Monday, November 13, 2017

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: When Romance Ruins an Adventure Novel

Romance -- never really been my thing.
I'll just admit that now.

I'd much rather read an epic fantasy than Cupid's target practice.  

Now I know what you're going to say: "BUT GRACE, JANE AUSTEN AND THE BRONTE SISTERS ARE LISTED AMONG YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS!  You do know the definition of a romance novel...right?"

Yes, I do.  And I don't hate ALL romance, but the stuff I do like doesn't rely on romance alone, and while the plot might have love as a central theme, there are a myriad of other things about it that make it an enjoyable read, such as social commentary or deep, multi-faceted characters.

For example: Pride and Prejudice explores the attitudes surrounding different social classes, the way they view each other, and the plight of women during an era where they could not inherit land or money.  Wuthering Heights examines the unpredictable mind of a young man mistreated by his family, who is forced to grow into his own independence.


So when romance meets adventure, does it hurt the story, or add to it?

Answer: YES




Okay, okay, fine.  I'll tell you what I mean.

Romance raises the stakes.
When you're fighting to defend someone you love instead of a random mass of people, you're going to fight harder.  That's the reasoning behind "if you don't tell me what I want to know, she dies", when the villain kidnaps the hero's girlfriend, and plenty of other cliche situations.  This puts the protagonist in a bit of a tight spot, because they're forced to choose between saving the love of their life (or two weeks, depending on our protagonist), or the rest of civilization.

When you're fighting alongside someone you love, you're going to want to impress and protect them simultaneously, which puts you in some very strange situations that would not have happened if you'd been fighting alone, being cautious, and generally keeping your head about you.  On the other hand, I can name plenty of protagonists who could use someone to hold them back by their hoodie before doing something that could jeopardize the entire plot.


There's also a fantastic opportunity for lots of hilarious bickering.  Which I love.


On the other hand, romance is a huge distraction.
There are so many great examples of this, and it's probably one of my biggest pet peeves.  I very rarely get excited about romance in stories in general (yes, even Jane Austen), usually I just want people to have some common sense for crying out loud, so when you add, say, a WAR THEY SHOULD BE FIGHTING, I get a little frustrated.

Just a little.

In case you hadn't noticed.

SERIOUSLY, IF THIS DISTRACTION DID NOT EXIST, BOOKS WOULD BE OVER IN HALF THE TIME BECAUSE THEY'D ACTUALLY BE FIGHTING THE WAR, DANGIT!


And honestly, since romance feels like an extra in adventure/action genres anyway, I feel like the drama is often used as a filler when the author can't actually think of anything else that could possibly happen, and they can't end the story yet, because it's not long enough!*



*I might be guilty of doing this ONCE.  ONE TIME.  And they were mostly fighting, and the main character didn't want to save the world ANYWAY, and the girl was mad at him for it, so it was JUSTIFIED, people.  JUSTIFIED.


Very often, the romance is directed towards the wrong person.
Just look at any tall, dark, mysterious, "bad boy" love interest.  Seriously.  Talk about emotional manipulation.  Most of the time they're the most narcissistic jerks the planet has to offer.  The only reason they look like a half decent person is because they're being compared to the villain. 

So, you know, they might be verbally abusive, controlling, self-centered, cheating, and completely and utterly void of all empathy, but at least they're not trying to take over the world and and introduce a totalitarian order!  THAT JUST FIXES EVERYTHING INSTANTLY!




So I'm sure you're all waiting for me to tell you how you're SUPPOSED to write romance.
Hahahahahahahaha you probably just want me to shut up because I haven't posted in a century and now I'm back and shouting opinions in your face.  

Honestly, the problem with writing and being an author is that one group of people is totally there for the kissing-instead-of-shooting-people, and then people like me are screaming at the pages, or TV, or whatever, and immensely frustrated because we just want explosions and epic fight scenes and to envy whatever cool tech the lead guy is using.

