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Monthly Archives: March 2012

My Favorite Fictional Characters

Alright, alright. This is a ridiculously broad category. There are so many fictional characters out there, and I love quite a few of them. I have a slight (lying blatantly to myself here) bias towards male characters, because not only do I get to love them for their wicked awesomeness, I also get to crush on them as much as I like. So below are my favorite fictional characters. I’m not saying these are the best of all time: I probably have some more that I like. But obviously these stand out enough to me to be on my mind without furious digging.

Death the Kid
Soul Eater is not my favorite anime out there. Death the Kid may well be one of my favorite characters. He’s complex, unique, and a BAMF. Kid is the son of Lord Death (in the English dub), the grim reaper who rules over the world and protects us all. Kid has quite a few more powers than the rest of the kids in the show, having inherited them through his father. But he doesn’t take it for granted. Kid works hard at what he does. He decides to go to DWMA (the Death Weapon Meister Academy) to train with the other kids even though he’s more powerful than all of them.

But unlike a lot of Mary Sue characters, Kid is not without his flaws. Anyone who has ever seen the show knows his biggest hang up: He has a debilitating OCD in regards to symmetry. If he comes across anyone or anything that is not  at least passably symmetrical, he will either have a meltdown or fly into a blind rage. The irony gets sweeter with his hair. He has three white stripes across exactly half of his hair, the Lines of Sanzu, which have some relation to his powers (you can do a whole lot of interesting research into the Lines and what they represent). Due to his grim reaper body’s rejection of poison, he cannot dye his hair in any way to get rid of the stripes. He himself is what he hates most: asymmetrical.

He has other unique markers. He holds his guns upside down and fires with his pinkies. He’s got some sick skateboard skills. He’s somewhat pompous and full of himself, but he cares about his friends and will do almost anything for them. He went in alone to a deadly place in order to protect his weapons (weapons in this world are humans that can transform themselves). He wouldn’t let his father hand him anything, including an already-made scythe, because he wanted to create his own path. He’s well-rounded and definitely well-developed, with enough hang ups to bring humor to the show without being stupid.

Jane Eyre
See, I do have some women on this list.

(I am talking about Jane from the book, not any of the movies. I haven’t seen any of them.)

Jane is what I would always like to write as a female character and never can quite pull off. She’s got more girl-power than most of the protagonists in the “feminist” literature we’ve had to read for my early American literature class—and she’s not from a feminist novel. She kicks butt and lets no one tell her what to do or force her around.

Since childhood, she’s been standing up for herself and doing what she wants to and what she knows is right. She has a big heart, but doesn’t let people bully her. Not even the big, scary Rochester. And come on, how cool was it when he asked her if she found him handsome and she answered honestly that he wasn’t? She knows how to find her own way, despite the circumstances and time period in which she grew up in.

L Lawliet
L is an iconic character in the manga and anime Death Note. He was created as an equal in intellect but the antithesis in appearance of the villain and main character of the show, Light. This kid is a genius. He’s solved some of the world’s greatest crimes while not letting anyone see him accept the man who raised him and assists him, until the case of the show comes up. He’s pale, sits oddly, touches everything only with his forefinger and thumb, and has no reserves or any knowledge of social mores. The two characters, L and Light, are so dynamic together (the reason Light isn’t on here is because he’s a narcissistic bastard and doesn’t quite compete with the others listed). They both do things that horrify the men around them in order to win. He keeps in pace with Light, risking his life to expose that he really is the serial killer they’re looking for. The only reason he loses is because Light went farther than anyone ever thought he would. But L trained others who eventually succeed in taking down Light, so he really wins in the end.

He’s got enough quirks and odd appearances to put any normal person off. Especially after we’ve been exposed to the attractive, poised, and composed Light for several episodes. And yet he’s so well-written and executed that he is entirely endearing after three episodes of his physical arrival. L definitely has more fan girls than Light. Both the characters are incredibly well-written. Light’s just too egotistical for my taste.

Valek
OK, so I don’t actually have a picture of Valek… He’s from a non-picture book, and no movies have ever been made of Poison Study (no matter how much I would pay to see one).

Valek is an impossible to figure out character. You never can figure out what he’s thinking until he tells you, and that isn’t until the very end of the book. Everything is an experiment to him. Even other people’s lives. He’s intelligent, charming, and deadly. Life is a chess game, and he is always steps ahead of everyone else. His assassin skills are legendary. He helped overthrow the last corrupt ruler of the country.

And yet, with his own power and amazing intelligence, he is still absolutely loyal to the man who spared his life in the beginning of the story. He would even kill his soul mate if the General ordered it, following with taking his own life because he can’t live without her. He’s a fantastic balance of mystery, deadly skill, a good heart, and intelligence.

