Characters, Plot, Drama, and Stupidity

Thank you for the support (I’m assuming the likes are a way of being supportive instead of saying you’re glad I can’t post 😉 ). I don’t know what happened or why but the gremlins infesting my devices seem to have gone. My computer is still sluggish at times, but not nearly as bad as it was. And my phone is being less finicky about charging. So I am not currently replacing either, though I may do so in the not-so-distant future. Anyway, for now, I’m back. This week’s Pinterest, in addition to writing pins, I’m going to include a few personal ones. Be sure to check it out. Not sure what FaceBook will be yet, but hopefully that will be interesting too.

If anyone is curious, I did not win NaNoWriMo this year, only made it about half-way. It didn’t help that my work schedule increased and that two weeks in a row I spent my days off work traveling. I considered trying to push the last week, maybe even pull an all-nighter or two, but I was already sick, and it didn’t seem a wise plan. Especially since I was struggling with plot ideas. Moon Fox 3 will come, but I’m putting it on the back burner for now.

Now, the post. This is going to be interesting because I actually somewhat changed my mind on the topic I’m posting on.

I was at the gym last week, and on one of the TV’s, Supernatural was playing. I personally don’t watch the show because I have a low fright threshold, but my sister is a fan, so I was able to recognize it and the main characters. I knew that salt was used at thresholds to keep the bad things out, or in. They didn’t come up with that, salt was a universal deterrent against ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night. I’ve used it in a few works myself. Well, someone tampered with the line of salt and a red shirt * got eviscerated (I don’t have a very high gross-out threshold either, which is another reason I don’t watch the show.) When the main character came in the room and spotted the poor dead red shirt, the traitor who claimed they found him like that, and the break in the line, he confronted the traitor. They got in an argument, and the traitor started monolog-ing. And I yelled at the tv twice telling him to stop arguing and fix the salt!

He didn’t and only escaped a messy death by a contrived coincidence* that barely avoided being a deus ex machina. Now, to clarify, I am not saying that Supernatural is a dumb show or that the character is stupid. Supernatural is an extremely popular show that must be doing something right, and I’m told that character is generally pretty smart. Maybe he is, but that was a dumb move on his part. And let’s face it, if the audience is irritated with your character for making dumb choices, then they probably aren’t enjoying your story. To give the show credit, they got a viewer (me) who wasn’t familiar with the show and had no emotional investment in the characters and who couldn’t even hear the show (I was reading captions) interested enough to scold the character for being an idiot. And remember the incident almost a week later.

My original plan was to talk about how to create drama without your character making really dumb choices. But I changed my mind somewhat.

I’m a cashier as my day job. I was ringing up a woman who had two kids with her in the ten to twelve year old range. The boy was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt but only the hood part. I asked him if he was a modern day Little Red Riding Hood. He laughed and agreed. His mother and I agreed that he shouldn’t talk to wolves. I followed up with something like, “After all, if Little Red Riding Hood had run away when that wolf talked to her… then she wouldn’t have been immortalized in literature. Her sister, Little Brown Riding Hood did run away, and no one’s heard of her. Have you heard of her?” The woman agreed she hadn’t. “Neither have I. Because I made her up just now.”

Humorously enough, the woman suggested I write a book. I told her I had written several though none were about Little Red Riding Hood. Later I realized that wasn’t quite true. I had written a short story variation of Little Red Riding Hood, where I twisted everything.

But my main premise is that your story might require your character to make stupid decisions. Or at least, not the wisest choice possible. Go with what the story requires, but also go with what’s in character. And why not see if you can create the same level of drama and conflict by having the main character make smart decisions? Might be a way to avoid clichés.

Find a way to make staying in the Haunted House scary even when your main character is smart enough to avoid the basement, refuse to split the party, and strongly suggests that maybe they shouldn’t try to stay past midnight, they can come back in the daylight. Armed. Write the first contact story where the two races don’t assume that the others are necessarily like them and that their misunderstandings may be misunderstandings, not necessarily a prelude to war. Not that they shouldn’t be prepared, just in case. And once, just once, I want to see the inevitable fight in a burning building stop with the parties agreeing to a temporary truce at least until they get outside the building.

