Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Growth of Imagination: A Pro(B)logue Christmas Special

Any children in the room? Anybody who still sends letters to Santa, or puts out cookies and milk? Anyone who heatedly debates whether the ride around the world is possible through turbo-powered reindeer or powers of teleportation?

No? Okay then, it’s safe to read on.
Here’s the thing, dear readers. I’ve never really believed in Santa Claus.
It just wasn’t something my family did. Mom and Dad bought our presents, and we were aware of that, and we’d spaz out about all our gifts anyway. We knew of this ‘Santa’, but we knew him as nothing more than a story, or the subject of countless Christmas specials. Fiction.
It was the same thing with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We just never did the whole, “These things exist!” spiel. Growing up, I think it surprised me how many people had gone through a period of time when they really, truly believed that these benevolent beings were real.
                Once, I think, we convinced Mom and Dad to let the ‘tooth fairy’ bring me money. But even then, I knew they were simply giving me a quarter.
                Once, at my grandparents’ house, we put out cookies, etc. But at the time I wasn’t thinking about the wonders of a jolly man in red sneaking into the house and leaving presents. I was thinking, “I wonder whether Dad or Grandpa will be the one to eat those cookies…”
                Do I feel like I missed out on something? Do I hold some kind of grudge against my parents for depriving me of memories that other people seem to cherish?
                Not really. *shrug*
                One thing is for sure. My imagination was not stunted by our lack of gift-giving folklore. As I mentioned in one of my last posts, there are four series in my head, extensively plotted. Other books lurk in the background.
                And a few days ago, I got the new idea for a middle-grade novel involving a girl with a bag of tricks, a boy who talks to pigeons and living gargoyles, and a nun-in-training named Hornet Grey.
                Writer’s block? Ha. It strikes now and again, but my biggest problem is finding the time and motivation to get all the ideas on paper.
                So if an imagination isn’t stoked into being by an early belief in Santa and company, where does it come from?
                Honestly, I don’t fully know. I doubt anyone knows, entirely. Who can say how we get the ideas for living gargoyles, or wizarding schools, or *sigh* vampires that sparkle? There are some odd books out there, folks. Even odder than the ones I’ve mentioned. And all those odd ideas come from somewhere.
                All the odd ideas. All the plot twists that shock even the authors. All the strands of story that don’t really seem to fit together, until suddenly – in a flash – they do.
                We can’t know where all these things come from.
                But I think we can take a pretty good guess.
                My first stories were a complete rip-off of the Magic Tree House books. Shortly after reading Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld, I figured out that a series that’s been around for a while actually needs to be steampunk. The book I’m revising now is a spin on the kid-goes-to-another-world story that we see in Chronicles of Narnia. Before coming up with this latest idea, I read A Tale Dark and Grimm – a middle-grade novel.
                We may not know all the specifics of how we develop our imaginations, or the paths those imaginations take us down. But the books we read play an important part of the process, I’m sure.
                What are you reading? What books have influenced your stories? What books have made you stop and think, “How on Earth did the author come up with this?
                And happy holidays, folks.
                If you’ll excuse me, I have some books to work on.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Storybook Romances: Instant Love v. The Blossom

I like the idea of love at first sight.
                I love when two characters meet for the first time, and zap. The chemistry between them inexorably links the two in your mind with a single thought: These two MUST end up together.

                However, I feel there’s a difference between flying sparks… and infernos that blaze out of control in less time than it takes to think, “Oh, they could be a cute couple.”

                How many books have you read where the author shoves two characters into a scene, they have their grand shining moment of [sometimes creepily] staring at each other, oblivious to all else for just a few moments…

                And then a chapter later they’re deeply, deeply in love. Willing to sacrifice everything (family, old friends, the futures they’d planned) in order to be together. Willing to die for the relationship, despite the fact they’ve only known each other for a few weeks, or days, or hours…

                As you may have gathered, this is not a plot element I’m particularly fond of. It’s something I find a lot in the paranormal/urban fantasy I’ve read. And to be honest, I think it may be one of the things that turns me off to those genres. I’m sure there are better stories in those genres than the ones I’ve read. I just haven’t found them yet.

                But, before I have paranormal-lovers dashing away in a huff, let me just say that I realize not every story can contain two people who’ve been growing together since birth, or a couple who’s been together for years and years. I think I’d find an excessive number of those stories to be tiring as well.