Captain John Hart
I had to have a villain on here somewhere, of course. And James Marsters is one of my favorite actors. Captain John Hart, only present for three episodes of the second season of Torchwood. For those of you who haven’t seen it, he’s like Spike from Buffy before he fell in love with Buffy and became a pushover.

He’s dastardly, handsome, and a git. He’s worse than Captain Jack Harkness. Jack will flirt with anything with two legs and a brain. John will take anything that moves.

He’s a fantastic villain. You know he’s a villain from the start, the characters on the show know he’s a villain from the start. Yet he still somehow manages to win. Unlike most villains, he’s not a villain because he’s evil at heart. He’s just selfish and thinks he can do whatever the hell he wants. Most of the time, he can and does do whatever he wants. His ultimate betrayal in the end is only fueled because his life is in danger from someone even worse (I won’t give away too many spoilers here). He ends up betraying his threatener and helping the Torchwood team, but only because he’s pissed about being manipulated. No one owns him, and he’ll do whatever he has to in order to do whatever he wants. He’s a well-rounded villain with a clear goal and purpose.

Howl
I haven’t read the children’s book, so everything I have to say about Howl is from the movie. There are other things I like about him other than he’s incredibly attractive and voiced by Christian Bale in the English dub, I promise!

It’s early and easily established that Howl is selfish. He uses his magic for himself and does what he wants. He doesn’t pay much attention to others. He’s so vain that he has a dark magic meltdown when Sophie’s cleaning of the bathroom makes his blonde hair go orange. Once it fades to black, he lies in the bed as if he’s physically ill. He behaves like a child.

But as the show goes on, his true character is revealed. He won’t help the king’s war by transforming himself into a monster because it would harm him. After enough times, he won’t be able to change back. He moves around to keep himself out of the grasp of the Witch of the Waste, because she would probably use him to do some truly evil things. While he plays around with women, he doesn’t eat their hearts like he’s rumored to. His favorite place in the world was a cabin he studied in when he was a child. He loves Sophie so much that he gives up all of his freedom and cowardice in order to protect her. The selfishness is not a complete fabrication. But it is only one facet of his personality among a lot of other things. He’s a character that rings true because he’s as three dimensional as the people that we walk among every day.

Hamlet
The epitome of a conflicted character. While I love David Tennant’s rendition of the prince, I refer to him through my interpretations of reading the play.

His goal is clear. It’s fairly easy to attain, too. Destroy the man who destroyed his father. It’s a reasonable and defendable goal, too. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Murder does something to you. It makes you cold and not like you were before, no matter your reasons for doing it. Hamlet is an intellect, a man of diplomacy and solutions. He has to face what he needs to do, but only once he’s absolutely sure.

His hesitation costs everyone their lives. But it’s still understandable. Not right, but understandable. He has a singular goal, but he can’t reach it. Sometimes the barriers we put up for ourselves are the largest and most impossible to cross of all.

Edmond Dantès
One of my favorite characters of all time. I just keep going back to The Count of Monte Cristo. He is one of the most complex characters of all time. I do enjoy the movie this picture was taken from, but the book is so much better.

He is not an inherently evil person. On the contrary, he’s actually an amazing man with a big heart. Even while he’s destroying lives and killing men, he’s still helping other people like the banker, Haydée, and Bertuccio. He avoids destroying anyone’s lives that did not destroy his.

Though he starts out as ignorant, thinking the best of everyone and really only knowing how to sail, he thrives on the knowledge he gains while in prison. He learns to read, learns languages, learns to sword fight, learns whatever his fellow prisoner can teach him, which is a lot. Though they do not get out the way they plan, he’s innovative enough to create his own opportunity on a moment’s notice.

He’s creative, intelligent, and focused on a singular goal. When he actually survives his revenge plot, he doesn’t know what to do; he wasn’t planning on getting any farther. But thankfully he doesn’t go back to his love from before his imprisonment. They are different people; they wouldn’t get along any more. He leaves with Haydée. Thank god for a unique ending!

Jess
Here’s another man I have no picture of, because this book has an even smaller fanbase than Poison Study. This was my favorite book back when I was still LDS.

Jess is dark, moody, and suicidal at one point. But he’s still intelligent and kind, once he can get past his… well, past. Jess was a major inspiration for Vedo in A Captive Mind.

He grew up with a good, loving LDS family. But he’s always had an innate need to rebel that I can identify heavily with. He used to do drugs, had a ton of different piercings in his ears, and had long hair. But he got past all of that with the help of a friend. He started rebelling in different ways, like showing up to an informal party in a tuxedo.

His life was destroyed when the car he was driving was hit by a truck in the wrong lane, killing his best friend, and his brother and his brother’s wife, and putting him in a comma for three months. He has a history that drives his self-destructive behavior. Everything he does revolves around his past.

