Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Unsympathetic Characters - Do or Don't Write Them?

I wanted to elaborate a lot on my answer to #10 in the article mentioned in this post, because it deserves a longer, more sensible answer than sass and a head flip.

'No unsympathetic characters.'

I strongly agree that this is a rule that should be broken more, by writers who know when, where and why to break it.

I've seen a lot of advice to new and/or young writers, the gist of which is: 'make even your villains sympathetic because if there is no sympathy point, then readers can't identify with them.' 

I disagree.  Partly.

First of all, it is a general rule and should definitely be broken sometimes just because every story is different and unique and as you listen to each story in your head and learn its voice, sometimes it demands this kind of character.

More and more lately I've seen books that follow this general rule becoming shades of gray.  (*gasp* Yes, I said it and yes, I hate that book for forever ruining a perfectly good and very useful phrase.)  I've seen it take writers to a place where there is no black or white.  When everyone is sympathetic and even the villains are all excused, where is the line between what's wrong and what's right?

I personally believe that in order to identify with a character, a reader does not necessarily have to sympathize with them, but they do have to understand them over the course of the story.  I don't think that you have to make a character sympathetic in order to understand them.  (I also think that you can make a villain sympathetic without excusing them, but that's somewhat off-topic for today.)

Characters in a book or movie should be true to life, no matter how unrealistic or fantastical the setting is.  Humans stay the same, in all time periods, in all circumstances.  There is nothing new under the sun and humans will always be human with human reactions and emotions.  (If someone is writing about robots or aliens, obviously, this doesn't apply to them in the same way.)

Case in point: a character who wants power just for the sake of power.  There is nothing sympathetic in that.  Let's say he had no traumatic childhood, no reason to want power for revenge or payback, no one to protect with it or help with it.  He just wants power.  People like this really do exist.

Let's look at Hitler.  He may have had a rough younger years, he may have been lonely and what-have-you, and his national spirit may have been smarting under the blows and sanctions dealt Germany after WWI but guess what?  Most of his actions before and during WWII just can't be sympathized with or excused.  They were actions of arrogance and prejudice... and thus very human.  And although Hitler is an extreme example, every single day people do bad things from similar motivations; thereby leaving no way in which they can be excused or even evoke sympathy.

In fiction, we need realistic, three-dimensional human beings and sometimes this means just plain hate-able people. 

In the end, every single story is different and the key is just to listen to its unique voice in your head; whether this means villains who twist your heart because they've had tragic pasts and they let it turn them into what they are now... or whether it means someone who is just an absolute jerk for the simple reason that they can be and therefore have decided to be one.

Happy writing and may all your characters be realistic and understandable.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Writing 'Rule' Breaking: Sci Fi and Fantasy Edition

A few nights ago I stumbled on an article titled '10 Writing 'Rules' We Wish Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break More'.  I was chatting with a friend at the time and went down the list making snarky responses to each one.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to explore longer, more detailed answers to each rule.

I am and always have been a rule breaker.  Especially of so called 'rules' that govern creativity.  As a writer, I adhere to the quote 'write the book you want to read' and that means I ignore writing 'rules' about genre left and right.  Grammar and structure rules are an entirely different thing.  Those are most necessary.

As the article states, sometimes breaking the rules is the only way to tell a good story.  That is pretty much my writing motto; tell a good story and worry about the 'rules' laterHowever, I also agree that if you're a young and/or new writer, or even an writer with some experience but new to a genre, it's usually wise to follow the rules at first until you understand what you're doing.  That said, I want to explain why I usually break most of these rules.  The rules from the article are in bold and my snarky comments to my friend are in italics.  (I would plead 10-something at night, a headache and a virus except that yes, I really can be that snarky without any of those added stimuli.)

#1- No third person omniscient.  *snorts* Well shucks, I break that with pretty much every book I write.
Third person omniscient POV is hard to write.  It's hard mostly because it's a balancing act.  How much 'head hopping' is too little, how much is so much that it's confusing instead of enlightening?  I love it because I am a 'big picture' kind of writer and with this POV one receives a more complete picture of the world, because it allows me to display more of the layers of the plot, characters and story world.

