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Writing the Good Bad Boy

The Brooding Bad Boy* as a trope (otherwise known as Damaged With a Heart of Gold, Alpha Male, or Redeemed Rake, depending on what time period you’re writing) seems to be huge, ESPECIALLY in YA literature right now. Dark romance and angst as a plot line are trending, which means the Bad Boys are everywhere.

*To save time I’m just going to call it the Bad Boy trope and let all of those other meanings be implied. And it doesn’t always have to be a bad boy being rescued by the good girl, it can be any other gender/sexuality combo you like. Be the change. Bad Boy is just a concept.*

This is both great, and terrible at the same time.

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exhibit A right here. Sorry Rob.

It’s great, because there are beautiful themes of redemption, trust, deep understanding and love running through this trope. The main character is that one special person who can slip through the Bad Boy’s walls, duck through the defenses, and earn confidence when it comes to love & relationships. The Bad Boy in turn fights through old pain, changes and grows as a character, and learns to believe. It’s gorgeous and heart-breaking when done well.

But when it’s done badly . . . it can be so very damaging. As YA characters go, it’s a crappy thing to do to a young adult, just finessing their view on life, the universe and everything; when you clearly imply that the ideal significant other is a broody, hot-mess, mysterious, angry, angsty, dramatic, damaged individual. Most likely wearing something leather and sneering.

This trope is a fine, thin edge to tread for authors. One step over it, and your Bad Boy is an abusive, sexually violent numpty of a wankstain that would be un-dateable in real life.

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Exhibit B: 50 Shades of Grey. Hot kiss=good. Stalking and trapping people in elevators=not so good.

How to show that your diamond in the rough is damaged, but still make them fixable? How dominant should they be? Where is that line?

In the interests of answering this question, I’ve written up a quick Do and Don’t list for writing reference. Feel free to completely disagree and write your own. This is just my personal opinion.

Do: Let your Bad Boy make some questionable life choices and evidence some flaws. They can make mistakes, take chances, get messy (to paraphrase Ms. Frizzle).

Don’t: Let your Bad Boy make terrible life decisions that are irredeemable. He/she still has to have that secret heart of gold hidden on the inside. Would you let your son or daughter date someone who had done [insert decision here]? If the answer is no, don’t put it in your book.

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Your character can make stupid impulse decisions that almost get their friends killed multiple times, and still be an awesome character.

Do: Create a Bad Boy who can take charge and act with confidence. A healthy touch of arrogance, a cocky swagger, some snappy, snarky dialogue, or a proud demeanor even. All of those are attractive, and the reason we like the Bad Boy in the first place. They can be sexy, cool, powerful and desirable (and know it too), they can break rules, buck societal norms, scorn conformity, and seem untouchable. All good things.

Don’t: Let your Bad Boy be so take-charge and arrogant that they’re manipulative to the point of abuse. Look up the guidelines from those public service announcements that identify the signs you are in an abusive relationship. If your Bad Boy is doing ANY of that, stop them immediately. I’m serious about this. Swift kick in the balls for those controlling impulses.

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Peeta is telling Katniss no, but it’s to try and SAVE her LIFE. Not to assert that he has some control over it.

Do: Write a Bad Boy with walls so high that the love interest needs supplemental oxygen to try and summit them. Tension and drama are everything. They’re hiding that soft heart from the world because of (sad backstory which you will write the heck out of).

Don’t: Write a Bad Boy who treats the love interest like shit, because they’re wounded. Nothing absolves sexual abuse. No amount of warning, “I’m bad for you. You’d be safer away from me. No. Stop. Don’t” beforehand makes it OK to then be a derogatory, disrespectful jerk. They are still responsible for their actions. No matter how bad their mommy issues are.

Do: Have your Bad Boy changed by the end of the story and let that golden heart shine through. This trope only works because their one true love has reached them through the dark, has given them a reason to be better, sees that goodness on the inside, and lets them trust in the brightness of their future together. There has to be character development going on. Not a complete 180* personality change. Just some growth. And if the Bad Boy acted like a surly jerk, some groveling wouldn’t be out of place.

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Hoobastank gets it, and they have the stupidest band name to ever name. So your MC can get it too.

 

And here is a general list of DON’T-STAHP-RED-LIGHT-PLEASE-GOD-NO

  • Stalker behavior. Even magically assisted, it’s still creepy stalking.
  • Harassment-using aggressive pressure or intimidation to create a desired outcome.
  • Forcing sexual acts without consent. That is spelled R-A-P-E.
  • Drugging the love interest to ensure they’re complacent/forget stuff/manageable. Even if it’s magical elf wine. Just no.
  • Policing who the love interest can talk to/be friends with/text/call/look at. See the “don’t” above.
  • Continuing with sexy stuff after the love interest has EXPLICITLY said no. Consent is everything. Here is a quick refresher on it, using tea.
  • Sexual violence (not BDSM, that should be consensual if you know what you’re writing. And that shouldn’t be in a YA book anyway?!?)
  • Torture.
  • Rape. It’s. never. romantic. Not even as a playful “threat” or “forced seduction”.
  • Try to justify any of the above as “I was just protecting you”, “pretending because I had to”, “we’re mated soulmates”. Or having the love interest forgive any/all of the above because of those justifications. You are the author, you control this story. Those reasons don’t exist unless you put them in. And if you’re feeling the need to have your MC justify something like that for the reader, maybe it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

For an interesting take on this issue, go read Tiff at MostlyYALit. (This article is what got me on the rant in the first place.)

Or try ChristinaReadsYA as she talks about her feelings regarding Bad Boys in YA

And, for a harsh yet hilarious take on a popular Bad Boy, see Matthew at BadBooksGoodTimes

 

 

 

Featured image via stocksnap.io and Maria Shanina

 

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Backtracking on 2017

Like a woodscrafty tracker person. Minus the fleas.

