Prompt: Giving in vs. giving up.
Ryan stood up.
I stared at Maggie. “You started this.”
Ryan started slowly. “There comes a time in all our lives when giving in seems a valid option. The right option. But that, that my friends is giving up. We cannot allow this.”
“They’re really quite different,” Maggie started to try and make amends.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Oh no. You’ve gotten him going.”
“But the point of the fact is that giving in to Montezuma’s demands is giving up, and we as a steadfast group of –“
I pointed at him, my eyes boring into Maggie. “You did this. It won’t end. It won’t ever end.”
Antony quickly plugged his ears. Ryan continued to drone on.
I stared unblinkingly into Maggie’s soul. She began to tremble.
“….a noble quest….”
C2EB began to whine.
“Never give in….”
Tony strode over and slapped Ryan across the back of the head. Ryan promptly shut up, settling into a sulk.
“Thank goodness,” Tony said. “He was about to kill me with all the hope and inspiration.” We fell into an uneasy silence.
“Giving in to his demands is not giving up,” Maggie said after a moment. “I have a plan.”
Prompt: Feeling inadequate over something seemingly trivial. (Not going to be used, but fun!)
I slowly lowered my head so that it rested in my hand. “Let me get this straight. You feel inadequate because of Tony.”
“Well, yes,” Ryan said. “I can’t help it.”
“You’re telling me that a dark prince of the UnSeelie Court who can fly, is an expert swordsman, and can burst into a pillar of flame whenever he so chooses, is jealous of a dog-man.”
“Fox,” Antony said, tongue sticking out between his sharp, white teeth.
“Shut up, or it’s the muzzle for you,” I warned. I looked at Ryan. “Why?”
“His fur is redder than mine.”
“Your Characters are Stuck on A Bus”
We were stuck. Traffic was idling along. We’d moved about twenty feet in the past five minutes. The others were growing impatient.
“What a lovely country this is,”Antony said mildly.
“Yes. Quite,” Maggie said darkly. “There’s nothing like being on an urgent mission and being stuck on public transport.”
“But we’re inGreece!” I reminded her cheerfully. “That has to count for something. Just think of it like the driver is showing us the sights.”
“If the driver was pulling the bus.”
I turned away from her. Ryan shot me a quick smile and squeezed my hand. “I think that man across from us is part gargoyle,” he said conspiratorially.
The gargoyle in question glowered at him.
I sighed. “What have I said about using your social filter?” Honestly. I’m surrounded by idiots.
Most writers dream of becoming successful writers. While there are multiple and interpersonal definitions of successful, for the sake of this post I’m going to define successful writing as writing as a career - meaning that you are able to make your living, or most of your living, off of your writing. Why wouldn’t we want to? Many of us are extremely talented. However, while our imaginations are endless, the issue with publishing is that our choices are limited. I understand that not everyone wants to write commercial fiction. If you do, good for you. If you don’t, good for you. While some of us want to write something that is undefinable, crosses multiple genre boundaries and be completely different from everything else on the market, writing with those qualities is sometimes very hard to sell. It’s a brutal truth, but a truth.
1. Pick a Genre or Sub-genre
The one issue I have found with other people showing me their writing is that, while their writing might be beautiful and unique, it does not fall into a specific genre or subgenre and would therefore make it hard to sell. One of the things I see on editor/publisher blogs is them lamenting the fact that many of their submissions don’t follow their guidelines, specifically that of genres and conventions. While your writing may be fantastic, it also needs to be explained and appeal to a certain audiences, and when it is in that specified genre, it needs to have certain writing conventions that make it appeal to the audience.
Established genres are popular for a reason. Not only do they appeal because they are familiar, but because the elements in them are ones that people enjoy. This differs for every single genre - each one has elements that are directed at a certain audience. And this audience is made up of your possible readers. While it’s alright to cross a few boundaries (Romantic Comedy/Sci-Fi Thriller/Fantasy Mystery), it does not strengthen your market when you cross all those boundaries in order to expand your audience. First off, it’ll be hard to market. The definitions that make up a genre and the conventions that follow them are ones that are key to marketing. Narrowing your view will help you appeal to a specific market. Try writing a marketing plan revolving around a sci-fi thriller (The book can have aspects of romance/drama/comedy, but it primarily that). Now try writing it for a baseball themed space bonanza with two hilarious protagonists in love via political commentary, with all of those trying to struggle to be in front. It’s a little harder. What bookshelf is a seller going to put it on?
