Your Characters are NOT Your Friends: A Public Service Announcement for Writers

I’ve seen several Instagram posts that say things like “is it sad that my characters are my best friends?” or “I have more conversations with my characters than I do with real people. Is that bad?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

Not because you’re a wallflower with friends that exist only in your mind. That’s perfectly normal*.

It’s sad because this means one of two possibilities: One, you are a horrible friend, or two, you are way, way, way too nice to your characters.

It’s natural to form an attachment to people that you’ve created. People have been doing this for centuries. The problem is when you care too much about someone, you want to nurture them, perhaps even protect them from impending doom.

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You cannot do this with your characters.

If you want a good story, you must put your characters through hell. Kill their families, have their lovers break-up with them, have owls eat their dogs. Nothing is allowed to go their way, or at least not for very long.

Loving your character too much might encourage you to go easy on them, to pull punches. Don’t do this. The best characters are forged in fire.

Another problem you can run into is making your characters too perfect. You want the audience to love your characters as much as you do, so you will have them always put their best foot forward. Problem is no one actually wants to read about perfect characters. Real people aren’t perfect so reading about someone who is takes the reader out of the story, constantly reminding them that what they are seeing is an illusion. And not even an entertaining one at that.

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Lastly– and I hate to break this to you– if your characters were magically able to obtain a physical form and interact with you they would probably hate you.

I’m not saying you’re a bad person it’s just that….

Let’s face it, you are responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened to them. Every illness, every death, every catastrophe that has every entered their lives is on you. You could literally make all their problems go away with the scratch of a pen. And yet, you sit there, drinking your coffee like a psycho.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your characters at all, if you don’t care then the audience probably won’t be persuaded to either. Just keep in mind that in order for them to reach their full potential, you must keep an emotional barrier between yourself and your creations.

A mother hawk may love her babies, but she’ll still push them out of the nest so they can fly.

Some of them may die, but it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.

*I have been informed that this actually isn’t normal and that most people have friends that exist in the real world. I was so shocked I couldn’t even find a gif that appropriately conveys my emotions. 

Social Media Killed My Curiosity About Authors

When I was a child I daydreamed all the time about talking to my favorite writers.

While I was toiling for hours over my own horrible manuscripts, I would wonder to myself what wisdom they would impart onto me if I ever mustered up the courage to write to them.

Writers back then were these mystical figures I imagined as silhouettes, tapping away at a typewriter in a clocktower alone all day everyday.

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Their lives were a mystery to me and the only connection I had to them was their work. I could only speculate as to what they did all day, what their hobbies were, what their childhood was like.

Now that I’m adult we have social media, and authors can communicate directly with their readers (and vice versa) at the push of a button…….

I wish they could go back to being silhouettes in clocktowers.

Perhaps it’s because I’m an adult now (technically), but I’ve lost that desire to know more about the people that create the works I read. In fact, I seldom follow well-known authors on any social media platform.

When it comes to famous authors, their social media platforms are usually divided into one of two categories: generic/bland or annoying/repetitive.

The authors in the first camp usually post motivational platitudes about determination and never giving up on your dreams. This on, the surface, isn’t a bad thing, but when that’s all they ever post it’s like “are you a real person, or are you an AI that’s been programed to monitor human behavior?”

The authors in the other camp are the ones that believe that because they are the creators of a universe that doesn’t exist, they know absolutely everything about everything and must, therefore, inform the poor plebeians about what to think. In addition, it would seem they have to tell their readers absolutely everything that is going on with their lives.

EVERYTHING.

“Getting my nails done!”

“Some guy at the mall said something rude to me.”

“Obsessing over (insert popular show here)!”

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I miss being able to imagine what my favorite authors were like because the authors themselves became part of the fantasy. They were just as metaphysical as the characters they wrote. They were untapped pools of mystery and wisdom.

Now that you can learn just about anything there is to know about a person with a quick Google search, the desire for knowledge is gone.

Nobody is interesting anymore.

They’ve become too accessible.

Perhaps I’m just longing for the days when I was more young and naive to the ways of the world. Back when I thought writers were these heroes of myth that brushed hands with the gods and had their lives together. Now that I’m older and social media has pulled back the curtain, I’ve been exposed to the naked truth. Or at least the naked, slightly airbrushed truth.

Writers are mortal.

They’re people with flaws and stupid opinions.

And those stupid opinions might discourage me from reading their books.Books I might need those in my life without realizing it.