Doctor Horrible
This man… So much love for this man. This character is a composite of the genius of Joss Whedon and Neil Patrick Harris. You read my blog long enough, you will learn I have a high respect for Mr. Whedon, who I think is the best television writer of today.

Anyways! This character is the ultimate in sympathetic villain. He only wants to rule the world because it’s in a terrible condition and he wants to make it better for people. I’m pretty sure there are only two reasons he’s a villain rather than a hero: 1) The resident “hero” in the town, Captain Hammer, is a complete and utter douchebag. 2) It’s frowned upon in polite society to take away the free will of the ignorant masses who are destroying the world anyways.

He’s not the dynamic character that is usually the leader of evil. I guess it makes sense since he’s not a leader. He’s quite, shy, and nerdy. But he knows what he thinks is right, and he does everything to that end (or to get the attention of his crush, Penny). He’s another good example of having a clearly defined goal and structuring a character’s actions around that. He’s got many facets to his personality (aspiring to be evil, terribly shy, wants to rule the world, awkward, intelligent, and full of fail). Mr. Whedon is a genius of a writer who always has my respect.

Others

There are so many more I could go into here, as I’ve already said. Jareth the Goblin King (though I’ll admit, most of my love for him comes out of fanfiction and not the narrow view we get of him in the movie), Raeyn from my friend Alex Harrow’s unreleased SF novel, V from V for Vendetta (don’t hate me, I’m referring to the movie; I haven’t gotten to read the graphic novel yet), the Doctor, Tallahassee from Zombieland, the Hitachiin twins from Ouran High School Host Club, Batman, Satan from Paradise Lost… Not to mention a huge list of more classical characters that I absolutely adore. There just isn’t the space or the time to give all the fantastic characters that I love the credit they deserve.

But the top ten I’ve listed here, I try to take something away from each of them. They all operate in unique and fascinating ways that portray true (if extreme) interactions of human beings. These characters have made audiences of different sizes, tastes, and time periods fall in love with them. There’s a reason for that. If I can get my characters just an ounce as good as these characters, I know I’ll have a decent sized audience for my stories. (Ethan’s trying to crash the party and get a word in edgewise, so I’m going to wrap up before he can.)

What are your favorite characters, and why do you love them? Let me know! But please, there’s no need to bash me for the choices I made here. I have wide and varied tastes, but limited space to include everyone. I just went with who was foremost on my mind. I hope you enjoy the list that is a bit different than anything you’d get in a college literature class.

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Getting Ideas

I read a lot of interviews about my favorite authors. One question that everyone seems to love to ask is “where do you get your ideas?” The most common answers are “Oh, one night I had this awesome dream…” or “Well my main characters are a lot like my friends…”

Perhaps I work in strange ways, but I never get ideas like that. To be honest, I never get ideas through a set way.

The very first book I managed to finish (don’t look for it; I never bothered trying to market it. It has a loooong way to go before it’s ready to see the light of day) I started when I was in my ninth grade English class. We were listening to songs from some of Shakespeare’s plays. I ended up with a song from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wrote this beautiful scene about a fairy ball and a young queen presiding over all. It turned into a play, which later developed into a novel.

The next one I worked on, A Captive Mind, sprung partly from that. It was intended to be the sequel to that first book, but it took on a mind of its own. To be honest, the initial drafts were pretty much a rip off of Maria Snyder’s Poison Study and some other books I was reading at the time. But hey, immature poets imitate, mature poets steal. I may not have been a poet, but I was definitely immature at the time. And really, that’s how all writers learn to write well. Even Stephen King admits to his early works being blatant ripoffs of dime show movies.

I started a book that was following the daughter of Zee and Vedo from A Captive Mind, but their daughter is an unbearable brat. I didn’t get very far with it. And it’s story line was pretty close to that movie Enchanted. Luckily by that point, though, I was pretty past the point of imitating other story lines. So it got tossed before I finished chapter four.

My newest project, Stealing the Crown, probably has the most interesting beginnings. I follow this web comic called Roommates. It has Jareth the Goblin King (Labyrinth), Erik (Phantom of the Opera), James Norrington (Pirates of the Carribean), and Javert (Les Miserables) living in the same apartment building. Jareth and Erik live together, and Norrington and Javert live across the hall. There’s also a host of other crossover characters popping in and out and living in the building, including Sweeney Todd, Legolas, Harry Dresden, Tallahassee, Aziraphael and Crowley, Eponine…

Anyways, it’s a pretty awesome comic. Highly entertaining, and a super intense arc going on right now. At the beginning of the last really long arc, we found out that Jamie’s (James Norrington) mom was coming to visit. She doesn’t know about the events in the second Pirate’s movie. She thinks he’s still Commador, still engaged to Elizabeth, and still successful. She doesn’t know that he’s actually pretty full of fail. I’d made a comment to the artist that it’ll be interesting to see what happens when his mum finds out he’s dating a thief, Eponine (it’s a crossover comic; the connections made will surprise you). Actually, I stated it as “Oh boy. Wait until his mom finds out he’s dating a… What does ‘Pony do, anyway?” The response I received was “…Economic redistribution? That’s the nicest way I can think to say it.”

