Thursday, June 8, 2017

Question Your Inner Reader to be a Better Writer

It's easy to forget sometimes that writers should ALWAYS be voracious readers. Reading makes us better writers. Read everything, including books outside of your genre-bubble. Consume everything. Buy/Borrow every book. THEN EAT THE BOOK AND DIGEST ITS SOUL!


Looking at yourself as a reader can help you to better understand who you can be as a writer. Asking your inner reader questions can be a great way to teach yourself to be a superior storyteller. 

Here are some questions to get you started:

1. Why do I read?

2. What do the books I love have in common?

3. Who am I as a reader? What do I want out of a story?

4. If you could write like one author, who would you choose? Why?

5. What is one beginning AND ending (can be from different books) that has stuck out to you as a reader? What made them memorable for you?

6. What characters/fandom would you get in a duel over to defend their honor? Why?

I think you can see where I'm going with these questions. Look at your favorites, then look at why they're your favorites. Ask yourself how you can emulate those characteristics in your own writing. Interview yourself! Then be inspired by the stories you love and WRITE LIKE THE WIND, FRIENDS!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

FEAST YOUR EYES ON THIS: My Author Website Reveal

So, I gave an author website a shot a couple months ago! Figure if I lay all my ducks in a row, one of them will quack eventually!

Wix was super easy to use, I can't recommend it enough! And I'm really pleased with what my amateur self was able to put together! Feel free to have a browse, call me out on any typos, or gawk at my growing number of WIPs! So many novel ideas, so little cushion left in my buttocks for writing them >_< 

Now that I think about it, does the writing community suffer from a flat-butt epidemic?? Or are standing desks something people actually invest in?? Treadmill desks? Pool desks? LIE DOWN DESKS!?! *checks Amazon just to be sure*

Writer's Cookbook: Recipe for a Love Story

A heaping spoonful of lust, two ripe and heaving bosoms, a pinch of drama, and a generous portion of bristling testosterone and you’ve got a love story ready for consuming. Right?
In the world of Harlequin romance novels, maybe. But many writers struggle with the recipe for writing true love, for a story about romantic love on a more complex and profound level. And while the writer may struggle, the readership DEFINITELY doesn't. Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012 and was the top-performing category on the bestseller lists the same year.
Your readership exists. In huge numbers. And most crave something more than the "wham, bam, thank you ma’am" realities of modern society. Can you imagine how Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte would feel if she found out that courtship has been reduced to swiping left or right on a phone app? Blasphemy! 
So how do you produce a good love story that will quell the hunger of millions of romantic fiction (romfic) fans? It's simple, really! So simple I'll set it up like a recipe. So simple you need only incorporate four simple ingredients!
That’s it. Four ingredients (and some culinary know-how), which should all be added in equal parts: strong characters, passion, obstacles, and growth – although change makes a good substitute.

1. Strong Characters

This is vital for all fiction, but especially so for romfic. This is because the reader must fall in love with one of your main characters. Would Mr Darcy have set readers’ hearts aflame if he were a silly cad with no redeeming qualities? Absolutely not. He was a judicious gentleman of impressive intelligence and refinement who secreted away a tender heart. You want Elizabeth and Darcy to end up together because that means you get to end up with him as well, and a character must be dynamic and three-dimensional, otherwise who will fall in love with them? Your characters need to have traits that compete against each other. They must realize and struggle against their worst qualities for the sake of love.

2. Passion

Once you have strong characters, stick them together with a generous dollop of passion. If characters are really in love, a sense of passion should also be provoked within the reader – they need to feel the depth of your characters’ emotions for one another. Passion measures this depth and is the rubber band that you tie around them. No matter how hard they pull and stretch apart, that passion will bring them back together in the end.
Passion also means that your characters must fall for each other, hard. They can play around with the idea and question their true feelings, but the reader must know that, when push comes to shove, their love is unquestionably genuine.
Dialogue is essential in communicating this. Professions of love are acts of passion. A character is exposing their vulnerability during these moments of confession, articulating their deepest feelings. ‘Hey, I love you,’ just doesn’t cut it. They need to reach down deep and lay their beating heart on the table.

