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Write or Die

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This is sort of a product plug without me getting paid for it.

Really, I just want to let my fellow writers know about this nifty little tool called Write or Die. http://writeordie.com/

Write or Die is a fantastic motivator for those who struggle actually writing. There is a free version online, or you can pay and download it to your computer or your iPad. They’ve got lots of options.

Anyways, Write or Die works like this: You pick how many words you want to write and in how much time you want to have written them. You select Gentle, Normal, or Kamikaze  consequences. Then you hit write.

If you selected Gentle, as you’re going along writing, if you stop writing for a certain amount of time, a little popup message will go off reminding you to continue writing.

If you selected Normal, a horribly obnoxious noise will remind you to keep writing.

If you selected Kamikaze, it will start deleting your words you have written until you continue to write.

So how much motivation do you need to write? This program is equipped with all of them. It really is a fantastic tool for National Novel Writing Month, where you have a set amount of time to finish your project.

Have any of my readers ever heard of/used this? If so, what are your thoughts on the program? And if you haven’t, but check it out after reading this, let me know what you think of it!

How Far is Too Far?

Speculative fiction is a growing category these days. It’s a rising trend (though really, it’s applicable to all fiction) to push the envelope and see what you can get away with. The constant question asked by amateur writers is “How far is too far?”

How far can you push the readers into uncomfortable territory before they balk and walk away? How far can you take an idea before it splits at the seams? How far can you diverge from the natural laws of the universe or the norms that we are used to and still make sense?

What many new writers do not realize is there is no such thing as “too far.” While it’s true that some decisions you make will scare some readers off or at least anger some people, it’s not true that you should let that dissuade you from writing something. You cannot please everyone.

As long as you write strongly enough, you create characters with enough depth, you create your own laws for how things work and you stick to those laws, you focus on little details to flesh things out, you can get away with anything! You don’t have to stick to reality. Because the beautiful thing is, this is fiction.

Who says cars can’t fly? Physics? Sure, but our physics are based on theories that are only our interpretation of phenomenon around us. Science is asking to be proven wrong, and some day it might. Who says people don’t have two heads? Biology? Well, that’s just from what we’ve seen. There could be thousands more species out there.

The point is, you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you’re going too far into unknown and unexplored territory. As long as you spend the time developing the ideas in your head, as long as they are real to you and you know every minute detail of how things work, then you shouldn’t have any troubles going off the beaten track. It’s fiction; everything really worth writing, at its core, has already been written. What makes stories unique, what makes it possible for new stories to still be put out and published, is the unique combination of elements, words, and characters. If you just rehash something from someone else without adding in that new flair, that venture into uncharted territory, than you’ll have a bland story that no one will read.

You can’t go too far in fiction. But you can go not far enough.

Why I Write Fanfiction

There’s a lot of derision against fanfiction in the writing community. Harsh claims fly around like slings and arrows, claims such as: People need to be creative enough to come up with their own characters and stories; It’s such a waste of time; Fanfic writers are just lazy; It’s so poorly written.

I don’t agree with any of these claims. I’m going to break the claims down one by one and talk about why I write it.

1) People need to be creative enough to come up with their own characters and stories.
Most well-written fanfiction is created by authors in their spare time. The two authors I follow on fanfiction.net are a published writer and a college professor. The published author uses an established story to insert her own characters (who fit into the ‘verse very well) to explore them in ways they don’t get used in her books.

As you all know, I’m avidly working on my own stuff. But sometimes the plot bunnies run rampant in my head. I’m watching my favorite shows or reading my favorite books, and an off-handed idea will pop into my head. “What if…” Fanfiction is all about what ifs. What if the character had acted on that comment? What if they had ended up here instead of here? What if something more happened behind the scene that we, as an audience, didn’t get to see? When the plot bunnies run rampant in my head, I can’t focus on my own stories. I need to get the idea out in order to move forward. And what better way to get them out then to share them with other people who will enjoy it?

2) It’s such a waste of time.
Well, yes, but name one hobby that isn’t a waste of time?

And even then, “waste” is completely subjective. It’s wasteful if you look at it in you can never make money out of it. You can never get your fanfiction professionally published (at least not in the US).

But if you look at the other aspects, it’s not a waste of time. For me, writing fanfiction is an exercise in voice. I will not write a story unless I can capture the established character’s voice. The stuff I watch and read is very different from the things I write. I can get practice in writing separate voices, and that can translate into my books.

