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Edgy Teen’s Guide to Making a YA Novel

   Hello, guys! Just wanted to say I’m sorry for so many reposts this week. I’ve been in a strange mood, and I’ve been trying to focus on my prose and catching up on my reading lately. I have a few ideas for next week, so make sure to stay tuned!

For now, enjoy this older post!                          

                                  *** 

 I’ve always been the snobbiest person that I know. I’ve taken pride in knowing that much of my interests are not the sort of things that you would find on other people’s radars. When gaming was my main hobby, I played games that no one inside my circle of friends had even heard of. When I watch anime, I never watch the shows that everyone  raves over in my school.And from the perspective of much of my friends, the books I read seem like they come from some alternate dimension.

Due to this, I developed an unwarranted superiority complex (which still persists to this day), in which I was the individual with the most refined taste in entertainment that could ever be found. I’d sneer at individuals whom idled away their time by playing casual games on their smartphones, and I’d mock the losers whom watched all the popular animes. All the while I’d lounge in my corner with a monocle and a glass of aged champagne being twirled in my hands.

*Sips glass of Champagne*

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Accurate portrayal of my usual behavior

Naturally, since humility has never been my strong suit, this habit of mine crossed over to my taste in literature. Which is to say that while I read my ADULT and SERIOUS novels, I groan in aristocratic displeasure at the sight of those whom partake in reading Young Adult literature. Whenever I see meaty books that have a font size of 14+ and are virtually double-spaced, it makes me want to gag. To think that so many trees were sacrificed for the sake of a sub-par piece of literature that should be rotting in the very depths of hell and festering in the pits of–

Well, you get the idea. In all seriousness though, this is actually an opinion that I genuinely hold. Young Adult Literature has rarely been able to impress me. One could say that perhaps I’m too old to understand the message of these novels…but that doesn’t take into consideration that I’m currently seventeen years of age. And even before I had my latest birthday, I don’t recall taking a fancy toward any of the YA series that are currently out.

Now, before start losing sleep tonight, allow me to clarify. When I say that I hate YA “literature”, I mean to say that I hate the majority of what comes out of the genre. I’ll be the first to admit that the first fantasy books I read were The Chronicles of Narnia, which I still respect (Even tho

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YA novels are my kryptonite. And not in a good way.

ugh they might technically count as Children’s Fantasy). And I have read a couple contemporary YA books that I enjoyed.

But these are an EXCEPTION.

For the most part, I wouldn’t hesitate
to dismissing the whole genre as being utter rubbish. And it’s not to say that those whom write in this genre are untalented hacks, despite my suspicion that most of them are, many of them are good storytellers that condemn themselves to the same recycled techniques that hold this genre back. So knowing that I’m incapable of explaining why I feel the way that I feel in the regular format, allow me to share the pet peeves that make me loathe this genre.

1. They read like an essay

And not a good one either. Think of the very worst report you’ve ever heard anyone utter back in your schooling days. Remember how monotone the speaker was? Remember how

participant-makes-a-presentation-during-a-portfolio-management-class-in-training-center-725x544
“Um…what was I talking about again?”

their language was lacking in any pacing or character? Ever wonder if they wrote it during a bout of crippling depression?

Well, the standard YA novel shares a lot in common with that report. Allow me to start with a quote of sublime prose from a YA “Masterpiece”.

“It’s too bad, really, that they hold the reaping in the square — one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The square’s surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if there’s good weather, it has a holiday feel to it. But today, despite the bright banners hanging on the buildings, there’s an air of grimness. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect.” -The Hunger Games

From the moment this perfect, godly, and majestic piece of description is given to us, we are swept away with the vivid storytelling at play. Notice how the author takes great care in mentioning the banners, but not once offering any further sensory stimuli save for the word “bright”. Notice how we are told that this marketplace could have the atmosphere of the holidays, but we are never told how. Oh, and I just adore line in which she mentions there are shops but doesn’t bother to mention what kind of shops they are!

If you haven’t noticed the sarcasm, you should consider reading another blog.

It’s one thing to summarize an area in the middle of your book. It’s one thing to describe a tiny location that doesn’t require that many sensory details. But when this is in the first chapter of the book–IT’S UNFORGIVABLE! This is supposed to be the part of the story that I get hooked with the setting. If there is anytime to be showing me what it feels like to live in this city, it ought to be now! 

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As you can see, I don’t have a positive opinion of the Hunger Games.

Where is the wonder!?!? Where is the immersion? The beginning of a story is when an author is MOST invested in it. The writer here sounds like they made the setting for this novel back in fifth grade, and is somehow being forced to write it into a book as an adult! There is no passion here, nor is there any sense of being in the dystopian city.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a trait that’s exclusive to The Hunger Games. Countless young adult novels suffer from this dreadful Beige Prose!

There seems to be a frame of thought pervading the writing industry, one that dictates that teens and young adults are illiterate barbarians that cower in the face of a mere metaphor! And independent of whether or not this is true (knowing today’s society, it very well might be), many YA authors use this as an excuse to write unimaginative description. Maybe I’m the exception, but I’m quite sure that a little poetic language here and there wouldn’t kill anyone.

Now I’m not asking those whom write YA to make purple prose in the way that they describe things, but PLEASE, if you’re trying to drag us into the setting, give us a bit more to go off of. A reader is a voracious eater as well. We take in sensory details like a conveyor belt on overdrive.

2. Sarcastic protagonists stopped being funny a long time ago

So you’re in the middle of reading Vampire Romancing Saga: Lover’s First Bite. So far you think you’re enjoying the story (you probably have bad taste in literature if you are) but you find that the main character is pretty bland. Chelsea, a new resident in Genericville after moving from Nameless City X, is a cute girl with freckles on her cheeks. Her hair is a perfect pumpkin color and she’s always enjoyed wearing it in its untamed form. She loves books, writing, philosophizing, daydreaming, being a loner, and an overall attention whore. But you find that she’s lacking in flaws. Sure, she’s clumsy, but that isn’t cutting the chase for you. Her narration is still dry and lacking in character. How would the author go about fixing this?