I fell in love with the phrase and begged to use it. The artist gave me the go ahead, and I jotted it down in my little pocket notebook for future use.

After working longer on A Captive Mind and beginning to get bored with it, I started thinking about other ideas I could run with for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I recalled that phrase, and a thief character I was currently working with in a roleplay site. What better idea! A plotline started forming in my head of a thief that has to rescue a princess. Economic redistribution is what he tells her he deals in.

After my failed attempt at NaNo, I put away the idea for a while, focusing on A Captive Mind for a little longer. I’d been working on it forever, and I needed to get stuff done. But after talking with different publishing professionals and realizing how stale Zee’s book was getting, I came back to Ethan’s. And it’s been a ride.

The point of this rambling post is that ideas can come from anywhere. You don’t have to have a fantastic story for how you even came up with your story. It should be good enough to speak for itself. A good writer knows how to keep their ears and mind open, and draw experiences from the world around them. Good writing comes from real experiences. That is how an audience connects to a fictional character. You just need to learn how to be receptive and how to translate those events into entertaining prose.

Panic, Plans, and Parrying (Verbal Style)

A few updates for you lot:

1. I apologize for the mopey post Monday, but I felt like I wasn’t the only one suffering from those kind of doubts. The internet is really all about community, eh?

2. I found out yesterday that my portfolio for graduation is due next week. AHHHHHH!!!! I see a weekend of major revisions and research in my near future (this weekend). But it WILL get done, because I WILL graduate in April.

3. I’ve branched out in what I’m looking for job-wise, so hopefully I’ll find someone willing to take this poor little soul. I’m applying for jobs in technical writing and editing, social media coordinating, and other various jobs people could need a technical writer of my skill level for.

4. I got two different sets of feedback from critique partners on Stealing the Crown. Other than a few issues, the first five chapters are strong. A reason to celebrate!

I keep hinting that the character has a really strong voice, but I don’t think I’ve taken the opportunity to show you. So below is a special treat for my new loyal readers. This is actually where the story starts. I truly hope you enjoy.

***

“You just had to get cocky, didn’t you, kid?”

“Only four cylinders on the lock? Bo, they were asking me to take it.” My shoulders were starting to hurt, digging into the stone wall behind me. Better than the spears pointed at my neck, but I still didn’t like this situation. There were only four guards on duty every time we had checked the manor. So where had this mini squadron come from?

The captain jabbed his spear forward. A white line of fire crossed my neck. “Silence. I won’t have you two conspiring in front of me.”

“Whoa there, Bizzie.” I knocked the spear away from my throat as casually as I could, holding my hand up in mock surrender. “We would never conspire against you. Bo, would we ever conspire against these nice gentlemen here?”

“Enough.” The guard to my right jabbed me in the ribs with his spear. Well, at least he earned a nice hiss from me for his troubles. “Give me the bag. Keep your hands where we can see them.”

I flipped the rough edges of the sack between my fingers. I knew the drill from here. If I handed over the bag, I’d be tied up, thrown in some dark and filthy dungeon, escape, then move on to the next job. There was no way the loot was worth that much effort. I looked sideways at Bo. He was Not Amused.

I jerked my hand up. A sickening thud echoed through the hall as the bag connected with the guard’s temple. He dropped to the ground before anyone moved. The guards looked from me to the still form of their partner in shock.

“Oops.”

I ducked. Just at the right time as the spears clanged against the wall where my chest had been. I shoved off the back wall, rolling out between their feet. As soon as I got in the clear, a heavy hand clawed the back of my neck and hauled me to my feet. Shit shit shit. I twisted to escape until Bo’s other hand clapped me on the back of the head. “Move it, kid.”

I jumped over the guards Bo’d left on the ground. The bag slowed me down, but my long legs carried me farther ahead than Bo. I heard him grunt and I spun around, my hand at my hip.

The guards had recovered quickly. Captain Bizzie and his first lieutenant grabbed Bo by the shoulders, trying to wrestle him to the ground. My dagger caught the Captain in the thigh, dropping him to the ground. The sack clanked from my hand as I pulled a dagger from my left hip. Bo had the other guy on the ground, unconscious by the way he fell. Bo didn’t even stop to thank me as he barreled past. I tossed the blade to my right hand, snatched the bag up again, and took off after him.

