About Writing

Inuyashiki

91BhSfBgc7L._RI_

I used to be a big anime geek when I was a teenager, and watched far more series than I care to admit to. I grew out of it after a few years, mainly because I got burnt out on most of the stereotypes and tropes — anime just got so anime, if you know what I mean.

I still watch it every now and then when the mood strikes, which is how I came across Inuyashiki Last Hero.

This is definitely a “after the kids have gone to bed” sort of show.

The basic plot is that 58-year-old Inuyashiki and high school student Shishigami are accidentally killed by inter-dimensional aliens, who replace their bodies with highly advanced combat robots to cover up their crime. Hilarity ensues.

I’m bringing this up because of the characterization of Shishigami was particularly noteworthy. He’s the main antagonist of the story, and the audience sees him do some pretty evil stuff. There’s no doubt that he’s a sociopath who is incapable of empathizing with strangers.

However, he’s not *all* bad. When he cares about someone, he deeply cares about them. More than once, he tries to quit doing evil for the sake of his loved ones, then gets pushed back into it when his loved ones get unfairly hurt.

It creates a genuine conflict in the audience. On one hand, you want to hate him because you see him do really terrible things; on the other, you can’t help but feel that some of his acts were justified. Not all, mind you, but definitely some. He would have settled down into helping society instead of hurting it, if society had been capable of leaving him alone — the audience knows this, and can’t help but feel bad for him because he’s demonized so thoroughly that he can’t change despite his best efforts.

The anime turned out to be a thought-provoking departure from the usual stereotype of the evil antagonist.

So the next time you sit down to start writing a novel, don’t be afraid to humanize your villain. It’ll be a change of pace from what everyone is used to.

About Writing

Learning how to write from Bob Ross

Sometimes I like to turn on Bob Ross to absorb how calm and mellow he is, and I find it relaxing to sit and watch him paint for a bit. Children are highly chaotic entities, so I know how to appreciate the change in pace that comes with everyone sitting together watching a show that we can all enjoy.

It occurred to me that one could also learn how to write from Bob Ross, as long as you think metaphorically.

He doesn’t simply slap down blobs of color and call it done. He blends the paint, adds shadows and highlights, and is mindful of the details. He also doesn’t overwork the paint or try to control every single aspect of the picture, instead working with the textures of the brush strokes and allowing elements to evolve naturally.

And, as everyone knows, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

A lot of writers stop at the blobs of color phase. They’ll free write whatever passes through their minds then hit ‘publish’ without any more thought about the story. These sorts of writers can produce a lot of content in a short amount of time, but it will all feel unpolished and unsatisfying. Often, when I have tried to explain how these writers have good potential but they need to dedicate more attention to reworking their story, they get upset rather than accepting the advice (even when I’m responding to their request for criticism). So, remember, blobs of color are your foundation, but they are not your finished story. The first draft should not be your last. And no, your blobs of color are not more genius than anyone else’s. They all pretty much look the same.

Others will overwork the story to death. They’ll edit out the spontaneity of adventure, and reduce their characters to props who serve rigid roles, instead of letting them shine as quirky individuals. These writers don’t let the overall picture evolve naturally, and their stories feel formulaic. While they are often well intentioned, they don’t know how to let the story flow on its own.

There are also writers who put in too much detail, and create overly-busy stories with no clear focus. They forget to leave the background in the background. They throw too much information at the reader all at one, or create more characters than there’s room for. They describe the condiments instead of the picnic.

When you are in the process of editing, take a step back and try to visualize the story as a painting. Is there enough detail without being overdone? Did you let elements evolve naturally and follow the flow? Did you flesh out the foreground and leave the background appropriately hazy? Is it something that you would hang on *your* wall? Remember, you can always fix it.

And the next time you watch Bob Ross, just imagine that he’s speaking in metaphor and soak in all of his encouragement.

Books

Bloodstained

header

I will be discussing spoilers in this post. Consider yourself warned.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with video game culture, there was a series that started clear back in the 80’s called Castlevania. Many people consider the 1997 release, Symphony of the Night, to be the best game in the series (phew, exposition).

74abkmmqyfv11
Alucard

I confess that I have never played Symphony of the Night. All I know is that Alucard is the ultimate gothic pretty boy vampire character.

