Why Subtitles Improve Your Writing

“Marriage?” He scoffed. “We can barely afford this house.”

“But we’ve been together for 10 years,” she whimpered.

He sighed and leaned back with his chair creaking beneath him. “You’re right, but–“

Have you ever come across these kinds of expressions while reading a book and wondered what they meant? Or maybe your mind filled in the gaps based on the context of the scene? Whichever was the case for you, I highly suggest that whenever you watch a TV show or a movie, that you put on the subtitles, even if the characters speak your native language.

Here’s why:

lily 0lily 1lily table clatterlily 3lily 4

Watching TV shows and movies with subtitles on allow you to learn three fundamental things:

  1. How dialogue is written
  2. What sound effects and expressions sound like
  3. Rhythm and beats of a scene

1. Dialogue

The most obvious reason why you should try watching TV shows and movies with subtitles on is to see how punctuation works, and maybe even expanding your vocabulary with new sophisticated words characters may speak.

If the characters are also incredibly nuanced in the way they all speak, seeing the phonetically written versions of their speech along with listening to how they deliver their lines, will also help you get a sense of certain word patterns different characters use. Do they speak in long bursts with little to no breaks in between words? Do they seldomly speak? What kinds of words do they often use?

For extra measure, having a notepad ready to jot down your observerations can help inform the kind of unique dialogue your story may benefit from.

2. Sound Effects and Expressions

With that opening sample scene I came up with, despite the lack of detail, I’m sure you can get a sense of how the situation might feel like for both the man and woman. Even if you don’t know what a scoff is, you can sense that it is something he is passive aggressively dismissing based on his following dialogue.

While you can get away with knowing what special words like scoff and whimper mean, you might run the risk of misusing them in either having them used in the wrong context, or simply breaking a certain character’s personality.

The man in this sample scene is anxious about marriage due to finances, and it doesn’t sound he really loves his girlfriend. If he did, maybe his sigh would come earlier because marraige is something he does want, but his financial woes get in the way.

Furthermore, the creaking of his chair can add to that scene to convey that he and his girlfriend are indeed in financial trouble, so much so that they are sitting at a table with low quality wooden chairs that creak.

Watching something with subtitles on can often help you hear what all these non-verbal expressions and environmental sound effects may sound like. It wasn’t until watching some TV shows and movies with subtitles on did I truly understand the difference between laughing, cackling, and chuckling.

3. Rhythm and Reason

Referring back to those screenshots of the scene from How I Met Your Mother, I originally wanted to only post pictures two, three, and four, but then realized I would be depriving you guys of this fundamental lesson. Watching with subtitles on can also help you understand the rhythm of a scene.

The first shot is silent, with Lily and Marshall sitting next to each other minding their own business. Marshall calls Lily’s name and she nearly jumps out of her skin because by screenshot number three, she is startled and hits her legs against the table causing it to clatter. She asks Marshall how long he’s been sitting there and in the final screenshot, she curses having the eye patch for obstructing her vision.

Had I not put the first and last screenshots, this scene would have no set up and no pay off. It would be devoid of context and the impact of Lily’s fright wouldn’t feel as full without that silent moment between herself and fiancee. Furthermore, without the final screenshot, the scene wouldn’t be as funny without her cursing the eye patch.

Learning how subtitles are spaced out between a scene, as well as how sound effects and expressions interject between what the characters are saying, can help you establish in your own work the rhythm and pace to which your characters interact.

I will definitely write more later on this concept of rhythm and beats in a scene, but for now, what I would like to emphasize is how helpful it is to get a sense of how that all feels on your own terms.

So give it a try; watch your favourite TV show and movies with subtitles on, specifically your favourite scenes in each story to see why they move you the way you do. You will be surprised by how the spacing between lines drastically affect the feel of the scene, as well as the new vocabulary you might come across in terms of non-verbal expressions and environmental sound effects.

Did you find this unorthadox writing tip helpful?

What has been your experience with subtitles?

