Editing is the Worst Thing Ever

Is there anything quite as beautiful as writing the first draft of a story?

Every moment is primed with intrigue, wonder, and mystery.

You just paint everything on the metaphorical canvass as you see it in your mind’s eye. Ideas pour forth from you like a soda fountain filled with Mentos

You pat yourself on the back for every clever line, every twist and turn, every unique character.

Then, once the dust has settled, you must look back on your writing….

And realize that literally everything is horrible.

There are plot-holes everywhere, nobody’s motivation makes sense, the action is either too slow or too fast, the plot is too predictable or disjointed. The list goes on and on.

The worst part is realizing you’re actually going to have to fix this crap.

All it takes for your hard work to be torn asunder is the word “why.”

Why didn’t they just do this? Why didn’t they do that? Why didn’t he ask her this? Why didn’t she stay at home instead?

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You will have to answer these questions and many, many more 😀

Not only that, but you may have to remove some of your favorite sequences in order for the new continuity to make sense. That means hacking away at that razor sharp dialogue and those gorgeous descriptions, leading you to meander down a road rife with uncertainty.

Well…you could ask someone to be your beta reader and get their opinion, but then they may question your literary genius.

You can’t have that.

But really there’s nothing for it.

It’s just another stumbling block on the road to success, or, as is often the case with writing, another mine in a minefield of never-ending despair and disappointment.

Perhaps in between drafts you should take a break. Let it sit for a while and then come back to it when it’s had time to cool. Then you can turn your keen eye to the festering pile of dung that is your first draft with a clear perspective and can dispose of it accordingly.

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Regardless, I think this may be one of the hardest parts of writing. Besides… everything else.

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How to Mary Sue Proof Your Characters

Last week I wrote a post about Mary Sues and why people write them. Today, I want to give you some unsolicited pointers on how to avoid writing a Mary Sue, or even a Gary Stu (the male equivalent).

Enjoy!

Start with a real person. While it may not be a good idea to base a character’s entire identity around one person, it can be a helpful place to begin. If you’re like me you have had at least some exposure to interesting people. Think about what makes them so compelling. Is it their sense of humor? Do they have a hair-trigger temper? Think of a person you know who might fit well within the universe you have created. Then take interesting elements from other people’s lives and add them to the mix. Voila! You have a person.

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Consider the small things. This is the part where you need to start studying people. Just about everyone has body language that is unique to them. What do your friends do when they’re frustrated? Do they puff out their cheeks like a chipmunk and blow out air? Do they drum their fingers on the table? Do they pace? Do they play with their hair? Including these tiny details can really bring your character to life.

Nix the Chosen One premise. I would be incorrect if I said this trope is never well-done or can’t work. However, it’s problematic to use with reckless abandon because you come dangerously close to spreading the dreaded The-Main-Character-Is-Special-Cuz-Reasons virus. Once it enters the atmosphere, it will cause every other character to speak in cryptic phrases regarding the protagonist’s destiny. Perhaps you should just make the main character stand-apart by having them actually do something.

Have them fail at least once. Which is more interesting? The tail of the Underdog that overcame insurmountable odds and repeated failures to eventually reach victory, or the story about the person that wins every single time? One Punch man doesn’t count.

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Give them interests and hobbies. This seems like an obvious one, but it’s something that’s often overlooked. You can tell quite a bit about a person by what activities they engage in during their free time. Perhaps your person likes medieval reenactments, or beekeeping. The sky is the limit. Just find a way to make them stand out.

FLAWWWWWWS! Every character needs flaws because that is what makes us human. It’s how you can tell a real person from a fictional person and the reader needs to believe they are reading about a real-fictional person. If you aren’t sure where to start with this, I highly recommend The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It’s a very detailed book that not only defines negative traits but also gives you possible causes for them, shows you how they could manifest in the character’s everyday life, and even how a character can overcome these flaws.

I hope this was helpful. Good luck with your writing projects!

How I’m Writing What I Don’t Know

Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to write what you know.

However, I have decided to go the harder route and try writing what I don’t know.

Why am I trying to carry out this obviously horrible idea?

Because if I never try anything new, every single protagonist I write will be an introverted middle-class white girl from the midwest.

In this particular case, I am writing military sci-fi so I have to learn more about the armed forces.

How hard could that be?

It was a challenge at first. However, once you get past all the acronyms it still feels like your brain is melting.