Anywho, the creator of Castlevania got fed up with video game companies, struck out on his own with Kickstarter, and developed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as a spiritual successor.

We played Bloodstained because I was in the mood for something gothic, lol. I’d rate it 4/5.

All right, now here are the spoilers: your character wakes up after a ten year long nap, and discovers that her bff is the villain. He is later revealed as being mind-controlled by a demon, and the excessively helpful blonde woman is outed as being the one who is actually evil. She summons the ultimate demon that you have to fight and kill as the final boss of the game.

And, well, I thought that the story line was the weakest part of the game. It was too obvious and predictable, but teased just enough that I kept hoping it would try something new. It didn’t.

The mind control shtick has passed its sell-by date, in my opinion. Whenever characters act like, “You used to be sooo good, but now you want to kill everyone. What’s going on?” you can bet that it’s because of MIND CONTROL.

I dunno, maybe they were abused and damaged beyond what they could handle. Maybe they realized that society is irredeemably corrupt. Maybe, just maybe, something happened that made them change their mind. Characters are allowed to evolve, and it doesn’t always have to be for the better. Even good characters can have a dark night of the soul.

And the main character… she’s allowed to change too; she doesn’t have to statically believe in black and white forever and ever. Wouldn’t it be wild if, halfway through the game, the main character has an epiphany about pursuing the wrong goals, and forms an alliance with the antagonist? No one would see it coming!

It feels like there’s a big, gaping hole in the middle of storytelling that no one acknowledges, ideas that are never explored because we’re too accustomed to stereotypes.

In this day and age where indie is becoming more and more accessible, what are we afraid of?

About Writing

Character Descriptions

The other day I asked my husband, “What the heck does it mean when people describe eyes as ‘almond-shaped’?”

So he pulled up some references on drawing eyes and explained the differences, before grabbing some photographs for me to guess which shape the eyes would be.

I proved that I will never be a visual artist when I described them all as, “eye-shaped.”

A lot of writers describe characters like they’re sitting next to a sketch artist, who wants to know just how wide their forehead is in relation to the height of their nostrils and all that, but personally I’m not visually oriented enough to pull that off. I like to joke that I would make a terrible witness to a crime, because my description would be along the lines of, “He looked like an evil horse, only with fish eyes . . . no, I haven’t the slightest clue how tall he was.”

When I look at someone, I don’t notice many physical details; I think of them in metaphorical and emotional terms instead. That’s why I think that all eyes are ‘eye-shaped,’ but some of them are more fish-like than others.

Everyone is going to picture something different when they visualize my horsey villain, but the mental image will tickle the fancy far more than “long face and wide-set eyes.” I care more about amusement than pedantry when it comes to my craft.

The next time you write a character description, don’t try to force Brad Pitt’s face on all your readers — it’s okay to step back, paint with broad strokes, and say something different. Let your readers choose for themselves what they want to imagine. A story that asks for a little thought in return will be far more engaging than one that spoon-feeds every detail.

2009-10-16-beartato-drawharrisonfrommemory
If I were an artist…

Source

Books

Stranger Things 3

I adore the first season of Stranger Things.

I wasn’t looking forward to season 3. WAY too much time had passed since season 2, and I had stopped watching Netflix entirely ever since they killed member reviews (I like to have an idea of what I’m getting myself into, especially when the kids are around (which is almost always)). But, as my husband and I were browsing through the new releases on our Nintendo Switch, we saw that a game had been based on season 3, and we asked ourselves, ‘When was that supposed to come out anyway?’

Apparently, July 4th, so we slogged our way through it. ‘Slogged’ is really the best word, since season 3 was terrible.

The general overview is that the characters were turned into bland props, all of the quirky nerdiness that made the show so appealing in the first season was gone entirely, and there was a heck of a lot more cussing all around in lieu of intelligent dialogue. Instead of existential Lovecraftian horror, the main focus was on everyone breaking up with each other for the sake of relationship drama. Gag me.

cWBYQDN

My review, full of spoilers:

Continue reading “Stranger Things 3”

About Writing

The Chosen One

A trope that I see every now and then that drives me absolutely batty goes something like this:

Congratulations hero! You are the CHOSEN ONE! You have special powers that no one else does!