AHA! Clearly, all we need to do is add

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I only wish my eyes could roll that far

copious amounts of sarcasm into our characters! It’s not like that’s ever been done at all?

*AUDIBLE SIGH*

Let’s get one thing out of the way, I don’t have an issue with a character just because they are sarcastic. My problem is when the sarcasm is so obviously stuffed into the character in order to give them a superficial semblance of personality. Sarcasm can often create a very sharp and gross contrast when it suddenly shows up in bland narration. So what makes the dry wit of Katniss from the Hunger Games (1st book, I haven’t read the others so I can’t speak for them) different from that of a good sarcastic protagonist? In short, it’s that the sarcasm complements the narration rather than being the only thing worth noting in it. And to show what a good sarcastic narrator looks like, allow me to use Jalan Kendeth from Prince of Fools as an example.

Jalan is as snarky as they come. He’s gross, witty, a wisecracker, and an arrogant young gentleman. But it goes with his character. He’s a member of decadent nobility and the tenth in line to the throne of an empire, he’s become a spoiled brat. But over the course of the book he grows into a slightly more mature brat. And this shows with how often the sarcasm came in the first half of the tale when compared to the latter half. The more that Jalan grew as a character, the less sarcasm we saw coming from him. This is an example of having sarcasm be of actual use in the plot.

Again, I’ve no issue with using it in the occasional joke here and there. But when sarcasm is the only defining feature of your narration, you should start looking deeper into your characters. Because they deserve more, and so does the reader.

3. “Tabula Rasa” Main Protagonist

This factors in a great deal with the previous point that I put forward. I’ve spoken about this before in my post Blank Slate Disorder (BSD), but it bears repeating for young adult novels.

These often make the fatal mistake of allowing the main character to be as bland and utterly unremarkable as possible. This is an MC that WILL have characters traits, but they will be character traits that are unoriginal in every sense of the word. Usually they are good-natured, kind, brave, and optimistic. If they have flaws, it will be something along the lines of having a short-temper or being a loner. Yet the problem is that these characters don’t really grow away from these.

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This brick has more personality than the character I’m describing

I have no issue with assigning any of these traits to your characters, after all, unless you’re creating some reptilian monstrosity, these are human traist that could easily be given to human characters. The problem is that these traits ought to be a starting point from where our characters are able to evolve. Yet this is rarely the case.

It’s either one of two things. There is no change at all, or what change there is occurs over an expansive period of time (An entire trilogy, for example ;D) and would be impossible to notice without any in-depth analysis.

I like to call this the “Watered-down” Mary Sue, main because it lacks the perfection of the Sue, but you can be sure that it’s DAMN close to reaching it. What people fail to understand is that unless we are playing a video game or a choose-your-own-adventure book, bland protagonist do the very opposite of placing us in their shoes.

They drive us away from immersion.

Teens have the capacity to be very colorful individuals with all manner of tastes and preferences from all corners of the spectrum. And as a sort of spokesperson for them, I’d venture to say that it is rather patronizing to be expected to relate with a character that’s actually a pile of bricks in human clothing. You could argue that authors are afraid they might alienate some segments of the market for their book, which while a genuine concern, only furthers the fact that this character type is only created for personal gains.

***           

All in all, each to their own and everyone ought to have their own preferences. YA is a genre that has the potential to bring in scores of new readers of books, yet these habits that I’ve mentioned can drive many people away. If somehow, one of you people reading this work on YA, then I don’t necessarily mean to insult you. This is only me mocking the general trend with young adult literature.

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

An older post of mine that I’d like to see getting a little more love. Christmas is fast approaching, but school remains unrelenting! Either way, I hope the rest of this month ends quietly, for both you and me.

– QuestingAuthor

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5 Pet Peeves with Writing

Irrational hatred is a specialty of mine. As a person whom prides himself on not being particularly open about his anger, I find that common outlets for my wrath tend to be in activities where I do things on my own. Namely, my hobbies. Even more namely, writing. And no, you have no right to look at me with jduegmental eyes, as I have no doubt that you would also face similar struggles were you in my situation.

Whether this rings true for you or not, here’s a couple aspects of the creative process that kill me a little inside.

1. Sitting Down for hours

You know what’s fun? Creating your own world and characters that can interact in this world. You know what’s not fun? Being as inert as a potato for hours on end while you mindless bash your fingers on a keyboard hoping that something coherent will pop out.

Sure, when you first start writing, it looks like this won’t be a problem. I mean, you’re too busy lost in that landscape of your world, trying to feel what it is that your characters feel. That brief window of escapism that comes with your first few writing sessions is delightful! Naturally, however, all good things come to an end.

Before you know it, you’ll start wandering into an existential mood fueled with frustration that nothing is going as you planned. Speaking of which…

2. The Story never doesn’t come out right

We’ve spoken before about a Story’s Vision and how it serves to galvanize an author into work. Having this is all nice and dandy, as it gives the writer a set of goals that they should strive to achieve. Pretty neat right?

Wrong.

Withing a few weeks you’ll see that that image has a few smudges around its corners. You’ll pay little attention at first, but then you see that it’s a tidbit hazier than it had been before. You’ll shrug this off as well, and before you know it, you’ll realize you’ve been staring at an entirely different image than you were before.

And very rarely does this image look prettier than the original.

3. Words, where have thou gone!?

This is a common one, to the point that it’s a trope present in the media. Have you ever had an artsy friend who was into a creative hobby? Remember how often they complained about the ideas never being there? Like, never? More importantly, do you remember rolling your eyes whenever they said this?

Well, if you want to become an author, you’ll probably be saying the same damn thing.

There’s nothing scarier than you being on a writing streak only to pause when you realize the proper words for a scene are not in your mind. You know the feeling, that satisfying taptaptap…taptaptap sound just stops out of the blue. In the worst cases, you could be left staring at your blank Word document for half an hour.

4. Knowing that you’re working to make garbage half the time

I love writing, and if you’re reading this blog, you probably share this opinion. But let’s face the facts, half the time you spend typing that your monitor is going to be on your first draft. And if you know anything about first drafts, then you probably know that they tend to suck.

