Tuesday, January 31, 2017

First Person Narration: I'm Going to Tell You a Story

Hello!  It's Grace.  Again.  Because Faith keeps piling more and more responsibilities onto herself and may or may not be trying to drown in her own overachieving ambitiousness.

I recently started writing a small story in first person.  We'll see how much of a flop it turns out to be, but it got me thinking about first person in general, and what makes it different from other forms of narration.  Let's really quickly go over the other types, just in case you're like me and don't think about them on a daily basis.

Third Person Omniscient: This is when the person writing the story is "looking down", so to speak, on all that occurs, while having access to every character's thoughts, feelings, or options.  In other words, you get all sides of the story.  Charles Dickens writes A Tale of Two Cities with this type of narration.

Third Person Limited: The writer is still looking down at all the events, but this time can only access the internal workings of one character.  This character is the center of attention, and the filter through which events and other characters are viewed.  The Harry Potter series uses this type, Harry being the character whose thoughts Rowling lets us see.

Second Person: This rarer form of narration is when the writer makes you a character in the story, and then tells said story as though you were witnessing it.  I haven't read an entire novel in this style yet, and what I have read has been difficult for me to read.  It would sound something like "You put your keys on the kitchen table and stepped over to the phone.  Hoping he wasn't in a meeting, you dialed Roland on the phone and waited impatiently for him to pick up."

And finally we have First Person.  This is when the character is telling you the story from their point of view, as they experienced it.  Instead of the author looking down from their throne in the clouds, they step into the character's shoes and use "I" and "we" pronouns, as though the character is telling the story themselves.  This way of writing is extremely limited, as you see nothing but what the narrator chooses to tell you.  It's also very handy for unreliable narrators, because you are forced to trust them to tell you the right story.

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This is by no means a complete list.  There are a lot of sub-categories as well.  You can have third person omniscient limited to only a few characters, and whether the story is happening in the past or present changes things up a bit too, but I figure this is enough to be getting on with.

Now before I present you with my signature numbered list, let me warn you that while this is by no means my first attempt at first person (hey, that sounds cool!), this is not an area I like to brag about.  These tips are just as much for me as they are for you.

1. Give your character a narrating style.
This is something I think I've nailed so far with this story.  Just like everybody has a different way of saying things in real life, your character isn't going automatically assume a standard speech just to make life easier on you.  Oh no.  They're going to describe things in roundabout ways, they're going to be terrible at descriptions, and they're going to force you to stay that way For.  The.  Entire.  Book.  Does your character tend to go on and on about something in long sentences?  Or does she keep it short and to the point?  For example, "her hair was pink", versus "her hair was the color of summer, happy and flushed, a bright fuchsia that no one could dim".  Do they tell the story like one long narrative, explaining lots of things and speaking loosely?  Or do they give you nothing but the bare bones, formally and tersely?  Similes or Metaphors?  Are there even descriptions at all?  Even if this isn't your normal writing style, keeping true to your character is very important when writing in first person.

For example, I have not once in my life of writing described something like this: "Flat and lifeless, like an under-cooked pancake left out in bad weather for a week." But does my character? Absolutely. How he knows what an under-cooked pancake left out in bad weather looks like, I don't want to ask. In short, your character is going to have their own way of communicating, and you're going to have to adapt.

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2. Your character will speak differently depending on where he's from.
No, you don't have to write in a Scottish accent, or a German accent, or something like that, but if your narrator is British, he's going to say "rubbish", "tube" will mean the subway, "lorry" will mean truck, and so on and so forth.  If he's American, he's going to say "trash", "truck", and "subway".  Bear in mind, however, not every British person turns their nose up and sips their tea like Mycroft, and not every American is a New York gang member or a bowlegged cowboy.  

This also means that any incorrect grammar is going to have to be incorporated.  If he says "ain't" , write "ain't".  I know, I know, this is a shock, now calm down and have a cupcake.  It's really okay for your character to be imperfect.  I mean, we mess up our own language half the time anyway, so it's perfectly plausible that a character would do the same.  