#2- No prologues.  *snorts again* Yep, I break that one all the time, too.
I don't think I've started a book in the last three years that didn't have a prologue in it.  I understand why this is a rule.  I've read some cringe worthy prologues.  But used correctly they are a fantastic way of setting up the story.  I tend to think of prologues in the vein of a teaser at the beginning of a TV episode- before the opening credits roll.  It's something that sets up the story in a somewhat mysterious way, that whets your appetite and inspires you to keep going to see how it will be explained later in the book.  If it doesn't do any of that, I don't think the story needs one.

#3- Avoid infodumps.  Ehhhh, I've broken this one a few times but right now I'm really just trying to find my stride with description so I don't know how much of this I do or don't do.
I don't always skip infodumps in novels.  If the story has been set up correctly and given me question after question about the world and the plot, I will reach a point where I feel like grabbing the author and making them EXPLAIN.  At that point, I will sit through a five page infodump, yes.  Victor Hugo is a good example of how not to do infodumps though.  (And all people who have read Les Miserables snicker.)

#4- Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones.  *cough* Ummmmm, YOU try writing the huge character casts that I do without it becoming a series.  Nope, with few exceptions, I'm not breaking this rule.
I agree that good fantasy stand-alones can exist and it would be cool to see more.  But, from the standpoint of an author who constantly writes huge casts and complicated worlds, once you've built an entire world with many details, it's hard to only write one story about it or even to write loosely connected stand-alones- for example, spread out across generations.

#5- No portal fantasy.  Wellllllll, I'm breaking this one at least once.
Again, I agree this is cliche and has been used a lot, and that's why writers are now advised to stay away from it... but sometimes a plot device has been used so often for a reason.  People tend to like the idea of the possibility of a portal in our ordinary seeming world.  It's escapist at its best and I believe that when done correctly, it can still be fascinating and fun.

#6- No FTL (faster than light travel).  Ha!  Are you out of your mind?!  You betcha I'm putting FTL in Sci-fi/futuristic/sci-fantasy!
In my opinion, what's the good of writing speculative fiction if you can't insert some unrealistic things now and then?

#7- Women can't write 'hard' sci-fi.  I disagree that they can't... however, I'm not going to be one of the people who breaks this rule because I'm not good at the sciencey side of things, so I'll leave that to some other woman.
I think a woman can write hard, detailed science just as well as a man, but it's not my area of expertise nor my cup of tea.  I wonder if... many women tend to focus more on characters and character interaction and ethics as opposed to just the /science/ of hard sci fi and that's why this misconception exists?  I really don't know.

#8- Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world.  HA! Watch me!
Magic as a main plot in fantasy has been overused, (Look up sword and sorcery fantasy books from the 80s and early 90s.  Hilariously ridiculous.) and that's why writers today are advised to steer to the side of it.  But used correctly, magic can be a focal part of fantasy and it can be the foundation for an amazing story.  I believe that the key is to have it be one part of the harmonious whole, and equally blended with character dynamics and world circumstances, instead of just being there because someone was enamored with magic and decided to... basically liberally bedew the book with magic EVERYWHERE.

#9- No present tense.  Ehhhh, I'll do it sometime, just because it's a rule and I like to break rules and I think it can be good.
As with most of these rules, I think present tense can be done well and it can be fun.  Throw a somewhat absent minded chatterbox into a new world or a new set of circumstances and it's bound to be hilarious.  I've also personally seen it done well with an introspective character in a friend's book.

#10- No 'unsympathetic characters'.  Oh really?  TRY AND STOP ME.
The answer to this grew so long and involved that I'll be putting it into a separate post.

What do you think of these writing rules?  How many of them have you broken or do you intend to break at some point?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Beautiful People: January 2016


Beautiful People is a monthly link-up for writers, hosted by the fun and fantastic Sky and Cait.  This month's questions are about writing goals for 2016.

1. What were your writing achievements last year?
2015 wasn't my best year as far as writing was concerned.  I made progress on the second draft of Oath of Loyalty, the first drafts of Ebony and Aubergine and To See The Stars, the second draft of Venit Hora, and started several short stories for my siblings.  I also brainstormed several new ideas.

2. Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year?
I have two.  Finishing the first draft of To See The Stars and finishing the second draft of Oath of Loyalty.

3. List 5 areas you'd like to work the hardest to improve this year.
One: develop better self confidence about my own writing, and a clearer perception of what is actually good or bad.
Two: hone my writing for a more concise story flow.
Three: try to write at least one short story.  I'm rubbish at short stories because my comfort zone is the long and complicated type of story.  But this will be good practice for me.
Four: spend more time actually writing, as opposed to hours and hours of world building and plotting.
Five: not stress as much about perfectionism.