Oh sure, you can have scenes that you love in that first draft, maybe even scenes that you could consider to be masterpieces. But this never rids them of the possibility that you might have to eliminate them entirely. Be it for poor quality or consistency reasons, this is just another unfortunate truth.

5. An original idea you say? Nope, that one’s taken

There is a 99% chance that your brain is incapable of truly coming up with anything that has not been done to death up to this point in literary history. I’m sorry fellas, but that’s just the simple truth. In the 2,000 years we’ve been given of formalized history, humanity has made its goal be the milking of any and all intellectual properties that have come to be.

Go ahead, struggle to see if you can find something only you would have been able to spot. I’m just saying, that your efforts might be futile.

***

As you can tell, a certian author had some steam to blow today. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed it! Which one of these did you find the most devastating when you realized it? Do you have anymore to add?

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

 

 

Reading as a Writer

You would believe that being a writer would make the act of reading easier. Perhaps you would think that our proficiency at wordsmithing would allow us to enjoy challenging works. Perhaps you would believe that our knack for storytelling would leave an insatiable desire in our stomachs to devour every paperback novel in the nearest neglected library. Or perhaps you might take a more practical approach, and assume that an author ought to read more than the average person, if only out of a desire to better his oh so sublime prose.

You would also be wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, most authors are not the quiet intellectuals whom have acquired a keen sense of what it means to belong to the human experience. Hell, I’d even venture to say that we have an even harder time understanding it.

For you see, the common author is not some street philosopher whom has been through hell and back. In most cases, authors are pretentious, mean-spirited, and snarky individuals whom only consume dark coffee in a fruitless effort to brag to their peers about it. And being the flawed individuals that we are, we’re often prone to having a difficult time reading books.

Maybe even moreso.

Alright, so maybe I’m just projecting (probably), but in my case, I’ve found that the act of cracking open a worn tome and sitting down for an hour or so to read has become rather laborious for me. You could make the argument that due to my juvenile age of 17 and the encroaching influence of the interwebs into our daily lives, that it’s a matter of external factors causing this reaction. And quite possibly, you could be right.

Being the fragile age that I am, patience is not exactly something my age-group is known for. Stereotypes, more often than not, hold more truth to them than what the outside world will tell you. And the stereotype of the lazy teenage boy  whom is hasty and reckless and isn’t passionate about anything unless it happens to deal with leisure or the opposing gender is no exception. Of course, I pride myself as being more patient than others in my time of life, and as evidenced by this blog, my passions are not just limited to leisure and women.

And with regards to the interwebs, it is undeniable that the task of focusing on…well, just about anything, has become an uphill battle ever since the advent of technology and the like. With so much content available at our fingertips, sitting down to read a good book will most certainly become a chore. But even here, if you’re passionate about books, you’d easily be able to circumvent this. So my reading conundrum must be the cause of another factor, and if you’ve read the title of this post, you already know what I’m about to say.

Being a Writer makes Reading Harder. Does it sting? I hope it does, because the truth always stings.

Everytime I sit down to crack open a story, I’ve started to take on some really nasty habits. For quite literally EVERY sentence I read, I end up comparing it to something of my own writing. Regardless of genre, I can’t spend a second of my time without passing judgement on an author’s prose to see if it’s better or worse than mine. Naturally, this is followed by acknowledging the simple fact that they are published and I am not.

Checkmate.

Suffice to say, this is something that really annoys me. There was a certain juvenile and fantastic aspect to reading back when I first started. Immersing myself was as easy as just finding a quiet place and letting the words flow as I read them. My mind would cease all thought, distractions would become a blur, and I could rest easy as I was taken away.

But after I became a halfway-decent writer, getting this feeling became harder. Slowly but surely, the amount of books that could truly grip me dwindled with every passing read. My mind was no longer silent when I read, it was a din of judgments and criticisms, followed by comparisons to my own storytelling abilities. I couldn’t relate to the characters I read about because the characters I wrote about were constantly lingering in my mind, refusing to let my imagination wander into the shoes of another.

And occasionally, these can be good feelings. I don’t regret becoming a writer, nor do I regret constantly thinking about my characters when I read other stories. It pumps me up for my good writing, but at the cost of making immersion in the works of others a fleeting luxury.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy reading, and this is all probably just a phase. There are still plenty of books in which I can lose myself in the narrative, it’s just that these grow fewer and farther between as time passes.

Whether this will last or not, I don’t know. But what I do know is that becoming a writer had a profound effect on the way that I read stories, for better or worse. What effect did it have on you?

Breakup of the Century: Heroes & Protagonists

If you’ve been around my tiny corner of the internet for long enough, you know how much I poke fun at the lingo that writers share amongst themselves. Be it terms, metaphors, or similes that only we are capable of understanding, I’ve always found it joyful to peruse through the countless interpretations of these concepts. Of course, as with all glorious things in life, there is bound to be setback to all of this. What is that, you ask?

Well, to put it bluntly, language is confusing. Really, REALLY confusing.

I don’t know what’s up with the people who enjoy coining terms or metaphors that makes them careless as to how easy it is to conflate two unrelated concepts with one another. And nowhere is this semantic conundrum more visible than in the unrelated, yet popularly synonymous concepts of a Hero and a Protagonist.

So, if you haven’t guessed already, I find that using these terms as though they were equivalent to one another is erroneous at its best and limiting in its worse. But before I drag you along through another one of my barely coherent rants (don’t worry, I sympathize with you), let’s first define these terms.

In a nutshell, a protagonist is any random schmuck that somehow managed to become the center of a story. It can be a dashing knight in shining armor, a slimy thief whose favorite hobby is stealing candy from children, or just a normal, and completely boring person. It might come as shocking to some of you that have never thought of it that way, but that is the simple truth.

Any character, no matter what personality, belief, ideology, or actions is fully capable of being a protagonist.

The only requisite to be a protagonist is that you are the center (at least for most of the time) of the story. Being a Hero, however, neccesitates a whole other set of parameters..