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3. Your character can't tell you the whole story, or might choose not to.
Because you only see things from one person's point of view, you're not going to get the entire picture.  Your character can't read other people's minds, she can only go off what she sees and guesses.  If someone else gets angry or is mean to her, she might retaliate and hate that person.  If we could see the other person's side of things, however, we might find a reason for their actions which was not what our narrator assumed in the least.  This can also happen if you have a particularly young or naive character, who genuinely doesn't know what's going on because of a lack of life experience.  Your character might not intend to lead us astray, she just didn't get an important part of the story.  

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Unless, of course, she does want to lie to us.  Because she is our only window into the events in the story, she is the person we trust to tell us exactly what is going on.  Your narrator can choose to withhold information just as easily as they can give it, they can tell you one story in the beginning and suddenly change it halfway through, and they can leave a crucial piece of information for later.  In other words, the narrator can do whatever she wants, and give us whatever story she wants, and we have to trust that what she's telling us is what's actually happening.  To make this more believable, your character could take an event and retell it through a heavy filter, so yes, Frank did visit Mrs. Whitcomb in the dead of night, armed with a knife, and it was the same knife found on her body the next morning, but we might not have been told that there was another visitor and a scuffle, before Frank was disarmed and chased out of the house.  If the narrator wants us to believe Frank killed Mrs. Whitcomb, then kill Mrs. Whitcomb he did, and while we might get the sense something doesn't add up, we can't really know the truth until the narrator chooses to tell us.  

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4. Your character is not a memory master.
It's possible to remember some things in great detail.  If Jeannie went through a life-changing experience, she's probably going to remember quite a bit of it.  If you had a character keep a journal and record everything that happened, they're going to have details at their disposal they may not have had otherwise.  And there's the key bit: "they may not have had otherwise". 

You see, as much as we might like to give our readers all the nitty gritty, down to earth, gorey details of what happened that fateful night when Angie Meyers tripped on her front step, it's very likely that the person telling the story simply can't remember.  They're going to tell you the parts of the event they remember well, but you're not going to get every single little thing exactly the way it happened.  This could be from where they were when the event took place, or simply the fact that they've forgotten bits and pieces over time.  Maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe they're old, or an important part of the puzzle slipped their memory.  This ties in the the first half of the third point, in that a first person narrator can never get all sides of a story, and if they're recounting a series of events, they're not going to remember it exactly the way it happened, or might tell it in a different way than someone else.

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Just remember that no matter what your character is like or what's going on in the story, stepping into someone else's shoes and looking at the world from their point of view should be fun, and it should be an opportunity to dive deep into the little details of a personality and explore things you might not see otherwise.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Superior Race

Hello Everybody!  It's Grace, just back from a lovely weekend away.  There was chocolate.  It was quite nice.

This is the FOURTH installment of the series "You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your _________", inspired by Star Wars and becoming one of my most favorite things.

The rest of the series:
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Chosen One
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Redemption Arc
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Love Triangle

Anyway now that you've got those, I'll begin.

Superior Races are found in pretty much every work of fantasy or science fiction.  In fantasy it's usually the elves (you can find more on that here), and in science fiction it's usually humans.  So what's the matter with this?  Isn't it good to have a specific race for all your mindless critters to gawk at in wonder?  Like I've said in other installments, I have nothing wrong with this trope existing, I just want to encourage room for improvement.  It's time for our handy-dandy numbered list!

1. It's always elves.
Seriously, guys.  Tall, fair of face, slim, perfect hair, usually white, I mean, they're nice to think of and all, but why are they always the most advanced?  Why are pretty, skinny, tall, white people the epitome of civilization?  I'm pretty sure there's a history lesson in there somewhere.  Why can't we have short, stout, dark-skinned, ugly people be the uber-evolved ones for a change?  Or just short?  Or just ugly?  Or just dark-skinned?  
Or maybe I'm just mad about the hair.  WHY DO THEY HAVE SUCH FABULOUS HAIR???

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2. They always look down on other races.
I mean yeah, it's kinda typical for countries who think they have it all to snub their noses at those who don't, but fantasy seems to take this too far.  I can understand if you don't want to involve yourself in a war which could kill all your fabulous men and therefore destroy the shampoo industry, but you won't even LOOK at dwarves?  Like, what are they gonna do, blind you with a glare?  I don't think so.  I mean you can tell me that years and years of prejudiced and hate and fighting each other can bring this on and I can nod my head in understanding, but at the same time I find it hard to believe that every single nation of elves cannot get it through their thick skulls that it might be nice to have the dwarves on their side.  And that they might accomplish that by helping Thorin instead of, you know, imprisoning him.  Basically all you've done is solidify another hundred years of fighting.  There goes your fabulous men.  Who will make your shampoo now, Thranduil?  WHO??

