The Mongols Are The Exception

If you’ve taken any world history class (or watch Crash Course), you probably know that the Mongols are almost always the exception.

So what do the Mongols have to do with writing? (Don’t worry, I can hear you asking that right along with asking why I’ve been silent for so long. Sorry about that…)

mongolsexception

I’ve been reading through a lot of writing articles recently, giving advice and listing things to watch out for. As I read through the an article about stereotyping genders, I started to realize a dangerous mindset.

It’s easy to say you’re the exception.

Most writers have it written somewhere in the article – *there are always exceptions to this rule!* – which makes it easy to assume that’s you. Sure, you may have written an emotionless, attractive male lead, but it was for a reason! You could never create an underdeveloped character …. could you?

This is part of why you always need other people to look over your work. I always have more backstory than can fit (or should fit) into the novel, and so there ends up being a great deal of information I know about my characters that readers may never get the chance to discover. This makes it easy to overlook underdeveloped aspects in your writing. Things that seem obvious or unique to you may be confusing or stereotypical to readers, and it’s important to realize that you’re not always the exception.

Sometimes your writing will be “bad”, but that’s okay.

What’s important is that we recognize and move past our mistakes. Yes, there will always be exceptions, and you might even be one, but you won’t always be.

It’s impossible not to get emotionally attached to your writing, which is what can make it so difficult to clearly analyze or edit it. Receiving harsh critiques can be difficult, especially if they attack a character or plot turn you’re attached to, but all those mistakes help your future writing.

My characters used to all be mirrors of me. Not only did they share my personality, but they frequently even physically resembled me (yikes!). I was thankful when I realized this and was able to move past it. I’m currently struggling with to write in new genres. I am most comfortable in the YA fantasy world, and I was a little more than embarrassed to realize both novels that I’ve finished focus on a teen caught in the middle of a war.

The novel I’m starting now is far away from the fantasy genre, and there won’t be any allusions to war, and I’m excited to see how that works out.

What is something new you want to try in your writing? Are there any stereotypes you’ve fallen into? What stereotypes most bother you?

Aivee.

Advertisements

Writers Are Thiefs

I want to start with a quote from a book that I love, The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas (the sequel, the Perilous Sea, just came out, and it’s just as amazing as the first book). It goes like this;

They said that when an elemental mage called forth flame, she stole a little from every fire in the world. That would make Iolanthe Seabourne quite the thief, gathering millions of sparks into one great combustion.

I have always loved this quote. Not only does it have a sort of beautiful imagery to it, but I think it also applies to writing, not just magic Рalthough writing is a sort of magic. It closely relates to another idea.

Every book you’ve ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters.

And so I read this and I thought it was incredibly profound. I still remember the first time I explained one of the books I was working on and they said, “Oh, sort of like {inserted already published book here}?” And of course I had not heard of this book but when they explained it the ideas were very similar. So I came to a conclusion, which is that

While we’re at it, here’s a different type of thief ūüėČ

Every writer is a thief.

We steal from books we’ve read and movies we’ve watched. We steal from the articles in the news that tell of horrors we can only imagine but that we know other people are facing every day. We steal from every single moment from our lives, every memory. We steal from conversations we’ve had and people we’ve met.

And that’s okay. Every single other writer is doing the exact same thing.

Face it, there are certain characters and elements to stories that work well, which means writers are going to keep using them. There are the stereotypical nerds and jocks and jokers and bosses and traitors and mentors and variations of that same character is going to show up in every book you read. What makes it interesting to read these characters every time is that their stories change. Their predicaments and environments and their friends and their pasts change so that, in fact, you never actually encounter the same character twice. And I think there’s something remarkable in that.

Look at how many times people have remade fairy tales (my personal favourites being the Lunar Chronicles ūüôā ) or Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or Romeo and Juliet? But we keep rereading them because each one enter a new element, a new surprise, and because we still love them.

So don’t worry. It turns out being a thief is actually kind of fun.

Aivee.

Editing Your Rough Draft

Firstly, I’d like to apologize for not posting in a while. I’ve been working very hard between school and my previous WIP, which is my big announcement:

I recently finished my latest novel, MAGE. I

After the celebrating, there’s the lingering question¬†what next?¬†A very large part of writing is simply getting the words down on the page, putting the ideas that have consumed you into a format where you can share them, finishing the novel. There is an immense sense of satisfaction after finishing a novel. I’ve only finished two, and I had to coast on the memory of the first one for years before I was finally able to finish another one. When I finished my first book, I had this idea that I was done. I could publish now. Looking back on my rough draft of WAKE UP CALL, I actually cringe reading through half of it.