2. Once You’ve Decided on Your Particular Genre, What are It’s Conventions?
Wikipedia tells us that “A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom.” Writing is filled with these conventions, and they are constantly changing. Genre is filled to the brim with conventions. GENRE IS BASED AROUND THESE CONVENTIONS PEOPLE. THEY’RE KIND OF IMPORTANT. Conventions helps dictate what goes into a story or a book. Yup, these are even more limiting, Popular fiction and commercial fiction, while evolving, is filled with conventions. These conventions are what makes these books popular. Sometimes these conventions suck, and we, as writers, have to suck it up.
For example, my novel TEMPERED BY FIRE is a young adult novel (no, this is not a shameless plug. It’s a good example. And a shameless plug. But not really.). Its sub-genres are urban fantasy and comedy. Right off the bat, I have set guidelines for my content. It’s YA, fantasy, and comedy. Comedy is pretty broad, and essentially just means that I have to be funny. But when I look at other extremely popular YA novels write now, you can immediately see that conventions that make it popular and lumps all the books in together. Here are a few conventions in popular YA.
Do any of these seem familiar? It’s because they are conventions that are currently extremely popular in YA fiction. If you are hoping to have an book in this current market that flies of the shelves, you better have some/all of those elements present.
BUT THAT’S UNFAIR HANNAH. THAT LIMITS MY GENIUS. IT’S GOING TO BE THE SAME THING AS EVERYTHING ELSE, AND THAT’S WHAT WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. I SHOULD SELL BOOKS ANYWAYS.
You totally should. I totally believe that sometimes these conventions are total balls. But the problem is, they sell books. So how do you make this different?
3. Follow those Conventions, but Stab Them in The Eyes with a Butter Knife.
You can work around these. The goal is to make your book similar enough to sell, but different enough that it provides a breath of fresh air and stands out from the crowd. Conventions are easy to manipulate in any genre. You can add in the new while still following those set formulas.
For example, genre conventions in Tempered by Fire (I’m not saying my book is awesome. I’m really not. I have mixed feelings about it. I’m just showing how when I was fed up with YA conventions, I twisted them to my own benefit).
The Trio - I have the standard trio. However, my characters aren’t mature adults or in love with each other. One of them is strictly a friend, with none of this open-ended possible relationships. One of them is cynical and prone to tantrums, one is like, the sweetest thing ever, and the third is just, well, a five year old boy in a seventeen year old body. Characters that follow conventions but are still different are important to creating a work of commercial fiction that stands out.
Mythical Beings - There are traditional Irish fairies, dragons, magical beasts, sabre-toothed monsters, etc, so it fits in perfectly.
Angsty Romance - There is angsty romance, but the romances in the book flawed. No love is truly perfect. It’s stormy, imperfect, and sometimes denied, but it is love nonetheless.
The Girl is Special - And sarcastic. My God, is she sarcastic. And cynical and silly and like that one friend you have that can always make you shoot milk out of your nose and say “you’re so weird.” Like most YA heroines, she doesn’t really want the Sight, but she just sighs and gets on with it.
What I used to make my book different is I took all of these genre conventions and stuck them into a COMEDY. There aren’t really a lot of YA comedy fantasies out there. (Shout out to Terry Pratchett!). While this has yet to be seen if it’ll ever hit bookstore or whether or not it will ever be successful, this manipulation of genre conventions has proven to be successful in the past. Just look at books such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Tolkein, etc.
Knowing where your book stands in relation to everything else on the market and knowing what makes it different and what makes it stands out is incredibly important. Whether you’re going the traditional route or plan to self-publish, being able to lump your books in with others and know why your book is special is crucial to marketing and target audiences. You are writing for your audience. You are writing for you readers. You are writing for a living. Keeping these things in mind is very important for commercial literature.