3. Obstacles.

Now that you’ve tied the passion band around your characters, toss in a liberal amount of obstacles to test its elasticity and your characters’ resolve. This can be in the form of an antagonist – in love stories, sometimes the best antagonists are the couple themselves – or a circumstance which makes being together impossible.
An effective obstacle is separation. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but your love-struck protagonists don't know that. Our star-crossed lovers must attempt to live without each other and then come to realize that, no matter ho hard things are while together, it's impossible to stay apart (think Tristan & Isolde, Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, even Twilight for goodness sake). During this separation, the obstacles are the characters themselves. They think that, by being apart, because they're angry at each other or because they feel it's "for the best," they can dismiss their feelings. But never underestimate the power of that rubber ban of passion. 

4. Character Growth

These obstacles should come after growth and a sort of enlightenment from your main characters, which means they can overcome them. They should be able to recognize their negative traits, their differences and their flaws, and only then can they overcome the hurdles. Your characters need to grow and conquer their own negative qualities because of their love for each other. True love should inspire your characters to be the best they can be.

Now that you understand the ingredients, mix them together, follow the preparation steps (write the novel), and pop your love story in the oven. But remove just after marriage! The ending of a love story is extremely important. It needs to be optimistic and emotionally satisfying. Few readers want to read about life after marriage – it’s full of realistic issues we’re all too familiar with, problems that not even the greatest of romfic’s couples can avoid. Readers need to believe that the couple who have fought so hard to be together will live happily ever after. They’re finally happy, and that’s enough for us.
These are the basic ingredients of a love story. They’re a great start, but you’ll also need a dish to bake it in (the plot), some added spices (climaxes), a garnish or two (themes), and some nice china to serve it on (the setting). But if you’ve mixed in those four essential elements, the product will be a well-balanced meal of reading delights. Once finished, the yield will serve millions of women (and a number of curious men) who seek to experience true love through romantic fiction. As long as you have those four simple ingredients you can create the love story that mass-market publishers are looking for. You are the chef, the publishers are the restaurants, your readers the eager foodies, and your love story is the pièce de résistance.

Monday, January 30, 2017

BACK TO BASICS: Pre-Writing: Road Tripping vs Train-Tracking

WARNING: Long post is long.

Every author's writing process involves (or should involve... if not, how's that working out for ya?) these four basic steps: pre-writing, drafting, revising, and editing. There are a variety of different ways to work through each of those steps and a number of other steps that go with them.
And while there's plenty of advice out there concerning the matter and what you should do, it's SUCH a subjective process--no one can tell you HOW to do it. And believe me, everyone tries. And there's this horrible misconception that if it works for THEM it HAS to work for you too. Nuh uh. No, sir. Don't buy into that.

Writing is an intimate process and you should develop your own way of getting from idea to the end. Which isn't to say you couldn't use someone else's process/routine as an example. But don't go getting addicted to laudanum just cause Dickens did. And because I don't want to be one of those people that tell you how you're SUPPOSED to do it, I'll just tell you what works for me/how I roll. And I'll tell you now--I like to wing it.

For most, the next big step after THE BIG IDEA (and the research that entails) is to create an...ugh...outline. I am not a fan of detailed outlines. THERE! I SAID IT! OUTLINES SUCK!

For me, outlines are like getting on a train. The train can only go where the tracks lead. There is no diversion, there are no spontaneous side trips, and while the views might be beautiful, you have to stay INSIDE the train at all times.
Likewise, if you follow an outline when you write, I think you miss out on some of the spontaneity that can come from just letting the words flow. Often, writers don't know their characters as well as they'd like until they've spent a good amount of time with them/writing them. And as they write, these characters should grow and make their own choices and throw a massive stick in the spokes of your outline wheel.

I think it's best to plan as little as possible, to leave room for the characters and the story to adapt to each other and start to take their own path. But, because people (professors, classmates, how-to books) kept telling me that I HAD/NEEDED to do an outline, I gave it a shot. Once.