Do you have your own piece of unorthadox writing tips? Feel to share all this and more in the comments below!

 

 

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Our Write to Live

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Before I begin, I want to extend my massive thanks to everyone who has read my first two posts in this series; My Write to Live and Your Write to Live, which detail the importance of writing in my life, as well as the importance of storytelling in the world at large.

That first one was incredibly difficult for me to write because of how vulnerable I had to be about some painful parts of my life, all the while summing up decades worth of stories as to not get derailed from the main point I wanted to make, which was how important writing has been in my life.

Wrapping up this series, I want to take the time to write and send this love letter to past and future coaching clients alike. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing your stories with me. Whether it was your autobiography or the workings of your imagination, thank you for opening up and revealing to me who you are and what you value solely through the ideas we explored/will explore together.

Being a writing coach has been a dream of mine the past couple of years ever since I became aware of how naturally curious I am about the story ideas invented by my friends and family. And if my Askaholic Mode moments weren’t about stories they were creating, they were about the stories they’ve enjoyed in books, shows, or movies, endlessly wanting to know why certain stories resonated with them, and why the ones they create are the ones they create.

I think a quick glance at anybody’s book or DVD shelf can reveal what kinds of things they value, whether it’s romance, sci-fi, or spirituality, our personal preferences say a lot about who we are. Love, truth, justice, and other human concepts that we make real through our belief and experience–all of these concepts and ideas are repeatedly validated through the various mediums of storytelling.

From the word of mouth to the major motion picture, once again stories connect us. And for those who want to hone in on a specific concept and craft an elaborate story that explores these ideas,  let me just say congratulations first of all, for having a mission and a message to share with the world.

Second of all, I want to be your ally in the fight for truth and justice. Whether you’re self-disciplined and can pump out 2000 words a day, or you struggle to write because you don’t know where to start or struggle with motivation, I am your ally. Whether we agree on the same values or not, I am your ally. Because as a fellow writer, even if we don’t agree on the same things, the number one thing stories have taught me is to consider alternate points of view.

Where there is disagreement, there is the opportunity for the deeper understanding of another. Stories have shown us time and time again what the consequences are to holding contrary opinions and refusing to understand the other.

All I’m saying here is that as a writing coach, I am in love with understanding others through their stories.

Now I may not be published and haven’t done any speaking events yet (they’re in the works), I will openly admit that those two facts make me feel like I may not have sufficient credibility to help anybody with their work. After escaping the conventional workforce and deciding to become a writing coach full time, I’ve become full of equal parts fear and excitement for the future.

But then I reflect on the past year I’ve spent finishing the 3rd draft of It Starts at Home. I may not have a fancy degree in teaching or writing, but what I do have is determination and openness to take in life and all it’s curve balls.

For months, I’ve struggled with my own sense of motivation and purpose, even doubted that I could ever finish this draft. Constantly thinking that maybe it’s too risky to take this whole writing business full time, I’ve come close to deciding to just go back to my day job where I’m safe and secure.

In the end, though, I was able to finish my 3rd draft and am now on the process of editing it as much as I can before sending it to a professional editor for an outsider’s opinion.  This whole time I’ve been fearing if I could ever be good a writing coach to anyone, and somehow I managed to coach the most stubborn and resistant person I know; myself.

What would make me a good coach to anyone is the fact that I’m just your everday average joe who has rose in the ranks of his own personal development. Where I once resisted the difficulty of writing, I’ve embraced the challenge whole heartedly and came out on top. Where I once saw it as a chore to finish what I started, I reminded myself of the higher purpose and reasoning as to why I write in the first place.

Fuck all that self doubt and self denial. This book is bigger than me and my petty feelings of inadequacy. If you’ve ever felt the same way I have, then I want to extend my hand and say you’re not alone.

As your writing coach, we can overcome writer’s block together and smash with the bulldozer of our convictions.

With no published book, no track record of speaking events, and especially no pieces of paper to certify me as some literary genius, all I have is my conviction. My conviction to understand my clients and inspire them to reach their full potential, to convince them how equally important their stories are to the ones that already exist in the world and the ones that are simultaneously being crafted on paper while theirs remind locked in their psyches.

It is, and would be, my honour and pleasure to join you on your journey to wholeness and self expression.

It’s Our Write to Live.

Your Write to Live

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Everybody’s got a story to tell. Whether you’re recounting your real life experiences or engaging your imagination as you day dream about fictional characters, we all connect through stories. Storytelling has been around long before the written word and has been a vehicle to illustrate life lessons.

Back in the Hunter Gatherer days, a hunter may have recounted his run in with a deadly boar and lost a limb, so he would gather everyone around the camp fire and tell his story to make a point: “don’t mess with the boar or you get the horns. Now let’s make long pointy things to stab them with so we don’t have to fight bare handed.”

Yes, that’s a true story. To some degree.

Now I’m pretty sure they didn’t talk like that back in the day, but the lesson and experience is universal: mistakes were made and a committment to improvement was made to mitigate any future problems. That’s all stories really do in the end. They reveal human folly, illustrating just how flawed and fallible we are, but also celebrate our capacity to correct course.

Think of your favourite stories. What do they all have in common?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, they all feature a variety of fuck ups made by the main characters, and you got worried about them. You wanted them to achieve their goals, but something got in the way. You related to how they felt when they didn’t get what they want, thus invoking a sense of panic in you to the point where you couldn’t help but turn the page or watch the next episode to find out if they could escape a dreadful situation and come out on top.

Now think even deeper, further beyond the surface situation your favourite characters were confronted with. Think about what their goal was and what it meant to them, what it meant to those around them in their immediate world, and to the entire world at large. Was there a higher purpose to strive for? A moral principle to be uncovered? Some hidden nugget of human knowledge, new or old, that would benefit the growth humanity?


If that sounds too abstract let me give a few brief examples of how there’s so much more beneath the surface when it comes to popular stories:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is fundamentally about grieving the death of a child, as the story goes, but also serves as an allegory for Alice’s survival as a rape victim herself. She may have survived physically, but mentally, a part of herself died and was reborn into Susie Salmon, the novel’s main character.

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs is fundamentally about human adaptability. How we are much weaker we are compared to other species, but it’s our wit and human invention that allows us to conquer even the most dangerous of beasts and environments.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is fundamentally about self-ownership and personal choice when it comes to suicide. It may have the basic components of a romance novel; boy meets girl, boy can’t stand girl, but will later need girl. But at it’s core, it’s about the difficulties of living with a disability and the moral complications of suicide.


Now before I go on a long winded bender pointing out the deeper meanings of stories and shamelessly advertising my old BSBS Reviews (for those of you who clicked the links per title), here’s the bottom line:

Storytelling is fundamental to the human experience.

The human experience is fundamental to storytelling.

Writing and telling stories is how we validate our experiences in stylized fashion, emphasizing certain details to illustrate a point and engage each other. Stories invoke empathy, inspire action, and challenge our preconceptions of the world.

Consuming a story is basically putting yourself in a state of voluntary vulnerability in order to experience somebody else’s point of view and learn from their trials and tribulations so you can further improve the use of your own thoughts, words, and actions.

And then on the flipside you can tell your story to provide that experience for others.

It’s Our Write to Live.

The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post: Putting it into Practice

I am very glad that everyone has enjoyed the recent series I’ve written on The Four Pillars of Fiction, so much so that I’ve broken records in terms of daily viewership and followers gained per post.

So thank you very much for the views and follows!

If you’ve found these posts helpful and think others can benefit, feel more than free to share it around, I would be greatly honoured!

To top off this delicious cake of blog posts, we’re gonna smear on some icing in the form of examples straight from my own novel It Starts: at Home.

Building It Starts: at Home With the Four Pillar Structure

In the following graph, I have outlined the story’s Plot, Location, Objective, and to prevent spoilers, I’ll allow the chracter graph to illustrate the Tenacity.

I’ll keep everything after the rising action the same just so you get an idea of how those questions become important in relation to what I have introduced in my PLOT.

It Starts: at Home Spoiler Free PLOT Graph

It Starts at Home Plot Graph Spoiler Free

Characters With Similar Differences

The main characters of my story seem like complete opposites at first glance, but they share the same kind of vulnerabilities…that take on different forms from each other.

Sorry if that sounds confusing, but basically the plot revolves around how parenting effects young adults, how they end up treating each other at school due to their upbringing, and ultimately in the form of issues surrounding self esteem and popularity.

The way these characters compliment each other and clash against each other looks a little something like this:

Johanna and Britney's Similar Differences

The Settings Surrounding the Homes

As I’ve said earlier in this series, my favourite setting is comtemporary so that I can focus much more on the character development and interpersonal relationships. All of which is possible in a much more advanced setting than mine, but here’s a rough sketch of what this basic world looks like.

It Starts at Home Settings

Thus Truly Concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction Series

Thank you very much again for your time, and as always I hope you’ve enjoyed, and gained value, from The Four Pillars of Fiction series.

Let me know if the points I’ve made in the series were much better having been substantiated by my own story’s examples, if you preferred the abstract one from the characters post, or the direct Inception example for settings.

I wanted to mix it up each post as I believe each method served the purpose it needed to for each pillar.

For those of you who are wondering how I made all of these graphs, I have been using Scapple, a top notch mind mapping program you can download at http://www.literatureandlatte.com

For dialogue examples from It Starts: at Home, click here for a full scene.

Til next time, keep on writing!

What I Learned From Being a Spy

First off, if I were an actual spy, I’d blow my cover easily by writing this post.

What I’m actually talking about is how I’ve gotten my spy on this past month by revisitting the hit series Nikita and playing a whole lot of Invisible Inc on my free time. I don’t normally hunt for achievements on Steam or Xbox360, but I love this game so much that I woke some completionist part of me to get as many achievements as I can.

One of those achievements, of course, is one you can get for beating the game in Expert Plus Mode, THE hardest difficulty of an otherwise already difficult game.

Invisible-Inc-title-screen

Spyin’ Ain’t Easy!

Invisible Inc. is a turn based strategy game where stealth, strategy, and perserverance are the keys to survival. You play as the operator of secret agents, commanding them to infiltrate corporations in order to steal their weaponry, technology, and many other useful resources to help rebuild and relocate the agency of tactical espionage.

What’s awesome about this game is that there are several mission types and every map is randomly generated so that you get a fresh and new experience every time. And you only uncover as much of the map as you explore, otherwise the unexplored remains unseen (kinda like life!).

There’s also a huge roster of agents all with their own unique abilities, personalities, and synergies depending on which ones you choose at the beginning, and the ones you rescue in recovery missions. It’s up to you how to play their strengths and weaknesses together to formulate the perfect team.

The possibilities are endless!

As you command your agents to infiltrate these corporations, you have to be careful not to blow their cover and be seen by the guards. In most video games, your initial instinct is to inflict as much violence as you possibly can and stun or kill all the guards you see, but that can only work against you and make things unnecessarily harder than they need to be.

When guards wake up from being stunned, they’ll suspect someone has broken into the building and begin to hunt for you, thus making it harder to predict where you can safely venture out to.

If you kill any of them, it significantly advances the alarm tracker, and the higher it gets, the more obstacles get generated. These can include higher firewalls for devices (making them harder to hack), spawning extra guards, and turning on extra surveillance cameras.

So I’ve been playing Expert Plus Mode where all of these already daunting aspects of the game get even more challenging, and I gotta say, it really pushed me to my limit!

