NaNoWriMo!! Week One

So, I don’t want to overpower everyone with my NaNoWriMo tales, but I am excited, so I have to talk about it, at least a little.

First, no I am not going to share my NaNoWriMo story here, at least not now.  Maybe when it is done, but I don’t usually let anyone read a work in progress.

Second, I am torn as to whether or not I am currently successfully completing my word counts.  The official goal, according to the NaNoWriMo website, is 50,000 words.  As of last night, the end of day seven, I had hit 10,026 words; according to their finish on time chart I should have written 11,666 words.  I have hit my word goal three days in the past week, with the worst day being day one, and the best day being yesterday.  It feels like a very brutal pace, but this may be because I am coming off of a slump and pushing to get a lot done.  I have heard that writing is a marathon, not a sprint, but this is definitely a world class runner speed marathon, not my slow, mostly walking pace.

No matter the pain, I am making progress.  I am currently on Chapter 9, though I am technically working on chapter 8, as I accidentally began a scene early and went back to write the previous one.  I have a few notes for revisions to make already, and I have added a few things in the spur of the moment that just felt right and I think I like them.

Third, I feel like the writing might be taking over my life.  Many things are being neglected, from cleaning to running as I push to get enough words in.  I am still a little bit of a space cadet when I sit to write, and I am having trouble focusing.  I think if I can get that under control, and be able to sit and write when it is time to write, I will get my life back.

Finally, and most importantly I think I am learning a little about my writing. I wanted to do this to prove I can, and I am getting it done.  But I am learning too.  For example, I didn’t know how much I shape my characters as I go.  I knew what was going to happen, and who was going to interact with who, but as I have worked, the characters have begun to represent something to me.  They are finding ways to speak about something more than just the silly plot I had worked out.

I am also realizing I rely too much on dialogue to get my point across.  I am writing from a first person perspective, and am trying not to have the entire view of the other characters come from this one persons thoughts, as well as trying to avoid spending too much time describing the mundane actions one does while speaking. Cutting a lot of this out, and letting the interactions speak for themselves seems to leave, well, a lot of speaking.  I can’t decide if it is a normal amount of dialogue for a YA book or not. This may be another point for revision later.

Oh well.  I have word counts to catch, and a weekend to live.  If I want to avoid spending the entire day on my butt in front of the computer, again, I should get a wiggle on.

Happy Writing NaNoWriMo-ers!

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Make Something

I’ve spent a few weeks in a writing funk.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I sincerely doubt it will be the last.  It is an unfortunate fact, but there it is.  Sometimes my writing ability can be interrupted by life.  I’m still getting my story ideas, but I am losing my inspiration to write them.

It started a few weeks ago, when I was working on getting some critique on the beginning of a story.  I went in knowing my own story weaknesses, but feeling like what I was submitting was all right.  I left realizing that everyone else saw the same weaknesses I had. 

Suddenly I was hit with an absolute knowledge that everything I wrote was crap.  Seeing my own problems was fine; I could pretend I was just being paranoid, or maybe giving myself a little tough love.  When someone else sees the same problems it means they are actually problems and I should fix them.

Trying to make a go of a creative career is not easy.  You have to be sensitive enough to follow your creative path, and express real emotion.  You have to open yourself up in a way that feels almost wrong; a part of you is exposed to the world that you would normally keep hidden.  You put that part out there, and then allow others to pass judgment in the name of making things better.  You have to be raw and place everything out there, yet tough enough to shrug off everything negative.  As soft as silk, and yet as tough as nails.  I’m not even sure what material out there would come close to that, but I’m sure I am not made from it.

I can’t take the critique without suffering a few scars.  Maybe it means in a few years I will be out, or at least in a perpetual state of ‘revising’ before letting anyone read.  Hearing negatives hurts, even if it is for my own good.  Sometimes, it breaks my confidence down for a little while, and makes it hard to write more.  This is my fatal writing flaw, worse than any grammatical or spelling error I will every make.  I take the hit, and I will get back up, but I might need a little rest first.

I think the worst of it all, knowing that some of it was true.  Many of my own fears of the piece were exactly what was said back to me.  I’d feel better if I could laugh and say they were wrong, but they zeroed right in on the target, and sent their shot there.  Sure, some of it I will brush off, because I know the purpose of the little facts that were included early on.  I know the big picture thoughts behind certain things, and maybe they just missed my point.  It’s all right.  Other things I will have to change because I know it is for the best of the story. 

After spending some time on my pity party is it time to pick myself back up.  Just because I made a few mistakes doesn’t mean I should never try again.  Every critique is important, as long as I take it as a lesson for future learning.  The most important thing is to get back at it, and make something.