3. If they give other races a thought, it's to impose their way of life.
So Star Trek.  Humans are clearly if not the most dignified and perfect race, the best at getting themselves out of the endless scrapes they (and by they I mean Captain Kirk) end up in.  This puts them at a much higher level than all the other races (and silicon-based life forms, and strange sparkling gas clouds, and sentient marshmallows) they come across.  Now they have this policy where they're not supposed to interfere with all the other races and are supposed to allow themselves to develop on their own.  Do they follow this policy?  Sometimes.  When it's convenient for them.  And after they've introduced democracy, shown the life forms how a blaster works (usually hands-on), and let them see human beings flying a space ship and wearing colored shirts and bell-bottoms.  

But because James T. Kirk is The Most Incredible Man to Ever be Born and What Would the Galaxy Do Without Him, they end up interfering.  They destroy human-controlling computers (how did humans end up on that planet anyway?), sentient ship-eating monsters (it was just hungry...), and the first alien they see show any kind of aggression (I'd show aggression too if a bunch of cocky space-men landed on my front door!).  If there's other humans involved, okay.  I get that.  But "allowing planets to do their own thing" means you don't just randomly show up so your science team can have a sample of that ONE plant which they're never going to use and is just gonna sit in a lab somewhere plotting revenge against the human race.  I have nothing against science.  I have a lot of things against Captain James T. Kirk's interpretation of "don't get involved".  

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4. They are generally selfish biscuits.
Oh.  So.  Selfish.  They never let anybody else have nice things.  No, they are so superior, they are the only race they can think of who deserves all this wonderfulness.  You may not have any of it.  Not one bit.  NONE.  Nothing!  Keep your filthy peasant paws off their stuff!

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What if they were helpful for a change?  Or at least, like Kirk, tried to be helpful?  It might not succeed, but it's better than being holed up in Mirkwood for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

5. They're immortal.
Speaking of thousands of years, what's with the whole immortal thing?  Why are the most fabulous always the longest-living?  I mean, that just makes them even more stuck-up, and even more revered (or feared) by the rest of the world.  One lifetime of a human is just a few years in the eyes of an elf, so naturally they're going to act like they rule the world.  You can have elves around who have existed since the earth was created!  And it's not just elves.  If the beings aren't actually immortal they seem to be and certainly act like it (nothing can kill Captain Kirk), and we never see them die just because they got old.  Do they get old?  Is "old" even a thing?  

6. They save everything.
In the end, the superior race always comes along to fix everything, or at least significantly improve the situation.  I mean, if the elves hadn't been there for the hobbits or for Thorin, things would have gone very badly very quickly.  Why can't your characters figure things out for themselves?  Why do they need space humans, fabulous magical white people, or anything else, for that matter? Yeah, a place to rest is always nice.  Yeah, your society now knows to talk things over instead of throwing nation-wide temper tantrums.  But is there another way?  Did they really need instruction from the greatest and most sparkly being in existence?  

So there you have it.  I hope this helps you get creative with your superior race, if you have one.  There's nothing wrong with having elves, and if you like the stereotypical elf, keep it.  Just remember to mix things up a bit once and a while.  Oh, and never get between an elf and his beauty products. 

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Beautiful Books - 2017 Writing Goals

Hello, everyone! It’s Faith! What??? I know, I kinda fell of the edge of the planet, but I stumbled into this dreadfully intense little thing called J-Term, and I’ve kinda been scrambling and studying all month. So perhaps you can forgive me.

I really should be scrambling and studying right now, but I’m not, because I am participating in the BEAUTIFUL BOOKS Linkup!!! If you wanna learn how you can participate, see PaperFury’s post here. She also explains what the heck this is. Or, you can just follow along and learn as we go.