A Hero is a character that is meant to embody is certain degree of virtue or be on the moral side of a conflict. Now, a discussion with regard to which would be the moral side of a conflict or what virtues the character ought to hold is an entirely different conversation. So for the purposes of keeping things brief, let’s just say that a Hero is anything that the Author would consider to be a “Good” guy.

Assuming that most human beings are capable of achieving a basic level of moral decency (Post-Modern society has made me doubt this notion more than once), we can safely say that heroes tend to have a certain level of similarities with one another. For example, most heroes would never step on a puppy’s tail with no good reason, most heroes would not be willing to kill for an unjustified cause, and most heroes tend to be pleasant people to be around. The reason I don’t make these statements wholly categorical is because, while morality is objective, many people have different perceptions of it. Many of which are wrong, but nonetheless, this affects what they’d consider to be a hero.

The requisites to be a Hero could be a huge list of things, but to wrap it all up into one short sentence, a Hero must align with the good side of the Author’s Moral compass in order to be a hero in the story.

If you’re one of the brighter members of my audience, you may have noticed that all this time I’ve said Author’s instead of reader’s. This is because I’m talking about a character’s function within a novel, and that is solely determined by the author himself. While a reader might identify a character whom the author intended to be a hero as a villain, that does not change the fact that the created function for that character was that of a hero–whether you believe he’s a hero or not.

What is that you ask? You want me to start giving you a guide on how to identify a Hero? Well, I’m afriad that would be impossible for me to do. That is a more philosophical disscusion that is best conversed amid an intellectual atmosphere with a profuse amount of coffee, and a group of friends that would be willing to listen to your senseless drivel.

I am not that friend.

Despite my personal dislike of the Grimdark movement in fantasy, I find that this movement has been the inspiration for the resurgence of this concept in the modern fantasy community. Elric of Melnibone is the protagonist of the Elric Sequence of stories by Michael Moorecock, and to say the least, the best one could say about Elric is that he’s an anti-hero. I mean, he LITERALLY wields a blade that sucks the souls out of people. So if we were to believe the traditional narrative of the Hero only needing to be the center of the story, we would have no idea how to label Elric.

And the same could be said for the likes of Jalan from Red Queen’s War by Mark Lawrence, Jezal from the Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, and the plethora of morally grey characters in fiction. And once again, although I don’t like the overall effect that this new brand of dark fantasy has had on the genre as a whole, I’ll give credit where credit is due.

The Grimdark Movement, for all its flaws, has opened up dialogue on what we consider to be heroes in our fiction. Even if you’re like me and believe that they took it a step too far, it goes without saying that we owe them this much to be thankful for.

So what did we learn? Quite a bit to say the least.

The terms Hero and Protagonist are not one and the same. And considering the confusing literary environment in which we currently live in, it would only complicate our lives further if we continued to believe this lie. So I repeat for one last time. A protagonist can be a Hero and vice versa, but this is not always the case.

Did this make you look at this issue from a new perspective? Do you differ with me in some of my definitions of Hero or Protagonist? Do you find my disdain for the Grimdark Movement to be immensely annoying? Then feel free to send all your love (or hate) in the comments!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

Outliners and Pantsers: A Love Story

Writers love to reduce complex concepts into simple categories that they can organize and tag others with. We love to give names to genres, writing styles, literary movements, and characters types, despite the fact that it’s nigh impossible to fit any one of these into a particular mold. Of course, being as compulsive and as irrational as we tend to be, we decided it would be a fine idea to attach labels to ourselves. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

*sigh* Oh boy…

But yeah, cheap sarcasm aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about the false dilemma we like to call the different types of writers. Now before I tear apart this idea in my usual nonchalant style, just allow me to answer a few questions that might be brewing in your mind. Do I believe that most writers tend to fit into these categories in one way or

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To outline or not to outline? That is the question.

another? Yes, of course I do, there generally tends to be a trend for authors to lean to one of these categories. Do I believe there is no place for these labels in the writing community? Well…yes and no. I can see the use in them, but I find they also tend to be used too liberally.

Well, is that all? If so, then allow me to enlighten you with some of my pretentious musings on this very subject. In case you’re not familiar with these labels, then allow me to share a short summary with you. Pantsers are a bunch of lazy freeloaders that can’t take a few seconds out of their time to brainstorm even a semblance of structure into their novels and Outliners are obsessive freaks that map out every single detail of their novel before they even get started.

Now, presuming that you haven’t closed the tab, Outliners and Pantsers are the two different categories of writers of which I speak. Pansters are individuals that would rather start a project without the slightest idea of how it’s going to go down and Outliners like to have a clear image of their project before it starts.

It would be waste of time for me to bog you down with the details

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Go ahead, post those hate comments. Come at me, bro.

of the pros and cons when there are countless others that have taken deeper looks into this than I. So it should suffice for all of you to know that it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, and I’m
not here to disparage one side or another. What I do want to address is the almost religious manner in which writers treat these labels.

Among the members of this community I have seen many individuals whom proudly hold themselves up to be either one or the other. And this is not a bad thing (I’m one of them too), but what worries me is that I find that many of these people treat their categories as though they were set in stone. And this can be a problematic approach for a number of reasons.

For starters, let’s not mention the fact that most writers tend to overlap between both of these categories in one way or another, we wouldn’t want to overcomplicate an already complex issue. But it should go to say that this school of thought tends to make beginner writers grow too accustomed to their own current technique. I know many writers that have a set formula with which they go about the creation of their books, but in their case, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Steven King (whom I haven’t personally read, but wish to in the near future) has stated in his book, On Writing, where he says that the first step in his process is just to start. No outlines, no brainstorming, just pure, unadulterated writing. J.K. Rowling on the other hand (whom I also haven’t personally read, but probably won’t read in the near future either [forgive me!]) is the stereotypical definition of the Outliner. Her first novel was sketched into one of the most esoteric diagrams I’ve ever seen.

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Did I mention it was  written on a napkin?

And again, there’s nothing wrong with these writers having their own set formulas that they’ve followed for all of their careers. But were any of you observant enough to spot the similarities between the two of these?

Go on, I can wait.