I also get practice at keeping my readers enthralled. Fanfiction is a way to quickly publish and get immediate feedback. If something is not working, I can find it out quicker than I would with my normal fiction if I didn’t have a critique group.

3) Fanfic writers are just lazy.
I know quite a few wannabe writers who also suffer from this disease. They don’t bother to check their continuity. They don’t bother to check facts. Some writers forget or refuse to do these things. Others live by the book of making their work completely accurate. Generalizations do not stand here.

The same can be said for fanfic writers. Some are lazy and just slap things together, throwing reality, continuity and facts to the wind. Others are meticulous, checking all sources of canonical/fanonical facts to get their story perfect. The good stories, the ones worth following, take the time to make their stories good. And then there’s the helpful readers; betas, who also work for free, will fact-check for you. So will readers that just feel nice enough to leave helpful reviews.

4) It’s so poorly written.
Once again, that is an unfair generalization. Yes, you will have to sift through a large amount of poorly written stories thanks to the ease of publishing in fanfiction forums. It’s just like self-publishing and e-publishing: People can easily publish crap. But those that really care about their craft will make sure it’s up to standards before they even show it to anyone.

It’s all about the standards of the author. There are a lot of crappy writers out there, I will admit to that. But there are also truly gifted and passionate artists. Fanfiction gives them a chance to build a fan base within an existing fan base. They have a chance to practice their craft as I’ve mentioned above.

Debunking the previous ideas aside, my biggest reason for writing fanfiction is pure love. I love the characters and worlds of which I write. I’m saddened by the limited amount we get with them. I cannot paint or draw. But I can express my affection for these stunning and well-crafted characters by continuing them in short vignettes and funny little stories. (Plus, as I said before, I get these ideas of what could happen and an intense desire to see it. Musical episode of Doctor Who, anyone?)

So the next time you think about degrading a fanfiction writer, make sure you sort out how much of your opinion is reasonably based and how much of it is unfair generalizations. Just like fan art, fanfiction is a way to express love for a character and explore abilities. In my opinion and experience, fanfiction is well worth the time and effort to write it—and if you enjoy it, worth the time it takes to sift through poorly-written stories to find those gems.

Can You Believe This?!

There are a number of different ways an author can choose to tell a story—a wide variety of point of views to pick from. But that is a post for another day.

One thing that remains nearly constant across all different points of view, for the reader, is that the reader starts out taking everything the narrator says at face value. For most stories, this will cause no problems. The narrator, in their own peculiar way, will tell you exactly what is going on when it is, when you need to know it is, or when they know it is.

But this rule does not stand all encompassing. Sometimes, the narrator’s words need to be taken with a grain of salt and a touch of disbelief. Sometimes the narrator tells you what is going on with a bit of embellishment. Sometimes the narrator straight up lies.

An unreliable narrator is great fun in writing and in reading. But you have to be careful to pull it off. Done incorrectly, you’ll frustrate and alienate the reader, appear inconsistent, or just seem like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Unreliable narrators are the more rare in the narrator stock, but they still exist more commonly than people would think.

The example foremost on my mind is the tailor from Enbizaka, from the song “The Tailor Shop on Enbizaka.” This song is written by Mothy P and performed by one of the Vocaloids. Vocaloid is a computer program that can create full songs including vocals and music. The Vocaloids are a large range of products. Each packaged voice has a different character associated with it. Luka, the program used to “sing” this song, is just one of many.

The song tells about this tailor who is renowned for her skill, but she’s unhappy because her significant other never comes home. She comforts herself with continuing her work. One day, she sees her lover with another woman with a red kimono. She goes back to her work, trying not to let her tears ruin the kimono she is working on. The next day, she notices the neighbors talking about the rising murder rate, but she’s distracted by seeing her lover with yet another girl. It continues on from there. You can check out the song below.


A more common example of an unreliable narrator would be Huckleberry Finn.


Due to his naivety and generous nature, he gives people far more credit than then deserve. The audience quickly figures out that he’s not completely accurate because they themselves were children at one point and can easily remember that time of embellishing and misinterpreting.

The narrator from Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” is another example of an unreliable narrator. He assures the reader that he can tell the story calmly and clearly, then goes on to prove how insane he is. Unlike some of the other unreliable narrators I’ve pointed out, the reader is in no danger of believing his words.


