Archive for November, 2012

I recently admitted to some of my online friends that my exposure to fan-fiction was fairly limited. Once they learned that I hadn’t read some of the “classics,” and after some stunned silence and a lot of “omg omg omg,” they gently nudged me down the right path, with the promise to take me under their wings.

The first one they had me read was called The Shoebox Project. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a novel-length Harry Potter fic about the Marauders – James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter. The fic basically shows us what kind of relationship those four friends had with each other, how they got mixed up in the Order of the Phoenix, and what happened that made Peter betray his best friends to the Dark Lord.

If you’re interested, you can go to this website and read the fic for yourself. It’s extremely well written, and the characters pop out of the page at you, fully-formed and in color. It’s also an easy read, but be warned that, although it falls in line with Rowling’s books, you may be surprised by what happens in the story. Many fans consider this to be something of the official un-official backstory to the Marauders.

All that aside, it really got me thinking. Why does fan-fiction work so well? Why do people spend hundreds of hours writing it? Why do hundreds of thousands of people read it? Why is fan-fiction becoming more and more popular amongst those who enjoy reading books and watching television/movies?

And, most importantly, what can we learn from it as writers?

ONE. Fan-fiction isn’t afraid to break the rules

One of the drawbacks to immersing yourself in fan-fiction is that it’s not always well-written. That’s certainly a problem, but I’ve found plenty of fan-fiction that was poorly written that I couldn’t put down. And I’ve read plenty of published works without a single typo that put me to sleep each time I cracked them open.

The thing with fic is this: it isn’t afraid to break the rules. It doesn’t have to worry about critique partners and editors and agents and publishing houses. The authors of the fic aren’t always aware of the rules, of when to use a semi-colon or even what “syntax” means. And they don’t care. And sometimes this works really well.

The best example I can give is the dialogue in Shoebox. An editor probably would’ve thrown the entire MS in the trash if he took a single look at it. But it works so well for the story. So well. There are whole paragraphs full of run-on or half-formed sentences. And the entire book is written like that. But it’s used to convey the nervousness and doubt and excitement of the characters. And it’s so realistic. Most of the time if you read dialogue out from a book, it’s a little too perfect. It doesn’t sound natural. And although this dialogue is chopped up and crazy, it sounds exactly how a 17 year old boy would talk. It’s perfect.

TWO. Fan-fiction doesn’t do anything more than simply write a good story.

The previous point logically leads into this second one. The writers aren’t worried about making everything perfect. They’re not worried about pitches and query letters and trying to land an agent. They just want to write a good story.

There’s a lot of freedom in fan-fiction. Sometimes that’s a bad thing. Sometimes people get carried away. But sometimes, when the planets align and the wind blows in just the right direction, sometimes this is a very, very good thing.

When you’re not worrying about anything other than the story, your story comes alive. It’s not weighed down with doubt. There’s no worry about it needing to impress someone. Whenever we write and edit knowing that we’re eventually going to pitch this story to an agent, there’s that nagging feeling of did I do everything in my power to make this as perfect as possible? And sometimes that’s what makes it so imperfect. Readers can often tell when the writer places every word carefully, rather than just letting the story develop on its own.

I liken it to those Hollywood stars with the perfect hair, the perfect clothes, the perfect makeup, the perfect smile. It’s nice, they’re pretty to look at it, and you do kind of envy it. But it’s not natural. You know they’re putting on a show, and at the end of the day you’d much rather surround yourself with real people.

THREE. Fan-fiction gives us what we want.

The people who frequently write fan-fiction know what the readers want, because it’s what they want. They’re readers first and writers second. And I think a lot of the times we forget that we should be that way too. It’s as they always say, don’t write for the market. And that’s solid advice. You want to write for yourself and your readers, not your agent and not your publishing house. After all, they’re not the ones who, ultimately, will be putting the cash in your bank.