Finishing a novel means you have a rough draft. t took me about six months to write it and as a complete rough draft it was 131k words. That’s a lot of raw material.¬†Pages upon pages of raw emotion and ideas and characters that were only half formed when I started it. The tricky part is pulling it all together into something marvelous, something other people will want to read and publish and cry over when their favourite characters die and their OTPs don’t end up together.

However, there’s a very well known fact that not very many people enjoy editing. I am currently struggling to edit MAGE so that I can even begin to look at places I might send it to and work on a better query letter. Here are some tips to make editing seem less of a daunting task than it is.

Before you start editing, consider what might seem like the obvious facts about your book. They can be more difficult to answer than you thought. What genre is your book? What is the message you’re trying to get across? Are there other books your book reminds you of?

An early outline of MAGE.

An early outline of MAGE.

Also, before you start editing, remember that you might need a break. You’ve spent a long time on this novel, and you might need some distance. Go read that book that just came out. Make a cup of tea (or coffee, but I’m a tea person). Take a walk. Your novel will still be waiting when you come back, and you might be surprised by what you find. If you get stuck while you’re editing, consider looking at your novel in a different format. Print it out. Work on it on the computer. Rewrite a scene. Change the font.

Outline. This might seem contradicting since I’ve actually said that I don’t believe in having a firm outline when writing. That’s when you’re writing the first draft. Once you’re editing your rough draft, I think it’s very important to outline your book. Go through and make a list of the chapters in your books, and the large events that happen within those chapters. Take note on the interactions that seems small but foreshadow later events. Every scene should have a purpose, and this is an easy way to look at each of your scenes and consider how they contribute to the book as a whole.

Adverbs and Language.¬†Adverbs are death. They are often and easy way of getting out of describing the situation. Don’t tell me the man looked creepy, show me the look in his eyes and his crooked smile and the strange stains on his overlarge jacket. Show me his limp and describe the way his voice sounds. It’s easy to fall into a similar trap with adjectives. Long sentences are not always better. Make sure your narrative fits the flow of what your character would notice, especially when writing in first person.

Common Phrases.¬†Look for ways you repeatedly describe things. Habits are okay, especially if they emphasis a past event that is still painful for the character. But don’t constantly describe smiles or emotions the same way. Don’t mention the blush rising or her cheeks growing hot EVERY time someone is embarrassed. Check for repetitive phrases, especially if you regularly use them to describe different characters. Also look for simple grammar mistakes. Less than or fewer ? More than or over? It’s or its? (Less than and more than are used for things you can’t count, and only use it’s for contractions, not possessives.)

Dialogue Tags.¬†I have issues with this sometimes. Unlike others, I love using words¬†other than “said.” I think it’s okay to tell me your character yelled or cried or repeating or asking. Again, be sure you’re not to repetitive or overly excessive with trying to be creative. The biggest problem is using actions. Laughed, spit, snarled are not dialogue tags, they’re actions. It’s perfectly fine to include these actions, but don’t make them the tag.

Characters.¬†You can argue that it’s the plot that moves the story along, but for me I’m always more interested in the characters than the events. I want to see how the characters react to events, and how they react to each other. Make sure your characters are realistic. I often figure out my characters while I write, so I’m having to go back and make sure what they do in the beginning of my novel matches with the type of person I eventually decided they were. Know your characters inside and out. Make their actions and movements and speech unique to them. However, I despise character charts, probably because I’ve gotten tired of having to pick a favourite colour and jewelry piece for every one of them. Instead, come up with back stories. Write about the time your character fell off a bike when (s)he was five, or how his/her¬†grandmother was the only one there to teach him/her. Write about their first times in new locations. Write about their house, or their siblings. Write about their lack of siblings. These events are all what have led up to the character in your story, and all of them are important. Write fanfiction between your characters. Write impossible scenes that will never happen (this works as well when you’re stuck in the middle of a WIP), just to know how the character would react if they were in that situation.

Talk to Other Writers.¬†Get critiques from other writers. Your friends and family might carry you through completing the rough draft, but unless they are a professional editor (and even perhaps then), they are not the write person to help you figure out which scenes to cut and which to keep, or how to change them. Find a community of other writers who can help you do those things. The internet is an excellent place to do this. Remember, though, that you don’t have to make every edit they suggest. The story is still yours, and ultimately you know it best.