Once you learn the ranking, then there’s the weapons and machines/equipment they use, and the training regiment. Then there’s figuring out the difference between a fire team, a squad, a platoon, a company, a battalion, a brigade and corps.

There are 8 to 16  soldiers in a squad, 2 or 4 squads in a platoon, 3 to 5 platoons in a company, 6 companies in a battalion, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

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When I venture out into uncharted territory, I always experience paralysis. Even after I do my homework and try to get as close to the facts as I can, there’s that persistent nagging sensation that tells me I’m going to get it wrong.

This leads to procrastination and mental gymnastics, all designed to keep me from trying.

Because not trying is better than trying and failing. Or at least that’s what my ego tells me.

Part of me wants to give up, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the best way for a writer to understand something is for them to write about it. By doing that I was able to come up with a list of strategies to use to fix my problem and yours as well if you’re struggling like I am:

1. Get a beta reader who knows more about the subject you’re writing about than you. Hopefully, you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is knowledgeable about the topic you are writing about and would be willing to provide their services. If they are reluctant to do so, I would recommend bribery: a pizza dinner for every chapter they read.

2. Get another beta reader who knows less about the subject than you. While you want to write like someone who understands the subject they’re talking about, you don’t want to get so technical that only people who are directly involved in this line of work or have studied this subject comprehend what you’re saying.

3. Reconcile yourself with the fact that you may get something wrong anyway. Try as hard as you can to make a good product. But if you wait until everything is perfect you’ll never produce anything. Take it from someone who knows.

Now go out there, my pretties, and make good work!

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If You Want To Be a Writer, Lower Your Expectations a Lot

When you decide to become a writer, there’s one truth that you must confront at some point: what you write will probably not be as good on paper as it was in your head.

I’ve come to realize this after multiple drafts and constant rewrites of fiction, nonfiction, blog posts and etc. I know it’s not just me who feels this way. Writers and artists like Philip Pullman and Leonardo da Vinci complain that their work is not a perfect reflection of their intentions either.

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It was Leonardo D that once said “art is never finished, only abandoned.”

So how do you know when to abandon your work?

Well…you don’t….

That’s what makes rewrites so exciting!

You never know if what you’re doing is improving your work or if it is becoming exponentially worse due to your constant attempts at redressing problems that may or may not exist, and therefore you chip away at your metaphorical sculpture until little remains but rubble and a caffeine high you obtained from drinking six cups of coffee in a row so that you could finish this one draft before you begin your shift in the morning at your dead-end job that you applied for to pay for your college loans and keep yourself a float until you get published which at this rate may be quite a long time as you’ve read from multiple sources that the likelihood of you getting your work seen by another human being, even if you chose to self-publish, is ridiculously low because so many people are more interested in making their own voices heard that they choose to ignore the other three million people who want the same thing so now you are all just screaming into the abyss, being heard by no one and eventually you become so spiritually malnourished that you start taking whiskey shots in your coffee every morning just to keep the edge off—

Fun!

But I would suggest getting a second opinion from someone you trust. Someone who reads as much as you do. They’ll tell you if you need to continue or not. And if they think it’s done, consider that it might very well be.

You do eventually want to finish this thing. Then it’s on to the next project. Aaaand it’s likely the same thing will happen all over again.

…….If anyone wants to start a support group, I’m on board.

The Short Guide to World-Building for Noobs

For some people creating new worlds is easy. For others it’s a bit more difficult. Here are a few things I’ve learned from experience:

Write more information about this world than you will use in the story. 

Get out a notebook and write down as much about this world as you can: the landscapes, the history, the language, the climate, the people, everything you can think of. However, keep in mind that most of what you are creating will not make it into the finished product. People don’t like being bogged down by too much information. Nonetheless, it’s important that you have this background information so that it feels more organic. You don’t want the reader to feel as if you’re making it up as you go along.

Remember where you live affects who you are as a person. 

Regardless of how you may dislike where you live or the customs you grew up with, it’s undeniable that where you are born affects your view of the world. The same should be said of your characters. For instance, people who live in less forgiving climates tend to be tougher than people that don’t. Think about your character and how their environment shaped their personality. Did it embolden them? Make them fearful? What side of the mountain they came from can make a difference in their development.

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Travel. 

Exploring new lands, tasting new food, and mingling with strangers is the best way to get your creative energies flowing. This is especially true when it comes to world-building. Traveling can broaden your horizons and inspire you to create new worlds that may nor may not resemble this one. You can look up photographs on the internet about certain landmarks, but it’s no substitute for being there yourself.

