Writing Characters Who Are The Opposite of You (+ Update)

Whew, it’s been a pretty busy two weeks! Just a quick update on my Summer Blackout Challenge – I ended up typing up my notes. Handwriting is great, definitely beneficial to figuring out my MC, Greta, but I can’t do it for the whole story. On the plus side, this notebook definitely feels like *her* notebook, using it to figure out everything that revolves around her story. I’ve already found it helpful to start writing on the page and then move it over to the screen to continue.

In the process of typing up all the notes, I hit the end of the first part/act, and from here, the big adventure outside her comfort zone begins. It was great to hit that milestone, except the hurdle started looking like a giant brick wall. I had no idea what was on the other side, only a vague sense of plot. Pretty quickly, my confidence deteriorated, and I lost my grasp on Greta, on her motivations, her dreams, her voice.

Augh!

I took a day off, and on Thursday, I went down to one of my favorite places, Salem, MA, and wandered around. I soaked it all up in the historical area, imagining where Greta and her adventures would take her in a place like this. This is a pirate story after all, so I took in the smell of the ocean and took a million pictures aboard a historical ship. I also found some books that were kind of serendipitous in terms of what my story needed, discovered my setting needed to be on the backdrop of the Revolutionary War.

Friday and Saturday, I wrote a lot. Typed up notes, added more scenes, fleshed out secondary characters. Read my books from Salem that helped figure out the world better. But I still couldn’t cross that bridge into Big Adventure. It still seemed scary, and by Sunday, I felt out of touch (AGAIN) with Greta. Dang it. This is a problem because she is headstrong, and seeks out adventures, and I’m so….not that type of person. Definitely more risk-averse, but I love reading and writing people who are risk takers, willing to throw it all on the line.

Now I had to bring out the big guns because if I didn’t get writing, start following Greta on her adventure, then I’d start overthinking, which will lead to me chickening out, and moving onto another story. I have that problem often, it kills my writing process. But I didn’t want Greta’s story to be another trashed story. I have to finish this for me.

Then I remembered something critical. During NaNo 2013, I was writing up the story that would become The Claim, a short published by YARN. My MC in this short, Nelle, is fierce, and willing to risk it all during the Alaskan gold rush, and I was struggling to understand Nelle. It was the first time I had written a character who embodied something I wished I could see in myself. Anyways, one of my favorite authors ever, Rachel Aaron, does an annual Q&A in the fantasy forums, and I read it every year. That year, I asked her how do you write a character who is the complete opposite of you as a writer?

This was her response:

“With situations like this, understanding your character’s motivation and how they react to conflict/hardship is really the only solution. You have to get into that person and really understand their thought process… and how it’s different from yours. Have you ever read a book where every character sounded the same? That’s what happens when authors don’t do that.

If you want to really get into this girl’s head, my first suggestion would be to do what you’re already doing and just write her. Write her in conflict, put her under pressure, go though hell with her and get to really know her in that “fox hole buddies” kind of way. Don’t try and tell her what to do. Instead, remember where she comes from and what she wants, and then let her sort things out on her own. And by that, I mean work out how she reacts to problems and then let her do it, even if her approach makes you personally uncomfortable (ie, she’s confrontational and you hate confrontation).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be hard and awkward and probably feel really weird (not to mention crazy) to let an imaginary person tell you what to do, but you’ve got to remember this is as much her story as it is yours. If you don’t respect that and give her room to come into her own, she never will.

BOOM. There it is. Don’t fret, but it’s okay to be scared. However, If you let the fear quash your protagonist, the story will die. When you’re writing characters who are nothing like you, you have to step aside and let them drive the story.

You know what? When I did that, when I respected Greta’s space and let her lead, I got some surprises along the way, and found a path through the adventure. Maybe it’ll change, but for now this works.

Internet Black Out Challenge Update #1!

Ahh, I know, I totally failed at posting my update yesterday! Better late than never.

Overall word count: 5,026

I’m averaging 124 words per page.