In the beginning it felt good to have all the tracks laid out before me. All I had to do was set my locomotive on its way. But then came this humongous pressure to stick to those tracks from chapter to chapter. And then the writing became tedious and forced. But after writing such a detailed plan, it felt like if I strayed from the outline the story would implode on itself. I've never felt so creatively stifled in my life! Needless to say, I've not tried again since.

So here's an analogy for you: outlining is to "train tracking" as winging it is to ________.


I love road trips. You have a general direction, a decided destination, but how you get there is completely up to you.

You want to stop and see the Nation's Largest Ball of Yarn? DO IT. You want to stop at that natural hot spring and go for a swim... NAKED? Oh, my. Scandalous. DO IT.

Oh? You thought you were getting away without a gratuitous Shia gif? Think again! 
There's a wonderful freedom to road tripping. Don't get me wrong, I still have a list for the big moments that need to happen in different acts of the novel (the best attractions to stop at on my road trip), but how I get to them is completely up to that creative flow. (Sick of the transportation metaphor yet? Hang in there!)

Like I said, and will say again, ignore everything you've read when it comes to developing your own process: all the how-to books, the many different processes of the already-famous, maybe even MY advice, and do what works for YOU! Especially for your routine. Feel out different things: cafe or library, music or silence, sitting at a desk or laying in bed, in the morning or at night, outline or no outline, train tracks or the open road (had to throw it in there one more time for good measure, #sorrynotsorry).

Do you, boo boo. Do you.

~Be mindful of the influence and opinions of others, stay true to yourself.~

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to Write Rounded Characters (and Avoid the Disney Princess Paradigm)

Creating new characters is like giving birth. Minus the nine months of pregnancy, morning sickness, and the whole "push a human out of your lady tunnel" part. And, just as if they were your own children, it's normal to want your mind babies to be perfect and unflawed.

But, in novels, character with flaws are often the most compelling.

Early Disney princesses come to mind as being the opposite of compelling. They are totally flat. Flatter than a piece of cardboard that's been trampled by a herd of elephants.

Cinderella is perfect: perfectly kind and perfectly hardworking. Princess Aurora is perfect: perfectly sweet and perfectly elegant. Snow White is perfect: perfectly innocent and perfectly pure. You seeing the trend? I call it the "Disney Princess Paradigm." Stop clapping, Snow White, it's not a compliment!

Those are a lot of good and admirable traits, don't get me wrong. But that's the problem: they're too good. They're too perfect.

And the problem with being perfect is that there's very little room for growth. What did any of those princesses learn from their stories? Can you think of a single thing? Anything?... Bueller?... Bueller?

Nothing, right!?

Real people are flawed with insecurities, fears, jealousies, etc. For every trait at one end of the spectrum, there should be a number at the other. And it's these negative traits that necessitate character growth, that force a person to confront their flaws and overcome them. And sometimes it's these traits that a reader can connect with. There's something powerful in being able to relate, to see your own mistakes and reactions and flaws in someone else. So you *puts bossy pants on* HAVE to create engaging, well-rounded characters.

To ensure my characters have positive traits AND negative traits/flaws and to keep them unpredictable and layered, I came up with a method I call the "U-List Method."

I do this for each of my characters before I start writing (though it might change as the story is written and as characters fall more solidly into place). Here's what it looks like:

Take your characters (main and minor) and apply this method to them. Draw a U, or a horseshoe if you're feeling fancy, and make a list along the "U," positive traits on the left, neutral at the bottom, and negative to the right. Here's a great list of traits some kind soul has already categorized.
Make sure your character's u-list is well balanced in each of these areas. Having a number of positive, neutral, and negative traits gives characters three-dimension. And knowing your character's main traits can really help you to understand them and how they would act/respond to happenings in your story.

Remember: negative traits don't always mean your character is bad. A character that's stubborn might also mean that he/she doesn't follow the crowd. A character that seems overly-sensitive might also be more compassionate. Make your villain idealistic and honest, make your hero gullible and impatient.

To every coin there are two sides, the same can be said of personalities. And that's what makes people so interesting. And it's what will make your characters more interesting as well.

So go forth, my fellow wordfolk, and unleash your rounded character creations on the world!

~Be mindful of a person's strengths and weaknesses. Some strengths can be a flaw and some weaknesses a blessing.~