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Read about other cultures. 

This doesn’t mean you should directly or disrespectfully rip off of other cultures and their beliefs. However, exposure to new ideas (or at least ideas that are new to you) can inspire you to create your own. Study different religions and sciences. Read short story collections from other countries. Do as much research as you can about different environments.

Good luck!

How to Write Women: a Guide for Men

Hello, men.

I am a woman.

Today I am going to give you some tips on how to write female characters. Keep in mind that women are human beings and no woman is exactly the same as another. However, I’m hoping to give you at least a general idea of how to pull off a convincing female.

Don’t go for the Pretty Princess or Mighty Warrior archetypes. 

I appreciate male writers who are attempting to rebel against the Disney princess paradigm of women from yester year, but giving a chick an AK and no personality is not helping the feminist cause. That isn’t us either.

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Very few of us can be compartmentalized as either girly girl or tom boy. Most of us are an amalgamation of both. For instance, some of us like to go out hunting one day and then shoe shopping the next. Others might be really into sports like rowing and have a bedroom chock full of stuffed animals. Some of us may be into tattoos and video games and also enjoy coloring books. Shut up. They’re therapeutic.  The point is, we don’t often completely give ourselves over to one stereotype or another.

Give them a weakness. 

This goes back to the fallacious concept of the man-in-skirt that is many action hero women. Your character is a person, therefore, they have a weakness. Maybe they suffered some horrible trauma at a young age. Maybe they have a disability or perhaps they are unsure if their cause is just.

You aren’t sexist because your female character has some sort of fault. Unless their fault is hopelessly whining and being kidnapped all the time. Then it’s a bit sexist. Moving on.

Remember relationships are important to women. 

And no, I don’t mean just the romantic kind. I mean relationships in general. Women tend to value friendships, family, and romantic entanglements above most things. That’s not to say women can’t be career-driven, or that they are dreamy-eyed dopes that doodle their crushes names into their notebooks.

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However, if you are writing a female character odds are they have at least one confidant, whether it’s their mother, their sister, or their best friend. Most women (keyword: most) aren’t complete loners. Even if they feel like an outsider, they will usually try to attach themselves to a person or a group in order to feel balanced. Think of it like a wolf belonging to a pack. It just feels natural and safe to do this.

Some female characters need more motivation to take risks. 

Admittedly, this depends on what your MC’s personality is like. But in most cases women are less likely than men to throw themselves into the fray unless something serious is at stake. We tend to be less prone to “Dude, hold my beer” moments, but not necessarily immune. Especially if there is actual beer involved. The voice in the back of our heads that tells us that we’re about to do is stupid tends to be louder and has more sway over our actions.

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Don’t give your character bitchiness in leu of actual competence and confidence. 

Just because a character shouts at people and orders them around, that doesn’t mean they are a “strong female character.” I’ve seen this done by male writers (and even some female writers) many times. More often than not these characters look tough on the outside to prove they “aren’t that type of girl”, but when it comes to actually doing something, they usually wind up getting themselves into more trouble rather than helping anyone get out of it. If they were bitchy and competent, I would have less to complain about.

The easy way to overcome this is to simply show us how awesome this girl is rather than having her tell us how badass she is. Unless the very point is to make her look like a jerk.

Women tend to be more sensitive. 

This doesn’t mean all of us are weepy or completely at the mercy of our feelings. It just means we tend to have stronger spidey-senses than men when it comes to certain things. Comedians often joke about how women can tell a million things about a person simply by how they drank their tea, but there is an element of truth to this. Our gut feelings are often what drive us to follow leads others might overlook. While we are often a cautious bunch in general, most of us trust our intuition when it says something is not right, and we’re willing to put ourselves at risk if it’s in the name of helping someone else.

Remember this: not all women are the same.

However, my hope is that I have assisted you in getting into the proper mindset.

Good luck with your projects!

A Writer’s Dilemma: The Problem With Conflict

It’s pretty obvious that one of the central components to a story is the conflict.

It doesn’t matter what the conflict is: fighting the Dark Lord, winning the beef cake, or keeping the world from losing its Twinkies.

There just has to be a problem for the protagonist to solve.

I am good at coming up with conflict.

My characters suffer horribly at my hands.

The problem with getting your characters into terrible situations, however, is that, eventually, you have to get them out.

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Sure, it’s easy to say the character needs to overthrow a corrupt government and ward off an alien incursion, but how would they go about doing that? Where would they even begin? Especially when these people have no military training or exemplary fighting skills?

