Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Purpose of the Plot

Greetings, Pantser. Hello, Outliner. Warm welcome to those in-between.

No matter what type of organizer you are it is important that your story has a plot. There is one exception to this which I will go over at the very end of this post. Please deal with my humor until then.

First, no matter how good or how bad a story is, no matter what genre that story belongs to, it shares one simple thing with all stories. There is some form of plot. When you put a sentence down to the paper, you are writing about *something*. That something will become your plot. Or at least part of it.

When you write your first draft, you may not know what your plot is until you get there. That is one of the joys of being a pantser -- or someone who writes by the seat of their pants. I have served my time as a pantser. It can be a great deal of fun. It keeps the mystery alive. Until the last word, the last page, when you sigh and realize that you are 'finished'. Crossing the finish line as a pantser can be very rewarding.

But let us not forget about the dedicated outliner. These folks -- I've done this as well -- plan their plots, their conflicts and their characters in advance of writing. These folks know where their story is going. These folks sit through the hard moments where they know exactly what is to come and cope with having to wait to get there. In a way, the outliner may feel as if they are putting the finishing touches on a story by writing the dialogs, the descriptions and the scenes out true to their outline.

Then there are the few who are both pantser and outliner. I fall into this category. After having done dramatic experimentation with both outlining and pantser'ing. These folks have a direction but leave the details up to chance. Many pantsers will often have a concept of where they want to go, but it changes on the fly. The hybrid will know where they want to go, the getting there is just an adventure waiting to happen.

All of these methods are correct. The magic is in the editing, but that is a different subject altogether.

Now that we have covered the three basic types of writers, let us dig right into the heart of the issue.

What is a plot? Why do I need it? And why do *you* feel like you need to tell me why *I* need a plot? Who the hell are you anyway?

There are many more questions that could suffer answering, but I will start with these.

What is a plot?

A plot is the driving force behind a story. It is your story. It is your synopsis, it is the reason your reader wants to keep reading your book. It is the conflict. It is the drama. It is the breath-taking moment when your character's dream has come true. It is every defining moment of your book. It is the why of your book. It is also the how of your book. It is the purpose of your book.

The plot, in the nitty-gritty world, is the series of events that take your book from the start to the end. It is the tangled weave that your character spins as he or she goes out on their adventures. It is the series of events that take your character to the conflict and the events that allow them to resolve the conflict.

Wikipedia defines a plot as: A literary term, a plot is all the events in a story particularly rendered toward the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect or general theme. An intricate, complicated plot is known as an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot can have multiple inferences, such as with songs in the ballad tradition. Basically a plot is the story line or the way a story is written.

Why do I need it?

Why do you need air? Why do you eat? Why do you sleep? Why do you ask me this question?

This has been something that I have been answering a lot lately. This is actually what spurred me into writing this post. With National Novel Writing Month quickly approaching, many writers are struggling with this concept. Some are even throwing their hands up in disgust and giving up because they focus on their characters and end up with no plot, no world and no purpose for them. When asked about this.... they'd get offended and say their characters are the plot.

No, your characters -- no matter how beautiful or wonderful -- are not your plot. You need a plot. Get over it and make one. Start with your conflict. Once you know what the main conflict and the climax (The most tense, story changing event in your novel) it is MUCH easier to figure out the rest of your plot. Just remember, you do NOT have to have all of your plots tied to the climax. Side-adventures are allowed. In fact, they are encouraged. They can add a lot to a story even if it may not be directly related to the climax. Your climax is very much your defining moment in the book.

And why do *you* feel like you need to tell me why *I* need a plot? Who the hell are you anyway?

I am just a writer like any other. I just love the craft so much I feel the need to ramble on about it. You don't have to follow my advice. It is, after all, just advice. Do what you want. But, your story will be much better off with a good plot.

And if you somehow manage to get me to critique your book, you won't get the lecture about plots and realize 80,000 words in that your story is actually lacking a defining plot and you need to rewrite the whole thing -yet again-. If you fail to get a good plot, you will end up doing a full rewrite.