If you’re answer was that they are both writers, then give yourself a pat on the back for being the wittiest person alive. However, if your answer was that both of them are seasoned writers, then good on you. These people have already had their toes dipping inside of the writing community for years on end, so it only makes sense that they’d be able to be 100% sure of their current strategy. For the bourgeoning writer, this is not a healthy habit. One should try to experiment with all the different approaches to creating a book, in my humble opinion, because you don’t know when your style of writing is liable to change.

I’ll use myself as an example.

 

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Ya dunn gooded, Snowflake Method. Ya dunn goofed…

The very firstbook that I started began on a cheapy notebook that I would write in whenever I came home from my walking routine (I mock it, but that notebook has some sweet memories.). The novel I started there was a pure seat-of-the-pants production. Not because I considered myself a better writer with that technique, but because I was lazy. In the end, as with most beginner projects, this resulted in a scrapped WIP.

So later on, with the desire to not conduct a repetition of history with my second book, I decided to go for an outlining process. But I was afraid that I’d get bored if I made a detailed outline, so what I did was go with a routine called the Snowflake Method. And with that routine, I ended up scrapping the second book as well.

Well…maybe I’m not being entirely honest. Once I saw that the Snowflake Method was getting involved with spreadsheets, I just ignored the rest of the rules. I know, 15 year-olds aren’t exactly renowned for their attention span. But that’s besides the point. It was in this time that I avoided novels altogether and wrote a bunch of short stories, until I decided I was ready and got started working on my 3rd attempt at a novel.

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*Internal screaming*

Fortunately, this 3rd attempt at a story was actually the story I ended up finishing.

I didn’t pants, I didn’t use the Snowflake Method, and I didn’t map out the mountain diagram that literature teachers are so fond of referencing. If you’re interested in the exact method I used for that, then this is the Youtube video where I learned it.

But if there was a moral to be learned from this story, it was that I had to end up migrating through a variety of different styles before I found something that suited me. But even then, I’ve yet to stop experimenting. I always do small variations on what I’m going to do with my next works and so far I think I’m leaning towards Outliner on the writer scale. Yet I don’t say that with full confidence.

Why you ask?

Because in the end, I’m still a beginner. Maybe a few years down the line I’ll be the greatest pantser that history has ever known. Hell, I might even end up an outline that’s even more arcane that Rowling’s! And because I don’t know for sure, is why I’m willing to experiment. Have any of you experimented with different writing styles? Do any of you hate me for mocking this foundational concept of writing? Want to spam me with adbots? Then feel free to leave your comments!

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

My Message is SOOOO Deep

Alright, this is another doozie. Let’s get one thing out of the way so that I can add context to this post.

I am a member of a certain minority group within the realm of the United States of America. For starters, no, I’m not hiding my identity because I’m afraid of prejudice, and no, this isn’t going to be an article about “under” representation (My thoughts on forcing

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Whoever guesses my ethnicity gets a free cookie.

representation on writers are here). I only choose to keep my identity vague for the time being because I don’t see it as anything worth mentioning.

But you might be asking yourself, why is it that I decided to bring up my ethnicity in this discussion? Wasn’t the QuestingAuthor vehemently opposed to identity politics taking over literature? Is he a hypocrite that has lied about each of his opinions? Well, don’t worry my friends, none of my stances have changed on anything. But I have an issue with a certain character that was recently created with my ethnicity.

Just a few hours ago, I was surfing through the vast lands of the interwebs, and after scrounging through a pile of memes and rare Pepes, I found a video about a certain artist whom belonged to my ethnicity (I’m going to start calling it Gorovian so that the sentences are smoother). The artist, being a Gorovian himself, had decided to create a character that would represent the Gorovian identity. Paraphrasing: “I wanted to make a character that was a symbol of unity for all Gorovians in the world.” Now, if you’re anything like me, this last sentence made you cringe. There were a number of mental checkmarks that set off in my mind when I first heard this.

1. Probability of prioritizing symbolism over characterization. Check.

 

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As far as my expectations for this character go, they are not positive

2. Probability of using character as a living soapbox. Check.

3. Probability of being Lauded for only the character’s identity rather than their personality. Check.

These three things are already enough to give me a healthy reason to be skeptical of this character. Now, to the artist’s benefit, I personally have not gotten the chance to read his work, nor do I plan on doing so. Not because I’m boycotting it or anything, but because I don’t usually consume his type of creative medium. Am I saying that this character is poorly written? Of course not. I couldn’t possibly know, this character could be one of the most complex ones ever made for all I’m aware of!

But I doubt it.

Just looking at the gentleman’s way of describing this person that he created really makes me believe that this character won’t be a character at all. There is little that I have heard of this character that tells me about how they act. Sure, I’m told she’s a Gorovian that she lives in a large american city and what-not, but this just tells me what a

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I think most people would rather watch a documentary to learn about civil rights protests

character is. The only thing that I’m aware that this character does is participate in civil rights protests and fight against colonialism. These are the only forces opposing her of which I am aware, because it’s all that the artist said in the interviews. Which only shoots off even more red flags in my mind. Oh, and don’t even let me get started on her abilities.

I’d rather not get into detail with naming her skills to you, because I wouldn’t want you to get a negative impression of a character that has barely even reached the public eye. But suffice to say, if she has all the abilities that the creator described, without any flaws, then I have good reason to believe that she’s a Mary Sue. She fights for righteousness, she’s overpowered, she’s a symbol, she’s a soapbox for the author, and she was designed as a role model for the Gorovians. Each of these things, individually, are not bad. But all of these traits lumped together have the potential of dehumanizing what could be a decent character.

This Gorovian character’s description should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone that wants to represent anything with the characters that they create. Always make sure that your character is an actual human being with a personality and THEN you should begin attaching the symbolism to him\her. As I’ve said before, this isn’t me mocking a character just because of their ethnicity. Remember, I’m a Gorovian as well. A message, no matter how important you think it is, should not define all of a character’s actions.

But in the case of you somehow finding out what I’m referring to, please don’t take my judgement as final. As I’ve said before, I’m only reviewing this character based on interviews with the creator rather than having read the actual work. You might like it for all I care! So take my words with a grain of salt.