The hall filled with shouts and pounding of feet as the squadron charged after us. Only options were down the stairs or through the stained glass window in front of us. A quick glance down the steps showcased the two guards we had slipped past earlier. I never liked pretty windows anyways. It’s like they were asking, in all their multi-colored glory, to be smashed.

The window didn’t make that little tinkling I always thought it would. It was more of a crack. The splintering glass cut my face and hands even more than the spears had. My heart tried to escape through my throat as we fell through the air, but the shouts of the guards as they stopped at the window forced it back. We hit the lawn below the window with a heavy thud and crackling glass, tumbling a few steps before getting back to our feet and running out away from the shouts of the guards. I couldn’t help the triumphant laugh that escaped as arrows whistled over our heads.

***

For future reference and my own pride, I sincerely need to know: Would you guys like to see more of this in the future, or only have me include snippets when it is pertinent to the post? Would you like to hear more of these tales of epic college struggle, or would you like me to stick to the writing advice?

Today’s post is dedicated to the readers who are sticking with me and slowly finding me along the way. Your encouragement is much appreciated, and it warms my heart to see each and every view, comment, and like that I receive. You are awesome. Grab yourself your favorite sugary treat and bask in your awesomeness.

Lost in the Possibilities

We all have those epiphany moments. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes their bad. Sometimes they give you writing ideas. Sometimes it’s just a small realization before you move on with your life.

I had an epiphany this morning. It wasn’t one of the happy ones, though.

This is what I realized: What am I doing with my life?

I’m going to graduate this April. Goodie for me. I’m going to get my BA in English with a certificate for technical writing at the age of 20. Yeah, that’s something to feel good about.

But then what?

My progress of my current novel is chugging along well. For only getting into it last month, really, I’m already over 15,000 words. Alright, that’s cool.

But my last book took me five years. It’s still not done. In fact, it got put away in a drawer for a while.

I’d like to move out of this state. But where am I going to go? Seattle, Washington was my original aim. But I’ve been informed that it’s very expensive.

New York has more jobs in editing. But really… New York? Why would I want to live there?

Here I am a month from my graduation date. In one month’s time, 31 days from today, I will be standing there, a diploma under my belt, a world of opportunity in front of me.

But where do I go from there?

Where do I even start?

Writer’s Block

On Monday I ran a session on writer’s block, along with sessions on introduction to publishing and dialogue. Since I’ve already shared the same dialogue section from my story in a post earlier this week, and I’ve already posted about the query advice, I thought I would share some of the things the kids really seemed to enjoy from my writer’s block session.

First off, everyone can agree with this one central truth: Writer’s block is the devil. We’ve all gotten it. We all hate it. It takes all the fun out of writing. It can stop you from writing for ridiculous amounts of time. But because it is the devil, we should all agree on this: You cannot let writer’s block win.

Everyone gets writer’s block for different reasons. Sometimes it’s fear. Fear that what you’re writing is not good enough. Sometimes it’s lack of ideas. Sometimes it’s doubt. Sometimes it’s too many ideas trying to distract you.

The only way to get over writer’s block is to keep writing. While writing under the influence of The Block can feel like pulling teeth, you’ll never get out from under that dark shadow if you just stop.

There are a few tricks I’ve picked up over the years that, while not completely slaying the beast, at least give you some avenues for help away from writer’s block.

Structure Your Space Creatively
Humans take inspiration from their surroundings. If you doubt this, you’ve obviously never read a book, short story, or poem, or watched a film. What we surround ourselves with and how we live fuel our creative drives. If you have a dry and boring space, of course your writing is going to be just as contrived.

Top companies even acknowledge this truth. Have you seen Pixar and Google workplaces?


Tell me that working in a place like this wouldn’t push your drive to work and to create. Go on, say it. You can’t can you?

Alright, yes, most of us cannot afford slides instead of stairs or egg-shaped cubicles. While you may not be able to go as all-out in your space as these companies that rack in millions of billions of dollars a year, you can still structure your work space to help. Below is a picture of my friend’s work space. She has notes and timelines for various stories within reach. She has pictures at hand to strike up some inspiration. She even has notes of encouragement both on her pin board and on her computer.


(Note also the close-at-hand coffee machine and mini fridge. Essentials to those of you caffeine drinkers out there.)

So even if you’re like most of us and NOT ridiculously wealthy, you can still structure your space with your favorite inspirational things to make writing less of a chore and to help those ideas flow.

Set a Schedule for Yourself
If you talk to almost any successful author about how they right, you’ll find they have a method to the madness. Some have daily word count goals that they make themselves accomplish each and every day. Some have a set amount of time that they stay at their desk for. Some have a daily to-do list. Others just have a set space to write in.