                Sometimes, your destined pair meets for the first time within the course of the story. Sometimes, events push them together very quickly. Sometimes it’s just necessary to move the plot forward, fast. And I’m not unaware that some people do fall for each other that quickly.

                My main concern is that the progression of these relationships is believable.

                I think Maureen Johnson handled this kind of thing very well in Name of the Star -- which I recommend, by the way. Boarding schools, ghosts, Jack the Ripper. T’is good. ;)

                In it, there’s a relationship that starts and progresses fairly quickly. Granted, I’m not particularly fond of the guy, and this relationship isn’t exactly a crucial, crucial piece of the plot. These particular characters aren’t risking their lives for each other by the end. Frankly, I still have my hopes that the Main Character will end up with a certain other character I’d love to know more about…

                But the relationship does move very quickly from, “I have just met you, and find you rather cute” to making out on a couple different occasions.

                It didn’t bother me as much as some fast-starting relationships, and I think a number of factors contributed to that.

1.       Somewhere around their first meeting, the MC states casually that he reminds him of her ex. This did two things for me. It showed me that he is conceivably the kind of guy that she would already think about dating (not just some random, shiny new guy who she knows nothing about ‘but that makes him INTERESTING 8D’) and it showed me the slightest hint of misgivings. When you first meet someone, you have no idea what they’re like. They could be your dream guy, but they could also be a psychopath, a socially awkward compulsive liar, or a vampire who’d pick drinking your blood over eating a hot fudge sundae, any time. There is a very high probability that you will have doubtish things on your mind, even if you choose to ignore them. Commenting on the love interest’s somehow-annoying habit will not immediately eliminate them as a candidate for love. The way I see things, it could make the situation feel more real.

2.       There was a brief time in the ‘friends’ stage, where they exchanged words, got to know each other a bit, etc. All of which led to…

3.       The Blossom. “I felt the like blossom in me.” That’s how Maureen Johnson put it, and when I read it I kind of paused and thought, “That’s exactly it.” Someone could be interesting at first. Intriguing. Definitely date-able. But I think that in most cases, there will be a few sharp moments where you really know for sure – where it becomes official.

                INSTANT LOVE

                Pros: Can quicken the pace. Potential to find later that not all is peachy – adds conflict.

                Cons: Easy to rush. Can be unbelievable. May be hard to get a sense of the character as an individual. Easy example: Imagine if Bella never ever met Edward. -_-

                THE BLOSSOM

                Pros: Can be more realistic/believable. Potential for ‘D’aaaaw!’ moments. More time to root for the characters to come together.

                Cons: Could take longer to set up. Impatient readers may want them to “get on with it already.” The MC noticing more of the love interest’s flaws could make them more noticeable to us as well, which could turn off some readers to the couple in the first place.

                I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love when two characters meet, and zap. They’re linked together in your mind with a single thought: These two MUST end up together.

                But just because we think that right away, doesn’t mean the characters need to.

                What kind of relationships do you prefer in books? What books stand out in your mind as examples?  Books in genres besides the ones I mentioned? Which romances between characters fell flat, in your opinion? What relationships do you tend to write about?

                And if you’d like to change my mind about paranormal/urban fantasy, and have some book recommendations for me, leave them in the comments. XD

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reviving Your Writing: The Epiphany Mode

Okay. So. Aside from my guest post about NaNowrimo on another blog, I completely failed to post regularly during November. But that’s okay, because I’m reviving the blog now that December is upon us.

                It seemed fitting to write a post about revivals. Plus, it lets me tell you about all the things I’ve been doing that have not, unfortunately, been blogging.

                I’ve been in Epiphany Mode, dear readers. I’m sure some of you know what I mean, even if you’ve never called it that.

                You go about your business. Mow the lawn, take a shower, brush your hair, etc. etc. etc. Mundane things, that don’t take much brain power. This leaves your mind open to thinking about other things…

                Like stories.

                And suddenly, the ideas rush in. Plot points click together, character motivations finally make sense, and you suddenly realize The THING that will give your story the potential to be perfect.

                This, dear readers, is why I am now steampunking ALL the things in one previously genre-confused series (Any experts on meteorites or electricity?  Contact me, please). It’s also why I wrote down thirteen dialogue snatches the other night after my shower – and those were only the things I could half remember.