I know I have fallen into this trap.

As a side-note, a good plot does not need to be a complex plot. Sometimes the best plots are the simple ones.

Now, as I promised early (Look, Ma, I kept my promise. Really, I did!) there is a situation where plot... well, who needs it? National Novel Writing Month!

All the rules are gone for this. If it is fiction, have fun. Write whatever. No plot? Pfffft. Who needs a plot anyway? The point and beauty of National Novel Writing Month is to enjoy writing. To accomplish something you haven't before. By all means, throw aside the wicked plot and just write. You might be surprised at the plot that sneaks in, but do not be afraid to experiment and play. It isn't for the professional, but for that scared little writer who really wants to write a book but needs the experience.

Don't worry. You can worry about your plot on the next book. November is for you, new writer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Characters

There was an interesting discussion on twitter that I would like to bring to your attention. In its most basic form, the discussion was on whether or not stories with a second-chance theme should always result in a happy ending for the character in question. This spawned some discussion on how some individuals hated how a character had to die anyway even if they found redemption.

In turn evolved into a discussion on the question of whether or not writers who coddled their main characters told as powerful of a story as they could.

No. No. No.

The character you love to write and protect is the character many readers may very well end up hating to read about. Strife and conflict are often the heart of the story. In the real world we often do not like to experience these things. They hurt us and make us suffer.

When I read I find myself drawn to the character who struggles and persevere. I am even more enthralled when a character struggles and fails to persevere. When I read, I wish to submerge into a story where the odds are defied even if success is not automatic. It makes the ending all the sweeter.

You damage your story when you protect your main character. Don't do it. Let your character fall. Let your character suffer.

If your character would die in the natural flow of the story, let them go. If you need to get a box of tissues and bawl your eyes out do so. But let them go and allow your story to thrive.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of becoming attached to the character. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, you should fall into the trap of loving the story. A good character does not make a story. A loved character does not make a story. A good story makes a good character. The advice of character-driven stories is a good one to follow. However, character-driven does not mean spoiled rotten. It really does not mean pamper them.

It means make them the driving forces in your story. But your story is something much bigger than any one character.

When you select your main character, you need to pick the character that is in the thick of things. Don't pick the one you like the best if they are only casually observing the entire book. Do not pick the character that has nothing to do with the conflict. Do not pick the character that does not suffer or struggle for the sake of the story. If you make this error, it is your reader who suffers.

While you may write for your personal enjoyment you should never forget the presence of the reader. While you may give birth to the story, it is the reader that breathes life into it.

It is your main characters which are the vessel for your story's existence. If you think you are clever by having a main character who does nothing at all, chances are the story will suffer for it. It may not happen every time. A talented author -might- be able to break the rules in this regard.

But there are very few observing characters with the charm and inherent ability to be in the right place at the right time as one Watson crafted so diligently by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are few authors so blessed in their craft to pull off this tricky skill with success.

There are few readers with the patience to deal with the failures of this type of story.

People do not read out of necessity. They read out of desire to do so. (We will leave school assignments out of this for now. Most people do not go to the bookstore and buy fiction novels for school assignments.)

So where does this leave you?

Here are a few tips for selecting your main character. Answer yes/no to these questions. If the majority of the answers are 'yes', your character is a good candidate to be a main character:

1: Is your character always in the thick of things?
2: Is your character critical to the resolution of the conflict?
3: Does your character cause conflict?
4: Is your character present in the majority of the story?
5: Does your character survive through 3/4ths of the novel?
6: Is the character a 'round' character?*
7: Has your character suffered?
8: Does your character have a likable personality?
9: Does your character have a background and history?
10: Do you care about the character?

* A round character is a well-developed character that defies the stereotypes. A flat character is your cookie-cutter character that serves a purpose and that is that. The stable boy that you see for ten pages is typically a flat character. Frodo from Lord of the Rings would classify as round. 'That Admiral' Lord Vader suffocates at random for getting mouthy would classify as flat.