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I expect them to have a clue what to do when even I wouldn’t know how to act in these situations.

There they are, strapped to a chair with a bomb that’s set to go off at any moment. They rock their chair from side to side desperately before turning to me in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

“Writer!” they scream, “what do I do?!”

Me:

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Eh, I’ll get back to you when the answer comes to me during a 6 a.m. shower. You can wait that long, can’t you?

Them:

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Me:

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On the bright side, maybe if the solution is a surprise to me it’ll be a surprise to the reader as well. Or perhaps I’m just playing one long game of mental hide-and-seek with myself. Only time will tell.

Amidst Political Chaos, My Novel Progresses

It’s been over a week since I’ve updated this blog and I’ve been feeling guilty about neglecting it. I would use the excuse that I’ve been busy (and I have), but more than that, I’ve been emotionally rung out (haven’t we all) and I didn’t trust myself to use this medium without making it all about my thoughts and opinions about the events that have been taking place in my country.

I didn’t want to talk about politics because a) you probably don’t care about my politics and b) that’s not what this blog was intended for.

As turbulent and scary as the events of the last few days have been, they have assisted me in getting where I want to be with my writing. It’s easier to retreat into a shell and concentrate on a fictional world of your own design when people you love and care about are engaging in a verbal civil war.

I’ve absorbed myself in enough online articles and videos about the election that my brain finally cried “enough!” and demanded that I switch gears. There’s nothing I can do about the political climate. Time to put my focus on something I can control.

I can’t control what other people say or do or think or feel. However, I can control what I do and I’ve decided that I want to write my fiction, thank you very much.

For the next several weeks my primary focus will be on school, work, and my novel. Nonetheless, I will try to update more frequently.

I hope all of you are doing well no matter what side of the political aisle you stand on.

My Novella is a Novel Now

I suspected this day would come. I had just hoped I would be more ready for it.

I realized upon rereading the most recent draft of my latest project that I would not be able to do my characters justice in such a short amount of time.

If I want to tell the story and give it the emotional gut-punch it needs, I will have to increase the length and expand it into a full-length piece.

My original plan was to go big and then just chip away at it piece by piece until it was the right length. However, the longer I write the less likely that seems. The story keeps getting bigger and bigger, the characters have more and more to say. A measly 65 pages won’t suffice.

It has to be a novel.

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But Rachael, you say, what’s wrong with a novel? After all, novels are what really make money. 

Yes. But I am a painfully slow writer. It takes me, on average, two to three hours to write two pages and that’s if I know what I’m doing.

I expected to knock this bad boy out in a month or two. Now it will likely take me over a year.

You don’t understand how many projects I have planned already. Now they will be backlogged forever. Or at least until someone else comes up with the same idea I had and publishes it first.

I love writing this story, but….

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I have another time travel story, a crazy writer story, and a fantasy story all waiting for me to return to them and here I am hacking away at this monster of a project.

Sigh.

Well, there’s nothing for it.

I need to get back to work on this thing, or who knows how long it will take for me to complete it.

For everyone else is NaNoWriMo. For me it’s OhMyGoHoAmIStOnThChMo– Oh My God How Am I Still On This Chapter Month.

Good luck on your projects, good reader. I will need it with my current endeavor.

I Can’t Write At Home. The Internet Wants My Soul

Out of curiosity, how many of you guys write from home?

Because I can’t.

I’ve tried but, for whatever reason, being at home just feeds my addiction to the internet.

I boot up my laptop, game face on and notes in my hand, only for my Facebook page to pop up on the screen like-

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Next thing I know, I’m on Youtube and watching videos on how to survive a nuclear fallout.

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In order to get down to business, I must journey to a coffee shop or restaurant and spend two to three hours typing away while mindlessly nibbling or sipping their wares.

This isn’t always a convenient arrangement as sometimes the weather is not favorable for travel, or sometimes I don’t complete my daily responsibilities until later when these places are closed.

Oh, that’s fine, I say to myself, I’ll just get some writing done at home. 

Internet:

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The answer seems simple: disconnect from the WiFi.

However, even if I do that, I will become distracted by something else. I’ll watch a movie I purchased on iTunes. I’ll look through my photos I took on vacation. I’ll edit a silly video I made on iMovie.

There’s a cornucopia of possibilities for mindless activities.

I suppose I’ll just have to consider these places my office for the time being and respect my inconvenient habits.

I suppose it’s better than not writing at all.