                It’s why two extensively-plotted series are currently battling for attention in my mind, with others lurking in the background. I’m working on a comic book for one of them, for heaven’s sake. [And since starting to write this blog post, Series #3 has landed back on the table. *sigh*] [And since adding that line, Series #3 has completely crowded out the others and soared into awesomeness.]

                To put it mildly, readers, I am not often the writer who has trouble finding ideas.

                But if you are… Or even if you’re just wiped after National Novel Writing Month, but still want to keep writing every day (this is where I’m at, but I understand that some might need time to recover. ;) ) here are some things I’ve found helpful for reenergizing.


                Put your music on shuffle. All of it. Think about your stories and character as you listen, and when your mind snags on a lyric, see if the rest of the song relates to your book as well. Add it to a playlist for your novel, and go back to listen to it whenever you need to find the story again. Lots of authors do this, and it’s interesting to see what inspired them. Even if you’re the kind of person who needs quiet to write, that doesn’t need to stop you from listening to your story playlist at other times.

                Also, movie soundtracks and instrumentals are lovely.


                Certain books exist in this world, that catch our minds on fire.

                You read them, and get the warm fuzzies inside at the thought that you are a writer. You could write things like that someday. Scott Westerfeld’s books do this to me all the time. I finally read Divergent by Veronica Roth this weekend (and passed it on to friends; the infiltration of my school has begun. >:) ) and l finally understand why I’ve heard so much about it. I also read Bloodhound, by Tamora Pierce, during NaNoWriMo. The feel of the book, the language, the ‘dog’ terminology, and even the journal-style format all kept me thinking about my NaNo novel, which was sort of my plan to begin with.

                There are also books that make you think “I could do better than this.”

                When those books come along? Do better.


                I don’t claim to be a serious artist. It’s a hobby, it’s fun, and it can really help me finalize ideas about a story – about scenes I’m picturing, the world my characters inhabit, the look of the characters themselves… I’m good enough to impress some classmates who watch me doodle over my shoulder, but I’m not as good as I’d like to be.
(click pics to embiggen)
                This was my ‘cover’ for this year’s NaNo Novel:

                And this page will be part of the aforementioned comic book: a short little thing depicting some events that take place before Book 1 in the series.

                I would post the actual cover, but it’s taking forever to color/shade etc. Obviously, things like this take up time I could’ve spent writing. But like I said, doodling things from my stories helps me finalize ideas. What do I think about the whole time I’m working on something like this? The characters. The story.

                And if you feel like even stick figures can be a stretch for you, why not look around on some photo-sharing websites, or magazines? Start gathering pictures that scream the title of your story, whether that means artistic shots of people who resemble your main characters, or a random pic of spider webs that find their way into your setting.

                Sometimes having something to look at is all the nudge you need to get excited about a project all over again.

                How do you revive your writing? What music or books have inspired you? And do any experts want to help me research some things? ;)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011, and How It Killed My Blog

Temporarily. It temporarily killed my blog.

You see, I'd had my doubts about what my frequency of blog posts was going to be during NaNoWriMo this year... But I hadn't expected to stop posting entirely.

And yet, that's exactly what happened. Before I knew it, we were halfway through the month, and I hadn't written blog posts, or read blog posts, or any of the things that had become daily before. I inadvertantly have gone on hiatus for the duration of the month, and I apologize for that.

But rest assured, posts will resume in December. :)

Until then, you can go look at this guest post I wrote about my experiences with NaNoWriMo, on the blog of PJ Schnyder. :)

Also, for anyone interested in how NaNo’s been going for me this month…

*munches chocolate bar as Mother stares sullenly*

I won. Early this morning (1 AM early). The rough draft of my novel is complete at 50,628 words. A little slower than in the past, but I’ve been busy. ;)

My MC came, she cried, and she went as crazy as I ever could’ve hoped for. In my opinion, this month has been a grand success!

How’s it been going for all of you?

*skitters off to work on Book 1* See you in December!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

7x7 Link Award!

The most observant among you may have noticed the new award on my sidebar, like a badge of honor. Thanks to the lovely Bailey Hammond, from Over Yonder, I’m now the proud holder of the 7x7 Link Award.