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  1. What were your writing achievements last year?
During 2016, I...started this blog! I also wrote about one chapter of a sci-fi novel that I will hopefully pick up again in the future. I took an Intro to Writing class and cried over poetry and a (frankly horrible) short story. And I WON NaNoWriMo for the first time in my life! Woo!

  1. What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?
I’d like to finish Draft #2 of my NaNoNovel (technical term now). I have a few other works I’d like to sketch out, including that sci-fi novel, and perhaps even begin a fantasy???

  1. Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!
Oh boy. Here we go. Okay, my NaNoNovel is about a bachelor professor who has to deal with his sister’s death while playing father to her teenage son. I haven’t done straight-up realistic fiction for a while (not without mixing mystery in or whatever) so this is new for me. (Except there may be a ghost. Possibly. Not yet confirmed.)

My other projects are nowhere near as well developed, but I have a rough idea where they’re going. The sci-fi is about a girl who uses time machines to try to avenge (or save?) her father’s death. (I’ve got a death theme going if you didn’t notice.) I don’t have a plot for the fantasy one yet...I just know it will involve a girl, maybe singing, angelic shapeshifters, and yeah, probably someone important dying. Or who is already dead. (Maybe zombies!) (Or not.) (Never mind.) I’ve got some other realistic fiction ideas as well, but I need to flesh them out more before I reveal them.

  1. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?
I’d like to have at least one novel polished enough to send to beta readers. (I just now thought of that and it scares me typing it out.) Honestly I don’t see publication or even queries happening this year, because I know I’ll be too busy with school etc. to spend that much time writing. But I would like to get my NaNoNovel (which remains title-less for now) to the beta-ing point.

  1. Describe your general editing process.
Hahahahaha! Haha. Haha. Ok, to be honest, I’ve never edited my own work before this year. The closest I got was editing my short story for school, and even that was something of a train wreck. But so far, here’s how it goes.

  1. Write draft.
  2. Either love draft and do nothing, or
  3. Write another draft which changes everything
  4. Write another draft which changes everything
  5. Write another draft which changes everything

So yeah, I need to work on that. I am doing a total rewrite of my NaNoNovel (surprise!) and it is indeed turning out nothing like the first draft. After this, I think I’m going to do the old print-and-overview that most people suggest, then rewrite again, and then turn to micro-edits. But we’ll see how that turns out.

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?
Hm. I’d say 3, because most of the time it honestly felt like the worst draft ever written? And I had very little plan going into it. (I actually started on impulse on November 1, and didn’t tell any of my friends until halfway through.) BUT, I did finish it. And I’ve never done that in such a short amount of time. AND, it’s given me great source material. So I’m bumping it up to a 5?

  1. What aspect of your draft needs the most work?
The part with words. Actually, I’m going to say the plot, because the characters that have made it into Round 2 have basically the same personalities they had in Round 1. So I think characterization worked out fine. (I did cut and replace all the minor characters, though, so...yeah.) But the plot definitely needs a lot of work. And POV status is giving me a lot of trouble as well, so...pray for me?

  1. What do you like the most about your draft?
I love my main character, Harold Esposito. He’s kind of a weird character to love because he’s this forty-year-old British man who basically hides from the world and reads all the time, so he’s kinda like a nerdy hobbit...in which case he’s not a weird character to love. I think we all know why I love this character. Moving on.

  1. What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?
I would like to show it to betas (hehe, show it to fish! Never mind) and perhaps eventually publish? My biggest problem (maybe this should have gone under #7) is I have no idea who this would be marketed to. Perhaps I don’t read enough (jk I know I don’t read enough, someone send me books now), but I haven’t seen a middle-aged male POV character in a book that’s NOT The Hobbit or LoTR. And as a writer whose own age is in the YA/NA range, I feel that it’s just a very awkward age for me to be writing, so...ideas?

  1. What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?
Play!!!!! Seriously. Play with it. Actually, put it away for a few weeks and then play with it. (I actually still haven’t read over my NaNo draft in its entirety...that’s on my to-do list.) I promise it will not look as horrible as it felt after you’ve been removed by a month or so. In the meantime, play with ideas for new books, play with ideas for revising the draft you just finished...play play play. I wouldn’t say you’d have to get SERIOUS about this until...Draft #3. (Ominous background music.)

