Monday, January 30, 2017

BACK TO BASICS: The Creative Process: 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 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.

Are you sick of the transportation metaphor yet? Yeah? Well then, here's my process in a nutshell:

1. Title (GASP! Shock and awe!)
2. Main Character + Plot
3. Research, Research, Research (which involves creating character bios, storybuilding, etc)
4. Plan my road trip
5. Write the damn thing (I edit as I go so this tends to be slow going, but also means I have less work     at the end)
6. 2nd Draft + Revisions
7. Betas + Critique Partners (and further revisions based on that feedback)
8. Send my little mind child out into the world and hope for the best.

Simple, right?

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 (sorry, 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.~

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Vampire Mythos: Magic vs Science

This is a guest post I did for Pen and Kink Publishing's blog series on vampires! Find the original post here.

As the publishing world seems to finally be making room (albeit the little space at a crowded party next to the trashcan that smells a little funny) for our favorite supernaturals again, I wanted to repost this to my blog and continue to advocate for the paranormal and urban fantasy genres that are feeling the hole left by vampire fiction. I WANT MY VAMPS BACK. Just don't make them sparkle...
The earliest origin of vampire mythology can be traced back to the superstitions and folklore of 18th century Europe. What once was an all too real and malevolent creature is now mostly accepted (though if you dig deep into the bowels of the internet you’ll find otherwise) as a fictional being, one that permeates mainstream media across the board. Our modern vampires, immortal by definition, but also through our timeless fascination with them, are an intrinsic part of today’s creatures in literature, movies, and TV shows. They just suck in all the right ways.
Though they sometimes find themselves back in the proverbial coffin as media trends change, they always seem to dig themselves back out of the grave. They are the “undead,” after all.
But with this constant recurrence and on-and-off trending comes the need to reinvent vampires for younger and older generations alike. You see small variations in their abilities or their weaknesses, but now we’re starting to see a change in their mythology and origins.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, was hardly the first case of the literary vampire (see Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Polidori’s poem, The Vampyre), but it’s arguably the most famous and what really started our fascination (and sometimes our obsession) with vampires. It was certainly the reference point and inspiration for many vampiric tales, and perhaps acted as the foundation on which much of modern vampire mythology was based upon.
But Stoker’s enthralling gothic horror, wherein vampires were cold and merciless predators, started to change with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which shifted towards a more sympathetic creature, one whose life was a lament over eternity and the need to kill others to survive. With Rice, began a more modern trend to place vampires within a contemporary setting and in a more benevolent light (though not always; BURN THOSE PARISIAN BASTARDS TO THE GROUND. Ahem…).

It’s a trend we still see much more commonly today, especially as paranormal romance and erotica took root and flourished with Sookie Stackhouse’s vampire lovers and Bella Swan’s sparkly, golden-eyed bloodsuckers, which have all served as a sort of sex symbol that are still built upon Stoker’s vampire mythology: origins in supernatural magic.
Regardless of the setting, or scewability, of vampires in stories to come, Stoker set the standard for their mythos. Their bloodthirsty afflictions are most commonly the result of some supernatural curse, ancient evil, or magic, radioactive bat bite.
It’s only recently that we’ve started to see a change in the origins of our fictional vampires.
While mythologies rooted in magic or curses usually leads to the sexier, more romance-worthy vampires, science-based origins—which take vampires from paranormal fantasy to Sci-Fi—often exist at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Since parts of vampirism are likely inspired by real-life diseases like anemia, porphyria, and catalepsy, it’s natural that their origins would start to lean more towards the scientific.A virus or disease based mythology often morphs vampires from alluring, sparkly dreamboats to ravenous, primal monstrosities. Novels like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the TV series The Strain, and even horror-flop
Daybreakers, mark this relatively new departure from the supernatural to science fiction. In the Underworld movie-verse, transgenics are responsible for vampirism. In I Am Legend, it’s a bacterial pandemic. In my own story, vampirism is rooted in evolution as an environmental transmutation.
But no matter where the mythos lies, with magic or science, vampires are likely to stay with us for all of eternity. The mythology surrounding them and the origins of their affliction will continue to change in new and exciting ways, especially as we eagerly await their resurrection in the current publishing market.
It’s likely we’ll soon see vampires as we’ve never seen them before, as they claw their way back to the forefront of our imaginations.
Whether you’ll be arming yourself with stakes, unlocking your windows for the more sparkly varieties, or eyeing the bat that seems to be circling your home, vampires will continue to haunt and infatuate us for generations.
Man. I couldn't find a good spot for this gif, but it's so LOL I couldn't leave it out!

October in Review

October is arguably my favorite month of the year. It holds my favorite holiday, the weather FINALLY starts to become bearable, and I always find the last fourth of the year to be the best of all. It was a mixed batch of eye/brain candy this month. I finished the last of the books on the hype trains, and got back to reading stories I was genuinely interested in. This month was all about NaNoWriMo prep and part of that involved researching whimsical narrative voice and how to best capture it for my own story. Don't think I've quite got it yet, but I'm getting there!

