Category Archives: General

People Pleasing, and why I won’t do it

To start with, I have never been a fan of being a “people pleaser.” Catering to the desires of others – especially desires of what they think I should be, do, or say – has never appealed to me on any level. It’s fake. It’s awful. It’s atrocious. I am who I am, and no one can change that. What does this have to do with writing? Let me open a few cans of worms.

1. I can’t stand the idea of writing to reach a specific audience. Will young millenials – a term I utterly despise – sit themselves down long enough to enjoy anything I write? To quote whatshisname from Gone with the Wind, “Quite frankly… I don’t give a damn.”* I don’t write for anyone in particular. I just write, because I can’t not write.

2. Writing contests make my skin crawl. I like the idea of getting money for writing, but I turn into a Nervous Nelly at the thought of the requirements. Wordcount limits, required subject matter, etc., and then there’s the possibility that I might not have rights to the piece after they get ahold of it… I’ll put it this way – Most of what I write feels like a child I’ve raised from birth. If I no longer have the rights to do with it what I please (even a short piece), it limits me considerably. Oftentimes, short excerpts that have nothing to do with anything else sneak their way into longer writings – usually months or even years down the road (and, in some cases, decades).

3. I hate unsolicited line edits. Yes, I hate them. Receiving them is like dressing up in something really pretty, then having someone point out a zit on your face. I know my work is not perfect. If I want deep criticism and word choice advice, I’ll ask for it. In the meantime, get over it. Of course, if I have something utterly silly like “the the” in there, please point it out.

4. My characters are who they are. I don’t necessarily control them. They will fly off the handle, say off the wall stuff, chase after squirrels,** and get flustered when they have to walk through a room full of spiderwebs. I can try to change who they are and what they do, but when I do that, it brings about the biggest writers’ blocks I’ve ever had to deal with.

5. I don’t care about tropes or about avoiding them. If I tried to make sure I wasn’t writing something that had already been written before, I’d be lying to myself. As Solomon once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Until you get this, you will forever be looking over your shoulder for the Trope Police. Just write the thing. Worry about originality later –– much later.

6. Never ask me to write anything specific. Just don’t. It’s another pet peeve, another writing block, etc. Also, do not ask me to copy anyone else in any way, shape, or form. I will glare at you, and possibly write you into one of my stories –– which could be good or bad.

7. Don’t be surprised if you ask me what I’m writing and I don’t have an answer. I should, I know, but I often have no way to put it into coherent language. I just write. Period.

8. Please, please, please don’t try to “ship” any of my characters (aka – hook them up). I will immediately stop sharing my writing with you, or kill one of them off just to spite you. Seriously. Just don’t do it. It’s tacky and annoying. Keep your shipping suggestions to yourself, and everyone will stay happy. Who knows? I might already have plans for it, and just don’t want you to know.***

9. I follow the characters I choose to follow (or rather, the ones who drag me into their lives). Some of the others just don’t open up to me. If you have issue with that, I’m not apologizing. You’re not writing the story –– I am.

10. I don’t care what Freud or any other psychologist, phsychotherapist, etc., has to say about this behaviour or that. Don’t get too analytical. It totally turns me off. And remember: There is no way I’d ever take Freud seriously. Ever.

All that to say: Don’t crimp my style, and let your criticism be truly constructive. Drop all expectations, and get to know my work before you rip it to shreds –– and I will do the same for you, should you trust me to read your writing. I will find as much good in it as I can. It is, after all, like your own child. You can’t say to a mother, “Your child is ugly.”**** It’s just plain rude.

Thanks for letting me get all that off my chest… Hope I didn’t scare you off. 😉

*Probably the only detail from that film that I actually loved. Apologies to anyone who loves that movie – it’s simply not my favorite.

**This only happened once in my writing, and there were mitigating circumstances.

***There is one exception to this: If you are my writing buddy, and have read a substantial amount of my work, you are allowed to make such suggestions. Otherwise, don’t bother.

****I mean, you can, but I don’t recommend it.

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Shifting the Plot (drastically)

If you’ve been following Salon Auteur’s blog for the past couple of years (It’s been around that long???), you might remember when I wrote this. Well… Nearly two years later, I have an update.

See, I was originally hesitant to kill off or otherwise nearly destroy the main character. However, I hit a major block later on down the road, and I just couldn’t seem to add to the story. It just didn’t seem… right. So what did I do? I went back into the Outtakes file (yes, there is an Outtakes file on my computer) and read through the rejected scenes… and I found that they were truer to the plot than what I’d added in. After all, to have the villain die so early seemed a little… too convenient (even if it did reveal a lot about his allies). Yes, there were others to take his place, but it totally wrecked the plot. He was the only convincing bad guy in the whole story, aside from the one who already got killed off. So I took the outtakes, tweaked them until I liked them better, and sifted them back in…. then proceeded to rewrite the scenes following them — and leading up to them. I’m still in that process, and I’m having to remind myself of the history of Marda so that I can get it all straightened out… But there’s still problems.