On a television scale, the Doctor from Doctor Who can be viewed as an unreliable narrator. He avoids at all possible chances telling the truth about himself. Every time he gives his age, it is incongruous to the last time. He’s actually been called out on it before. He avoids telling about his past exploits unless someone else specifically calls it out. And yet he’s the titular character and so the one we follow through the story. How much of what he tells us of how the universe works and of himself can we actually believe?

My favorite division of unreliable narrators are as follows:

  • The Picaro: A narrator who is characterized by exaggeration and bragging
  • The Madman: A narrator who has a severe mental illness that limits their ability to tell an accurate story
  • The Clown: A narrator who does not take narrations seriously and consciously plays with conventions, truth, and the reader’s expectations
  • The Naif: A narrator whose perception is immature or limited

There are a number of reasons for choosing an unreliable narrator to tell your story and a number of ways to do so. An unreliable narrator is not the worst choice; it does have its uses. If you couldn’t tell by Ethan’s blog post two days ago *double checks the cage lock*, Ethan is not the most reliable of narrators. He errs on the side of being a Picaro. Due to his insufferable ego, not everything he says is correct, though he is more honest with the audience than he is with those he speaks with. But you still need to be a bit wary when you read his tale; I cannot be held responsible for the validity of it.

Deadlines

Deadlines.

That one word can make people shudder, strike fear into their hearts.

But I’m not quite sure why.

For me, without deadlines, I would never get anything accomplished. I’m the kind of person that just loves checking things off a to-do list. It fills me with an automatic sense of accomplishment.

There are different types of deadlines. In work and in personal life, most deadlines that people think of are the big, looming, final deadline. If you leave that deadline as it is, of course it would terrify you. It’s human nature. You can’t imagine having to face something so big and impending.

What you need to do is break it up into smaller chunks. For the NCUR program book I was working on, I made a list of every section I needed, what information had to go into those sections, and when I would be getting that information. Based on when I would get the necessary information, I set a due date for each section. I had some curve balls thrown at me, but it got finished, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the project until the very end.

I have a similar strategy with my fiction writing. I’m trying to keep up with my 500 words a day from Writing March Madness, but I’ll admit to faltering a bit. I have a map of where my plot is going. I’ve set specific times for when each plot point should happen, so I’ll hopefully have the first draft finished by October. If only the MCs would cooperate. Even my fanfiction has a schedule. I’ve promised my readers, a promise I intend to stick to, that I will get a new chapter up at least every two weeks.

The key to getting things done is to set manageable goals. Procrastinating gets nothing accomplished, and feeling like you’re overwhelmed will stop you dead in your tracks. Know your limits, and set your goals accordingly.

Pocket Notebooks

We had an NCUR debriefing lunch today. I’d never say no to free food. Especially when they have brownies.

So now that I’ve been stuffed with sugar, I’ll get back to blogging.

I want to talk today about the tool every writer should stick to: the pocket notebook.

Inspiration rarely strikes on schedule. In my experience, it usually comes in the most inconvenient time. Like when you’re driving down the street.

I also know from experience that it rarely stays in your memory until you can get it down.

Enter the handy dandy pocket notebook.

NOTE: Please do not use the handy dandy (pocket) notebook while driving. I cannot be held liable for any accidents this may cause.

The best part of this pocket notebook is that it doesn’t have to be in coherent order. I don’t know about you, but while I’m taking notes in a blank Word file, I feel like I have to write in complete sentences and have some semblance of structure and order.

But with the pocket notebook, I feel a lot freer in the way I put things in. Flip through some of my pocket notebooks that are full and sitting on a table. It’s filled with random phrases, dialogue, and names; addresses and phone numbers; nonsensical ideas and future inspiration. The notebooks even have odds and ends of other cards, papers, and sketches tucked into it.

The best thing ever about the pocket notebook is that it’s a boredom reliever. When I’m stuck at work, on a train, anything where I have nothing better to do, I’ll flip through it. Reading the things I have jotted down in it makes me want to write again. How’s that for you, portable inspiration?

It really doesn’t matter what the notebook is made out of. You could even just have a bunch of random sheets of paper or note cards in your pocket if that’s your style. But every true and wanna-be writer has some form of a pocket notebook with them. Do you have yours?

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.