*This is so late. Holy CRAP, this is so late. But I think we can all agree late Oct to early Nov were utter poop because of this election, so I'm writing this post an excused tardy slip because of the orange hate clown.* 

Howl's Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones. 7/10

I feel like such a traitor for liking the movie more than the book... Maybe it's because I saw the movie first and have always been so enchanted by Miyazaki's movies that it never stood a chance at the favorites-game. While the book was still magical in all the right ways (superbly unique characters and a subtle humor and snark that is unexpected), there were a few moments that detracted from the story as a whole and one moment in particular that broke down that fourth wall completely and made me wholly and uncomfortably aware that I was just sitting in bed, in the real world, reading a book. And that's NEVER a good thing. I don't believe it's ever a good idea to pull your reader out of an immersive journey.


For me, this happened when we find out that Howl is actually just a somewhat ordinary man from very ordinary (and kind of bleak) Wales who somehow found his way into other worlds. This horrified me. When we stepped onto that street in Wales, Howl wearing a football jacket and walking into an ordinary house, it pulled me out of the story completely as it lost much of its enchantment. What an odd choice to make in such a vivid, otherworldly story. It seemed totally unnecessary and I can't see what it added to the story AT ALL, other than to undermine all of the magic and beautiful world building the book strove to paint up until that point. WHY DIANA, WHY?

But our beloved characters were still a joy to follow, though they were much more flawed and even slightly anti-hero compared to their movie counterparts. I still laughed out loud at Sophie's old lady-isms and sass and the tantrums Howl throws. And marveled at what incredibly unique and complex and enjoyable characters Howl and Calcifer were. Book Calcifer definitely trumped movie Calcifer (even with Billy Crystal's superb voice acting. Sorry, Billy).

All in all, definitely recommend this story for all ages! I can see myself reading it again someday, and then maybe AGAIN to some little mini-me's if I ever decide to have them!   

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. 4/10

Okay, in my review of Ember in September, I said the following: "I have every bit of confidence that the sequel will find its stride..." I was wrong. WHY? WHY DID I HAVE TO BE WRONG?

I had to drag myself to the end of this book. I was skimming left and right. Tahir is a phenomenal
writer. She really is. Her prose is A+. But her world building, plot, and characters are not at the same level. They constantly undermine their own strengths as characters, quite often acting what felt to be OUT of character, and that just made me lose interest in them and their journey.

I think there was something fundamentally wrong with the direction the plot took, and when it started down this path it felt like there was no saving it. Aspects of the story became superficial and obvious. And then there was the gratuitous gore and violence. Sometimes, the absence of those moments in lieu of the sound of it, the smell of it, the aftermath, etc, is more potent. Leaving it up to the imagination can be the greatest thing you can do for morbid moments. As soon as she was sticking daggers into children and slitting throats I lost respect for the story. It was an unnecessary grab for that SHOCK factor to make up for a lack of genuine tension and purposefully constructed moments.

And THEN there were all the obvious questions that NONE of the characters were asking (how about when that efrit asked Laia what SHE was and there was NO discussion of that after the fact). We knew just as much as they did through their POVs and I was sat there, as the reader, yelling HELLO?

This series has been a flop for me so far and I hate it. There was so much hype. So much potential. And it all fell flat.

Magnificent Seven: 8/10. Typical Western, so expect revenge, gunfights, and lots of death. I personally love Westerns, and this was true to the genre in every sense while updating it with a kind of superhero movie feel. The A-list cast certainly didn't hurt it either ;) Eye candy for everyone.

Storks: 3/10. NO. BAD, STORKS, BAD! The wolves were literally the only redeemable thing about this movie.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: 6/10. Tim Burton's version of the X-Men. Meh all around. But Ava Green is a Goddess and is phenomenal and fierce as always. *heart eyes*

10 Cloverfield Lane: 8/10. Was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Absolutely fantastic. Not giving any of it away. INTENSE x 100000000 

~Be mindful of the the things that precious time is spent on.~

Friday, November 4, 2016

#WIPChallenge: Monthly Blog Challenges for Writers

If you're a writer, chances are you've got a WIP going. Maybe you've got multiple! 
And sometimes it helps to delve into your new story in ways you hadn't thought of before. Sometimes it helps to develop your characters outside of the main plot of your story. Sometimes it helps to share about your WIP to keep up your motivation and to renew your enthusiasm. Sometimes none of that helps and everything feels like crap and you just need chocolate... But it ALWAYS helps to connect with other writers who are there in the writing trenches with you. 

#WIPChallenge is a new challenge for writers. 
Starting in January, on the first of every month there will be a prompt for a blog or twitter post that will challenge you to use your WIP to write, develop, share, or connect.

Come back on the first of every month to look for the new challenge or keep an eye on the hashtag! Share your posts on Twitter using #WIPChallenge. 

Then, on the last day of every month, we'll host a Twitter chat about WIPs, the theme of the month, what you learned, and any other writing related topic that comes up, on #WIPChat. JOIN US, FRIENDS!