 

 

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How to Create A Villian

Creating a villain is more than a key part of the conflict in a story.

It is almost a science, mixing in actions, motivations, and pain to get a mixture of character pieces that make the villain not only believable, but also understandable. I don’t want to see mindless bad deeds, I want to know why they became the person they are.

Let’s look at a commonly loved comic book and movie villain, Loki. I think it is safe to say he has just as many fans as the heroes, if not more. It’s not just because Tom Hiddleston is incredibly good looking, or reported to be a true gentleman, which is rare in modern times. These things help, yes. But Loki is loved because you can understand how he came to be so angry. He had a rough relationship with his parents and brother. He had a desire for the power that was so close, yet still out of reach. He knows he could do so much more, have so much more, and just plain be so much more, if only someone would let him. He became a villain because he felt unloved. No one believed in him, the place in the world he thought he should have was going to someone else. His pain and anger build until he can no longer hold them in, and then, he goes to get what he feels should be his.

Loki is loved because people can see themselves in his pain. They know how it is to be the one who is overlooked. Sibling, coworkers, friends; there is always someone who seems to have something we want and can’t seem to have. We want to lash out. Maybe we don’t want to go on a murderous rampage, but we at least would like to throw a good, old fashioned tantrum.

This is how a villain should be. The villain in a story is not just some shadowy black hat, doing bad things simply because they are bad. The villain should have a backstory and motivation that is understandable. If you don’t want your hero to be a cardboard cutout of the typical good guy, don’t make your villain that way either. Think through the many elements of your character. You may have to start with the big things, such as what you need him to do, but you need to fill in the small details as well.

 

1) Determine what kind of bad guy your villain is.
Not all villains are the same, or at least they shouldn’t be. To determine what kind of villain you have, you can begin with three broad categories; those who are tough, those who are cruel, and those who are evil.

The tough guys are the strong villain. They are the bad guys who will cause you physical damage personally. They may work with their fists or with weapons, but either way they are in the middle of the fight personally. This villain is not usually the brains of the operation. They are a foot soldier, or a thug. Even when they rise to the top, there is a part of them that loves the chance to get right back in the middle of the action. You can dress them up in a nice suit, but they will always look more natural covered in dirt and blood.

The cruel villain likes to make a point. They are not just exerting their power over you, even though they love that, they are teaching you how you are supposed to be. Violence is not their preference, but they will do anything to make you understand. Power is usually not their goal. They know the world is wrong, and feel they are the only one who can fix it. They might have a soft spot for family or friends. These are the people who help to motivate them to make the world a better place. That does not make their loved ones safe; their goal comes first, and they will only give so many warnings before someone will be taken out, no matter who they are.

The evil villain is capable of almost anything. Sometimes the evil villain can do anything because they honestly don’t care who they hurt. Other times, they do things because they enjoy it. They get off on the pain they cause others. Maybe it’s the mind games they enjoy, maybe it’s the torture. This makes them unpredictable because you might not be able to see their motivation. They might not even have a master plan so much as a desire to cause a little mayhem.
Of course there are other kinds of villains. Some of them will fall into one of these three categories; others might need a slightly different classification. But the cruel villain will never torture for fun, the tough guy won’t let an insult pass without retaliation, and the evil villain will not spare someone simply because they look weak. It is not in their nature, and will undermine the character.

 

2) Give them motivation.

 

It has been said before, but it is worth saying again; everyone has a reason to fight, and everyone has a reason to live.

Your tough guy might have once been a small child, beaten by those who were bigger. Now he fights because he enjoys the feeling; he will not let anyone have that kind of power over him again.
The cruel villain may have seen the pain of war. They want to fix the world because they see the cruelty others do to each other; causing a little pain to a few hundred to save millions is a small price to pay.

There is only one clear memory from the evil villain’s childhood. The darkness of the box they were in, the smell of the urine staining their pants, and the certainty they would pay for their inability to contain their bladder when the box was opened.

The villain needs motivation to become the person who is a problem from the hero, and the motivation to keep fighting when someone tries to stop them. If your villain causes trouble only because the story needs a bad guy, they have no reason to fight and may has well walk away at the first sign of trouble.

 

3) Let them do the right thing.

 

Even a villain is a person. Once there was something they cared about, something they loved. They are not a mindless killing machine; they are a human being, capable of thinking and feeling. Let them cause pain without mercy, let them steal, cheat, and lie. And then have them let someone go. Let them release the person who reminds them of their little sister, or the woman they loved and lost. Let them save the heroes girlfriend at the last minute, even when they aren’t sure why they did it.

There are already the people who made them a villain. Let them do the right thing and let them become a real person.

 

4) Give them brains.