And that’s it for now! Make sure you visit PaperFury’s post (link above if you missed it) so you can participate! (It’s kind of an old linkup, but shh. Fun times are fun times.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In Which I Elaborate on Historical Accuracy

Hello!  It's Grace.  Today I'm going to yell at the universe about historical accuracy.

For those of you who have never read this blog EVER and are completely new (in which case, what have you been doing with your lives do you not know how glorious we are??), I love history.  It's something I'm really passionate about.

With that comes one of my biggest pet peeves:  SKIMPING ON ACCURACY

That's right, folks.  When you don't do all the research you should have been doing, when you let things slide because "your readers won't notice", let me tell you that I WILL NOTICE and I WILL THROW THE BOOK ACROSS THE ROOM BECAUSE HISTORY DOES NOT DESERVE THIS KIND OF DISRESPECT.

*sighs* *straightens clothing and hair* *takes a deep breath*


I am going to provide some tips on how to glean knowledge so that your books will not be burned in the fire of shame.  Please note that if you're writing fantasy you can disregard all of this.  Historical fiction, on the other hand?  This might sound a little like a college lecture but pull up your chairs and PAY ATTENTION.

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1. Get in touch with people who study what you're writing about.
This can be a college professor, a local history buff, a friend who likes research (me), historians at a museum, archaeologists, and many other positions.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.  And if someone you ask doesn't know the answer, chances are they have millions of ways to find it and lots of other people they can ask.  It's a pretty safe bet that historians like to talk about history, so giving them a chance to share their knowledge with you is not only going to help you write an informed novel, but it's probably also going to make them happy because you asked about something they're very passionate about.

2. Use primary sources.
Okay we're gonna have a lesson here, y'all.  
Primary Source: A piece of writing or an object (or anything, really) which existed at the same time as an event or period of history and was either near or a part of that event.  Anne Frank's diary is a primary source, and so are photographs, legal records, pottery, paintings, and bones.  Bear in mind that a document could be written after something happened, but if the person writing it was present at or near the event the document still counts as primary.
Secondary Source: Anything written or recorded in any way which does not draw it's information directly from an event or era but instead uses various primary sources to come up with an idea of how things occurred.  A history textbook, a painting of a Biblical story, an epic poem like the Illiad, news reporters (but not the people being interviewed), and most articles online are all secondary sources.  

While there's nothing wrong with a good secondary source, you shouldn't rely on other people to get all the information for you.  While a primary source can be biased in favor of the people who are writing it (this is often the case with battles), secondary sources are not only written from the outside looking in, but are also often written with at least a little bias themselves.  It's much better to get at least some information directly from the source instead of trying to make sense of Wikipedia and multiple Encyclopedias.  

3. Watch what websites you use.
While we're on the topic, don't trust everything you read.  Finding reliable sources can be hard, but it's worth it.  Jane Doe might have a website completely devoted to Egyptian history, but how can you trust what she says?  Something more reliable might be a museum website, something associated with a university or graduate school, or records of studies done by groups of historians.  Encyclopedias are often not bad choices either, but they can only tell you so much.

There are also many MANY primary sources available online.  You can get to these by looked them up (if you have something specific in mind) or you can look at the bibliographies of secondary sources.  

4. If possible, find some historical reenactors. 
These are people or groups of people who make it their passion and sometimes full-time occupation to bring history to life.  They can be found at museums and historically themed events.  These people dress in historically correct clothing, cook historically correct food (from the original recipes), and basically do everything they can to show you what it would be like to live in that specific era.  Here in the U.S. the most common are Native American, Colonial/Revolutionary, Civil War, and WWI and WWII reenactors, but you can find other time periods if you look around.  

One of the best reasons to see people acting out history is that you can only form so good of a picture with descriptions and paintings and archaeology, and it's helpful to have everything you've seen or read about put in context.  Those shoe buckles you saw?  Here's what they look like with the rest of the outfit.  That pudding your character is eating?  Here's with it tastes like, and this is how you make it.  

So there you have it.  That's my advice on how to keep massive flaws from showing up in your historical fiction.  I apologize if it sounded a little like a lecture.  It's how I roll, guys.  I've been known to accidentally call a writing club a "class" even though I wasn't even really leading it.  