I need a leather jacket, massive glowing space guns, and an epic soundtrack.  Your main character is clearly too busy kissing to use such things for their intended purposes, so hand them over here and I will use them.  Thank you.


So: 
Don't cheat and use random romantic scenes to fill your novel because you ran out of plot.  Make sure that if you have romance, it's there for a reason and a purpose that fits with your characters, and what they're trying to achieve.  If they REALLY ARE stupid enough to get distracted then....well sorry, can't help you, I think you need better characters, because WHO the HECK picks SUCH PEOPLE to SAVE the FREAKING UNIVERSE!  IT'S JUST THE UNIVERSE.  NO BIG DEAL.



I don't even know if that was helpful or not, I was honestly just ranting by the end.  Do you have any romance pet peeves?  Is there anything that makes it better?  Makes it worse?  Let me know in the comments.










Thursday, October 19, 2017

You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Mentor's Death

Mentors.  They die a lot.

Seriously.

Like, all the time.

It should probably be in their contract at this point.

In fact, this is such a common trope that everyone, not just crazy book nerds, is completely aware of it and probably just as tired of all the injustice inflicted on the poor teachers/father figures/etc.

SO WHY DOES IT HAPPEN??

1. It starts the hero on their journey.
Anyone with any life experience will tell you that once you hit a certain point in your life, you have to do things on your own.  You can't rely on your parents or guardians to do it for you.  You need to make decisions that affect the rest of your future, and it can be scary.  But because you're making your own choices, you have the ability to learn and grow from things that may not have affected you when you were younger.

The same is true with the protagonist of a story.  In order for them to grow as a person, they need a shove in the direction of independence.  Taking what they've learned from their mentor, they need something to force them out on their own and complete the quest they were given.  Because they're doing it all by themselves, they have one to fall back on when consequences knock on their door.  Friends and companions might certainly play a role in the story, but they won't be the same solid wall of support and advice that the main character may have had.

See, the thing is, if any of us were given the choice, I don't think we'd choose complete independence unless we were in a situation that seemed worse than even the hardest parts of adulting.  The same is true with the hero of a story.  Chances are, they don't actually want to do a difficult quest that will permanently alter them as a person, even if they like adventures.  So ripping the rug out from under their feet is usually the easiest way to go.



2. It's an easy way to manipulate emotions.
Everyone knows that writers love to make people cry.  It's because we feed off your tears I MEAN IT'S BECAUSE WE ARE WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHO REASSURE YOU THAT YOU IN FACT DO HAVE FEELINGS AND ARE NOT A VULCAN POTATO.  The mentor usually means a lot to the hero, even if they weren't the best person on the planet, and depending on the story, they were probably the closest thing the hero had to a parent.  

This means that when that person is gone, better yet if they die a tragic death, the hero is left to mourn them. When this is done well, there's nothing wrong it.  The problem arises when it's so over-used that there's really no emotions associated with it anymore.  Everyone knows the mentor is going to die, so there's no impact when it actually happens.



There's got to be other ways to do this, right?
I certainly hope so.  What if the mentor went along on the quest?  What if they survived?  This would change the story, but maybe it would be for the better.  Think about how switching up this trope would affect the plot.  I bet having an experienced warrior along would be useful.  They could always pull a Gandalf and have other things they have to do while your hero goes on their adventure.  I mean, if your protagonist is trying to save all that is good in the world, I'm sure it would be handy to have people in two different places.

If you don't want the mentor to go along on the quest, give them a valid reason that doesn't involve their death.  Maybe they have a disability, a war wound, arthritis, the list goes on.  There's a lot of things that can keep someone in their house.  The older they are the easier this gets.  Seriously, arthritis in your knees is a perfectly valid excuse to stay home.  I can imagine it would make a long quest difficult, never mind fighting, riding a horse, etc.  If they fought in a war or experienced anything traumatic, PTSD can dramatically and permanently alter their mental state.  Just make sure you do your research.  


