Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Inevitable Rejection

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

60. Attitude after rejection

This is a key factor, I think, in whether or not someone is destined to become a published writer, because make no mistakes, you will be rejected. Statistically, the odds that the first publisher you submit to makes you an offer are astronomically small. There are so many factors that many writers don’t think about. For instance, has it ever occurred to you that a publisher might really like your manuscript but still reject it? It happens. You know why? Current popular culture. You might write a kick-ass old-timey Western novel, but if everyone is currently into space travel and aliens the publisher is going to look at your manuscript and think, “There just isn’t a market for this right now.” A publisher’s primary concern, after all, is selling books and making money. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t write and submit your kick-ass, old-timey Western…just be aware that it might be that much more difficult to get published.

So back to rejection… You know it’s inevitable so how are you going to react? Are you going to curl up into a ball and weep for a week? Or are you going to push on and submit to a different publisher? Are you going to get all angry and frustrated and declare that the publisher doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or are you going to diligently go back and revise your manuscript to better fit suggestions they’ve made to you?

I haven’t dealt with this myself, not yet. I talk a big talk, but maybe I’m full of hot air. Maybe when I receive my first rejection I’ll get all choked up, tear the letter into a million pieces, and refuse to write anything for a year. I certainly hope not, but one never knows how one will react to such a thing as rejection. But for that inevitability I have a little security blanket I like to hold on to, and that’s Google. Do a Google search right now for famous author rejection letters and see what you find. You’ll find, for instance, that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter before the owner of Bloomsbury’s daughter read her submission and demanded the rest of the book. William Goldings, author of Lord of the Flies also received 20 rejections and was told that his book was “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull”. And did you know that C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia received 800 rejections before publishing a single piece of work?

Some writers might find that depressing an discouraging, but I find it warm and comforting. Yes, it reinforces the fact that I will be rejected, but it also gives me hope that if I work hard and stay stubborn, I’ll eventually get an acceptance. An in that way I’m almost looking forward to my first rejection letter, because on that day I will be one rejection closer to acceptance.

What’s in a Name?

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

50. Character names

Choosing the name for a character can be one of the difficult parts of planning a story. Some people love choosing their character names, while others (like myself) find it a grueling, miserable process. You can’t choose just any name that strikes your fancy; you have to think about who the character is, what they are, and what they represent. You want your readers to picture your character using the information you give them and be able to say, “Yeah, he/she definitely seems like a _____.”

Think about it for a moment. Would Eddard Stark seem so noble and admirable a character if he had been named Bob Smith? Would Harry Potter elicit the same feelings of familiarity and empathy if Rowling had named him Stan Tanner? Hell, would Christian Grey get so many crazy women’s motors running if he were named Walter Fitzgerald?

So we (presumably, unless we are naturally talented in this particular art) labor long and hard while working out what our characters names will be. I myself always have a hard time with this. When I was young and foolish I would always name my main characters after myself. I’ve used my real name, my nicknames, and my usernames in the past. Of course this is not an accepted practice in the real world of writing and is generally looked upon as a red light for wish fulfillment fantasies. These days I try to picture my characters and imagine names that suit them, the same way you might see a person walking down the street and guess what their name might be based only on their physical appearance. Sometimes I meet with success – the main character in my zombie apocalypse manuscript is Nancy King, and I can’t imagine her having any other name. Other times I have hiccups that won’t go away – the main character of my fantasy epic has had her name changed no fewer than four times and it still doesn’t sound right.

I think it’s almost like a game that you have to win before your story can be whole, and certain stories crank the difficulty of the game up to “Author Must Die” mode. But this is just another hurdle we must leap on the way to creating wonderful stories.

I totally forgot to title this post

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

38. How the books you read as a teenager affected you

This one is a little harder than the one about books I read as a child because, although I’ve always been a reader, I read significantly less during my teenage years (which I choose to think of as “high school age”). Let me explain why.

As a younger child and a preteen, I was fairly awkward. I was smart, a little shy, and easily embarrassed. I got along perfectly well with pretty much everyone, and I had a tight-knit group of close friends, but I was not a social child, and I don’t believe I came off as someone who wanted to be social. I was the kind of kid the other kids thought of as a nerd. I wasn’t the kind of kid that got invited to parties and events (unless it was a birthday party of the type where you invite your entire class just because), and as we got a little older I was not the kind of girl who got attention from boys. But as we moved on to the teenage years of high school, I started to blossom a little. I somehow mustered up the courage to ask the boy I liked to a school dance, and from that came my first real romantic relationship. That relationship opened up my world a lot. I became exposed to things that other kids my age already had sussed out. My boyfriend introduced me to things like sports, fishing, and non-campsite camping, and I gained a bit more of a social circle which lead to parties, hanging out, and all those things that teenagers are supposed to do even though they’re not technically supposed to (*cough*booze*cough*).