The most important thing to remember while writing is that to your character, this is everyday life.  It might be strange to have to go to the well every morning or only own one pair of shoes, but you shouldn't write it that way.  The reader is seeing things through the eyes of the people in your story, and unless those people are time travelers, all this is old news and they would probably look at you funny if you said "the well on the corner of the road where I have gotten water every morning since I can remember, because it is the single source of clean water within walking distance."  You would sound a little like this:

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Building Character: A Few Things to Do to Keep Your Characters from Imitating a Pancake

Greetings! 'Tis I, the master of introspection and over-analysis!

It's Grace.

I have been told that I get a little obsessed with my characters.  I have denied that claim multiple times and excused myself by saying that I am not obsessed, I am simply highly interested in them and find building people out of my head to be very fascinating.

While I still don't think I'm obsessed (haha...ha...hahaha....ha..........ha........), I do get caught up in characters that I like a lot.  I have a few reasons for liking a character:

1. They are someone I can relate to and am very much like.
2. They are someone I wish I was.
3. They are someone completely different from myself.
4. They have a unique quirk which makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd.

I can name characters I've created which fit each of those things.  Along with those things I am also just plain interested in people.  I talk about people, I spend time with people, and I create people.

Anyway, I thought, since I love characters so much, why not see if I can actually offer advice on the topic?  I might fail.  I honestly don't know if my characters are flat or not.  No one's ever told me.  And this advice might also be for myself.  So here goes nothing!

1. Don't just develop the part we see.
You don't usually see every little aspect of a person in the short span of time a story normally covers.  There's a lot of things, big and small, that get missed mostly because they aren't given a chance to reveal them.  Take some time to sort these things out.  It could be their favorite flavor of ice cream, a dark past, anything.  Develop each part of your character, not just what's going to appear in the story.  It will show in the actual writing, and you'll have a much deeper understanding of your character's personality.

2. Don't shy away from quirkiness and minor flaws.
I feel like a lot of times we look at the BIG parts of people's personality.  Introvert or Extrovert?  Logical or feelings-driven?  Main values?  Major flaw?
What really makes someone unique though is not whether they think with their head or their heart or how they feel on a major political topic.  While little quirks and flaws are often overlooked, they are what make up a characters life from day-to-day.  Yeah, the fact that you always wear the same hat is kinda irrelevant when you're fighting a dragon, but if something like is a part of who your character is, you should know.  Do they leave their socks on the bathroom floor?  Do they snap at people without realizing it?  Do they have a trinket that is highly sentimental to them?  Do they have a favorite color?  Do they have a chore they absolutely hate?  Do they wear their hair a certain way?  Do they laugh loudly or quietly?  What about them makes people look at them funny?

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3. Is it really important?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are some things you don't need to reveal.  While it's nice to know how John might feel about, say, the Cold War, it's not really necessary in a 21st century romance novel.  Don't just spew information about your characters for the sake of spewing.  And if there is information you believe your readers just cannot go without, include it naturally.  Don't force your character to reveal information.  For example, if you want your readers to know Caiden's favorite song, saying something like "he played his favorite song, 'Royals', while he cleaned his room" sounds like you put the title there just for the sake of telling your readers what his favorite song was.  Instead, have Caiden sing parts of the song to himself, or have him bashfully admit to a very nice-looking girl that yeah, okay, it's his favorite, as he digs his toe into the dirt because she's really quite pretty and what if she thinks it's stupid?  And if the song never comes up in the story?  Don't make it come up!  Knowing things about your character is important.  Making sure your readers know every single detail is not.  You'll completely overwhelm them.

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This can even apply to major parts of who your character is as a person.  If they aren't interested in romantic relationships but romance isn't a part of the story, don't bring it up.  Hints aren't a problem, as long as they're not present solely to be hints.  Maybe when Jennifer hears about two people being in a relationship, she just says "oh, that's nice" and moves on with her life.  Or maybe she's genuinely delighted for them, but we never see her make a move for herself.

4. Write separate sketches.
Forgetting your story, your plot, and everything else, take the time to write little scenes from your character's normal life.  Write about them going to the coffee shop.  Write about the bread their baking.  Don't be afraid to include the seemingly mundane.  It might even be good practice.  I mean, if you can write beautifully about drinking tea in the morning or visiting the library, that is something to be proud of.  Look at the everyday world through your character's eyes.  What do they think when they seen a couple walking down the street?  Children playing in the park?  The song on the radio?