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

 

 

 

Description Overload

Failing to come up with things to describe should be impossible.

Really, it should be.

I mean, just sit down and elaborate on this with me. The world is made up of a diversity of biomes, with a myriad of animals that roam within these stated biomes, and 7 billion people who have spent thousands of years developing these biomes to suit their needs. Human beings have created a variety of structures ranging from, cities, towns, monuments, villages, lodges, castles, space stations, docks, ports, artificial islands, ships, cars, airplanes, skyscrapers, and a whole mouthful of other creations. Every single spot that exists on this world is in possesion of at least five unique elements that draw it apart from similar spots. No two forests are the same, no two castles are pure clones of one

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This isn’t even taking into account the rest of the universe.

 

another, no two citadels are a copy of on another, and not even deserts share everything in common with one another. And I haven’t even spoken of the sheer detail of a single individual.

 

One person can open up a whole universe of description!

How does that person walk? How does he talk? How does he fight? Does he fight at all? Is he a pacifist? How is he dressed? What kind friends does he have? What are his interests? Do they have family? Do they want to have a family? You could fill up a whole manual with a list of things that you could describe about an individual. Just one individual. Out of 7 billion, and each with different answers.

You would think that coming up with things to describe about anything should be child’s play. You literally have six Bible’s worth of information at your fingertips. But the words never come!

When you open up a laptop or a notebook, your mind has to wrestle just to find out what to say about anything! Good description, not even great description, is treated like finding a gem through an ocean of trash. But when you consider just how many things there are to describe, you’d think that good description was just another commodity to come out of our brains! But, no! You, the person that actually exists in the world, the one that can perceive the world, the one that is aware of his own existence! You’re the one that can’t think of anything to describe!

Writer’s can nearly blow their brains out just trying to find the right words for a scene. Sure, that also factors in the manner in which we express the description. Which varies from

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You can scribble for days on end, but it never comes to you

simile, to metaphor, to anecdote, to analogy, or just saying it straight up. But this only serves to distress me more, because it only means that I have another infinity of options that I can’t figure out!

 

The difference between agonizing on your description and all the other frustrations that come with writing is a great deal more disparate than what you might think. When you’re not aware where your novel is going, it just means that you havent created a conclusion for it in your mind. When you make a scene that is written poorly, it means that you probably were not feeling in the best mood to write. When the ideas aren’t coming to you, it means that you just have to do some brainstorming. The good thing about these frustrations is that the answers are not right there for you to grasp. But description…ooooh, description is a separate beast.

What I loathe most about not knowing how to describe a scene is the fact that the

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You’re always just inches away from taking it, but it’s always yanked away

solution to my problem is right in front of me. Those words that you’ve been scouring your mind for are already there! You can literally walk around anywhere in order to find inspiration for your description! All you need to do is go outside for a few moments! But even when you go outside, you still can’t write the words on paper.

 

It’s like knowing that you have the cure to an illness that is killing you from the inside out and having a cabinet filled with vials of the antidote inside of your house. But whenever you pick up one of the vials, it slips from your grip and shatters on the floor. When you reach for another, it happens again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again!

 *Internal Screaming*

So why does this happen to us? Why are we plagued with this hideous cancer that bugs us on a daily basis? This might seem like an issue that is easily solved, but looks can be immensely deceiving. The core of this problem is not some pragmatic stimulus to keep writing until the words just come to you. The core is philosophical, and deeply human in its nature. The problem is not that the worlds we’ve imagined into existence are too vague and in need of fleshing out (That’s only a symptom), the problem is that the way we observe the world

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True words. A shame that very few of us listen to them.

around us is too vague and too fleeting.

 

Just think about it. How many people take a moment in everyday to relax, observe, and ponder on everything that had occurred to them on that same day? Unless you’re some pretentious philosophy major, chances are that you only do that once every three months!

For most people, everyday you get up from bed and proceed with going through the motions of your own life. The thought rarely crosses our mind to view our existences from a bird’s-eye view. And this is understandable. What reason would you need to examine your daily routine when you always go through it through your own perspective. It would be impossible to be placed in the mind of another human, and unless you’re a multimillionaire, few people would be willing offer their own perspectives on everything that you do. But in real life it doesn’t matter, since we don’t have the need to describe the lives of others.

But in writing, this ability is imperative.

When we write characters in their own little microcosm, the sheer volume of the task we undertake often goes unnoticed. When you write, especially in secondary worlds, you are going to be doing everything (and more) that is written on the following list.

  1. Describe a world from another perspective.
  2. Describe a world.
  3. Describe a world that doesn’t exist

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    Speculative fiction writers have a larger spectrum of issues to deal with
  4. Describe people’s reactions to this world.
  5. Describe people’s routines in this world.
  6. Describe the biomes of this world.
  7. Describe the societies of this world.
  8. Describe cultural norms invented by you.
  9. Describe how these same norms are subverted.
  10. Describe how things occur.
  11. Describe the history of individual places.
  12. Describe character’s feelings to one another
  13. Describe how each of the objects above intertwine and interact with one another.
  14. (A lot…LOT more)

Are we insane!? We have trouble describing even one of these things in the world that we already belong to! And as writer’s we’re expected to describe them all? At the same time!? In a world that might not even exist!?!?

We are so unaccustomed to examining the world around us, that when we’re presented to the alternative pocket dimensions that our stories take place in, our minds explode with all the possible information. We have so many options with what direction we wish to take our description, that one could argue that we have too many! We are outsiders that are expected to give a clearer picture of a world that we invented than the very world that

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“Of course the world is awesome…my eyes are just really bad at appreciating it.”

we already live in.

 

Even the best description that could be found in novels will only ever scratch the surface of the layers of complexity that lie therein. Only a small fraction of reality can be grasped by our brains and be transformed into descriptive text. But our minds process the big picture of our worlds, leading our brains to be overloaded with information, and ultimately, short-circuit. Leaving us with no idea on how to start describing our worlds.

But we shouldn’t despair in this, in truth, we should relish it.

