with things like 'this story talk about the meaning of life, it expores the decadence of the modern days through the life in Rome, like the scene of (...) a methaphore of (...) and (...)'
something like that.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Ah, I understand now. And yes, I think lots of writers, even American ones, have similar tendencies. Thanks for taking the time to explain, it was very insightful. 
Kaz-D's avatar
Fantastic :)  as always! Great information.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Thank you so much! :) I appreciate the positive feedback. 
Clunch's avatar
I have a question if you don't mind? How do you show something in the past without telling? Like if world hunger caused a lot of people to die and therefore the tribe now has a yearly ritual of sacrificing older people. I can show the ritual but how can i show the deeper meaning without telling the readers? Because the main character officially knows the reason so it would not really make sense to let him ask or tell it is because of the world hunger problem.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Well you can make it a mystery for the protagonist, have him/her curious as to some specific aspect of the ritual and then work to ask people in the world and put the clues together. Or you can make it an ethical issue for him, have him toss and turn in his sleep thinking about it, or dreaming about when he first heard about the ritual. Another might be to show through the world--maybe have the protagonist see statues or art that depict the meaning and history you are trying to show your audience. There are probably other ways, but those were the ones that your example made me think of. 
Clunch's avatar
Thx for the ideas :D it helped a lot to get me on the right track. 
TacticalCorgi's avatar
I'm finding this bigger project of mine seems to have themes of taking matters into your own hands, but I feel like there's still something more to the message.  Should I keep writing and refining to find the specifics?
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Definitely. Most of the themes that I find in my own work does not instantly come about, or because I sat there and thought about themes. I started with some general idea or connection that was the fuel for the plot, and then I refined them to what they are now only through countless revisions and drafts, where they became more clear.
Thanks for the question!
SoarinSoraya's avatar
Wonderful tips that have given me much to think about. Thank you for sharing! *Smiles and bows*
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
No problem :) I am very happy to share them!
dynsiwmper's avatar
Oh yes. Tip 3 is really worth pointing out. When I worked in radio, we used to discuss what to put into the "links" between records. The maxim ended up being "one link, one idea," because if you throw too many ideas together your listener will lose track. I think it's a valid theory with readers as well.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Cool! I didn't know that radio stations did that. But I agree that it's the same very good principle of keeping audience focus on one connection at a time. 
Bekryn's avatar
Thank you 😃💙💛
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