Now go kick some ass.
(Enter Usual Disclaimer about just blundering through life, this is my opinion, etc. etc, we’re all different and have different opinions, this is just mine.)
‘Take a character you’re working on and have them fight a monster. What kind of monster is it? How do they win?
My beloved Morgan sent me this as a prompt to help me get in the mood for continuing to write the sequel of my novel TEMPERED BY FIRE. Here’s a new character. Does it count if he’s the monster? And tumblr formatted it weird. Huh.
TRIAL BY FIRE PROMPT
The box began to wriggle. We stared at it.
“I’ll open it!” Ryan said eagerly.
Maggie stared at him, and then at me. “We receive a strange box from a group of moody mythological beings, and he’s excited to open it? Does he even have an off button?”
“He does, but it’s on the back of his head and you have to trigger it with a baseball bat.” Even then, you’d have to hit really hard. Believe me, I’d tried.
Ryan ignored me, and went to open the box. He went still.
“We have an issue,” Ryan said, turning around to face us.
“I already regret having to ask for clarification,” I muttered. My life was just one strange issue following another. “Please tell me it isn’t a severed head. I can’t handle a severed head right now.”
He quietly reached into the box, and with disdain picked up whatever it is, before turning dramatically around and shoving it in my face. I screamed.
The puppy licked my nose, and both my cheeks.
“They gave us a three headed puppy,” Ryan said flatly.
Two of the heads cocked their ears, and the third one choked on something before it grinned at me. My heart melted. He was just as gross as I was.
Ryan gingerly put the dog on the ground. The size of a jack-russell terrier, it was jet black with smooth fur. Its legs were a little longish, and it had a deep, wide chest and a scruffy little tail. It looks like a regular tiny mutt, if not for the three heads.
“He’s so cute,” Maggie cooed.
“Why would they send us a three headed mongrel?” Tony asked.
The little monster looked up at me and wagged his tail. He was pretty cute.
Maggie reached into the box and pulled out a note. “It says his name is C2EB. Pronounced “Seb”.”
I vainly tried to rub all three heads at once. “What does that mean?”
“Cerberus 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Clever.
“They did not just saddle us with a hellhound. A tiny, malformed hellhound,” Ryan said. “We have to get rid of it.”
“You just can’t re-gift a hellhound,” Tony said. C2EB attempted to viciously defeat my foot. I liked his spunk.
“We can’t bring him with us. He’ll slow us down.”
Maggie unfurled another piece of paper. “Here’s his pedigree. He is one hundred percent hellhound.”
“He’s roughly the size of a loaf of bread,” Ryan argued.
“Which makes him convenient for travel,” I argued. “We can’t just leave a puppy here.”
“And if the furies wanted us to have him, there must be a good reason for it,” Tony interjected.
“Probably because he’s a runt.” How on earth could he be immune to the charms of a three headed puppy? It was like a regular puppy, but three times the fun.
“Yes, but now he’s our runt.” I continued to pet him.
Ryan sighed. “You want to keep him.”
“Yes. Yes I do.” Two of the heads were arguing over a stick. The puppy promptly fell over. Ryan scowled. I glared at him, daring to deny me. He didn’t look away. I tried a new tactic.
“Hailey, if you’re trying to simper, please stop. It hurts to look at,” Maggie said. So much for that.
“Fine, you can keep him. But he better not slow us down,” Ryan said, storming off. C2EB followed him for a few steps, then cocked a leg and sent a steady stream of sulphurous urine after him. Maggie burst into laughter.
C2EB attached himself to my leg and looked up at me. I looked down at him affectionately.
“That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”
Creating a Likeable Character from the Ground Up – The Basics
So maybe you have a character in your mind that you’ve been gestating, just waiting to give birth too. (Not the best metaphor in the book, Hannah. But then again, writing can be bloody, painful, and just kind of gross), but you’re worried that when you finally get around to shoving him/her out, you’re just not going to have something likeable. Likeable characters are key to any story – they are who the readers come to care about, and really, it is all about the readers. So here are some of my steps to creating what I hope will be a likeable character.
Name Choosing and Why it Is Important
I know the saying is ‘don’t judge a book by your cover’, but you totally do. A name needs to be pronounceable, straightforward, and make a good first impression. A unique name can do this, but so can a simple name. The point is, I know I personally judge a person in a book by their name. It’s wrong, because a character is not their name, just as a person is not their name. But there’s always names that, in real life and literary life, we assign certain traits to. Doris is going to like to read. Brittini is going to be a flake. Josh is going to be a jock. If your character name is Aethylyne Butterfly, people are going to judge that right off the bat. If you do choose an unusual, complicated name, the opening scene becomes even more crucial. Opening Scenes and First Impressions Your mom used to hark on you how important first impressions were. The same goes for characters. You want to establish things about your characters. They don’t even need to be established as a necessarily good character. Something bad could be happening. They could be in the process of committing a crime. Regardless, the first impression of your characters is crucial to impress and hook a reader. If your character comes off as a total dick, it can be off-putting to a large amount of readers. If Aethylyne Butterfly’s first appearance is her sitting beneath a giant oak, ruminating on some tragic event and crying because she accidentally squashed an ant when she sat down, it might make a reader just roll their eyes, close the book, and go outside. And as writers, we don’t want readers to leave whatever their reading for the outdoors. That’s bad writing. I’m going to use a movie example here, because movies are just stories with pictures, and while not everyone reads the same books, movies are pretty well known. In “A Walk to Remember” The opening scene introduces us to Landon, the male protagonist. First off, it’s a good name with a bad boy vibe to it. Second off, he’s seen harassing and essentially bullying someone. When something goes wrong and everyone else takes off, Landon hesitates running and instead helps, essentially indicating himself in a crime. Right from the beginning, we can see he’s a bit of an asshole, but that he has redeeming qualities. It makes his character complex, and that definitely piques a viewer’s curiousity and makes him more likeable, and we want to see him grow. Growth is key.
Avoiding the Extremes – Flaws and Conflicts
Character conflict is almost always a must. Conflict leads to growth, and growth in a character is something readers expressively look for. Without growth or lessons learned, it’s almost a waste of the reader’s time. If dickwad continues to be a dickwad, not so interesting. A dickward learns something the hard way a la Clockwork Orange, it’s satisfying. A likeable character needs to be complex. They cannot just be the way they are because that’s the way they are. They cannot be shallow. They cannot just ‘do’. In ‘doing’ however, you must avoid extremes. You must avoid the Mary Sue. Everyone hates Mary Sues, and for multiple reasons. In real life no one is perfect. Flaws are what makes people people. They are driving forces in the real world. Having Aethylyne Butterfly be an absolutely perfect and beautiful and wonderful person who poops sparkles and rainbows is not realistic. It’s off-putting. Those flaws are what makes them relatable. It’s what invokes sympathy and identification. Do we pity them, do we admire them? Hannibal Lector is an antagonist, but we still love him. He’s also not a boring character. Characters that are perfect are boring. And even if they are relatable, readers are still going to harbour a small grudge. Have you ever met a perfect person? Someone with absolutely no flaws, or someone in high school that acted as if they had no flaws other than “I care too much”? We all hated them just a little bit. We all held little jealous grudges. Your readers should NEVER feel that way about your characters. That being said, if you make an asshole of a protagonist in the opening few chapters, make sure there are at least a few redeeming qualities or explanations that the character is the way they are. Yes, everyone loves to hate a certain character, but complexity makes your characters more realistic, and thus more likeable.
Remember Your Characters are People
This is one of the biggest issues I see in books that I don’t enjoy. Characters that don’t seem like real people, or don’t react as real people would react. Did Aethylyne Rainbow’s family get brutally murdered, and she shrugs it off because forgiveness is magic? Well, she shouldn’t. If she does decide to forgive, it should arrive following a myriad of other emotions and actions that drive the story. She should develop. A good character, a likeable character, is always learning and developing. We’re all constantly changing. Characters that don’t change are hard for us to relate to, and above all a relatable character is a likeable one. Think of the people in your life. You love them because they are themselves, but you also love them regardless of flaws because of those flaws. The acknowledgement that they are flawed is a reassuring one, and if you’ve ever been in love with a person, either real or imaginary, you know that those flaws help make those people into the people you love. Remember that your characters are people like the people around you. Develop them as such. What are their fears? Their tics? Unconscious bodily motions? Develop them. All of these go into make a realistic and relatable character.
A) A regular character is a likeable character
B) A character that makes a good first impression is a likeable character
C) A character who grows is a likeable character – we root for them.
D) A flawed character is a likeable character. Perfection is not.
E) A complex character is a likeable character
F) A realistic character is a likeable character
G) A well developed character is a likeable character
H) A relatable character is a likeable character
I’ll just add in my usual disclaimer down here. I am by no means an expert at character development. Really, I’m not. The above are my own personal views concerning character development and relatable and likeable characters. If yours are different and they work for you, that’s awesome, and you rock. Different strokes for different folks.
Someone’s going to get angry at my take, I just know it.
“I was dismissed by one gentleman as an “entrepreneurial amateur.” Another told me flat out that he was planning on buying my book until he found out I published it myself, but that he NEVER reads anything by a self-published author. His faulty reasoning told him that the only sort of person who self-publishes is the the kind of person who has been rejected by every publisher in town and, as a vendetta against readers, publishers, and decency, puts the inferior material out themselves. They don’t seem capable of comprehending the fact that there are thousands of reasons to self-publish and all of them are completely valid.” -http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bryan-young/combatting-the-stigma-of-_b_890000.html
I have two notes to make on this quote from Bryan Young of the Huffington Post. One, the idea that self-publishers are entrepreneurial amateurs. We are actually entrepreneurs. We are essentially running our own business, or starting up one. We are in charge of every aspect of our book, from writing it, to editing it, to formatting it, to marketing it. Our success essentially rests on our shoulders. I think people tend to forget that we’re taking everything into our own hands. I know that I’m an amateur, yes, without a doubt. And I did submit to some agencies, but was told in a lovely letter that I was too young and too new to take on. So I went into self publishing. As well, the idea that we are inferior and that our material is inferior is one that I also find common among readers. Even if we choose to self publish, we still did it. We still wrote a book, and poured our sweat and blood into it. Even if someone chooses to not publish their work, they still did it. And that’s what should count.
I would jump at the chance to get picked up by a publishing house, I’m not ashamed to admit that. But whether or do or I don’t, that shouldn’t take away from what we as a group have done now.
“I believe part of the reason is because self-publishing is so easy nowadays that just about anybody can do it and the quality of some self-published books is poor. Some naive first-time authors think they can do it all. Some newbies think that they are great writers and don’t “need” an editor. Novice authors often think they can design their own cover without any sort of advice from a visual designer. I have seen more than a few self-published books in my capacity as reviewer for Catholic Fiction.net in which the quality of writing was so bad I won’t even review it.” -Ellen Gable, http://ellengable.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/the-stigma-of-self-publishing/
Self publishing is easy. And there are always going to be bad writers that choose to self publish. There are going to be people who are only in it to try to make a profit. I take self publishing with a grain of salt. I think you have to, really. Self-published authors on the whole make very little money.I know with my book, I’m not going to making that much money, even if by God’s Graces I sell a lot of them. But the point want to make about self-publishing from this quote is that the quality of SOME self-published books are poor. Not all of them. Is my book poor quality? I can’t say, I really can’t. I do hate it (if you read something 200 times, you’d hate it too!), but I don’t think it’s horrible. I have read some self-published authors that are horrible, and some that are beautifully written. That being said, I’ve also read both from traditional publishers. The moral is to not judge a whole community based on one or several individuals - the same thing that we try to do in real life should also be applied in the self-publishing world. Judge an individual, not a community.