Take pleasure in the fact that you’ll never be able to know everything that’s happening or could be happening in your world. Take pleasure that the world you crafted goes far beyond your imagination. The most sublime prose always has an element of mystery that could reach even mystical levels. With every sentence, paragraph, bad, average, good, or masterful, there will always be an aspect that we could never hope to comprehend. A detail that has sneaked past detection. A piece of description, that is just waiting to be written.

This has been the QuestingAuthor, and as always, keep writing.

 

   

Blank Slate Disorder (BSD)

Some time ago I made a post on what I called Puppetmaster’s Syndrome. In it, I went on about how authors are gods in their own right and how writers often mistake this role of deity as  giving them the authority to absolute control of their characters. When a writer is afflicted by Puppetmaster’s Syndrome, this writer seeks totalitarian control on every thought, action, aspect, and idea surrounding their characters. I mentioned how the most effective way to grow a character was to give them room to move on their own, rather than play god with them. But that got me thinking.

Was it possible for an affliction that is the total opposite of this to exist? Is it possible to take such a “hands off” approach to character that we end up ruining the people that we write? Does an environment like that even create the necessary requisites for a character to develop?

Well, after a few months of intensive research by the medical staff in

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The Medical staff has found out that most writing diseases are a result of hormonal imbalances

 

QuestingAuthor.com (i.e. me just sitting down and thinking about it for a time) we’ve discovered another disorder related to this dichotomy. Coining the term Blank Slate Disorder (BSD), we’ve been able to pinpoint this writing disease.

But before I get down to mocking the sheer  concept of a blank slate character, we must first seek out a way to define this term clearly, along with dispelling common misconceptions that come with it, and we must also define what makes a character into a character.

It is beyond difficult to pinpoint where the line between a blank slate and an actual character actually begin. For the purposes of this article I feel that I must clarify that my opinion on this matter is fully subjective, but once you see the reasoning behind my opinions, I feel that we’ll reach an agreement. This is a rather touchy subject and due to the pure subjectivity behind it, I’d rather not mention any characters that I feel act in this manner.

First, let’s pin down a definition of a character. A character is not defined by description, traits, a plot, or the actions of other characters. What solely defines a character are the actions that they take and their motivations for performing such actions. With this definition down, we can already have an idea of what a blank slate character actually is. When this definition is taken at face value, a blank slate character would be a character that either has all the meaningful action performed for them, or characters that perform actions with no real motivations.

And this is where it gets rather complex.

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If I knew why this duel was happening, it would probably be much cooler

 

A character that has all the world’s motivations but takes no meaningful action is a blank slate. A character that does all the story’s actions, but has little to no reason for doing them is also a blank slate. But then the confusion arises in the form of ‘What about characters with confused motivations?’ or ‘What about characters that take actions for other characters?’. In the former case, there’s a reason why I didn’t say that clear motivations were necessary. A character’s confusion can serve as an actually motivation, just like people trying to find their way in the world experiment with various things. For the latter, a character that takes actions for another character would have his own personal motivations for assisting that character.

Which is why under a looser interpretation of my rule, a blank slate is a character whom either does no meaningful action at all, a character with motivations that don’t match the scope of their actions, or a character with vague motivations that have no bearing on how he acts.

So the character would either be being dragged along by the plot or bending the plot in whatever way he wished to. And this is all because said character has the attributes that I mentioned.

But if it’s so negative to make a character like this, what reasoning is there behind making one? At least in the case of Puppetmaster’s Syndrome, you would have ended up creating a character, granted, a character limited by your vision of him, but a character is better than no character.

Yet there actually is a justification behind this way of thinking. People whom write in this fashion claim that they do so in order to turn the Blank Slate into a reader proxy. They feel that the best way to allow the reader to fit into the shoes of the characters that they are crafting is to leave an open space of sorts for the reader to jump into and pretend to be a part of the story. They feel that some wish to transplant their personality into the books that they read for the ultimate sense of immersion.

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A blank slate is more of a burden than an entertaining character

 

But this has rarely worked.

People almost invariably have an easier time relating to actual characters rather than some brick that’s being dragged along by the plot. Because the very act of creating a character for the purposes of making a reader fit into said character, actually has the opposing effect. A character that is just a blank slate serves to repulse whomever is reading your tale.

It’s very weird, but when you get down to the finer aspects you can see why it works the way that it does. When a character is a blank slate, you have essentially dehumanized that character to the point that there is no way to equate him/her as an actual agent in the story. In contrast, when we see a character we are automatically able to relate to them based on the fact that they act on their own agency, just like real human beings. Human beings with motivations, that take actions, and have their own opinions. Which is the opposite of a blank slate.

When we see a blank slate, rather than immerse us, it creates an “uncanny valley” effect. We see this character written into text, we their names plastered all over the book, and we can’t help but feel that this character is close to being human but is missing the very core of what makes a human being. Agency and feeling. And when you see this happen, your are instantly repulsed from that individual character. You can’t place yourself in that

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They’re…they’re staring into my soul…

character’s shoes, because that character contributes next to nothing in that story. Because that character, unlike you, is not human.

We don’t see some magical portal to another world when we see a blank slate character. All that we see is an inanimate brick being dragged along by a plot that would be virtually the same without their presence.

So while it is necessary to give a character space to grow, you can’t just drop them off in the world without guidance. I return to the parenting metaphor I had used previously. A child with overprotective parents will have little space to grow as an individual. It will be very easy to tell that this child was defined by the desires of his parents rather than just their guidance. But bad stuff happens on the other extreme. If we leave a child alone, there’s only a minor chance that they’ll develop for themselves. Most of the time, this would leave a child with the important roles of his parents vacant. And that child would develop as an empty husk in an indifferent world. A writer must not control, nor neglect their characters, they must guide them until they sprout into their own.

As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.

 

 

First Draft Depression (FDD)

“So, you’ve already settled down with an idea for a novel?” the doctor glances down at his notebook and scribbles down a few notes with his pen “Oh…what’s this? You’ve already made it into the first quarter of your book? You must be having a rather jolly time spinning that ol’ tale of yours! I’d wager it to be among the greatest of the greats!”