The intro is all about letting the audience know how super awesome this character is, being the Chosen One and all, and you think that you’re in for some impressive ass-kicking all around, literally and/or figuratively.

Then, as the story progresses, it turns out that the character isn’t that awesome after all, because:

  • They don’t want to be the Chosen One.
  • A dozen other characters are introduced who also have special abilities.
  • Their power turns out to not be anywhere near as cool as it sounds.

Any one of those three would put my teeth on edge, but for whatever reason I usually see all three of these together. I used to try to finish stories that pulled this trope, but experience has taught me that the ending never gets better.

So, let’s break down my bullet points:

  • They don’t want to be the Chosen One

I suspect that the writer is trying to be subversive with this one, but societal context has changed to the point that aspiring to be a mediocre nobody is par for the course — you can even decorate your home with quotes about how you will never do, say, or think anything unique or special. Personally, I have been heavily criticized every time I’ve taken on a new responsibility, often because others treat it as some sort of enslavement.

You have four kids? How on Earth are you ever supposed to do anything?

Oh, I don’t know. Occasionally the kids take off the shackles and I’m allowed a bit of sunshine; just enough to keep me going. So tell me, what do you do with your freedom? Work all day, then veg out on the internet?

Anyway, it would be far more refreshing to see a character who actually wants to be the Chosen One and takes the responsibility seriously.

  • A dozen other characters are introduced who also have special abilities.

I wish I could say that this is due to a lack of imagination, but I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s wish fulfillment on the part of the writer. Usually, the main character is no longer set apart, instead belonging to a tight-knit group where everyone knows everyone else’s pain, and never has to face the possibility of loneliness.

After the cadre has been formed, the enemies start popping up with even stronger powers to justify it all, and the hero is looking less and less unique and interesting. But at least the writer vicariously has imaginary friends!

  • Their power turns out to not be anywhere near as cool as it sounds.

This is the natural consequence of the previous bullet points. Even if someone is uncertain at first, they’ll naturally be drawn into enjoying ULTIMATE POWER when they realize what they can do with it, so in order to keep up with the mediocre aspiration, the ULTIMATE POWER can’t actually be all that seductive or useful. You also can’t make your friends feel bad by being obviously better than them, and the battles need more suspense by dangling the question of whether or not the entire group has what it takes to defeat the single bad guy. Working alone. Against all of you.

Wait, who was supposed to be the Chosen One again?

It’s a terrible trope, which unfortunately plagues the fantasy genre, so I keep coming across it. Le sigh.

Maybe we could try something new?

About Writing

On Real People

I don’t base any of my characters off of real people, because, frankly, everyone I know is either so normal that it isn’t worth it, or so out there that I wouldn’t know how.

The thing about normal is that once you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. I already know what normal people think about every subject, because they all think and do the same things (quite deliberately, too). Hence, the whole normal part. If I write a normal character, he’s going to be based on the conglomerate of normal behaviors, rather than any specific individual.

Then there are the weirdos, who have wild anecdotes and even wilder beliefs. These are the people who are fun to talk to, because I don’t know what they’ll say or do next. That unpredictable element also makes them impossible to write, because I don’t know what they’ll say or do next. Can’t write what I don’t know.

All of my fictional characters are just that: fictional. I draw heavily from my personal study of psychology, but I never have any specific people in mind.

.

.

.

hqfsa

About Writing

Writing Romance

My Venus is in Pisces, which is the astrological way of saying that I’m the quintessential hopeless romantic. This was not a personality trait of mine that was ever supported during my formative years, and as a teenager I was frequently warned that I was setting myself up for disappointment; I was also told that I shouldn’t expect to get married.

But I decided not to listen to anyone, so no harm done. I married my twin flame anyway.

When I talk about romance, I mean the earth-shattering, butterfly-inducing, dizzying, elevating, whirlwind of excitement sort. The kind that we’re constantly told doesn’t exist. That kind.

A major motivation behind reading is to enjoy stories that I can’t hear by simply talking to the neighbors (even if they are sordid and juicy). I like stories that are larger than life and inspirational; I just can’t find books like that.