The point is, find some sort of structure for yourself. Scientists have proven (in a sleep study, but I’m going to use it here anyways) that you can train your brain to behave a certain way if you do specific things for long enough. If you only lie down in your bed when you’re tired and ready to go to sleep, leaving if you’re doing something else or if you’re not tired enough yet, your brain will eventually go straight to sleep mode when you lie down. I hold that the same is true for writing. If you have a set time or a set place to write in, once you get to that, your brain will automatically jump into creative mode and the words will flow out a lot better.

Right now, I’m not the best adherent to my own advice. Being in a college apartment, I do my writing lying on my couch with my computer perched on my stomach. But I’m in the same position when I play games or watch shows online. I don’t even have a set time. With my schedule being all over the place thanks to jobs and classes, I write when I can. I have to employ other methods to get myself to write. Currently, it’s my Writing March Madness goal. I force myself to get those 500 words out a day. Then I reward myself with something because I’m worth it.

I always keep this step in mind, though. Someday, when I’m not a poor college student, I will get my dream office. What is this dream office, you ask? Well, I’d be happy to tell you. It’s a small room, because the truth is I don’t need that much space to write. The walls are lined with hip-high book shelves stocked with my favorite stories. The rest of the walls are made out of white board material. I have a variety of colors of markers. I write timelines, draw doodles, and make notes to myself on creatures, characters, and events. I feel no guilt about writing on the walls. I have a large, squishy beanbag chair in one corner. In the center of the room is a huge desk with a should-be-illegal-it’s-so-comfortable chair, stacks of papers and references scattered on top of the desk. With a room like this, the only thing I could possibly wish to venture out for is food, bathroom breaks, and the occasional real human contact (because my books wouldn’t be half as interesting without real human interaction behind them).

Now you’re planning out your dream office, aren’t you?

Have a Critique/Support Group
Critique groups aren’t just for deconstructing your work and giving you advice to improve. They’re NEVER about having a group of fan girls/boys sitting around telling you how fantastic your story is just the way it is (that is not helpful whatsoever; you want that, give it to your mom/dad/significant other/mostly illiterate neighbor).

I insist on calling them critique/support groups. If you are in a good group, not only will you get along with the other members and get and give helpful feedback, you’ll also grow to kind of like each other. When you’re suffering an intense blow to the ego, when you’re swallowed by the pressures of writer’s block, when you’re stuck and don’t know where to go, you’ve got your own built-in support group. Those people around you have been in the exact same place before. They can give you tips on where they think you need to go from there, as well as reminding you why you write in the first place.

Have Ready Writing Prompts
Currently, if you Google writing prompts, you get about 2,770,000 results. That’s a lot. But it’s also a lot to sort through, with few that are actually usable for a writer of comparable skill.

Now my favorite writing prompts, and the ones we spent most of the session talking about, are Writing Dares. Writing dares are unique to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November, where you have a month to write 50,000 words). The point of NaNo is to get those 50,000 words at all costs. You’re not allowed to edit at all during this period. Writing dares give you something fun to accomplish, keep you moving, and add fun into your writing again. Many of them are silly nonsense and will be edited out later. But the point is, they keep you writing.

There’s a nice list accumulated for these dares. The points don’t actually go towards anything. There are no muffins or cookies. The point of them is purely to have fun and keep moving. But here are my absolute favorites:

Play Chess Drunk
Include a scene in which two characters play chess while drunk.
+ If this takes place in a bar, club, or other place where people tend to go explicitly to get drunk.
++ If no one else in said establishment considers this odd.
+++ If they still play correctly.
++++ and muffins of questionable quality if one or both characters try to philosophize about the game and fail horribly.

Text Message Clairvoyant
Have a clairvoyant who only receives messages from the spirit world through text message.
+ If the character is a major plot point.
++ If the character is a major character.
COOKIE – The phone runs out of batteries at a major plot point.

“Are We There Yet?”
Include the line “Are we there yet?”
+ If it is not said by a child.
++ If said when actually at destination.
+++ If said by driver when at destination.
++++ If nobody has actually moved anywhere at all.

“He’s Dead. Or Gay.”
I dare you to include the line “He’s dead. Or gay. I’m not really sure which.”
+ If the remark is not intended to be homophobic and is not taken as such.
++ If it makes perfect sense in context.

The To-Do List
Have your character use your outline (if you used one) as a to-do list.
+ If they do it out of order.
++ If it includes “Buy Cheerios and goat milk”

“Here, I’ll Help You Kill Me.”
Have a character assist in his/her own death.
+ If it’s intentional.
++ If s/he’s not suicidal.