Are there situations where it's okay to kill them?
Absolutely.  In the original Star Wars series, Yoda was REALLY REALLY OLD.  Like, REALLY OLD.  It was totally okay for him to die after training Luke.  It was obviously convenient timing, but still.


Don't kill your mentor character just because you can, there should be a valid reason for it.  And that valid reason should not be "the main character needs a reason to leave", because there have GOT to be other ways to pressure the hero into getting the heck out of their little village and off to a quest.  If you have a mentor with already obvious health issues, it might be alright to have them die of natural causes.  

In reality, this is a difficult trope to handle because on one hand, the mentor dying might be a good thing for your character, but on the other hand, it's so overused that it's just going to be another trope.  If there really is no other option then go ahead, but explore other ideas first.

On that note, what if a hero left of their own free will and of the prompting of their mentor, and started off with confidence instead of a completely broken life?  It would be an interesting character arc, since instead of starting off a mess, they would realize over time that life isn't as easy as they thought it would be, and they'd have to overcome their dreams being crushed as they go.

Good times.


So what about you guys?  Is there anything about the mentor's death that you think I missed?  What ideas do you have for working around this trope?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


The rest of the series:
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Resurrected Character
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Strong Female Lead
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Universal Language
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Superior Race
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Chosen One
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Redemption Arc







Monday, October 16, 2017

Rewriting and Rough Drafts: They're Important!

WHAT!  GRACE IS WRITING A BLOG POST!??!!?!?!!??

Yeah, hey guys.  So I promise I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, I've just dropped off the face of inspiration because I've been doing a lot of writing for one class, and the other is Latin 101 ('nough said).

I also tried to make a strict blogging plot for the next few months and ended up trying to force myself to write about things I'm not actually interested in, which was a mistake and completely turned me off to blogging for a little while. That's entirely my fault.

So, with NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I thought I'd do a post about rewriting your stories, and why it's okay for rough drafts to be completely horrible and the worst thing you've written since the age of five.

Yep!  Planning, writing, rewriting, screaming into the void, it's all part of the process.  I personally have always disliked the thought of rewriting, or rather, been afraid of it, and I've just recently learned exactly how bad a rough draft is allowed to be.  So now I'm gonna talk about it, because that's the natural order of things, apparently.

Read on for random things I've learned about the writing process that should be old hat to all of us...but no.


The first rough draft is SUPPOSED to be bad.
In fact, I don't even call them rough drafts much anymore.  I refer to my first draft as a vomit draft.  Yep.  Lovely imagery there.  But seriously, its true.  I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my stories, so it took a while for me to pick this up.  Your rough draft can be the worst thing on the planet, and when you're done writing it, it is perfectly acceptable to wish for its instant demise.

See, the thing with rough drafts is they aren't really sure what they want to be yet.  You've got the idea for your story, and maybe a plot, and maybe some character development, but when you begin to actually write, you might realize that it's not going the way you thought it might originally.  You might come up with a better idea halfway through the book, or you might realize that a certain character isn't at all what you first thought he was going to be.


So basically: Rough drafts can be the worst, the most nonsensical, incongruous crap ever written.  The only thing that matters at this stage is that you WRITE DOWN THE STORY.  Everything else is details. 


It's okay to deviate from your original plot.
I do it all the time!  Like I said earlier, plotting a story and actually writing it are two completely different creatures, and you might realize that your carefully made and meticulous outline won't work with your characters, or there's a HUGE GAPING PLOT HOLE you didn't plan for.  Or one of your characters decides that they're NOT ACTUALLY GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD, THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE A CRISIS AND LEAVE THEIR ROOMMATE TO DO IT.  ORION NEVER ASKED FOR THIS JAMES, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER! 

*clears throat*

AS I WAS SAYING.
Let your story meander and change as you go.  Be flexible!  It's a first draft!  You might come across a gem of a plot point that you would never have discovered if you'd kept closely to your written outline.  Leave future drafts for polishing and making sense.  