Of course you do not need to answer 'yes' to every question, but it is a very good idea if almost all of them are yes. These are qualities that tend to make a strong character. Let us take a good look at a well-loved favorite: Harry Potter.

I am strongly confident that Harry would get a ringing 'yes' to all of the above questions. He suffered. He persevered. He was easy to like. (Sure, he whined... but he was still easy to like.) He was written in such a way that I felt it was obvious that Rowling enjoyed writing this character. He was *always* there, always in the thick of things. He caused as many problems as he resolved.

Almost every character that I truly love gets a ringing endorsement on all of these things. The stories that these characters are in are only made that much better for the presence of these characters.

In the previous post I discussed character detailing. In this one, I want you to consider the heart and the soul of the character and not just where they have been.

There is a proverb: What does not kill you makes you stronger.

Let your character be a 'living' example of this. And when they die, let them leave a lasting impression.

That is the least you can do for the people who will read your story. After all, as a writer, it is the reader that you wish to entertain.

I hope this makes you ask a few questions about your characters and their purpose in your stories.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Character Detailing

As I have matured as a writer, I have found myself forming the habit of making very detailed notes about my characters. While I will often leave the general plot points flow as they will in the rough draft, it has become a habit to try to flesh out my characters as much as possible.

There are several reasons for this. The primary one is that I am building a world that is shared among several novels. By doing this I build a familiarity with the world that allows me to write new stories in the same general locations. By sharing locations I give myself the opportunity to decide if I want a light story or an epic story and have all of the materials I need to just sit down and write at leisure.
One thing I have noticed is that this process is not an easy one. I am going to share with you some character detailing from one of my books. I will also explain why I feel this information is useful for me.

There is no right or wrong about detailing your characters. This is not a post to tell you how to do things. However, if you are interested in creating a thorough plot and a world of your own, this may be of use to you.

Hair: Blond
Eyes: Blue
Height: 5'2"
Weight: 135
Real Name: ***plot note

History: ***plot note – Heritage details


1602, Age 10: ***plot note
1602, Age 10: ***plot note
1604, Age 12: ***plot note
1608, Age 16: ***plot note
1608. Age 16: ***plot note
1608, Age 16: ***plot note.
1609, Age 17: ***plot note.
1610, Age 18: ***plot note
1610, Age 18: ***plot note
1615, age 23: Married
1619, Age 27: First Born
1621, Age 29: Second Born
1626, Age 34: ***plot note
1637, Age 45: Third Born
1637, Age 45: Death of Wife
1638, Age 46: Death

The first section of my character notes I dedicate to physical statistics. These are stats that I use frequently. Someone of 5’2” that is male I would describe as short. 5’5” would be of average height; over 5’9” would be tall. I view the average female between 5’3”-5’5”.

Next, I have their real name. In the writing program I use, the main panel has me put their first name, last name, date of birth, date of death and occupation. Unfortunately, I have to follow the ‘real world’ calendar on dates. I randomly selected the 1500-1600s as the date range I would be working with. This may or may not carry over into the novel. I picked the months based off of the seasons. Regular months do not exist in my world, but rather a series of holidays that separate the year, the seasons, and the number of moon cycles within the season… there are terms for these spans of time, but I will worry about those as a last finishing detail. For now, the 12 month cycle is enough to give me an idea of the seasons.

The ‘History’ section is notes on heritage or anything of importance I feel I need to include that does not fit into the character’s timeline.

The timeline is major events in the character’s life and the year they occur.
Consider me paranoid, but I am not going to expose the plot of my novel to the internet at random. That is why I have used the handy ***plot note function. I left the things at are non-plot critical. :)

When I am setting up the timelines, I find that having the ability to look at the year something occurs help keeps plot bunnies at bay. It also gives me a feel for location. If I know that in this year, a character was somewhere doing a specific something, I can make certain that the events surrounding the character are more consistent at a glance. This prevents a character from being at two places at one time. I have done this before. It was rather embarrassing.

Once I am completed the timeline, I will add the following traits:

Personality: Fun-Loving, Affectionate, Prankster, Care-free
Skills: Rope Tricks, Horseback riding, Archery

These traits were randomly selected and not a part of the actual character, but meant as a demonstration. Once I have selected the Personality and Skills traits, I embellish on their levels with the trait and how it alters the behaviour of the character.

This becomes the foundation for the character. As I write the story, I will add to the timeline by marking seasonal notes. Example:

1637, Age 45: Third Born
Male, $name
1637, Age 45: Death of Wife
Winter, Childbirth
1638, Age 46: Death
Spring, Illness

I will try to leave the timeline as open ended as possible until the first draft is done.

The worst part about doing detailed character notes like this is the time investment it takes to ensure the timelines are accurate. However, it is well worth the time investment due to the sense of world I get from doing it. It also allows me to build an overall timeline for the kingdom I am working with. If I choose to do a true epic, this will allow me to build the kingdom timeline for the continent / global timeline.

I hope this sharing gives you something to think about!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Point of the Rough Draft

There are many types of writers. There is the casual writer, the serious writer and the professional author. While there are many different subsets of writers, I find that these three basic categories often catch most people. Not all people, of course, but like a good stereotype, there is truth to be found in it.

This could also match the experience level of the writer. A serious writer, however, can still be a beginner.

What does this have to do with a rough draft? It is simple. I strongly believe that these three types of writers view the rough draft in drastically different lights.

I will make a disclaimer here. This post is on a rampage with the stereotypes. In fact, there may be some good old fashioned mockery thrown in with the stereotypes. I am not making fun of any of you. In fact, I am poking the most fun out of myself, as I can see how my personal journey as a writer has reflected on this concept of the writer stereotype in regards to rough drafts.

The casual writer -- or "My rough draft is my final draft!"

When I started my journey as a writer oh so long ago, I was convinced that I was perfect and infallible. (Please. Snort. Laugh. Just don't choke on your tea or coffee. We'd rather the audience be alive to enjoy the rest of the humor in this posting.)

My first book. I was convinced that all I needed to do was send it to some fortunate agent who would be delighted to receive what would -obviously- be a bestseller...

I have to take a short break here to stop laughing at myself.

If you are in this stereotype, please do not be offended. There are a few people in the world who can write a perfect first draft. These people are often professionals. They are also extremely rare.

They typically write extremely slowly and do extensive plotting before they write a word to the page. Sometimes I would classify their 'plot lines' as a draft just due to their level of completeness.

As a casual writer, I think the importance of the rough draft is often lost or missed in the general excitement of writing a book. You may have written many drafts or you could be working on your first. No matter what, I think that it is very important that you take a moment to consider a point:

The rough draft exists for you to find out just what your story is about. It is there for you to experiment and to enjoy writing. It is not a place where grammar rules all. It should not be the place where you edit. You should be putting words to the page with the goal of expressing what you need or want to express in a scene. It exists for your personal gratification.

Edits are for the second, third and fourth drafts. Depending on just how far you took the experimental process, you may end up with five or more drafts. This is alright.

Writing is a lot of work, but you are supposed to have fun with your rough draft.

The serious and professional writer usually share very similar views on their rough draft policies. Of course, writing is a subjective task and there is no one right way to do it. But, I have not yet met a published author who did not make use of the rough draft as an experimental toy. I even know one lovely fantasy writer who realized her one book project was actually two books and split it halfway through her rough draft.

I seem to recall her worrying about what her agent and publisher would think of the sudden change. (To throw it out there, it worked out fine.)

The rough draft can surprise even the experienced professional. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment and to play. Edits are for the second draft.

The quicker that you acknowledge that your first story or your first draft will not be publishable (and barely tolerable in some cases) you will be much better off. You may even find yourself completing the first drafts quicker and more consistently.