Most importantly, have fun.  Character building shouldn't be stressful.  Yeah, it can be crazy.  I mean, I've developed multiple characters that I want to be best friends with, but they're fake, so I'm stuck with my real friends (who are awesome, but man is that guy ever sweet).  And it's okay to obsess.  It's okay to squeal from cuteness as your adorable little protagonist curls their toes under the blanket and eats ice cream because oh that was just too beautiful for words.  When you are in love with your characters there's a pretty good chance that your readers will like them a lot too.

I hope this was helpful!  If it was, let me know in the comments.  If you have any other ideas for building your characters, let me know!  I'd be glad to take any and all suggestions and try them out on my own beloved miniature nation.

Monday, January 2, 2017

You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Chosen One

Warning: There are spoilers to things published and completed long ago, and to very commonly known stories.  I just feel like I should put this up in case you haven't been on the internet in the past century.

Grace here!  This is the third installment of a series called "You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your __________", which is basically a place for me to rant about where people go wrong, and suggest ways to stop going wrong and start going right.

The Rest of the Series:
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Redemption Arc
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Love Triangle

Anyway, this time I'm going on about the idea of a Chosen One.  Partly because I have a lot of questions for those people who must deal with this special person, and those who decided that they are indeed the Most Special Person Ever.

Let's start by looking at the basic plot that accompanies this trope:
A teenager or child is living their normal life, surrounded by normal people.  This life can be rotten (Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker), or pretty nice (Frodo Baggins).  Something or someone comes into their life (Qui-Gon Jinn, Hogwarts, The One Ring) which pulls them into something they didn't ask for ("Yer a wizard, Harry!", The Jedi, a quest).  Their situation being unique in some way or another (birthed by the force, Voldemort, owner of the Ring), they become the person on which everyone else depends, and must complete some kind of task with a select group of people to help them (defeat Voldemort, bring balance to the Force, destroy the One Ring of Power).  They win, but their lives are forever changed (becomes a famous wizard, becomes a Sith Lord, is unable to find rest in the Shire).

And I have described about half of all works of fiction, right there.

So what's wrong with this story?  I mean, a little lowly person is suddenly faced with a huge responsibility, undergoes massive character development as they handle this responsibility, and forms tight friendships along the way.  Who they really are as a person (or Hobbit) is revealed, and all the fluff and show is burned away (literally, in Anakin's case).  That's good, right?  It's an amazing and inspiring character arc, right?

Yes, that's all fine and well, but just think for a moment.

Are they really the ONLY person in the ENTIRE GALAXY who can solve this problem?  Are you SURE?  There is NO ONE ELSE AT ALL, no one more EMOTIONALLY MATURE, who could take this problem and handle it SMOOTHLY with little to no angst and instability?  Are you ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE?  (I'm lookin' at you, Qui-Gon Jinn)

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Yeah.  That's my biggest problem with this trope.  I mean if the One Ring is actually sentient (which is implied) and actually chooses someone, then sure.  Maybe that person IS the only one who can solve your problems.  But on the other hand, it's a ring.  It's a solid gold object which does not have arms, legs, teeth, or the ability to fight you in any way.  Anyone could take it.  They might not do as well as Frodo did, they might do better.  I don't know.  But the point is, Frodo was not the only person who could have taken the ring and gone on the quest.

And Harry Potter, yes, had a part of Voldemort's soul inside of him, and yes, it was an accident on Voldemort's part, but why didn't Dumbledore defeat Voldemort before all of that?  It's implied in the books that Dumbledore is powerful enough to keep Voldemort out of Hogwarts, so he must be tough enough to at least stand a chance.  Why don't all the schools get together and fight this guy?  Okay, so Voldemort can't die before all his horcruxes are destroyed, but I'm sure there's people out there who wouldn't have too many qualms about killing ANY horcrux, human or otherwise.  There's got to be more than one way to handle this situation.