4. Are you participating in any writing challenges?
I host a monthly scene challenge on my blog, and sometimes take part in other monthly scene challenges.

5. What's your critique partner/beta situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?
I have a great group of beta readers in the girls of my writing group.  I'd like a few more- to have a more diverse base- so I'll look into that sometime this year.  My mother is a wonderful critique partner and technical editor, I have some fantastic critique partners in my best friends, and my sister is really good at catching spelling and continuity errors.

6. Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year?  Or are there specific books you want to read for research?
No plans to read any writer-related books right now.  For research, I'm planning on reading The Book of Five Rings and finishing Machiavelli's The Prince for starters.

7. Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?
Ooh, so MANY.  Hmmm, 'Arthur' (his name will change) from Crown of Pendragon.  I'll achieve it by reading even more Arthurian Legend material and just simple plotting of the story.

8. Do you plan to edit or query, and what's your plan of attack?
I'll be editing the second draft of Oath of Loyalty once it's done and then determining if it needs a third draft or not.  I haven't decided yet whether to self publish or try traditional publishing, so I don't know about querying.

9. Toni Morrison once said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what "holes" do you think need filling in the literary world?
I'm going to be writing a blog post about this topic soon, but in a nutshell, I think there is a lack of diversity in the literary world.  As for books I'd like to see more of: more well written, clean, books dealing with tough issues and showing that even in the dark, there can be hope and light.  I'd also like to see more English language historical fiction about little known historical figures and Asian and Middle Eastern history.

10. What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?
To have Oath of Loyalty published or on the road to being published, to have finished at least 2 more first drafts, and to have a solid plan in place for where I want to go with my writing in the next 3 years.

I've finished the revamp of the page about my writing, so if anyone is curious about what kind of stories I write, you can click the 'My Storyland' tab at the top of the blog.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Way of Fire

I'm a member of a fantastic writing group (seriously, these girls are the greatest) and one of our favorite group email activities is writer dares.  One person will suggest a dare, either quote or picture, and others then write a scene for the dare.  I don't participate much anymore but now and then it's fun and good exercise for the writing muscles to write a scene for the current dare.  While sorting through emails earlier today, I came across this scene I wrote for a dare months ago.  I remember that it had been a long day and I was tired but saw this picture, had a scene come to me and wrote it in less than ten minutes.

Suggested by Kathrine

The legend says I will rise from the ashes.  But who will set the fire if I lack the power? 

There is only one I can ask.  My single remaining friend, my battle partner, the one who never forsook me.  He who is one of the reasons I no longer have any other friends.  All of my former friends are dead to me now.  They do not understand that what I did was to save them.  This will be my final sacrifice.  Perhaps when I rise from my fiery grave, they will finally understand.

I walk through the flames that The Dragon has already kindled on the cliff walk, burning the scrub bushes that cling to the crumbling edges of the narrow path.  It is a Way of Fire and it seems fitting to me that my final road should be as fiery as my life has heretofore been.  Below the cliff people thickly crowd the plain, watching, always watching me.  I arrive at the top of the cliff and reach out mentally to The Dragon.
You are ready now? he asks.
I am.
You are certain this will save them?
If I were not, I would not have gone forward with it.
There is that in his eyes that speaks of homage to me.
Remember, you must fly far and fast after you have set the fire.  They will not bother you once you have left, if you are gone swiftly.
They will think that you sacrificed yourself to me, in the way the stories all tell of maidens being sacrificed to dragons.
It is well that they do.  Our world is not ready to accept the idea that humans could work with dragons instead of against them.  Ours has been a rare and beautiful partnership.
I do not want it to be over.
Nor do I.  But alas, the good of the many and the good of the few almost never march hand in hand.
Did I not know you would rise, I would not do this.  Even with that knowledge I do not know if I can.
You swore.  Honor your oath!

He had been pacing back and forth in front of the cliff while we spoke telepathically.  To the people waiting in breathless suspense below, it seemed as if he was savoring his victory before he pounced.  At my call, he drew back his head and in one more second, there was fire all around me.  The heat is suffocating, but it will be a few minutes before I am overcome.  I look out at the people below, the ones who are now safe.  They will never know all that has been done in secret to preserve their lives, but that is as it should be.