That said, I feel that it is important that you remember one important thing:

You must find a style of writing that suits your needs. This starts with the rough draft, and must continue right through editing and polishing.

But I think it is definitely worth noting that the poor rough draft is underestimated and underutilized. Let your rough draft serve as a powerful tool in your writing hobby or career. The more freedom you give yourself to play in your draft and experiment, the more you will grow as a writer.

Publishers and agents do not want static authors who cannot mold their style and mature. In order to mature, you need to play. In order to play, you need to be flexible.

Most of all, you need to be willing to try and to leave your comfort zones.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo looms on the horizon

It is that time of year! NaNoWriMo is looming on the horizon and many people are trying to decide whether or not they wish to participate.

Here is my guide for diving into NaNoWriMo face first and surviving it.

For those of you in the Montreal area, I will likely be covering these subjects in an upcoming workshop in October as well as at Con*Cept. While I am still in talks with the good folks over at Con*Cept, an appearance by the Montreal ML crew is likely.

1: What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. While National implies it belongs in one country, don't worry. It takes place in many countries around the world. It does not matter what gender, age or occupation you have.

The concept behind NaNoWriMo is to write a novel in 30 days. Starting November 1st and ending at midnight on November 30, your goal is to write 50,000 words. This is technically shorter than some published novels, but it is long enough to properly classify as a novel.

You can view the rules of NaNoWriMo here.

Here is a glimpse of what is required to be an official participant: (Yes, this is a direct copy paste from the link above.)

* Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
* Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people's works).
* Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
* Write multiple words (not the same word repeated 50,000 times).
* Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

Pretty easy, huh?

Not quite.

2: Just how hard is it to win at NaNoWriMo

From my personal experiences, I have years I have won and years that I have not won. However, it is important to realize that the point of NaNoWriMo is not to win, but to experience the thrill of writing your own book. Sometimes victory is not in reaching 50,000 words, but the journey you took when you set out to do it. It does not matter if you succeed or fail. It matters that you tried at all.

3: I am not certain I have enough time to dedicate an entire month to NaNoWriMo! I have school, work, exams, etc...

Excuses get you no where. Do what you can as you can. Your goal is to write 1,667 words a day. If you know that you cannot reach that goal, set a smaller goal for yourself that you can win.

4: I really want to reach 50,000 words, but I don't know how to do it. Help!

Practice makes perfect. Writing a novel in 30 days is hard no matter how you look at it. Break your novel down into sentence sections. Sit down and force yourself to write a sentence. That goal is not difficult to meet. Anyone can write a sentence. Stop viewing your writing as 50,000 individual words that make a plot and a story. When you sit down, focus on the sentence you wish to write. If you're stuck and you do not know what to write, I find it is easier to focus on a small little piece rather than the overview.

5: This doesn't make sense. Novels are supposed to be good and well written. Why are you suggesting that I ignore my plot and focus on sentences? One sentences does not make a plot!

Oh dear. You're right! How could I have missed that? Why? Because NaNoWriMo is not meant to make a great story. In fact, I would state that NaNoWriMo is more about writing the crappiest story that you possibly can. If you do not care about quality, quantity will come. While professional writers do participate in NaNoWriMo, this month is not for them. It is for the person who has sat at their computer and wished that they could write a book. It is for those who have never accomplished something so large. It is for the unpublished writer who wants to taste sweet victory without a looming rejection on the horizon. There are no rejection notices in NaNoWriMo. The only person you have to please is yourself. If you do not have a plot but 50,000 words of rambling sentences, you have still succeeded.

You can try to write a book that makes sense later.

4: Seriously. Quantity over Quality.

It is worth a second look at. For the person who has never written a novel before, it is important that you get that first story under your belt. If your dream is to be published, use NaNoWriMo as a stepping stone. The first draft of a novel is there to find out what the novel is about. Use NaNoWriMo to make that first draft. You can repair the plots and do the other things this blog suggests in December.