The other thing that I particularly like about fan-fiction is that anything goes. Sometimes that rule can get a little out of hand, but if handled properly, it can really be a beautiful thing. For example, in Shoebox we see the development of a pretty surprising romantic relationship. And yet, the authors do such a good job of giving you that slow burn that by the time it comes around, you’re half dead from wanting it so badly.

There are a lot of slash fics out there to back up this point. It’s strange, but there’s something wonderful about seeing two characters that you would never, ever imagine together put into a story where they fall in love (or just simply get together). People love to read and write about these pairings (ie. Harry/Draco from Harry Potter, Quinn/Rachel from Glee, Stiles/Derek from Teen Wolf) because people like stories where the characters defy all odds to be together.

I think we forget about that sometimes. There are so many unwritten rules when it comes to writing that when we finally do pick up something that shatters all logic and gives us something new (something we didn’t even know we wanted), it’s refreshing. More often than not, that’s going to come out of fan-fic, because these writers aren’t afraid to be a little daring. They don’t have higher-ups to answer to.

FOUR. Fan-fiction does characterization right.

Fan-fics are in the lucky position of already having established characters to write about. They know their personalities, their quirks, their habits, their secrets. This makes writing their scenes so much easier.

But I’ve often noticed that the authors add their own spins to the characters, their own little quirks and habits and personality tics. This does a great job of making the characters a little more vibrant, a little more memorable.

We could all learn to do something like that. To reference Shoebox again: We already know these characters. Maybe not as well as we know Harry, Hermione, and Ron, but we do know the Marauders fairly well. From scenes with pensieve and from conversations with people that knew them, we’re aware of their personalities.

But Shoebox develops that further. It’s like the universe just exploded and expanded outward and pelted you with star light and cosmic dust. You can see these characters. You can feel them. They’re so unbelievably real. We know why Sirius is antsy and energetic and angry all the time. We see Remus’ love of books and his quietness and the way he deals with his condition. We feel the love between James and Lily, and we feel the sadness and loneliness of Peter.

The base was already in place thanks to Rowling’s books, but the authors of the fic added layer upon layer upon layer to make the characters even more naturalistic, even more relatable. The base was enough, it was adequate and it worked, but fan-fiction writers love to be in the moment. They love to immerse themselves (they’re generally some of the biggest fans to begin with, so this should make sense) and love to know what the character is thinking and feeling. That attention to detail is something that I don’t always see in published works. And it’s something we should all strive to accomplish.

So, after all that, what’s the bottom line?

It’s this: that although fan-fiction isn’t the cream of the crop when it comes to writing, it can often teach us things that we’ve forgotten: to listen to those basic instincts that some writers have naturally, that some develop, and that many forget.

Fan-fiction is there to entertain, to tell a story, to make you laugh and cry and get angry. So many times we are caught up in making sure our sentences have the right amount of commas, that we haven’t repeated that verb too many times, that we don’t have superfluous words. When, in the end, we should really just worry about writing the damn story already.

But I want to know what YOU think. Is fan-fiction something to be ignored, something that can’t be considered real writing? Or do you think that we can learn some lessons from it? Are you like me and sometimes forget that writing is more about telling a good story than about whether or not you used that semi-colon correctly?

It’s a little late (when am I ever on time with anything??), but I just had to share this song.

It’s a Thanksgiving tradition between me and my dad, and we can’t go a Thanksgiving without listening to it. I’m not sure how widely known the song is (I showed it to my boss who I felt SURE would have heard it before and hadn’t), so I figured I’d pass it along.

Also, my week is swamped, and I need an easy post to go up. :P

“Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie

(Warning: Yes, the song is nearly 20 minutes long.)


 

So, what do you think? Have you heard it before? If not, did you find it funny or just really, really long?

Belle was kind enough to tag me in this awesome blog hop that’s been going around recently. It’s for our WIPs and basically we answer some questions about our current MS and pass the torch on to five more people. Sounds fun!

What is the working title of your next book?

Lifetimes.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I think I was in a half dreaming state when I saw this vision in my head: four people standing over  a fifth person, who was lying on the ground. Three boys and one girl (aged in their early 20s) were looking down on a girl, someone who didn’t know where she was or even who she was. I wanted to know her story so badly, and to figure out who the other people were as well.