As such, I choose not to peek behind the curtain.

I think I’ll stick to my clocktower.

When a Writer You Admire is a Jerk

A few years ago, my novel writing class had a high-profile guest speaker talk to us: the award-winning author of a YA book we had been assigned to read about a week prior.

I was pretty jazzed about it considering how much I’d enjoyed the story. I’ve had predominately good experiences with meeting published authors in the past and have always learned quite a bit from talking with them, so I thought this would be a positive encounter.

My first impression of her was not a bad one. She glided into the room on a cloud of confidence, cool oozing from every pore. She made us laugh, told us a bit about her writing process, and then she opened the floor for questions.

I was the first to raise my hand. She called on me and I asked her how much of the book was based on her own life.

I knew she was an army brat from the bio on the back cover of her novel, but I was curious as to how much of her MC’s life mirrored hers. I had a hunch there were quite a few parallels since most authors derive minute details from their own experiences, but I didn’t want to assume that everything was a perfect representation of her youth.

“Oh,” she replied, “that’s a tourist question. That’s not a good question at all.”

Me:

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Her:

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It’s always disappointing when you discover someone you admire is a jerk.

However, it can be a beneficial lesson to learn. It’s a reminder that, in spite of all that someone may have accomplished, they are still a human being, capable of fallibility. Some foibles are more significant than others, but we all have them. Even the most gifted of us. Especially the most gifted of us.

I’m happy this woman could teach me this lesson. So… very… happy.

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In fact, I’m so happy that I’ve been inspired to write the ultimate novel that will earn me critical praise as well as sacks and sacks of money. I will then use those sacks of money to create a giant pyre and burn all her books in a ceremonial fire.

Beware, jerk writer, I will be avenged through the power of literature!

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Opinion: Instagram v. Twitter

As a writer who is trying to gain recognition, I’ve done what dozens of writing magazines, podcasts, and Facebook pages keep telling me to do: have multiple platforms on multiple social media sites.

This has been a…mostly unsuccessful endeavor on my part seeing as I find social media a distraction from what I really should be doing (a.k.a writing). However, I have found a friend in Instagram, what I once believed to be one of the most self-indulgent websites out there.

I used to think Twitter was my best bet for gaining attention (and perhaps it is) but I find Instagram to be miles superior for these reasons:

There isn’t nearly as much drama on Instagram as there is on Twitter.

Or at least I’ve found this to be true in the writing community. Every time I logged on to Twitter I was instantly flooded by tweets about who was pissed with who. If I were to rename Twitter I would call it Who Are We Mad At Now? It was like being stuck in high school math class all over again. On Instagram, people just take well posed pictures of books, spiral notebooks, or their laptops. Nobody is offended, nobody is being offensive. Everyone is just having a good time looking at cool pictures.

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You can type much more. 

People often praise Twitter for it’s brevity (it being the soul of wit and all), nonetheless, I think that’s how most people get in trouble. They can’t adequately explain themselves in that many words so they often come off as arrogant or uninformed. I much prefer Instagram with it’s (so far) 2,200 character limit. I don’t think anyone needs that many characters for a single post, but it’s good to have that much space available.

You don’t have to constantly think of something witty to say. 

Updating on Instagram is easy. All you have to do is snap a picture of something, make a hashtag, and boom. You got a post. With Twitter I had to continually read and reread my tweet to make sure I wouldn’t offend someone, rework it, and before I knew it, I had spent 10 minutes on a single tweet. This is a colossal waste of time. I would much rather take a photograph of a gorgeous bookstore I saw than try to convince people how smart I am because of who I voted for in 2016.

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If Twitter is your thing, that’s fine. But if you find yourself getting tired of the constant drama and character limitations, I recommend giving Instagram a try. I’ve followed a lot of interesting people this way and I truly believe it’s the superior website if you’re looking for people to communicate with on books and writing.

 

Annoying Clichés Writers Use (Featuring Adorable Cats)

Women having hair that is waist length. 

Most women I know don’t have hair that is waist length. Do you know how hard it is to brush a monster that long, or keep it from getting caught in everything? Mine only went down to my shoulder blades and I had to chop it all off because I kept getting it stuck in doorways. There’s also the grooming and upkeep you have to take into consideration. Who has the time to blow dry and style that much hair? Not most people.

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Hooman bed is best bed 

People with gray eyes. 