And you’d best prepare yourselves, because more (albeit hesitant) pride is on the way: the basis of this award involves several categories. You choose past blog posts that encompass these categories, and basically link back to posts on your own blog.

But not to worry! This post isn’t all about me! Because at the end, I shall be linking to three lovely bloggers who will then receive the award themselves. J
Let’s begin, shall we?
Most Beautiful: Meaning of a Username

I just about put this post down for ‘Most Underrated’, because it’s a post from soon after I started trying regular updates, and it hasn’t gotten much exposure. But after reading through it again, I like what I was trying to do with the language. I’m not sure if it’s ‘just’ a blog post, or a personal essay, or something else impossible for me to classify, but I was at least trying to do something… And I kind of like how it turned out.

Aside from being my most-viewed blog post, this contest to celebrate Pro(b)logue’s first anniversary offered critiques to the winners. Hopefully, they found it helpful in regards to their own writing. ;)

Most Popular: Ending Eternal Despair

This is actually my third-most popular blog post (in terms of page views, at least) but… My legitly most popular posts fit into other categories, so...

Most Controversial: When to Hit the Backspace Key
Considering this whole post is actually about controversy in writing…

Most Successful: Sparkfest - Ted Dekker Exaltations

I’d say my Sparkfest post was pretty successful; nine comments – more than my average – and most of them were from people who’d never been to my blog before.

Most Underrated: How Heroes Are Made

I think this post is underrated, even by me. It was one of my first blog posts ever (so it, uh, might be a little rough) but reading it back reminds me that I had some nice ideas floating around in the jumble of “How exactly does blogging work?” This post was basically me, cementing certain ideas on a topic that I love (character reactions!) through the use of some nice examples. I think it was actually a precursor to the next post I’ll link to.

Most Prideworthy: Stay in Character
Okay, so I’ve linked to this post repeatedly, in more recent posts, and even as a guest post on Young Writers Society’s ‘official’ blog. But honestly, I think it’s one of the best posts I’ve written so far, and as I’ve mentioned, I absolutely adore this topic. ^^

And finally, the blogs I’m passing the award on to…

  1. Claudie A. at The Novel Experiment! -- On a side note, her last post was about a Kraken. How could I NOT link to her?
  2. Amanda the Aspiring at Truth, Justice, and Other Stuff!
  3. Julie Musil at her self-titled blog!

All great bloggers, guys, so check ‘em out. ^^

Thanks for reading. :) It was interesting looking back through my old posts, and seeing how my blogging style has already changed from how I started.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Example of Voice: The Knife of Never Letting Go

                “Howdy, n’ welcome to this here blog o’ mine.”

                “Greetings. I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to you for visiting this online expression of my thoughts.”

                “S’up dudes. This be my blog.”

                Hi. And welcome to my blog.

                Hopefully these examples have highlighted the importance of today’s subject: Voice. It’s a crucial part of writing a story worth reading, and it’s a great way to introduce readers to your characters, and the world your story takes place in.

                Recently, I found a book with a voice that exemplifies this very well. The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, involves mind-reading. Lots of it. Not just a focused look into the mind of a single person at a time, but everyone projecting their thoughts into the air, all the time, to everyone.

                There are no private thoughts. Where there are people, there is Noise.

                This concept, plus talking animals and a main character who’s practically illiterate - yet often profound - make for an interesting voice indeed. Remember that post on breaking the rules?

                The First Pages:

                The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.

                “Need a poo, Todd.”

                “Shut up, Manchee.”

                “Poo. Poo, Todd.”

                “I said shut it.”

                We’re walking across the wild fields southeast of town, those ones that slope down to the river and head on toward the swamp. Ben’s sent me to pick him up some swamp apples and he’s made me take Manchee with me, even tho we all know Cillian only bought him to stay on Mayor Prentiss’s good side and so suddenly here’s this brand-new dog as a present for my birthday last year when I never said I wanted any dog, that what I said I wanted was for Cillian to finally fix the fissionbike so I wouldn’t have to walk every forsaken place in this stupid town, but oh, no, happy birthday, Todd, here’s a brand-new puppy, Todd, and even tho you don’t want him, even tho you never asked for him, guess who has to feed him and train him and wash him and take him for walks and listen to him jabber now he’s got old enough for the talking germ to set his mouth moving? Guess who?