What genre does your book fall under?

Urban Fantasy.

Pale skin, dark hair, mischievous smile. A little bit of ‘dangerous’ written on the surface, but a good person underneath. That’s Chris.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is so hard!!! No fair. If I had to pick, I’d choose Nicholas Hoult to play Chris. He’s about as close looks wise and I may have recently totally fallen in love with him. :D

I’m also kind of in love with Milla Jovovich. She’s awesome with fight sequences, and I think she’s great at finding both vulnerability and strength in the same character (which Hannah has  boatloads of each).

This is how I imagine Hannah when she’s actually happy. She doesn’t have much time to feel that way in the first book, unfortunately.

There are some other main characters, but it’s so hard to really know who would be an honest-to-goodness good fit. I don’t envy casting directors!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A girl wakes up with no recollection of her past, thrown into a world of humans and half-breeds, and must find out who wants her dead and why.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I think I’m going to query it once it’s finished and see what happens. I’ll test the waters – if I feel like it could go somewhere, I’ll keep trying. If not, I’ll self-publish. I’m not adverse to either way.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two months, which is extremely fast for me. The story just sort of popped into my head fully formed and spewed out through my fingers in record time. It needs work because it all happened so fast, but I definitely like what I’ve got here.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would say that The Mortal Instruments was a big inspiration, but my story, while sharing some similar facts, goes in a totally different direction and is not really comparable at all. I set out to write something that fixed what I saw was wrong with that book and so many others like it. I don’t know if I accomplished that, but I sure had fun trying.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

That half-dream vision. Books like The Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely, and similar Urban Fantasies.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

With this book in particular I tried so hard to avoid those things that drive me nuts about other YA novels. My biggest thing was to stay away from love triangles. They’ve been done over and over again and I’m tired of them. I like to stick with strong female characters and an interesting plot line that (hopefully) takes you around a few twists and turns you weren’t expecting. There’s romance, mystery, invented creatures, and some great one-liners. It’s a quick, fun read that I hope you guys will get a chance to see soon.

***

I’ve seen this blog hop making its rounds recently and I don’t want to tag anyone that’s already been tagged or chose not to participate when they were tagged the first time. Please take this as an open invitation: if you haven’t been tagged yet, go for it! And link back in the comments – I want to read about your books too!
Also, thanks again to Belle for tagging me. That was a lot of fun!

Writing to you late because I went to see Breaking Dawn this morning (it was pretty good) and had a couple of friends over to watch movies and play Monopoly (I won!).

This past week was wonderful. Thanksgiving was on Thursday, and my mom and I spent most of the weekend in New Jersey with the relatives. My family is completely obnoxious and dysfunctional and hilarious and insane. And I love them all so much.

It was interesting to say the least. But the best part is that I actually got a lot done this week too!

Main Goals:

The list is short and sweet, but it’s also mandatory. I’m keeping it easy, manageable, and attainable this round. I have to get back to what’s important for me as a writer.

  1. Write or edit every day. 4/7 I wrote all four days and edited on one of the days in addition to that. I’m working on two projects at once, which is nice because it allows me to hop between editing and writing easily, depending on my mood.
  2. Read every day. 6/7 I’m closing in on the end of the The Casual Vacancy and it’s going well. Hopefully I’ll have it done this coming week. I’m also simultaneously reading a Harry Potter fan-fiction called The Shoebox Project that a friend recommended to me, and that’s going great too.

Bonus Points:

These are goals I hope to accomplish this week. They aren’t mandatory, but if I have time I should attempt them. They can be anything from exercising to finishing a certain story to organizing my desk. This week I’ve decided on these:

  1. Take my latest beta reader feedback and update my short story collection. Didn’t even look at it yet. I’d like to go through at least one story this coming week.
  2. Work on the tone/add details into chapters 1-3, and finish up chapter 4. I got through chapter 1, but haven’t worked any farther. I’m happy with how it’s coming along though, so I’m excited to keep working on it.
  3. Keep up with my Facebook page on a daily basis. This is getting better, but not quite good enough to take off the to-do list.