 

It’s easy to foil their plan when there is a large self-destruct button, well labeled, and brightly colored on the middle of the evil machine. But really, what villain outside of a Disney cartoon, is smart enough to create the evil machine, but not smart enough to know how it can be easily destroyed? Yes, creating a good evil plot will make it harder for you to find a way to let the hero defeat the villain and give a happily ever after. But that is your problem, not the villains. Don’t sell your character short in order to make your job easier. Your job is not supposed to be easy. If good writing was easy everyone would do it. Don’t go for lazy writing, make your story amazing.

 

5) Let them win.

 

I’m not saying you should let your villain achieve world domination in the end. Sure, it might be nice for them, but it’s not exactly a satisfying conclusion to a battle to have everything end evilly ever after.
Let your villain win a few small battles. Let him kick the hero down a few times. Whether the villain is a person or a conflict, the happy ending doesn’t come right away. If good wins immediately, what is the point of the rest of the book? A villain who loses every time is not a challenge; they are an annoyance. Letting the villain win makes them a more formidable opponent, and makes the final win for the hero that much more impressive.

 

What can I say, just like so many other woman in the world, I really do love the bad boy.  You know in the end they are not going to win, but you still want them to.  You want something good to happen for them, because maybe, just maybe, it will change them.

 

So tell me, Who is your favorite villain?

In My Experience

I don’t think I have hidden my love of reading and writing.  I never go anywhere without something to read, and when I finish a book I have a tendency to wander around, slightly lost as if I don’t know what to do with my life anymore.  Usually when that happens, it is because the writing itself is magnificent.  I’m not talking about the story, or the characters, but all of the small details that make you feel as though you are there.  I’m talking about knowing how something feels in the characters hands, knowing how something smells or tastes or sounds.  I’m talking about the writing that turns the novel into a full sensory experience. 

This is usually my goal as I set a scene, particularly if I am making up a place or time.  It is one thing to say my character lives in San Francisco and can see the Golden Gate Bridge from their house.  Many people have been to San Francisco, and even those who haven’t are very likely to know what the bridge looks like.  There isn’t much else to say.  However, if I am making up a magical land, the reader would not have an idea what anything looks like.  Is the grass still green?  What do their houses look like?  Do they have indoor plumbing, or is there the stench of unwashed bodies and sewage?  These are details that can either bog down the story if over done, or draw the reader into the world of the novel if contained at the proper levels.

The question is, how do writers do it?  How do other writers create descriptions of things they have never seen or done?  I’ve never lived in a magical land, and (fortunately) I have always lived in a place with wonderful modern sanitation practices.  I could describe the smell in the same way I would a teenagers bedroom; one part sweat, two parts dirty socks, and one part rotting food.  It might not technically be the same thing, but it is slightly close. 

I imagine there are many things where I could draw on other experiences to fill in the blanks.  I run, I cook, I clean.  I fell in love, and I have had my heart broken.  I took kickboxing classes in the past.  It was more for fitness, but I know how it feels to hit the bag and meet resistance.  I have never been in a knife fight, but I do have a small collection of daggers.  I sharpen them with a stone once a week, and am well acquainted with the feel of the knives in my hand, or in their sheath on my hip.  I have a set of throwing knives, and while I am not great, I know how it feels to aim and release the knife, waiting for it to hit its target.  I took archery lessons briefly; while it was long enough ago some of the memory has faded, I can still remember the pull of the string.  I can describe these things easily, because they are familiar. I have experience here.

But how do I write about that which I haven’t done?  I have always wanted to learn to sword fight, but I have never held a sword, and wondered if this was the battle I would lose.  I’ve never held a gun, or had a gun pointed at me.  I’ve sat on a horse before, but I’ve never ridden across an open field, wind whipping through my hair.  I know the feel of my knives well, but I don’t know the feel of slicing through flesh, and knowing this was the cut that would end a life.  I’ve never jumped out of an airplane and hoped that the parachute would open, or even worse, hoped I could catch the person falling before me who has a parachute when I don’t.  There are so many things I just haven’t done. 

Some of these things are not experienced for practical reasons.  I don’t really want to have my life in someone else’s hands if I can help it.  I don’t want to spend the money to buy a gun just to know how it feels in my hand.  I want to try skydiving, but I have a paralyzing fear of heights and do not want to risk falling through any substances that may come out of my body when fear overtakes me in the air.

And what is my alternative?  To describe things based on someone else’s words?  What if they don’t know any more than I do?  I can only assume that not every mystery or horror writer has killed someone, just to know how it would feel.  Does that mean I don’t need experience to create an authentic feel?

I know I like having something real to draw on, but I think I have written good descriptions without it.  I’m really wondering how you feel.  How important is personal experience in creating fictional experiences?