“How Many Souls Do You Think I Can Fit in This Thing?”
Have a situation where two souls inhabit one body.
+ If they are of two separate genders/sexual orientations
++ If more lost souls or something of the like keep trying to join with the character.
+++ If the phrase “How many souls do you think I can fit in this thing?” comes up… and is not spoken by the original owner of the body.
++++ If the second soul was gained in a totally unusual way, like it was hidden in an orange.
+++++ If the second soul really was hidden in an orange and there is nothing “chosen one” about it: One character ate an orange one day and woke up the next with an extra soul.
++++++ If the character feels the need to put on some obnoxious piece of jewelry or something similar as an excuse as to why s/he acquired an extra soul to keep their own self-esteem up and not admit that it was gained in a lackluster way.

Scavenger Hunt
(I will write a book with this idea someday)
Hold a scavenger hunt for all of the characters.
+ If they have to go back through chapters to find things.
++ If you mention this in earlier chapters, but it makes no sense until the scavenger hunt chapter
+++ If they get something important from a future chapter and bring it back to win the hunt.

Ninja Assassins
Include the following conversation:
Character A: Why would you think I don’t like you?
Character B: You sent ninja assassins to kill me. Twice.
Character A: I said I was sorry.
+If Character A really did hire ninja assassins.
++If Character A is your MC
+++If the assassination attempts are completely justifiable.

Tim
Throughout the novel, have your characters refer to and mention someone named Tim. Tim never actually makes an appearance, but the characters constantly say things like “I ran into Tim at the grocery store and that’s why I’m late,” or “Oh yeah, I heard from Tim all about [important plot point].” The characters respond with things like “How’s Tim doing?” or “Tim. What an interesting guy.” But you never actually find out anything concrete about Tim or how everyone in the novel knows him.
+ If the villain and protagonist are both friends with Tim and when he is mentioned they stop fighting and have a nice conversation about Tim.
++ If Tim finally makes an appearance during the climax. He just walks by.
+++ If Tim is actually a duck (or something equally ridiculous).
++++ If Tim never shows up and is never explained. Ever.

On that note, get out there and keep writing. The worst thing you can do is to let writer’s block win. The way to slay that awful beast is to kill it dead by continuing to write. Get your sugar fix, get back to work, and good luck.

The Writing Process

Everyone has their own process for writing. Some will sit for a certain amount of time. Others won’t get up until they’ve written a certain amount of words, no matter how long it takes to get those words. Others write when they feel like it. Still others write when they can. Some don’t compose until they have it perfect in their heads. Others indulge in throwing word vomit onto the page and then sorting it out later in editing.

I’ll admit it: In the past, I was the “write when I feel like” kind of person. This worked for me in high school, as I never wanted to pay attention in class or do my homework, so I always felt like writing. But now that I’m in college and struggling between finding a job and getting my homework done, I’m just too busy to feel like writing.

Things have been changing for the better lately. With the advent of Writing March Madness by a casual status from one of my professors and the excitement of a friend, I’ve actually set a reasonable goal for myself that I only failed to accomplish once this month. My goal is to write 500 words a day. Currently, my progress has taken me to a point I’m not doing so well structure-wise.

My cry for help for people to tell me their favorite ambush scenes went unanswered. Grinding out a painful ambush that works for now but definitely needs to be improved upon, everything’s just gone downhill from there. I know once I get the princess and Ethan out of the mages’ house and on the road, where they can actually interact, the story will be more interesting and read better. It’s just getting past this section that is both painful and terribly important.

So how do you write? Do you force yourself to hit a certain goal? Do you write as the muse comes to you? Do you make sure you’ve got it worked out in your head, or do you let it work itself out on paper?

Send encouragement, cookies, and positive vibes for me, please. Once Mireada and Ethan can actually interact beyond “Who are you?” and “Move it before they catch us!” I know it will be better. Usually escape scenes are more fun. This one? Not so much.

Chocolate Cake, Hot Waiters, and Spring Break

Today I’m off to Seattle for Spring Break. I get to spend the week relaxing in the rainy state, hanging out with my friend, and looking for jobs and apartments (I’m moving up here once I graduate). Today has been a good day as a prelude for a hopefully good week.

This morning, Weber State University’s literary journal, Metaphor, hosted the High School Editors Conference. We had sixty junior high students come. They were a good bunch of kids, though. I taught sessions on Intro to Publishing, Dialogue, and Conquering Writer’s Block. Of course, being a group of junior high students rather than the high school students we had originally planned for, I got a lot of blank stares and disinterest from the six students that came to Intro to Publishing.