Some initial observations –

Writing on paper is very freeing, being able to disconnect has been helpful to getting the story going where I couldn’t on a word doc. The downside has definitely been how slow it is to write, though I can imagine that will come with time and adjustment. It’s hard to turn off the part of myself that wants to hit 1k, 2k a day (yeah, that’s not happening on paper). On the good days where the scenes took off, or I was in the zone, I was writing around 800-900 words. On the bad days, 150 words. That was interesting because it still felt productive – a page and a half-ish. It didn’t look half as pathetic as it does on a screen. Turning off the internet while writing hasn’t been easy (especially on my phone), but it’s getting a little bit easier each day to put some distance between myself and the internet. It also helps that I’ve been taking almost-daily walks without my phone, going a little bit farther each time.

I also borrowed Emma Adams’s idea to outline as I draft. I’ve been typing up a scene timeline as I go in a word doc. Whereas on paper, I feel like I’m flying through it (especially in terms of pages written), that was kind of jarring because I only have a handful of scenes. But I’m not going to let myself get discouraged. It’ll be super helpful at the end because I’m pretty much pantsing this and I’ll need to have some sort of idea of direction before I begin typing it up/revising as I go. Saves me the hassle of organizing my scenes as I type it up. So, thanks, Emma! You’re a smart cookie. 🙂

On the plus side, I had a really great idea for an overarching series that I’m super excited about. I don’t really want to give too much away, but I will say that it has been inspired by one of my favorites books when I was in middle school, Dear America, but I’m turning the idea on it’s head and aging it up. Also, I may or may not have ideas for four solid stories, and two I’d really love to do if I got the chance. It’ll require changing my current story’s tense and setting, but I’m not even mad right now. Going to keep plugging away at the first person present because it’s been helpful to get my MC’s voice down. Future-me will hate it. Worth it!

Today has not been a good writing day, I’ve actually hit my first wall with this story. I like to write in chronological order, but I’m stuck at a particular moment just before everything ramps up. Gut vibe is to just make a note and move on, but the perfectionist in me wants to wait. Last night, I did some stargazing and I had a moment where I could “feel” my MC looking up at those stars, too, out on the open seas (is that weird?), a few scenes down the road and it’s been inspiring enough to get over it. So the perfectionist writer in me is about to be left behind. This is definitely a first for me because that perfectionist stuff is a hard habit to break. Onwards and upwards, I guess.

New high/low – did some shopping on ModCloth as my birthday present to me (July, baby!), and the items I bought were definitely because they all reminded me of my MC/story. Can’t tell if it’s a good thing that I’m engrossed in the story or if I’m just getting obsessed and need something else in my life.

Time To Get My Writing Groove Back! (Summer Writing Challenge)

Man, I have not been here in FOREVER. Hi.

Truth be told, I’m not great at this sort of thing. I’m terrible at having a journal, too. Everything seems so unimportant, but I had an idea and I thought maybe some structure might help with getting in the habit of blogging more regularly.  I like this space, I want to use it.

Summer has basically just started, and I’ve been going through some writing growing pains. I’m trying to widen my scope of genres, and style. Learning to accept that I write messy first drafts, that I have to write through the bad stuff. That alone has been leaps and bounds. But something glaring popped up in the process.

I’m way too dependent on social media. Like, it’s getting to be addict-level-bad. I can’t seem to let it go while I write, it’s hard not to compare to others. And then I get upset and frustrated with myself for getting distracted during my small amount of writing time, for not letting myself fall into the story, and that equals not my best work. The worst part is that negative energy gets channeled outwards as stress. I realized this cycle when I finished a short origin story for a sci-fi/fantasy idea. The huge weight fell off my shoulders, and the pressure is gone. Wait, when did that happen? That shouldn’t be there.

You know what used to be fun? Writing, making up exciting stories just to see where they go. The more there is to learn about publishing and craft, the harder it gets to find that part of me who wants to write with abandon before I started down the industry rabbit hole. Turning off the inner editor is really frickin’ hard. Holy cow. Even more challenging when I’m spending way too much time reading about other people hitting those goals I want to hit myself, while I make excuses for why I’m not working at the potential I know I can reach if I tried harder.

So I bummed around on Pinterest for a bit, making a mishmash board of story ideas, looking for something fun to write this summer. Something fun, with no pressure. I stumbled upon the holy grail of trashed stories in this pin.