The picture I’m trying to paint here is of a nerdy girl who had suddenly realized that there was other stuff to life than being nerdy. During those years things that had always been an important part of me, like reading and writing, took a bit of a back burner to all the new and exciting stuff I was experiencing.
For that reason, it’s hard for me to talk about the books that affected me as a teenager, because I find myself thinking, “What frickin’ books did I read as a teenager?”

But I wanted to be able to write a proper response to this prompt, so I thought long and hard. And then I remembered something that happened in my second year of high school. My best friend and I were taking a Sociology course, and I was in the first seat of the first row closest to the door, right up against the wall. On that wall, right next to my head, was a photocopy that our teacher had made of a newspaper article. Obviously I can’t remember the exact details of the article, but the basic idea was a story about how a bunch of “good Christian” mothers had gotten together to protest the availability of the new Harry Potter book in public schools. They scoffed at the book and called it satanistic, claiming that the author was attempting to lead their “good Christian” children away from God and into the arms of witches and devil-worshipers.

I remember reading that article during a particularly boring part of our teacher’s lecture, and the first thought that popped into my mind was, well…to be honest, the first thought that popped into my mind was that these “good Christian” moms were well and truly gone in the head. But the second thought that popped into my mind was that I totally had to read these Harry Potter books. There were three or four of them published by that point, but I’d avoided them for the dual reasons of everything I mentioned above, and the fact that the looked like kiddy books. But after having read that foolish article about closed-minded moms on an embarrassing crusade, I decided that I had to read them, and did as soon as possible. To say the least, I fell in love with them, and I absolutely struggled through the next few years as I constantly waited for the next one to be released.

If one book (or series of books, I suppose) can be attributed for bringing me back into the world of reading and writing, it would definitely be the Harry Potter series. Though I never got back into reading as much as I had before until I was well into my young adult years, Harry Potter definitely set the wheels in motion, and for that it is probably the book (or books) that most affected me during my teenage years.

Epic Fail

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

37. What to do if you’ve failed at the goals you set

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’ve just gotta get back on the horse”? If you have, you should understand what I’m about to talk about. If you haven’t, what rock have you been living under for the past hundred years?

Everyone fails at goals. Maybe not all the time, maybe some more often than others, but everyone at some point in time fails at a goal they’ve set for themselves. It’s the nature of the situation that even if we have all the best of intentions, things will go wrong, other issues will intrude, and any number of problems will arise to keep us from reaching the end of the line. Maybe it’s something we can’t control, like the fact that our new job requires us to work 70-hour weeks and we can’t work on our goal if we want to be able to eat and sleep as well. Maybe it’s something absolutely controllable, like being just plain lazy. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. It doesn’t make you a better or worse failure. Failure is failure.

But failure is also just a chance to start over again. Failure shows us what we’ve done wrong, which issues we failed to take into consideration, and what we have to change to do better next time. If you’re a really optimistic type, failure might even be motivation to try harder. If you’re the pessimistic type, things might be a little more difficult, but the same points still apply.

And excellent example of failure and moving on from it is rejection in writing. An author can put their heart and soul – and a ridiculous number of work-hours – into a manuscript, only to have it rejected by the publisher…and then rejected by another…and another…and another. Regardless of how good a manuscript may be, it is almost certain that the author will receive multiple rejections before (hopefully) receiving a publication offer. This situation really defines the whole “get back on the horse” thing because if these authors were to just give up, where would we be? Were you aware that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter book before finally getting published? We all know now that the Harry Potter books are well-written, well-loved, and have ultimately sold bucketloads. So why did she receive so many rejection letters? There are any number of reasons, but the point is that she had a goal set (to publish that damn book!) and she didn’t let failure upon failure stop her from continuing to try and try, getting back on the horse again and again.

It’s definitely hard sometimes…humans are naturally depressive and easily-discouraged creatures…but if the goal you’ve set for yourself is something that’s important to you, something that you know you’re not going to be happy just giving up on, then you have to press on. If you’ve done something wrong, figure out what it is. If outside issues are holding you back, figure out a way around them. And if the problem is just timing, situation, or reliance on others to react the way you need them to, you just have to keep trying, trying, trying, until all the puzzle pieces fall into place. In the end you’ll be better off for having to have worked for it, and the end of the line will be that much more beautiful when you reach it.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, and I hope you’re able to hold on to that hope as well. 🙂

Can Someone Please Invent a 36-hour Day?