List of Awesome:

This is the list of things I’ve accomplished that don’t really have anything to do with ROW80 or the goals above. It’ll probably be mostly about Hypable and the things I’ve done over there, but I like sharing pictures and random things that are happening in my life. Everyone is always welcome to drop their own list of awesome in the comments below. I love reading them!

  1. I co-wrote a column with another Hypable writer: ‘Life of Pi’ hits theaters today: Take a look at 6 other films where animals have inspired us. I chose the last three: Rataouille, Narnia, and Tarzan!
  2. I slipped into a nice warm and toasty food coma over the weekend. No regrets there.
  3. I’m working with a friend of mine to begin designing covers for my projects and maybe even do some branding stuff. Very exciting!
  4. I’ve become obsessed with the trailers for Warm Bodies and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and I can’t stop watching them. They look so good!

Points

I get 5 points for every main goal I complete, and 1 point for every bonus goal.

Week 1: 25
Week 2: 15
Week 3: 15
Week 4: 26
Week 5: 17
Week 6: 38
Week 7: 40
Week 8: 50

All that reading and writing is really propelling me forward! Can’t wait to see if next week will be even better.

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. And if you’re not from around these parts…I hope you had a great weekend regardless!

I’ve been told a lot, especially recently, to be careful about putting too much on my plate. And I’m not talking about Thanksgiving.

I have a habit, see. It can be a bad habit if I let it get out of control. I like to stay busy. Really busy. The kind of busy that makes me forget to eat breakfast in the morning and wonder what it’s like to have a social life.

I like that kind of busy. I like doing things that I enjoy. When it comes to those things – writing, Hypable, editing, blogging, etc. – I have trouble saying no. But you know what?

I don’t care.

I’m not going to say no. Sure, I might be a little too busy. I might be a little stressed. I might have too much on my plate. But those are all good things in my eyes.

It’s hard for me to explain, so I’m going to let someone else do it for me. Basically, this guy takes the words right out of my mouth and makes them funnier than I ever could. (He sort of throws some other stuff in there that won’t make sense if you don’t keep up with his YouTube channel, but he comes back around to the point again throughout the video.)


 
I have found something I want to spend all of my time doing. I literally work all day – from the time I get up to the time I go back to bed – seven days a week. Whether it be for my paying job, my editing, my column writing, my own writing, working on other people’s stories as a favor, etc. I’m always doing something and I rarely (never?) spend a whole evening just doing nothing.

I’m not saying that to complain. And I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying it because it’s fact, and because I know a lot of you do the same thing.

We’re writers and we’re totally content to just write every day, all day. Sure, we need breaks and relaxation and vacations, but so many of us have found the one thing we actually want to work on day in and day out. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. We should never apologize for that.

I’m certainly not going to.

Write your hearts out, guys. <3

The life of an artist and the works they produce can teach us so much about writing. And it doesn’t have to be boring! Check out the latest post in this series: “Artists through the ages: Botticelli.”

It was only a matter of time before I got to Artemisia Gentileschi. She’s one of my all-time favorite artists, and definitely my favorite female artist. If you guys don’t remember it, I raved about her over on Jessica’s blog a while back.

Artemisia lived from the late 1500s to the mid-1600s. She was a talented Italian painter who was lucky enough to get noticed in a time that was dominated by male artists. She was an exceptional talent and her resistance of the idea that women did not have the intelligence to be an artist paved the way to recognition and admiration, both during her time and after. Her story is a sad one, having been raped when she was 18. But instead of hiding away, she took part in a trial to put the man behind bars (though this was eventually unsuccessful) and used her experiences to influence her paintings, which were quite violent and expressive.

Interesting facts:

  1. She was tortured with thumbscrews while on trial for her rape.
  2. She received commissions from both the Medici family and Charles I.
  3. She was the first woman accepted into the Academy of the Arts and Drawing.
  4. Her actions and life are often praised by contemporary feminists.
  5. She frequently worked with her father, and they shared a competitive but close bond.