Another edition of #IWSG! One cheer for steadfast support. One hooorah for neurotic writers (but quietly, because we don’t want to startle them, be nice). And the third for our Ninja Captain, Alex Cavanaugh. If you didn’t know, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is his brain-child.

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As always, join in on the first Wednesday of the month. Answer the question, or not if you like, and click around to read other blogger’s answers. Be assured that your travels will be gentle, with no bumps (i.e. rabid, AlL CaPs BaDd SpEiLInG TrOlLS !@#$%). Somehow the group has banished the bastards with good strong spells, or else writers are less likely to become under-bridge-dwellers in the first place. Either way, your trip around the blog hop is safe.

The question for December is:

As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

Our co-hosts for this month are: Julie FlandersShannon LawrenceFundy Blue, and Heather Gardner. Hop on by and tell them thank you.

The answer for December is: Nothing.

That sounds arrogant, so let me explain. 2017 for me was mostly full of failure. No agent, no published book, lots of rejection letters. I did get around 20 articles published on various websites and earned a trickle of money from them, which was awesome. But for the most part, 2017 was a learning year and I wouldn’t change a day of it.

I needed all of those “no” and “not for me/us” and “not ready yet” answers to point me on the way to yes. I have to know what I’m doing wrong to begin doing it right, if that makes sense.

I won’t pretend any of that was fun. It was a bit like being the mole in a game of whack-a-mole, to be honest.

Hi publishing people! So, I wrote this thing-

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NO! No! NO!

Oh, well OK. Haha, that’s fine. I wrote this different thing that you might-

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(This concludes A Visual representation of SE’s 2017.)

So yeah, none of that was fun and I’d rather not do it over, but it was priceless in terms of experience. I’ve spent this last year getting knocked around in the school of hard, and I’m ready to start using what I’ve learned to get better. Maybe even to start hearing some “yes” answers to my queries.

I wouldn’t go back and change a thing*.

*Mostly because that would mean I’d have to go through all of the learning again and that would be painful.

 

 

Featured image via stocksnap.io and Annie Spratt

Dinner is Better When We Eat Together

And then go hunting in the garage. Based on a true story.

The holidays coming up reminded me of a story. It’s a true story, although names have been changed to protect the innocent. Settings and dialogue have been altered. Basically, it’s the movie version of a family legend. Anyway, enjoy. Constructive criticism is appreciated, after I finish throttling you in my private thoughts as a first reaction.

 

“Stop tugging, you look great,” Cheryl says.

Caught, Gil lets go of the edge of his shirt and lifts his chin a little. “Yeah. Sorry. Do you need help with the food?”

In front of them looms a house. Small, white-stuccoed, surrounded by a low brick wall. Cheryl is standing by the open gate, waiting. Lush green bushes crouch around the perimeter of the house, sneaking out tendrils, waiting to smack him flat with tropical scents.

For one flash of a second he wishes for pine. For sharp mountain wind. For dry yellow grass just waiting for death by snowfall.

Cheryl smiles, full of sympathy. “It’s fine. It’s not heavy. Are you ready?”

He steps through the gate. They walk together up the red paved path. “Go for it,” he says.

She rings the doorbell.

The door opens before another heartbeat can pass. They’re both standing there, beaming smiles at him. The smiles have a lot to do with the shiny gold sitting on Cheryl’s finger. Not so much with the new job waiting for her-for them-three hundred miles away at the end of a desert road.

“Come on in! How was the drive down? Much traffic?” Fern asks. Her dress is neat, perfect, as usual. The bouffant mound of light brown hair owes everything to a dye-bottle and nothing to its roots, but her smile is natural.

“Move out of the doorway, Fern, and they can fit through the door,” Jim answer-snaps. His smile has a touch of mean that no one acknowledges.

“Hi, dad,” Cheryl says. She gives him a brief hug, blocked by the casserole pan.

Gil stands awkwardly behind her, hands dangling useless at the end of his long arms. Before he can lift a hand to usher Cheryl valiantly inside she is already gone. She never does wait long enough for him to open a door. Fern is waiting, still smiling. His future mother-in-law does not hug him, which is nice. His mustache twitches as he slides by her and into that small stucco house.

Inside the carpet is brown, the couches are orange, and the walls are mirrored. It is very fashionable. A tiny hallway leads back to the dining room and they congregate there.

Cheryl is taking biology and chemistry, in preparation for a degree in home economics. The science that went into the casserole is mostly lost on Gil, but he knows it will taste fabulous. Her meals always do, unless they are camping. She can’t cook over a campfire to save her life, but that’s OK. He can.

Jim offers him a Coors Light, which he accepts. They stand there sipping as the women fuss over the dishes on the plastic covered table.

“Goddam that traffic down the Fifteen, am I right?” Jim asks.

Actually, the traffic was fine. Rush hour was over before they made it into the LA basin. But Gil would rather snort a line of his beer than argue with his father-in-law. “Yeah. It’s always stuffed with cars. I hate that freeway.” That part is true.

“Well come on, sit down. Tell me about this new job,” Jim invites. He takes a seat at the head of the table and grins up at Gil.

With his long, long nose and bushy black eyebrows he always looks like a gremlin to Gil. Some sort of gnome, the kind that would pull you chair out before you sat down and then help you up off the floor, laughing. Gil smiles back and sits. “Oh, well, it’s Cheryl’s job really. She can tell you more about it. But she says the high school is pretty small. A couple hundred students.”

“I’ve been up that way, hunting.” Jim nods. His beer is finished, so he reaches for another one.

Fern and Cheryl, placing warm dishes on the table, don’t seem to see the can. Their eyes slide right by it and the two empty brethren next to it. He’s got a little bit of a drinking problem, Cheryl said before they came. But he’s getting it under control.

“Beautiful country. Beautiful,” Jim says.

“I’ll be able to sub, at the school,” Gil assures him. “They need substitutes right now. But I’ll keep trying at the local office too-”

Jim snorts. “Those little assholes, they’ll run you ragged. I don’t know how you have the patience to teach, either of you.”

Gil thinks back to his own school days; the coordinated book drops at eight o’clock precisely, the gum wads, spitballs, locker-shoves, the mysterious dick-shaped art on unguarded chalkboards that popped up like crop-circles (if the aliens had a crap sense of humor). Jim is probably right.

“Come wash up,” Fern interrupts, and slants a sideways look at Jim. Behave! Her eyebrows telegraph. He only grunts a little, and swallows some more warm Coors Light.

The food is delicious. None of it is something Gil’s mother would have made, but he enjoys all of it. The water tastes like chlorinated elephant piss. So Gil sticks to his beer.

Cheryl drinks a glass of water and then asks for some of the cranberry juice he didn’t know was in the fridge. Under the table, she squeezes his knee. Her warm, sideways smile tells him he’s doing great.

They are leaning back in their chairs, all smiles and well-fed content, to get ready for some of the after dinner coffee that is tinting the air, when a small, muffled thump comes from the other side of the door. That door leads to the attached one-car garage, which is closed and locked up for the night.

Jim shoots up so fast that his chair skids back and hits the wall. “It’s him! It’s him!” he hisses. “Come on, Gil!” He’s already across the kitchen, leaning forward, braced to throw the door open.

“Dad-” Cheryl starts.

“Come on!” he repeats.

Gil stands up and edges over. Jim reaches to the side and comes up with a heavy, solid, Lou Gehrig baseball bat. It is old, dented and scarred, the veteran of many games. He shoves it at Gil, who takes it without thinking. Cheryl rests her forehead on her palm.

“You ready?” Jim looks almost terrifyingly alive, dark eyes sparkling, hand trembling on the doorknob.

Gil nods.

Jim opens the door, rushes through it, and flicks on the light, all in a few quick movements. He heads straight to the other wall and grabs down a fishing pole. It is long and extended, ready to reach for some of those bass under the pier that pushes out into the Pacific Ocean near the house.

He turns, brandishes it like a lance. In startled reflex, Gil lowers his bat to the ready position. Is he . . . going to duel me?

Instead of striking Gil, Jim stalks around the edge of the garage. Gil takes a few, hesitant steps inside. The door shuts behind him with a small, quiet click.

There is no car parked. The space is empty. Jim uses this emptiness, staring up at the rafters as he paces around one slow step at a time.

“Jim, what-”

“Shhh!” Jim whispers. “Get ready!”

Gil shuts up. He can’t help the confused furrow his eyebrows are digging across his forehead, but he holds the bat up at an obedient angle.

“Gotcha! You little bastard!” Jim shouts triumphantly. Gil jumps.

Jim raises the fishing rod in front of him with both hands. He thrusts it at the rafters above his head, an avenging gremlin whose judgment cometh and that right early.

Before Gil’s stunned eyes a gray and white blur thumps onto the cement floor. It scrambles in a high-speed, whirring blur for his feet and to him it looks bigger than a good sized cat, as big as a lynx. He leaps back, lowers the bat to swing out at it defensively. It veers at the last second and misses a collision with him by centimeters. A long, ratty tail brushes the edge of his jeans.

“Get it, Gil!” Jim shouts, and runs over with his fishing pole. Before he can bring the fishing rod stinging down the blur has headed for the opposite corner. The thin whip of metal almost hits Gil’s shoulder.

“I got it!” he shouts back.

They are after it in a fraction of a second. In the corner, it turns and hisses at them, and Gil sees that it is some rodent, of unusual size. A possum? They didn’t have those where he grew up, but they might have them here. That’s what it looks like, anyway.

The bat and the pole smack down on either side of it, simultaneously. The possum thuds against the side of his left leg as it makes for the other end of the garage. It is trying to streak up the wooden shelves when the tip of Jim’s fishing pole catches it a good, solid whack on the rump.

It falls backwards, from three feet up, and twists in mid-air, like a cat. In the light from the bare bulb above them its eyes flash.

“Get after it!” Jim roars.

“It’s over there! There!” Gil shouts. His heart is thundering, and his grip on the bat is tight, strangling.

Claws scraping, legs scrabbling, the possum makes a break for freedom. Whacking furiously, Jim and Gil run behind it. The door to the kitchen opens, framing a fat rectangle of bright light as two grown men race across a bare floor, beating in alternating strokes. The crashing sounds, in that small space, are so deafening that Gil can’t hear if Cheryl or Fern are saying anything.

The possum hits the closed garage door with a hollow, metal, boyoying noise. Gil stops so fast he skids into the door himself. The bat he’s holding rebounds off of it and taps him lightly in the head. He blinks as Jim’s deadly rod tears apart the air in front of his nose.

Along the edge of the garage door the possum races, with the men in pursuit. At the right corner, the possum slithers through an impossibly tiny hole. Just a small, egg-shaped slice of dark punched through the metal.

Jim raises his pole high with both hands. By the time he has brought it down, with all his wrath behind it, the possum’s tail is snaking into that disappearing darkness. The tip of the pole shatters off, and ricochets into the corner.

They stand there, breathing heavily, staring at the hole the possum squeezed through. Nothing as big as a very small tiger should be able to fit through that hole. The possum must have been a little smaller than it looked to Gil, falling through the air above his head.

Jim shakes his head. “Goddam possum.”

Gil says nothing. His chest, under the button-up shirt, his neck, and his face are all starting to feel a little hot. The mustache is starting to itch. He would rather not look over at the open kitchen door.

“I told you that possum was getting in through that hole, Jim. Didn’t I tell you that?” Fern asks.

Jim turns around, examining the broken tip of his fishing rod. “No, you didn’t,” he disagrees automatically. “You said it was getting in through the side, under the shelves.”

“I did not. Through that hole, I said.”

“The shelves,” Jim insists. “I remember. We were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and you said ‘Jim, I think it dug a hole through the side of the house under the shelves’.”

She puts her hands on her hips. “Oh for goodness sake, how could it dig through stucco? I said it was that hole right there in the garage door.”

Cheryl walks in, to stand next to Gil. He hands her the bat without looking at her.

“Are you ready to go?” she murmurs.

“Yeah. It’s getting late,” he says.

Jim and Fern are standing by the hole, gesturing to it, still arguing.

Gil takes a deep breath, and walks over to his in-laws. “Thank you for the wonderful meal,” he tells Fern.

She nods and smiles at him. “Of course. We were so glad to have you.”

Jim is still insisting she meant the shelves.

Gil turns to him. His smile must be a little lopsided. “I’ll come over tomorrow and help you patch that hole, if you want.”

Jim closes his mouth and considers. “Sure,” he says eventually. “Welcome to the family, Gil.”

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image from Stocksnap.io & Josh Byers

Bookish Gifts Are a Thing

They are a thing I now know, and you can know about them too.

There is a thriving, growing, ever changing world of amazing bookish gifts out there. One that I didn’t know existed until recently. It occurs to me that my readers might not know about it either, and hey, gift-giving season is approaching. That’s a good time to mention these cool present options.

Let me show you the plethora of wonderful people who have devoted their talents to feeding our book addictions.

Their products are witty, stunning, unique, and definitely literary. Another warm and fuzzy point is that you will be supporting small business owners, who love books just as much as you do. Win for everyone. We can also consider that I’m on a budget and not spending extravagant amounts on bookish merchandise, so these things aren’t unique-handmade-precious-limited-edition-haha-you-peasant levels of expensive.

1. Gorgeous Bookmarks

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Bookmarks from Bibliophile Prints

Bibliophile Prints works beautiful watercolor magic, here is their Etsy shop. The set I bought is pictured and the “Octobers” quote bookmark came included as an extra, which was super nice of the owner.

CoolYeti Creations (Etsy) sells candles, decals, stickers, and magnetic bookmarks.

Ink and Wonder has super colorful woodmarks, totes, pins and wall prints on her website.  

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beautiful work by Lovely Bookish Marks

Lovely Bookish Marks also makes watercolor and hand-lettered print look amazing. Shop them here.

In The Reads is all about bringing you Middle Earth and Game of Thrones on cool woodmarks (Etsy)

2. Bookish Candles.

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Hufflepuff Pride! It smells like buttermilk, vanilla and sugar. From LunarBazaar

This is a niche that grows by the day and you wouldn’t believe the scents these shops come up with!

Book and Nook Candles shop has everything from Harry Potter, to The Lunar Chronicles, to The Mortal Instruments to smell.

Lunar Bazaar Candles shop has delicious scents and she includes toppings on her candles like herbs, spices and dried flowers. My hobbit inspired one, Second Breakfast, has mulled spices on the top.

Lemon Cakes Candle Co Etsy shop contains such wacky delights as The Bog of Eternal Stench and a Luna Lovegood themed candle. She specializes in kooky scents. She even has one called We All Float Down Here.

 Wick and Fable check out her Enchantment of Ravens set and she also has multiple Game of Thrones candles. My Pride and Prejudice “Most Ardently” wax melts smell like Citrus and Honeysuckle (mmmm).

 The Bookish Flame has A Free Elf candle that smells like clean laundry! That’s on my wish list.

 A Court of Candles The only Rick Riordan themed sets I’ve seen anywhere. 

Briar Wick Amazing amounts of Harry Potter themed candles, all in gorgeous colors.

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Find Little Crow here

 Little Crow Candles has a candle that smells like a Weasley Christmas Sweater. Seriously, I have fun just looking at all the creative ideas these shops come up with.

Faerie Tales Creations has gorgeous scents, of course, but she also puts a tiny, intricate little wax design on the top of each candle. I’m not sure I’ll be able to bring myself to burn mine.

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Hogwarts Houses candles from LunarBazaar: Ravenclaw (pomegranate, raspberry, apple, hint of lime) Gryffindor (pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves) Hufflepuff (buttermilk, vanilla, sugar) and Slytherin (milk chocolate!)

3. Tea and Curiosities

Kristin Askland Esty shop draws her own beautiful watercolor stickers, greeting cards and prints. She is an amazing artist.

Riddles Tea Shoppe on Etsy has an Every Flavor Tea set inspired by the Harry Potter books. Lemon Sherbet and Peppermint Toad flavored tea!

Happy Piranha does candles and geeky gifts on Etsy

4. Enamel Pins and Jewelry

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Fandom Flair

Fandom Flair enamel pins Etsy shop contains some witty pins, in multiple fandoms. I’m so happy with my Alas, Ear Wax! pin that I wear it everywhere.

Rather Keen, enamel pins & prints Etsy shop creates with a very 1920s art-deco vibe.

Between The Pages Etsy little bookish gifts and jewelry like their 221B Baker street necklace, which my sister doesn’t know she’s getting for Christmas. (Now I know whether or not you’re reading the website.)

Chiqui Creates intricate jewelry and tiny metal bookmarks on her website with a lovely selection inspired by Fairytale classics

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More Fandom Flair
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Ink and Wonder Designs woodmark and Fawkes tote. Find her website here

 

 

 

 

 

header image courtesy of stocksnap.io and Snufkin

 

 

 

How Writers Relax

Six perfect ways to de-stress during November

We’re roughly halfway through the gauntlet that is National Novel Writing Month, so now is the appropriate time to hear about some of the methods that authors use to unwind. A little self-care, a little stopping to smell the roses, and your writing productivity will thank you.

These are all tried and tested ways that writers relax. They’re reliable things to try if the breakneck pace of NaNoWriMo is wearing down your physical and mental health. They’re also science based*, so attempt them with confidence.

You’re welcome.

1.Let the Little Things Go

don't care

Go ahead and research murder methods, weapons, poisoning, stab wounds, how much blood is contained in the human body, blood spatter patterns, reliable body disposal procedures, and the rate at which a corpse decomposes. Stop wondering if it’s true that your Google search history is the first thing the cops alway check. It is. But that’s OK. You’re letting go of those little worries.

2. Read For Pleasure

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Reading books full of people running around doing angst-ridden stressful things, making bad choices, getting tangled up in love triangles and cutting into your already limited sleeping time to do it is a surefire way to chill out.

3. Research Marketing & Your Career

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Get on social media and experience the pleasure of immediately being bombarded with 100 different ways you should be marketing your books, but aren’t. 50 of them are not much of a platform anymore, you missed the train on 25 of them (Wat? Facebook algorithims? That’s a type of animal, right? It’s not?) and the last 25 are already full TO THE BRIM with other poor, desperate writers. Plus they cost too much. Ahhh. So relaxing.

4. Get Plenty of Rest

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Lie in bed trying to convince yourself that the ideas your almost-asleep brain just came up with are not worth getting out of your nice warm cocoon for a pen. You’ll remember them. Think hard about your chances of surviving pets, puddles, sudden armchairs out of the dark, and legos.

5. Use the Time You Can’t Be Writing to Talk to your Imaginary Friends

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That’s Joss Whedon as Numfar, just by the way. This gif is a stress reducer all by itself.

Although you aren’t physically writing, you can be working through your novel in your mind. Enact pretend scenes full of drama, passion, witty comebacks, and possibly some sex, with multiple unreal people. In the shower. Causing your family to suffer no worry whatsoever.

6. Start Drinking

tea

Tea. I meant tea. And water. It’s important to stay hydrated. Water conducts electricity, and your brain is made of electrical pathways and if you’re hydrated those synapses conduct better. I’m pretty sure this was in a science study somewhere. If it wasn’t, it should have been because that just makes sense.

Maybe I need to go drink some water.

*If you can’t trust dodgy pseudo-science on the web, what can you trust in these days of alternate facts?

 

Make Your Characters Flawsome

As in: flawed, yet awesome. No one wants to read boring perfection.

I’ll list my top two favorite female literary characters, straight off the top of my head, to start making my point:

1. Beatrice, from Much Ado About Nothing

And 2. Granny Weatherwax, from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.

Let’s break this down. Beatrice is, lets be honest, a raging bitch. No, stay with me. She’s super witty, but she uses that wit to cut Benedick to shreds. It’s the whole point of the play (at least for me).

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I mean, come on! That comeback!

Granny Weatherwax? Hoo boy. She’s prickly, proud, tricky, cunning, manipulative, and hard-assed. Everyone in the novels knows that it’s better to have her as a friend than contemplate making her an enemy.

“I even wrote a bit underneath asking her to be a godmother,” she said, sitting down in front of the mirror and scrabbling among the debris of makeup. “She’s always secretly wanted to be one.”

“That’s something to wish on a child,” said Agnes, without thinking.

Magrat’s hand stopped halfway to her face, in a little cloud of powder, and Agnes saw her horrified look in the mirror. Then the jaw tightened, and for a moment the Queen had just the same expression that Granny sometimes employed.

“Well, if it was a choice of wishing a child health, wealth and happiness or Granny Weatherwax being on her side, I know which I’d choose,” said Magrat.

-Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum

Why do I love them, if they’re so terrible? How can I say they’re my favorite, when they have such obvious, unpleasant traits?

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Another good example of a super flawed character that people LOVE

The answer to that is also the answer to the question: Why should I give my characters flaws?

  1. Because they are relatable.
  2. Because finding out what motivates those flaws gives us (readers) a mystery to solve and we all love finding the answer to that riddle.
  3. Because the other characters provide the counterpoint, competition, or complement to their flaws.
  4. And, because the flaws provide obstacles to overcome, or a reason for that character to change/grow.

One: We like these made-up people when we find little examples of ourselves in them. It gives us a point of contact, a reason to empathize with them. We all have flaws, and we recognize that as what makes us human. That makes them real, which in turn gives us a reason to care what happens to them. Translation: we want to read their story.

Two: Beatrice is so nasty to Benedick because they have a . . . history. (When I put the  . . . before, you know that means a good, juicy backstory.) Granny Weatherwax is a witch and solves problems for people, but she doesn’t want them running to her for things they could do themselves, she wants respect, and is terrified, deep down, of going to the “bad”. None of that was obvious in the first few sentences, or even the first few pages. Terry Pratchett, especially, is a genius at stretching out backstory for multiple novels, so that you’re always finding a new facet to the gems that are his characters.

Three: The best part is, your character’s flaws become one part of a tapestry that is more striking with contrasts. Beatrice plays against Benedick, which is fun, but she is also loving and devoted to her cousin Hero which gives us a reason to like her in spite of her sharpness. Granny has the wonderful, the cheerful, the crude, Nanny Ogg. The two together are comedy, while Nanny provides the new witches in the coven (and therefore us) with all the deep knowledge of Granny that seventy years of friendship can allow. Give your characters flaws, of course, but don’t forget to give them someone or many someones to work with.

Four: Some flaws can be the stumbling block keeping your characters from getting what they want. To solve that problem they might need to recognize their issues and work on getting past them, giving us character growth. The ways you can use this are many, and all good things for your novel.

To summarize: Make your characters flawsome and readers will want to keep turning pages.

Some extra reading, if you’re interested:

Post from Curiosity Quills on writing Flawed Characters

An index of some character flaws, from TV Tropes.org to give you some ideas

But don’t go too far when it comes to flaws. Here’s a post from Writer’s Digest on keeping a balance between flaws and virtues.

Do you have any tips or tricks for this? Flaws you have used in your books? Or extra reasons why you feel like characters should be flawed? Let me know about it.

 

cover photo courtesy stocksnap.io and Josh Byers

National Novel Writing Month, No

In which there is little novel writing done and, I’m sorry to say, little sadness about it.

insecure-writers-support-group-badgeNaNoWriMo is here and across the world authors are buckling down for an intense 30 days of output. That doesn’t include me. In the future, who knows? Right now I am a) a slow writer, still very new to this game and b) in furious editing mode. The editing brain is very different from the producing brain and right now I need my inner editor more.

As I’m not participating and have not participated before I can’t answer the Insecure Writer’s Support Group question:

Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

If you have an answer to this I would be extremely interested in reading it, so link away in the comments. If you’d like to join in the blog hop, go here.

Your co-hosts for this month are Tonja DreckerDiane BurtonMJ Fifield and Rebecca Douglass (The Ninja Librarian-and I love that title. It should be an official thing, like the Knights of the Round Table, but for writers. We could earn belts and wear patches and sneak into libraries to leave free books for unsuspecting passerby.)

In defense of National Novel Writing Month, it seems to be the kind of fire that really works for some authors. They like the challenge, the reward of updating that word count every day, the gauntlet of it. Something about having that fizzing fuse running out behind them lights up their creativity and they’re dashing through the days. Which is awesome. If it works for you I’d love to hear how, and why.

work hard

It’s not the kind of thing that works for me and honestly I’m not sure I’ll ever participate. I’m happy turtling along with my 1,000 daily word count goal every month of the year. That doesn’t mean I can’t cheer you on though. I’ve got my digital pom-poms and glitter cannon all ready to go. Write away my friends, and let me know how it’s going on your blog so I can send you many sincere happy emoticons. Meanwhile I’ll be stalking all the answers to this month’s question by other insecure writers.

A (Short) Synopsis of “On Writing”

People forget sometimes that King was in fact a High School English teacher for several years while he wrote Rage, The Long Walk, and Carrie during his spare time. I think that teaching urge has never really left him, and On Writing is the result.

You still have to go buy the book yourself if you want to know all the little tricks hidden inside it. I am shamelessly promoting the idea that you go give Stephen King some of your money. That said, here is a brief synopsis of this funny, thoughtful, indispensable book about writing from the master himself.

Part 1-Memoir

The first half of the book deals with King’s early life. And when I say that, I DON’T mean it’s a boring litany of childhood. He sticks to a timeline that shows you how he grew up to be a writer and the influences that shaped him on the way.

  • The scary movies he loved so much as a kid that worked their way into his writing.
  • The time his much smarter older brother almost killed them both with a science fair project.
  • Early literary efforts in all their sophomoric-humor glory (POW!)
  • Working for the school newspaper and screwing that up with too much satire so that the administration farmed him out to a local paper to write Sports copy (“There had been discussions about me . . . and how to turn my ‘restless pen’ into more constructive channels” p. 55)
  • How the different jobs he had worked their way into his writing and became his first novels. I particularly liked the genesis of Carrie, from a janitorial gig.
  • And finally, how he was an alcoholic that graduated to cocaine for most of the late 1970s and 1980s until his wife staged an intervention and he made the choice to stop. This part is presented in unflinching honesty. He doesn’t try to make any excuses for his habits other than that he was an addict.

The humor in this personal depiction part is razor sharp, with memories sprinkled through like breadcrumbs that lead the way to future storytelling. If you are a reader of King’s works you will easily spot how parts of him made it into each novel. It’s fascinating to absorb.

Part 2-What Writing Is

King says writing is telepathy. Taking an idea or image from the author’s mind and injecting it, across time and space, into the reader’s. When you think about it that’s pretty accurate. Also, awesome.

Getting into the nitty-gritty, King writes about your author toolbox. The ideas are up to you. Everything you write, however, will be done with your own personal set of universal tools.

  • The most commonly used tools go on the top, as the sturdy foundation of your kit: vocabulary and grammar. He includes good, descriptive, sometimes funny examples of how and why you should acquire these basics, and his infamous advice about adverbs. Plus a lot of pitches to get, read, and love Strunk and White.
  • Next, the structure and style that will be your more intricate, detail tools. This gets into paragraph construction, dialogue attribution, fragments vs. whole, correct sentences, clarity, and brevity. Takeaway thought here: “Writing is refined thinking” p. 131.
  • Third will be the instruments you, personally, need for your fiction. Plot development, pacing, symbolism, theme, character creation and the wild rides that belong to your genre, your ideas, and your voice.

After the toolbox King gets a little more philosophical, digging into the how and why of writing. He examines his own writing schedule and offers some suggestions for yours. He also goes after some of the well-known writing advice that’s out there. To wit, on ‘write what you know’: “Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.” (On Writing, p. 161.)

He tackles the plotter vs. pantser debate with flair. In his view, ideas are found objects which you, the writer, must unearth and then polish up with all the little tricks in your toolbox. This part also contains an interesting exercise on writing a situation, inviting you to try pantsing a bit. Many of his readers have actually done this, and submitted the results on his website. There are also great examples of showing vs. telling that he draws from the antagonist in Misery and the situations in The Dead Zone.

Near the end of the book he derails a little into description of the accident that might have killed him, when he was hit by a van while out walking in 1999. Yes, this part takes away from the writing portion of the book but it’s his book/memoir and he can put that in if he wants.

Part 3-On Living: A Postscript

He finishes this manual by giving a detailed look at a few page draft of his (it happens to be of then-in-progress short story 1408) followed by the revisions/edits of those same pages with explanations about what and why. Then a list of books he had read in the last few years, because he advises you to read a lot and you might as well have some ideas for that.

You Said This Was a SHORT Synopsis?

It is. And you should still go get this book if the synopsis was at all interesting to you. I said, above, that King talks about symbolism and theme. What that doesn’t tell you is that he writes pages and pages of in-depth examinations of how this works for him and how it might work for you. There is SO much more contained in the book that can’t be explained in one small page on a blog.

To finish, I’ll leave you with the most quoted advice from Stephen King and On Writing:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” (On Writing, p. 145.)

Go get this book. Make it part of your toolbox. You’ll be happy you did.

 

 

 

header photo courtesy Stocksnap.io and Aaron Burden

 

Instagram For Authors

(Non-Business Account Edition)

Let’s get the important thing out of the way first: Instagram is only one of many (So many. Too many. Brain-fogging amounts of many) social media platforms for authors. If you’re already on Twitter, or Facebook, etcetera, et al, and you’re happy with it you don’t have to add Instagram. Really.

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No! GO away social media! I don’t need another account! Don’t chase me with another one! No!

As for me and my author brand* we like Instagram.

(*haha just kidding. No one would stick around after they saw the iron go into the fire.)

What Does Instagram Have?

Pew Research findings on social media for 2016 says Instagram has:

  • Around 1/3 of all online (internet using) adults
  • especially high numbers of young adult users (18-29) and a good number of 30-49 year olds. Not very many adults aged 50+
  • 38% of total users are female (26% men)
  • Somewhere around 500 million users
  • Users tend to be “daily active users” which means a high level of engagement

Great, so What Does That Mean?

That means that if you’re writing books 18-49 year old people (mostly female people) want to read, Instagram is a good choice for you. Yes, the statistics skew heavily towards YA, but that doesn’t preclude other kinds of books. There are plenty of users on Instagram and they tend to be very active. Speaking from my own experience, once you fall in love with this format you use it constantly and feel loyal to it.

How do I use it?

The Instagram app is available on smartphones. You can also access it from a computer at instagram.com although you can’t add or edit any pictures that way.

Use your phone number or an email address to sign up for a free account. It’s effortless to incorporate if you already have a smartphone. (If you don’t, consider that Instagram might not be for you.)

  • Username: You will select/create a personal name that people use to find you. This should go without saying, but use the name you want associated with you as an author. Use your pen name if you have one and that’s the name you write under the most.
  • Bio: Instagram limits you to 150 characters and ONE website link per bio. Use it wisely. Make sure your profile is “public” and don’t post personal things on this account. It’s super easy to add another account if you want a private one.
  • Business accounts get cool stuff like traffic analytics and more allowed web links, plus they’re alway testing out new features. I want to get confident as a personal user before I try that. If and when I switch to a business account I’ll write up an article for you about how it goes.
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Screenshot off my phone of my user profile with my bio and one link. This is from an android phone, not an Apple, but Instagram will look very similar on either.

Got your profile set up? Awesome. Now you start taking pictures. Open your smartphone camera, point, and click. Then open up Instagram. Click on that big square with the plus sign on it (in the bottom middle of my picture, above). The pictures in your phone gallery will appear in the app for you to choose one to play around with. Add filters, fade, blur, even color it. Then post it for everyone on Instagram to enjoy. Find other Instagram accounts to follow, and collect followers to your account.

*Good to know: you can share your picture to multiple social media sites from Instagram. You have the option to either a) automatically post to the sites you select for every picture (this is called syncing) b) select a site to share to on a case-by-case basis or c) not share to any other sites at all. You control this through your settings, which can be reached by tapping on that little three vertical dot symbol that you see at the top right corner of the above picture.

Facebook and Instagram are buddies and do well, while Twitter hates Instagram and poops on its lawn. It only puts up a tiny little web-link thing, not your cool pic.*

Screenshot_2017-10-11-09-22-54
One of my pretty pictures, with likes, caption and hashtags.

 

How do I use this visual site, as a Wordy Words Writer Person?

Twitter has a huge, devoted following that exchange verbal thrust and parry all day accompanied by witty memes. Perfect for writers. Instagram is all about the pictures. At first, it seems counter-intuitive but it turns out pictures are GREAT for books. Observe:

Screenshot_2017-10-11-09-25-30

Books! Nothing but books and booky things. Instagram is FULL of users who love, read, celebrate and promote books. The picture above happens to come from a user called canxdancexreads (If I were on Instagram I would tag her by adding @ before her name) who takes gorgeous pictures of all her favorite books. She has what’s affectionately called a “bookstagram” account.

Here is a beginning list of how you can use Instagram:

  • Post neat pictures of your favorite books
  • Post pictures of your own books (but don’t go nuts and spam! One or two posts a day gets you better traffic analytics on Instagram anyway.)
  • Post anything bookish: libraries, pretty bookmarks, literary locations, cozy warm drinks, fandom merchandise, the list is really endless.
  • Find and follow bookstagrammers. My favorites are canxdancexreads, books.bags.burgers, and mischief_muggle but there are thousands of choices. The best part? Bookstagrammers are always promoting other grammers so you are always finding new, wonderful accounts to follow.
  • Your favorite authors may be on there for you to follow.
  • Feature the hell out of your gorgeous book covers. That’s why you wanted show-stopping cover art in the first place, to catch eyeballs!
  • Publishers are on Instagram, including the Big 5 of course, promoting new releases, announcing giveaways, featuring their authors, all kinds of good stuff. Learn from their methods for when it’s your turn to market. In the future I will have another post on Marketing for Instagram.
  • Find book merchandise accounts, like fandomflairpins (enamel pins for nerds) mugglelibrarycandles (book themed scented candles) or inkandwonder.designs (fandom related wooden bookmarks). There are thousands of options here too and if you build up a relationship with a store you could, for example, buy their stuff in bulk for your reader swag.
  • Share little pieces of you: the best part of your city, your cute pets, the great bread you just baked. Let your readers get to know you.
  • Share your process: pictures of what inspired your WIP, tiny excerpts, funny memes about writing. pictures of your books and swag on display.
  • Use hashtags to get found by more people (I’ll do a separate post on this.)
  • Include your followers: have them vote for a character name, host giveaways, ask for photos themed around your books and then share their amazing entries, basically anything you’re comfortable doing that will make them feel welcome and wanted.
  • Learn how to create and post “stories” (Instagram’s answer to Snapchat that I will do yet another separate post on.)

The best part about the site is how one account leads you to a hundred others. It’s a very organic process that builds off of relationships. People are generous with their time, tags, and follows.  Here you can find your niche, dig in, and bloom. If you’re already a very visual, artistic person, Instagram will be a natural platform for you.

If all of that sounds too haphazard and vague for you (eat me, I’m organic!) that’s fine. The beauty of social media is that there’s a site for everyone.

On the other hand, if wandering down exciting footpaths with other feral bookworms sounds like your thing, come join, and let me know so I can follow you!

 

Featured image via stocksnap.io & Jessica Ruscello

Whose Line is it Anyway? Dialogue Tags

Dialogue Tags vs. Action Beats: The Great Showdown

He said, she said, they said, we all said. Especially in fiction, there is a lot of saying going on. Good dialogue can save you from telling, can demonstrate everything about your character’s personality and traits, can be funny, move the plot along, or explain backstory. All at the same time. Dialogue is the best!

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SO much going on here! Movies get lots to work with because they’re visual. Authors have to work HARDER to get all of it across with dialogue and action beats.

Dialogue is also a trap. A big fat Sarlacc pit waiting in the middle of the WIP desert to digest you slowly. One of the oh-so-easy ways to go wrong here is when you get caught in the web of dialogue tags. While you struggle amongst the strands of endless options, growing weaker as you wait for the vicious sting, action beats are standing at a safe distance yelling, “Use me! I’m here! Hello? I’m showing, not telling!”

Learn to love action in your dialogue. Learn to hate the overuse of dialogue tags. We are writing fiction, my lovelies. Pretty much anything goes, as long as the dialogue flows.

So. What are dialogue tags? Make with the clicks to read this good succinct post on the basics, by The Creative Penn. To narrow it down to a sentence; dialogue tags are anything tagged on to the end of dialogue to indicate that person is speaking.

Most of the time your characters say something, it will be said. It can also be begged, shouted, screamed, hissed, whispered, called, snarled, cried, replied, implored, protested, and any other of a million different ways to indicate emotion while talking. Available advice, which is based on solid evidence, opines that you should use “said” most of  the time. It’s an invisible word to readers. They take it as granted that your characters will be saying something and skim right over that word, leaving the actions and the emotions to impress in the memory. “Said” is a good tag to use, especially when you want to focus on showing.

To back that up, here is a post on keeping it simple from Writer’s Digest. But! (There is definitely a but.) You can’t use “said” in every damn sentence. There’s simple, and then there’s mind-numbingly boring. It’s a good idea to kick that boring “said” up a notch with any of the other tags that express what your characters are going through. For example, use said for two tags and then add in another -ed word. Then back to said for a couple more, then a reaction -ed. Vary it up.

An even better way to include some good showing? Action.

C.S. Larkin has a good post on this over at Live Write Thrive. Action beats (also called narrative beats) are a great way to fill the empty space left around boring repetitions of “said” or “replied”. They make your writing visual, a scene playing out in the front of your reader’s mind. You can’t replace dialogue tags entirely, that would get really confusing as to who is speaking. But you can sprinkle them generously throughout the scene and they do a lot of different things for you.

While your characters are talking, how are they feeling? Add that in to your dialogue with some action tags as they react to what’s being said.

What are they thinking? Change their expressions as they listen.

Where are they? Add that in as they interact with their environment by moving, sitting, standing, touching things, picking them up or throwing them. All of those are action tags.

We’ll finish off with some examples of this from popular authors:

“Are you really Harry Potter?” Ron blurted out.

Harry nodded.

“Oh-well, I thought it might be one of Fred and George’s jokes,” said Ron. “And have you really got–you know . . .” He pointed at Harry’s forehead.

Harry pulled back his bangs to show the lightning scar. Ron stared. 

“So that’s where You-Know-Who–?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “But I can’t remember it.”

–Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling.

J.K. uses a lot of -ed dialogue tags in her writing. That’s her personal style. But in this scene we also see action, and two uses of “said.” From this first conversation with Ron we also get a good sense of his personality (he speaks without thinking and can be tactless sometimes.)

“Now I want to make love with you more than I want to go on breathing.”

“To make love,” C.C. repeated steadily. “But you don’t love me.”

“I don’t know anything about love. I care for you.” He walked back to touch a hand to her face. “Maybe that could be enough.”

She studied him, realizing he didn’t have any idea that he was breaking an already shattered heart. “It might be, for a day or a week or a month. But you were right about me, Trent. I expect more. I deserve more.”

–Courting Catherine, Nora Roberts

In this emotionally charged scene the main characters are at an impasse. One is in love, one thinks love is something to sell greeting cards and refuses to trust enough to try. All of that is obvious from their words and actions. And the word “said” isn’t used once. Nora Roberts is a great resource to study if you’d like to see how this is done.

Good luck with your dialogue! I hope this post has enough resources to get you well on your way.

 

Featured image via stocksnap.io and Bonnie Kittle