Because time seems to be slipping away from me at an ever-increasing rate and I’ve been completely unable to find the time for any decent posts over my recent days off, here are a couple of drabbles for you. They’re fanfic drabbles based on the Harry Potter universe:
The Godfather

Sirius couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so happy. Not that he was unhappy on a regular basis – on the contrary, he was a very cheerful person. Nevertheless, at this particular moment he was what he would have described as ecstatic.

“You….you’re sure?” he asked, nervousness in his voice, “You’re both absolutely positive?”

Lily and James smiled at him, her from her hospital bed, and he from her side. “Yes, you idiot,” James insisted, “Of course we’re sure!”

Sirius couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he looked down at the newborn baby in Lily’s arms.

“Hello, Godson!”

Hired

Sybil shook her head a little. The headache had come on suddenly, a most unwelcome distraction from her interview with Headmaster Dumbledore.

“Excuse me, I just…” she started, but before she could pardon herself she found the pain had intensified tenfold and she clutched her temples.

If you told her afterwards that she’d been speaking in a most disturbing voice, she’d never believe you. To her, mere seconds passed before she looked back up to the Headmaster and apologized for her transgression. However, as she did, Dumbledore was staring at her with a thoughtful and calculating gaze.

“Congratulations. You’re hired.”

Cry of the Wolf

I got an email yesterday. Not an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence, I know. But the content of that email was part of a series of emails I’ve been getting for several years now. This particular one stated that a user of FanFiction.net had added my story, “Cry of the Wolf” to their favorite list.

“Cry of the Wolf” is a Harry Potter fan fiction I wrote and published to FanFiction.net back in July of 2004. I rewrote and republished it on a newer FanFiction.net account in 2008. Over the course of the past 8 years and those two accounts this story has received a total of 286 reviews, 279 favorites, and 82 follows. Every few months, without fail, I’ll get a notification email to let me know that someone has stumbled across the story and either reviewed it, made it a favorite, or followed it in hopes of more chapters be added in the future (although the story is unofficially finished). This never ceases to amaze me because it was just something I threw together back when I first discovered fan fiction and decided to try my hand at it.

Since the string of notifications never seems to end, obviously there must be something to this story, so I thought I’d share the link here to the revised version. Please note that this story contains spoilers if you somehow have yet to read the Harry Potter series, and it is also a Remus/Sirius slash fiction (boy love) if you’d rather stay away from that kind of thing.

But if you’re interested, here you go:

Cry of the Wolf – Version 2

Enjoy!

Day 1, New Adventure

It has been a loooooong day.

I got up this morning at approximately 1 am. Never a good way to start the day, but there you have it. I grabbed a shower, and tossed my luggage in the car while my husband was (groggily) getting his shower. Together we went in to wake the baby, and were surprised by her happy acceptance at being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night. The little bugger.

Then we drove to Halifax, a three hour drive in the middle of the night. Always a good time. 😛

Waiting at the airport was the worst, because while I was waiting to head down to security all I could think about was saying good-bye to the baby, which just made me feel more and more ill as the time went on. Strangely, once I’d said my good-bye and gone through security I felt much better, but up to that point, I definitely wanted to barf. Luckily the baby took the good-bye well. Don’t know if that makes me happy or sad.

Going through security was fun. (Ha.) I ended up having to take off my boots because apparently they have metal in the heels. Huh.

On to the flight deck! I’ll tell you, the airplane was not what I was expecting. Maybe it’s because I’d only ever seen the inside of an airplane via Hollywood representation, but I was amazed at how small it was. I’ve heard all the usual complaints about cramped seats and lack of leg space, but just the overall size of the plane itself really surprised me. I felt like I was in a toy. Really.

The flight itself was reasonably enjoyable. Contrary to my previous beliefs that I would be struggling not to vomit everywhere, I actually really enjoyed the takeoff. It was neat watching the ground disappear beneath us, and when we hit the clouds it was like a sea of fluffy snow in every direction. I wish there had been less cloud on the overall journey because I didn’t get to see much else, but it was still pretty neat. My only real complaint about the entire flight was the descent…not because of turbulence or anything like that, but because my ears felt like they were being stabbed by a hundred screwdrivers. I expected my ears would probably pop, since they pop just going over Kelly’s Mountain (hint: it’s not a high mountain), but I wasn’t expecting the level of pain that I experienced. O.U.C.H.