Most romance novels are about an attractive, powerful, rich guy, and since I frequently indulge in that fantasy myself as a writer, I’m not going to knock it. It’s obvious why she would fall for him, but why does he fall for her? The heroines range from mediocre to psychotic harpies; with heavy heapings of selfishness on top.

That question, ‘Why does he fall for her?’ is often left unanswered, and that kills every chance of deeply capturing the spirit of romance. If I hate the heroine, I’m not going to empathize if she captures the attention of Mr. Mega Hunk. I usually declare, “This book is stupid!” and give it a bad review on Amazon. No vicarious butterflies, no point in reading.

When I write my female characters, I write them as someone that I could fall in love with myself, and I have zero interest in Anastasias or Bellas. Perhaps I relate to novels in the wrong sort of way, but I like to think that’s what differentiates me from the Mary-Sues.

My hope is that if I write a scene that gives me butterflies, others will experience that as well when they read it.

I am a hopeless romantic, after all.

About Writing

Chakras and Archetypes

No one wants to read a novel where half of the characters could be replaced with cardboard cutouts and have no effect on the story, yet so many authors struggle with that very thing; even professional ones. We all know the criticisms of wooden and flat characters who never develop, but what to do about it is not so obvious.

I can tell you though, the answer is probably not found by playing 20 questions with character sheets. You’re writing a person, not a profile.

Me? I turn to nonfiction.

One of my favorite books is Chakras and Their Archetypes by Ambika Wauters, which I highly recommend. It gives a good breakdown of dysfunctional personality types, then contrasts it against what the strong, functional personality looks like. While a person may be weak in one area, they are likely going to be strong in another.

I think that something writers forget is to make their characters internally balanced in some way. Joe may be a maniac bent on power, but he fixes up injured birds in his backyard. Throw in some exposition about the bird bath owned by Mrs. Roberts, who always fed him cookies after his dad beat him up, and the characterization practically writes itself. Why is he bent on power? He hated being helpless and hurt, and thinks that it will protect him. Why does he help injured birds? Because he secretly relates to them, and thinks about the good that Mrs. Roberts had in his life, even if it was just a tiny part. Joe isn’t bad, he’s just badly damaged. Maybe he’ll find redemption, maybe not.

Hey, that wasn’t hard at all.

Archetypes are useful tools. Personally, I think they are a little too one-dimensional to base a character entirely off of one archetype, but combine a few in different areas (a rebel with people, but a caregiver to animals), and you can build some unique and dynamic characters.

 

37c91f41f21099b03149879c39b66d23

About Writing

Instead of studying Creative Writing…

I majored in Creative Writing during my stint in college. In one of my regular English classes, that focused on teaching grammar of all things (who does that?), we had a published author come as a guest speaker one day. After class, offhandedly, he commented, “Majoring in Creative Writing is the worst thing you can do as a writer.” He advised me to switch majors immediately.

I can’t remember his name or the title of the book he wrote. Shame, really, because that was probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

If you’re on this journey, don’t read books or websites that teach creative writing. Just don’t.

Learn grammar. Learn what prepositions and interjections are. Watch School House Rock. Internalize it. Use it all the time, even when texting. Embrace being seen as snooty. Words are your medium, and you need to understand how to use them correctly. Just don’t turn into a “grammar nazi” who compulsively hyper corrects everyone else — people hate that. Part of the rich complexity of English is that it can, and often does, accommodate oddities and mishmashing, so learn how to use that effectively.

Read non-fiction. I particularly like self-help books, as they tend to be a rich reservoir of foibles and psychology, wrapped up in layman’s descriptions that are easy to understand. And hey, if I happen to also benefit from it, all the better. These sorts of books will give you a better understanding of how to create realistic characters than worksheets ever will.

And of course, research your genre. Don’t write a Highlander romance based entirely off of all the other Highlander romance novels you’ve read; find a history book about Scotland first. This is especially important if you are writing in one of the realistic genres; its easy to alienate those who could be your most loyal fanbase if you completely misrepresent their field.

Finally, practice. Write all the time. Write about everything. Write and rewrite. Write. Write. Write. Compose stories in your head while you’re at the dentist or driving in your car. Don’t start judging anything until the 2nd or 3rd drafts; instead, enjoy the flow of creativity. Just frickin’ write!

You’ll learn far more than Creative Writing classes will teach you.