Aw yeah, badass lady pirate.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out when I was 15 (feeling old now). That movie changed my life. I read every pirate history book I could find. I also had a lot of anxiety as a kid and into my teens, and would have panic attacks as I tried to fall asleep. I made up stories until I crashed out every night. I made up a pirate story about an awesome notorious lady captain similar to Calico Jack, and her adventures across the high seas. I can’t even remember her name anymore, but for an entire year I kept up with it, but I remember how much I couldn’t wait to get to sleep so I could get into that world. But I never wrote any of it down.

I know there’s some tried and true writerly adages out there, like there is no one writing process. And yeah, we all know that’s true, everyone works differently. But it’s always surprising when a piece of advice whacks me over the head. The one that got me was write for yourself. I get it now, writing for yourself. That awesome image above reminded me about that and how much fun it is to create.

From there, a revived version of my old pirate story took off as a YA, a girl who wants more in her life than what society will give her so she takes a risk and gets more than she bargained for. An adventure story with pirates and duels and enchanting, mischievous mermaids and lost treasure and sea monsters. It makes me all swoony and excited just thinking about it.

But I don’t want to fall into the social media addiction trap, I want to do it justice, for teen-me. I am also not a plotter, but this story has required some plotting/worldbuilding groundwork. All of which has been written in this notebook that I forgot I owned:

Fitting, no? It’s a big journal, too, almost 200 pages.

So I’m thinking of doing a summer writing challenge. Blocking off internet during writing time, shutting off my phone, and writing only on paper. Back to basics, free writing, lots of space to use the pages as I need. I already made my character Spotify playlists on offline mode.

If anyone else is looking for a summer internet black out/writing immersion time, let me know! We can do it together.

Ideally, it’d be the whole draft, but I’m not actually sure how long I’ll make it, but hopefully enough time to let go of my social media addiction. It’s easier to check facebook or twitter if I’m already staring at the screen. I’m also thinking it’d be harder for my inner editor to change and fix words because there is no copy/paste, can’t really delete anything (I don’t have white-out). I can only move forward with a change and write like it’s been there all along.

All of this might be easier in theory than in practice? I’m figuring I’ll do an average of word count per page (+/-), and do a weekly check-in. Every Monday I’ll do a post about it until it’s done. I already made a resolution at the beginning of this year that I wouldn’t even attempt to query, just write. So for anyone who’s thinking how slow it’ll be to write by hand, I’m not in any rush.

So this’ll be one interesting adventure!

Also, this is really long, so if you made it to the end, here’s some corgis being adorable. You earned it.

Enjoying The Little Things In Life For Personal Sanity

Fall is almost nearly upon us, and it’s my favorite season. I love watching the leaves change, seeing the school buses back up and running, and it’s a relief to know that colder weather is coming soon. I’m not a huge fan of the heat, so I say au revoir to the t00-long days and the bug bites.

We’re a very connected society. A bit too much, I’d say, but we pretty much constantly have stuff happening. Ads telling us to fill our lives with mindless social information or shows, to update our statuses. The day whizzes right past us and the next thing you know, it’s time to get up and do this whole life thing all over again. Worrying over the little things really eats up a lot our time. Out of all the things you are worrying about (right this minute), how many of them are things you can control? I’m guessing only a small amount of it.

Something I really love about fall is that the weather change feels drastic and the change of colors force me to pay attention to the leaves. I like that nature is almost saying pay attention to me!

We, as a society, sometimes need that wake up call. That there are bigger things to focus on, or new opportunities to try out. That we need to get us to stop paying attention to the internet and unnecessary drama and enjoy what we’ve got left. Humans only live for about a century, how do you want to use that time?

When life gets chaotic, everyone needs some time to themselves. What do you like to do to recharge, and restore confidence in yourself?

For me, it’s putting on a warm sweater as the weather chills here in New England (which should be next week!), and taking a walk outside. All that crap I worry over, the responsible adult things that need to be taken care of, it can wait for twenty minutes, or even an hour. Getting outside to read, or hanging out with friends/family for a bit, going to the gym,  even just talking on the phone to let off some steam. Letting go is hard if you’re a bit of a control freak like me, but necessary for our own sanity as a whole. Being outside for that long, enjoying my neighborhood, it makes me feel like, why haven’t I paid attention sooner? When did being absorbed in mindless crap become so important?