5: Who should participate in NaNoWriMo? Who should not participate?

While I believe anyone can benefit from NaNoWriMo, or at least have a little fun, I think it is harder for the professional writer to get something productive out of it. Their livelihood is based on the quality of their writing. If you do not have a deadline and need to do a draft anyway, then it may be the ideal situation for a professional author. However, it really is meant for the amateur who doesn't know if they can reach 50,000. It won't stop me from participating, but I always keep in mind that I need to make certain I meet all of my requirements as a professional writer before I have fun with NaNoWriMo.

I have, however, made a point of ensuring that I won't have any contracts for November this year. /innocent

6: What do you suggest I do to survive NaNoWriMo?

I have hours of content on what you can do to survive NaNoWriMo. It won't all fit here. Not without writing a novel on the subject. To make a long story very, very short, here is a list of things that you can do to help yourself survive November.

* Get a writing partner who is working at NaNoWriMo with you
* Hook up with your Municipal Liaison. They are there to help you.
* Set aside a time specifically for your writing.
* Use sites like or to help you focus
* Keep high supplies of caffeine and sugar within easy reach.
* Turn off IRC, Twitter, Facebook, Instant Messaging and your phone when you write. They do not help you.
* Believe in yourself.
* Ask for plot help on the forums if you get writing block. Do not sit and stare at a blank screen.
* Write something. Anything. If you're blocked, writing angry commentary about how you're stuck might help you get unstuck. It may not make sense in your book, but you are writing and that is the entire point of NaNoWriMo
* Have fun. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, but this is a chance to do well without needing quality. Take advantage of it. You don't get the chance often.
* Help others as they have helped you. Take a break from your writing long enough to help someone else. How much they help you later may really surprise you.
* Remember -- there are thousands of people just like you participating. This can quietly lift your spirits even when you question why you are putting yourself through the nightmare of 50,000 words in 30 days.

7: How can I help someone else succeed at NaNoWriMo?

Sometimes the best support is quietly letting someone know that you are rooting for them and making yourself available if they need someone to listen. However, you help someone best when you tell them they should be writing rather than chatting if they have overcome their plot problem or have cracked through their writing block. Listen if it is necessary. Nudge them back to writing when it is not.

Good luck, everyone! I will be right there with you this year, rooting you on and hoping that all of you experience and enjoy NaNoWriMo as it was meant to be enjoyed.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Suspending Disbelief

While all types of fiction require that the author make their works believable, science fiction and fantasy share the need to actively suspend disbelief. Because of the very nature of these genres, failure to meet this lofty goal can result in unpleasant consequences. The worst of these being that the person reading your work is disappointed or dislikes your book.

If you are interested in selling your book to a publisher make note of this. If you cannot suspend disbelief for the average reader, potential agents and publishing houses are going to send you a rejection. If you are fortunate it will be a form rejection.

When I write a novel I try to focus on several things:

1: Making my storyline feasible within the rules of my world and society.
2: Make my characters as ‘real’ of people as I can.
3: I try to steal my character’s shoes.

But what does this mean?

1: Making my storyline feasible within the rules of my world and society.
Whenever I write a novel I set rules on the societies, the functions of magic or the processes of science that will take place. My science fiction piece has a planet with two suns. It is questionable, at the very best, that such a planet can exist.
In order to suspend disbelief I found one simple solution: the planet cannot exist for a long period of time.

In a golden cradle situation, where the planet is trapped just at the brink of the two battling suns, my characters fight for their survival by seeking a way to get away from their planet. Before either one of the suns exert dominance over the globe and it is destroyed out of that golden cradle zone where life can exist.
Weather patterns change as the planet is pulled towards the more dominant sun, and the sun that is being overwhelmed is being pulled with it. The one sun is dying a slow death, and the other will be consumed in the last moments of its sister’s destruction.

Especially as the villain accelerates the process.

