More Thoughts To Come

October is one of my favorite months.  I love the cool weather, I love the ramp-up to NaNoWriMo (more info on that at a later point), I love Halloween. Fall is my season.

But it also marks a number of anniversaries for me. Two years ago, my entire nuclear family dissolved out from under me.  Things are better now, my parents are finding happiness and I’m healing over a lot of relationship wounds that I’ve been carrying since I was seven.

One year ago, my grandfather passed away.  I travelled 1200 miles in 12 hours to be with my family, and made it to his hospital room just in time. It was an intense experience, but not a negative one.  I’d do anything to have my story end as well as his did.  I love him a great deal, and it hurt. But I wouldn’t change a moment of the experience.

October, my favorite month, makes me think about endings and rebirth.  So for this first October post, I’m going to write about my first experience with death. Warning: this is another major bummer of a post.  But it’s important, and it’s on my mind, so here goes.

Her name was Sarah Foster, and I was eight years old. Continue reading

The Blank Slate

Everyone who knows me well knows that I’m not a fan of heroes.

They’re all the same damn person. White-bread moral paragons of virtue who all follow in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker, pacing through the Hero’s Journey like it’s a track ride at Disneyland.  Yes, they have quirks and quandaries that make them their own person, but overall they fit a stereotype.  Even well-rounded, well-formed heroes just seem to pale in comparison to their surrounding cast.

I’m just not a fan.

I’m not just hating on heroes to be edgy, I promise.  This is grounded in proper literary analysis.  Namely, the white-bread moral paragons of virtue are a subset of what I hope is a fading literary trend: The Everyman.

This is how to avoid falling into that trap.

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The Conflict-Driven Plot

As I’m editing through The Thrilling Adventures of Clara Delaney I’m asking myself a lot of questions.  What works? What doesn’t work? What should I do for the next book?  Overall it’s a pretty solid story, but where are the weak points?

My biggest difficulty: conflict.

I am perfectly happy watching my characters sit around and get drunk or talk for the entire book, which does not make for entertaining reading.  This is troublesome for someone who wants to write space adventures.  

So here are some ideas for creating conflict.  And a lot of questions to ask yourself when you need to push a change in plot.

 

Know Their Motivation

Your characters will not always be on the same side, and that goes a lot deeper than the usual “good VS evil” dichotomy that most genre fiction is so fond of.  An antagonist worth reading about isn’t just motivated by being evil– they need a reason.  The same goes for a hero: doing good for the sake of good is boring.

So think about what drives them, from their day-to-day needs to their overarching narrative.  Conflict arises naturally when two heroes find themselves at cross-purposes, not when a hero and a villain clash.

I don’t really believe in villains.

 

Know Their Background

Cultural values, privilege, personal history: everything that makes a person who they are is a source for conflict.  What do your characters value? How can it be endangered? What do they fear? How can you make that happen?

 

Change Them

Taking the previous point deeper: how can you change those values? How can you challenge them? How do you want your characters to change over the course of the story and what’s going to cause that?

A lot of this is just basic characterization stuff, but if you’re a character-driven writer, as I am, this is how you form your plot.  Put people at odds, force them to find a solution, and watch how they grow.

It’s working for me so far.

Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference 2016

Oh my god oh my god oh my god, did I have an amazing weekend.  For anyone who hasn’t attended a writers’ conference before, do it.  If you’re able, do this one.

Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  Go look at the website.  Easily one of the best conventions I’ve ever been to and I already cannot wait for next year.

The people were phenomenal, the sessions and panels were a huge education, and the speakers-slash-presenters were amazingly friendly.  Wendy Corsi Straub (@WendyCorsiStaub) said in her keynote speech that this business is a roller coaster, and she wasn’t kidding.  The whole weekend (while phenomenal) was definitely a rolling tide of hills and valleys for me.

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State of the Blog

Being an adult is weird.