In my twenty plus years of existence, I have met maybe two people that have gray eyes. It’s an even rarer eye color than green. So why do I keep coming across people in books with gray eyes? It seems like every other character in books these days have them. It’s like some writers can’t find a more creative way to describe their characters. I don’t know. Give them a beauty mark or something, a scar, anything else but gray eyes.

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Rawr

People biting their lips/digging their nails into their palm so hard they bleed. 

Out of all the clichés I’ve mentioned thus far, this is one of the most annoying. Particularly because nobody does thisEVER. I’ve even tried to do this myself. Whenever I come across a passage like this, I purposely dig my fingernails (which are long and kind of sharp) into the palm of my hand as hard as I can. It leaves an imprint, but it  has never come close to breaking the skin. Same goes with my lips. Nothing. Even if your lips are the consistency of rice paper, they probably won’t bleed. So why does this cliché even exist?

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I can haz milk, hipster hooman? 

Author/character filibuster. 

What’s more fascinating than a writer/character stopping the novel to tell us what the moral of the story is? Literally anything else. I get that dialogue in a book can’t always sound perfectly natural, but it takes a reader out of the moment when you give a character a speech that goes on forever. Nobody can give a speech that detailed on the fly. It doesn’t flow well with the rest of the story either.

JK Rowling and the Inability to Let Go of Harry Potter

A fair amount of people are giving JK Rowling grief about constantly making amendments to the Harry Potter series. While I can understand where they are coming from (and heartily disagree that Hermione and Harry should have gotten together), I can’t entirely blame her for not wanting to leave the Wizarding World forever.

I mean, think about it. Really think about it.

If you’d spent years and years mapping out a fictional universe comprised of hundreds of characters with intricate backstories, laws, spells, social norms, and history, would you want to wash your hands of it forever?

Especially when said world has brought you millions of dollars and world renown? I wouldn’t. I would beat that dead horse until its corpse was drilled into the earth’s mantle.

But we know it’s not just the money that is a motivator. She earned pennies for her Cormoran Strike novel when she wrote it under a pen name (well, until it was let slip that she was the genius behind it) and she has given away a substantial amount of her earnings to charity.

I believe the main culprit is she’s simply lived in Harry Potter’s universe so long to leave it would be like forsaking a part of herself.

I can respect that. I think all of us have spent many years of our lives in the Wizarding World and would not want to completely abandon it.

It can be difficult for an author to know when you should give it a rest. It’s like Leonardo da Vinci once said, “art is never finished, only abandoned.”

How do you know when to abandon your baby?

Perhaps there will never be a definite answer.

All I know is that nothing Rowling could add would destroy my view of Harry Potter. He is safely hidden away in my broom closet where no overzealous JK Rowlings or fanfic writers may hurt him.

I have wonderful memories of reading HP books and watching HP movies, and no one can take them away from me.

Just remember, JK may be able to rewrite HP on the page, but she can never rewrite it in our hearts.

Also, Hermione x Ron forever.

Fight the power.

The Author Knows Best: Book-to-Movie Adaptations

I’m not a purist like some readers when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. I believe it’s okay to change certain elements, or cut out scenes if the time constraints don’t allow for them.

However, Hollywood has a bad habit of fixing things that aren’t broken.

They make badass characters completely pointless (Annabeth in the Percy Jackson films), they remove all humor from a story that is supposed to be a comedy ( Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie), or they just straight up give the story an icepick lobotomy (Cat in the Hat).

The main reasons movies like these fail is because those behind the movie don’t care about what made the original source material great in the first place. They just want to cash in on the book’s success.

As a result, a lot of these movies make a bit of money, then vanish into the ether, never to be watched or spoken of again.

The best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen are usually the ones where the author has had at least some influence on the production.

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Without J.K. Rowling’s input as a consultant, Alan Rickman wouldn’t have known how to approach the character of Professor Snape and the twist that Lily was actually the love of his life would have come completely out of left-field.

Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl and, as a result, it was able to successfully juggle the action, intrigue, and social commentary of the book. If this had been written by someone other than the writer, this would have likely been a train-wreck, or a dime-a-dozen thriller rather than a brilliant commentary about the media and modern relationships.

Especially since Hollywood doesn’t seem to know how to write social commentary anymore.

The Fault in Our Stars was also a brilliant adaptation that captured the humor and heartbreak of the book. John Green was a strongly involved in the making of the movie and, of course, it became a big hit unlike many  YA novels that are made into film (excluding Hunger Games and Harry Potter, obviously). I believe this mostly had to do with the cast and crew’s willingness to listen to Green’s input instead of interjecting an unnecessary love triangle or “hip lingo.”