Things rapidly improved as I went to my maxed-out class for dialogue. Passing on a few tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over the years (the key tip I gave them: SHUT UP AND LISTEN—then go home and imitate what you hear), I set them to writing a short scene where one person wanted something from the other but didn’t come right out and ask for it. We shared some favorite lines of dialogue from movies, TV shows, and books. Most came from Doctor Who, of course. I shared with them the bit of Stealing the Crown where the advisor is talking Ethan into searching out the princess. I’ll share that at the end with you as well. At the end of the session, with ten minutes left, I asked them if there were any questions, or what else they wanted to talk about. I got a request to read more of my book. Warm fuzzies for me.

After dialogue, I moved on to teach conquering writer’s block. The cool junior high teacher even attended that one. Though the main point I stressed to them was not to let writer’s block win, that if they keep writing and plow through it soon they’ll be past it, everyone’s favorite part of the session were the writing dares. Writing dares are things unique to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November, where you write 50,000 words in one month) in order to encourage each other and to give ideas to continue on. Most of them are nonsense and will probably be edited out after the initial draft, but they’re fun and keep you moving. If you’re interested in seeing some of these yourself, go to writingdares.blogspot.com. They’re amusing writing prompts, I promise. With titles like “Ugly Pineapple,” “He’s dead. Or gay,” and “Here, let me help you kill me,” how can you not want to check them out?

Once we were finished with the High School Editor’s Conference, I took off to run some errands. My favorite errand of the day was picking up my graduation announcements. Though they’re a bit different than what I was picturing, they’re gorgeous and I can’t wait until those I sent them to receive them. Hopefully some family will send money in return!

Announcement mailing was followed by a few rounds of Country Rockband with my roommate, completion of my Writing March Madness goal for the day, two reruns of Bones, and dinner at Applebees. We had chocolate lava cake for desert, and a hot waiter taking care of us through the meal. In the words of my roommate, good dinner and a better show! I didn’t have too bad of a wait at the airport, and the flight I was on was pretty darn comfortable.

All in all, today was a stellar day. I can’t wait to see how the rest of spring break turns out! I didn’t bring any homework. It’s just going to be me, my novel that needs working on, a murder mystery, and the occasional stint on the town with my friend. Wish me luck and fantastic rainy weather, readers, and I hope your spring break/vacation/week-that-is-fantastic-as-you-want-to-make-it goes as well as mine.

P.S. I mentioned earlier that I would give you a bit of dialogue from Stealing the Crown between Ethan and the king’s advisor. Enjoy.

 

To say I was a little miffed about having the table reversed and being told what to do would be an understatement. I stood staunchly by the door, checking the walls for escape routes.

He looked at me before sitting down. “Suit yourself. But that wound cannot make it comfortable to stand.”

“It’s not comfortable in any position. Courtesy of your guards.”

“I think you got off easy compared to them.” Our eyes locked for a moment before he turned back to his papers. “I could summon the medic for you.”

“And have the medic alert the guards on his way out? That isn’t going to happen.”

He scoffed, picking up a glass of whatever he had been drinking before my escapades interrupted him. “If we wished to capture you, they would have already been called.”

“I’m supposed to believe you’re just going to let me walk out of here?”

He pursed his lips. “You did threaten our king. And there is the small matter of murdering six guards.”

“Fodder to the twelve people you killed yesterday.”

“Whatever this notion you have in your head, you must desist. Accusing the king of dispatching his personal force to eliminate such a trivial threat as your guild will not help you. We have proof of your hand in the deaths of those guards. There is no battle to fight.”

My hands tightened into fists as he brushed off the lives of my family. “If you have proof, what do you need me for?”

He leaned back in his chair, keeping his eyes on me. “This is not the first time we’ve heard your name, Ethan.” How the hell did he know who I was just by sitting there?

I shuddered as I became aware of the stone nestled beneath my tunic. It felt hot against my chest. I rubbed at it, looking up in just enough time to catch his frown. “You’ve built up quite a reputation for your age. You can get information on things others cannot. You can steal practically anything.”

I watched him warily. The only way to know what he’d want out of me was for him to tell me. I wasn’t going to volunteer anything.

“We are offering a reward on any information that leads to the reclamation of the princess. Should you assist the investigation, you will be rewarded one thousand hearts.”

I know he didn’t miss my look of surprise. “Don’t you have your own spies and whatnot?”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “They have a network of information. The culprit seems to be beyond that. None of them have anything useful. We need someone who works in the criminal back-alleys, someone that would hear rumors of a prisoner being kept. And wouldn’t you like to clear the name of your group from the implication of kidnap?”

I moved forward until I could lean over the arm of the chair, lowering my face close to his. “Clearing their names would do no good. They’re dead, and nothing you or I do can bring them back. What do they care what they’re implicated in? They’re dead.” I stifled the tiny bit of satisfaction that came from the surprise on his face. I leaned away again and downed the rest of his drink that had been sitting on the table. “But the money you’re offering could come in handy. You’ll get a lot of false information once others find out, hoping to claim the reward.”