Posted in Writing

I Cannot Be Held Responsible for My Characters’ Actions

 

Blameo

Around three weeks ago I received a call from one of my beta-readers. She was about 75% through my novel Set the Circus on Fire and wanted to let me know her thoughts, which I was both anxious and excited for. While she had many positive things to say, the conversation ended in a rant about my main character Capella, and how she (my beta-reader) thought that I should stop forcing Capella to make tremendously bad decisions.

I laughed.

I choked on my coffee.

I laughed some more.

And then, as gently and as trying-not-to-sound-incredibly-crazy as I could, I attempted to explain to her just how this writing thing works.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I should probably let you know that this post may or may not make me sound like the most mentally unstable person you’ve encountered on the internet today.

That being said, let’s move this train right along.

I’ve heard other writers mention that having characters is much like having children. You create them, you give them a name, you bake them cookies at 2 AM in the morning because they broke up with their boyfriend Fred.

I don’t have any children, but I agree with their sentiments.

Much like a parent, you watch your character grow, you watch them go through struggles, overcome, fail, succeed. You cheer with them, cry with them, and yell at them. You get frustrated. You forgive (most of the time). Sometimes you have no idea why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing.

Sure, I can set the scene, I can drop in random elements of chaos, but when it comes down to it, my characters are living, breathing people that are quite capable of making their own decisions and mistakes without my input. While it’s slightly disturbing to think that I have a bunch of independent people jammed inside my brain, it’s also a comfort. I would feel empty without them.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve completely lost control (I say to myself stubbornly). I still make decisions, I still lead the plot along, but sometimes I am just as surprised as the reader when Character X decides to kill Character Z because Character Z stole his girl.

So, I say this in defense of all my writer brothers and sisters:

Please don’t hold us (completely) responsible for our characters’ actions.

Don’t yell at us. Bring us cookies.

Maybe pie.

Chance is, the writer of a story is feeling the loss and/or bad decision of a character on a much deeper level than the reader ever will. Either that, or they’re cackling through it… it can go either way, really.

 

 

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Posted in Writing

Writer, Grim Reaper

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Character deaths are an interesting facet of storytelling. You create someone from nothing, nurture them, grow them, then murder the crap out of them.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m a literary murderer, or at least I’d like to think I have.

There’s no real middle ground with me – either killing a character doesn’t bother me at all, or I hate myself (at least for awhile) for killing them.

There are still characters that I’ve slain, to this day, that haunt me, but I know that killing them was the right thing to do. If you’re going for realism in your story, death, especially in war, is very likely to happen.

When I first started writing, I pretty much refused to kill off any main or semi-important minor characters. They were my friends, my allies, they marched on with their quest and never had to deal with any lasting consequences. Hell, I didn’t even cut off any limbs! Sure, I’d kill a mother or father here (however cliche, who doesn’t appreciate a tragic backstory?), a few minor characters there, and maybe even the villain, but never, ever would I touch my precious darlings.

But in all honesty, what’s the likelihood of all 10 heroes making it out of an ambush alive? Or a flaming maze? Or a battle? What’s the likelihood of them all being intact and unaffected?

I’m not sure what changed in me; if it was my writing that matured, or if after I had personally dealt with several deaths in my own life, I realized that death, although a horrible and tragic thing, has the potential to strengthen those around it. Suddenly your characters are being faced with a situation where the old, wise wizard is no longer around to guide them, or where the loss of their best friend is driving them forward.

Death may be hard to write, but it’s very real. Consequences are very real. Your characters dealing with lasting scars, ailments, or grief because of what they’ve been through is very real. If your characters are real, your readers will connect with them. YOU, as the writer, will connect with them.

Sometimes killing a character isn’t the right thing to do, but if it is, don’t be afraid.

I am always here to provide internet hugs.

Annnnnnddd now that I’m sitting here thinking about all my deceased characters, I’ll leave you to your killing while I go weep in the corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing

NaNoWriMo!

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Ever year in November, writers from all around the world participate in a crazy little event called NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month.

The goal?

Write 50,000 words in a month.

The prize?

A 50,000 word manuscript that you wrote.

Are you still with me?

On top of November, some crazy writers (such as myself) also choose to participate in “Camp NaNoWriMo”, which takes place in April and July. Camp is a little more casual in the fact that you choose your own word goal.

This year I’ve set the whopping goal of 75,000 words for July. I wrote 30,000 words back in April, but my story went completely off the rails and grew three arms and five subplots. My April novel will definitely be revisited, but for now, my focus is on July.

I’m happy to report that I’m 32 chapters into the outline for my July novel, The Alabaster Heir, and the more I outline, the more I cannot WAIT to get started! (That being said, I have also updated my Current Project page with the cover and synopsis for The Alabaster Heir!)

So, why on earth would I subject myself to this cruel sort of torture, you ask?

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I frequented the forums on GaiaOnline. If any of you know what that is, feel free to mock me or throw fruit at me (especially if it’s fresh and delicious fruit).

Anyways, I used to hang out on the writing forum, and one day I ran across a thread with the title “NaNoWriMo.”

I squinted at it, attempting to pronounce it to myself (which I’m sure I did terribly), then, in that fated moment, clicked the thread and opened the door to the rest of my life. Cue dramatic music and a montage of me furiously typing and screaming at my laptop at all hours of the day and night.

If I’m being honest, my initial reaction to  NaNoWriMo was one of deep sarcasm and many shrugs.