If the filmmakers haven’t bothered to read the book they should, at the very least, have an understanding of why these stories resonate so strongly with readers, and respect authors as fellow artists rather than brushing them off.

Authors may not be able to write a screenplay of their work, but they do understand the material. They spent months, maybe even years, with these characters and settings.

They’ve had to kill their darlings before so they understand that some things have to be changed for a visual medium. However, their input could prevent something important from being chucked in the bin.

Some writers may not be well acquainted with the world of cinema, but that doesn’t mean their views should be discounted. After all, they were able to make thousands, or even millions, of dollars without A-list actors, exotic sets, or fancy cinematography.

Think about that for a second.

Also, stop making movies about nonfiction self-help books.

Just…..stop.

10 Things Your Non-Writer Friend Doesn’t Understand

While you are able to enjoy happy and long-lasting relationships with people who have no interest in writing, there are a few aspects involved with your lifestyle that a third party, however beloved, may have trouble wrapping their head around.

1. Why You Can’t Go Out Tonight

It is Friday night and your friend wants to go to dinner or catch a movie. However, you have been mentally mapping out your story in your head while at work and you’re itching to get started on that project, or continue where you left off.

“Why are you being so anti social?” your friend may ask. “It’s not healthy to be cooped up in your room all night when you could be out with your friends.”

You love your friend. You love spending time with your friend. But the writer’s life requires you to make sacrifices. You may want to kick back and just relax, nevertheless, the more you put off writing, the harder it is to get back into the rhythm.

This doesn’t mean you never want to have fun with your friend, it just means sometimes you have to say no if you ever want to get anything done.

Man organizing documents in library --- Image by © Hiya Images/Corbis

2. Why You Overanalyze Everything

“Why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie/TV show/book? Who cares if the villain’s motivation doesn’t make sense, or the romance came out of nowhere? Movies/TV shows/books are suppose to be fun. You’re thinking too much.”

What your friend doesn’t realize is a writer’s mind doesn’t just “turn off.” Asking a writer to stop considering integral story elements is like asking a colorblind person to just see green. You obtain new stories ideas through all your senses, and you study all the different forms of storytelling in the hopes of developing your own style.

You know from experience how hard a creator must toil in order for a story to be told well, so when a writer tries to get away with doing the bare minimum it is frustrating.

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3. Most Writers Aren’t Rich

With superstar authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and George R. R. Martin raking in the big bucks, your friend would be forgiven for assuming that most successful writers are makin’ dat money. However, you know that even writers who have published many articles and books are usually lucky to make a living wage, let alone get rich. Writing is not a job you should take if you are hoping to afford a condo in Miami. It’s something you should do because you feel like you’d go crazy if you didn’t.

Making a lot of coin would be nice, and money is a necessary evil for survival. However, if you are truly serious about being a writer, it’s not your aim to get rich.

20 Feb 1961, Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA --- Marie Reed of the Federal Savings and Loan Association sits next to a million dollars in cash. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

4. Nothing Is Sacred

Your friend knows you’re a writer, right? So of course they realize if they tell you about the time their uncle paraded around naked in his trailer park with a loaded shotgun singing “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy,” it’s going in a story someday, correct? Sadly no. Your friend will not understand. In fact, they will likely be very upset. Writers are like pack rats, continuously searching for interesting nuggets of information to place in their stories to help give them flavor. Truth is usually stranger than fiction, so true-life events are typically the most inspiring. You aren’t sharing your friends intimate moments in an attempt to shame them, you’re doing it to bring your story to life. You can explain this to your friend all day, but it’s unlikely they will see it your way.

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5. Your Internet History

Writers need to know most things. Not for their own sake, but for their characters’. If their  protagonist is a sociopath with a proficiency in murder, an author must familiarize themselves with common methods used to end a person’s life. They must know the best way to dispose of a body, how long it takes to drown someone, or the various stages a corpse goes through during decomposition. If you’re fantasy writer, it’s prudent to know about various weapons and poisons or herbs that would be used in an age with no technology.  A thriller writer may need to research some of the key components of a bomb. A fellow writer would understand. You’re friend (and possibly Homeland Security), however…well…don’t give them your password.

01 Jan 1976, London, England, UK --- Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) hides in a trash can in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

6. Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a reality most creatives face. Some symptoms include self-doubt, frustration, and unwillingness to do anything except stare at a blank page and wonder why you couldn’t have become an accountant instead.