You gulp down a blob of saliva that had been building inside your throat for the previous minutes. You know that there’s no reason for you to be surprised at having to make this revelation, after all, that’s why you decided to go to a health clinic. Yet just fathoming having to admit it…the thought just leaves an empty pit in your stomach.

The doctor adjusts his glasses so that his piercing gaze can look down on you. There’s a sense of shame that begins to crawl up all the way from your spine into your mind. There’s no use in stalling the doctor, but if it means delaying the inevitable, you’ll go through with it in any case “Doc, I just don’t know what’s wrong. I’ve tried following all the advice that every one gives me. I make n

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Terminal FDD could result in anxiety, depression, self-loathing, mood swings, early periods, and 1st stage brain cancer.

ew characters, I don’t let other people influence my opinion, and I write every day. But everything I write…it’s all just plain horrid!”

The doctor clears his throat and begins to jot down another set of notes in his notebook. Suddenly, you notice that you can hear the beats of your heart and that every scribble that the doctor makes takes an eternity from your view. Your feet start tapping against the ground without your control. The doctor raises his pen and bites on its tip “I see…I see. Your symptoms seem to share much in common with a variety of other diseases.  However, we of the medical world take pride in our knack for precision. So before I diagnose you, I’ll need to ask you one question.”

Your heart freezes and you choke down another bout of saliva that had been forming in your mouth. Your grip your knees with either hands; fingernails trying to scrape through thick Levi jeans. You raise you head up, aware that it was bound to come to this at one point or another “What question?” you close your eyes, trying to shield yourself from what is to come.

“Do you still think that your work is salvageable?”

Your heart drops down to your stomach when you hear the final syllables of that final word being enunciated. How could you possibly answer yes to that question, this novel has been your baby for the past two months! You wouldn’t abandon your child just because he was giving you difficulties!

Or so you think.

You always had a set image of how everything that you craft would go about being read. The prose would be exquisite, and flow like caramel over an ice cream sunday. Yet that was far from the truth now.

For the past week  you’ve felt like you’ve been trudging through the trenches of World War I, but without the stench of corpses. Instead, you’ve had the stench of sweating fingers which have been gifted every ounce of energy that your body could ever hope to muster. Yet not even that has been enough. Your characters have been acting strangely bland lately and your story is going nowhere! How could you lie to yourself about being able to save this garbage? Are you insane?

“I see…I see…” the doctor mutters to himself in that drab, monotone voice he’d used on you earlier. He would think of you as weak, he would mock you for giving up so easily on your work, and you were enough of a gullible fool to play his game all along “No need to worry, Mr. Author, I’m rather familiar with the symptoms that come with your disease. All that afflicts you is another case of First Draft Depression.”

***

   It happens to the best of us. Yes, yes, there’s no shame in admitting. Sometimes, you just feel like you want to throw your manuscript into the very depths of hell so you can never see it again. And let me let you in on a little secret, friend.

  I feel you.

  I really do. I could stand here on a pedestal all day and talk about all the struggles that writers face in common. Yet in many of these cases one could even say that I’m just projecting my own personal problems as a writer into the whole community. But First Draft Depression? If there’s anything that we know for certain that all writers share in common, this is it.

   Some people would call Writer’s Block but I wouldn’t venture to just write it off as trivially as that. FDD is something that goes beyond Writer’s Block, and I would argue is much worse. You see, at least in Writer’s Block, you can acknowledge the fact that some of your prose is good. It’s just that you’re having trouble with the current prose you’re working on. But my dear writers, FDD is the logical extreme of Writer’s Block.

   Ever wake up one day and decide that you hate every single thing that you’ve written up to this point? Have you ever gotten existential with regard to how worthwhile it is to be working on your novel? Have you ever thought that every single sentence that you wrote felt clunky and poorly composed to the reader? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, then it can be said beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have felt FDD.

  It’s a strange phenomenon that belongs to the same family as Writer’s Block. Yet as we’ve discussed, it’s a whole new beast.

   FDD sprouts from that tendency we have as writers to be only the most

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There’s always that one part of the you that seems solely dedicated to loathing itself

 strict of perfectionists. Considering the amount of time that we pour into our work, it’s only natural that we wish every sentence and every word to carry meaning with it. One of the things that we seem to take for granted is the fact that we already have a pseudo-perfect image of what our story would be like before we even start writing. And once we realize how messy the writing process is, our inner perfectionist begins to fade away. Of course, that’s only supposed to be the case.

   A lot of times, our inner perfectionist decides to stay as our mental roommate for the rest of our writing session. Sometimes he thinks it’s funny to remind us how that heartwarming scene ended up a cringy pity-fest when we put it on paper. Sometimes he tells us that none of the elements in our plots are meshing together. Sometimes, he just loves to bring up every writer that we look up to and tell us how we’ll never be anything like them.

   Sometimes…well, you get the idea.

   All the writing advice people say the same damn thing. They say that we need to learn to let the first draft flow on its own, that we need to wait until revision, and they do it for good reason. Yet like a bunch of other great advice, our delightful brains take joy in ignoring it.

  I don’t know if there’s some masochistic element involved in people mocking their own creative works, but sometimes it just feels that way. I mean, for the Lord’s sake, if there’s anyone in this world that should be encouraging our own work it should be our minds! But no, the brain sees it fit to stand by the sidelines while tossing out slurs while you pour hours of work into your passion.

   In the end it’s a hopeless cycle and the only way to cure it is by writing even more. And that’s the most ironic part! First, it makes you hate your writing which in turn makes you want to quit. When you do quit, the brain just keeps telling you how much of a loser you are! This world has no mercy, not even your own body is on your side!

   To my fellow writers whom suffer from this foul affliction, I can only spare my sincerest apologies. No doubt will this vile disease seize me in due time, but as I am yet untouched I will tell all of you the only solution to this issue. Ignore your mind and write. You’ll learn early on that your mind is only good for coming up with ideas and writing prose. If it ever steps outside of its boundaries, do yourself a favor and ignore the cheeky bastard.

   This has been the QuestingAuthor with another public service announcement. And as I will say until I breathe my very last breath, keep writing, my friends.

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