Last but not least, Anakin Skywalker.  First of all, the kid is a slave on Tatooine, and his mother claims she just randomly got pregnant one day.  Claims.  Qui-Gon Jinn, a character with a resounding reputation for making questionable decisions, decides that this child was conceived by the Force, and snatches him up (after selling a ship to buy parts for that ship and then betting that same ship on the racing skills of an eight year old boy) to take him back to the Jedi Temple to be trained.  The Council doesn't like this decision, but Jinn plays the "will of the Force" card, and none of them decide to question his application skills.  Then this child, who was technically too old to begin training anyway, is assigned to Obi-Wan Kenobi after Qui-Gon dies, because Force forbid the last wish of a man the Council never liked anyway be disrespected.  Anakin grows up as an emotional rollercoaster who doesn't listen to Obi-Wan and breaks the Jedi Code 24/7, turns to the Dark Side, and basically begins the "Skywalkers are a messed up family" storyline.

Now Star Wars has a lot of other problems (the prophecy, for example), but that's a rant for another day.  The problem I have is that the Jedi Council, which respects control and logic, and Yoda, who sees the Dark Side in the boy's future, throws caution to the wind and decides to take the advice of someone they haven't let on the Council because of his terrible advice.  And then they raise this boy, telling him the whole time that he is the Chosen One and the strongest Force user in the temple.  Now what about that plan could possibly go wrong?

Okay so that was a rant.  Now let's look at how to make this Chosen One thing a little better.

1. Make sure your Chosen One really is the only person who can solve your problem.
This is going to be difficult, but if you want a Chosen One, he must be the ONLY one.  Otherwise there's no point.  Maybe he's the only one willing to do it (this is an argument in Frodo's favor), or maybe special circumstances make other people incapable of doing the task.  Maybe by some freak accident your character is the only person in the world who can survive the bite of a massive snake which is killing everyone.  Maybe your character is the last of their kind, and their "kind" had some special power.  I'm sure there's a way to make your person the only person available for the task.

2. Give your character realistic coping skills.
If I were under the amount of pressure that Harry Potter was, I would probably be a stressed out puddle.  If I discovered I had to take a ring which was devouring my mind all the way to a huge volcano while fighting an evil dark lord who was trying to get the ring so he could rule the world, I would hide under my bed and never ever ever leave my house again.  Or speak to wizards, for that matter.  I'm sure there are people who, when faced with such a task, push down their doubts and high stress levels and deal, but where are they?  Because I haven't met any.  If you want your Chosen One to have a very strong and determined personality, that's all fine and well.  Just make sure that they deal with their problems realistically, whether that means "grin and bear it" or "panic attack".

3. Add a sign from above.
We're told that the Force chose Anakin Skywalker.  Heck, the Force created Anakin Skywalker.  If this were done a little better, it would have lined him up perfectly as the obvious Chosen One.  In Moana the ocean chose one person to restore life to the islands.  If you have a deity or group of deities in your story, there's nothing stopping them from having a say in the matter.  Of course you'll have to think of good reasons for them to want that one emotionally unstable and angsty teenager, but it will be a little easier.  Remember, Qui-Gon's "it's the will of the Force" shut up the entire Jedi Council and made Anakin the center of attention.  If all else fails, a clear sign from the heavens would probably be enough to convince the rest of your characters, if not your readers.

As a side note, what if there was some really complicated series of events that had to happen to one specific person, and if those things happened that person was destined to save the world?  And then what if you had a really bumbling character who completely unintentionally had those events happen to them?  I would read that.

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4. Have your character volunteer, or bring the task upon herself. 
No one can argue with your character making herself the Chosen One because she wants to do it.  I mean, who are you to deny that person their quest?  Katniss is a good example of this.  She became the face of the revolution because she's the one that stood up and made her voice heard.  While he was put under a lot of pressure, in the end Frodo did volunteer to take the ring to Mordor.  If you're having trouble justifying why one particular person is the only person who can solve a problem, why not have the person just up and choose it herself?  This is even better if everyone else thinks it's a terrible idea and Ginny should absolutely not try to take on the entire galaxy, but Ginny wants to do it, so why would they argue?  At least it's not their necks being put on the line.

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So there you have it.  How to make your Chosen One less questionable.  I hope this helps.  This post has been very long, unusually long, in fact, so here are some cute hamsters for reading my rambling all the way to the end.  

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