More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

How to write about heroes (and be one)

Superman encouraging Red Cross donations during World War II.

True heroes show others how to be heroes. (image from Comic Book Resources)

What makes a true hero, at least in a story?

Joseph Campbell had many great things to say about the hero’s journey, and we can see them in popular works such as Star Wars and the Harry Potter series. I think that the heroes we enjoy the most are people like us. We can relate to a hero, even one with extraordinary abilities, if we see him or her struggle through the same types of challenges and inner weaknesses we do. In seeing or reading about such heroes, we are inspired to root for them — and become like them.

The journey of this type of hero has several aspects that help us relate to him or her. (Spoilers ahead.)

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The gift of feedback

Marked up manuscript from George Orwell's 1984

Even George Orwell benefited from editing (image from Working Partners).

Feedback is valuable and, when presented properly, inspirational. Feedback can help us build upon the things we already do well and give us direction on how to do better.

How do we give feedback that helps someone, and how do we use the feedback we get?

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Why caffeine fuels writing

In college, I learned that HonorĂ© de Balzac drank cup after cup of black coffee each day. That’s probably because he didn’t have Diet Coke.

Why do writers take to caffeine like musicians take to weed? Why are you unable to find a table at Starbucks because all of them are taken by writers pounding away on their MacBook Pros? (And why don’t you see many MacBook Pros at McDonald’s? They have coffee and free WiFi too. But you see old Dells and Acers, some with tape on the side to hold the LCD panel together.) What is it about the combination of oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms (along with that evil, evil aspartame we dump in it to make it drinkable) that makes it necessary for writing?

As a caffeine addict, I have a few ideas.

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Getting into character for first-person narratives

I'm either playing Mr. Bumble from Oliver or a flasher in a trench coat.

I’m either playing Mr. Bumble from Oliver or a flasher in a trench coat.

When I decided to make The Ghosts of Reseda High a first-person narrative, I had to go back to my experiences at Reseda High School to figure out how to write it.

In high school, I performed in several musicals. In a 1978 production of Dames at Sea, I played Hennesey, the harried Broadway producer. As a testament to my singing abilities, I had the only role that didn’t have a solo. (And no, we didn’t do the shared Hennesey/Captain role in our production.) My acting experience taught me a lot about getting into character. I had to learn the character’s mannerisms, how that person spoke, and even how that person felt. You can consider it a junior varsity version of method acting, but it was a lot of fun — and helpful.

How does acting help in writing a first-person narrative?

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Why faith in goodness is not enough

Martin Richard, 8, who died in the Boston Marathon BombingPatton Oswalt and Mister Rogers have been doing their best to keep us sane after the horror of Boston. I would like to believe what they say about good outnumbering evil and that the helpers will always be there.

Then I read the message boards on news sites where the trolls hide behind their anonymity to spew out the most horrific hate the reptilian part of the brain can invent. Of course, those people know who did it. It was the Muslims. Or right-wing gun nuts. Or North Korea. Or President Obama. Or the New World Order with the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, Monsanto, the Vatican, and (naturally) the Jews.

We want to write these people off as a thin slice of humanity. We shouldn’t.

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