Your characters will make mistakes. Even smart people do dumb things sometimes. They’re human (or whatever race they may be). But make sure those mistakes are in character. Remember that the average reader only has so much patience for a character they consider an idiot. How much time do you think the average reader will spend on a story where they spend a significant amount of time wanting to smack some sense into the characters?

Mind you, there may be times where that happens. I wrote a scene in Nightmare’s Revenge where if I wrote it right, the readers will want to shake some sense into the characters. But it not only is required by the plot (and it is), it makes sense with the characters.

So, best of luck.

By the way, is anyone interested in reading my totally twisted mixed up version of Little Red Riding Hood?

*Site has NSFW Language.

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Thanks and apologies

First of all, you guys are awesome and I love you all. I was amazed at the turnout for a post I was so unsure of. Thank you so much. Secondly, I must apologize. Both my phone and computer are going through serious issues, and it looks like I may have to replace one or both. Something I’m not sure I can afford to do. Because of that,  I am having trouble posting or even just getting the computer to work properly long enough to write a post (I’m borrowing someone else’s right now). There will be no blog, Pinterest, or Facebook this week, I’m sorry. Hopefully a solution will be found quickly and cheaply and I can resume normal schedule next week.

Speaking of Pinterest, I’ve been using Quozio to pin quotes from my books. A nice program, but a little limited. Can anyone recommend a good free, preferably non-download program to make quotes? It has to work on PC because my smart phone is more of a dumb phone. Thank you so much for your patience and support.

Plotting vs. Pantsing

Wow! Last week’s post is the most popular I’ve ever written. I’m torn between ‘You guys are amazing!’ and ‘What did I write?’. Well, you are awesome. And I hope this post doesn’t disappoint. I’m a little worried about it, to be honest. A simple google search will reveal a ton of articles on this subject.

Writing a story is every bit as much a journey as reading a good story is. And like every journey, how you get there can be as important as where you go.

It’s possible to take a trip where you plan out everything in advance to the point of knowing where each stop will be and how long you’ll stay there. It’s possible to just get in a car and drive, going wherever your fancy takes you. Most people probably do something in between most of the time.

Writing is exactly the same. Some people know exactly where the story is going to go, every twist and turn, before they put words to paper. Useful for more complex works or mysteries. Also you seldom end up lost. But then again, you may miss some of the joy of discovery. Others just start writing and see where it takes them. NaNoWriMo is especially made for these people. Stories are generally less predictable, but it is possible to write yourself into a corner or just end up blocked.

I suspect most of us try a middle ground. (Sometimes called Plantsing). We have some idea of where we want the story to go, but continue to make up things as we go along. This is what I usually do. With a pretty heavy side of pantsing. My current story, I have little to no idea what’s going to happen. Even with its’ prequel, my most planned out story yet, I ended up coming up with a major side plot just because I decided that there was no reason for the Main Character to get the information she wanted just yet. It was too early.

So, which one is best?

None of them.

These are tools. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. If I waited until I knew everything in a story, I would never get a thing written. But my stories are disorganized in the first draft and need a fair amount of revision and it isn’t uncommon for me to just blank out at various spots. A little more organization would probably help me out. Other people would be driven mad trying to write with as little to go on as I sometimes have.

Not one of these is better than the others. It’s simply what works for you. Experiment. If you’re used to planning everything out, why not try a little more freewriting. You make everything up as you go along? Try plotting things out a little more. Use your Writer’s Bible. Not every story needs the same combination. Maybe a little more planning for a mystery, maybe a little less for a romance. (Or switch them, see what happens). Have fun. If the journey isn’t fun for you, what’s the point?