Artemisia is best known for Judith Slaying Holofernes. Another great one is Susanna and the Elders, and I quite like Minerva too.

There’s just one quote from her that I decided to use today because I think it is profound and appropriate and there’s no reason to bother with any others when this is perfect all by itself.

“As long as I live, I will have control over my being.”

Now, obviously the feminists in the crowd go crazy over this one. It has its implications, which I think are fitting. I think its face-value is important to note, but I also think that there’s so much more to this too.

It’s not just about the physical being, the body. It’s also about her spiritual being: her life, her imagination, her art. And if we take this idea and apply it to our lives, we can also insert the word writing in there.

As long as you are alive and capable, you have control over your writing. Your writing is just that: your. writing. No one can tell you what to write about if you don’t let them. And, better yet, no one can hold you back but yourself.

Think of Artemisia and everything that she went through. She was a young girl in Italy in the 17th century. She was raped. Then she was put on a public trial and tortured. She “won” the case, but the man never served time. She was an artist that most didn’t take seriously at first, if ever. She had to fight for every inch of her dream and she never stopped fighting.

If she could do all that, what’s holding us back, if only ourselves?

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be neurotic, with Schmidt.”

Just about any writer can create a character that everyone will love. Like Ron from Harry Potter or Lucy from Narnia. They’re fun and likeable and endearing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But one of the greatest talents an author can have is to create a character that you dislike, and then slowly make you fall in love with them. I think The Vampire Diaries does this in a great way. Damon, especially, but even Rebekah and Klaus fall into this category.

But today we’re going to talk about Caroline.

When we meet her in season 1, she doesn’t seem to have a lot of (any?) redeeming qualities. She’s selfish, insensitive, insecure, bratty, and shallow. Although she’s best friends with Elena, she feels she has to compete with her for everything – Bonnie’s friendship, boys, and cheerleading, just to name a few.

As the season progresses, Caroline begins a relationship with Elena’s ex-boyfriend Matt. She starts to change as a result of this, but the old Caroline rears its ugly head more often than not. In the second season, Caroline is turned into a vampire. At first, she struggles with it, like all new vampires do. Her personality is heightened. Where she would have been quietly envious before, now she is furiously jealous. Her possessiveness and insecurities are even more pronounced.

But she starts to get a handle on it. She learns how to be a vampire and, oddly enough, how to really be herself. She becomes aware of her flaws and actively works to change her less than favorable habits. She becomes more confident in herself, and the rest of her personality (the good parts) shines through. She’s a strong and fiercely loyal friend. She’s one of the kindest and most trustworthy people on the show.

Caroline’s arc was well-played. It took the better part of two seasons for her to grow into herself, but it really paid off. She’s an integral part of the group now and does everything in her power to always do the right thing. She’s my favorite female character on the show.

So, how do we do this in our own writing? The first thing is to set up an unlikeable character. Pick some traits and apply them to this person, keeping in mind they need reasons to act this way. In season 1, Caroline felt she was second best to Elena at everything, and that’s why she felt inferior and did her best to have everything that Elena did.

Then something needs to change this person. They need a reason to grow and come into their positive qualities. For Caroline, it was becoming a vampire. She realized that the world was a much bigger place and that there were larger problems to deal with than who she went to the decade dance with. Though, granted, this was still a big deal to her! You can’t change their personalities completely – Caroline still has her flaws and there’s still a shadow of her former self in there, but you need to make us believe that the character has changed.

This change has to happen over time. Caroline struggled with her heightened emotions and personality for some time before she was able to get a grip on her cravings and outbursts. And when she changed, it was a marked difference from how she used to be. Even though there needs to be a touch of that “other” person still in the character, we need to trust that they are a different person now.

What do you think of Caroline? Did you enjoy seeing her change over the last couple of seasons? Is there another character you can think of who had a similar storyline? The first one that came to my mind was Cordelia from Buffy.