Those of you who know me personally know the reason the blog’s been on hold for a couple weeks: I recently started my first Actual Grown-up Job (with a desk and everything), I’ve been doing a ton of work with the Iowa Writers’ House and I’ve been editing The Thrilling Adventures of Clara Delaney to try and hit 85,000 words before I start doing a serious bout of querying.  

Anyway. Here’s more information on all that stuff.

 

Iowa Writers’ House:
This is a shameless plug for an awesome organization.  The IWH is a group of writers located primarily in the Iowa City area (but currently doing work throughout the entire Creative Corridor, and aiming to work with the entire state) that work together to create an amazing creative community.  We have workshops with amazing writers (one just finished up with Sabata Mokae), social events with other area writers in Iowa City landmarks, and the Rooms.

The Rooms are awesome.  They’re communities of writers within a genre that get together and write, discuss aspects of their work, or just get to know each other.  So far we have two established Rooms: the Great Green Room (children’s literature, hosted by an awesome group of ladies that include published authors Sarah Prineas and Delia Ray) and the Violet Realm (sci-fi and fantasy, hosted by the awesome Erin Casey and myself).

Twice a month, the Violet Realm gets together to listen to a short lecture about some aspect of writing sci-fi and fantasy.  It’s either facilitated by a member of the community or one of the hosts– we’ve had talks on fight scenes, conlanging (guess who facilitated that one), mapmaking, and a ton more.

If you’re in Iowa, check us out.  The Violet Realm meets every second and fourth Tuesday of the month in the Iowa City Public Library, room B.  Everyone’s welcome!

 

Check out the website for the Iowa Writerss House:  http://iowawritershouse.org/

And the Violet Realm: http://iowawritershouse.org/the-violet-realm/

And like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iowawritershouse

 

Blog:

Things are settling down, so the blog’s back in business!  I’m afraid #livetweetbooks is on an indefinite hiatus, though.  Between IWH, a 9-5 job, and working on actually writing, I don’t really have the time to carve out anymore– so it’s going on the backburner of fun ideas.  It may come back to life if I find a really good book to talk about.  I’ll still probably be posting reviews now and again.

 

Writing:

I’m planning on starting the beta-reading process for The Thrilling Adventures of Clara Delaney at the end of the month: once I get it up to 85,000 words I’m going to consider it in the final draft stage.  Which means I’m looking for beta readers for both the query letter and the manuscript, starting in May.

Also in May (after the 17th) I’ll be looking for beta readers for a poetry chapbook.  I’ve spent the last couple years compiling poems I’ve written from… well, kindergarten, up to my poem-a-day challenges the past few years.  Thinking of calling it Quarter-Life Crisis, although that’s a work in progress.

Last thing: I’ll be at the Pike’s Peak Writing Conference next week!  Check it out here.  The events look amazing and registration is still open, go check it out.

 

Job:

I’m working 9-5 at an actual job now and I’m pretty sure all the stuff on my desk cost at least half of what I made last year, if not more.  The people are awesome and the job is interesting and it’s very surreal.  We have a team-building exercise planned. And a water cooler.

So that’s that.

Realistic Female Characters

This post is probably going to be snarky and full of feminist rage.  Hold on to your hats, ’cause I’ve been reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and that’s what fueled the blog post about Realistic Female Characters.

I hear this term everywhere.  Guys ask it in writing forums.  Women complain about it every time  a new movie or series comes out.  It drives me up a goddamn wall: why is the “realistic female character” such a challenge? Why is it such a standard to live up to? Is the gender dichotomy so ingrained in our systems that men and women are truly from different planets?

(And for that matter, why did someone who created an amazing, in-depth, thought-out world not bother to give a little thought to gender roles?)

Okay, yes, Burroughs was a product of his time.  And I love the John Carter series, because I’m a sucker for adventure stories and good worldbuilding.  But Edgar, this one’s for you.

 

  1. Pass the Bechdel Test.

For those still unfamiliar with this test, it’s a simple series of questions that determines the realism of your Strong Female Characters.