So I landed in Toronto and did the whole thing over again, except the second flight was longer and I was seated next to an exceptionally overweight man. I don’t want to sound mean or anything, but the guy’s arm and side-fat were spilling over into my seat and making me very uncomfortable. I can only imagine how he must have felt, squeezed in a seat that is far too small for him. Because of this little issue, the second flight was not as enjoyable as the first, but I occupied myself by watching Deathly Hollows Part 2 and an episode of Just for Laughs. This time, when we were descending, I tried chewing gum to help with my ears. It didn’t help. Even now, 7 hours off the plane, my ears still hurt and feel like they’re full of cotton. I’m getting a shower after I finish this post and I’m praying the steam helps clear my head because goddammit, ouch!

The camp itself is definitely a bit of a culture shock for me. As I mentioned before, I’ve never had the dorm experience, so I’m going to have to get used to things. The room is small, but nice, and there’s a women-only exercise room that is well-stocked. The dining area made me a little uncomfortable, simply for the fact that I don’t know anyone and the tables are meant to seat 4-6. I ended up sitting at the only table for 2 and shoveling my food in as quick as possible so I could get out of there. I’m not one for eating by myself, but I’m also not the type who can just stroll up to a group of people and ask to eat with them. Double-edged sword. In any case, the food was pretty good. There were several choices of veggies, meats, deserts, etc., and there’s also a “bag-it” room where you can get things like pre-made sandwiches and wraps, fresh fruit and veggies, yogurt and pudding, etc etc. It shouldn’t be too hard to find things to eat each day, is what I’m saying.

And now I’m sitting in my room, wondering what to do with myself for the rest of the night. I’m pretty exhausted, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep. The hot shower might help with that, I suppose, but it’s also still really light out. It’s hard to believe that back at home it’s almost 11 pm. I’ve been awake for 21 hours. Yikes. Maybe I will try to go to sleep. 😛

Tomorrow continues the adventure! Wish me luck!

Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

I’ve been a little busy lately, what with the hubby coming home, and preparing for my upcoming trip to my new job. I was subjected to a drug test on Monday (always fun), and had to take my Construction Safety course yesterday, so this is the first time I’ve really sat down at my computer since before hubby came home.

Regularly scheduled updates will resume at some point, but for now I thought I’d share another drabble. This one comes from a small collection of Harry Potter fanfic drabbles that I wrote a while ago. I was attempting to write a drabble for each important character in the book. I stopped at 18, but maybe I’ll get around to finishing the series someday.

Anyway, here’s the one I did for Harry:

It was quiet for a moment. Then a earthshaking howl echoed through the house. Harry cringed and sunk himself deeper into the space between the bath and the sink in the washroom.

He couldn’t understand what he’d done…one minute the cookie jar was on top of the refrigerator where it always was, the next it was on the floor, spilling out more cookies than logically could have fit in it. There must have been a hundred chocolate chips all over the floor.

There came another howl and thundering footfalls up the stairs.

Uncle Vernon didn’t like chocolate chip cookies.

What does this say about me?

When writing, there is an inherent need to torment your characters in one way or another. Even in children’s books there has to be some kind of conflict, something that makes the character upset or uncomfortable. Otherwise you don’t really have a story…you’re just writing about someone with a perfectly normal and happy life. And sorry, that’s just boring. Whether it’s in books, movies, video games, or other forms of media, people want conflict because that’s what makes it interesting, and when dealing with conflict, what you’re really doing is tormenting your character.

Just think about Harry Potter. How interesting would Harry’s character have been if he had been raised by a kind and loving aunt and uncle who gave him everything he ever wanted, rather than the cruel and unusual Dursleys who made him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs? Would you have been able to root for him as thoroughly if he’d been a natural talent, learning every spell right away and becoming a master wizard with no effort at all, rather than being the kind of student you can relate to…one who struggles through some classes and is constantly dealing with piles of homework he has no time to finish? Would the books have been as enjoyable if Harry had been able to defeat Voldemort thoroughly and with little effort, constantly saving everyone, rather than having to struggle to survive and regularly deal with death all around him?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are ridiculously easy to please and I’m not sure I’d want to read a book written by you.

So we’ve established that there needs to be conflict, and that the usual way to create conflict is to torment your characters. Here’s the thing though…I believe that the level of torment you inflict on your characters says something about you. What it says, I’m not entirely sure. All I know for sure is that I torture the ever-living hell out of my characters. A zombie story is obviously going to obtain all manner of horror, but the characters in my other stories deal with some pretty awful stuff as well. In the fantasy I’ve had on hold for a while now my main character starts the story downtrodden and depressed. She then goes on to get kidnapped, stabbed, tortured, emotionally beaten up on multiple occasions, psychologically tortured, and even more. I put this poor girl through the ringer and back again a dozen times, throwing more and more at her to the point where any real person in real life would have simply gone insane.

What the hell does that say about me? 😛