The story feels dry. Seriously. It has its moments of “greatness,” but in general, it’s lacking. The characters don’t have the same camaraderie (friendly or otherwise) as other generations of characters in the Mardan Tales. The settings are vague, at best. The pirates seem a lot more skilled and dangerous than they should — without explanation. I mean, really. The captains all argue over who’s the top guy, yet they manage to overtake the larger part of the kingdom of Ebenswy? What’s unifying them? Why aren’t there more assassinations or attempts? And why is Ebenswy itself so… blah? Why is it so hard to write a story based hundreds of years before the stories you’ve written before? Why do I just want to scrap this whole thing and forget it ever existed — yet at the same time, I want to save every bit of it that I can? Perhaps I’m just complaining and should just write…

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A Ramble about Writing

I write my stories in third person almost omniscient by habit. It’s just how the words hit the page. I like knowing everything that’s going on, and I don’t like having to write extensive notes just to remember what actually happened in a scene (which, believe me, I have done). I also love writing from multiple perspectives within a story (but never in the same scene –– too confusing).

At any rate, I will occasionally scribble down something in first person limited –– just a random scrap, nothing significant. Usually, it doesn’t go anywhere and remains an intriguing but stagnant slip of writing. In the past, I’ve managed to stretch one out to 10,000 words, but it was writing that started off strong and fizzled out by the end.

Not so with my current work, however. I’m baffled and delighted that I’ve kept it going. No, it doesn’t have a title yet. I haven’t learned enough about it to name it. Hopefully, I won’t have this same attitude towards naming my children in the future (if I have any). And what has kept me writing it? I’ll give you a few details…

1. The villain. I like writing a villain who is cruel to the nth degree, yet somehow appealing. Cold and calculating (the smarter the better), filled with malice, and rarely losing his/her temper (but burning with the very flames of hell when he/she does). Even better if he/she is strangely attractive to the protagonist. Whether or not we know much about the villain, he/she should put a chill in our very bones –– or at the least, into the bones of the protagonist. I like a well-written villain. In fact, in some cases, it could sometimes be argued that I favor the villain over the protagonist.

In this particular tale: The villain is a redheaded man with deep blue eyes, dressed in forest colors. The eyes are important, as my protagonist is obsessed with them. However, the villain terrifies her. Whenever she sees him, she freezes up and barely knows what to do with herself. This is a far cry from my usual main characters, who tend to be strong-willed and bolder than most, but I digress. Most of what makes him scary is what he might do, not necessarily what he has done.

2. The collision of worlds. Whether it be two entirely different cultures, worlds, universes, or time periods, this interaction fascinates me, no matter what my characters know or don’t know about the other culture/world/universe/time period. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Doctor Who…

In this particular tale: We start off in the modern world, where there are highways, cars, policemen, and speeding tickets. It shifts from here to woodlands in a medieval type of world. Most of my readers will tell you that I have more than a slight obsession with writing about the medieval. I may not be an expert, per say, but I do love the stuff… Given a choice, I may never have these characters shift back to the “real” world. After all, they might even be in the “real” world already. Interestingly enough, while my protagonist and her protector shift with the change in environment, the villain does not.

3. The idea of an established world that I’m still learning about (as an author). It’s kind of like when you have a dream, and you know more than you should, as if “it’s always been this way,” yet you’ve only been asleep for however long, so how could you possibly know? There is so much backstory that is not told, but an excellent writer will write as if the reader knows everything [within reason], only dropping hints here and there. To out and out explain it can spoil the effect. This is why prequels are not always a good idea.

In this particular tale: I know bits and pieces about this world. It’s still forming in my head, but there are a few established things –– two very distinctive cultures that interact but don’t necessarily mix well, a third party that’s still ambiguous, and a few landmarks scattered here and there. Some of it still doesn’t make sense, but it’s getting somewhere, and I have a feel for it.

4. I have limited this to one character’s perspective. I’ve tried this in the past, but I usually reach the point where I start to get bored with the character and open up the possibilities with other characters. However, this is in first person, so limiting it to one makes more sense. This presents a few simultaneously wonderful and terrible obstacles to overcome: I can’t “see” the protagonist unless she sees herself in a reflection. I can only “see” or “hear” what the protagonist sees or hears. The reader knows nothing that the protagonist does not know. I like giving the reader endless questions about what’s going on, but this takes it to a whole new level.

In fact, in the first part, I picture the protagonist driving in my car –– yes, my red Subaru station wagon, with the cup-holder that isn’t quite big enough for a travel mug, and the beaded necklace and feathers hanging from the rearview mirror. It’s very weird, because I almost feel like I’m writing about myself, yet I’m not. This is a different person, though she has some of the same reactions I would. Writing in first person, in this case, feels like driving the character around like a car. What would I do in this situation? What would I say? What would I think? If I were to take this approach with more characters in this story, it could become a mix of characters who are all too similar.

5. The protagonist’s potential love interest is already in danger of being completely lost. This may not sound like a typical writer’s source of inspiration, but when the odds are stacked against my protagonists, I write better. It forces me to think of creative ways out of whatever situation they’re in. It also shows me what my characters are really made of. When held captive by the villain, do they submit meekly and panic, or do they exhibit snarkiness and refuse to comply past a certain point? How do they interact with one another? When presented with a challenge, do they complain loudly, forge ahead, or sit and sulk? What is their pain threshold? What is their sanity threshold?

One might say I have reached this test of character too soon. How am I to “up the ante” later on in the story if this is how bad it is after merely 5,000 words? Folks, never forget the laws of Fictional Bad Circumstances. If things are really bad, they can always get worse. I plan to play on my protagonist’s fears, for sure, but also to surprise her with more than she expects.

And so, this is me processing the birth of a new story –– something that has never been written before (at least, not by me). It is probably the most exciting thing I experience as an author, aside from finding the voices of my characters and watching them blossom into their individual personalities. I may read back in later years and say, “Well, that was a load of crap,” but for the moment, I don’t care about that. I care about getting this written.

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