Don’t be Negative.¬†If you get to where all you can see are the flaws in your story, take a break. Constantly remind yourself why you started writing this in the first place, why it means so much to your. This is your piece of art, and it might take a while, but the end result will be stunning.

Aivee

“I Don’t Have The Time”

This is a phrase that doesn’t only pertain to writing. Our lives get busy and things go wrong and sometimes you don’t have the time to write. You get home from work and have to take care of your family and make dinner, or you get home from school and don’t have the time to write because of your homework or maybe you play sports or play in orchestra or band. Whatever your reason, there always seems to be a decent excuse as to why you’re not writing as much as you want to.

“You make time for what is important to you.” This is something that I’ve started reminding myself when I reach the end of a busy day and realize I haven’t written at all. Writing is important to me, and I try to make the time for it in my schedule. (The ironic thing is that it was my music teacher who told me this when I wasn’t practicing enough because I was writing so often.)

Writing so often gets pushed to the back of our list of things to do because unless you’re lucky enough for it to be your job, it’s not a project with a due date and a grade at school or work. I know that I can’t focus well if I go too long without getting the chance to write. Today, try and put aside some time to write, even if it’s only fifteen minutes.

Aivee

Show And Tell

Firstly, this post has to begin with an apology of sorts, because I haven’t been updating this like I meant to. I’ve been working on my book (Mage) which has only seven chapters left and is taking up a lot of my time because I’m ready to finish it. I’ve also been reminded that school somehow manages to take up time before it even starts. Sometimes finding the time to write is a challenge – I’m positive if you feel like you don’t have the time to write, you’re not alone. Adults are always complaining about working around their family’s schedules and their jobs, and as a teenager I’ve found school to be the number one thing that makes writing a struggle. So congratulations to you if you’ve found time to write despite all of this. Keep it up.¬†

I wanted to talk about something that is probably one of the first things you’ve ever heard if you’re a writer.¬†Show, don’t tell.¬† It took me a while to actually start to put this advice to use. It seems like simple advice, but I’ve found it’s something easier said than done.¬†Eliminate the word¬†feel¬†from your writing.¬†This goes especially for a first person POV.¬†

Instead of having your character say s/he feels dizzy, have them reach out for the wall (or other nearby object) to steady them. Instead of telling the reader your character feels nervous, have them bite their nails or mess with their hair (probably a girl for that one) or keep them glancing at the clock. As the lovely quote from Anton Chekhov says,¬†Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.¬†¬†Make an effort in your writing to eliminate words that might distance your characters from your reader.

Try to describe feelings. Everyone knows how they feel when they’re angry, but¬†show¬†your reader that your character is angry by describing them. Don’t forget that people respond to different emotions differently. Stress might make one character quiet, while another can’t stop talking or even breaks into tears.¬†

What is one of your favourite descriptive passages in a novel/short story?

the Villain

The protagonist of any story doesn’t matter very much unless you have a stunning rival for them to go up against.

Its arguable that everyone loves the villain just as much as they love the MC. But they want a realistic villain, which means as the author there are several things you need to figure out.

There’s some clamor for the evil, cackling villain who will kill anyone to get what s/he wants. I’ve certainly come across some creepy villains in the books I’ve read, but in my opinion, the best villains are the ones you can almost relate to. They’re the ones who have a logic behind their madness – a very twisted, maniacal logic, but a reason that makes some degree of sense nonetheless.

This is why it’s so important to¬†know the villain’s back story.¬†Understand what went wrong in their life to make them the villain. I really love the saying that everyone villain is just the victim whose story hasn’t been told because I think its very true. So give your villain something the readers can sympathize with. Understanding your villain’s back story also helps you to understand his goal. It’s the reason behind why s/he’s so awful.

Even the villain needs a weakness. Often the hero/ine discovers the villains flaw in the last, crucial moments of the book. If your villain has a weakness, it means they have some degree of morality. Is there someone they care about? Is there something they wont do no matter what? Give your readers something to relate with. Give your villain both good and bad qualities. 

After all of this, after building up sympathy, this is where you still need to have your villain do something despicable. Something I really love is when the author manages to get the reader to believe the villain might make the right decision, and then turn back on that and remind you that this is the villain. Make the readers themselves question how they ever managed to fall in love with the villain. It’s much easier said than done.

Think about some villains in literature/films. What are the qualities that simultaneously made you love/hate them?
I have to bring up what is possibly my favourite villain. Loki, in any of the Marvel movies. It’s a largely known fact that there are a lot of people that actually watch the movie for Loki, not Thor. We’ve fallen in love with his back story, and he still manages to remind us time and time again that he isn’t a good person. So why do we still want to believe he is? I absolutely love Loki’s character. It has the continuous struggle between good and bad in one person.