                We don’t need apples from the swamp, truth be told. Ben can buy them at Mr. Phelps’s store if he really wants them. Also true: going to the swamp to pick a few apples is not a job for a man cuz men are never allowed to be so idle. Now, I won’t officially become a man for thirty more days. I’ve lived twelve years of thirteen long months each and another twelve months besides, all of which living means I’m still one month away from the big birthday. The plans are being planned, the preparayshuns prepared, it will be a party, I guess, tho I’m starting to get some strange pictures about it, all dark and too bright at the same time, but nevertheless I will become a man and picking apples in the swamp is not a job for a man or even an almost-man.

                But Ben knows he can ask me to go and he knows I’ll say yes to going because the swamp is the only place anywhere near Prentisstown where you can have half a break from all the Noise that men spill outta theirselves, all their clamor and clatter that never lets up, even when they sleep, men and the thoughts they don’t know they think even when everyone can hear. Men and their Noise. I don’t know how they do it, how they stand each other.

                Men are Noisy creachers.

                I think The Knife of Never Letting Go is the kind of book where you’ll read the first page and either love it – like I did – or run screaming in pursuit of a grammar textbook. It all goes back to those ‘rules’ of writing, and how attached you are to them. If you need the standard rules, you will probably not enjoy this book.

                If you’re willing to suspend those rules, just for a while… Just long enough to catch a glimpse into a new planet where grammar doesn’t matter and thoughts run over each other just like in real life so it’s all on the page and it’s real

                Then you probably will like this book.

                Artfully misspelled words, run-on sentences galore, every sentence mimicking the thought process of someone surrounded by thoughts all the time. All this, plus the usual terminology of a science fiction tale – fissionbikes, ‘Askings’ instead of questions, etc. A slower beginning as we’re introduced to this world, then almost nonstop action, taking the reader to those Scenes of Ultimate Despair again and again. Then, a cliff-hanger ending that leaves you desperate for the next book in the series.

                It’s messy in places. It’s violent. It’s awful and tragic and – above all – unflinching.

                And I loved it. Even the things I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled about in an average book (some profanity for instance – not my cup of tea) were overshadowed by the plot, the characters, and the voice.

                Which would you rather hear? A tone-deaf amateur mangling your favorite song? Or your favorite singer in all the world singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’?

                Voice is like that. A good one can save a book, or a bad one could doom it.

                What’s the voice of your story?

                Are there any other books you can think of with a fantastic – or at the very least, distinctive – voice? Any books that lacked a distinctive voice? And what are some ways you’ve tried to develop your voice when writing?
And finally, the inevitable excuse: This post is late due to school stuff, musical practice, my sister home from college for a few days... And I've been making paperclip jewelry and a clay/wire doll based on the main character of this year's NaNo novel. I've been productive... Just not in a blogging way. XD

Saturday, October 8, 2011

First Impressions: How to Introduce Gripping Characters

Today's post about introducing characters that will grip a reader is located on the new collaborative blog I'm contributing to:


Short version is, we can get readers to care about our characters by giving them humorous, heroic, and relatable traits. We want to get deep inside their heads.

For a more in-depth explanation, click the link.

And guys? It involves a video of Captain Jack Sparrow.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lack of a Reaction: When Questions Go Unanswered

**Scroll down for an important exciting announcement! 8D**

Now, on to the post:

Supernatural Boy: “I don’t have much time to explain, but long story short, you’ve just been sucked into another dimension and are actually our long-lost princess. You’ll also develop astonishing powers you’ve never even hinted at possessing before in about fifteen seconds, after we’re attacked by the witch trying to steal your throne.”

                Female Main Character: “Okay. Let’s do this.”

                See any problems here?

                Yes, there are a few, but the one I’m going to focus on is our FMC’s reaction to the news that her life has just gotten a whole lot more complicated.

                Specifically, I’m going to focus on her lack of reaction. There’s no frantic questions, no denial, no burst of laughter, and no sarcastic comments regarding the sudden need for an insane asylum… She just accepts it. And the story moves on. And any questions the reader has – which, by the way, should be more or less the same questions this MC would have – are completely and totally ignored.

                We do not want to ignore our reader, folks. Not once you start preparing your book for others to read. We have the answers all in our heads. Our readers, and often our characters do not.

