So You Think You Can Write-Part 3: Creating Characters, Beyond the Cliche

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To paraphrase my favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice, I am a studier of character. Whenever I watch a movie or a TV show or read a book, I want to invest in the people more than whatever happens to them. What do they do? What are they thinking? What kind of people are they?

Even the most basic of plots can be compelling enough if the characters are written well. One example of this is The Guardians of the Galaxy (both Vol. 1 and 2). The plots of both movies are simple, but the characters are what make the movies interesting and compelling. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1 sets up what kind of people the characters are (and yes, I include the talking racoon and the giant tree as “people”). Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 introduces more personal stakes and shows the group coming together as a family unit. The action, music, and humor all contribute to the movie, but what people end up remembering (aside from the catchy songs) are the things that Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot all experience.

When you’re creating a story, you want to create characters that aren’t stereotypes or cliches. If you’re writing young adult and know about the basic Breakfast Club archetypes, figure out a way to develop beyond the typical athlete, brainiac, princess, basketcase, and criminal. Power Rangers (2017) did this by giving each of the characters a personal stake in the story and characterization that goes beyond their high school label.

Jason starts out as the typical jock, star of the football team. However, he is tasked with the responsibility of being the leader and making sure everyone gets along. Billy is the brainiac, but he’s also on the autism spectrum and is grieving over his deceased father. Through befriending the rangers, Billy learns how to be more social without having to change who he is in essentials and he sees the rangers as his family. Zack seems like the cool high school delinquent, who always cuts class and hangs around the mines and train cars. In reality, he has the responsibility of taking care of his sick mother and fears losing her. Kimberley is the spirited ex-cheerleader, but her past as a mean girl causes her to wonder if she’s worthy of being a ranger. Trini starts out as being a “new kid on the block,” wanting to socialize, but never fitting in. She later reveals that she struggles with stuff relating to her identity. The way that she sees herself conflicts with what her parents want her to be.

All of these characterizations seem simple enough, but anything that goes beyond the norm makes for great writing. If you have a young woman who acts cold and distant, figure out why she’s so standoffish beyond a tragic backstory. Wonder Woman is a great example of female characterization. She has some tragedy in her backstory, but it does not define her as a person. Your young woman might have issues with her parents, like most other teenagers, but it can’t be her only defining trait.

Creating a character is basically like going on an archaeological dig: you start out with the bare bones (personality, physical appearances, likes, dislikes, etc) and have to dig deep to figure out what kind of person your character is. That means figuring out their backstory and what they want out of life at the time that your story starts.

It’s important to create a cast of diverse characters, and I don’t just mean making sure that you have characters of different ethnicity. Each character should have a distinct and unique personality. Even when you use the Myers-Briggs or the Four Temperaments, there are still ways to make two people with the same personality type and temperament unique.

I challenge you to create at least five characters that you think feel unique to you. Who knows, what you create might end up creating the players to a wonderful story.

So You Think You Can Write-Part 2: Creating a Story

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Once you get the idea for a story, the next thing you need to do is plan out the story.

In the writing world, there are two kinds of people. Or really, three: Plotters, Pantsers, and the In-Betweeners.

Plotters are people who write a thorough, detailed plot outline, complete with character profiles and information on worldbuilding. The details that go into their novels can fill an entire notebook. Pantsers are people who just take the ideas in their head and write out the story as they go, with only a vague idea about where the story is going. I consider myself an Inbetweener. A Plotter with Pants, so to speak. When I create my stories, I create a plot outline with the major events in mind, create character profiles, and research the worlds that my characters live in.  However, once I have a basic outline, my characters, and an idea on where everything will take place, I write out all the major events and then fly by the seat of my pants trying to fill in the gaps in between.

Whether you’re a Plotter, Pantser, or an Inbetweener, research is an important part of the pre-writing process. Read books within your genre and look into the stuff that relates to the events and people in your story. Even if your novel takes place in high school, you will want to research potential places for your characters to hang out, the music your characters listen to, the kind of movies they like, etc. These details will enrich your story.

If you’re not sure how to organize all these details, I highly recommend that you read John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. Even though the book is for screenwriters and movie makers, it gives you a lot of details about what makes a great story. Movies make for a great template because the best movies out there all tell unique, compelling stories.

So which kind of writer are you? Are you a Plotter? A Pantser? Or somewhere in between?

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 1: Ideas

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You might have been wondering where I’ve been for the past month. I spent the month of July working on the 5th draft of my novel Love Notes. I also got to go to a writing conference in Chicago and had a really great experience from the trip.

Now that my latest draft is finished, I’m taking a break to let my draft sit before I start editing. I decided that from now until December, I want to do a weekly blog post series about writing.

I believe that anyone can write, in the same way that Anton Ego learned that anyone can cook:

Not everyone will make the New York Times Bestseller list or become the next JK Rowling. However, a great writer can come from anywhere and I think everyone can learn a little bit about how they can improve themselves as writers, even if it’s just limited to writing in a journal or blogging. The real purpose of writing isn’t to make money or to become famous. We write to understand ourselves and the world around us.

But the question is if we want to write, where exactly can we get ideas?

Start by taking a notebook everywhere you go. I recommend a pocket-sized notebook or a composition notebook, something that can be easy to carry around and take with you wherever you go. Use a pen that can write easily or a pencil. You can start by just writing about your day, no matter how boring it may seem, or just go somewhere and people watch.

Write down what you see around you, even if it’s just the stuff in your house. Try to describe everything that you see. Then open up your other senses. What do you hear? What do you smell? What kind of food can you taste that’s nearby? What is the surface you’re sitting on feel like? How do your clothes feel on your skin?

You can also write about whatever is on your mind. Is something stressing you? Is there something you wish you can tell someone, but you can’t spit it out? Do you want to ramble, but don’t want to post it on Facebook or Twitter? Use your notebook to let it all out.

These are all basic ideas to just get you on the ball for writing in general. If you want to write a novel, the seeds for a possible book are going to be found in these seemingly ordinary observations.

If you’re not sure where to start as far as story ideas, try using classic literature as your inspiration. One great example of a reimagining based on classic literature is the Jane E. series by Erin McCole Cupp. This three-part novella series is inspired by Jane Eyre, but places the Gothic Romance in a cyberpunk world. I highly recommend it. However, I don’t recommend ripping off whatever book series, TV shows, or movies are popular right now. These things are great as a starting point, but don’t just copy and paste plots you like without contributing anything original. Nobody likes a plagiarist.

You may not think your life may be all that interesting, but just think of the “what if’s” in your life. I came up for the concept of Love Notes from a “What If”: “What if I actually stuck things out with my piano lessons and dedicated my life to playing classical music instead of writing?” I also combined this “What If” with my recent experiences in dealing with anxiety. In many ways, I was basically writing Love Notes as a way to show myself how far I’ve come.

The best writing advice as far as finding ideas comes from Jenna Moreci, YouTube vlogger, writer, and Cyborg Queen: “Write the book you want to read.” (I highly recommend watching her YouTube channel. She has great writing advice and she’s hilarious!) If you like mysteries, then write a mystery. If you like sci-fi, write sci-fi. And if there’s a book you always wanted to read, but you can’t find it, like say, a sci-fi novel that doesn’t take place in a dystopia, try writing it out yourself.

My challenge for you today is for you to get out there and write down every single idea you have in your head. Just get to writing today. Next time, I will talk to you guys about planning a story out once you get an idea that you really love.

 

Eve The Awakening-A Book Review

I discovered Jenna Moreci while browsing for writing tips on YouTube. She’s snarky, funny, and intelligent when it comes to knowing what makes a good story. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I ordered a copy of her debut novel Eve The Awakening. My copy is autographed!

So what is this novel about?

In the distant future, humanity has discovered a type of mutant that they call “chimeras” or “chimes” (pronounced kime, rhymes with lime). Evelyn Kingston was a girl whose chimera powers manifested after her parents died in a traffic accident. Over a decade later, the world is now dealing with Interlopers who are hunting chimeras and causing destruction for reasons unknown. Wanting to get away from it all, Evelyn goes to college at Billington University. Of course, not everything there is what it seems to be.

I love this novel. It’s not perfect, but the good outweighs the bad.

First of all, I love the world they live in. It feels like something out of the Marvel comics, with chimeras being Moreci’s version of the X-Men. Even as Eve adjusts to life in college, there is always a tension lurking under the surface and by the time I got to the last few chapters, my nails were bitten down to the quick. Chimeras, based on what Eve has shown, are powerful, but not invincible and the Interlopers are equally intimidating, but thankfully not overly powered. Even though I know Jenna hates setting up places, I could easily imagine Billington and all the other places Eve went to, as well as all the fight scenes.

Most of the characters are compelling as well, especially Eve and Jason. I understood Eve as this skeptical loner who emerges into this new role of being a leader against the Interlopers. Jason is equally endearing because he’s sweet and considerate and the best guy to have fighting by your side. The romance that develops between them is genuine and thankfully undeterred by love triangles and stupid misunderstandings.

The supporting characters are definitely unique, with their own distinctive voices and plenty of diversity. My favorite side character is Sancho, btw. Filipino firecracker.

The entire story had me hooked from beginning to end. There are seriously no “filler” scenes. In fact, in spite of the fact that the book is over 500 pages long, I was left wanting more. The story is driven by both character and plot and the underlying tension, as well as the wonderful relationship that Eve and Jason have are basically the fuel that drives it.

Now I said before that this novel isn’t perfect. There’s no explanation for why exactly chimeras are considered the scum of the earth and the reason why Billington is set up doesn’t make a lot of sense, either, especially considering the people they hire to be their teachers. If the founders were pro-chimera, why hire people who are anti-chimera and accept students with anti-chimera views?

Eve initially checks off a lot of boxes on the Mary Sue Litmus test: meaningful name, gets special treatment,  is described while she looks at herself in the mirror (even though this novel is written in third person), and doesn’t get along with other girls. Aside from Eve, most of the female characters are two-dimensional. They all start out hating Eve or being fake. Madison especially didn’t make sense to me. What exactly were her motivations in this story? I knew her purpose to the plot, but her motivations were all over the place.

Regardless of the flaws, I still recommend Eve The Awakening to fans of sci-fi and comic books, especially if they are fans of X-Men, Buffy, or Agents of SHIELD because there are a lot of elements of all three things here. I especially like how Jenna wrote out the third act of the novel. She was able to play around with a very familiar movie trope and still have you going “That sneaky *bleep*!”

If you are a writer, check out Jenna Moreci’s channel on YouTube. If you’re interested in the book, click the link here to get it on Amazon.

Flannery O’Connor “Revelation” – A Short Story Review

Fun Fact: Flannery O’Connor’s birthday is on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation. To honor one of the most well-renowned Catholic writers, I want to talk about my favorite of her short stories “Revelation.”

“Revelation” is one of the last short stories that Flannery O’Connor wrote. It was published in 1965, one year after she died. While “A Good Man is Hard to Find” may be the most well-known story from Flannery O’Connor, but I think “Revelation” is my favorite as it’s the most straightforward parable.

The reason I call “Revelation” a parable is because it reminds me of the biblical parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. Only in this story, Ruby Turpin is the pharisee and Mary Grace is the tax collector. Like the pharisee, Ruby Turpin has a very high opinion of herself and a low opinion of everyone else. This is shown as she sits with her husband at a waiting room in the doctor’s office.

The office is crowded with a lot of patients. Ruby condescends to make conversation with a stylish lady who’s sitting nearby. Mary Grace, the daughter of the stylish lady, is described as a fat eighteen or nineteen year-old girl whose face was “blue with acne” and wore “Girl Scout shoes and heavy socks.”

The story is implied to take place during Flannery’s time in the early 60s, as Mrs. Turpin refers to African-Americans as “n*****s” and refers to them picking cotton. However, African-Americans can own property, as Mrs. Turpin thinks about “a colored dentist in town who had two red Lincoln’s and a swimming pool and a farm with registered whiteface cattle on it.” As far as Mrs. Turpin’s mind is concerned, though, she might as well be a southern lady in Gone With The Wind, as she has African-Americans who work on her property.

As the conversation gets more racist and politically incorrect, Mary Grace’s rage slowly builds up to a boiling point. Her mother calls her spoiled and ungrateful, the kind of person who “can never say a kind word to anyone, who never smiles, who just criticizes and complains all day long.” (Sounds like most of the college students on Tumblr.) Finally, when Mrs. Turpin does her very boastful “prayer of gratitude,” she gets a textbook thrown at her face.

The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered. Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.

Although Mary Grace gets sedated and taken away, her message lingers with Mrs. Turpin throughout the rest of the day. She tries to use the people around her to bolster her ego when she returns home, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of the day, she complains loudly to God, questioning Mary Grace’s words. She receives a vision of a parade of people in white entering Heaven. However, she sees that the people she looked down upon were the first in line while those like her walked towards the end.

“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”-Matthew 20:16

Starting a New Chapter

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You might be wondering where I’ve been. You might be wondering why I haven’t commented anything regarding current events. You might be wondering about the new domain name.

This year has started off well, in spite of the divisions that politics inevitably cause. Like many people, I’m starting out on some new ventures this year. This website is one of them.

What are you gonna find here? I’m gonna be reviewing books, movies, and occasionally talk about the TV shows I like. I may also share poetry and my latest knitting projects. I did a lot of knitting last fall and I haven’t stopped.

In a world where everyone seems to go towards one extreme viewpoint or the other, this is a place where I hope a middle ground can be found. I won’t talk about politics often on here, but if and when I do, I hope that you will read my opinions with an open mind.

This blog is the start of a new chapter in my life. For the past few years, I’ve been contemplative. My hope for this year is that I start taking action and speak out on things that matter to me, even if it’s on something as small as a good book or something as big as going to a convention.

I hope you can join me on this next chapter.

Strength in Fragility and Cirque D'Etoiles (revised)

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Strength in Fragility

 

(A response to this poem I saw on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/p/vzSE0mwRHj/)

 

You put up such a strong front

Proud as a peacock,

strutting your stuff for all to see.

Inside, you see yourself as fragile

Using a stranger’s love

to fulfill some validation or need.

 

I understand the yearning for someone

But look at the truths that surround you

They speak of your true strength,

not the facsimile of pride,

but the beauty you have within.

 

You may be fragile, but you haven’t broken

In movement, you build up a warrior’s strength

Like a star, you shine brightly in the dark

and you don’t shine alone.

You are never as alone as you think you are.

 

It’s so easily to lose yourself

trying to gain a strangers approval,

to make an easy lie

with the click of a cameraphone.

Let go of all of that.

 

Jump over the fences blocking your way.

Keep dancing to the music

and go play in the street.

You’re just beginning to learn

how to follow your own beat.

 

 

Cirque d’Etoiles (Circus of the Stars, revised)

 

So many people have been passing away.

I wish it could stop.

Death has been constantly on my mind

ever since I first lost somebody I loved.

It was their time, I know,

but it hurt me because that person mattered to me.

I have people in my life who are growing old

I wonder when their time will come.

It’s never easy to understand.

It’s always sudden.

And it’s always painful.

 

What hurts more is when people lack empathy

when I try to make sense out of the senselessness of death.

Their empty hearts hurt

 

It doesn’t matter to me that I never knew these people

and that they never knew me.

These are people whose light shined into others’ lives.

Somebody out there

has just lost

a husband, a father, a son, a mother, a daughter, a wife.

They may have been as distant to me as the stars in the sky,

But their light still shined into my life.

And now their stars have gone out.

 

All things tend towards chaos

Life is the tightrope we walk to avoid it

Suddenly

Unexpectedly

Death arrives like the ricochet from a cannon’s blast

Throwing everything off-kilter

Down into the black without a safety net

 

Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints

Every life shines and fades as quickly as a meteorite in the sky

Millions of meteorites fall everyday,

yet supernovas are the ones that shake us up

We can understand the death of an old, worn out star

Yet when other stars die out, especially in quick succession,

it throws the universe off-balance

more than the deaths of little comets and meteorites

 

Is it just the succession?

The confusing juxtaposition between the end of one life

and the continuation of another?

The stars are supposed to be constant

yet they fall and they fade and they die

and nobody understands,

nobody explains why.

 

Maybe it’s not the fault in our stars

that throws us off our tightropes

Maybe each supernova

reminds us that we’re each a little infinity

and some infinities are bigger than other infinities

Stars fall and fade and die

but each supernova gives birth to something new

With each piece from the fallen stars,

we create an order out of the chaos

embracing the infinite

 

No safety net is needed

because our hearts are our wings

Love, the fuel that propels us to fly

You can take the stars out of the sky

but you can never take the sky itself

With love, we send a kiss out to the stars

Creating tiny pieces of light that shine in the dark

The Ocean of My Mind (Poem-A-Day Challenge Day 12)

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Prompt: Serious or Silly

The idea starts like a light
Like the green light in The Great Gatsby
Beckoning me towards it
with its siren song of “Follow me.”
All of a sudden, I’m down the rabbit hole
What starts as a small idea
Overwhelms me like a tidal wave
It becomes an uphill climb
trying to fight my way out,
to fight for control.
Then the winds change
I find myself in the eye of the hurricane
I realize, in the stillness,
that I need to be still.
To stop fighting and slow down.
I take a deep breath
and follow the wind.
I cannot chart the entire ocean
But I can navigate the waters
And ride out every storm.
Instead of letting myself sink,
I learn to swim and hoist the sails.
I’m not going down with this ship.

Go the Distance (Poem-A-Day Challenge Day 4)

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Last night I had a dream.
I was travelling somewhere.
The sky was clear.
The road was ahead.
People were waiting for me.
In the seat next to mine,
my mother asks me:
“Do you want to go?”
I really wanted to
At the same time, I was scared.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“That’s okay,” she said.
“We can go home and wait until you are.”
So the car started up
and I woke up.

How I wanted to say “Yes.”
Because I wanted to go the distance.
I know that I was scared.
I know that I’m still scared.
What we don’t know is always scary.
And yet whatever was waiting for me
Calling to me
I wanted to go.
I still want to go.

I know that the future is uncertain
The way isn’t clear, but the light shines brightly
I enter back into the dream
This time I say “Yes. I want to go.”
All I know now
is that I’m gonna go the distance.
Whatever else happens,
let it be done unto me.

Those Three Words (A Series of Haikus)

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The first time I said
those three words to somebody
I was just sixteen

It was my first kiss
Shared with a star-crossed “lover”
Boy was I stupid

I don’t think I meant it
Got caught up in the moment
Summer loves don’t last

I said them again
to someone else years later
I meant it this time

He was a lost soul
Wandering in the darkness
Wanting me with him

But I chose the light
of a bright shiny future
Instead of his love

Out on the dance floor,
I almost said those three words
to a charming man.

His reluctance mixed
with contradicted gestures
He was not my prince.

Caught under a spell
I said those three words again
But I didn’t mean them.

I was not about
To go back into the dark’s
empty promises.

I wish I could say
those three words to someone but,
I must choose wisely.

Someday, I’ll find him
Or he might find me instead
And then I’ll say them

This eight lettered phrase
Those three little words that mean
one thing: “I love you.”