Speaking of journeys, I missed last week’s Pinterest and Facebook updating, partially because of travel, but I plan to update them both this week. For any traveling this week, safe journeys. And Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

Worldbuilding 101: Holidays Part Two

You guys are awesome. I don’t know if last week’s blog resonated with a lot of readers or you were taking pity on an insecure writer (I’m hoping for the first, but I’ll take the second.) but I got more likes faster than any previous post.

You may also be behind the upswing on my Pinterest account. Still didn’t sell any books on kindle, but I remain hopeful.

So, holidays, part two. The problem with putting this off two weeks is I can no longer remember what it was I wanted to say. Hopefully I can remember and put in some good points anyway.

When is your holiday? Is it by the solar calendar, the lunar calendar, always the same day of the week? Christmas is by the solar calendar. It is always December twenty-fifth. Easter is reckoned by the lunar calendar, because Passover is by the lunar calendar. It is also always on the same day of the week (Sunday), like American Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, it’s on the second Monday in October.

I can see the Weres using the lunar calendar more commonly, and perhaps the vampires wish to avoid the solar calendar as well. Do races that interact with each other more start using other calendars?

Perhaps your races use another calendar entirely? In Knightfall, there is brief mention of a Yeti holiday, First Winter’s Night which begins the Festival of Ice. Winter is declared to begin when the ice is thick enough to support the full weight of an adult yeti. But no one knows when that will be ahead of time. Also in Knightfall, Violet wishes a goblin RA a happy Mid-year’s day on New Year’s Eve, because the goblin New Year is sometime in June, based on goblin constellations. So, a stellar calendar. Maybe your holiday revolves around a blooming of a plant or the return of a migratory bird or animal.

How is time measured? Without a moon, we may not have months as we know them and it would be harder to differentiate the beginning and end of the year.

Holidays can be heavily linked to the values of the culture. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Because as a society we are supposed to be grateful and honor our parents and ancestors. Some holidays are made up for commercial reasons. Does anyone really think there is a good reason behind National Ice Cream month other than to sell more ice cream? (I originally used National Pancake day and National doughnut day, but apparently there are reasons behind them.)

Most religions have a day they consider more sacred than others. Most Christians (other than Seventh Day Adventists) have Sunday as a day of rest. Most Jews (and the Seventh Day Adventists) consider Saturday the Sabbath. The Muslims consider Friday a holy day. This is essentially a minor holiday each week. If you are inventing a religion for your race, a weekly holy day is not a bad consideration.

When does the holiday begin? Is it at midnight? At dawn? At sundown the night before? How old is your holiday? You may not think that matters, but it does. What a holiday is meant to be is not always closely related to what it becomes after some decades of time. Memorial Day is supposed to be a time to remember those who have fallen in battle. It was originally observed by decorating the graves of soldiers (and by some partisan speeches and bickering). But it has been turned into a three day weekend which is often celebrated by cookouts. I don’t believe I did anything last Memorial Day. I’m not passing judgement, but I think we can all admit the holiday changed over the years. The further a holiday is from the original founding, the more likely that the meaning and way of celebrating has changed.

Have fun making up your own holidays and celebrating the upcoming ones!

A little note, I’ve made Hyde University pins. You can see them and read about the development of the Hyde University crest on Facebook.

Impostor Syndrome and Writer’s Envy

Sorry about being late posting this week. Yesterday was supposed to be spent catching up on my NaNoWriMo word count, and I didn’t really succeed on that either. I also appolgize for changing the topic I had planned. I still plan to do a Holidays Part Two (probably next week), but wanted to cover an issue (two, really) that I’m struggling with a bit right now.

First off, Impostor Syndrome. The feeling that you are actually a failure, and sooner or later, everyone is going to catch on. It’s actually extremely common, and ironically, it becomes more common the more successful you become.

I’m working on a new book, and the plot simply isn’t coming. I don’t know what I’m going to write. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I definitely don’t know if I’m going to finish fifty thousand word this November. I’ve been okay with rewriting, but have had a hard time coming up with anything new for almost a year. Maybe my creativity has run out…

No, it hasn’t. And I know it. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling that way sometimes. Doesn’t stop me from wondering what right do I have to advise other writers. Doesn’t stop me from wondering why I even bother to write.