                A show I rather like kind of inspired this post, because I see the writers ignoring readers’ questions on a regular basis. Granted, there’s only so much you can fit in a 30-minute episode, but isn’t that what cliff-hangers are for?

                Take for example one episode in particular. Up until that episode, our MC was an amnesiac, and his whole ‘thing’ was trying to find out his past, where he’d come from, why he had the abilities he did…

                And then suddenly, in this episode, his long-lost brother appears! His bro should have all the answers! He can finally clue the readers in on what’s going on! Finally, things will start to make sense!

                Except they didn’t. Partially because his long-lost brother is a quirky, crazy guy, a bit out of touch with reality, but mostly because our main character didn’t even bother to ask the questions in the first place. This is his chance to find out everything, and he doesn’t seem that concerned about it. There wasn’t a single question about his past, or his life before amnesia. At the start of the next episode, it was like his brother had always been around. Still no answered questions.

                Which left me, the viewer, wondering two things.

o   What is he waiting for? This is his chance, so why isn’t he taking it?

o   Now that he potentially has all the answers… Where are they taking this character, and this plot, and this series?

                It also made me start to think, “Is this show really as fantastic as I thought at first?”

                And this is not something we want our readers to be thinking about our books.

                Like I said, there’s only so much the writers of that show could fit into one episode. Similarly, there’s only so much we can fit into a novel, or a chapter, or a scene. If our characters are right in the middle of a chaotic battle, they’re not going to have time to sit down and talk things out right away.

                But that shouldn’t stop the questions from eating away at our main character. It shouldn’t stop them from asking those questions at the earliest opportunity, and it shouldn’t stop them from demanding answers. It shouldn’t keep our characters removed from all the emotion they should be feeling after a major development…

                Because if the emotions and questions in our reader’s mind keep prying them away from our character’s thoughts, things won’t match up. Our reader will feel disconnected, and frustrated, and they might even feel like closing the book entirely.

                The show I’m referring to, I think, has been trying very hard to keep things light. Comedic. ‘Fun’. Which is good, I suppose, except I feel like they’re sacrificing all the messy, emotional meat of the character reactions that I love. The questions are still roaring through my head, episodes later, as a new huge event was just brushed over with little fanfare. The long-lost brother is still there, but I’m no longer sure why he matters, or if he matters, or if our main character’s history was ever really important (even though that was the whole starting premise of the show).

                I’m not matching up with the characters. They, and the plot of the show, don’t feel as real to me as they once did.

                And if your characters or plot don’t feel real… Then it’s just a show. Or just a book.

                I can turn off a show. I can close a book.

                Appropriate reactions aren’t just a matter of scenes and chapters. They’re a matter of keeping your characters believable. And they’re a matter of making your story more than ‘just’ a book.

                Have you ever read a book or watched a show that skimmed over extremely important events? Have your characters ever inexplicably accepted something impossible? What do you think the balance is between addressing questions, and getting overloaded with them?
And perhaps a better question, have you figured out yet that I get really excited about Character Reactions?

Announcement Time! 8D

I'm proud to announce that I shall henceforth be contributing to a new collaborative writing blog, begun by myself and three amazing friends from Young Writers Society.

Scratchlings is now officially in business.

Feel free to check it out. :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When to Hit the Backspace Key: Controversy in Your Writing

You’re relaxing on Twitter or Facebook, or surfing some blogs, when you see a post that catches your eye. Smiling, you type out the witty comment that popped into your head…

                And then the doubts take hold. This isn’t as funny as I thought. This reply is dumb. This person probably doesn’t want me commenting on their status anyway. What if it actually offends them?

                You hit the backspace key, and flitter over to another site.

                I’ve been doing this a lot lately. And for the most part, I think it’s probably smart that I’ve been doing this. In real life, I often blurt things out long before those doubts pop up, and usually get an odd stare or two because of it (because people at my school  don’t understand things like Nerdfighteria, or the wonders of writing-talk… Or because I simply said something dumb). On the internet, I can usually check myself before saying something too stupid.

                But there are those statuses on Facebook, and those comments on blog posts where I spend more than a few minutes writing my comment, altering word choices, trying different variations in the hopes that one will sound better… And then I just give up, and go to some other site, and feel a little hollow for a while. The double-doubts set in. Well, there was two minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Maybe I should’ve posted it after all. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. And it wouldn’t have really mattered even if it was dumb; I’ve said plenty of dumb stuff before.