  1. Are there at least two women characters in the film?
  2. Who talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

Lots of wonderful, well-crafted, vivacious worlds do not pass the Bechdel Test.  Lord of the Rings is a particularly well-written offender, as is the original Star Wars trilogy.  Also much (although not all!) of Shakespeare’s work.  You do not need to pass the Bechdel Test for your work to be an excellent read.

That said, this is the easiest way to write Realistic Female Characters you can possibly manage to put in a novel and the fact that the questions have to be asked in the first place is so sad it’s downright funny.  Want to have realistic women in your book?  There are probably more than one of them, since we make up roughly 50% of the population.  Since there are just so many women in the world, I bet they talk to each other sometimes.  And they probably have their own shit going on in their lives.

I mean… duh.

 

  1. Give her (them!) a subplot.

Not every main character in the world has to be female.  But if every one of your characters has something else going on besides the token girl, whose subplot is falling hopelessly in love with your main character, you’re doing something wrong.  

Yes, for some people romance is all-inclusive and consuming.  Yes, your main female character may have an all-consuming passionate desire for your male character.  Shit happens.  It’s your world.  In that case, though, I have some advice for your main character:

Run, bro.

A romance that takes over your whole life is unhealthy.  It makes for great drama, sure (see: every sitcom ever invented) but it’s lazy.  It never ends in happy-ever-afters.  Unless you’re gonna really have fun with that trope, avoid it at all costs lest your female readers throw your book violently at your face.

Plus, it’s lazy writing.  If you’re going to bother having unique secondary characters, make them interesting! They need a purpose.  Don’t just put in a token girl for the hell of it.

 

  1. Put some effort into your romantic subplots, if you have them.

This one is SPECIFICALLY directed at Edgar Rice Burroughs, although I’m well aware his works have long since passed into the public domain.  Dude, limit your romantic interactions! Holy shit, John Carter is apparently sporting some sort of super-pheromone, because every single woman on Mars falls in love with him.

What.  Edgar.  Why.

Yes, romance is fun to read, but only if the chemistry is organic.  Only if the characters actually like each other.

I admit I have a hard time with this one, personally.  As my girlfriend can tell you, I’m awful at romantic dialogue when I’m actually in the relationship (I call her “nerd” far more than I call her “sweetheart” or “honey”), so writing natural romantic dialogue is a challenge to me.  I get it.

Just give your characters at least a couple chapters (or a few hours, Edgar) to get to know each other before they try to jump each others’ bones, okay?

 

  1. When all else fails, ask a girl.

Women come at the world from a different perspective than men.  Guys may not understand why telling someone to smile is a degrading, annoying thing: any chick in the world can tell you exactly how infantilizing it is, and we’ve all had someone say it.  Same goes for unsolicited compliments.  Or unsolicited chivalry.  Or any other form of microaggressive behaviour.

Unless you’ve been on the receiving end, you probably don’t understand the problem to its fullest extent.  So sit down with someone you know and ask questions. Let her talk.  I guarantee you she’ll be more than willing to help you understand.

 

  1. Go back and switch the genders of this article.  It still applies.

Or replace “girl” with “person of color”.  Or “lgbt person”.  Or even “child”.

This article was fueled by the freaking oversight that is A Princess of Mars, but it really applies to anything you write that falls outside the realm of your experience.  Twilight is just as awful as A Princess of Mars, and for all the same reasons (although Twilight doesn’t have any of APoM’s good bits, like war and worldbuilding).

There’s a reason I don’t have many people of color in my stories– I’m not a person of color.  That’s something I’m working on changing, but it’s hard not to fall into the Token Black Friend trope.  Same thing happens with kids in adult literature– usually only present to be in distress or show the main character what he’s fighting for.  And the gay people never get a realistic romantic story arc.

Gender isn’t a person’s defining characteristic, even if it’s a big part of who they are.  Same goes for sexuality.  Skin color.  Ethnicity.  Whatever.

Write people.  Not tropes, not characters, not daydreams.

People.