As the flames crackle and reach higher, The Dragon launches himself into the air, flying one triumphant victory circle around the cliff.  The people scream curses and imprecations at him.  He dives low over me, locking eyes with me one last time.  Once more, I feel his loyalty, so vibrant and strong it has always seemed to me almost as if it had a life of its own.  It's time to tell him.
Your loyalty has been beyond price.  I was not complete until I met you.
I love you.  I will always love you.
I will never forget you.  Perhaps we will meet again.
I will not cease to look for you until my eyes close in deathsleep.
I love you, too, you know.
Farewell, Firebird.
Farewell, Dragon.

"All We Have to Decide...."

"... is what to do with the time that is given to us."  Gandalf to Frodo, The Fellowship of the Ring

Today is one of those gray winter days with snow periodically falling.  The kind of quiet day that makes you turn inward and reflect.  This morning has seen much reflection on various topics, one of which was my writing and where its future lies.

In talking with my soul-sister Mirriam this morning, and asking her about her plans for her writing, I mentioned that I had made 2016 my year to pray, search and make decisions about my future in writing and publishing and added:
"You know those times when okay, you KNOW you were meant to write and put stories out there, yes? But, you look around you at the books you love to read and you know you're just so far short of the goal still and the quality of writing that you want to reach. But, you suspect that you'll be reaching for that goal all your life. And you wonder if there just comes a point where you have to set foot on the publishing road even though you're feeling so far short of the goal... because if you don't set foot on it now, you might not for 20 years...??"

She responded with beautiful encouragement about my writing and also said:
"...while we always have room for improvement, we should celebrate the victories we /have/ accomplished.   I look back at old artwork or novels and wish I could completely redo them, but I'd be wasting my life if all I could think was how they weren't good enough, how I'm better now, how I'm not better /enough/ now. Now is all we have, and it's up to us to make the most of it."

Since I was young, stories have flowed from me naturally.  They just come.  I've believed for several years now that being a writer was one of the paths that God intended for me to walk.  But if I never go beyond the writing stage or the revision stage to the publishing stage, I'm not walking that path to the end, am I?  I'm stalled in the middle somewhere.

It won't be easy.  I have self-confidence issues about my writing, to the point that they are, frankly, crippling.  The perfectionist side of me shudders to take the next step, quietly reminding me that in five years, I'll be looking back and cringing at how much better I could have been if I had waited. 

But it's necessary because for progress to result, forward motion must be made.  So, I'll take this next step on the path.  And in five years, when I'm tempted to look back and cringe, I'll firmly remind myself that if I hadn't taken the step in the past, I wouldn't be where I am in the future.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Quote Queste: January 2016 ~ Safe Haven

A new year, a new beginning and Quote Queste is back!

1. Take the quote below and write a short scene based on it.  It can be a scene for a story you're currently writing, one you plan on writing in the future, or you can make up characters solely for this challenge.
2.  Post your scene on your blog, with the banner from the top of my post and a link to my blog.
3. Come back to this post and leave a link to your post in the comments so the other participants and I can read your scene.
4. Have fun!


I look forward to seeing what you each write!

Thank You Lord For 2015

 Usually, at the beginning of each year, I post about what goals I accomplished during the previous year and which ones I didn't, and list my goals for the new year.  I'm not going to do that this time.  I did accomplish a lot of things.  But the best parts about last year were the deep lessons I learned.  Lessons that can't be summed up in lists of goals accomplished.

I had an incredibly tough year.  I battled black depression, hopelessness, enormous amounts of self doubt, and the ingrained, automatic response to not let anyone grow too close to me lest I would be betrayed.  I've clawed my way through two spells of injury-related PTSD that were quite frankly two of the toughest times I have ever endured in my whole life.  I've fallen down so many times and there were a few times when I didn't think I'd be getting back up for quite a while.  Overall, it's been one of the roughest years that I can remember.  But it's also been the best year that I can remember and that's because of the many new friends I made, the previous friends that I grew closer to and the lessons learned.

I learned that not everyone is just waiting around for you to show a crack; a weakness that they can then exploit.  It's okay to be annoyed that a sibling has interrupted your writing hour for the ninth time, as long as you don't let the annoyance rule you and your actions.

Betrayal and disloyalty are frankly, it's hell on earth; but the number of people who will betray you isn't as great as it sometimes seems.  It's okay to let some people grow close to you.  It's rewarding to take the step of faith to open up and find love and acceptance.  Not everyone will hold it against you that you need help with something.