-Aivee

Writing Supporting Characters

Often people put a lot of effort into creating their MCs, which sometimes means the supporting characters – I really don’t like the term¬†minor characters¬†as much because at the end of my story all of the characters are important to me – get put on the sideline.¬†Supporting characters are important too.¬†

A lot of how you learn about your MCs personality is by seeing how they act when they’re forced with other contrasting or complementing personalities. The people who surround your MC matter a great deal to the outcome of the story. Like I said earlier, your supporting characters need to be people too. Try to make every character in your book complete. Sometimes your supporting character can have a different agenda than the MC, or different views on how they should react to the situations thrown at them. This can affect your plot. Maybe your supporting character is facing different stakes than your MC. How does it affect them when their goals/stakes cross paths or don’t work together?

Your supporting characters define your MC. How does your MC treat the supporting characters? The supporting characters are everyone. The co-worker. The best friend. The relative. The neighbor. They might not be in the story for very long, but they should still make a difference. Some of these characters don’t need more than two sentences explaining who they are and what they’re doing. Some of the times, you never even know these characters names.¬†

Think about more important supporting characters, though. Your MC needs a best friend to help them through their trials. They need someone who will lift them up, but supporting characters sometimes won’t agree with the MC. Whether they’re there for the MC or suddenly out of the picture, this affects the MC’s state of mind and how the plot proceeds.¬†Supporting characters matter.¬†

Think about real life. Even if you’re the MC, every single person you meet is the MC of their own life. They all have character development, stories, goals, secrets, etc. Every supporting character in your story thinks they’re the MC.¬†

What are some of your favourite supporting characters in literature? 

-Aivee

The Faults In Your Characters

For the longest time, I couldn’t finish my books and I couldn’t figure out why. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize it was because my characters were perfect – and not in the way that they’re a perfectly created character, but in that they overcame everything I threw at them, and they never faltered. They were perfect, and entirely unrealistic.

It’s an easy mistake to make, because for a lot of people, reading is their way of escaping reality. In the same way for me, as a young writer, my characters were often very similar to me with the exception that they always managed to do the things I’d wanted to. They were better than me.

But¬†no one wants to read a perfect character.¬†In fact, I would go to say readers are sometimes practically¬†waiting¬†for the MC to mess up. Writers are always told to push their characters, which is true, but remember that eventually your character is going to break. No one wants to see their hero’s beat up, and readers want to see their characters rise back up to the occasion even after they fall. It’s often how you can spot the MC. Who will keep pushing through even once they’ve been hurt? Your characters need to be strong, but ultimately, your character needs to be human (unless your character isn’t human, in which case you’re not off the hook. You still need to find a flaw), which means they are going to mess up. Put better,¬†to be flawed is quintessentially human.¬†

Don’t write perfect characters – write realistic ones.¬†

You want your plot to be unique, and your characters help this. Make sure your characters aren’t 2-dimensional. Give your characters depth. So how do you find the right flaw for your character?

The flaw has to¬†hinder your character from reaching his/her goal.¬†The goal is what your character wants, what’s driving the plot forward. Don’t just give your character a flaw for the fun of it. It should make sense and fit the story. It should be something that matters. There’s no end to the flaws and weaknesses your character could have. Just remember that¬†your character is going to make mistakes.¬†

Another point I have to mention is that most of this seems to be talking about MCs, but if you want to add more depth to your novel,¬†give your minor/supporting character flaws as well.¬†It can be fun, even, to have characters whose flaws clash with each other. Don’t spend all your time on your MC. Your other characters need to be realistic, unique, and flawed as well.

What are some interesting flaws you can think of?

-Aivee

Killing Characters

I get very attatched to my characters, whether I mean to or not. I think this is a really important part of writing, but the fact remains that sometimes, you are going to have to kill your characters. Killing characters often helps move the plot along or is key for another (often your MC) character’s development (Peter Parker’s grandfather dying in Spider Man comes to mind). In my first novel I created a character who I knew would die, and I still got attatched to her (against my better judgement). But you have to avoid killing characters unnecessarily – I’m sure you all can think of several series (whether books or TV shows or both) that are notorious for “everyone” dying in the end. So¬†when and why should you kill a character?¬†

As I’ve already said, deaths in books should¬†move the plot along. These are the deaths that spur revenge or inspiration (often to your MC) in the fictional world of your book. Often these kinds of deaths happen early on and are the reason for the plot, the beginning of the adventure. A lot of times these deaths aren’t going to be a surprise to your readers. Make sure they¬†mean a lot to your characters.¬†Pick a person your MC cares a lot about.