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Repetitive Failure Can Only = Future Success

As you can see here, I have two agents hiding from possible detection. The red tiles indicate the vision range of the guards, and in the earlier difficulties of the game, you can see them so you can plan out where to tread. In Expert Plus Mode, the danger zones are not shown unless you can see the sources (guards, cameras, turret machines).

That means you can easily walk into a safe looking area, only to find out that a structural intrusion originally blocked your sight from seeing a guard that’s ready to shoot your agent down on sight.

I must have restarted my agency 20+ times because of how hard this mode is, and when you get caught and have all of your agents killed on a mission, you lose ALL of your progress and have to start from scratch.

Your stat boosts, all that high tech gear, and all that money you acquired can all be thrown away due to one mistake. Something as simple as not closing a door, causing a guard to see you snooping in the next room, could easily mean death.

And I’ve made that mistake. Along with many others. Several times!

When I said I loved this game, I wasn’t just speaking from the geek within, but also from the very depths of my entire being. What I learned from playing this game is learning to maintain composure in pressuring situations and to approach challenges with determination.

I think that when you love something or someone–this could be building your business or dating your possible future spouse–you learn to take the good with the bad, the easy and the challenging, and embrace it all with all you’ve got.

So many times I’ve had agents die and require reviving just when I was about to exit the level, or needing to rescuing them from a detention center in a later mission while having an agent fly solo. And trust me, you want to have at least two agents at a time to uncover as much of the map as possible and to help each other out in a bind.

So many times I had acquired some of the best gear during the highest security levels, surviving the mission by just a hair away from detection and death.

So many times I had upgraded my agents’ stats and equipment, only to lose it all because I got greedy for more credits and equipment during a mission, instead of heading for the exit when I had the chance.

But still. I kept shrugging it off and starting over, because that’s what you do when you’re committed to something. You do everything you can to maintain your standards and continue reaping the benefits of your hard work.

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Gotta Lose a Lot Before You Gain a Lot

And in some cases…you also need to learn to let go of everything you’ve built if it means a better start later. That was the case with this particular screenshot. When you’re surrounded and have nowhere else to go, you can make an agent speak some final words before they’re shot to death.

Nika’s spoke my mind perfectly after a campaign that took 5 hours to build.

“Just get it over with.” That was my mantra when I got surrounded and really had no way out.

There was even a time where I lost so much progress that I kept starting over only to fail early on because I was playing on tilt. I was impatient and deliberately making the same mistakes I knew were horrible, but I was just so frustrated with the game.

But then I remembered what I wrote about in my Gamer, Know Thyself series and reevaluated my approach.

I started playing more vigilantly and more strategically.

I stopped trying to get extra credits from safes or items, and started taking guaranteed exits when I saw them.

I stopped walking into danger zones and started ensuring visibility of the map before moving onward.

I stopped stunning and/or killing guards and started to save the violence for when it was absolutely necessary.

Otherwise, I avoided violence as much as I could to mitigate the ramping difficulty of each turn taken. As I mentioned earlier, KOing or killing guards advances the tracker. Yeah well, so does taking a turn, but it doesn’t advance the tracker as much as committing acts of violence do.

Most importantly, I learned from all my mistakes and kept in mind what were some good or bad things I’ve done in previous campaigns in order to survive longer in each passing attempt.

Hell, I could have easily allowed myself the option to use the REWIND function where you can rewind to a previous turn in case you make a mistake.

Nope, I played hardcore Ironman Mode along with Expert Plus so that I can be even more responsible for any missteps taken.

In the end I achieved this:

EP+ Completion screen

With these stats and equipment per agent at the final mission:

I normally try to max out their stats, but I had to make do with what I got in the end and it was more than enough to complete the final mission.

As I’ve said before, video games are a good source for self-knowledge, and now having experienced what it was like to really love and commit to something to this degree, to something as simple as a video game (or in this case, NOT so simple video game) it’s time to apply that attitude to real life!

This game and many others are great and safe training grounds for such mental fortitude, and if more gamers transferred that dedication to real life pursuits, the results would be astronomical.