That being said, keep that plot around.  DO! NOT! DELETE! THE! PLOT!  You will hate yourself later if you do, I promise.  Keep that notebook, or document, or file, or whatever you have it saved on, because it will absolutely come in handy in the future.  


Don't be afraid of things changing in your rewrite.
I'll be honest, this is difficult for me.  There are so many scenes in the story I'm working on now that I absolutely love, and I'm afraid that if I rewrite the story, they won't make it in.  But you know what? That's okay!  I'll still have my rough draft saved on my computer, it's not like it'll be gone forever, and I can always use it as a reference or add stuff in later.  And anyway, you'll probably end up writing lots of wonderful things in your second draft.  It might even be better (correction: it WILL be better), because this time around you'll be more familiar with your plot, characters, and where you really want the story to go, since you got all your word spews out in the first draft and now you have all that lovely material to work with!  Which isn't remotely overwhelming!



You'll have a better grasp on your plot and characters each time you write.
The more time you spend with your story, the more predictable your characters become to you, and the easier it becomes to write them.  Instead of one of them randomly deciding he doesn't want to save the world (yes, I'm still salty about my character's badly-timed emotional meltdown), you can give them the initiative you know they need to still want to do it (for James: the destruction of his guitar).

You'll also be more comfortable with your plot.  Instead of it waddling off to eat cupcakes, it might actually start listening to you!  You'll have a better understanding of where you want it to go, and because you know your characters so much better, you'll know if anything in the plot is out of character for them, and how to fix it (no kidding, it took me like FOUR YEARS to realize that the ending of one of my stories was completely unrealistic and my snobby noblewoman would never marry a peasant).  

This will result in a much more solid story, and as your characters gain depth and your plot becomes more believable and tied-together, your novel and writing will improve.  You'll be able to focus more on details you might not think about when you're still character wrangling (it's a legit sport, I just invented it), and for all your hard work, you'll have something at the end to be proud of!



So there you have it!  And while we're on the topic, what kind of experiences have you had with rewrites and rough drafts?  Have you ever had a story run away from you and do all kinds of unexpected things without your permission?  Tell me about your wacky writing adventures in the comments.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What I've Been Reading -- August 2017

Hey everybody!

School's started up again for me, which means less free reading time, but because I have No Chill, I'm going to be trying to keep up this series.  In the meantime, here's the last of the summer!  It went by waaaay too quickly, and in all honestly I'm really happy to start classes again.  I need some kind of routine in my life.

We'll see how I feel about that in a few months.

So on to books:


The Winter of Our Discontent
John Steinbeck

This is a book that you have to commit to.  While the beginning had amazing character development, and the internal monologue of the main character was intriguing, you had to get to the second half of the book to really get into the action.  The first large portion of the book is all set-up.  Once it got going, though, it really moved, and the ending had me holding my breath, praying that the main character would not do the Stupid Thing.  This was a great book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who appreciates well-done internal conflict.  If you're looking for a lot of action and a fast moving story, though, this isn't the one for you.

“In poverty she is envious. In riches she may be a snob. Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms” 

“She cared deeply about words and she hated their misuse as she would hate the clumsy handling of any fine thing.” 



A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness

I'm not really sure what I was expecting from this book.  Certainly not what I got.  It only took me an hour to read, but it was probably the best one I've read in a long time.  It might not be that way for everyone, but it helped me immensely and left me pretty shaken up.  It was intense.  While the writing style is more like something you'd find in a children's book, the subject is very heavy.  I wouldn't call it a horror story, it certainly didn't scare me, but it has strong fairy-tale elements and Ness mixed fantasy and reality in a brilliant way.  I would recommend this book to anyone, but be warned, it will make you feel things.  Even just remembering reading this book is making me emote.  It's a very crazy, but very necessary book.

“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” 

“Who is to say it is not everything else that is the dream?” 