                That’s for the little things. A mere two wasted minutes. Then there are the bigger things. Rough blog posts that never make it online. Short stories that fizzle out after a few mediocre pages. Most recently, my Choir teacher put out a call for people involved with the musical to try their hand at making a shirt design for our production of Alice in Wonderland.

                Lots of heads turned my way. The girl next to me elbowed me a little. And I blushed, and thought “Nah, I’m not gonna do that.” Then I started doodling later on. And I started to think, “Well… Maybe I will try it.” Approached my Choir teacher, promised to whip something up over the weekend.

                Got home and realized it was going to be much harder than I’d imagined.

                I’m still not entirely happy with how it’s turned out, but I showed it to my choir teacher on Monday anyway, despite those doubts that converged on me ever since I began. If my design turns into the shirt design, my classmates in drama will be wearing it. On their bodies. And if they do not like the shirt, they will kill me and devour everything I love. O.O

                Can you tell I’m a little stressed about this possibility?

                Putting a design on a shirt feels infinitely more solid, and tangible, and permanent than a dumb little one-liner on Twitter.

                So what about novels? How much more stressful is it to be spending so much time on this thing, with no guarantee that it will be accepted by readers, publishers, agents, friends, or family members. How can we write dark dystopian stories that we might have to explain to our grandma someday? Should I write characters contrary to what I believe, just to relate to another demographic? How can we make a character like this without offending all the living, breathing people who go through the same things every day? Maybe I should just forget about this story, and go onto something else.

                Something less controversial. Something ‘safe.’

                So. When do we stick with something, regardless of who’s going to see it, and when is it best to hit the backspace key?

                Like I said, this is a topic I’ve been thinking about more and more lately. I’m still trying to find my balance. On the one hand, I think we should write for ourselves first and foremost. Get our thoughts on paper, and don’t worry about what other people will think just yet. Wait for that until revision.

                But on the other hand, I don’t think we should just plunge into a topic completely disregarding our potential audience. Certain things are taboo, and if you write about them you’re just asking to be challenged.

                For example, addressing serious, controversial topics in graphic detail – in a children’s book, or writing about how Hitler is the greatest hero the world’s ever known. Books like this might show up, but they will no doubt offend people. If you plan on publishing your book, think about how much controversy you’re willing to handle. If your book addresses something very controversial, think about whether you’ve handled the subject appropriately. A book that places Hitler as a hero or a victim might be interesting, if handled the right way, in that it would shove your mind into another point of view. But a book that celebrates the acts Hitler committed and implies that the author truly thinks he was in the right…

                Sometimes, it’s necessary to make a judgment call.

                So, some questions to ask yourself during revision, when you’re thinking more about your audience:

1)      Am I going to offend a majority of people (or, quite literally, everyone) with this?

2)      Am I addressing sensitive topics as tactfully as I can?

And now, some more questions:

How do you handle controversial topics in your books? Do you handle controversial topics in your books? How do you find balance? Do you worry about it while you’re writing, or think about it more during revision, or do you not think about it at all?

PS. Apologies for the bleh-ness of this, and for the fact that it's been a while since my last post. School musical, college applications, etc. I'm lucky if I have time to work on my novels, let alone write a blog post. I'll try to continue updating regularly, but at times once a week might be about as much as I can handle. XD Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conversing with Characters

“I don't know who my characters are anymore. They used to be so alive for me…I would speak to them all the time, and I would swear I hear their answers…Now… My characters don't speak to me anymore. I don't know who they are. Don't know what they want, and I don't know how to get that spark back.”

                So said my friend Tanya in this blogpost a few days ago. I posted a brief comment there, but since it was something I’d been thinking about a lot myself recently, I decided to share a more thorough explanation with all you fine people.

                You’re writing a story, and it’s coming along steadily. Not good, but not bad either.

                Then it happens. A flash of inspiration. Words that are not your own. And your character blurts out something so uniquely them that your fingers stall on the keys; you’re astounded by your own genius.

                It’s a good feeling. Bad news is, these moments can be few and far in-between. And once you get a taste of it, you’ll never stop yearning for those words that surface all on their own.

                So how do we reclaim some of this feeling when we’re struggling to understand our characters? Well… Girls, any ideas?

                Viss: The answer’s simple enough. Talk to us.