But I know why I write. Because I can’t not write. Sure, times will happen when I have a dry spell, maybe even a long one. But I’ve been there before, and that time will pass. I will come up with new ideas, and while the book I’m working on (Book three of the Moonlit Memories series) may not be written this month, it will get written.

Which comes to the other part. Will it be any good? Will people want to read it? What right do I have to convince people to spend their hard-earned money on my books? Is my writing good enough?

I re-read my work, and I see the flaws. I see the stupid typos and mistakes that somehow made it through despite the story being checked by three different people. I see the factual mistakes I made despite checking for the truth. I see the lousy sentences, the places where the plot is thin, where the characters don’t act like they should. I read the story I’m currently working on and it’s lousy in parts.

But it’s a first draft. All first drafts are lousy. It’s the nature of first drafts. There are a small, infinitesimal number of people who can write a good first draft, but most of us, are re-writers. If we get a good finished product, does it really matter if it was draft one or draft fifty-one?

I know that I am not the best writer in the entire world, because there is no such thing. Your favorite writers are not my favorite writers, and writing is subjective anyway. By the same quality, I’m not the worst writer in the world.

I believe that I am a good writer. I know that there are others who like my writing. It is my hope that someday there will be a lot more people who enjoy my writing. Will I suffer from Impostor Syndrome in the future? Undoubtedly.  But in my case, knowing that others, even ones as famous as Maya Angelou  and Neil Gaiman (Do read the Neil Gaimon link, it’s great!) suffered from it too, helps.  Hopefully it helps you too.

In a weird irony, I think Impostor Syndrome is linked to Writer’s Envy. Basically, the other side of the same coin. “I’m a better writer than …. Why are they so successful and I’m still struggling?” Or, “I deserve this award more than…” Or, “How did so and so sell ten thousand copies of their book, and I only sold three thousand? Or none.”

It takes a certain amount of arrogance to be a writer. To assume that others will actually want to read your thoughts, your stories. We have to assume that our work is worth reading.

And the cool thing is, it is! Your work does have worth, and no matter how good or bad your writing is, there will be people who love it. And there will be people who hate it. Because you can’t please everybody. And there is no guaranteed way to please the majority either.

But it can be hard sometimes, comparing yourself to others. Wondering why they get success and you don’t. I’m running a sale on Secrets of the Moon Fox on kindle, ($0.99 right now). It’s been going on for almost a week and the sale ends tomorrow. It hasn’t sold a single copy yet. Despite my advertising it here, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’ve had two new books come out, and so far, neither have sold a single copy. I don’t think I need to tell you how discouraging that is.

But it is not because I am a lousy writer. People who read my books seem to enjoy them. I get likes on these blog posts. I know I can write.

It’s because I am an obscure writer. So I continue. The only way to succeed is through continuing until I am less obscure. But only I can determine what success is for me. And if I continue to compare myself to others (“I’m not successful until I’ve sold as many copies as …”), then I will only make myself miserable. And that kind of comparison has the tendency to move the goal posts. First we have to sell two stories like John did, then, when we do that, we have to get at least as positive a review as Susan did, then we have to sell a book like Luke did…

Remember, we’re all writers. We’re all a little crazy in our own way, and while our work is just as worthy to be read as someone else’s, that someone else’s work is just as worthy to be read as yours. The writing world is big enough for all of us.

 

P.S. You could make me deliriously happy by buying a book, or even just reading them in the Kindle lending library. First chapter of Secrets of the Moon Fox is available for free online here, for those who like to try before they buy. I am also made happy by likes and comments on my blog posts, likes and comments on Facebook, and saves on Pinterest. And I love positive reviews. Basically, any interaction makes me happy.

Tricks and Treats

Nightmare’s Revenge is now available on Amazon in paperback and kindle! Yay! To celebrate that, and my birthday (tomorrow) I have a present for all of you.