By admitting how infeasible the concept is, it is possible for the reader to temporarily suspend disbelief and accept that this situation could – in the light of advanced science – be feasible.

In science fiction, suspending disbelief is even more important. A reader approaching a fantasy book wants to explore new worlds where things that cannot happen do happen. Science fiction fans want to imagine that something might – somehow – happen and want to see just how the author believes it can be so. Obviously there are some genres of science fiction that share the easily suspended belief of a fantasy book, but there are more genres that require a steady foundation and reasonable suspensions of belief.

2: Make my characters as ‘real’ of people as I can.

When I read a book, I want a character I can relate to on some level or another. Because of this, I try to make my characters as real as possible. I believe this is a key part of writing a good book. This is just my opinion, however.

Finally, 3: I try to steal my character’s shoes.

What the…?

I’m sure the shoes of these poor characters are not that comfortable. In fact, I like reading about characters that have to struggle and fail before they succeed. However, there is one thing I remind myself when I think of my characters’ shoes. If I am going to steal their shoes to walk around with, I want to be as far away from them as possible when they find out. This way, I have their shoes and I am really far away from them when they try to kick my butt.

No matter how you look at it, it often becomes a notable point that characters in science fiction and fantasy novels are really, really made of awesome sauce and could kick my butt in a street fight. I mean, really. Would you want to be caught with the shoes of a character that can shoot lightning beams out of their…
I’m sure you get the idea.

Writing is not an art where you can write about characters without leaving some sort of trace of yourself in them. It happens whether or not you are aware of it. This is due to the simple fact that when you write, you are drawing on your own skills, your own experiences and your own perceptions of how a society should be within your world. Some writers ‘get into the heads of their characters’ while others state they do not.

In either case you will often leave something of yourself behind. It is this link that will allow your reader to see glimmers of things that they can relate to with your characters. It is also this relation that will help you suspend disbelief.
I am not suggesting that you make every character a cookie cutter form of yourself. However, you need to somehow ensure that there is enough of a ‘human’ side to your characters – especially the protagonists – which they can believe in what these characters are doing.

The further outside of the realms of normality you stray the more important that this becomes.

Read your own writing and ask yourself one little question: If I had not been the one to write this, would I believe it?

Sometimes looking over your own works with a grain of salt and a lot of scepticism can help.

Good luck, writer. This is a long and difficult journey.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Success and On Failure

Today, I watched a video on facebook that made me stop and think.

It is the story of a man named Nick, who was born without arms or legs with a very simple message. If you fail, will you try again, and again, and again until you succeed?

Today, I wish to apply this message to the subject of writing both fantasy and science fiction. While this can be used in any genre of writing, there are some applications that just make more sense to use with both fantasy and sci-fi.

There is a common thread that the heroes and villains of both fantasy and science fiction pieces are healthy, strong and evil. At the very least, dramatically misunderstood. They often have to make efforts -- why would we read about these characters? -- but they almost always pick themselves up and succeed .

Usually without nearly half as much of the fuss that we feel as we go through life. (Emo or not.)

The more I think on it, I often see books or stories where characters deal with catastrophic injuries and somehow 'get all better'. Or they are given fake limbs. Luke Skywalker is a classic example. He loses his hand but proceeds to function just as if he had not lost it in the first place through use of replacement limbs. Anakin Skywalker is burned over most of his body and must use a respirator... but he is able to function just fine through the use of science and the force.

Characters are killed frequently in many stories. They are rarely disabled.

I believe that everyone enjoys a story with a happy ending, or at least the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, even if the ending is happy at the end. I do not think may people are comfortable about writing about disabilities, especially when it is not something that they themselves have experienced.

However, one of my favorite books of all time has a crippled boy as a main character. A catastrophically crippled from birth boy who rises above his disability to become something much more than 'just a cripple'.

It is this that I would like to offer as something to consider.

When you write, it is a daily process of getting back up and trying again. And again. And again. For every day that you do not work on your story, you have failed.