                Ambria: Indeed. How would you expect us to cooperate with your plans if you don’t even take the time to understand our position?

                Shaysha: Yeah. I mean, I keep telling ya’. I’m not stupid enough to risk my life for Brihn, even if I do lo-- … o///o

                Corliss: Oooooh… XD *insane little chuckle* Someone’s got a secret. I’m good with those. Just ask Tristan. Or her little rebel friend in the stables. Kept his secret for a long time. ^^

                Starting to see what I mean? Viss is very straight-forward, and a bit superior. Ambria is very proper. Shaysha uses a more casual tone, and Corliss… Well, Corliss is just plain crazy. :) (And I love her for it. Her backstory is going to be my NaNoWriMo novel this year). Four characters from four very different novels. Each with their own way of responding to a situation.

                Start a conversation with your characters. It doesn’t have to be a scene from your book. It can be a conversation about anything. Talk about your day. Don’t just listen. Talk back.

                I’ve been trying this method myself, recently, so here’s some bits and pieces of my conversation with a character from one of the short stories I’ve been polishing. I set it up like a chat, just like you’d have with anyone online. Comments in green.

                Silent_pages: Hi

                StickyFingers79: Greetings, internet person. What’s up with you? [Just coming up with a username for your characters can be interesting. Even if they live in a world without internet access, try to think about what they would choose for their name if they did.]

                SP: Nothing much. Got a novel I’m working on and some other stuff. You?

                SF: You a writer? That’s cool. As for me… I guess the same thing that’s ‘up’ with everybody else.

                SP: The star thing? Yeah, lol, I guess. I write scifi, so it’s weird to be… You know. Living it.

                SF: LOL

                SP: You can laugh about it? Not many people can. [Lead the conversation. You can put in things about yourself, to keep the atmosphere normal, but also ask a lot of questions, like you’re trying to get them to think about stuff. Because that will make you think about stuff.]

                SF: Ah… Yeah. Well. What else can I do?

[The conversation went on, just like any other chat, and I found out more about this character’s sense of humor, her mom, her tendencies to skip school.  But the real fun began when I added a character from a fantasy short story.]

                SwimmerseyesOO: Hey, what’s up?

                SP: NM. U?

                SF: World Ending. U?

                SE8: Creature taking over my village. Idiots.

                SP: What kind of creature?

                SE8: The kind that’ll be dead soon if it don’t knock it off.

                SF: Lol. Go after the star-killer next.

                SE8: Sure, if I can find it, lol. I have bad eyes.

                SF: No prob, no prob. Our scientists can’t find it either. *facepalm*

                [LATER, the conversation turned deeper.]

                SF: I don’t need help. I feel fine the way I am. I like stealing. I’m good at it. But people don’t get that. My mom thinks I need to be ‘fixed’.

                SE8: At least there are people who would actually try to fix you. Peeps in my village were clueless even before the creature’s spell took hold. I mean, I’ve always kind of been on the edge. Like, I’m blind. What are they supposed to do with me? What am I going to do for a job someday? That’s why I like to swim. You don’t really need to see for that.

                [END OF SELECTION]

                See how little I had to prompt the conversation toward the end? All of a sudden, these characters from very different scenarios were turning into best friends. They continued to talk, getting to know each other, discussing school, their communities, the way they feel about everything under the sun.

                Will everything be incorporated into your story? Probably not. But all that information will be in your head, shaping their every action.

                Will it always be easy, figuring out how your character will respond to a certain situation? Probably not. But this exercise might help you to pin down parts of a certain character that you never noticed before.

                Will you always be able to make them sound the way they would in-story? Probably not. Even in the above bits, you can see that I slipped into more modern speech for SwimmerseyesOO. But it’ll get you thinking. How would this character say this? Why doesn’t this figure of speech work for them? What can I use in place of this word?

                Maybe it’s hard to understand from reading all the little pieces of my conversation. But that’s the beauty of it. Start a conversation that only you will understand in its entirety. Let the characters talk, and see what comes to the surface.

                Do you talk with your characters? On a regular basis? On paper, so you can remember the conversation later? Have characters from different stories begun to converse out of the blue? And how did it help you get to know your characters?

EDIT: Also, feel free to introduce your characters in the comments. Also, if you'd like to hear more from my characters, I share a tumblr with them at