From November 1st to November 8th (I don’t remember the exact hours), Secrets of the Moon Fox will be available in kindle format for a reduced rate. The rate goes up as time passes so get it early. It is so important to read Secrets of the Moon Fox before Nightmare’s Revenge that I am hesitant to even post the first chapter of Nightmare’s Revenge online like I did for the rest.  For non-spoiler-y (mostly) excerpts of both books, check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts.

I had a lot of things I wanted to mention in the blog post about holidays, but I had to finish up in a hurry and get to work, so I’m turning yesterday’s post into Part One, and Part Two will be next week.

Happy Halloween!

Worldbuilding 101: Holidays

Since tomorrow is Halloween, this seems like an appropriate time to mention holidays. Holidays are intrical to our culture, and always have been. I see no reason for that to change, or for it not to be the case for non-human sentients. While you can ignore them completely, they can also add a fascinating layer to your stories.

Holidays are, at their heart, community affairs. Even private holidays, like birthdays and anniversaries, are usually celebrated with a group, at very least family. Some holidays are major holidays. Whether you celebrate it or not, you know that Christmas is December 25. That happens to be the only day of the year my current job isn’t open. But on the other hand, without looking it up, I can’t tell you even what month ‘National Secretary’s Day‘ is. Apparently that’s in April in this country (and is a little more complex than I realized). Is your holiday one that affects the entire community, or one that is mostly ignored?

That can change depending on location. No one cares here whether or not I wear green (or orange, since I’m Protestant and green is supposed to represent Catholics) for St. Patrick’s Day. It seemed like a bigger deal when I lived up in Pennsylvania and Delaware. And I’m told (though it’s probably exaggerated) that wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood on that day in Ireland can be a good way to get hurt. When I lived in Russia, December 25th wasn’t a holiday at all. Under communism, Christmas was banned, and the holiday moved to New Year‘s. People have new year’s trees, Grandfather Frost gives out new year’s presents, etc. They do have a Christmas, which is January 7th, and that is purely a religious holiday, and generally a quiet one. Meanwhile, International Women’s day (March 8th) is a big deal over there, and it is customary to give flowers to women of your acquaintance. In the States, most people probably don’t know when that is.

Is your holiday historical, religious, or tradition? Do people get off work and school? Or is it mostly just another day? How is your holiday celebrated? Food is an important part of most holidays, either the partaking of or abstaining from. In the United States, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, but not other holidays for the most part. In Russia, almost every holiday was celebrated with fireworks. We would stand on our balcony and see over a dozen different displays.

How do you come up with holidays? Pretty easily. Look at what’s celebrated around the world. Most cultures have a day for remembering the dead (often, but not always, in the fall), a day for renewal and rebirth in the spring, a day for the founding of their nation or people group, a day for their leader or leaders (President’s day here, other places may celebrate the birthday of the current ruler), and at least one community gift giving festival. Your story involves a colony of humans on Mars? What about colony founding day? Or the birthday of the first leader? Your main characters are a community of Elves? Probably a few nature based holidays.

Different people celebrate holidays differently. The way my family celebrates Christmas is different from anyone else I’ve heard. Your family traditions are not the same as another’s. Different groups (racial, ethnic, or religious) will probably celebrate different holidays. Can minorities celebrate their holidays openly?

Okay, but what if you want to write a darker story? No feel good holidays here. Well, holidays have their darker side too, don’t they? Any holiday that involves drinking runs the risk of drunkenness and the assorted chaos that goes with it. Stress goes up during the holidays, as does domestic violence. Those who have lost loved ones find holidays particularly hard. And what if your holiday has a darker side built in? Who says that the vampires don’t have a few humans kept in stock for Bloodletting Day?

Holidays are what you make them. Enjoy.

Book note. Nightmare’s Revenge, the sequel to Secrets of the Moon Fox comes out tomorrow. Check it out. Warning, this is one case where you really do have to read the first book first. More information to come. Check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts. I’ve got excerpts up and random quotes from my books. It’s fun.