“Almost like being in the nightmare, that same feverish blur of the world slipping off its axis, but this time he was the one in control, this time he was the nightmare.” 



Dracula
Bram Stoker

I read this book because I wanted to know where the idea of vampires as we think of them today came to be, and I was impressed.  The story and plot were well-constructed, the reading wasn't nearly as heavy as I'd expected, given the era in which it was written, and the characters were complex.  Not only that, but unlike most Victorian novels, this one boasted strong female characters, one in particular gaining the respect of the entire vampire hunting team.  I would recommend this book to anyone curious about the origin of our idea of vampires, and to anyone who's tired of hearing about them sparkling in the sun.

“You reason well, and your wit is bold, but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are, that some people see things that others cannot?” 


Ta-da! Three of the books I've read this August.  This isn't all I've been reading, I have a huge pile of books on a table in my room that I've determined to read, so we'll see how that goes.

What have you been reading this month?  Put your book recommendations in the comments.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Story Planning: What I've Tried and Failed At

Hey guys!

Random update about my life: I have a new laptop!  I was using a Chromebook before, which was annoying because every time I needed to use Microsoft Word or anything else that didn't use Google, I had to switch to a different computer which ran about as quickly as a turtle and was an ACTUAL ELEPHANT and completely impractical for college life.

So story planning.

As a writer, I'm supposed to plan stories.  I've tried a couple different kinds of planning, and I thought I'd share my experiences in that area.  Note that I am not a planning expert.  Just slightly organized.

Anyway if you like to read about people's failures (SHAME ON YOU), or if you're looking for ideas when it comes to planning and how each kind works outside of Pinterest (because let's face it, none of us are that perfect), keep reading.  Oh, and if you want to try one of these, please do, and let me know how it goes for you.  Everyone's different.


1. Flying by the seat of your pants.
This is what I've called planning for most of my life.  I start with a story idea, and.....

Yep.  That's basically it.

These stories normally fizzle out because my characters just end up wandering around eating pizza and talking about their problems.  I might have a rough idea as to where I want the story to go, but it will never actually get there because I don't have anything for the middle.


Oh, and the one story that did get past three or four chapters was a train wreck, the characters died without my permission, one ended up outlawed, a few got married accidentally, and the traditional mourning colors changed mid-story.  


2. Scene by scene.
Because when one thing doesn't work, you try the EXACT OPPOSITE. 

Yep, I tried to plan a story by working out every scene in detail.  I used index cards and a little index card folder, which was rather cute, but very overwhelming.  After sitting down and planning out the first few chapters, I started writing.  And then I reached the end of what I'd planned.  I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it up, and I had to find some kind of planning that sat happily in the middle of the two extremes.  I'm sorry, super-detailed people.  Not my thing.


I also found that this gave me absolutely no wiggle room, which is very important to me.  My rough drafts are VERY rough, and I expect to make a lot of changes in the second round.  With this kind of planning I felt like I was trying to produce something final on my very first go, and it stresses me out just thinking about it.


3. The rough outline.
This is the one I started out on with the story I'm writing at the moment.  I had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It was written down (not just floating around in my head), and I knew where I was going with the story.  The problem?  If I were to write the story based solely on what I had, there would be exactly three chapters.  Three rather short chapters.  That's not a novel.  I had to find filler of SOME SORT, and it had to actually add to the story.  

Which is how my main character ended up following a toddler around New York City, getting into a massive argument with said toddler's older sister, having a huge existential crisis, and ruining the ending I had planned by dropping out of the story.




So what am I going to try next?  Chapter by chapter.

Yep.  I'm gonna take my story, divide it by chapter, and figure out what I want to happen in each one.  This is less detailed than scene-by-scene planning, but my characters won't be wandering aimlessly through NYC, eating pizza, or dying unexpectedly.  It'll also be easier for me to keep them in character, as I'll have a set goal for each of them in mind.  

So what do you think?  Do you have a planning style that works for you?  Have you tried one of these?  Let me know in the comments!