Every time you submit a novel for publication and receive a rejection from a house or an editor, do you allow this to bring you down? Does this failure mean that you lose hope that you will succeed?

As a fantasy or science fiction writer, you have the ability to twist the rules of reality to purpose the finer and more troubling aspects of life. You can turn a crippled man into a hero that can walk through science. You can play god with little regard to the real life and the real rules. We step out of the realms of normality each and every day.

But from the books I have been reading as of late, many authors do not pursue the thought of what it would be like for a cripple who does not benefit from the godly powers of science or the fantasy world they have created. Often, the handicaps characters face are emotional or magical in nature. Rarely physical.

Now, I am not saying it does not happen. It does. There are a lot of books I really enjoy that pursue this very subject. But these authors are known to push the envelope and write about things that will take you out of your comfort zone.

When you write you leave your safe, sheltered little box and step into a great big world. Many people write what they know.

My challenge for you is to write something that you do not know. Step into that big bad world and give it all you got.

When you fail, stand up and try again. And no one promised you a pretty novel on a silver platter. You will fail.

All that matters is never stopping trying to stand back up at the end of the day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Motivation and making excuses

It seems like one of the most common threads of discussion among writers is how to stay motivated. It can be hard. I fail at it myself. However, there are a few things that you can do to keep yourself going.

For me, I think one of the biggest things that helps keep me on pace is one very simple tip:

A novel is much larger than a sentence.

When I think of a novel and writing one, it is difficult to get past the scope of what I am doing. No matter how I look at it, the idea of undertaking a novel is enormous. You cannot sit down and write a completed novel in a day.

Really. I don't think it is statistically possible. Maybe if you were superman.

For those interested, you would have to write 2083 words an hour (34 words a minute) for 24 hours. Without stop. Maybe a very fast typer could manage it, but the whole lack of sleep and plot bunnies thing would probably prevent a successful completion. If you have managed 50k in 24 hours, however, I'd be interested to hear from you. What color would you like your shrine in? :)

I stray.

The point remains that the average person cannot write a novel in a day. However, the average person *can* write a sentence in a day. In fact, I would hazard that most people could write a sentence every few minutes, if they were really interested in doing so. Enough people manage to write many sentences in a few minutes on twitter.

Do not view your novel as a novel. If you have trouble maintaining your motivation when you consider your novel, view it as a connected series of sentences. Sit down, every single morning, and tell yourself the following:

Today I will write one sentence.

Sit down and write one sentence. Sometimes, just sometimes, that one sentence can bloom into several sentences. Time twists and warps, as your fingers settle into the steady rhythm of typing. Because you sat down with the goal of writing one sentence, you may find an hour has passed you by, and your moment of dedication evolved into something much better than a moment.

Do not tell yourself "I cleaned, I edited, I walked the dog. I took care of the children. Maybe I will find time tomorrow to write.

Do not push off to tomorrow what you can do today. If you have enough time to log onto twitter, check your saved searches, see who messaged you and respond, you have enough time to sit down and write your sentence.

The only person you fail is yourself. The instant you have time to go to a website like twitter, visit my blog, or go to facebook, you have enough time to write a single sentence.

After all, the greatest stories of all times began with a single sentence.

The only person that you fail when you choose twitter or facebook or a blog is yourself.

I wrote 2846 words so far today. That is many sentences.

It all started with one.

Stop viewing your novel as a novel, and start viewing it as a sentence that happens to have a lot of other siblings. Are you stuck? Don't think of the plot. Think of the next sentence. If you are still stuck, write something -- anything -- onto the page.

Even if it is something as simple as:

"I can do this."

Excuses hurt you and do not define your character as a writer. The difference between an author and a writer is quite simple:

The Author didn't make excuses.

They corrected what they were doing wrong, sat down at their computers or typewriters, and wrote their sentences.

You can do it, if you stop making excuses and start making sentences instead.

Quality will come with time.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up in November. Starting today, you can see what results practicing your sentences today can do for your writing of tomorrow.