How could I accomplish the ridiculous task of writing 50,000 words in a month?

I thought it improbable, impossible. I ran away from that thread as fast as I possibly could, and yet the idea of NaNo continued swimming around my head.

A few weeks later found me at a writer friend’s house. I asked her if she’d heard about those other crazy writers on Gaia who were going to attempt to write a novel in a month. Long story short: She hadn’t. I showed her the thread. We ended up on the website. And then something kooky happened…

We both lost our minds and decided to do it.

I did write pretty frequently at that point in my life, but I had never finished more than a short or co-authored story, and I had no idea in hell how to outline.

If you’re a writer (or like writing, or enjoy long nights and excuses to drink caffeine), I SO SO SO encourage you to try NaNo! Do it in November! Do it in July! Do it in April! Heck, make your own goal during your favorite month and write until you can no longer feel your fingers! (FYI it doesn’t have to be a novel. Some people do a series of short stories or poems or a script or whatever the heck they want.)

Even if you don’t finish, even if you get 5k in and decide that you hate your story, YOU STARTED SOMETHING WONDERFUL!

NaNo taught me to make goals in my writing, and to be serious about those goals. Writing is a muscle. You have to work it as much as you possible so you can be the lean, mean, writing machine you were always meant to be.

I thank the writing gods for that silly thread in that silly forum so many moons ago. Ten years later I’m still doing NaNo and I wouldn’t trade the missed sleep, over-consumption of caffeine, cancelled social plans, or lost sanity for anything.

Thanks to NaNo I’ve finished several novels (revisions are another story, but we’ll talk about that later), learned my style of outlining and what works for me, and have set and accomplished other writing goals that I never thought I’d be able to accomplish – like writing every day, for one.

Yes, let the plot flow throughhhhh youuuu. And come do NaNoWriMoooooooo!

Condensed version:

I’ve learned a lot from NaNo. NaNo is my bro. Let NaNo be your bro. Do NaNo. Let me know. We can suffer together.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Writers Are Basically Pirates

Writers and pirates have a lot in common.

And no, I’m not talking about the proverbial internet pirates, I’m talking about daring and dangerous scavengers with eye patches who sail the tumultuous seas in search of treasure or another bottle of rum (or both… both is good).

As writers, we sail the great muse sea in search of elusive ideas and… well, probably rum.

I had a writer friend come to me this week, confessing that she hasn’t been able to pin down any of her stories lately because she feels like every time she writes something down, she’s copying someone else’s story.

Concerned, I started questioning exactly what she meant. What it really dwindled down to  was little concepts – someone finds a magical talking artifact, or the world has been overtaken by zombie-like creatures, or dystopian overlords are forcing the youth of their nation to do terrible things and stand for something they oppose.

My friend isn’t alone. I, too, have had those exact same thoughts.

Oh my god. They’re going to say that I stole this concept.

This is way too much like that video game that just came out.

I can’t have a magic school. There are already too many magic schools.

But, here’s the thing. Most concepts, just like names, are not exclusive.

No one looks at The Walking Dead and shouts, “THEY STOLE THE CONCEPT OF ZOMBIES! THEY AREN’T ORIGINAL! BURN THEM! BURN THEM ALL!”

I mean, as long as you’re not dropping a character named Catnuss into an arena for the Hangry Games, you’re pretty safe these days.

Sure, I personally think there are some concepts that are overused, tropes that I try to steer away from, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t successfully use them. That doesn’t mean that you can’t successfully use them. It all depends on your approach and how you present an idea.

To drive my point home, I looked at my friend and asked, “Did J.K. Rowling create magic?”

“Well, no..” she replied.

“Did J.K. Rowling create Latin, the language from which she pulls most of her spells?”

“No, she didn’t.”

Point being, there are so many elements to a story that could be looked at initially as a “copy” of something else. I ended up telling my friend that she needed to try and erase the word “copy” from her vocabulary when it comes to writing, and replace it with the words “borrowing concepts.”

So what do writers and pirates have in common, you ask?

We’re all scavengers.

As long as you’re not plagiarizing someone else’s work (sorry, Catnuss, no Hangry Games for you), there is nothing wrong with borrowing concepts.

We are creatures of habit and so are our readers. We like certain repeated ideas. The magic quest to save a far-off land, a forbidden romance, an innocent thrown into an impossible situation, a youth forced to train and learn something that will mean the rise or fall of his or her people, war, an impossible heist, etc.

Look at how successful GRRM has been with Game of Thrones. His books include common fantasy tones – war, terror, dragons, crazy religions, and so many concepts borrowed from history. It ALL came down to how he presented his story, characters, and ideas.

I’m preaching to the choir on this one, but I truly believe that we, as writers, should not be afraid to use concepts and ideas that may already be in circulation. Make the idea your own. Present it in a way that no one else has. Put a spin on it. Maybe you have a vampire, but he’s a kleptomaniac and he’s afraid of children. Maybe you have a “crazed dystopian government” and reveal halfway through the book that the government is actually right.

Seriously. There are so many pieces of ripe fruit for the picking, and it’s your privilege to decide just how those pieces fit together.

Don’t. Be. Afraid.

You’re a fierce writing pirate, for god’s sake.

Disclaimer:

If you decide to add pillaging and burning to the menu (you know, to enhance the whole pirate persona), don’t blame me when the FBI shows up at your door.