But then the worst part is getting sucked right back into that vortex of my own doing – bills, appointments, the never ending work list, things to do. The vortex of adulthood is always made better by that time out from life. Extra points if you do this several times a day.

The little things make it all better.

Cute Break!

For those who live in the US, it’s the first day back from a three day weekend. For the rest of us who work on Labor Day or live in another country and yesterday was just a regular Monday. Either way, everyone is always in need of a cute break.

What’s a cute break? It’s a break from the crap of life – the workday, school stuff, annoying adulthood – all you need to do is look at the pictures below of some adorable animals. Nice and easy, straight to the point.

I like to do cute breaks at least once a week, so look out for them!

 

Tiny puppy is tiny.

 

Business as usual with Business Cat

 

Not usually a huge .gif person when it comes to blogs, but I couldn’t resist this last one.

 

 

So that’s all for this cute break! Hope you enjoyed it!

In Defense of Child-like Wonder

I used to blog here more often (particularly about books), but I kind of dropped off the radar. For a long time, Like a year, oops. Life happens, and I wanted to take up blogging again, but this time, I wanted to make it a special place. Hence my very own virtual blanket fort to share fun stuff and thoughts and things that make me happy when life gets me down. I hope they make you happy, too.

So, without further ado, let’s take this internet blanket fort out for a spin.

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Any job, whether it’s working 9-5 in an office, or as a mechanic, a stay at home mom home schooling kids, or a truck driver, jobs are hard (I’m a stay at home caregiver for my disabled SO). They suck out most of your energy from the reserves you start out with in the morning.  Reserves very on how much quality sleep you get the night before.  YSMY (your sleep may vary) instead of YMMV.

We all have our routines to unwind, switch modes from middle management to awesome parent/pet parent. Then there’s all the things you need to do for your family/keeping up the house (cleaning, paying the bills, grocery shopping, helping your kid with their homework, dinner, etc). If you’re in a club/class or driving your kid to sports/dance practice, there’s that, too.

I’m tired just reading that back to myself. These are some of the things adult never tell kids about being adults. As a kid, I was always jealous that my mom could sit and watch tv after dinner while I had to go back to doing homework. It seemed so unfair! Kid-me was very wrong.

As an adult, it’s pretty easy to maintain the status quo of the adulthood cycle, however boring that may be. It’s one thing to know this, and another thing to realize that cycle doesn’t mentally engage or challenge you in an exciting way. That awareness is so, so critical to pushing ourselves and being the kind of person we want to be.

I had that realization this summer while watching a documentary on space, and it reconnected adult-me with a kid-me. I used to really like space when I was a kid. I saved up all of my allowance to buy a telescope even though I lived in a big city and couldn’t see much from light pollution (though I remember seeing moon craters – awesome in the literal sense). I eventually forgot all about it when my interests changed and I got rid of my telescope without batting an eye.

Once I recalled those memories, I started going outside at night and star gazing, and I can feel that child-like sense of wonder welling up inside of me when I take in the vastness of the stars (I live in a much smaller town now). It’s a radically different feeling reading about space, and planets than when I read the potential side effects of my SO’s medication. But sunny days make me a little happier now because I know I can see the night sky tonight, and that makes the adult status quo cycle easier for me.

I think, as adults, we all need more child-like wonder in our lives. In Buddhism, it’s called Shoshin, which basically means capturing that child-like wonder in everything you do. Even looking at advanced knowledge without presumptions and with the eagerness to understand it all.

It’s through an open mind that we can try to challenge that status quo, or learn new things (even if it does feel safer to “preach to the choir”). Our over-connected world is cushy because it’s always on, but what about turning off your internet, your phone, your social media, and just living? That’s a little scary, a bit too quiet for some people. But, I bet if you tried, that child-like wonder will quickly kick in and there’s always something to try, a question to find the answer to. Consider it my Life Challenge (no ice bucket required). It benefits your brain.

Case in point – the following video is a great example, and also probably one of the most adorable things ever. It also makes me incredibly happy every time I watch it. A little girl’s reaction to seeing a rocket launch into space pretty much sums up Shoshin. I love that you can see it on her face, as her Tiny Human Brain tries to understand where it’s going and how it’s doing that.