The other, harder deaths to write, are the ones that¬†surprise your reader.¬†This can be harder, because these characters don’t always die for a reason. The trick is, there always needs to be a reason a character dies. Every character in your story serves a purpose. Consider who is going to step up and fulfill that purpose once the original character is dead. If you’re simply killing a character to get rid of them because they aren’t important to the story, maybe you didn’t need them in the first place.

Killing characters can be fun. After all, writers are often even advised to hurt their characters, to push them as far as they can go to make the story interesting. Keep the story believable, though. I’ve killed several characters in my books. When my main characters are in the middle of a large war I know it isn’t possible for everyone to survive.There’s a certain point where even the best characters break.

You can make a spectacle out of it, and you can build up to it. Or you can make it quiet. In real life, you don’t know when you’re about to die, and the people around you aren’t going to either. Some of the best deaths in literature are the ones like this. The ones that make you ask¬†why? and sometimes curse the author. The ones that are so real they hurt.¬†Don’t kill your character just to shock your readers. Don’t¬†just kill a character because you’re bored.¬†Remember readers aren’t expecting the main characters to die. Don’t kill a character just to have killed a character. It sounds silly but it’s true. There have been a few popular books recently where main characters die (I’m not going to name them for the sake of spoilers) and everyone cries and curses the author but these deaths always have a greater purpose behind them.

What are some of your favourite fictional deaths? Ones you loved and ones you hated? Have you killed characters in your novels?

-Aivee

 

Character Descriptions

A lot of authors go about introducing and describing characters differently, and I’ve been thinking about it recently, so I thought I would write about about my opinion on it and what I know.¬†

How you describe/introduce your characters varies depending on several factors. One is which POV your book is written in. There’s a lot of articles out there about how to introduce your MC when you’re writing from a first person POV. I’ve seen some books where the character introduces themselves (My name is Aivee, I’m fourteen years old. I’m tall and I’ve got dark blonde hair and yah dah yah . . . you get the picture. It can be done differently.) in the beginning of the book, but unless you’re MC is writing the book for someone, this is unrealistic. Most people don’t spend their time contemplating what they look like. A lot of people don’t like what they look like, so they aren’t going to spend all their time depressing themselves (unless that’s a big part of their personality. Remember that there are always exceptions to these general rules).

Wait for a chance for your MC to describe him/herself to come up naturally in the book. There’s a good chance it’ll happen without you forcing it. A lot of people say the most cliche way to have your MC describe him/herself is using a mirror, but this isn’t always true. For instance, in Mage, my MC has been travelling as a refugee for over a year and hasn’t seen herself in a mirror for all that time, so when she finally arrives to safety, washing off and seeing her reflection merits her reassessing what she looks like. You can describe your MC gradually by everyday actions and by them comparing themselves to other, new characters.

You don’t have to describe every character as you meet them – especially not when you’re writing in first person. Your MC isn’t going to describe his/her best friend because s/he already knows what s/he looks like. S/he doesn’t need to remind herself of it. I think it works well to gradually talk about what they look like as well. Add in lines – she ran her fingers through her dark, tangled hair is an easy enough sentence and it betrays a small amount of information about said girl. She has dark hair. Gradually build up what your minor characters look like.

This being said, if your MC is meeting someone for the first time, include what they look/act like. We say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, which applies to people, but we don’t follow up on it very well. Everyone makes judgments of people when they meet them (and if you don’t, congrats. You’re a better person than I am.) and so you’re going to take some time to notice what new people look like.

Because I’m a writer, I spend a possibly creepy amount of time looking at people. All of them are potential characters to me, so I notice small things the first time I meet people. (If you’re ever bored in a crowd, pick a person and describe them like you would in a book. It can be a lot of fun.) Think about your MC, though. Not everyone notices all the things writers do. The age and gender of your character can change what you decide to include about characters descriptions. What is the relationship between the MC and said character being described? This is where you can sometimes describe the main character at the same time. I can’t speak for guys, but I know girls will often compare themselves to other people.

Writing in third person is a little different. You can describe your characters to whatever amount of detail you want, and can describe characters that your MC has known for ages because you’re not limited to a single POV.

What are some of your favourite character introductions/descriptions?

-Aivee