It might be an awful piece of writing in your opinion, but the huge grin on a child's face when you hand them a story you wrote just for them, is precious.

Handwritten letters and the joy they can bring are underrated.

It's not silly to smile hugely when a random someone from the other side of the world likes an Instagram post you made.

It's okay to say 'I need to deviate from my schedule and write something else today, because of the state my mind is in.'

Spontaneity is not a curse to having a well-ordered life.

Even if no one heeds what you've said, sometimes you have to (kindly) speak the blunt truth into a situation anyway.

It only takes a few seconds of typing to let someone know that they look good.  Or that you noticed and appreciate something they did.  Or to ask them how they are doing.

Giving someone your time is sometimes the most important, comforting and/or special thing you can do.

Communication can be a huge headache but it's usually worth it.

Hugs are underrated.

Having a God who regularly reminds me that He does indeed love me, and care about what happens to me, and has a plan for me... is absolutely amazing.

People really are the most important things in the world.  We were created to have relationships- of all kinds: familial, platonic, romantic; and they are vital to the human psyche. 


Every year, I find that there are even more things for which to be thankful.  This year, as with most years, friends and family dominate my list.  I am consistently amazed by how God intersects the paths of people.  There is a long list of people I was especially grateful for in 2015 and whom I'm delighted to have by my side as 2016 begins.

Mom- who puts up with me and is there for me even on those days when she's POSITIVE I need my head examined.

My younger sister Erudessa- a beautiful girl inside and out and who joins enthusiastically in fandom talk.  She is also hugely encouraging when it comes to my writing - and scolds me heartily when I don't send her what I've written.

My little siblings- an unending source of laughter and showing us what the world looks like through the eyes of children.

Mirriam- literally the best soul-sister and MuseTwin a girl could ever ask for.  This Amazon will stay up until 2 in the morning with me, brainstorming and discussing everything under the sun, and then we'll get up after 6 hours of sleep and immediately dive off the deep end again into ethical and moral issues and how to deal with them in real life and writing.  Never too tired to listen to me rant about something for the 20th time, or to kick some sense into me.

Kate- my beautiful She-Panther, ready at any moment for a prowl over every kind of subject in the galaxy, and who drags me into all kinds of emotional and mental pain via stories of every kind, but especially kdramas.  Once wasn't enough in the year.  Nope.  It had to be four times.   Or is it five now?

Jessica- my Tigress Jie Jie- a wonderful big sister who sends me hilarious random videos, watches over me, prays for me, cheers me up, encourages me to never give up on my dreams, and does whatever she can to help me reach those dreams.

My Pixie-girl Lizzy- I can't wait to see what gorgeous things she will accomplish in life.

My adopted sisters Elfie and Shelby-  both of whom are precious in their own unique ways and some epic day, the three of us will be together in Real Life.  We'll talk Merlin, Doctor Who and Arthurian Legend until we're dropping of exhaustion and it will be FANTASTIC.

My two 'outernet' or 'RL' friends, Alisa and Iassica, who have stayed friends through the years and whose gorgeous children I think of as my adopted nieces and nephews.

My dear blogging pals and email correspondents Deryn and TomWildRose.  You girls never fail to put a smile on my face with your emails and comments.  You're always there for me and willing to listen or hug me.

Friends I've grown closer to this year: Kirsten- the terrific Legolas to my Aragorn; Kendra- ever ready for another adventure in exploring the world via writing; Lisa- the Pickle who scolds me to take care of myself and who I drag into new fandoms; Liz- my 'college niece' who will sit and trade analyses with me by the hour; Ashley- I'll never be sorry I persuaded you to do NaNo; Christi Ella- my fellow female INTJ, partner of hilarious and thoughtful discussions.

People I didn't even know existed at the beginning of the year but who I now can't imagine my life without: Dabby the energetic Chocolate  Bunny- Les Mis forever!; beautiful Laura Kitti- 20 pounds of crazy in a 5 pound bag was never so much fun before; Lauren- fantastic artist and fellow sarcastic commentator extraordinaire.

There is so much I want to accomplish this year, but above all else I want to make a difference for the better in the lives of people.  To make people see different points of view.  To leave them feeling that everyone, no matter who they are, matters in this world.

My quote for 2016: