A College Campus

Hello my lovely writers!  Sorry it’s been a while.  The fall semester just started up here in the US, and I’ve been a little busy.  This is the third week of classes me, which my friends and I affectionately call “death week” – it’s the week when all the first papers are due, every class suddenly has ten homework assignments, a quiz, and fifty pages of reading, and oh by the way you have an exam next week so START STUDYING!

I’m actually pretty on top of my homework-game.  Not so much the writing-game, but, you know, priorities.

she needs to sort out her priorities

Anyways, if it’s been a while since you’ve been on a college campus, let me tell you: it’s an amazing place for writerly inspiration. 

I’ve said before that I view characters as a jigsaw puzzle of details.  Well, if you need some details, look no further than your college campus (if you live on one).  The extraordinary and strange surround us every day in the form of sleep-deprived young adults and strangely-purposed buildings.

Here are some examples from the few weeks I’ve been back on campus:

  • The guy in the coffee shop at 10pm, bare feet proudly displayed
  • The lady in the library whose office has about two hundred books, a spinning wheel, and a beautiful vintage bicycle
  • The guy in a sports jersey watching a football game alone in an empty lounge, standing and pacing as he watches.  His team scores a goal, and he jumps into the air, complete with the fist punch and cry of victory.
  • The girl with twenty body piercings who is the most gentle, quiet, Hufflepuff-like person I’ve met
  • The guy who skateboards around sitting down on his skateboard
  • The professor who curses a lot, has tattoos up his arms, and is passionate about medieval literature
  • The guy who, no matter the weather, is always wearing a trenchcoat
  • Those two girls that you always see together, no matter what.  Do they never get tired of each other?
  • The guy who can’t help but put his feet on the table in class
  • The girl who snorts when she laughs, even when in class

It’s not just people, it’s places, too:

  • The coffee shop with green and black walls, abstract paintings, and metal chairs that feel like they’re from the 80’s.  Also purple couches, mirrors along one wall, and low, pulsing music that makes you want to dance a little.
  • The oldest building on campus, with narrow, catercorner halls and no elevator and little half-staircases every fifty feet.  It smells like a mixture of old carpet and old books, and it’s very easy to get lost in.  Unmarked doors that seem to lead to Nowhere or Narnia.
  • The little courtyard and fountain, with wooden benches and flowers around it.  If you walk there early in the morning, it feels like you’ve just missed the fairies.
  • The quiet section of the library, back where the endless rows of books stand – a place where whispers earn glares, and it feels like if you make too much noise you’ll wake the furniture.
  • The whole campus on a Sunday morning: quiet and empty; a city with sunshine and birds but no people.

College campuses are fun places to be most of the time.  I’d love to hear your experiences at university if you have any unusual ones to share.  Don’t forget: inspiration walks around you every day, not matter where you go.  (It’s just a little more obvious – and more strange – on a college campus.)

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Characters Are Everywhere

Every human is a jigsaw of details.  Nervous habits, catch-phrases, dressing choices.  Speech patterns, favorite books, topics they talk about again and again and again.

My favorite characters are the ones that feel like real people because they have things that make them them.

Ronald Weasly hates spiders.  Agustus Waters smokes unlit cigarettes.  Hermionie Granger never goes anywhere without a book or five.  Celena Sardothian has music in her soul.

Real humans are like this, too.  My roommate sings non-stop.  A friend of mine wears Pajama pants 24/7.  One of my professors sports a different-colored bowtie every day of the week.  I have another friend who only ever talks about cars or computers.  It’s these details that all come together to make people who they are, and it’s OUR JOB as WRITERS to make our characters feel like real people.

One of the ways we can do this is by giving our characters details.

As I’ve been learning this more, I’ve been studying people more.  My friends have noticed – if I’m staring at someone for too long, they’ll be like, “Oh, Beth’s just doing the writer thing again.”  But it’s part of where I get my characters – from studying people.

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That guy who always walks into class late?  Detail.  The guy who wears a rainbow hat with a spinny thing on top?  Detail.  The girl who sits alone in a coffee shop on Valentine’s Day, typing up a blog post?  Detail.  (That’s me by the way!)

My challenge is remembering this when I write.  Too often, I write characters that feel flat because they all dress, talk, and react the same way.  No more.  Let’s go write characters that jump off the page, character with voices and habits and tastes of their own.

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It Seems My Antagonist Isn’t Good Enough

Sorry for a bit of a hiatus on the blog posts.  It’s still winter break for some, and for those of us on the East Coast, there’s been a lot of snow and a lot of snow days.  My time has been spent shoveling, reading, and shoveling some more.

But something of great magnitude happened this past week besides the unnatural amount of snow:

One of my great Beta Readers for The Sound of Color finally got back with me.  Overall, she gave me very high praise (which felt amazing).  But maybe even better, she gave me some really good insight into what the story lacked.

And what needed the most work?

My antagonist(s).  Both my Main Antag and my Sidekick Antag are characters that we THINK are good but turn out to be evil.  (*cue the menacing laughter*)

But this Beta Reader suggested that I needed to work on them a little more.  You see, I’d never really stopped to think about why my antag(s) wanted what they did.  Sure, power always looks good.  But why?  Why them?  Why would they do what they do?  And just as important, how did they get people to follow them?

In other words, my antagonists read as plot devices instead of characters.  They were an evil force instead of a warped individual.  The result was a fatal flaw in my story.

all my antagonists.jpg

In most of my favorite stories, the villain is someone with a distinct personality, a concrete set of goals, a thought-out plan, and – most importantly – strong motivation.

Part of the issue is that I never took the time to really get to know my antagonist.  I’d never given much thought to his motivation, his personality, his goals.  He pretty much showed up to cause some trouble and then disappeared again.  He wasn’t someone I know very well.

Voldemort, Loki, Darth Vader, Moriarty, the Joker, Saint Dane, President Snow – they are all people that I could describe to you better than I could describe my OWN antagonist.

So here’s to getting to know my Antag.  (I can’t say his name cause it’s a spoiler.)  To adding some scenes that show us his motivation.  To giving him more personality, more life.  To making him the hero of his own story.

If you struggle equally with writing a quality Bad Guy, let me know!  An antagonist always seems like an afterthought to me.  Or, if you’ve developed some tricks and tips to making your antag fabulous, I’d love to hear that too.

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Questions I Ask Myself During NaNoWriMo

Hello everybody!  The first week of NaNoWriMo is over, and I’ve stayed above the word-count goal every day so far.  I’ve been to two write-ins and they were both amazing in every way possible.  I love where my story is going [usually].

But I’ve had some questions during the week:

  • How many twizzlers can a normal teenager consume in one day?  (Quite a few, apparently.)
  • Why is it that it takes me an hour to write 500 words when I’m by myself, but only ten minutes during a word-sprint at a write-in?
  • Who invented the whole write-in idea?  Are they a billionaire yet?  (They should be.)
  • Where did the Viking logo come from?  And what does it have to do with writing?
  • What the heck even is happening with my plot?
  • WHY AREN’T YOU BEHAVING LIKE I PLANNED YOU, CHARACTER??!
  • Um, hello.  Who are you?  (Me to a character that just showed up out of the blue.  He’s cool though so I’m keeping him.)
  • How does one spell chauffeur?  (I had to google it ’cause spell check had no idea what I was trying to type.  I know, I’m pathetic.)
  • How does one spell dandelion?  (I didn’t have to google it; I got it right on my first try!)
  • What even is a plot?  Why does my book need one?  They’re not important, right??  😉
  • Why doesn’t every human being participate in NaNoWriMo?  THEY NEED TO!
  • How many times can I complain about writing to my friends before they decide they’re not my friend anymore?
  • Is “teleportations” a word?  My [engineering major] friend said yes.  My spellchecker said no.  So I added it to my dictionary.  HAH, NOW IT’S A WORD.
  • How hard is it going to be to change the first chapter of my story from past tense to present?  (I switched after one chapter, and I like it a lot better this way.)
  • HOW DOES ONE WRITE IN FIRST PERSON?? I mean it’s easy to do, but am I doing it wrong?  I guess that’s what edits are for.  The people at Critique Circle are probably going to tear my writing style to shreds.
  • Has anyone else ever gotten a blister on their finger from typing?  Mine’s mostly gone away, but, like, a blister.  From writing.  [PROOF THAT WRITING IS HARD WORK.  Or something.]
  • Coffee, will you marry me?

Red Queen

Red QueenLook at this book cover.  Look at it.

It is everything magnificent.

On to the book review.

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, is a story of a 17-year-old girl named Mare.  She is a Red in a world ruled by the Silvers.  Reds are normal humans; Silvers have super powers – because of that, the Silvers rule and suppress the Reds.  Mare finds herself working at the palace of the Silvers, where she doesn’t fit in to either side.  Why?  Because although her blood is Red, she has a Silver power.

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book.  Let me begin by saying that I read it all in one day.  ONE. DAY.  I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning reading this.  (Okay, so I guess it was two days then, cause it would be the next day after midnight…) ANYWAYS, that’s how engrossed I was.

HOWEVER.  There were a lot of things I didn’t like.

Allow me to break it down like this:

Writing Style: Amazing.  Victoria Aveyard knows how to word her sentences.

Suspense Level: Over-the-top.  As previously mentioned, I stayed up til 1 AM trying to get these characters to safety.

Characters: Here’s where the review is gonna go downhill.  I didn’t particularly love any of them.  They weren’t necessarily one-dimensional, it’s just that I never felt that I got to know them well enough.  They just didn’t feel special. 

In every great story, there are things that set characters apart and make them memorable.  Katniss is insane at archery and looks after her family.  Peeta is the boy with the bread.  Snape has a tragic backstory and a hooked nose.  Voldemort has no nose.  Kaylee from Firefly has teddy bears sewn on her clothes.  Agustus Waters smokes non-lit cigarettes and isn’t afraid to get his heart broken.

For each of my favorite characters, there’s something that makes them memorable.  But I honestly couldn’t tell you how any of these characters looked, dressed, talked, or acted.  They just didn’t jump off the page.

Plot: In one word, it was unoriginal.  It literally felt like X-Men, Hunger Games, and The Selection all rolled into one.  The ending distinctly reminded me of Divergent.  One scene reminded me of a Star Wars scene.  Because of that, I was more focused on going “Hey, this reminds me of that scene from Hunger Games” than on caring about what was happening.  I spent some time reading reviews on Goodreads, and a lot of other people agree that the plot felt like a bunch of others all combined.

Content Advisory: There’s a few kisses, some violence, and a ton of suspense.  But nothing super objectionable.

Rating: 3 stars.  It wasn’t my favorite, but it was fun to read.  I won’t be reading the rest of the series though.

Anyone else read it?  What did you think?

Some Late Night Ramblings on Character Development.

It’s October 1st.IMAG1488

The leaves on the trees are turning red brown.

There’s a chill in the air.

Fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa are calling my name.

Oh, and NaNoWriMo is a month away.

But that’s just a side note.

What I really want to talk about today is character development.

My characters for my NaNoNovel are all coming together in bits and pieces.

Here’s five things I’m focusing on for each one right now:

  1. Their name.  Okay, yes, it’s sad: I don’t have a name for any of my characters yet.  Okay, I have ONE name.  But the rest are just “the MC” or “The MC’s Friend #1.”  I have a feeling I will spend some time prowling around the Appellation Station forum.
  2. Their backstory.  Obviously, it’s important to know where my characters are coming from.  How their parents act.  Who their friends are.  What their life experience is.  Who they are before page 1.
  3. What they’d wear.  This may seem a bit strange, but I’m really having fun with this.  When we meet someone for the first time in real life, we judge them by what they wear.  And even after that, the way they dress says a lot about someone.  Obviously, I care a lot more about who my friends are on the INSIDE, but how they present themselves on the outside sometimes reflects a part of their personality.  I’ve gone online and printed out some pictures of clothing different people would wear.  So that when I go to write them, I can visualize.
  4. How they talk.  I’ve had issues in the past with wanting to introduce a character but just not being sure how they should sound.  Not every character needs to have a specific “dialect” or “accent” (wher ye’ write all da werds like dis ta convey how dey’s tawking).  However, I do find it helpful to be able to hear a character’s voice in my head.  Is his voice deep?  Does she giggle a lot?  Does he curse?  Does she babble?  Does he say “Aw, man!” all the time?  Knowing how my characters are going to sound ahead of time lets me write dialogue without even thinking.
  5. Their place in the story.  I’ve developed three main supporting characters already (not to mention the antag and another side character).  What is each character there for?  How do they meet the protag?  How do they get along with each other?  Does this character add tension?  Will they surprise the reader?

What are you guys up to this next month?