You will likely try to explain the depths of your frustration to your friend and they will say something in the vein of “uh huh” like you have spoken in a foreign language they took in high school, but have since forgotten.

To most non-writers, authors are filled with an infinite well of creative juice that squirts on the page with no problem. It’s easy, right? All you have to do is create.

While your friend may not understand, at least they can distract you with stories about their horrible boss or flakey co-workers.

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7. Your Characters Aren’t You

Well, they are versions of you; tiny flakes of your personality. Nonetheless, your character’s thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily a reflection of your own. If you write a story about someone beaten by their alcoholic mother, you might find your friend staring at you with watery-eyes asking if you’re okay. If you write a story in which someone contemplates suicide, you may discover a 1-800 number in your coat pocket.

A writer has to wear many masks in order to depict someone other than themselves. This is difficult to explain to someone who is so close to the original face.

Don’t judge your friend too harshly. After all, they are trying to looking out for you.

12 Jun 2007, Venice, Italy --- Traditional Masks For Sale in Venice --- Image by © Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

8. Rewrites

Some writers rewrite 3 times. Some writers rewrite 30 times. Regardless of how many times you must do it, rewriting is a teeth-pulling endeavor. All your previous problems are thrown back in your face. You must write a beloved character out of existence for the sake of the plot. You have to cut a scene you worked literally hours on because it no longer fits the new direction your story is taking.

It’s like Groundhog Day, only you feel like Bill Murray’s character during the suicide scene all the time. “Why are you writing it again?” your friend may ask. “Why don’t you just publish it the way it is?”

They mean well. They simply don’t understand that writing means rewriting. The first draft is usually a disaster, as is the second, or even the third. Books don’t just happen. They are cultivated through months, perhaps even years, of intense labor. Writing isn’t always a walk in the park, in spite of the fact you can do it from home in your pjs. It requires discipline and rewriting is one of the necessary steps to make towards completion.

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9. You Need Feedback

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You give your friend a chapter, either through email or in person, and you’re left to wait.  You check your phone religiously, you browse your emails, you watch TV,  but you can’t pay attention to anything. Will your friend laugh at that joke? Will they internalize that bit of foreshadow? Ooh. You should have edited out that scene. It didn’t end up going anywhere in the long run. At long last, your friend texts you.

“It was good,” they say.

You pause for a moment, wondering if they will explain.

“Great,” you type, “What’d you like about it?”

“I don’t know. I just thought it was good.”

You press them for more information, but they refuse to divulge anymore insight into what they thought. Your non-writer friend doesn’t realize that you aren’t fishing for complements. You are asking because you genuinely want to improve your writing. Literary agents won’t hesitate to criticize, so you need your manuscript to be in top form before you start sending it out. Call us needy, but feedback (positive or negative) is as critical to the writing process as ink and paper.

You know your characters backwards and forwards and, as a result, you may unconsciously withhold important information that the reader needs to know in order to make them more relatable.

Something about the the societal structure or a character’s motivation may not make a lot of sense to the reader if they’re going in blind, but you wouldn’t know because you’re too close to the material.

Washington, DC, USA --- Evelyn C. Lewis, Miss Washington 1921, listens to the radio. She tunes in by adjusting the condenser. --- Image by © Corbis

10. You Can’t Stop (And You Won’t Stop)

A writer may face years of rejection and failure. It’s an inconvenient truth. In spite of all the Instagram pics and empty platitudes plastered over the internet, when most people fail their next move is to search for the exit. Especially when they choose an unconventional career that requires self-discipline and low guarantee of financial success.

You’ll vent to your non-writer friend about the struggle. All the years of toiling over a keyboard and the closets full of rejection letters.

And then they will ask the fated question: “Why don’t you quit and find another job?”

Many writers have a second job to supplement their income. However, to just quit being a writer isn’t optional. A banker can quit being a banker. A grocery store clerk can stop being a grocery store clerk. But a writer doesn’t stop being a writer.

Even if a writer only publishes one book in their lifetime, they still write. They still have to ask themselves “what if?” and play with concepts. Being a writer is a state of mind and you can’t stop. You may want to, but the desire to create is still buried in your brain.

23 Sep 1976 --- 1970s MALE WRITER AT DESK TYPEWRITER CRUMPLED PAPERS ARMS UP IN AIR EXASPERATED EXPRESSION INDOOR LOOKING AT CAMERA --- Image by © H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/Corbis